Phil Essay

Choose one of the thinkers whose works we’ve read so far [in weeks 1-3] (Plato/Socrates, Heidegger, Aristotle, Nietzsche, or Martin Buber).

Then, based on the thinker you chose, in approximately 500-750 words, answer every part of the corresponding prompt among those below as directly, thoroughly, and precisely as possible, explaining key ideas in your own words and citing evidence from the course’s assigned texts:

Prompt A [Plato/Socrates]:

“In ‘The Apology’, in what sort of activity (or activities) does Socrates encourage his fellow Athenians to engage? For what main reason(s) does he believe (and state) that it is important for them to do so? Explain.

Prompt B [Heidegger]:

Explain at least one possible misinterpretation of (the nature of) philosophy, according to Heidegger, as discussed in Introduction to Metaphysics. Why is it a misinterpretation, in his view (based on his comments about the nature of philosophy more broadly)?”

Prompt C [Aristotle]:

“What is the purpose (or ‘end’) of a human life, according to Aristotle, as discussed in the Nicomachean Ethics? In his view, for what reasons should we think that it is this purpose and no other? (Along the way, be sure to clarify what makes this ‘end’ unique.)”

Prompt D [Nietzsche]:

“Drawing on ‘Parable of the Madman’, ‘On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense’, and/or Thus Spoke Zarathustra, recount at least one way in which Nietzsche (or his characters) characterizes the problem of modern human existence’s apparent meaninglessness. In response to this diagnosis of the problem, what remedy is proposed?”

Prompt E [Martin Buber]:

Describe at least one obstacle that, according to Buber in “What is man?”, we may run into when attempting to answer the guiding question of (philosophical) anthropology. (Along the way, make sure to clarify what that guiding question is.) What are some steps Buber thinks we should take to avoid this obstacle?

Formatting: 12 point font, double-spaced. Cite appropriately (for any specific, direct attributions of claims to an author) either parenthetically at the end of sentences or in footnotes, indicating abbreviated source title and page number. Direct quotes and close paraphrases (considered together) should comprise no more than 30% of the text of your submission.


Grading Criteria:

[Listed Roughly in order of importance, with ‘Relevance’ being the umbrella under which the other factors are understood.]

Relevance: Did you properly and fully address the prompt questions as they were asked?

Completeness/thoroughness: Did you answer every part of the question, explaining in your own words all the important key points of the content along the way?

Evidence (textual) provided: Did you make a solid case for your interpretation of the text by citing evidence in support of your specific claims about the author’s ideas?

Clarity/Precision of Expression: Did you write clearly, make your thoughts as transparent as possible to the reader, and choose words that aptly described what you meant to say? Did you include the material that is necessary in order to directly and completely respond to the question, avoiding confusing the reader with tangential thoughts?

Proper scholarship (citation format): Did you choose a coherent citation style and consistently stick to it? Did you cite readings that were assigned for the class?


General Writing Tips:

– Answer the question as if you were answering someone who asked you in person (i.e., give a relevant, direct, complete answer; this does not mean that you should speak imprecisely or too informally).

– Explain key ideas in your own words, giving the reader the impression that you understand what you’re saying, but whenever attributing a claim to an author, cite (and in the few cases you directly quote, make sure to explain the quote).

– Don’t bother with flowery/drawn-out introductions or conclusion paragraphs; if you write these paragraphs at all, make them a very brief and to-the-point summary of the points you will make (or have made). In such a short submission, it’s likely better to skip them entirely and jump right into answering the question.

– Expect to include citations [but not necessarily direct quotes] often. Your citations are there to provide evidence that your claims about an author’s ideas are based in specific passages of the text, and to give your reader an easy way to understand how your claims constitute a direct interpretation of that text.

– You may cite the lectures, but your main source of evidence for your claims should be the text.

– This is an exercise in textual interpretation, not an encyclopedic summary of a thinker’s ideas. You should give only what background information is necessary to clarify your response to the prompt question, as it becomes relevant to the points you’re making.

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