Copyright © 2015 Bruce W. Hauptli
Write a critical analytical paper on one of the following topics. Such a critical examination and analysis should: (1) clarify the position being examined; (2) elaborate the argument(s) for or against the position in question; (3) carefully assess the adequacy and strength of the argument(s) by considering possible responses, counter-arguments, or counter-examples; and (4) offer your own overall assessment of where the arguments for and against the position being considered leave us—should we accept, reject, or remain neutral regarding this orientation, view, or position? As the first paper assignment indicated, one of my purposes in requiring you to write these papers is to offer you the opportunity to perfect your ability to describe carefully a complex position and argument to others. Another of my purposes is to provide you with the opportunity to push beyond the level of reading and mastering the required material for the course. Here my goal is to provide you with an opportunity to engage in critical reflection upon the readings (or upon related readings and issues), and to provide you with feed-back on your critical scrutinies.
One of my vehicles for accomplishing these goals is to require that you write more than one paper. While your next paper will be on a different topic, many of the comments I have made could be helpful to you in perfecting your expository and critical abilities. These comments will only be useful, however, if you give them some serious scrutiny. I strongly encourage you to look over both the typed comments and the marginal comments throughout the paper. Few students have such an exceptional ability that they can not benefit from such an examination, and to encourage you to take the comments seriously, I want you to know that before I read your next paper I will be reviewing my file with these comments on your first paper. I will expect that your editing of your drafts of your next paper will be done in light of these comments. You should seriously endeavor to avoid any of the sorts of compositional errors I have identified, and to the extent that it is called for, I also encourage you to work to make your next exposition and critique yet clearer and more forceful.
Your papers should be approximately 2000 words long (equivalent to eight double-spaced typewritten pages of 250 words per page). This indication of length is meant as a guide to the student—papers much shorter than the indicated length are unlikely to have adequately addressed one of the assigned topics. Papers may, of course, be longer than the indicated length topics (see syllabus, however, for explanation of the need for students to fulfill the Gordon Rule requirement in their papers). I will be happy to read rough drafts and to discuss your ideas for your papers with you (of course I can not be much help to you in this manner if you don’t allow sufficient time, and so I will not read any rough drafts submitted after 3:30 on Friday, February 27. The papers should be typed and are due in my office by 4:15 P.M. on Monday, March 2. I am giving you the paper topics now so that you have two weekends to work on the paper. Please review my policy on extensions, late papers, and plagiarism (contained in the course syllabus). Please also review my Guide to Writing Philosophy Papers.
1. Suppose Meletus has overheard Plato’s Socrates discussing the initial organization of the ideal state in his Republic and he jumps into the discussion since he believes he has found a significant contradiction. He says:
well Socrates, we can see you’re up to all your old tricks! You have said (on several occasions—both in this dialogue and in others) that the just individual would never act unjustly. But you would have your rulers lie to the people (a “noble lie” is, after all, a lie nonetheless). But to lie is to act unjustly and, thus, it seems your views are totally inconsistent.
You are to critically evaluate this charge (or challenge) to Plato’s views. Make the alleged contradiction clear, and then indicate whether there is a way out for Plato. If you maintain Meletus’ charge is correct, clearly indicate how serious the problem is for Plato’s overall position in the Republic.
2. Archeologists recently working on a site just outside Athens found a treasure trove of papers that many believe were exam questions authored by Plato for use in his famous Academy. Here, translated into contemporary English is one and, if you select this topic, you are to answer:
you are a middle-aged guardian training to become a ruler [philosopher king] in a city-state organized along the lines specified in my Republic (which you have recently finished reading carefully). This is one of the many tests you have become used to over the years, and you approach it with the seriousness which arises from knowing that the wrong answer could mean that you will find yourself selected for another job should your answer not show the qualities which are required of a future ruler. You are to write an essay (of the usual length, it may be a dialogue, or in other format of your choosing) which demonstrates you understand the relevant themes of my theory as you address the following questions: (a) “Would you be willing to lie to the non-ruling citizens of your state, and if so, under what sorts of circumstances?” and (b) “If so, would your justification for doing so be that “the end justifies the means”?”
3. There seems to be a fundamental contradiction in Plato’s Republic. At times he maintains that his description of the human soul is perfectly general—that his discussion applies to everyone. Thus he maintains “...the power to learn is present in everyone’s soul” (518c). At other times he distinguishes between individuals in terms of their natures. Thus he discusses “the inferior many” who are controlled by their appetites (431b) and, in general, his discussion of the ideal state is clearly founded upon a differentiation of our species into several distinct groups each having its own “nature” and “task.” It does not seem possible to have it both ways however: if everyone is in fact capable of wisdom, it seems clear that there really should be only one class in the ideal state; while if there are to be distinct classes (some of which are incapable of wisdom), all souls are not alike in regard to their access to the truth. Either Plato has a major problem here, or the criticism I have just raised has a flaw. In your paper you are to deal with this criticism either advancing it and indicating why it is important, or indicating why the contradiction is only apparent.
4. Plato seems to maintain both that women would be amongst the rulers of his ideal state, and that they are part of the “inferior many.” Critically assess Plato’s theory of justice in terms of the “treatment of women” which he recommends. The paper may appeal to (or critically consider) Lynda Lange’s “The Function of Equal Education in Plato’s Republic,” in The Sexism of Social and Political Theory: Women and Reproduction from Plato to Nietzsche, eds. Lorenne Clark and Linda Lange (which is on reserve in the Library). For those who wish to work on this topic I have a handout which contains the portion of The Republic discussed in class regarding his view that women could be rulers.
5. Critically assess Plato’s view of the ideal state or/and psyche/soul. Are there significant values which his theory doesn’t allow for? One helpful source here is Renford Bambrough’s “Plato’s Political Analogies,” which is on reserve in the Library in his Plato, Popper, and Politics. If you choose this topic you should not simply offer a book-report type summary of the Republic and attach a paragraph stating that his views don’t accord with yours (your cultures’, etc.). As noted above, a successful critical analysis must (i) clarify the relevant aspects of Plato’s theory in detail, (ii) show how they don’t allow for the intrinsic values you champion (whether they be “love,” “choice,” “democracy,” “truthfulness” or whatever), (iii) offer an argument that his view is inadequate because it precludes (excludes, etc.), these values, and (iv) critically assess what such deficiencies in Plato’s views portend for the overall adequacy of his orientation.
6. If Plato’s rulers and auxiliaries are to be plausible rulers, it seems that there will be times when they will have to harm people (enemies of the state from without or from within). Yet his rulers are supposed to be concerned with maximizing human excellence—with justice and with never committing an unjust act. Effective states, and hence their rulers, will need, as Plato recognizes in his Crito, to enforce the laws of the state, and this will mean punishing offenders. It seems as if they cannot rule without sacrificing the very characteristic that is supposed to make the state just! Clarify how this may show there is (or is not) a potential problem with Plato’s orientation. If you feel there is a problem here, assess its seriousness for his overall theory in the Republic.
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File revised on 02/16/2015.