PHH 3402  British Empiricism  Spring 2015  First Paper Topics

     Copyright 2015 Bruce W. Hauptli

You are to critically respond to one of the following topics.  Such a critical examination should: (1) indicate the nature of the position being examined; (2) clarify the argument for and/or against the position; (3) examine the strength of the argument by considering possible responses, counter-arguments, or counter-examples; and (4) offer your own critical 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? 

     One of my purposes in having you write these papers is to offer you the opportunity to perfect your ability to describe carefully a complex position and argument to others.  Toward that end, I require that you consider your intended audience for these papers to be other philosophy students who have not read exactly the material you have read or heard exactly the lectures which you have heard.  They can not be expected to immediately know the intricacies of the positions you are discussing, and must first have the central aspects of the position which are relevant to your paper clarified to them.  They must also be presented with carefully elaborated arguments for and against the position if they are to be able to follow your critical assessment of it. 

     Another of my purposes here 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.  This goal can not be met if you confine yourself to a neutral exposition of the views under consideration.  In my supplement Writing Philosophy Papers, I describe a number of different sorts of papers which might be submitted to fulfill this requirement (as well as a number of other points regarding composition and grader’s marks. The detailed characterization of such papers in that supplement should help you understand my expectations (those desiring high grades will endeavor to approach the highest ideal, while those who are not so motivated may choose to set their sights somewhat lower). 

     In preparing to write your paper please review the supplement on writing philosophy papers.  Your papers should be approximately 2000 words long (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.  The papers should

address an assigned topic in a manner that clearly displays its purpose, thesis, or controlling idea,
clarify the relevant elements of the philosopher’s theory so that they can be understood by other students taking such philosophy courses,
support the thesis with adequate reasons and evidence,
show sustained analysis and critical thought,
be organized clearly and logically, and
show knowledge of conventions of standard written English. 

I will be happy to read rough drafts and to discuss your ideas for your papers with you provided you give them to me prior to 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 at several weekends to work on the paper.  If you plan to wait till the last moment to write your paper, I recommend you review the Course Syllabus regarding penalties for late papers.  Please review my policy on extensions, late papers, and plagiarism (contained in the course syllabus). 

Topics:

1. Critically consider John Harris’ “Leibniz and Locke on Innate Ideas” (it is on reserve in the Library in Locke on Human Understanding, Ian Tipton, pp. 25-40).  In writing on this topic clarify Locke’s views on innate knowledge and innate ideas, and critically consider the strengths and weaknesses of Locke’s orientation employing Harris’ discussion of the contrast between Locke's and Leibniz’ views. 

2. Critically consider Margaret Atherton’s discussion of Locke’s critique of “innate ideas” in her “Locke and the Issue Over Innatism”—it is in Locke, ed. Vere Chappell, pp. 48-59; the Library has a copy on reserve, and an electronic book which may be viewed from the Library at: http://www.netlibrary.com/urlapi.asp?action=summary&v=1&bookid=1242 (note that you may need to be on campus to view it however).  In writing on this topic, clarify and critically consider what she contends leads Locke to his critique amounts to. 

3. Critically consider Locke’s arguments against innate ideas.  As in the first two topics, of course, you will need to clarify [some of] Locke’s arguments and critically assess them.  You need not consider either Harris or Atherton, however, as you could consider your own arguments for/against Locke.  Of course, should you wish, you may consider these authors (or other writers on the issue).  Note, that this topic is actually harder than are the first two—an essay which simply delineates Locke’s arguments is actually an expository, rather than a critical one, and the assignment isn’t effectively fulfilled be providing an exposition (that is what is appropriate in an exam context).  Essays which limit themselves to such an exposition can not earn an A, and generally receive no better than a B- grade. 

4. Critically consider Douglas Greenlee’s “Locke’s Idea of ‘Idea’” (it is on reserve in the Library in Locke on Human Understanding, ed. Ian Tipton, pp. 41-47).  In writing on this topic, clarify what Greenlee takes to be unique in Locke’s treatment of “ideas,” what problems are raised by this unique treatment, and critically consider whether the problems undermine Locke’s idea of “ideas.”  Note that the “critical discussion” of Greenlee’s essay by Gunnar Aspelin and Greenlee’s reply (on pp. 47-54) may provide additional assistance as you take up this issue. 

5. Critically consider Henry Allison’s “Locke’s Theory of Personal Identity: A Re-Examination” (it is on reserve in the Library in Locke on Human Understanding, ed. Ian Tipton, pp. 105-122).  In writing the paper, clarify what Locke’s view of personal identity is, and critically consider the strengths and weaknesses of Locke’s view employing Allison’s discussion. 

6. Critically consider Kenneth Winkler’s “Locke on Personal Identity” (it is Locke, ed. Vere Chappell, pp. 149-174—the Library has a copy on reserve, and an electronic book which may be viewed from the Library at: http://www.netlibrary.com/urlapi.asp?action=summary&v=1&bookid=12420 (note that you may need to be on campus to view this).  In writing on this topic, clarify what Winkler takes to be the strengths and weaknesses of Locke’s views. 

7. Critically consider Catherine Cockburn’s “A Defense of Mr. Locke’s Essay of Human Understanding” (in Women Philosophers of the Early Modern Period, ed. Margaret Atherton, pp. 128-146) indicating what criticisms of Locke she is replying to, and assessing how well Locke’s orientation seems able to survive such criticisms. 

8. Critically consider T.E. Wilkerson’s discussion of the distinction between real and nominal essences in his “Natural Kinds” (available in the Library in the journal Philosophy v. 63 [1988], pp. 29-42).  In writing the paper clarify what Locke’s distinction between real and nominal essences is, what problem Wilkerson finds with the distinction, what the seriousness of this critique would be for Locke’s orientation, and whether you find the critique to be solid. 

9. Critically consider A.D. Woozley’s “Some Remarks on Locke’s Account of Knowledge” (it is on reserve in the Library in Locke on Human Understanding, Ian Tipton, pp. 141-148).  In writing the paper, clarify some of the problems which Woozley discusses in Locke’s account of our knowledge and critically consider whether they constitute problems or not. 

10. Critically consider Reginald Jackson’s “Locke’s Distinction Between Primary and Secondary Qualities” (it is on reserve in the Library in Locke and Berkeley, ed. Armstrong and Broad, pp. 53-77.  In writing the paper, clarify Locke’s distinction, and (using Jackson’s discussion) indicate whether it poses any problems for him.  Jonathan Bennett’s “Substance, Reality, and Primary Qualities” may be helpful in addressing this topic, and, indeed, it may be used exclusively to assess the problem posed by the distinction here. 

11. Critically consider Reginald Jackson’s “Locke’s Version of the Doctrine of Representative Perception” (it is on reserve in the Library in Locke and Berkeley, Armstrong and Broad (eds.), pp. 125-154).  In writing the paper, clarify Locke’s view of perception, the representative character of his view, and critically assess the seriousness of the skeptical problem it encounters. 

12. Critically consider M.R. Ayers’ “The Ideas of Power and Substance in Locke’s Philosophy” (on reserve in the Library in Locke on Human Understanding, ed. Ian Tipton, pp. 77-104) and/or Jonathan Bennett’s “Substratum” (on reserve in Locke, ed. Vere Chappell, pp. 129-148—the Library has a copy on reserve, and an electronic book may be viewed from the Library at:
http://www.netlibrary.com/urlapi.asp?action=summary&v=1&bookid=12420 (note that you may need to be on campus to view this).  In writing on this topic indicate what the potential problem is for Locke regarding his treatment of substance (or substratum), what the author(s) contends regarding this problem, and critically assess both Locke and the author(s)’s contentions. 

13. Critically consider what Richard Rorty calls Locke’s “confusion of explanation and justification” (in Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, pp. 139-148--it is on reserve in the Library).  In writing this paper, clarify the confusion Rorty accuses Locke of and assess its seriousness.    For more information here, see the critical comments offered in the lecture supplement

14. Clarify what Laurens Laudan contends is “The Nature and Sources of Locke’s Views on Hypothesis” (on reserve in Locke on Human Understanding, ed. Ian Tipton, pp. 149-162).  In writing on this topic, clarify what Laudan thinks Locke’s views are, and assess their adequacy. 

15. Develop a critical analysis of an important element of Locke’s theory around any of the selected critical comments offered in the lecture supplement on the web.  In writing such a paper, clarify both the relevant points in Locke, the critique, and assess its appropriateness and importance.   Note, essays which simply delineate Locke’s arguments on a topic are actually an expository, rather than a critical ones, and the assignment isn’t effectively fulfilled be providing an exposition (that is what is appropriate in an exam context).  Essays which limit themselves to such an exposition can not earn an A, and generally receive no better than a B- grade. 

16. Critically consider one or more of the various problems which Garrett Thompson raises regarding Locke’s theories in any or all of his three chapters on Locke in his Bacon to Kant: An Introduction to Modern Philosophy.  In writing the paper, clarify both the relevant theories in Locke, the problem(s) which Thompson points out, and critically consider whether you believe the theory can survive the criticism(s).  For more information here, see the critical comments offered in critical lecture supplement. 

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