Reading Questions for Phil 413. 900, Spring 2009



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Reading Questions for Phil 413.900, Spring 2009 (Daniel)

Questions on Descartes' Meditations I & II (Jan. 22)


1. For Descartes, why can't knowledge gained through sense experience be trusted as the basis of knowledge?

2. How are the doubts raised by our experience of dreaming different from, and more profound than, doubts raised about errors in sense experience?

3. How is the evil genius argument intended to be broader in scope than either the arguments about doubting sense experience or dreaming?

4. Why can't the evil genius deceive Descartes into thinking that he (Descartes) does not exist?

5. What is the point of Descartes' doubt about having a body? Why can't a thing that thinks, an "I think" (cogito), be a body? What is a body?

6. What is the point of the wax example? How is it important in knowing the self?



Questions on Descartes' Meditations III & IV (Jan. 27)

1. Why is it important to Descartes to determine as early as possible whether God exists and is a deceiver?

2. How is the "spontaneous inclination" to believe that my ideas are caused by things outside me different from the "natural light" by which I can discern truth?

3. How are all ideas alike as "modes of thought"? and how are they different in terms of their "objective reality"?

4. What is the difference between the objective reality of an idea and the actual or formal reality of a thing?

5. Why is my clear and distinct idea of God as an infinite substance not something for which I could have been the cause?

6. If my will is infinite (like God's), then why would I choose to think things wrongly; that is, how can error be explained?

Questions on Descartes' Meditations V & VI (Jan. 29)

1. For Descartes, how can I demonstrate various properties of a thousand-sided figure (a chiliagon) without ever having seen one (or even without one ever having existed)?

2. Why is the distinction between essence and existence important in proving God exists?

3. How can material/corporeal (later: "external") objects be known clearly and distinctly?

4. What are the three possible sources of our ideas of sensible things, and how does Descartes rule out two of them in favor of the third?

5. What are Descartes' three ways of speaking about nature? How is the third way important for understanding the "very intimate" connection between the mind and body?

6. How is the mind-body composite sometimes a source of deception?

7. How are we able to distinguish between dreaming and being awake?



Questions on Descartes' Meditations Objections & Replies II (Feb. 3)

1. According to Marin Mersenne (Objections II), Descartes ignores the possibility that a thinking thing might be a body. How does Descartes respond to that by distinguishing his aims in Meditation II and VI?

2. How does Descartes use the distinction between objective and formal reality to respond to Mersenne's claim that the idea of an infinite being might simply be an idea of our own existence expanded infinitely?

3. How does Descartes respond to Mersenne's point that our idea of God (like that of angels or infinite number) is not innate or planted in us by God but learned from others?

4. Mersenne says that Descartes' reasoning is circular, in that he knows that an all-good God exists because he has a clear and distinct idea of him, and he can trust such clear and distinct ideas because an all-good God would not deceive him regarding them. What is Descartes' response to this?

Questions on Descartes' Meditations Objections & Replies III-IV (Feb. 5)

1. In the third set of objections, Thomas Hobbes suggests that thinking is an activity of corporeal (bodily) substances. What is Descartes' response to this?

2. What is Descartes' reply to Hobbes's claim that our idea of God depends on our imagination of corporeal objects?

3. Why does Hobbes think that his claim that "essence without existence is a fiction of our mind" is an argument against Descartes' discussion of the essence of material things?

4. According to Antoine Arnauld (Objections IV), why is Descartes unjustified in claiming that bodies can't think? And how does Descartes' response depend on his notion of substance?

5. How have Descartes' views about the importance of epistemology and the reconciliation of science and religion influenced modern philosophy?

6. How have Descartes' views about philosophy of mind and the relation of science and mathematics influenced subsequent philosophy?

Questions on Hobbes' Metaphysics and Epistemology (Feb. 10)

1. According to Hobbes, why does a mechanistic account of causation exclude non-physical (i.e., spiritual, mental) substances from the natural/physical world?

2. How does Hobbes explain our having sense ideas or thoughts in terms of bodies in motion?

3. What does Hobbes mean by saying that imagination is "nothing but decaying sense"? and how is imagination different from understanding?

4. How is Hobbes' account of reasoning consistent with his purely materialistic account of thought?

5. How are appetite or desire, love and hate, good and evil, and deliberation itself based originally on insensible bodily motions? (Say something about each.)

6. Put in terms of bodies in motion, what is the difference between deliberation and an act of will (a voluntary action)? How are voluntary actions possible for Hobbes?

7. How does Hobbes' methodology set the stage for treating social, religious, and moral beliefs in purely materialistic terms?



Questions on Hobbes and Locke: Political Philosophy (Feb. 12)

1. Why does each individual's endeavor toward self-preservation result in conflict with others?

2. How is giving up one's right to determine how to preserve his/her life a voluntary act?

3. Why can't the sovereign violate the social covenant or commit an injustice? And why is everyone who initially agrees to the covenant bound to abide by the sovereign's will?

4. By what two rights do human beings have the authority to punish those who transgress the law of nature, according to Locke?

5. How do Locke and Hobbes differ on the distinction between the state of nature and the state of war?

6. According to Locke, what is the "great and chief" purpose for civil (i.e., governed) society? What three problems does governed existence avoid?

Questions on Spinoza: Ethics I: God (Feb. 17)

1. For Spinoza, how is understanding the nature of substance linked to ethics by means of a proper understanding of freedom?

2. Why must this substance necessarily exist (i.e., "exist solely from its own nature")? And why must it be infinite?

3. Why is a clear and distinct idea of substance also a true idea?

4. What is an attribute? Why can't two substances have the same attribute?

5.Why can there be only one substance (God)? And why can't one substance cause another?

6. How is the distinction between natura naturans and natura naturata connected to Spinoza's points that God is a free cause and nothing in the universe is contingent?

7. Why can't the will of an individual (even the will of God) be free?



Questions on Spinoza: Mind and Body (Feb. 19)

1. What does Spinoza mean in Proposition VII when he says that "the order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things"? How is this expressed in the distinction between objective and formal reality (e.g., between the idea of a circle and a circle)?

2. According to Proposition IX, "The idea of an individual thing actually existing is caused by God, not insofar as he is infinite, but insofar as he is considered as affected by another idea of a thing actually existing, of which he is the cause, insofar as he is affected by a third idea, and so on to infinity"; why?

3. Why can't the idea of something not exist unless the thing of which it is the idea exists?

4. Why can nothing take place in the body without being perceived by the mind? And how is the body the object of the idea that constitutes the human mind?

5. How is our knowledge of external bodies based on our knowledge of our own bodies? And why does this prompt Spinoza to say that "the human mind does not know the human body," even though the mind "perceives only the human body"?

6. What does Spinoza mean by saying that the idea of the mind is united to the mind in the same way that the mind is united to the body?

7. How are true ideas different from adequate ideas?

8. How does Spinoza distinguish his three kinds of knowledge? Why are the second and third kinds of knowledge adequate and necessarily true?

9. Why are things known through imagination contingent and those understood by reason or intuition necessary?

10. Why are will and understanding the same?

Questions on Spinoza: Emotions and Freedom (Feb. 24)

1. "Insofar as the mind has adequate ideas, it is necessarily active, and insofar as it has inadequate ideas, it is necessarily passive"; how?

2. How can ideas that are inadequate in the human mind be adequate for God?

3. Why are our actions always good?

4. What does Spinoza mean by saying that the mind is the idea of the body?

5. Why can God not love or hate anyone, nor can anyone hate God?

6. How is it possible for the mind to conceive the essence of the body under the form of eternity (sub specie aeternitatis)?

7. What does it mean to say that the mind insofar as it is eternal is the adequate or formal cause of the third kind of knowledge (intuition)?

8. What is the intellectual love of God? How is it identical to God's love of himself?

Questions on Leibniz: Arnauld Letters, Primary Truths, Necessary & Contingent Truths (Feb. 26)

1. What does Leibniz mean by "that which is not truly one entity is not truly one entity either"?

2. Leibniz objects to the (Cartesian and Spinozistic) view that bodies are individuated by differences in extension, shape, and motion, because such an "imaginary" account fails to provide an explanation for the metaphysical force in corporeal substances that causes such motion. What does this mean?

3. How does the "fatal necessity" of even free things depend on Leibniz's claim that the predicate is always contained within the subject?

4. How is Leibniz's principle of identity the basis for his principle of sufficient reason and his principle of the identity of indiscernibles? (Of course, you should say what these principles are as you explain how they are linked to one another.)

5. How does Leibniz's idea of the "complete or perfect notion" of an individual substance rule out purely extrinsic characteristics ("denominations")?

6. How can Leibniz claim that, even though God decrees that Peter shall certainly sin or Judas be certainly damned, their actions are not necessary but free?

7. How does every individual substance express the whole universe?

8. How can substances act upon, and be acted upon by, other substances and yet not be able to exercise any "metaphysical" action on one another? And how is this seen in the relation of soul and body?

9. What is the difference between necessary (i.e., "essential") and contingent (i.e., "existential") truths?



Questions on Leibniz: Discourse on Metaphysics (Mar. 3)

1. How can a proposition (e.g., Caesar will cross the Rubicon) be certain and yet not be necessary?

2. How can our perceptions always be true and yet our judgments often deceive us?

3. How can Leibniz say that all our ideas are due to God's continual action and yet claim that I think by means of my own ideas, not God's?

4. How are bodies differentiated from souls in how they "express" the universe?

Questions on Leibniz: Monadology & Letters to Clarke (Mar. 5)

1. How can monads be "windowless" simple substances that "involve and represent a plurality within a unity" and still be said to engage in states of perception?

2. What are perceptions that are not "apperceived"? and what does it mean to say that changes of perceptions or affections are internal actions due to appetition?

3. What is the difference between truths of reason and truths of fact?

4. How are monads distinguished from one another "by the degrees of their distinct perceptions"?

5. What does Leibniz mean by saying that each monad is the entelechy of (and thus represents more distinctly) the body particularly affected by it?

6. How are minds (vs. ordinary souls) "capable of entering into a kind of society with God"?

7. How does Leibniz define space and time in purely relational terms?



Questions on Locke: Ideas (Mar. 10)

1. What is Locke's main purpose in writing the Essay, and what are the three steps in the "historical, plain method" he uses to achieve that purpose?

2. What does Locke mean by idea?

3. What are Locke's two main arguments against innate ideas?

4. What is the difference between the two kinds of experience from which we get our ideas?

5. What are "simple" ideas? Why can the mind neither create nor destroy them?

6. What are qualities? How are secondary qualities different from, but dependent on, primary qualities? Give examples of each.

7. How can the motion of imperceptible bodies produce in us an idea (e.g., of color or scent) which is not another motion? What role does resemblance play in this?



Questions on Locke: Cause and Substance (Mar. 12)

1. What is Locke's answer to the Molyneux problem?

2. How are universal ideas and terms formed through abstraction?

3. How are compound and complex ideas different from simple ideas?

4. How do we form ideas of modes? substances? relations?

5. Where do we get our idea of power? Why does Locke think it ought to be considered a simple idea just as much as our ideas of figure, motion, number, or extension?

6. How does Locke's discussion of will (volition) and freedom (liberty) indicate how the question of whether we have "free will" is unintelligible?

7. How is the idea of substance in general (as a "supposed I know not what" that supports ideas) different from the ideas of particular sorts of substances?

8. How are the secondary qualities of things based on primary qualities (which themselves are based on the "minute particles" and "real constitution") of those things?

9. Why does Locke define personal identity or the self as continuity of consciousness over time (i.e., memory) instead of a mental substance (soul) or man (body)?



Questions on Locke: Language and Knowledge (Mar. 24)

1. What does Locke mean when he says that general words represent or signify general ideas? Why don't general ideas represent or signify general things (i.e., universals)?

2. What is the difference between real and nominal essences? And why are they always identical regarding simple ideas and different regarding substances?

3. How is Locke's description of knowledge of real existence unlike the other three sorts of knowledge he describes (and perhaps even inconsistent with his general definition of knowledge)?

4. What are the three degrees of knowledge? And how is the third degree of knowledge different in kind from the other two?

5. What are Locke's two responses (in your own words) to skeptical doubts about the certainty of sensitive knowledge?

6. How can knowledge about morality be as certain as that of mathematics?

7. Locke notes that when our senses provide us with an idea, we cannot doubt that there is something producing the idea; but how do we know that that something is the thing we perceive?



Questions on Berkeley: Abstract Ideas and Existence (Mar. 26)

1. What are the two forms of abstraction Berkeley explicitly denies? What are his reasons for doing so?

2. How does Berkeley use the distinction between general ideas and abstract general ideas to undermine Locke's idea of a triangle that is "neither oblique nor rectangle [right], equilateral, equicrural nor scalenon, but all and none of these at once"?

3. In P3 Berkeley says that the table in my room is said to exist even when I am not there to perceive it; how is that possible if its esse is percipi?

4. How does the belief in the existence of unperceived objects depend on the doctrine of abstract ideas?

5. Why are only spirits substances?

6. "An idea can be like nothing but an idea": why?

7. Why is the notion of matter or corporeal substance a contradiction?

8. How does the denial of matter or corporeal substance undermine the primary-secondary quality distinction and belief in the existence of things outside the mind?

9. Why does supposing the existence of things outside the mind only invite skepticism?



Questions on Berkeley: Matter and Spirit (Mar. 31)

1. Why can't the "configuration, number, motion, or size of corpuscles" cause our sensations?

2. If the existence of corporeal substances is a contradiction, then why doesn't the same thinking apply to incorporeal substances (spirits)?

3. Why can't we have an idea of spirit? How is having a "notion" of spirit different from having an idea of spirit?

4. What is the difference between a "real" thing (e.g., fire) and an image of the thing? Why doesn't Berkeley's position imply that there is no difference between real things and mere ideas or illusions?

5. In what sense does Berkeley retain the concept of corporeal substance, and in what sense does he reject it? And why call things ideas?

6. Why isn't the perception of things at a distance from us proof that things exist outside our minds?

7. What does Berkeley mean by saying that visible ideas constitute a language whereby we are informed about sensations of touch we will shortly experience?

8. How does Berkeley use the infinite divisibility of matter as an argument against its existence?

9. What does Berkeley mean by saying that "we ought to think with the learned, and speak with the vulgar"?

10. Why does Berkeley say that ideas normally associated in terms of cause and effect are better understood as sign and thing signified?

Questions on Berkeley: Nature (Apr. 2)

1. How, for Berkeley, is time simply the succession of ideas, and why does this imply that the soul always thinks?

2. Berkeley claims that arithmetic is not about things but rather signs; how does this highlight the limitations of studying arithmetic?

3. Why can't an inch-long line contain an infinite number of parts when "taken absolutely"? and in what way can a line be thought of as having an infinity of parts?

4. How is the belief in infinite divisibility as much a skeptical and atheistic threat as is the belief in the absolute existence of matter?

5. How can we be said to "see God"? and why should this realization be an incentive to virtue and a guard against vice?



Questions on Hume: Association of Ideas (Apr. 7)

1. How is Hume’s view that one should "be a philosopher, but amidst all your philosophy, be still a man" his response to skepticism?

2. What is the difference between an impression and an idea? And how does Hume use the distinction as the basis for determining whether a philosophic term is meaningful?

3. How are memory and imagination central in Hume’s three principles of association?

4. What is the difference between relations of ideas and matters of fact?

5. If the cause-effect relation is the basis for our knowledge of matters of fact and "real existence," then how can we know what causes our experiences?

6. Why can't we suppose that the future will resemble the past? And why is such a supposition important for making claims about the course (or laws) of nature?

Questions on Hume: Natural Belief (Apr. 9)

1. Why are inferences from experience (e.g., about cause-effect) due solely to custom, habit, or natural instinct, and not reasoning?

2. How does Hume's distinction between a belief and an imaginative fiction inform his remark that "belief is something felt by the mind, which distinguishes the ideas of the judgment from the fictions of the imagination"?

3. How do natural associations (e.g., custom, instinct) function in our experience of associating ideas (in resemblance, continguity, cause and effect) to promote our survival and the avoidance of evil?

4. Some philosophers claim that if there are no intrinsic causal connections between bodies in the world or between minds and bodies, then God must be responsible for all causal interaction. What are Hume's two reasons for rejecting this?

5. How does Hume avoid the conclusion that we have no idea of connection or power at all?

6. For Hume, what is a constant conjunction? And what role does the imagination play in its determination?

7. How does Hume distinguish his two definitions of cause, first (ontologically) in terms of the conjoining of objects and, second (psychologically) in terms of the conjoining of ideas of those objects?



Questions on Hume: Liberty, Self (Apr. 14)

1. What justification does Hume give for claiming that "the conjunction between motives and voluntary actions is as regular and uniform as that between the cause and effect in any part of nature"? And what significance does this have for resolving the "merely verbal" disputes about human freedom (liberty)?

2. How does Hume’s linkage of the two definitions of cause to his definition of necessity help in understanding the relation of motives or inclinations to action?

3. In terms of Hume's analysis of cause, what makes a person morally responsible for an action?

4. Why can't we say (e.g., with Descartes) that we can know (based on God's veracity) that our perceptions are caused by external objects? And why not attribute such knowledge to natural instinct?

5. Why can't experiences be used to show either that objects continue to exist when we do not sense them, or that they exist distinct from our minds?

6. Why can't we think of our ideas simply as representations of external objects?

7. How do the concepts of constancy and coherence function in Hume's explanation of our belief in the continued existence of external objects? And why do we suppose that objects have a continued existence apart from our experience?

8. Why don't we have a particular, simple idea of the self? What sense of self does Hume consider acceptable (at least up to his Appendix)?

9. How can nature cure us of the "philosophical melancholy" brought on by the imperfections of human reason?

10. In the Appendix to his Treatise of Human Nature, Hume says that his account of the self is defective: what is wrong with it?

Questions on Kant: Synthetic A Priori Judgments (Apr. 16)

1. How does Kant's Copernican revolution in metaphysics allow for the possibility of a priori knowledge of objects?

2. What is the relation of intuitions and concepts?

3. What is the difference between objects as appearances and as things in themselves? And why does Kant later say that, even though we cannot know objects as things in themselves, we must be able to think them as things in themselves?

4. How does Kant's Critique reveal the negative character of his second way of thinking about metaphysics (in terms of speculative reason) but open up the possibility of a positive use of reason in a practical (moral) sense?

5. How does Kant use the distinction between things as appearances and as they are in themselves to address the issue of the freedom of the soul? And why is being able to think or assume freedom essential for morality?

6. What does Kant mean by saying that speculative reason must be deprived of its dogmatic pretensions to transcendent insight? and how does this denial of knowledge make room for faith?

7. Why does Kant claim that all knowledge begins with experience but does not arise out of experience?

8. How is "all bodies are extended" an analytic judgment, and "all bodies are heavy" a synthetic judgment? Is "all events have causes" an analytic or synthetic judgment; why?

9. Why are propositions in arithmetic ("7+5=12"), geometry ("the shortest distance between two points is a straight line"), and physics ("the total quantity of matter remains constant") synthetic? What does it mean to refer to these judgments as apodeictic?

10. Why does the success or failure of metaphysics depend on explaining how synthetic a priori propositions are possible? And how is this enterprise linked to explaining how pure mathematics and pure science are possible?

11. What is the difference between metaphysics as natural disposition and metaphysics as science?



Questions on Kant: Space, Time, Categories (Apr. 21)

1. What does Kant mean by saying that the transcendental aesthetic is concerned with the two pure forms of sensible intuition, space and time?

2. How is such a "transcendental" exposition different from the "transcendent" accounts provided, on the one hand, by "mathematical" students of nature, and on the other, by "metaphysical" students of nature?

3. What does it mean to say that the world that appears to us is empirically real and transcendentally ideal?

4. How does Kant's remark, "thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind," highlight the different (though complementary) functions of the senses and the understanding?

5. How are the concepts of the understanding (categories) transcendentally deduced from the twelve kinds of judgments we make?

6. What does Kant mean by defining the self as the transcendental (synthetic) unity of apperception, and why does he do it?

7. How is this notion of the self different from what he later calls the "wholly contingent" empirical unity of consciousness?

8. Why is the synthetic unity of consciousness an objective condition of all knowledge, including justified or valid knowledge of the laws of nature?

Questions on Kant: Analogies, Transcendental Ideas (Apr. 23)

1. Even though our intuitions (or representations) change from moment to moment, we can say (as Hume did about different perceptions of the "same" thing) that they resemble or are analogous to one another. How does Kant use this idea of analogy to resurrect the notion of substance?

2. How does Kant appeal to the rule-governed character of our experience of events to argue (against Hume) for the necessary, objective order of nature?

3. Why does Kant think that consciousness of my own existence is intelligible only if external objects exist? And why does he think that this refutes idealism?

4. What is the difference between phenomena and noumena?

5. How does the difference between the negative, positive, and problematic senses of noumena highlight how the concept of a noumenon is merely a limiting concept?

6. Kant says there are three pure ideas or concepts of reason (also called "transcendental ideas"): the self or subject, the world, and God. What similar role does each play?

Questions on Kant: Paralogisms, Antinomies (Apr. 28)

1. How is the confusion of the determining self (i.e., the unity of consciousness) with the determinable self (i.e., the consciousness of a unity) an example of a paralogism?

2. Why can't the transcendental concept of the self, soul, or "I" (ego) be known empirically as an object of experience (i.e., as a simple substance)?

3. What does Kant mean by saying that, "just as the paralogisms of pure reason formed the basis of a dialectical psychology, so the antinomy of pure reason will exhibit to us the transcendental principles of a pretended pure rational cosmology"?

4. What does Kant mean by saying that "if the conditioned is given, the entire sum of conditions, and consequently the absolutely unconditioned (through which alone the unconditioned has been possible) is also given"?

5. In his discussion of the second antinomy, Kant notes that space and time do not consist of simple parts. How does he justify this? And why is this helpful for understanding the first and second antinomies?

6. What role does the concept of causality play in the third antinomy? And how does Kant's appeal to transcendental freedom resolve the antinomy?

7. According to Kant's account of the fourth antinomy, the cause of the world cannot exist either in the world or outside it; why not?


Questions on Kant: Metaphysics (Apr. 30)


1. How is transcendental idealism different from empirical idealism?

2. How does reason's framing for itself an order according to its own ideas open up the possibility for a moral sense of "ought" in the determination of the will itself?



3. Kant says that, even though "we cannot afford to dispense with the existence of a necessary being," we cannot conclude that this proves that God exists, because the claim that God exists is a judgment. Why is this latter point significant?

4. "Just as the understanding unifies the manifold in the object by means of concepts, so reason unifies the manifold of concepts by means of ideas." How does Kant explain what this means by noting that transcendental ideas of reason are only regulative and not constitutive?


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