History of Philosophy: Ancient PHIL 3000-020
First Paper Topics: Presocratics and Plato
Please write a 6-7–page paper on ONE of the following topics. All papers must be typed. Due date: March 16.
(1) During the Presocratic period (from roughly 600 to 400 BCE), mythopoetic explanatory tools were gradually challenged by a new kind of explanation for natural entities and phenomena, one developed by the nature philosophers, Thales, Anaximander, Xenophanes, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras and Mellisus. Explain the distinctive features of this this new kind of explanation, how it differs from the mythopoetic explanations in use before the nature philosophers came on the scene, giving specific examples of each explanatory type, its strengths and weaknesses. You should include a discussion of how Hesiod's work represents a transition from the mythopoetic to rational explanatory strategies, and give several concrete examples of Presocratic rational explanations to illustrate the various features of rational explanation that you have identified. Near the end of the paper, you should attempt to assess at least two of the Presocratic efforts to give the arche of nature. If the account of nature given is faulty, what is the source(s) of its faults, and is its failure becauseit is a rational explanation, or rather, because it is not a sufficiently good rational explanation of nature? In either case, explain the exact nature of the failure, and offer a potential remedy.
(2) In his early dialogues (often called the Socratic Quest dialogues), Plato repeatedly shows Socrates employing a method (elenchus) for discovering the right answer to questions like "What is justice?" What is this method? How does it work? Why suppose that it can provide us with the kind of answer Socrates is seeking for this kind of question? Once you have explained the nature of this first attempt to provide a method for establishing knowledge of justice, piety, moral goodness, etc., then explain how this method's efficacy is challenged at the end of Book I of Plato's Republic. Given the nature of the problem he outlines there, what could possibly overcome this weakness in the elenchus method so we can finally settle what is justice?
(3) In Plato's Republic, Plato responds to Glaucon and Adeimantus' challenge, i.e., the challenge to define justice and explain why it is anyone's self-interest to act justly. Explain the exact nature of this challenge, and give the basic elements of Plato's response (which are plainly evident in Books II and III). In particular, explain how a certain isomorphism between the Republic and the individual soul plays a role in that response. Consider at least two objections to Plato's basic account of justice in the state and in the individual, and possible replies Plato could give to these objections.
(4) Explain Euthyphro's Dilemma, elaborating in the process on the DCTM. Is it a true dilemma? Could one find a way to go between the horns? What conception of piety (by which we mean in the broader sense moral good) does Socrates arguably hold? Does it depend in any way upon the gods or a god? Explain.
(5) In the Apology Socrates alludes to, and defends himself against, two sets of charges. State and explain all charges. Is he guilty of any? Why or why not?
(6) In the Crito Socrates offers an extended argument that he should not escape from prison. What is this argument? What specific problems with the argument might persuade you that it is unsound? Finally, Socrates assumes the person of the laws of Athens to state the arguments they might give, if they could speak. What are the two strongest, or if you like the two weakest, of these arguments (handout)? Assess their strength. Do you think Socrates was a fool not to escape?
(7) Plato presents, in the mouth of Socrates in the Phaedo, his theory of Forms. Explain the arguments from the handout that there are Forms. How is the theory an answer to Heraclitus? What are two objections one might make to the theory, and how could Plato respond? What kinds of Forms should be included in the theory, and what kinds not? Would you eliminate any that Plato wants to include? Why or why not?
Three bits of advice:
(1) Don't assume that the descriptive/exegetical part of your paper is less important than the part where you give your own assessment of the issues. In fact, unless the argument or doctrine in question has been reconstructed carefully, your opinion will miss the point.
(2) Wherever you are asked to give your opinion, it is assumed that you will also defend it and offer some philosophical reasons for your claim; mere assertion is not enough.
(3) Discussing the topic and details of your paper in advance with me is a Good Thing, not a Bad Thing. But please try to do this soon, both to give you more time to work on your paper and to avoid last-minute stampedes to your teacher. I will make myself available for talking on the phone over the weekend, given our foreshortened summer schedule.