Paper Topics for Optional Paper Assignment

These paper topics are for those students who have decided to do the optional essay. If you are one of those students, please follow these instructions: Please answer ONE of the following paper topics.  Papers are to be 3-4 pages long, in Times New-Roman, or Garamond font. Papers are due TUESDAY, APRIL 9, at the beginning of class.  Whenever appropriate, make sure you support your arguments and claims with textual evidence. Don’t over-quote, however; it is often enough to refer to the relevant passage with a parenthetical reference (Plato, p. 45) or a footnote. [1]  Please note that for the purposes of this class, the professor’s lectures are public domain; you don’t need to cite them.  However, if you draw on one of the professor’s interpretations of the text, you should cite the relevant portion of the text.

1. You are Thrasymachus.  You have just engaged in a dialogue with Socrates regarding the nature of justice (depicted in Book I of the Republic).  Although you have given up your position in the course of this dialogue, are you really convinced by Socrates’ arguments?  How might you be able to respond differently to Socrates’ critique of your position?

2. Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” (at the beginning of Book VII of the Republic) is by far the most famous section of the Republic.  In an elegant and focused essay, critically examine the meaning of this allegory.  In doing this, you should consider the following questions: what is the meaning of the allegory (including the meaning of the various symbols and events of the story); and more importantly, is this allegory a good way to think about the problems associated with politics? In other words, would knowledge of the Form of the Good (assuming such a thing exists) help someone to be a successful ruler? Why or why not?

3. You are Meletus. Socrates’ supporters are taking you to task for bringing about the death of their hero. You need to defend your actions on some principled grounds. That is, you need to provide convincing reasons why Socrates was threatening to Athens and ought to be put to death. You can, for instance, defend Athenian democracy against Socrates’ charges. Or you may want to draw from the critiques of Socrates raised in the “Clouds,” or from lectures, or construct your own. Make sure it is clear to your reader which Socratic position you are responding to.

4. One of the main features of Socrates’s definition of justice is that it is a “character-based” definition. One is just not because one behaves in particular ways, but because one has a properly organized soul, where one’s reason uses one’s spirited element to rule over the baser appetites. Our question is this: what is the relationship between this conception of justice and the actions that we ordinarily call just? Would a just man in Socrates’s sense act in ways we usually call “ethical”? Would a just man, for instance, obey the laws, pay his debts, and things of that sort? Why or why not? When answering this question, be sure you are clear about Socrates’s actual definition of justice, and also be sure you are clarifying what we mean by actions we usually and unreflectively call “just.”


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