Final Exam, Spring 2013

April 19, 2013

General instructions: The final exam consists of three parts; the first part consists of a few short identifications of some of the key terms we’ve discussed in this class. The second part consists a required short essay, and the third part gives you a choice on which essay you wish to answer. The final exam will be due to me on Thursday, May 9 by 2:00 in the afternoon.  I will be in my office (Eastman Theater, 205) between 12:00 and 2:00 on that day; you can give me your exams then. You may also e-mail me your exam, and I will send you a confirmation e-mail. If you do not receive a confirmation e-mail you must assume that I have not received your exam. It is your responsibility to see to it that I get a copy of your exam.

I. Short identification (10 points each): for each of the following terms, write a 3-4 sentence identification.  Your purpose here is to identify the meaning of the term, explain its importance, and perhaps give an example that helps explain the term more fully.

  1. The Form of the Good (for Socrates)
  2. Justice (for Socrates)
  3. Why should imitative art be banned from the ideal city?
  4. In the Allegory of the Cave, who are the puppeteers and what do they symbolize?

II. Short essay (2-3 pages; 30 points). Answer the following question:

One of the arguments Socrates presents on behalf of the theory of the forms is that there can be no knowledge of particular and empirical objects. Describe and evaluate this argument.

III. Short essay (2-3 pages; 30 points). Answer ONE of the following questions:

  1. 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. (You can, say, defend Athenian democracy against Socrates’ charges.) You may want to draw from the critiques 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.
  2. Tom and Jack are both working as waiters in a restaurant. Both are relatively poor and need all of the money they earn in order to live a relatively comfortable life.  Tom encourages Jack to cheat on his income taxes by refusing to report the income he gets from tips. “After all,” Tom says, “the tax code requiring the reporting of tips is just some rule that politicians passed in order to raise money to use for pork-barrel spending and corrupt government contracts. Besides, big corporations can use loopholes (or lobbying to change the tax code) to avoid paying taxes. And finally, just think how much you need this money, Jack. What good is being just in this case?” Drawing on the conception of justice Socrates develops in the Republic, develop a response to Tom’s arguments. How should we determine what Jack ought to do?
  3. In the Republic, Socrates insists that the guardians should not learn “dialectics” (which is the technical term for Socrates’s philosophical method of questioning received opinion) until they are older and have had extensive training in mathematics. And indeed, he argues that the vast majority of people should not study philosophy at all. How does this position relate to the one Socrates adopted in “The Apology”? In making this argument, does the Socrates in the Republic now acknowledge that the Socrates in “The Apology” was wrong to practice philosophy in public?

Information for those doing book/article reviews

April 15, 2013

As you’ll recall, one of the optional assignments available is a book or article review. This post contains the information necessary to complete this assignment. Please remember that this post is only relevant to you if you have chosen this optional assignment.

A book or article review will be a short essay (1000-1500 words), in which you must select one book or three articles to review. I am rather open about what texts can be selected; however, they must be scholarly books and articles, and they must be relevant to this class (usually, this means that they must address either the questions we have been exploring in this class, or more commonly, they must discuss one of the theorists we have been covering). After you read this text, you must write an essay in which you present and assess the core claims the author makes. That is, you have to explain what the author is doing in the text and then evaluate it. In order to evaluate a text, you should consider addressing questions like the following (please note, these questions are not all required, nor is this list exhaustive; the point of these questions is simply to get you thinking in the right direction): What evidence does the author present on behalf of his/her claims? Is the evidence true? Does it support the main claim? What is useful or problematic about one of the author’s claims? Does the claim promote or undermine various useful forms of politics? What implications might there be to the author’s position(s)? Are there implications that the author ignores but you wish to highlight? Is the author’s argument useful for issues that the author does not consider? What might these other issues be? And so on. You may find some of these texts to be difficult, so I strongly encourage you to discuss them with me before turning in your review. Your review will be due on MAY 9.

How do you find scholarly books and articles? I might recommend that you start with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. This resource can help introduce you to the many issues surrounding a subject or a philosopher, and will also contain a useful bibliography that you can look at. To find the materials cited in the encyclopedia or other relevant books and articles, you’ll need to use the library’s resources. You can find books through the voyager catalog. Finding articles is a bit trickier, but happily, the subject librarians link to the relevant databases. I would suggest that you search through either the Philosopher’s Index or the Political Science Complete database. You can find the Philosopher’s Index linked from Eileen Daly’s website at the library (she is the philosophy librarian at the UR), and you can find the Political Science Complete database on Ann Marshall’s website (she is the political science librarian). Finally, if you are having problems finding material that is interesting or useful, please contact me, or contact one of the librarians; they are very helpful.


Paper Topics for Optional Paper Assignment

March 27, 2013

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.”


Paper Topics 1, Spring 2013

February 13, 2013

Select ONE of the following paper topics.  Papers are to be 1000-1500 words (about 3-4 pages), double-spaced, with 1 inch margins, and in 12 point, Times New Roman or Garamond font.  Papers are due TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 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 (Sophocles, p. 10) or a footnote. If you have an edition of any book different from the ones listed on the syllabus, make sure you indicate this in a bibliography or a footnote.  Note that, for the purposes of this assignment, the professor’s lectures are considered to be in public domain: you don’t need to cite them. However, when the professor says, “Thucydides thinks blah blah blah,” then you need to cite the appropriate places in Thucydides.

1. In what sense can we understand the tragedy found in “Oedipus the King” as a response to the problem of nihilism?  Be sure to explain what tragedy in general is and how it relates to the problem of nihilism.

2.  What is the tragic conflict in “Antigone” and should we see this conflict as tragic (i.e., as irresolvable and/or inevitable)?  Given your answer, what sorts of consequences follow for the principles that ought to guide forms of political action or engagement? Hint: You may want to draw upon or criticize Bonnie Honig’s article to address this question.

3. In his descriptions of Pericles’ early speeches, Thucydides presents an account of the Athenian virtues. What is this system of values, and how do they compare to the forms of values that the character Antigone represents? Which system of values is more useful for political life? Explain your answer.

4. One common interpretation of the ritual of Greek tragedy (and the Festival of Dionysus in general) is that it functioned as an “exception institution.” The Festival, on this reading, was a specially carved out space and time where the Athenians can encounter, experience, and express emotions that are not permitted in normal polis life. One implication of this idea is that the Festival of Dionysus played a “constructive” role in Athenian democracy, primarily by allowing disruptive ideas and emotions to be vented in safe, harmless, or even socially constructive ways. In this essay, examine Honig’s discussion of Creon’s grief (pp. 27-31). According to Honig, what does Creon’s grief have to tell us about efforts to develop exception institutions to help keep disruptive emotions in check? What implications might this position have for understanding or criticizing the way our own society contains, expresses, or avoids forms of grief?

5. According to Honig, the play “Antigone” “explores the conflict between two economies of mourning and membership…but sides with neither (p. 29). The play illustrates the costs of forcing people into the notions of discipline and interchangeablity found in democratic life while simultaneously acknowledging the limits (e.g., the self-indulgence) of the Homeric/aristocratic mode of mourning and membership. Now, Honig argues that this reading does not simply leave us with an “empty undecidability,” but instead generates a “deep criticality” (p. 26). Do you agree? In other words, does Honig’s reading of the play help sustain a deep and critical engagement with democratic and aristocratic values and ideals, where we both assess the worthiness and the limits of these values? Or does her reading instead generate a form of epistemological/value nihilism, where the lesson of the play is only that we have no way of determining which set of values we ought to embrace? Explain your answer.


Final Exam

April 23, 2011

General instructions: The final exam consists of three parts; the first part consists of a few short identifications of some of the key terms we’ve discussed in this class. The second part consists a short essay, and the third part gives you a choice on which essay you wish to answer. The final exam will be due to me on Thursday, May 5 by 2:00 in the afternoon.  I will be in my office (Eastman Theater, 402) between 12:00 and 2:00 on that day; you can give me your exams then. You may also e-mail me your exam, and I will send you a confirmation e-mail. If you do not receive a confirmation e-mail you must assume that I have not received your exam. It is your responsibility to see to it that I get a copy of your exam.

I. Short identification (10 points each): for each of the following terms, write a 3-4 sentence identification.  Your purpose here is to identify the meaning of the term, explain its importance, and perhaps give an example that helps explain the term more fully.

  1. The Form of the Good (for Socrates
  2. Justice (for Socrates)
  3. Why should imitative art be banned from the ideal city?
  4. In the Allegory of the Cave, what does the process of ascending up the tunnel symbolize?

II. Short essay (2-3 pages; 30 points). Answer the following question:

Is Aristophanes’ critique of Socrates reasonable? Why or why not? For example, are his worries about the consequences of Socratic philosophy well-founded? Make sure you convey clearly what the critique is before you evaluate it.

III. Short essay (2-3 pages; 30 points). Answer ONE of the following questions:

  1. 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. (You can, say, defend Athenian democracy against Socrates’ charges.) You may want to draw from the critiques 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?
  2. 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?
  3. Tom and Jack are both working as waiters in a restaurant. Both are relatively poor and need all of the money they earn in order to live a comfortable life.  Tom encourages Jack to cheat on his income taxes by refusing to report the income he gets from tips. “After all,” Tom says, “the tax code requiring the reporting of tips is just some rule that politicians passed in order to raise money to use for pork-barrel spending and corrupt government contracts. Besides, big corporations can use loopholes (or lobbying to change the tax code) to avoid paying taxes. And finally, just think how much you need this money, Jack. What good is being just in this case?”

Drawing on the conception of justice Socrates develops in the Republic, develop a response to Tom’s arguments.  How should we determine what Jack ought to do?


Paper topics (essay is due Feb. 22 in class)

February 8, 2011

Select ONE of the following paper topics.  Papers are to be 5-7 pages long, double-spaced, with 1 inch margins, and in 12 point, Times New Roman or Garamond font.  Papers are due TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 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 (Thucydides, p. 10) or a footnote. If you have an edition of any book different from the ones listed on the syllabus, make sure you indicate this in a bibliography or a footnote.  Note that, for the purposes of this assignment, the professor’s lectures are considered to be in public domain: you don’t need to cite them. However, when the professor says, “Sophocles thinks blah blah blah,” then you need to cite the appropriate places in Sophocles.

1. In what sense can we understand the tragedy found in “Oedipus the King” as a response to the problem of nihilism?  Be sure to explain what tragedy in general is and how it relates to the problem of nihilism.

2.  What is the tragic conflict in “Antigone” and should we see this conflict as tragic (i.e., as irresolvable and/or inevitable)?  Given your answer, what sorts of consequences follow for the principles that ought to guide forms of political action or engagement? Hint: You may want to draw upon or criticize Bonnie Honig’s article to address this question.

3. In his descriptions of Pericles’ early speeches, Thucydides presents an account of the Athenian virtues.  What is this system of values, and how do they compare to the forms of values that Antigone represents? Which system of values is more useful for political life? Explain your answer.