Asian Philosophy Essay Prompts & Topics

All essays are to be at least three pages, typed and double spaced with 1 inch margins.  Essays should focus on a single idea or issue, clearly stating your position at the beginning and then using evidence and reasoning to support your position.  You are welcome to use your own life experience, current events, historical examples, or examples from fiction.  Please attach your essay to an email and send it to ericgerlach@gmail.com by the due date.  I will also accept printed copies by hand or in my box at BCC.  Check the syllabus and schedule for due dates.

Essay Grading Policy:  For response essays, write at least three pages, stick to your own thinking and provide a clear and focused argument, earning 2 points per page (one point off for every half page less than 3 pages), 2 points for sticking to your thinking, as opposed to summarizing the material, and 2 points for clarity and focus, for 10 points total.

First Response Essay Topics

1)  In the ancient world, we can see traditional beliefs (legends, metaphors, rituals) mixed together with progressive science (physics, biology, psychology).  What does this tell us about ancient and modern human thought?  Has human thought changed over time, or is it still the same as it was in ancient times?  What role did philosophy play in the ancient world, and does it play the same role today?

2)  In the ancient world, we can see anthropomorphic polytheism (many human-like gods) giving rise to de-anthropomorphic philosophical monism (one beyond-human truth).  What does this tell us about human thought?  What does this tell you about your own thinking?

3)  According to the Vaisheshika and Nyaya schools, there is absolute truth and universal knowledge.  According to the Jains and Buddhists, there is no absolute truth but only particular perspective.  What do you find yourself agreeing with more, and why?

Second Response Essay Topics

1) While the Theravada Buddhists believe in a close and closed community, and that one should be a nun or monk in the monastery if one is serious about enlightenment, the Mahayana Buddhists believe in the open and common community, and that anyone, inside or outside of the monastery, can be radically enlightened.  Which of these do you prefer, and why?

2) In the Zen tradition, as well as between Zen and other schools, there is much debate about sudden and gradual enlightenment.  What are the benefits and drawbacks of each, and which do you find the most compelling?

3) While Buddhists, such as the Dalai Lama, argue that emptiness is the essence of compassion and enlightenment, others have argued that this is quite nihilistic.  Can emptiness or ideas of relative truth be distinguished from nihilism, and how?

4) Are notions of absolute and relative truth incompatible or complementary, and how?  Are the two positions separate, or are they one and the same?

Third Response Essay Topics

1) The two major Confucians after Confucius, Mencius and Xunzi, agree that Confucius’ teachings are wise and that we should cultivate ourselves through education and participating in society.  However, they completely disagree on whether human nature is good or evil.  Mencius argues that human nature is good, and education expands what we originally are.  Xunzi argues that human nature is evil, and society is necessary to change us from what we originally are.  Who do you find yourself agreeing with more, and why?

2) Mozi argues for universal love versus the Confucians such as Mencius who argue that love is naturally varied depending on familiarity. Are the two positions compatible? Is one more favorable than the other?

Fourth Response Essay Topics

1) Hui Shi and Gongsun Long use paradoxes to show the complexity of human grammar and meaning. Are they successful? What do these paradoxes show us?

2) The Daoists use metaphors to show that “a sage’s that has a this”. Pick a metaphor from the three texts and show how it illustrates this and applies to life.

3) Much of the advice of the strategists fits together with teachings of Daoism. What does it mean that these teachings can be applied to war as well as peace of mind?

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