Introduction to Philosophy Essay Prompts & Topics

In the next 6 weeks, we will be covering a semester of material and you will be writing three papers, two 4-5 page essays (each 25% of your final grade) & a final 7-10 page paper (50% of your final grade).  All three papers are to be turned in by midnight on Thursday, July 27th.  You are welcome to read the lectures and readings as well as complete the three papers at your own pace, but make sure to give yourself time to complete each assignment and receive feedback.

Each of the three papers should be typed and double spaced with standard font and 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, but make sure it is relevant to your argument.  I am looking for creative and critical thinking, not a report summarizing the material we study.

All papers are to be emailed to me at: ericgerlach@gmail.com.  This is the best way to contact me about any questions and concerns.

First Response Essay Topics

Pick an idea we have studied with Shamanism, ancient Egyptian thought or ancient Indian thought, and take a position supporting or criticizing it.  Some possible ideas you can choose include:

1) Does human perspective evolve and change, or is it largely the same as in the past?

2) Should all truth be questioned and re-reasoned, or are there understandings and dogmas that are true enough to be certainties?

5) Do all cultures share similar views, or are some cultures incompatible with others?

Second Response Essay Topics

Pick an idea we have studied with ancient Greek or Chinese thought, and take a position supporting or criticizing it.  If you are in the Global Studies cohort program, you should consider the idea in the context of modern historical movements you have studied in the cohort class.  Some possible ideas you can choose include:

1) Is truth relative (Heraclitus & Daoism) or absolute (Plato)? Is there true objective knowledge, or is everything relative human opinion and perspective?

2) Should all expertise and authority be questioned continuously?  (Heraclitus)

3) Both Plato and Confucius believe in meritocracy rather than aristocracy.  How should this be accomplished?  Is Plato’s Republic a good city given that it is a meritocracy but also a rigid class system?  Can one avoid class systems in building a meritocracy?

4) Do you favor Confucians who believe in study and civilization, or Daoists who believe in meditation and returning to nature?

5) Do you favor Laozi, who teaches about how to rule a prosperous society, or Zhuangzi, who has far more faith in individual development than social development?

Third Response Essay Topics

Pick an idea we have studied with Islamic & European thought, and take a position supporting or criticizing it.  If you are in the Global Studies cohort program, you should consider the idea in the context of modern historical movements you have studied in the cohort class.  Some possible ideas you can choose include:

1) Are there absolute certainties (Descartes) or is all truth assumption (Hume)?

2) Can we use reason to deduce truth that should not be contradicted (Kant) or does all truth consist of opposing points of view (Hegel)?

3) Hegel’s idea of dialectic is that everything in history forms in three-fold stages.  How much does reality reflect this?  Is it too simple or too complex to describe how individual ideas and social movements work?

4) Nietzsche argues that we must have the courage to take an individual stand between and against both absolute truth and nihilism.  Is such a stand possible or desirable?

5) For Heidegger and Sartre, the horizon of time and being gives us our truths but simultaneously threatens to take them away.  How should one face this situation to live authentically?  Do either Heidegger or Sartre give us a sufficient strategy?

6) Wittgenstein argues that we do not give things explanations, but rather add descriptions.  Is this true, and if so what does it mean for our ability to have knowledge?

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