PHI 022: Philosophical Classics of the Modern Era
Paper Two: What is our Place in the Universe?
Prof. Alejandro Naranjo Sandoval
Please write a 3-to-4-page paper on one of the following prompts (note: 31⁄2 pages are less than 4
pages!). Your paper should be double-spaced, with 1 inch margins, and with a standard font
(Times New Roman or Arial), pt. 12. Please submit your paper electronically via Canvas
(upload the file through the “Second Paper” page under the “Assignments” tab) by November
17th, 11:59pm. Your submission will be automatically anonymized by Canvas, so we won’t be
able to see who wrote it until after we’ve finished grading all the papers. You may choose to
write on another topic not listed below, but it must be approved by me first.
1. Arguments for the existence of God. Explain Descartes’ distinction between formal and objective reality. Then explain his definition of God in terms of this distinction. Then explain and assess in detail ONE of Descartes’ arguments for the existence of God, i.e., either his cosmological argument in Meditation III or the ontological argument in Meditation V. Your assessment can – but need not – include a discussion of infinity as the negation of finitude, the possibility that our potential is infinite, or whether existence
is a kind of perfection.
Descartes’ Ontological Argument: Unveiling the Essence of God’s Existence
The quest for proving the existence of God has been a central concern in philosophical discourse. René Descartes, a prominent figure in the history of philosophy, proposed compelling arguments grounded in his unique distinctions between formal and objective reality. This paper delves into Descartes’ definition of God within this framework and assesses the strengths and weaknesses of his ontological argument from Meditation V.
II. Descartes’ Distinction between Formal and Objective Reality
Descartes introduces the dual notions of formal and objective reality to navigate the complexities of existence. Formal reality pertains to the reality that a thing possesses in itself, while objective reality is the reality that an idea represents. This distinction serves as the foundational framework for Descartes’ exploration of the existence of God.
III. Descartes’ Definition of God
In light of the formal and objective reality distinction, Descartes defines God as a being possessing infinite formal reality. God is characterized by perfection, omnipotence, omniscience, and benevolence. This definition becomes pivotal in Descartes’ attempts to establish the existence of such a perfect being.
IV. Ontological Argument in Meditation V
Descartes’ ontological argument unfolds in Meditation V, weaving a logical tapestry to demonstrate the existence of God. The argument hinges on the clear and distinct perception as a criterion for truth. Descartes asserts that the idea of God, as a supremely perfect being, is so clear and distinct that it necessitates the existence of its object.
V. Assessment of Descartes’ Ontological Argument
The strength of Descartes’ ontological argument lies in its simplicity and reliance on the clarity and distinctness of ideas. However, critics argue that existence is not a predicate and that the ontological argument might be circular. Assessing the argument’s validity necessitates a nuanced exploration of objections and potential responses.
VI. Optional Discussion Points
Infinity as the negation of finitude, the possibility of infinite potential, and whether existence is a kind of perfection add layers to the philosophical exploration of Descartes’ arguments. These optional discussions contribute to a broader understanding of the implications of Descartes’ philosophy.
In conclusion, Descartes’ ontological argument, rooted in the distinctions between formal and objective reality, offers a unique perspective on the existence of God. The clarity and distinctness of the idea of God present a compelling case, but the argument is not without its critics. Engaging with Descartes’ philosophical framework allows us to appreciate the intricacies of his thought and contributes to the ongoing discourse on the existence of God.
2. The problem of evil. Explain Leibniz’s doctrine of optimism. Then explain THE TWO forms of the problem of evil facing Leibniz, namely, the problem of suffering and the problem of cooperation. Then assess Leibniz’s responses to ONE of these problems: EITHER: How does Leibniz avoid the conclusion that there is unnecessary suffering in the world? OR: How does Leibniz avoid the conclusion that God wills evil to happen? Your assessment can – but need not – include a discussion of suffering that enhances overall well-being and happiness, the distinction between willing and allowing, or metaphysical evil.
Leibniz’s Optimism and the Enigma of Suffering
In the intricate tapestry of philosophical discussions, Leibniz’s doctrine of optimism stands as a bold attempt to reconcile the benevolence of God with the undeniable presence of evil in the world. This paper scrutinizes Leibniz’s optimistic worldview, particularly focusing on the problem of suffering, and assesses his responses to the apparent paradox within his philosophical framework.
II. Leibniz’s Doctrine of Optimism
Leibniz posits the existence of the best possible world, crafted by a benevolent and omniscient God. Within this worldview, harmony, order, and the maximization of goods reflect God’s infinite wisdom in selecting this particular world from the myriad of possible ones.
III. The Two Forms of the Problem of Evil
a. The Problem of Suffering
Leibniz grapples with the challenge presented by the existence of suffering in a world supposedly optimized by a benevolent deity. The tension arises from the apparent contradiction between the goodness of God and the existence of pain and anguish in the world.
b. The Problem of Cooperation
In this form, Leibniz faces the dilemma of morally responsible agents contributing to evil. How can God’s creation allow for human actions that lead to moral and natural evils, and how can these actions be reconciled with God’s benevolence?
IV. Leibniz’s Responses to the Problem of Suffering
a. Avoiding the Conclusion of Unnecessary Suffering
Leibniz posits that what appears as suffering or evil may be a result of human limitations in understanding the divine plan. He introduces the concept of “metaphysical evil,” suggesting that what seems evil from a finite perspective serves a greater purpose within the context of God’s infinite wisdom.
Leibniz contends that apparent evil, when seen from a broader metaphysical perspective, contributes to the overall harmony and goodness of the best possible world. In this way, he avoids the conclusion that there is unnecessary suffering, asserting that every instance of suffering plays a role in the divine plan.
V. Optional Discussion Points
- Suffering enhancing overall well-being and happiness: Leibniz might argue that challenges and hardships contribute to the overall goodness of the world by allowing individuals to develop virtues and appreciate the contrast between good and evil.
- Distinction between willing and allowing: Leibniz may elaborate on the idea that God allows certain events, including suffering, as a necessary consequence of creating a world with free-willed agents.
- Metaphysical evil: Further exploration of Leibniz’s concept of metaphysical evil, considering how it factors into the overall goodness of the best possible world.
In conclusion, Leibniz’s optimism confronts the perplexing coexistence of a benevolent God and the reality of suffering. By delving into the intricacies of metaphysical evil, Leibniz provides a philosophical framework that encourages a broader perspective on the role of suffering in the grand design of the best possible world. While his responses may not completely assuage the emotional impact of suffering, they offer a unique lens through which to understand the complex relationship between God, humanity, and the enigma of evil.
3. Descartes on embodiment. Explain what it means for certain sensations to be embodied. Then explain in detail Descartes’ argument in Meditation VI for the conclusion that we are the union of a mind and a body. Your explanation should include a discussion of the 2/2 “sailor and the ship” passage. Then assess the argument – does it show that we are united to a body? Why or why not? Your assessment can – but need not – include discussion of radical empathy, virtual reality avatars, or the reliability of our bodily sensations.
Descartes on Embodiment and the Union of Mind and Body
Descartes, a key figure in modern philosophy, grappled with the intricate relationship between mind and body. This paper delves into Descartes’ views on embodiment, elucidating the notion of certain sensations being embodied. It then explores Descartes’ argument in Meditation VI for the union of mind and body, with a specific focus on the “sailor and the ship” passage, followed by an assessment of whether the argument convincingly establishes our union with a body.
II. Descartes on Embodiment
Embodiment in Descartes’ philosophy refers to the integration of the mind with a physical body. Certain sensations are considered embodied when they arise from the interaction between the mind and the body. Descartes acknowledges the body as a vehicle through which the mind interacts with the external world, shaping our experiences.
III. Descartes’ Argument in Meditation VI
Descartes argues for the union of mind and body in Meditation VI. He asserts that the mind and body are distinct substances but intricately connected. The “sailor and the ship” analogy is employed to illustrate this connection. In this analogy, the mind is likened to a sailor and the body to a ship. Just as a sailor intimately interacts with and relies on their ship for navigation, the mind is intertwined with and dependent on the body for experiences.
The analogy emphasizes the inseparability of the mind from the body; the union is not merely incidental but fundamental to the nature of the mind.
IV. Assessment of Descartes’ Argument
Descartes’ argument appears persuasive in establishing the union of mind and body. The “sailor and the ship” analogy vividly captures the interdependence and intimate connection between the mind and body. The analogy reinforces the idea that the mind is not an isolated entity but relies on the body as a vessel for its experiences and interactions with the external world.
However, critics argue that Descartes’ mind-body dualism may leave some questions unanswered, particularly regarding how an immaterial mind interacts with a material body. The interaction problem raises concerns about the mechanics of communication between these distinct substances.
V. Optional Discussion Points
- Radical empathy: Descartes’ argument may be analyzed in light of contemporary discussions on empathy, exploring how the union of mind and body facilitates understanding and sharing others’ experiences.
- Virtual reality avatars: Considering how advancements in technology and virtual reality challenge or align with Descartes’ views on the union of mind and body.
- Reliability of bodily sensations: Examining the role of bodily sensations in affirming the union of mind and body and addressing potential skepticism about their accuracy.
In conclusion, Descartes’ argument in Meditation VI, bolstered by the “sailor and the ship” analogy, offers a compelling perspective on the union of mind and body. While challenges exist, especially regarding the mechanics of interaction, Descartes’ portrayal of the mind’s intimate connection with the body remains a foundational concept in the philosophy of mind.
4. Early modern theories of mind-body causation. Explain what it means to say that there is a type-type correspondence between mental and bodily states. Then compare and contrast TWO of the following three theories of mind-body causation: Descartes’ interactionism, Malebranche’s occasionalism, and Hume’s denial of the faculty of the will. Which of these two theories do you find most plausible? Assess your preferred theory’s pros and cons in detail. Your assessment can – but need not – include discussion of Princess Elisabeth’s objections, the relation between causes and necessaryconnections, or the seeming extraordinariness of mind-body causation.
Early Modern Theories of Mind-Body Causation: A Comparative Analysis
The exploration of mind-body causation in early modern philosophy is marked by diverse theories, each offering unique perspectives on the relationship between mental and bodily states. This paper investigates the concept of type-type correspondence and then compares and contrasts Descartes’ interactionism with Hume’s denial of the faculty of the will. The analysis will consider the plausibility of these theories, focusing on their pros and cons.
II. Type-Type Correspondence in Mind-Body Causation
Type-type correspondence posits a systematic relationship between mental and bodily states. According to this concept, specific mental states align with particular bodily states in a consistent manner. The idea suggests a predictable correlation between mental events and physical occurrences.
III. Comparison of Mind-Body Causation Theories
a. Descartes’ Interactionism
Descartes proposes interactionism, positing a two-way causal relationship between the mind and body. Mental events can influence physical events, and vice versa. The mind interacts with the body through the pineal gland, facilitating communication.
b. Hume’s Denial of the Faculty of the Will
Hume, in contrast, denies the existence of a substantial self or the faculty of the will. He argues that our sense of personal identity is a bundle of perceptions, and any notion of a persistent self or will is a result of habitual associations.
IV. Assessment of Theories
a. Descartes’ Interactionism
- Offers a coherent explanation for the interaction between mental and bodily events.
- Aligns with common intuitions about the mind’s influence on the body.
- Faces challenges explaining the mechanics of interaction.
- Princess Elisabeth’s objections highlight difficulties in reconciling interactionism with the conservation of energy principle.
b. Hume’s Denial of the Faculty of the Will
- Aligns with empirical observations, emphasizing the absence of direct introspective evidence for a substantial self.
- Consistent with Hume’s broader empiricist framework.
- Raises questions about the nature of personal identity and the source of the unity of consciousness.
- May struggle to account for the apparent causal efficacy of mental states.
V. Optional Discussion Points
- Princess Elisabeth’s objections: Examining how objections raised by Princess Elisabeth challenge Descartes’ interactionism and considering possible responses.
- Relation between causes and necessary connections: Evaluating how each theory addresses the issue of necessary connections between mental and bodily events.
- Seeming extraordinariness of mind-body causation: Discussing the philosophical implications of the seemingly extraordinary nature of mind-body causation in these theories.
In conclusion, the comparative analysis of Descartes’ interactionism and Hume’s denial of the faculty of the will reveals nuanced perspectives on mind-body causation. While Descartes’ theory provides an intuitively appealing model of interaction, Hume’s empirical approach raises thought-provoking questions about the nature of personal identity. Ultimately, the plausibility of these theories depends on the weight assigned to empirical evidence and the interpretation of introspective experiences.
5. Hume on free will. Explain what it means to hold an absolute theory of freedom. Then explain Hume’s claim that an agent’s actions are necessitated by their psychological makeup. Assess ONE of Hume’s arguments against absolute freedom among the following three: the argument from our reliability at predicting human action, the argument from our confidence in the regularity of human action, or the argument that human action is intelligible. Your assessment can – but need not – include a discussion of the seeming unpredictability of human action, the feeling that our actions are unconstrained, or the undesirability of absolute freedom as a model of human action.
Hume on Free Will: Challenging Absolute Freedom
In the realm of free will, Hume’s philosophy challenges traditional notions, particularly the concept of absolute freedom. This paper explores what it means to hold an absolute theory of freedom and elucidates Hume’s claim that an agent’s actions are necessitated by their psychological makeup. It then assesses one of Hume’s arguments against absolute freedom, focusing on the argument from our reliability at predicting human action.
II. Absolute Theory of Freedom
An absolute theory of freedom posits that individuals have the unrestricted ability to choose and act independently of any external or internal influences. This view suggests that agents possess an inherent capacity for undetermined, spontaneous actions.
III. Hume’s Claim on Psychological Makeup
Hume challenges absolute freedom by asserting that an agent’s actions are necessitated by their psychological makeup. According to Hume, an agent’s choices and behaviors are determined by a combination of their character, motives, and prevailing circumstances. Psychological factors constrain the range of possible actions.
IV. Hume’s Argument from Predictability
Hume’s argument from our reliability at predicting human action contends that our ability to predict human behavior undermines the notion of absolute freedom. If actions were truly undetermined and arbitrary, predicting human behavior would be inherently unreliable. However, Hume observes that human actions exhibit a remarkable degree of regularity and predictability.
V. Assessment of Hume’s Argument
- Reflects empirical observations: Hume’s argument aligns with empirical evidence, highlighting the consistent patterns in human behavior that allow for reliable predictions.
- Challenges metaphysical assumptions: Hume’s approach challenges metaphysical assumptions about absolute freedom, grounding the discussion in observable phenomena.
- Overlooks the complexity of human motivation: Hume’s argument may oversimplify the intricate interplay of motives and circumstances that influence human actions.
- Ignores potential exceptions: While predictability is generally high, exceptions and unpredictable actions might exist, challenging the universality of Hume’s claim.
VI. Optional Discussion Points
- Seeming unpredictability of human action: Exploring instances where human actions might seem unpredictable and considering how these instances impact Hume’s argument.
- Feeling that our actions are unconstrained: Assessing the subjective experience of freedom and how it might diverge from Hume’s deterministic perspective.
- Undesirability of absolute freedom: Discussing potential societal implications and ethical concerns associated with absolute freedom as a model of human action.
In conclusion, Hume’s critique of absolute freedom, as exemplified in the argument from our reliability at predicting human action, offers a pragmatic and empirically grounded perspective on free will. While Hume’s argument is persuasive in highlighting the regularity of human behavior, it prompts further reflection on the complexity of human motivation and the potential exceptions to predictability.
6. Locke on personal identity. State Locke’s distinction between sameness of man, sameness of substance, and sameness of persons. Then explain his theory of personal identity in terms of the notion of continuity of consciousness. Then present in detail ONE of the following three classic objections to Locke’s view: the lost memory problem, the transitivity problem, or the branching problem. Assess Locke’s theory of personal identity: Does it have a good response to the problem? Does it provide a plausible account of personal identity? Why or why not?
Locke on Personal Identity: Continuity of Consciousness and the Lost Memory Problem
John Locke’s theory of personal identity is a foundational exploration of how individuals come to understand themselves over time. This paper will elucidate Locke’s distinctions between the sameness of man, sameness of substance, and sameness of persons. It will then delve into Locke’s theory of personal identity, emphasizing the notion of continuity of consciousness. Finally, the paper will explore the classic objection known as the lost memory problem, assess Locke’s response to it, and evaluate the overall plausibility of his theory.
II. Locke’s Distinctions
a. Sameness of Man: Refers to the continuity of the biological organism, maintaining the same living body over time.
b. Sameness of Substance: Involves the persistence of the same immaterial soul or mind throughout an individual’s life.
c. Sameness of Persons: Locke’s primary focus, emphasizing the continuity of consciousness and self-awareness.
III. Locke’s Theory of Personal Identity: Continuity of Consciousness
Locke’s theory posits that personal identity is grounded in the continuity of consciousness. He argues that an individual at one time is the same person as an individual at another time if there is an unbroken chain of memories connecting the two moments. This chain of memories serves as the thread that ties past and present together, creating a sense of personal identity.
IV. The Lost Memory Problem
The lost memory problem poses a challenge to Locke’s theory by questioning whether personal identity can be maintained in cases where an individual loses all memory of past experiences. If memories are the foundation of identity, what happens when memories are erased?
V. Assessment of Locke’s Response
Locke’s Response: Locke contends that even in cases where an individual loses all memories, the continuity of consciousness remains intact if there is an unbroken chain linking the earlier and later stages. He argues that the potential loss of specific memories doesn’t disrupt the overall continuity of the self.
- Accounts for cases where individuals experience memory loss without undermining personal identity.
- Aligns with the overall theme of continuity, emphasizing the importance of the ongoing stream of consciousness.
- Relies heavily on memory: Locke’s response assumes that memory is the sole determinant of personal identity, potentially oversimplifying the complex nature of selfhood.
- Ignores the qualitative aspect: The response focuses on the quantitative aspect (continuity) but may not adequately address the qualitative aspects of personal identity.
In conclusion, Locke’s theory of personal identity, centered on continuity of consciousness, offers a compelling account that aligns with our intuitive understanding of selfhood. While Locke provides a reasonable response to the lost memory problem, his theory may face challenges when considering the qualitative aspects of personal identity. The ongoing debate over the nature of personal identity underscores the complexity of this philosophical inquiry.