States of Nature
In any piece of writing you should have an audience in mind. By the end of your paper, your audience should understand fully the issues you write about and be in a position to evaluate what you’ve said.
In these papers write for an audience that is:
(b) Ignorant of philosophy.
(d) Doesn’t care about you.
(e) Doesn’t care about being entertained.
(f) Does care about understanding the truth.
Use straightforward vocabulary and grammatical constructions.
Aim to be clear, simple, and precise. Don’t aim to impress. Try to make your prose as transparent as possible.
In particular, avoid:
• Dialogue or dramatic form;
• Too many embedded clauses;
• Quotes, unless (a) you’re justifying an attribution; or (b) you’re going to extract, explain and evaluate the argument it contains.
Cite references properly.
Use your opening paragraph to preview what you’re going to do in the paper.
Remember that philosophy deals primarily in arguments and theories. So try to structure your paper for the most part around them: state and explain theories; then state, explain and evaluate arguments for or against these theories.
I emphasize that all theories must be stated in full and explained (terms defined, a couple of illustrative examples). And all arguments must be dealt with according to the “Extract/present, explain and evaluate” procedure. Don’t mention an argument unless you’re prepared to give it the full treatment.
In particular, make sure you explain every argument in full — i.e. define any technical terms and give a rationale for every premise. A rationale is a reason for believing the premise, so make sure your rationales are not simply restatements of the premises; despite what many politicians think, to repeat something (even often and loudly) gives no reason for thinking it’s true.
Make sure also that you evaluate every argument. There is really no point mentioning an argument if you don’t evaluate it. Furthermore, even if you think the argument sound you should discuss some possible objection and explain why you think the objection fails.
What I’m Looking For:
Show me that:
(a) Show me that you know how to present, explain and evaluate arguments for or against various theories in a clear and rigorous manner;
(b) You understand the issues involved.
I am not expecting you to be dazzlingly original or to show great research ability or even come to a definitive conclusion on the issues.
Some Suggested Topics
You should try to pick a topic that is not too big (“Political Philosophy Today”) and not too small (“Typos in Locke’s First Unpublished Letter to his Brother Phil”). The following are some suggestions. But they are only suggestions — feel free to discuss any of the arguments we have discussed in class, or even any you have found in the readings that we did not get around to talking about (but clear it with me first).
It is perfectly acceptable to “mix and match” — to answer just parts of the following questions, or to combine parts of these suggestions into questions of your own.
1. What do philosophers mean by a “state of nature”? What, according to Hobbes, would life be like in a state of nature? State and explain “Psychological Egoism”. State, explain and fully evaluate three grounds for Psychological Egoism. What do you think life would be like in a state of nature? Why?
2. What do philosophers mean by a “state of nature”? What, according to Hobbes, would life be like in a state of nature? State, explain and evaluate Hobbes’s argument for saying this based on his account of human nature. A natural response is to appeal to morality, but Hobbes would not be impressed — explain why not. How might an anarchist respond to this argument? What do you think?
3. What do philosophers mean by a “state of nature”? What is the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” (the Grade Game)? Illustrate the problem with two applications of your choosing. What does it show, according to Hobbes, about life in a state of nature? How might an anarchist respond? What do you think life would be like in a state of nature? Why?
4. Briefly state and explain a theory of rights. Is there a plausible justification for this? State and fully explain two natural rights that Locke thinks we have. What do philosophers mean by a “state of nature”? What does Locke think that life would be like in state of nature? How about Hobbes? What accounts for the difference? Who do you think is right (or at least closer to the truth)? Why?
5. What do philosophers mean by a “state of nature”? What does Locke think that life would be like in state of nature and why? State, explain and evaluate his argument that we ought to leave the state of nature. How might an anarchist respond? Why do you think of this argument?
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