Essay One: Skepticism
At college, Descartes was taught a philosophy called “scholasticism,” the dominant philosophy of the medieval period. Describe some key theses of scholastic philosophy (like geocentrism) that Descartes rejected. (20 points.)
Because he rejects scholasticism, Descartes wants to tear down his entire worldview and start over with fresh foundations. Descartes therefore sets his standard for belief very high. How high – what does Descartes require of knowledge beyond justification and truth? How does Descartes decide whether or not he will keep believing something he believes? (20 points.)
Explain what it means to be certain of a belief, using the concept of “sentence competitors.” Use an example of something most people think they know that they can’t actually know because they can’t rule out all of that belief’s competitors. (20 points.)
Describe the reasons found in Descartes’s first meditation that lead to the skeptical conclusion that we can’t know that we inhabit a shared physical, 3-D world. Describe the idea of the malicious demon that is central to the skeptical argument. How does it supposedly demolish any hope of knowing anything about the world around us? Explain why this outlandish scenario need not actually be true, nor need we believe that it is true, for it to have this effect. (If you’d like you can compare the evil demon to a brain in a vat or The Matrix). (40 points.)
Whereas Descartes’s argument leads to the conclusion that our evidence is never good enough to know that an external world exists outside our mind, David Hume’s argument leads to the conclusion that, even if an external world exists, reason and observation can never tell us how the world works. This is not because we are just too dumb, it’s because there’s no way to justify our beliefs in the laws of nature.
Describe what you’ve concluded about the possibility of a posteriori knowledge of the world, in light of Descartes and Hume’s arguments. Do you believe we can know anything about the world outside our own mind? If so, which of thier premises do you reject, and why? If you accept their skeptical conclusion, do you believe that you have taken this class? Does your acceptance of skepticism entail that every belief is just as good as any other belief, and you might as well believe whatever you want regardless of your evidence? Why or why not? (30 points.)
Essay Two: Personal Identity
Explain what it means that laws of nature, if knowable, are knowable a posteriori. Since the laws of nature are not themselves directly observable, how is our purported knowledge of them based on observation? (20 points.)
Explain why Hume thinks we can’t justify our belief in the laws of nature. What assumption does our belief in the lawfulness of nature depend on that, according to Hume, cannot be justified a priori, by direct observation, or by induction? Why can’t any of these methods justify the assumption? (30 points.)
Define and contrast “qualitative identity” and “numerical identity.” Give an example of two numerically distinct items that are qualitatively identical, and then explain how two photographs could be of qualitatively different but numerically identical subjects. (30 points.)
Explain that when philosophers mention the “problem of personal identity” they mean the question “What keeps a person numerically identical to him/herself over the course of possibly drastic qualitative change?” Then explain how philosophers who endorse the brain criterion answer this question and how philosophers who endorse the memory criterion answer this question. (30 points.)
Rewatch the promo for the movie Freaky Friday on Blackboard. Before they eat the cursed fortune cookie, the character Anna is played by Lindsay Lohan and the character Tess is played by Jamie Lee Curtis, but after they eat the fortune cookie their identity becomes philosophically debatable. Explain which characters (who you should call “Anna” and “Tess”) inhabit which bodies (which you should call “LL” for Lindsay Lohan’s body and “JLC” for Jamie Lee Curtis’s body) according to the brain and memory criterion of personal identity. Assume that the cursed fortune cookie swaps their memories between their brains but does not swap their brains between their skulls. (30 points.)
Personal identity is both symmetric and transitive – explain what this means. Give examples of transitive and symmetric relations other than personal identity, and also give an example of a relation that is neither transitive nor symmetric. Given that personal identity is both transitive and symmetric, how is it possible for two persons living ten years apart to be numerically identical to each other even if they believe, desire and remember entirely different things and their brains have no neurons or cells in common? (30 points.)
Explain what a “dividing” case looks like for Parfit. While humans cannot divide like amoeba, he thinks we can describe a case using triplets that results in a scenario very much like dividing amoeba in the relevant respects. Describe this scenario and explain what Parfit thinks happens to someone if they “divide” in this way. Which of the two resulting half-brained people does Parfit think the original whole-brained person is identical to, if either, and why? (30 points.)
We know that our memories are stored in patterns of neural connections in our brains, and so, in the future, scientists could hypothetically discover the code used by our brains to store memories and use this knowledge to “implant” memories in our minds by rewiring our neurons. In this hypothetical scenario, scientists could scan your brain and use this information to implant all of your memories into a clone. Upon awakening from
surgery, the clone would have all of your memories and no memories of its own – the clone would think he/she is you.
Imagine that the brain scan procedure would kill your brain if it happened to you. Nevertheless, it would allow all of your memories to be implanted into a newer, fresher brain and younger, healthier body whenever you wished. Explain whether or not the clones with your memories would be you. If this procedure were offered to you, would you agree to it? Why or why not? (30 points.)
Criteria for Success
Your paper must be in double-spaced 12-point font, Times New Roman, Vani, Georgia, Libre Baskerville, or Calibri. Give it an appropriate title and bold and/or underline the title. Make sure your name and date are on it, but don’t put the name of the professor.
Every step of the task is completed, and in the proper order.
Every step is written in your own words. You may quote Descartes, Locke, Parfit, or any
of the course material, and if you do be sure to use proper attribution, and don’t go
overboard with it. You do not need to be citing or quoting outside sources.
The paper does not contain any “filler,” i.e. sentences unrelated to the prompt or their
paragraph’s main idea.
The paper is turned in on time.
The paper has the proper typesetting spelling, grammar, paragraph structure and
Following the criteria for success is together worth 20 points of your paper.
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