Essay topics

Topic 1

Commentators seem to agree that knowledge be defined as justified true belief, but disagree on how strong the justification condition should be. The Cartesian conception, it is often said, is too strong—it not only follows from this conception that “we have virtually no knowledge at all,” but it also conflicts with common sense intuition and use of the term “know”. The weak, common sense conception, on the other hand, is said to be too weak—simply put, it admits of error and falsity and so fails to provide a solid enough foundation for knowledge. In his discussion of the concept of knowledge (Chapter 3) and the epistemic regress argument (Chapter 9), BonJour insists that Cartesian foundationalism, despite its problems, is the best of the possible regress stoppers. David Annis disagrees, suggesting that “contextualist theory” is yet another (and preferred) way of stopping the regress. With reference to the aforementioned chapters from BonJour, and Annis’s “A Contextualist Theory of Justification,” explain and assess which conception of justification, if any, you find most compelling and why.

Topic 2

According to BonJour, it follows from David Hume’s analysis in “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” that “inductive inferences yield no justification at all for their conclusions.”  From the perspective of commonsense such a consequence is far too extreme: not only would it amount to “total catastrophe” but, given the prevalence of inductive inferences in our daily lives, it just seems incorrect. No wonder, then, that philosophers have sought to respond to Hume and so to vindicate induction. One such attempt at vindication (or dissolution) is Peter Strawson’s insistence, in “Dissolving the Problem of Induction,” that inductive inferences are perfectly rational and so require no philosophical justification. With reference to BonJour’s chapter on the “Problem of Induction” and the papers by Hume and Strawson, critically assess the disagreement between BonJour and Strawson concerning the rationality of inductive inferences. 

Instructions and criteria of assessment

Choose one of the above topics and write an argumentative essay, whereby you:

(i)        State your thesis explicitly (‘My goal in this paper is to…’).

(ii)       Explicate the text (identifying, contrasting, and discussing the arguments made by the authors you are examining, and which relate to your thesis).

(iii)      Provide analysis (with a view to supporting your thesis)

In other words, you will be evaluated on how well you explicate the positions being examined, on the strength of the arguments you make in support of the position you are arguing for, and on the arguments you make against rival positions. The paper should be double spaced, 6-7 pages long, and it is due on October 12.      

Here are some questions you should keep in mind in writing your paper:

Does your paper have a clearly articulated thesis?

Is the thesis supported by arguments?

Are these arguments logically structured?

Do you make use of the primary texts in defending your thesis?

Have you anticipated potential criticisms of your position and demonstrated why your position is superior to rival interpretations?

Is your writing clear and to the point?

Is your writing technically flawless, free of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors?

Do you have proper documentation in a consistent style?

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