Philosophy of mind essay questions

Philosophy of mind essay questions

Philosophy of mind essay questions

Each of these essays is designed to give you the opportunity to demonstrate to me how well you understand the class material. In order to do this, imagine that you are trying to explain the subject to your intelligent, but ignorant, roommate. That is, state things clearly enough, explaining any technical terminology, offering examples where they are needed for illustration, and expanding on any cryptic or compressed remarks, so that a person not already familiar with the material would understand what you mean. By doing this, you’ll show me that you understand what you’re talking about. However, don’t go off into irrelevant areas or offer information that is not needed to answer the question; don’t pad.

In each of the essays below, I give a number of points that I want you to touch upon. However, please do not simply answer them one-by-one, in a disconnected, «bullet-point,» manner. Incorporate your discussion of each of the points within a continuous, coherent, flowing essay on the topic. The parts of the essay do not necessarily need to be treated in order in which I mention them.

To prepare for the exam, work through the answers to the following essay questions. A good way to do philosophy is to talk about it with other people, so studying with others in the class may be useful.

  1. Descartes’ Philosophy of Mind. What is the mind, according to Descartes, and what is its relationship to the body? Make sure that you explain his reasons for believing what he believes. How would Epicurus criticize Descartes, do you think, and how would Descartes respond to this criticism? Evaluate their positions. With whom do you agree, and why? If neither, what sort of thing do you think the mind is, and why?
  2. Why Be Moral? Imagine that you’ve borrowed $100 from a friend last month, promising to pay him back this month after you received your paycheck. But since then, you’ve spent more money than you thought you would, and paying your friend back would be very burdensome for you (although not impossible). He’s demanding that you repay him. Describe what Epicurus, Mill, and Kant would tell you to do, and Why they’d tell you to do it. (Be clear about which of the specific doctrines of each philosopher would lead him to answer as he does.) Then, more generally, why would each philosopher tell you that you should bother to do what’s morally right (like keeping your promises)? How do you think Kant would criticize Epicurus and Mill, and how would Mill criticize Kant? Which of the three (if any) do you agree with, and why?
  3. Invasion of the Body-Snatchers. I’m a doctor in a hospital, with 5 patients in my care, each of whom are deathly ill, and each of whom needs a single organ to survive. In walks the Domino’s pizza delivery guy. I know he’s a match for all of my patients, and I think it’s very likely that I can chloroform him and cut him up for parts, saving the lives of my five patients. (I also think that I can dispose of the remains of the body without getting caught.) What would Kant tell me to do, and why? What would Mill tell me to do, and why? (Be clear about which of the specific doctrines of each philosopher would lead him to answer as he does.) How would Kant criticize Mill, and how would Mill criticize Kant? Evaluate the cogency of one of these two criticisms.
  4. Kant. Explain Kant’s theory through answering the following questions: What is it to act ‘from a good will’? What is a categorical imperative, and how does it differ from a hypothetical imperative? Present and compare the 3 formulations of the categorical imperative we studied: the ‘universalizing’ formulation, the ‘end-in-itself’ formulation, and the ‘autonomy’ formulation. Explain the procedure that one must follow in universalizing a maxim to apply the categorical imperative. While explaining Kant’s theory, make sure that you give his reasons for believing what he believes. Then, explain how you think either Epicurus or Mill would criticize Kant. Finally, evaluate the cogency of this criticism.
  5. Utilitarianism. Explain what utilitarianism is. In deciding a course of action, what procedure should a utilitarian follow? How does Mill’s utilitarianism differ from Bentham’s? What reasons does Mill give for thinking that utilitarianism is true? Then, explain how you think either Epicurus or Kant would criticize utilitarianism. Finally, evaluate the cogency of this criticism.

Philosophy of mind essay questions

The final grade will be based two term papers (worth 35% of the final grade each), a set of weekly exercises to be handed in each week at class (worth altogether 5% of the final grade), and one mid-term test (worth 25% of the final grade).

The Papers: these will be on topics to be provided on this web page. The paper should be No more than 2000 words long and No less than 1800 words long.
Philosophy demands hard and careful thought, and such thought deserves clear and well organized writing for its expression. Some advice on writing philosophy papers will of course be provided in class. The author of our textbook also has some advice at the end of his book (see «Paper Writing Tips») and here are a couple of links: Peter Horban’s Writing a Philosophy Paper; James Pryor’s Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper.
Note also that late essays are not acceptable unless you have a valid reason for not being able to produce the essay in a timely fashion. I *may* accept late essays one week late with a one grade (10%) penalty. Please discuss any problems with me.

The Weekly Exercises: these will be sets of questions about the current readings. The questions will mostly be obvious and based entirely on the readings. Your answers will not be graded — you will receive credit for handing in your work ON TIME so long as a good faith effort has been made. Altogether, they are worth 5% of the final grade so you needn’t feel devastated if you miss one. But it’s an easy 5% and will help you keep up with the reading.

The Mid-Term Exam: this will be a two hour exam held in class. The exam format will be, first, a section of short answer questions similar to the questions on the weekly exercises and, second, an essay section (a selection of topics will be provided).

Important Dates

Where are we?

Current Assignment

Philosophy Hall (PO102), University of Toronto Scarborough, 1265 Military Trail, Toronto, Ontario, M1C1A4

Office: 103 Philosophy Hall (PO102) Phone: 416-208-2976

Philosophy of mind essay questions

PHIL 451A: Philosophy of Mind — UBC Philosophy — Murat Aydede


Some of the questions may overlap in their answers. Questions in bold are more important than others. However, the actual exam questions will be a subset of any of these 90 questions (sometimes combined into one question), answerable within the regular class time.

1. What is an argument? What is a premise of an argument?

2. What does it mean to say that an argument is valid? Give an example of a valid argument.

3. What does it mean to say that an argument is sound? Give an example of a sound argument?

4. Can there be a valid but unsound argument? If yes, give an example.

5. Can there be a sound but invalid argument? If yes, give an example?

6. Give, if you can, an example of a valid argument with false premises but a true conclusion.

7. What is the use/mention distinction? Give examples.

8. What is the type/token distinction? How is this distinction related to properties and their instances? Give linguistic as well as non-linguistic examples.

9. What is numerical identity/distinctness (sameness/difference) versus qualitative identity/distinctness (sameness/difference). Give examples.

10. What is the Principle of the Indiscernibility of Identicals? What is the Principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles? Which principle is controversial, which is not? Explain why. What is Leibniz Law?

11. What is Metaphysics? Epistemology? Semantics?

12. Explain the distinctions among a proposition and a sentence.

13. Explain the relationship between a concept, property and a predicate?

14. What are possible worlds? What is a counterfactual statement? Give an example.

15. What does metaphysical (logical) possibility relate to nomological and technological possibility? Explain.

16. Are all possible worlds nomologically possible? Why or why not?

17. Are all technologically impossible worlds nomologically impossible? Explain and give an example.

18. What does it mean to say that a statement is possible? impossible? necessary? contingent? How do these notions relate to each other?

19. Define the following terms: Analytic vs. Synthetic Sentence, A priori vs. A posteriori statement; Necessary vs. Contingent statement.

20. We grouped mental states into various broad and somewhat overlapping kinds (qualitative/cognitive). First state what they are. Then give some examples.

21. What are propositional attitudes?

22. What is the thesis of self-intimation? Do you think it’s a plausible thesis? Can you give counterexamples?

23. What is the thesis of infallibility (incorrigibility)? Do you think it’s a plausible thesis? Can you give counterexamples?

24. What is the doctrine of the perfectly transparent mind?

25. What is intentionality? What does it mean to say that intentionality is the mark of the mental?

26. What is genuine (original) intentionality vs. derived intentionality? Give examples.

27. What is a substance? Attribute?

28. What is Cartesian substance dualism?

29. What is the essential attribute of the mental substance according to Descartes? What is the essential attribute of the material substance according to Descartes?

31. What is Descartes’ argument from divisibility for the distinctness of mind and body? (The paragraph connecting page 18 to 19.) Criticize this argument.

32. What is Descartes’ argument from conceivability for the distinctness of mind and body? Try to reconstruct the argument on the basis of Descartes’ own text in Meditation VI. (The big middle paragraph in the first column on p.16). Criticize this argument.

33. How and where does the interaction between the mind and body occur according to Descartes?

34. What is Princess Elisabeth’s objection to Descartes’ interactionism?

35. How does Descartes respond to Princess Elisabeth’s criticism?

36. How does Elisabeth react to Descartes’ defense of interactionism? What is the causal argument for materialism?

37. According to Gilbert Ryle, what is the «official doctrine» or «the dogma of the Ghost in the Machine»? Does he believe the official doctrine?

38. Does Ryle think that it is a collection of little mistakes? What kind of mistake does Ryle think is made by Cartesian dualism?

39. What is, according to Ryle, a category mistake? Explain without giving an example.

40. Present at least one of the examples Ryle gives for a category-mistake.

41. Give an example of your own for a category-mistake.

42. In exactly what way does Ryle think that dualism is a category-mistake?

43. Does Ryle deny the existence of minds and mental processes?

44. If not, what does Ryle suggest they are?

45. Does Ryle believe in the internal mental causes of behavior? If not, why not?

46. What is the relation of minds to bodily behavior, according to Ryle?

47. What is the thought experiment Jackson describes involving Fred?

48. What is the thought experiment Jackson describes involving Mary?

49. Present the Knowledge Argument that Jackson gives against physicalism.

50. Jackson attempts to meet three objections to his version of epiphenomenalism. What are these objections? How does Jackson reply to these objections?

51. At the end of his article, Jackson presents a general defense of his replies by appeal to evolution. Present his reasoning there. Is he convincing?

52. Present Churchland’s first formalization of Jackson’s knowledge argument. (English version, or half-English half — Formalese version, is acceptable.)

53. Is the argument presented formally valid? That is, as a formal argument, do we have to accept the conclusion if we accept the premises as stated? Explain how.

54. What problem does Churchland find in this argument? Explain.

55. How does equivocation render the argument ineffective against a materialist? Explain.

56. What are the distinct senses of ‘knows about’ in which a materialist can accept both premises simultaneously?

57. How is the example about knowing a golf swing supposed to provide an analogy to the kind of knowledge Mary can be said to gain after her release from the B/W room?

58. Does this analogy work for the account Churchland wants to give for? In what sense a materialist can accept the second premise? [class discussion]

59. Does the distinction between know-how and know-that help Churchland’s case? How can Jackson respond to this? [class discussion]

60. Present Churchland’s second formalization of knowledge argument. (Again: English version, or half-English half — Formalese version, is acceptable.) Is the argument formally valid?

61. Why does Churchland reject this argument too? Can a materialist accept both premises simultaneously? Why or why not?

62. What (who?) is a phenomenal zombie? Why is the notion philosophically interesting or important?

63. Why is the mere metaphysical possibility of a phenomenal zombie a threat to physicalism?

64. Why think that phenomenal zombies are possible?

65. Explain the Type-Type Identity Theory. Explain the Token-Token identity Theory. Which version of the theory is stronger? (which implies which?)

66. What reasons does Smart give for the motivation to defend a materialist theory?

67. What is the «Phenomenological Fallacy»? (Armstrong)

68. Why is it important for Smart to insist that the expression of the Identity Theory should be interpreted as proposing an identity in reference?

69. Explain the Fregean view about how the meaning of a referring expression determines the reference. (The general picture about how meaning and reference work assumed by Objection #3 in Smart)

70. Smart considers an objection against the Identity Theory that he thinks as the most troublesome (Objection #3). Explain what the objection is in sufficient detail.

71. Do you think that Smart’s response is adequate? Explain.

72. What is a topic-neutral description?

73. What is epiphenomenalism? Why does Smart think that it is empirically equivalent to Identity Theory?

74. In the concluding paragraphs of his article, Smart considers the question whether the Identity Theory is a theory that can be settled by empirical scientific research. What is his answer? Explain.

75. What is a rigid designator? How does it differ from a definite description (flaccid designators)? Give some examples?

76. Why is an identity statement with rigid designators flanking the identity sign a necessary truth if it’s true at all? Give some relatively non-controversial examples of such statements.

77. How are a posteriori but necessary statements possible? Explain and give examples.

78. How are a priori but contingent statements possible? Explain and give examples.

79. According to Kripke, how is the apparent contingency of scientific identity statements explained?

80. Why can we not explain the apparent contingency of ‘pain = C-fiber-firing’ in the same way, according to Kripke?

81. How does this failure spell trouble for Identity Theory?

82. Present Kripke’s argument against Identity Theory.

83. Compare the Fregean picture of how reference works to Kripke’s causal picture.

84. What does it mean to say that names and natural kind terms refer directly?

85. What is a causal theory of reference (the Kripkean picture of reference)?

86. What is the point of (Putnam’s) Twin-Earth thought-experiment? How is it supposed to spell trouble for the Fregean (Description) Theory of reference and meaning?

87. How do we test whether a referring expression is a rigid designator?

88. Can a definite description be used as a rigid designator? If yes, how? Give examples.

89. How does Levine argue against Kripke’s modal argument?

90. What is the Explanatory Gap that Levine claims exists between physical facts and phenomenal consciousness? How does it arise? Why don’t we have a similar explanatory gap between say H2O-facts and water-facts? Explain.