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Descartes Phil. 158: Final Exam

The final exam will be on Wednesday, Dec. 18 at 2:00 P.M. in WLH 113 (our normal classroom).  It will consist of your answering three of the below questions.  I might pick which three you answer, or I might give you some choice.  (Moral: To be safe, you must be prepared to answer any of the six questions.)  You will have to write your answers from memory, without the aid of books or notes.  Though you will be allowed to take up to three hours to complete the final, I am thinking of it as a test that you should be able to complete within two hours, and I will evaluate your answers accordingly.

1.  Describe explain the problem of the “Cartesian Circle.”  Explain and compare Van Cleve’s and DeRose’s treatment of the problem.

2.  Describe and explain what we have in class called absolute omnipotence and universal possibilism.  Did Descartes believe that God is absolutely omnipotent?  Explain briefly (one not-too-long paragraph should do).  Then discuss, at greater length, the question of whether Descartes believed in universal possibilism.  What might lead someone to conclude that Descartes is a universal possibilist, and what might lead someone to the opposite conclusion that he is not?

3.  Explain Descartes’s argument for the “real distinction” between mind and body.  What does Descartes mean by saying the two are really distinct, and how does he argue for the position that they are?  What problems appear to be caused for Descartes’s argument for the real distinction if we suppose that God is absolutely omnipotent?  How might Descartes avoid these problems even while holding on to the claim that God is absolutely omnipotent?

4.  In Meditation III, Descartes gives an argument for the existence of God whose main premise is that Descartes has an idea of God.  Explain that argument.  What other premises does Descartes employ to reach his conclusion?  Could Descartes use reasoning parallel to this argument to just as well establish the existence of things other than God from the fact that he has ideas of these other things, or does the argument apply only to God?  Explain.  At what point do you think this argument is most vulnerable to criticism?  Explain.

5.  Explain Descartes’s argument in Meditation VI for the existence of “corporeal things” — the argument that ends with the words, “It follows that corporeal things exist” (CSM II, p. 55 = AT, p. 80).  From what does this follow — What premises does Descartes use to reach his conclusion?  Explain what you think is the best way to resist Descartes’s argument, and then critically evaluate the argument in light of this criticism.

6.  Describe and explain the “subjectivist” account of modality that Bennett ascribes to Descartes in “Descartes’s Theory of Modality” and briefly describe the key passage from Descartes’s writing (quoted on pp. 647-648 of Bennett’s paper) that Bennett uses to support his reading.  According to Bennett, how does this account help to make sense of Descartes’s doctrine of God’s creation of the eternal truths that becomes more difficult, if not impossible, to make sense of if we read Descartes as holding to an objectivist account of modality.  Explain Bennett’s response to the charge that neccessity does not entail truth if we understand neccessity in subjectivist terms.

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