Prof. K. DeRose
Write a 6-10 page (typed, double-spaced) paper on one of the following topics. Papers are due December 2, at the start of lecture. Successful papers will clearly explain the issues involved and the key argumentative moves made in the readings and/or discussed in class and sections, and will also advance the discussion/argument in significant ways with new considerations or lines of argument of your own. A 1-2 page paper proposal is due on Nov. 11, at the start of class. This proposal will briefly describe the topic of the paper. If you would like to submit a draft of your paper for comment (this is not mandatory), get it in to me by Nov. 18, at class, at the latest, so I can get comments back to you before Fall Break begins. (In fairness to those who don’t get comments on a draft, I will limited in the kind of suggestions I will offer, but will certainly be able to warn you of any serious problems.)
1. [Note: not available to those who wrote on this topic or topic #2 for their short paper.] Explain the problem, known as the “Cartesian Circle”, that many think infects the method by which Descartes seeks to verify his “clear and distinct perceptions”. Then explain, and critically discuss, James Van Cleve’s interpretation of Descartes in “Foundationalism, Epistemic Principles, and the Cartesian Circle,” Philosophical Review 88 (1979). Is Van Cleve’s reading of Descartes plausible? Is Van Cleve right that Descartes escapes the charge of circular reasoning in the way Van Cleve suggest? Explain and defend.
2. [Note: not available to those who wrote on this topic or topic #1 for their short paper.] Explain the problem, known as the “Cartesian Circle”, that many think infects the method by which Descartes seeks to verify his “clear and distinct perceptions”. Then explain, discuss, and critically compare James Van Cleve’s treatment of the circle “Foundationalism, Epistemic Principles, and the Cartesian Circle,” Philosophical Review 88 (1979) with Keith DeRose’s treatment in “Descartes, Epistemic Principles, Epistemic Circularity, and Scientia,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 73 (1992). Which is the more defensible treatment? Explain and defend.
3. [Note: not available to those who wrote on this topic for their short paper.] Explain and critically discuss Alvin Plantinga’s handling, in Does God Have a Nature?, of Descartes’s doctrine of the eternal truths. Is Plantinga right to interpret Descartes as accepting “universal possibilism”? How strong is Plantinga’s argument that universal possibilism should be rejected? Explain and defend.
4. Explain and critically discuss the central arguments and positions advanced by Earl Conee in “The Possibililty of Power Beyond Possibility.” Though your paper may (and probably will) focus primarily on Conee’s handling of the philosophical issues involved, rather than on his handling of Descartes, you should spend at least some space on the issue of the relation between Descartes’s own views on God’s omnipotence and the view Conee defends, and, in particular, you should address this question: Does Descartes’s own view differ in any important way from the view Conee defends?
5. Explain Descartes’s argument for the real distinction between mind and body, and explain and critically discuss some treatment of Descartes’s argument in recent philosophical literature — perhaps Yablo’s or Curley’s, or some work you find yourself in the library.
6. Explain and critically compare Descartes’s analysis of our “natural” materialism with that of Berkeley and/or Hume. Which analysis, if either, gets our natural belief in mind-independent physical objects right? Explain.
7. Propose your own topic. This topic must be directly relevant to the concerns of this course.