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Phil. 280 About the Test

The in-class test of Oct. 20 (henceforth, the “midterm”) will be a closed book, closed note, exam consisting of essay questions.  You will write your answer in bluebooks provided.
Different students excel at test of different formats.  To accommodate that, the midterm and the Final Exam on Dec. 12 will be quite different.  For the final exam, students will be given well in advance of the final a list of questions from which the questions on the final will be chosen.  For the midterm, by contrast, the questions will not be distributed in advance.  Depending on the size of the questions (or, more precisely, on the size of the answers the questions call for), you will have to answer two or three essay questions on the midterm.  There will be some choice on your part as to which questions you answer.  So, for example, four questions may appear on the question sheet, and you will be instructed to choose three of them to answer.  Or maybe three questions will appear, and you will be instructed to choose two.  Those are just examples.  What I am committing to is that you will either have to answer two questions or will have to answer three, and that you will have *some* choice (though, as the above examples show, maybe not much).
What will the questions be like?  They will focus on the same issues we have focused on in lecture.  My goal in formulating the questions is not for them to cause you to think, “Wow!  I never expected him to ask *that*!”, but to think, “Well, of course, he would ask that.”  They will ask you to explain the issues we have discussed in lecture.  Some may also ask you to evaluate certain issues, and to defend the position you take.  It will be important to read the question carefully, and provide just what it asks for.
Here is the type of question you might be asked.  (This particular question may, or may not, appear on the midterm.)

Sample Question.  Explain the main form (not the “Argument from Superdominance” nor the “Argument from Expectation,” but the “Argument from Generalized Expectations,” which is often simply referred to as “Pascal’s Wager”) of the argument embodied in “Pacal’s Wager,” as presented in Alan Hájek’s Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article.  What is Pascal’s conclusion, and how does he argue for it?  Then explain what you take to be the most serious objection to the argument, perhaps utilizing one of the objections that are discussed in Hájek’s article, and critically assess the argument in light of that objection.

Note that this question asks you not only to explain the argument in question, but to identify what you think is its greatest vulnerability, and then to evaluate the argument in light of that criticism.  Does the argument succeed in the face of that criticism, or not?  And why or why not?  Give a sensible reason or two to support your answer.  But, because of time constraints, remember that you will have to be brief.  Given time constraints, it would not be best to compare the criticism you think is most pressing with other potential criticisms, in order to argue that the one you’ve picked is the most pressing.  Rather, it seems best to just pick the one criticism you think is most important, and carefully explain it, and why it is a pressing concern.  (Note that this should be possible even if you think there is no criticism against the argument that is cogent in the end: Even such a student should be able to identify, from among the several, according to them, weak potential criticisms, one that is less weak than the others.)  Then make some intelligent remarks defending the position you take on whether how the argument stands in light of the criticism.

Time constraints will force you to choose among the many points you wish to make.  Excellent tests will be those that choose the points that are most important toward answering the questions well.

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