Philosophy paper

It should be between 1000-1500 words. You must submit your paper to

Please select a question from the list below, and make sure to clearly state the question you are answering at the start of your essay.


(1) What is utilitarianism? Critically assess the plausibility of this proposal.
(2) What is euthanasia, and why is it considered to be morally different to murder or suicide? Is it?
(3) What do you think is the best moral argument for vegetarianism? Does it work?
(4) Does freedom entail the ability to have done otherwise?
(5) What is the harm principle? Does it pose a justified limitation on our freedom?
(6) What is Rawls’ conception of a just society? Is it is tenable?
(7) What, if anything, would be wrong in simply saying that anything counts as art so long as this is what was intended by the creator of the artifact in question?
(8) Can two identical objects differ in their aesthetic properties?
(9) Can one properly form one’s aesthetic judgments via testimony from aesthetic experts?
(10) What are Gettier-style counterexamples, and how do they challenge the classical account of knowledge?
(11) Is knowledge more valuable than mere true belief?
(12) Is ‘knows’ a context-sensitive term?


q  The aim of this course is to introduce you to the main topics of philosophy: ethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, epistemology, philosophy of mind, metaphysics, philosophy of science, and philosophy of religion. We will conclude by examining the question of the meaning of life.

q  Our textual guide in this tour will be What is This Thing Called Philosophy? (Routledge), edited by yours truly.


q  Philosophy involves giving arguments in support of philosophically significant claims. An argument involves reasons which support the truth of a certain conclusion.

q  More formally, we can think of arguments as involving premises which are meant to provide support for the truth of a conclusion. One can then object to that argument by either rejecting one or more of the premises, or by disputing that the premises offered really do support the truth of the conclusion.

q  Whether an argument is a good argument or not is not a subjective matter. It is not a good philosophical response to an argument to simply say that you don’t like the conclusion!


q  There are two core ways of constructing a good argument: deductively and inductively.

q  A deductive argument is one where the premises entail the conclusion. This means that if the premises are true, then the conclusion must also be true. We call such an argument valid.

q  Note that an argument can be valid even if the premises are not true, since it is just a claim about what follows *if* the premises are true. If the premises of a valid argument are in addition true, then the argument is sound.

q  A sound argument must have a true conclusion (since the premises are true and they entail the conclusion). Note that a valid argument with false premises can also still have a true conclusion (indeed, so can an invalid argument).


q  Consider the following deductive argument:

All people are mortal.

Socrates is a man.

Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

This is sound argument, in that the premises entail the conclusion (i.e., it is valid) and the premises are all true.


q  Compare the last argument with this one:

All pigs are green.

Socrates is a pig.

Therefore, Socrates is green.

This argument has the exact same structure to the last. It is thus valid, in that *if* the premises had been true, then the conclusion would have been true too. But the premises are both false. It is thus not sound.


q  Now consider this argument:

All pigs are green. Kermit the Frog is a pig.

Therefore, Kermit the Frog is green.

This argument has the exact same structure to the last two. It is thus valid, in that *if* the premises had been true, then the conclusion would have been true too. But the premises are both false. It is thus not sound. But notice that this doesn’t mean the conclusion isn’t true, since as it happens it is. The point is that the conclusion is not supported by the premises—they don’t give us a reason for thinking that the premise is true (even though it is).


q  Now consider this argument:

All pigs are blue.

Kermit the Frog is a pig.

Therefore, Kermit the Frog is green.

This argument looks like it has the same structure to the last three, but look more closely and you’ll see that in fact it doesn’t—if it did, then the conclusion would be that Kermit the Frog is blue. It is an invalid argument, in that even if the premises had been true, this wouldn’t have entailed the conclusion. The conclusion does happen to be true, however. The point is that the argument offers no support for the truth of this conclusion.


q  Inductive arguments are different to deductive arguments in that the premises merely make the conclusion likely rather than entail it. Here is an example:

All the many frogs we’ve observed have been green.

Therefore, all frogs are green.

There is no entailment here. Even if the premise is true, it is possible that there is an unobserved frog out there which isn’t green. Nonetheless, this looks like good reasoning, in that the premise at least makes the conclusion likely to be true. It provides good, but inconclusive, support for the truth of the conclusion.


q  Philosophy often involves examining some very abstract claims (though it also examines some very important practical issues too, as in ethics). Indeed, sometimes these claims can at first blush seem absurd.

q  The challenge is to think carefully about the reasons that are being offered for this claim, and see if they serve the intended purpose.

q  Are they true? If not, why not—what are your reasons for denying them (and remember that ‘I disagree with them/I don’t like them’ is not a reason for thinking something is false)?

q  And if they are true, is it correct that they support the conclusion? Could they be true and the conclusion nonetheless false? Do they make the conclusion likely to be true, even if they don’t entail it?

I hope you enjoy the course!


q  Carefully read the question in hand, and make sure you answer it (i.e., and don’t just write down everything you know about that general topic).

q  Write clearly and stick to the point. Avoid giving unnecessary details. q  Remember that you get marked on the knowledge that you demonstrate, so

make sure that you properly explain your points, and that you always define terms/position/principles (etc) that you introduce.

q  Always argue for your points. Do not simply state opinions. Relatedly, remember that philosophy is not journalism, in that you are not bound to be even-handed (it is more akin to law).

q  That said, you should always be careful to describe the opposing view as charitably as possible. Avoid ‘straw men’.


q  Use examples to illustrate your points (ideally your own), as this demonstrates that you’ve understood the points that you’re making.

q  Aim to structure your essay. For example, don’t discuss a view for several pages and only then explain what the view involves. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to sketch an essay plan before writing (particularly in an exam situation).

q  You don’t have to cover everything. In general, it’s better to cover less ground and cover it in style than to cover lots of ground superficially. Note that you can still demonstrate that you are aware of other aspects of the debate by mentioning them and then setting them to one side (e.g., describe three objections to X in outline, but then state that you will in what follows be focussing on just one of them).

q  Don’t plagiarise!

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