PHIL 110A, section 1.

Topics for 8-page essay due March 16 (23% of final mark).

  1. What is knowledge? Discuss the strengths and weakness of the view that knowledge is true justified believe.
  2. Can skepticism about knowledge be avoided? Discuss foundationalism, reliabilism, and coherentism.
  3. Does God exist? Consider the most powerful arguments for and against.
  4. Does science achieve truth? Consider arguments for and against.
  5. Are time and time travel real?
  6. What is mind? Consider alternative theories.
  7. Do people have free will?

Feel free to refine the topic to something more specific.


Essays should not be longer than 8 pages, typed, double spaced, (2,000 words, including references; include a word count). You should consut 6-10 sources other than the textbook: for pointers, see the references in the textbook and the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy. Google Scholar is a good guide to the most cited works. Indicate your sources, using any citation style you like. Avoid Wikipedia and other sources of variable quality. Include at least one reference to the textbook. It's ok to use the first person: "I think that". Express your own opinions, but back them up with arguments.

The penalty for late essays is 10% per week late: if you hand it in after class March 16, you lose 10%, and after March 23 another 10%.. Extensions will be granted for reasons of documented medical illness or family emergency, but not workload (this essay was assigned Feb. 1). The penalty for plagiarism (passing another person's work off as your own) is a course grade of F and referral to the Associate Dean. The final day to hand in an essay and get any marks for it is March 30, in class.

See: How to avoid plagiarism.

Essays will be evaluated on the basis of:

1. Relevance: pose and try to answer an important philosophical question.

2. Research: use resources beyond the textbooks.

3. Writing: write intelligibly.

4. Argument: make a compelling case for the answer you prefer, and consider alternative answers. Essays will be graded on the quality of the argument, not on the particular conclusion you reach.

The format does not matter, but make sure that you indicate all your sources, including Web sites. This is a research essay so you should use 6-10 sources in addition to the textbooks. Include at least one reference to the textbook. Use any citation style that you like.

Your essay MUST have the following explicit headings:

1. The issue. State the question you are trying to answer.

2. Alternatives. State possible answers to your question.

3. Evidence. Describe whatever arguments and evidence are relevant to the different potential answers.

4. Conclusion. On the basis of the arguments and evidence for the different alernatives, defend what you see as the best answer to the question.

Essays not using these headings will be penalized 25%!

Thagard blog: How to write productively

William Safire's rules for good writing:

No sentence fragments. Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read. A writer must not shift your point of view. Reserve the apostrophe for it's proper use and omit it when its not needed. Write all adverbial forms correct. In their writing, everyone should make sure that their pronouns agree with its antecedent. Use the semicolon properly, use it between complete but related thoughts; and not between an independent clause and a mere phrase. Don't use no double negatives. Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration. If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times: Resist hyperbole. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is. Avoid commas, that are not necessary. Verbs has to agree with their subjects. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction. The passive voice should never be used. Writing carefully, dangling participles should be avoided. Unless you are quoting other people's exclamations, kill all exclamation points!!! Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out. Use parallel structure when you write and in speaking. You should just avoid confusing readers with misplaced modifiers. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences-such as those of ten or more words-to their antecedents. Eschew dialect, irregardless. Remember to never split an infinitive. Take the bull by the hand and don't mix metaphors. Don't verb nouns. Always pick on the correct idiom. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies. "Avoid overuse of 'quotation "marks."'" Never use prepositions to end a sentence with. Last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.

Use of pronouns

Avoid gender-biased pronouns such as the generic "he" or "she". Do not use "they" or "their" as singular. In English, gender neutrality can almost always be achieved by using plurals. Example: "When people care about their friends" instead of "If someone cares about his friends" or "If someone cares about their friends".


PHIL 110, home page

Paul Thagard

Computational Epistemology Laboratory.

This page updated Feb. 1, 2016