Phil 371 Essay 1 2015 (updated Feb. 13)

Your essay should not have your name on it, just your student number.

Essays (40% of the marks for this course) are due at the beginning of class, Feb. 26.

Essays should not be longer that 10 pages, typed, double spaced, (3,000 words). You should consult sources other than the textbook: for pointers, see the references in the textbook. The Encylopedia of Cognitive Science the MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science (both in reference at Porter Library) are good places to start. Also consult the books on reserve for Phil 371 at the Porter Library. Indicate your sources. Include a word count. You can use any reference style you like, but indicate all your sources.

The penalty for late essays is 10% per week late: if you hand it in after Mar. 5, you lose 10%, and another 10% after Mar. 12. 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.

See: How to avoid plagiarism.

Essays will be evaluated on the basis of:

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

2. Research: use resources beyond the textbook and class readings.

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 5-10 sources in addition to the textbooks. Include at least one reference to the textbook.

Your essay MUST have the following explicit headings:

1. The issue. State the question you are trying to answer concerning the similarities and differences among machines, humans, and animals.

2. Alternatives. State possible answers to your question.

3. Evidence. Describe whatever evidence is relevant to the different potential answers.

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

Essays not using these headings will be PENALIZED 25%.

Essay Topics

Compare intelligence in machines, humans, and other animals with respect to one of the following topics. Feel free to narrow the topic down to some more specific issue, and to consider specific machines, animals, and human capacities.

  1. Perception
  2. Imagery
  3. Problem solving
  4. Learning
  5. Analogy
  6. Emotion
  7. Consciousness
  8. Action
  9. Language
  10. Creativity
  11. The self


1. How to narrow down the topic

After choosing one of the 11 topics, you can narrow it down to particular aspects and entitites (human, computer, animal).

For example, you could narrow perception down to sound, the computer down to SIRI, and the animal down to dogs.

Imagery could be narrowed down to visual, auditory, etc.

Learning could be narrowed down to supervised or unsupervised, or to teaching.

Analogy could be narrowed down to intelligence test type analogies (A is to B as C is to what?).

Emotion could be narrowed down to empathy.


2. How to translate the topic into an essay with the issue-alternatives-evidence structure.

Once you pick the aspect and entitities, the issue becomes: How similar and different are the entities with respect to the aspect?

Alternatives could include :

a. The entities have basically the same capacities for the aspect.

b. Humans are much better than the computer or the animal.

c. Humans, computers, and animals are all good, but use different processing.

d. Etc. The crucial part is to assemble evidence and argue for the alternative that is best supported by it.

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.


Phil/Psych 371

Computational Epistemology Laboratory.

Paul Thagard

This page updated Feb. 13, 2015