Comprehensive Exam Sample Questions

The questions on these lists are provisional and subject to revision. Students should confer with the Department faculty before beginning work on any of the questions from these lists.

Ethics
  • One might think rule utilitarianism has a deontological character because it asks us to decide what rule to follow, and following a rule involves an intention. Is this correct? Can there be a purely consequentialist version of rule utilitarianism?
  • Kant holds the formulations of the categorical imperative are different ways of expressing the same thing. Could this be true even though the first formulation is about universalizing our maxims and the second does not mention maxims at all but only ends and means? Relate these principles to Kant’s idea of the Kingdom of Ends.
  • At one point in his book Utilitarianism, Mill quotes the first formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative, and then writes:

But when he [Kant] begins to deduce from this precept any of the actual duties of morality, he fails, almost grotesquely, to show that there would be any contradiction, any logical (not to say physical) impossibility, in the adoption by all rational beings of the most outrageously immoral rules of conduct. All he shows is that the consequences of their universal adoption would be such as no one would choose to incur.

(Mill, J. S. “Utilitarianism.” In Pojman, Louis P. Ethical Theory: Classical and Contemporary Readings. Third Edition. New York: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1998, p. 191.)
  • Explain how this is an objection to Kant’s moral theory and whether you think that Kant can effectively respond to Mill’s claims.
  • Ethical relativism is an attractive theory in our age of multiculturalism. What is ethical relativism? What are some arguments in favor of accepting it? What are some arguments against it?
  • Several ethical theories rely heavily on the thesis that we all share a common human nature. Which theories are these and how do they rely on this thesis? Is this thesis a good one?
  • Thomas Nagel and others discuss the issue of moral luck. What does Nagel mean by this term? What challenges does Nagel’s essay on the subject pose to our everyday and philosophical thoughts about the appropriateness of our moral judgements?
  • Explain how virtue-based theories (such as Aristotle’s) are different from deontological and consequentialist theories. What is the relationship between virtue (arete) and well-being (eudaimonia) in Aristotle’s view? In what way does Aristotle’s theory of virtue entail that we should not judge a person’s life until it is over?
  • Kant’s moral theory is based on the human faculty of reason. Some other moral theories rely on faculties other than reason to explain our moral judgments. Explain some of these other theories and name the philosophers who held them.
Epistemology
  • Explain foundationalism and coherentism. Will the coherentist ever have a way to decide which of two consistent and complete sets of beliefs is better (perhaps by doing some experiments)? Will she always? If not, is this a problem for coherentism?
  • Explain foundationalism and coherentism. What are the standard objections to each theory? Is there a definitive way to defend one against the other?
  • Gettier has argued that the traditional account of knowledge is too weak. He has argued, that is, that justification and truth are not sufficient by themselves to make a belief knowledge. Other philosophers have agreed with Gettier, and suggested additional criteria for knowledge in order to give a more accurate account of which beliefs really are knowledge. In the context of Gettier’s famous essay, discuss in detail one proposal for an additional criterion for distinguishing between knowledge and mere belief. Argue for a thesis of the form: “X’s proposal provides a satisfactory account of knowledge” or of the form “X’s proposal does not provide a satisfactory account of knowledge.” (NOTE: if you disagree with Gettier’s thesis, do not choose this question.)
  • According to pragmatism, some reasons are justifying in one community and not in another. Could this be true? What are the implications of this? Does pragmatism seem a better theory of knowledge than foundationalism or coherentism?
  • Some philosophers argue Quine’s model of a naturalized epistemology does not look like epistemology at all, because it could not be normative. What does this mean? Why does Quine think that epistemology ought to be naturalized, anyway? Could we naturalize epistemology without giving up normativity?
  • Quine argues epistemology should involve an empirical study of how people come to decide what to believe. Pragmatist theories of assertability, like those defended by Richard Rorty, also claim what counts as knowledge depends on contingent facts about how people actually go about revising their sets of beliefs. Is pragmatism a type of naturalized epistemology?
  • Some feminist epistemologists have argued that the standards and practices of truth-seeking (that is, epistemologitself) are not universal standards that the epistemologist strives to discover, but rather what we might call “local.” What does this mean? Is it true? In what way can this be understood as a feminist approach? What implications does it have for how we decide what to believe?
Philosophy of Law
  • What is the “Dismissive-Judgment” charge against natural law theory? How does Aquinas’ definition of law protect him against this charge?
  • What is Austin’s definition of law? What does H.L.A. Hart find objectionable about it?
  • What is H.L.A. Hart’s definition of law? What, according to him, is the appropriate way of understanding the relationship between morality and the law? How might a sophisticated anti-positivist argue against this account?
  • What is Lon L. Fuller’s argument for the so-called “inherent morality of law”? Do you find his claim convincing this alleged “inherent morality of law” provides defenses against the corruption of legal systems in fascist and totalitarian regimes?
  • In “The Model of Rules” and “Natural Law Revisited,” Dworkin presents and defends what J. L. Mackie has called the “third theory” of law. What is Dworkin’s conception of law? How does Dworkin understand the special responsibilities of judges, who must apply the law? In “The Third Theory of Law,” J.L. Mackie argues Dworkin’s account of law and jurisprudential determinacy is unsuccessful. What are Mackie’s arguments against the “third theory”? Present your own arguments for or against Mackie’s criticism.
  • In his article, “Civil Disobedience in the Modern World,” Feinberg analyzes the grounds for civil disobedience in light of the debate between positivists and natural law theorists. What is the issue of civil disobedience for Feinberg? What conclusions does Feinberg reach in his discussion. Give clear and concise expositions of his arguments and analyze their validity.
  • In his article, “Legal Realism, Critical Legal Studies and Dworkin” and in Chapter eight of Arguing About Law: An Introduction to Legal Philosophy, Altman analyzes CLS in relation to legal positivism, realism and Dworkinian jurisprudence. Analyze Altman’s account of CLS’s attack upon Dworkin’s position regarding legal determinacy. What are the central arguments that CLS advances against Dworkin’s model of legal determinacy? Do you find CLS’s arguments convincing?
  • In Critical Legal Studies: A Liberal Critique, Andrew Altman presents three different ways in which CLS argues against the possibility of the liberal “rule of law.” What are the Patchwork, Duck-Rabbit and Truncation theses regarding legal determinacy? How does Altman assess their significance for liberalism’s insistence upon the neutrality of the legal system vis-a-vis political discord? How might a CLSer respond?
  • In “Civil Rights Versus Civil Liberties: The Case of Discriminatory Verbal Harassment,” Thomas Grey argues that Stanford’s free-speech code is a subtle document that appropriately balances concerns with civil rights and civil liberties. First, give an exposition of Grey’s argument for the type of university free-speech regulation we should be adopting, given our constitutional and juridical heritage. Analyze our “Academic Freedom” policy statement in the terms Grey provides. Is our code at Kalamazoo College a good one according to the criteria Grey provides?
  • What do you think of Grey’s claim, “the civil-rights approach embodies a project, which is to be carried on within a framework constituted by the civil-liberties approach”? Would Dworkin agree, and which of his central distinctions does Grey’s distinction invoke? How might an advocate of CLS refute Grey’s claim?
  • In his article, “Civil Disobedience in the Modern World,” Feinberg analyzes the grounds for civil disobedience in light of the debate between positivists and natural law theorists. What is the issue of civil disobedience for Feinberg? What conclusions does Feinberg reach in his arguments and do you find such arguments sound?
  • In The Concept of Law, H. L. A. Hart presents and defends legal positivism. What is his account of legality, and how have subsequent philosophers argued against it?
  • The positivistic orientation to jurisprudence articulated by H. L. A. Hart in The Concept of Law has been severely criticized by Natural Law theorists for failing to answer the question of how laws could be binding. How might one defend legal positivism against such arguments? Do you find this defense entirely plausible?
  • The positivistic orientation to jurisprudence articulated by H. L. A. Hart in The Concept of Law has been severely criticized by Natural Law theorists for failing to answer the question of how laws could be binding. How might one defend legal positivism against such arguments? Do you find this defense entirely plausible?
  • Explain how Lon Fuller secularizes Natural Law theory and assess the logical requirements of articulating a functioning system of laws he identifies preserves or undermines a normative orientation to law.
  • What type of Natural Law theory is at work in Martin Luther King’s, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”?
  • David Luben interprets Martin Luther King as defending a Hermeneutic understand of the U.S. legal system. How might Malcolm X be seen as rejecting this hermeneutic ideal of a shared historical topoi?
  • What is Dworkin’s argument against the system-of-rules legal positivism championed by H. L. A. Hart? To what extent does Dworkin’s argument succeed in discrediting legal positivism?
  • Compare and contrast Legal Hermeneutics and Dworkinian jurisprudence. In what sense is Dworkin a hermeneuticist?
  • What is the debate surrounding Dworkinian jurisprudent and Critical Legal Studies, and what do you think we should learn from it?
  • What is Critical Legal Studies, and does it succeed in its critique of the very idea of the rule of law?
  • What is liberal neutrality, and how have philosophers argued against it? Do you find such critiques convincing?
  • Does Habermas’s Discourse Theory of law remainder the CLS/Dworkin debate?
  • What is Habermas’s critique of Luhman’s system-theoretic approach to law?
  • What is Habermas’s critique of Dworkin’s normative orientation to legal validity?
  • How does Habermas propose to move beyond what he takes as the false dichotomy between factual and normative approaches to the study of law? Does he succeed in arguing that each presupposes the other?
  • What is Habermas’s distinction between justification and application discourses, and to what degree does this distinction capture CLS concerns with social power?
  • Compare and contrast Lon Fuller’s and Jurgen Habermas’s accounts of “fidelity to the law”? Do found find their respective foci on logic and language helpful in understanding legal validity?
18th-Century Philosophy
  • Explain Berkeley’s mentalist metaphysics. How is Berkeley’s theory about what the world is like related to his epistemology? Identify any arguments you find in Berkeley’s writing supporting his idealism/mentalism.
  • Explain and discuss Hume’s footnote to Section XII, Part II of the Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. What is the argument to which Hume refers? Is it actually to be found in Berkeley’s work? Is Hume correct to suggest there is a contradiction between Berkeley’s reasoning and Berkeley’s claim he is not a skeptic?
  • Explain and analyze Hume’s view of the roles of reason and nature in the formulation of our belief in one of the following: continuing external objects, causal powers (necessary connections), or a continuing self.
  • On what grounds does Hume maintain reason obliges us to be uncertain of the propositions that are known on the basis of reason (e.g. truths of arithmetic)? Do you agree with his conclusion? Why would Hume be undisturbed if you do not agree with his conclusion?
  • Analyze the argument Hume uses against the traditional dictum it is necessary whatever comes into existence has a cause, with the special aim of tracing the premises of the argument back to basic principles of Hume’s science of human nature. Do you agree with Hume’s conclusion? Do you agree with the principles and argument by which he reached that conclusion?
  • Treatise I.IV.vii. is entitled “Conclusion of this book.” What conclusions does Hume present in this section? What do we learn from this section about what we have been reading in the earlier sections of Book I?
  • In the Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, Hume writes the following about our causal reasoning:

Here, then, is a kind of pre-established harmony between the course of nature and the succession of our ideas; and though the powers and forces, by which the former is governed, be wholly unknown to us; yet our thoughts and conceptions have still, we find, gone on in the same train with the other works of nature.

(Hume, David. (P. H. Nidditch, ed.) Enquiries concerning Human Understanding and concerning the Principles of Morals. Third Edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975, pp. 54-55.)
  • Present an interpretation of this passage consistent with what Hume says in Book I of the Treatise. What does Hume mean by “pre-established harmony”? Between/among what things is this pre-established harmony supposed to exist?
  • What is transcendental idealism? Does Kant’s transcendental idealism solve any of the epistemological problems of Hume’s system?
  • What does Kant succeed in doing in the Transcendental Deduction of the Categories?
  • Both Reid and Kant offer responses to Hume’s strict empiricism. How do their responses differ? In what ways are they similar? Does one seem more successful than the other in offering a reasonable alternative?
  • Explain Reid’s objections to Hume’s skepticism. What is the difference between Reid’s common sense explanation of our belief in external objects and Hume’s naturalist account of the same belief?
19th-Century Philosophy
  • How have philosophers argued that German idealism is Eurocentric? Do you find such arguments convincing?
  • How does Kant account for the moral worth of an action, and what is Schiller’s argument against it?
  • What is Kant’s account of aesthetic contemplation, and how does Schiller use it to critique Kant’s account of freedom?
  • What is Schiller’s moral psychology (life drive, form drive, and play drive), and how does he use it to reject Kant’s distinction between theoretical and practical rationality?
  • For Kant, what role do feelings and desires play in moral self-determination? Is Schiller’s account of an aesthetic education (Bildung) an acceptance or rejection of Kant’s model of moral development?
  • What is Kant’s famous “Epistemological Restriction” – his “denial of knowledge to make room for faith” – and how does Hegel argue against it?
  • Kant claims “It must be possible for the ‘I think’ to accompany all my representations; for otherwise something would be represented in me which could not be thought at all, and that is equivalent to saying that the representation would be impossible, or at least would be nothing to me” (B 131f.). How does Hegel argue against Kant’s thesis this “transcendental unity of apperception” thesis is the highest principle of knowledge”?
  • How does Fichte argue against Kant’s distinction between theoretical and practical rationality?
  • How does Hegel appropriate Fichte’s “original insight” into the primacy of practical rationality to argue against Kant’s epistemological restriction?
  • How would Hegel argue against Schiller’s aesthetic model of a moral education?
  • How does Hegel’s understanding of concepts differ from Kant’s?
  • How does Hegel’s understanding of intuitions differ from Kant’s?
  • How does Hegel’s understanding of feeling and desire differ from Kant’s?
  • What is Hegel’s theory of moral development, and how does this ”Phenomenology of spirit” challenge Kant’s understanding of feeling and desire?
  • What is Kierkegaard’s critique of the present age, his critique of modernity, and what alternative conceptualization of human selfhood does he suggest as remedy?
  • How does Kierkegaard, under the pseudonym Johannes de Silentio, argue against Hegel’s model of human development?
  • What is a defining relation, and how might such a concept of interpersonal relations be used to critique teleological and deontological conceptions of human bonds?
  • Is Johannes de Silentio’s call for a “teleological suspension of the ethical” a call for immoral actions? If not, explain how it might be incorporated into an account of moral self-determination.
  • What is Kohlberg’s account of moral development, and how does Gilligan argue against it? How would Schiller view this debate?
  • What is Kohlberg’s account of moral development, and how does Gilligan argue against it? How How does Nietzsche argue against Kant’s account of freedom?
  • What is Kohlberg’s account of moral development, and how does Gilligan argue against it? How would Kierkegaard view this debate?
  • How does Hegel argue against Kant’s account of freedom?
  • How does Kierkegaard argue against Kant’s account of freedom?
  • How does Nietzsche argue against Kant’s account of freedom?
  • In The Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche famously claims that Kant’s categorical imperative reeks of “torture.” First, explain what Nietzsche means in saying this, and show how if works as a powerful attack upon Kant’s theory of action.
  • How does Judith Butler appropriate Nietzsche’s account of freedom, and how does she use this account of criticize contemporary heterosexuality?
  • How does Judith Butler argue Kant’s account of moral self-determination?
  • Explain how Nietzsche’s account of forgetfulness questions the fundamental assumption of Kant’s epistemology: namely, his thesis of the “transcendental unity of apperception.”
  • What type of inquiry does Nietzsche propose in his Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good and Evil, and how does it stand to the type of inquiry Hegel proposes in his Phenomenology of Spirit?
  • What, according to Terry Pinkard, is the “Kantian paradox,” and how does Schiller, in effect, attempt to resolve it?
  • What, according to Terry Pinkard, is the “Kantian paradox,” and how does Hegel, in effect, attempt to resolve it?
  • What, according to Terry Pinkard, is the “Kantian paradox,” and how does Kierkegaard, in effect, attempt to resolve it?
  • What, according to Terry Pinkard, is the “Kantian paradox,” and how does Nietzsche, in effect, attempt to resolve it?
  • What, according to Terry Pinkard, is the “Kantian paradox,” and does Judith Bulter’s alternative account of emancipation exacerbate or resolve it?
  • What is the significance of Hegel’s famous master/slave “struggle for recognition” for our understanding of human freedom? Do you find contemporary critique of Hegel’s views convincing?
Philosophy and Literature
  • How have post-structuralists argued against the traditional models of historiography? Do you find such critiques convincing?
  • Hayden White argues that historical narratives have no cognitive significance whatsoever. First, what are these arguments, and, second, do you find them convincing?
  • How would Habermas argue against Hayden White’s skepticism about the cognitive validity of historiography?
  • David Carr and others have marshaled strong arguments against post-structuralist. First, what are these arguments, and do you find them convincing?
  • What is Husserl’s account of temporality in Internal Time Consciousness, and how might post-structuralists such Hayden White, Louis Mink, or Michel Foucault argue against it?
  • How does Paul Ricouer argue against David Carr’s claim, Ricouer succumbs to historicist relativity? Do you find Ricouer’s defense wholly plausible?
  • How could Habermas’s theory of meaning be used to reconcile the apparent dichotomy between modernist and post-modernist approaches to historiography?
  • How might Heidegger’s account of breakdowns be used to reconcile apparent dichotomy between modernist and post-modernist approaches to historiography?
  • What is Bakhtin’s distinction between epic and novel narratives, and what repercussions might this distinction have on our understanding of (1) emotions, (2) identity, (3) action, or (4) perception? [choose only one]
  • How does Merleau-Ponty criticize both empiricist and intellectualist accounts of temporality, and how might this account be used to resolve the impasse between the post-modernist model of the fragmented self versus the modernist model of the unified self?
  • How does Heidegger account for how tools are present to us in our everyday activities, and how might this enriched conceptualization of human activity be related to debates about the temporal structure of human selfhood?
  • What, according to Heidegger, is the temporal structure of everydayness, and how might it be used in a critique of communitarian accounts of identity formation?
  • What, according to Heidegger, is the temporal structure of everydayness, and where might one locate this type of temporal unity within Bakhtin’s historical taxonomy of narrative forms given in the essay “Forms of Time and the Chronotope of the Novel”?
  • Relying upon Genevieve Lloyd’s account of Humean and Kantian conceptions of the self in Being in Time, discuss the ways in which the contemporary dichotomy between modernist and postmodernist is and is not a mere variant of traditional empiricist and intellectualist models of mind.
  • What is Bakhtin’s historical taxonomy of Western narrative forms, and how does he defend the claim there is development, and not simply difference, among different ways of telling stories? Do you find Bakhtin’s basic assumption in offering this taxonomy, namely, that everyday experience and action is a complex temporal structure, plausible in light of post-structuralist criticism?
  • How does Julia Kristeva criticize Husserl’s account of intentionality and semantic meaning, and what alternative conceptualization does she put in its stead? Do you find such a language-theoretic defense of the “unconscious” important in understanding how poetry works?
  • How does Habermas argue against intentionalist semantics (Grice), use theories of meaning (Wittgenstein), and truth-conditional semantics (Frege)? Does this theory of meaning help us understand the type of validity claim we raise in narrative self-presentations?
  • Compare and contrast the basic narrative structure of the ancient epic (say, The Gilgamesh Epic or Beowulf), the traditional Bildungsroman (say, Emile or The Heart of Darkness), and the postmodern novel (say, The Crying of Lot 49 or Mason Dixon) using Bakhtin’s taxonomy of chronotopic forms. Does any one of these forms more closely approximate “the real experience of time and space,” as Bakhtin would have it?
  • What is Deconstructionist criticism, and how might a deconstructionist read The Heart of Darkness? Does this reading illuminate in anything about the nature of our everyday experiences?
  • What is New Historicist criticism, and how might a New Historicist read The Heart of Darkness? Does this reading illuminate in anything about the nature of our everyday experiences?
  • What is Feminist criticism, and how might a feminist read The Heart of Darkness? Does this reading illuminate in anything about the nature of our everyday experiences?
  • What is Cultural criticism, and how might a Cultural Critic read The Heart of Darkness? Does this reading illuminate in anything about the nature of our everyday experiences?
  • What is Psychoanalytic criticism, and how might a Psychoanalytic critic read The Heart of Darkness? Does this reading illuminate in anything about the nature of our everyday experiences.
  • What is Deconstructionist criticism, and how might a deconstructionist read The Crying of Lot 49? Does this reading illuminate in anything about the nature of our everyday experiences?
  • What is New Historicist criticism, and how might a New Historicist read The Crying of Lot 49? Does this reading illuminate in anything about the nature of our everyday experiences?
  • What is Feminist criticism, and how might a feminist read The Crying of Lot 49? Does this reading illuminate in anything about the nature of our everyday experiences?
  • What is Cultural criticism, and how might a Cultural Critic read The Crying of Lot 49? Does this reading illuminate in anything about the nature of our everyday experiences?
  • What is Psychoanalytic criticism, and how might a Psychoanalytic critic read The Crying of Lot 49? Does this reading illuminate in anything the nature of our everyday experiences.
Philosophy of Language
  • How does Searle argue against Austin’s classification of speech acts, and what alternative taxonomy of illocutionary forms does he defend in its stead? Are you convinced this taxonomy adequately captures what we do by saying what we’re doing?
  • What is Keith Donnellan’s distinction between referential and attributive uses of definite descriptions, and how does Searle argue against it? What is the importance of this issue for the philosophy of language?
  • In “The Meaning of ‘Meaning’”, Hilary Putnam mounts a powerful attack upon Fregean semantics. First, what are his arguments, and what are the repercussions of this issue for the philosophy of language. How does Searle argue against them? Who is right?
  • In a series of provocative articles, Howard Wettstein argues for what he now calls “The Direct Reference Revolution.” How does he motivate this revolution, and do you find it a definitive rejection of Frege’s claim that intension determines extension.
  • Moderate the debate between Kripke and Searle on proper names. What, in you estimation, is the right way to understand how proper names refer?
  • What is David Kaplan’s distinction between the “content” and “character” of terms? How would Searle understand this distinction, given his distinction between primary and secondary illocutionary intention, and do you find this alternative analysis superior?
  • How have traditional philosophers understood metaphor, and what are the difficulties with these views?
  • Famously, Paul Grice argues for a “modified Occum’s razor” approach to ambiguity. Explain Grice’s recommended strategy for analyzing ambiguity and assess its merits.
  • In “The Pragmatics of What is Said,” Francoise Recanati argues against Sperber and Wilson’s argument against the “Minimalist hypothesis” for distinguishing what is said from what is implicated. How, ultimately, does Recanati criticize the “Minimalist hypothesis”? Do you find his alternative “Availability hypothesis” plausible?
  • How does Habermas argue against Searle’s taxonomy of illocutionary forms? Do you find his alternative taxonomy plausible? Make sure to discuss “directive” or “regulative” speech acts and what it means to understand them.
  • Can Fregean semantics adequately account for indexical expressions?
  • In “Indirect Speech Acts” and other articles, Searle offers an account of the inferential processes involved in understanding speaker’s primary illocutionary goals when the speaker does not literally or directly state them. First, explain how Searle analyzes such inferential processes and discuss the repercussions for the philosophy of language of this view concerning the type of normativity such understanding involves.
  • In such articles as “Literal Meaning,” “The Background,” and “Metaphor,” Searle advances a subtle theory about linguistic meaning and its dependence upon a Background of skills and capabilities. Do you find his defense of literal meaning plausible given the strong arguments marshaled by contextualists?
  • By carefully using the traditional resources of speech act theory, explain what a “deconstructionist” approach to semantic determinacy is.
  • How does Quine argue for the indeterminacy of translation thesis? Is this thesis to be understood as a critique of semantic Platonism or literal meaning as such?
  • How does Quine argue for the inscrutability of reference thesis? Is this thesis to be understood as a critique of the correspondence theory of truth or truth as such?
  • The philosophy of language in 20th century is defined, at least in part, by a growing appreciation that contextual factors determine the content of what is said and thought. By reviewing a few classic arguments, frame your position on the question of how we should study language or intentionality.
  • In Has Semantics Rested Upon a Mistake, Wettstein argues for a Wittgensteinian understanding of meaning and reference. Does this account support Kripke’s causal analysis of reference?
  • How does Habermas argue against intentionalist semantics (Grice), use theories of meaning (Wittgenstein), and truth-conditional semantics (Frege)? Does his Neo-Wittgensteinian theory of meaning in terms of rational acceptability work?
  • Searle and Habermas have forcefully argued, respectively, for and against the thesis that the philosophy of language is a branch of the philosophy of mind. First, clearly identify the key points in this debate and take a stand on this key question.
  • Habermas’s claim that coming to an understanding (Verstaendigung) is “the original telos of language use.” Critically appraise the merits of this claim regarding linguistic understanding.
  • In Communicative Action and Rational Choice, Joseph Heath argues against Habermas’s theory of meaning and in this fashion rejects his account of social order. Do you think that Habermas illicitly freights linguistic understanding with illicit norms in the way Heath claims?
  • Is Habermas’s distinction between illocutions and perlocutions in The Theory of Communicative Rationality tenable? Does his subsequent distinction between “weak” and “strong” communicative action preserve or abandon the strong claims he makes about understanding being the original telos of language use?
  • Critically examine Putnam’s arguments against causal theories of reference.
  • What is the distinction between de re and de dicto beliefs? Does this distinction really represent a definitive break with the basic Fregean thesis that intension determines extention?
  • How does Robert Brandom argue for the necessity of singular terms, and how might this analysis square with Direct Reference theorists?
  • What is more primary, speech acts or conversations?
  • Critically examine the debate between Derrida and Searle on linguistic determinacy and argue for one position or the other.
  • Are there “conventional implicatures”?
Existentialism and Film
  • Many have argued existentialist ideals such as passion (Kierkegaard), the will to power (Nietzsche), authenticity (Heidegger), radical freedom (Sartre), and once-ocurrent being (Bakhtin) are inimical to moral equality and ethical reciprocity. By closely analyzing one of these existentialist ideals of human thriving, critically examine the argument that such ideals are incompatible with normative concerns.
  • What is Existentialism, and how might we understand its legacy in regard to ethical and moral concerns?
  • Choose a classic Existentialist thinker– e.g. Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, de Beauvoir, (early) Bakhtin, etc. – and show they understands the role of the will in a human life in contrast to traditional accounts.
  • Choose a classic Existentialist thinker– e.g. Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, de Beauvoir, (early) Bakhtin, etc. – and show they understands the role of emotions in a human life in contrast to traditional accounts.
  • How should we understand Johannes de Silentio’s call for a “teleological suspension of the ethical” in connection with traditional Eudaimonistic and Deontological ethical theories? What in your estimation is gained by this critique of desire and/or duty as our basic orientation to the world and other human beings?
  • What is Anti-Climacus’ definition of the self in The Sickness Unto Death, and how do you assess his radical emphasis upon “resting transparently in another”? In other words, assess the liabilities and assets moving beyond aesthetic and ethical modes of existence.
  • Does it make sense to think there are absolute individuating duties?
  • In ”The Present Age,” Kierkegaard marshals a powerful attack upon modernity. What is this critique of modernity, and how do you assess it strength as a critical examination of contemporary circumstances?
  • What is the difference between Husserl’s and Heidegger’s understanding of phenomenology?
  • Carefully explain why Heidegger views his analysis of human being (existence) – the Daseinanalytik – as a necessary preliminary to his analysis of being (presence) – that is, the Seinsfrage.
  • Compare and contrast Heidegger’s and Sartre’s conceptions of emotions. What are the liabilities and assets of linking emotion to, respectively, world-disclosure and volition?
  • Compare and contrast Heidegger’s and Judith Butler’s accounts of social recognition. Which, in your estimation, is better suited to address social and cultural oppression?
  • What type of inquiry does Nietzsche propose in his Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good and Evil, and how does it address the quintessential modernist concern with freedom?
  • How does Nietzsche understand “values” and their role in orienting agents to the world? What repercussions might his views have on traditional accounts of moral psychology?
  • Charles Taylor argues that Sartre account of freedom is untenable. Do you find this Taylor’s critique of radical freedom convincing?
  • What is Bakhtin’s argument against Kantian accounts of the moral act? How do you assess this critique?
  • What, according to Bakhtin, is “fatal theoreticism” and the equally dangerous way of acting he calls “aestheticism”? What repercussions might his views have on how we understand education, moral reciprocity, interpersonal relations, or autobiography? [choose only one]

Back to Senior Requirements menu