PHL 100 Unit 2 Discussions

Assignment Requirements


Required Text
Wolff, Robert Paul, About Philosophy, 11th edition, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education ISBN: 0-25-19412-5

In these essay-style responses, express a point of view and support your view with good reasons, evidence, examples, expert opinion, etc. High marks will not be achieved by simply reporting back information from the text or other sources. Philosophical thinking and writing involves more than presenting information; beyond doing this, you must also critically assess the issue in question—this involves original thinking and analysis. Moreover, you should attempt to come to some final position in response to the question and include evaluation of other possible positions or views on the issues.

Question 1 (Min of 500 words)
Watch the Sam Harris video in the “Guest Video Lectures”

(His lecture takes up the first 54 minutes; you do not need to watch the Q&A section that follows, but my guess is that if you have paid attention to what he says in the lecture, you will want to listen to this part as well.) Harris presents a reasonable, and to many, persuasive defense here of the determinist side of the free will vs. determinism debate. (In our unit reading, this position is defended by Thomas Hobbes [1588-1679].) Consult the definitions of “free will” and “determinism” here if you are unclear about what proponents on each side of the debate assert.

For the purposes of this assignment, temporarily assume the position of the free-will theorist (or the metaphysical libertarian). How do you respond to Harris’s arguments against the existence free will? Present the best counterargument to determinism or the best refutation of Harris’s argument for determinism that you can come up with.

Then, once both sides of the question are on the table, present your own position on the issue: Are you a believer in free will? Are you a denier of free will? Are you a compatibilist [although causal determinism is true, free will is also still possible]? Defend your position (that is, say why you believe what you do).

Note that Harris takes the very strong (causal) determinist position that not only is there no such thing as free will, but also that free will is impossible and that even the illusion of free will is itself an illusion. At the same time, Harris acknowledges that subjectively speaking, the intuitive pull toward the belief that we do indeed have free will is very strong. However, our inclinations in this direction notwithstanding, this belief is necessarily false.

Finally, Harris argues that the truth of causal determinism does not interfere with our notions of moral responsibility and of our attributing moral properties to actions or persons, nor does it prevent us from carrying out actions that stem from our convictions of justice and propriety in relation to human behavior. How does he get around these strong objections to causal determinism?

[Instructor’s note: The free will/determinism question is a very difficult philosophical problem, and many of the philosophical treatments of this question get very complex very quickly. You are not expected here to find any ultimate answers or to survey all of the possible positions that may be taken in relation to the question. Just do your best to show your understanding of the question as a problem in metaphysics and weigh in on the debate with some original thinking (which is not to say that you must present a view that no one else shares). In other words, do not just report back on what other authors say; express your own position and defend it to the best of your ability. These two entries in the online Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy may be helpful here, but be careful about getting too “deep into the weeds” of advanced philosophical theorizing! and]

Question 2 (min of 500 words)
Scientific Knowledge
Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn

Karl Popper (1902-1994)
Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996)

a) Explain the concept of falsifiability in the thinking of Karl Popper. What importance did this idea have in our understanding of what science is and how it should proceed toward finding answers to the problems science addresses. Why wouldn’t verification of a hypothesis or theory be preferable? Please remember that a theory’s being falsifiable is NOT the same thing as that theory’s being false!

(b) Explain Kuhn’s concept of paradigm shifts in science. If his theory of scientific knowledge is correct, what implications does this have for the future conduct of scientists as such and for the notion of scientific truth? Be sure to include in your discussion an explanation of what you understand a scientific theory to be and whether you think any scientific fact or finding can be theory-neutral.


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