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Write a 2-3 page paper (typed, double-spaced, 1″ margins, standard font and point) on one of the following topics. Your paper may be longer than 3 pages, but I’m not expecting anything long. Because this is a short paper, it should not have a long introduction, nor does it need much of a conclusion. Your introduction should state your central issue and thesis. The rest of your paper should clarify, explain, and support your thesis. Let me tell you that your thesis can be a claim of not knowing: it doesn’t necessarily have to make a positive point. But even a negative thesis needs to be supported—in other words, you need to explain clearly why none of the available positions are clearly right.
In a good paper, every sentence will be easy to understand, and the structure of the sentences and paragraphs will make sense as a clarification and defense of the thesis. Also, a good paper will demonstrate a rich understanding of the dialogues. Sometimes a student will say to me, “But I thought you just wanted my opinion.” Eliminate the just in that sentence: I do want your opinion, but it should be an opinion that shows your having thought seriously about the text, and it should be well supported and explained.
In such a short paper you should avoid all but very brief quotations, if you quote at all. You are encouraged to cite according to the Stephanus numbers the passages you are drawing your conclusions from (e.g. 13a-b).
Is Socrates and, more broadly speaking philosophy itself, innocent or guilty of the charges brought against him? Take a side in this issue, and defend it. Be clear on exactly how Socrates is innocent or guilty of the charges; and give some thoughtful consideration to the other side.
In the Euthyphro, Socrates asks, “Is an action holy because the gods approve of it, or do the gods approve of it because it is holy?”
Consider another version of that question (e.g., Is an action moral because humans approve of it, or do we approve of it because it’s moral?, or Is something beautiful because we think it is, or do we think it is because it’s really beautiful?). Frame a philosophical discussion of both sides. Draw on the Euthyphro to help you explore the topic.
Consider the question raised in the Crito about our duty to follow the laws. Explain and evaluate Socrates’s idea that we are obliged by a social contract to respect the laws. Make sure that whatever your position you thoughtfully consider both – or all – sides of the issue.
You may also write on a topic of your own choosing, as long as it pertains to one of the Socratic dialogues or some central issue that we have raised. If you do this, you must approve the topic first with me (the easiest way to do so is by email). A paper on an unapproved topic will not be accepted.
These categories are not averaged into an overall grade. The overall grade will reflect the paper as a whole; these grades reflect the paper considered in terms of its parts.
A-B: The main idea is the result of having thought deeply about the issue—of having explored the main facets of it imaginatively, and of having discovered something beyond what you initially believed. (Note: simply saying that you’ve accomplished these things is irrelevant.)
C: The main idea is reasonable and grounded in an adequate understanding of the issue.
D-F: The paper shows little sign of intellectual engagement with the issue.
Thesis and Introduction
A-B: The introduction describes succinctly and vividly the main issue. The thesis, which is easy to spot, gives a precise answer to an important issue; e.g., “I will argue that the Socratic view of the will, that humans always do what they take to be the good, can adequately account for most but not all human action; in particular, it can’t account for certain self-destructive behavior or that rare kind of action we regard as truly evil.”
C: The introduction is general. The main issue is merely stated. The thesis is a topic sentence; e.g., “My paper is about the adequacy of the Socratic view of the will.”
D-F: The introduction is rambling; it is difficult to know what the paper is about. A thesis cannot be identified with confidence.
Writing (tone, sentence flow, word choice, phrasing, grammar, punctuation, paragraph structure)
A: The essay is a vivid exposition of the topic. The diction is precise. The sentences flow nicely, as do the paragraphs. There are no errors in grammar or punctuation. The essay lends itself to being read aloud.
B-C: The essay adequately presents the topic. The diction is correct, but sometimes terms are too broad or too narrow. An occasional awkward construction distracts the reader from the content. There are a few—but not many—errors in grammar or punctuation.
D-F: Multiple sentences are choppy, incomplete, rambling, or awkward. Paragraphs are difficult to comprehend. There are multiple errors in grammar and punctuation. The essay resists being read aloud.
A-B: The main ideas are clearly and powerfully defended. Counterarguments are considered and rebutted, where space admits. Weak or unsound arguments are not used. Rhetoric is never substituted for argument.
C: The main ideas are supported, but the support is incomplete or not always compelling. Counterarguments have been considered but not completely. Rhetoric is sometimes used in place of argument.
D-F: The ideas are weakly supported. Fallacies (e.g., straw man, ad hominem, circular reasoning) take the place of argument. It isn’t clear that all relevant positions have been carefully considered.