Classical Philosophy v. Modern Philosophy in terms of the Method of Philosophy
Select a topic regarding the problem of knowledge and present an argument in regard to this topic. In presenting your argument and analysis you will need to discuss two of the philosophers that we have discussed in class along with two outside sources (which must be philosophical texts). You need not discuss the entirety of the articles selected but only those points or aspects that are relevant to your topic and overall argument. You should aim at going into sufficient detail and depth of the specific arguments and their relevance to your thesis. Your paper should demonstrate the following:
(1) a clearly stated thesis;
(2) a well-organized and structured argument;
(3) an accurate summary of the specific ideas, arguments, and theories of the two philosophers;
(4) an accurate summary of the specific ideas, arguments, and theory of the two outside sources;
(5) direct references to the texts with appropriate citations;
(6) a strong evaluation of the arguments in which you provide good evidence to support your position.
Possible topics include but are not limited to the following:
1. What is the process of our learning? Plato and Aristotle have famously different approaches to how we come to understand the nature or essences of things. For Plato it was through a process of recollection, while for Aristotle it is through a process of abstraction. Discuss: (1) the specific steps and aspects involved in each of these two theories of knowledge; (2) in doing so, explain some of the arguments that each uses to defend their theories; (3) refer to two outside sources that weigh in on these debates, (4) defend which of the two theories you think is more reasonable by providing evidence and arguments to support your position.
2. Can we be taught by other people? Augustine and Aquinas differ on the extent to which we can learn or be taught by other people. Explain some of Augustine’s ideas and arguments for why he thinks we do not learn from others but that only the divine Teacher leads us to understanding or knowledge. Afterwards discuss Aquinas’s position on the issue using his text, “The Teacher.” Be sure to explain their arguments and some of the background ideas and terminology that they employ in developing their theories. Refer to two outside sources that weigh in on these debates. Select a position on the issue and defend it with evidence and reasons.
3. The Development of Medieval Philosophy and the Theory of Knowledge. Medieval philosophy developed out of a fusion of ancient philosophy and theistic theology. Select the pair of Plato/Augustine or Aristotle/Aquinas and show how this development took place. In doing this, you should first explain the theory of knowledge as established by the ancient philosopher (Plato or Aristotle) and then show how the later medieval thinker (Augustine or Aquinas) builds off the earlier theory while at the same time making significant departures from it. Again you should discuss the specific arguments by referring to the relevant texts as well as discuss two outside sources that analyze the issues. Finally, you should present an argument to the extent you think the later medieval philosopher’s development marked progress or decline in the theory of knowledge.
4. Classical philosophy v. Modern philosophy in terms of the Method of Philosophy. Select one ancient or medieval philosopher and one modern philosopher and develop an essay on the difference between the two approaches to the philosophy of knowledge, such as the traditional v. the a priori approach to epistemology. (Aristotle or Aquinas v. Descartes or Kant would be good choices.) In doing this, you should discuss the different methods each philosopher employs in the development of his theory of knowledge. (Here a discussion of some of the historical influences might be helpful.) Moreover, a discussion of the way the different approaches relate to the realist-idealist dispute could be made in terms of to what extent we know the “real world” outside us. Refer to two outside sources that weigh in on these debates. Finally, construct your essay so as to defend one of the two approaches over the other one, providing evidence and good reasons for your position.
5. Is certain knowledge possible? Formulate an argument on Descartes and Hume’s theories of knowledge contrasting Descartes’s attempt to lay the absolute foundation of knowledge and Hume’s skepticism that certain knowledge is impossible. Here you should explain Descartes’s arguments in Meditations 1 and 2 for how he claims to overcome radical doubt and achieves the indubitable certainty of the cogito. Then you can discuss the basic ideas and arguments of Hume’s skepticism, which he thinks dethrones Descartes’s (and other rationalists’) claim for certain knowledge. Refer to two outside sources that weigh in on these debates. Finally, construct your essay so as to defend one of the two approaches over the other one, providing evidence and reasons for your position.
Other possible topics:
a. Animal intelligence v. human intelligence
b. Problem of Universals in Medieval Philosophy
c. Philosophical Knowledge and Theological Knowledge (faith and reason)
d. Philosophical Knowledge and Scientific Knowledge
e. Overcoming the Realist-Idealist Divide
-modern attempts to solve the debate
– an analysis of Kant’s Critical Idealism or Husserl’s Phenomenology
f. Epistemology and Ethics
– why studying epistemology is valuable
– virtue epistemology
The basic aims and expectations of your paper are the following:
(1) Select a significant epistemological topic, issue, or problem. Clearly articulate the problem and in doing so show why it has been a major issue in the history of philosophy. In doing this, you need to clarify the contrasting or conflicting approaches to the issue.
(2) Explain how each philosopher attempts to solve the problem or issue. Be sure to clarify explicitly aspects of their arguments in some detail. Also, define the technical terms and explain the principles employed in the explanations – do not just state them but make them explicit! (Examples are particularly helpful here.)
(3) Conduct outside research on the topic by finding two outside sources that discusses your issue. You can consult the libraries at Rockhurst or UMKC for resources. (Any online resource should be checked with me. If you use it without consultation I may subtract points.) Your presentation of the positions and arguments offered in the text should be clear with an emphasis upon the relevance it holds to the problem of knowledge.
(4) An appropriate balance of quotations and paraphrases of the texts should be included. Any quotation needs to be followed by an explanation or summation of the quotation in your own words. Proper citation is required. (Chicago style is preferred but MLA format is acceptable.) A bibliography should be included at the end of your paper.
(5) Provide an argument on the controversial topic discussed in the articles by taking a definite position on the issue and in turn providing strong evidence and reasons for your position. In other words, do not just explain the two philosophers’ positions without taking a definite position yourself.
(7) Correct punctuation, spelling, and grammar are expected! PROOFREAD!