Science and Metaphysics

Science and Metaphysics

First paper assignment

  1. a) Three pages, double-spaced. Submit printed copy on Friday, February 15 in my mailbox (office closes at 4 pm, after that submit by email). Requests for extended deadlines have to be made in advance.All page numbers listed below refer to the PDF posted on Canvas.
  2. b) Background: In modern terms, the discussion in the Phaedo can be read as a debate on the validity of materialism. Are all things material, and can therefore decay and dissolve, or are some things exempt from dissolution? Socrates argues for the existence of ideas, or forms. Ideas can be understood as structural properties that are invisible and can only be conceived conceptually. Ideas are associated with the divine but also play a role in logic and semantics, insofar as Socrates claims, first, that we cannot understand the essence of things without reference to their idea and, second, that logical properties, such as identity (“equality”), cannot be deduced from material experience. In addition, the discussions in the Phaedo can be read in light of the mind-body problem, with the soul being an example of consciousness as a non-natural and non-material propertyl

The Phaedo also shows the existential meaning of this debate, raising the question whether there are good reasons to have confidence in the afterlife of the soul.

  1. c) Assignment (respond to all four points!):
  2. Analyze Socrates’ account of his dissatisfaction with naturalistic explanations and the decision to rely on the “second best” explanation, the one based on ideas (p. 38-41)
  3. Interpret at least one of the main arguments for the immortality of the soul:
    – Argument from recollection and learning (p. 15-20)
    – Argument from the nature of the soul and the divine (p. 21-24)
  4. Interpret at least one of the main arguments against the immortality of the soul:
    – Argument from the nature of the soul as harmony of the body (p. 29-29)
    – Argument from ‘wear and tear’ of the soul, with the analogy to the weaver and the coat (p. 29-30)
  5. Overall, pay attention to the different viewpoints that are in play. On the one hand, there are Socrates’ philosophical arguments. You can ask, for example: can there even be arguments in favor of the immortality of the soul? On the other hand, there are religious ideas of the afterlife, the moral dimension of having a soul, and the existential attitude towards death. What role do these factors play in our experience of death? Can philosophy help us at all in dealing with this aspect of our life?
  6. Describe in the paper how you would have felt as one of Socrates’ interlocutors. Confident or skeptical, grieving or calm?

General remarks:

a good philosophical paper is based on a careful analysis of the text. Show the arguments in detail and paraphrase them in your own word. It may help to start from quotations of the text and build your argument around these quotations. However, make sure that you explain the quotations in your own words, too. Don’t quote more than you can explain!

Start from an outline of the paper. Treat only one argument per paragraph. The paper should have an introduction and a conclusion, which should be written after you have explained the main points in the core paragraphs of your text and match everything that is said in the text.

 

Science and Metaphysics

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