PHI 325 final assignment schedule

The final writing assignment will consist of two parts.

Part I: Essay


Choose your own topic, closely related to something we have studied or will study in the course. If the topic is squarely and obviously directly on something we have studied, then getting approval from your preceptor is optional. If things aren't so clear cut, then getting approval by Monday November 27 is mandatory.

Argument skeleton

Whatever topic you choose, be sure that your paper clearly states what claim it is arguing for, and what the argument for that claim is. It is required that somewhere in the paper, you lay out the argument for your claim in the form of numbered premises that entail the conclusion.

Due dates

The final version of the essay is due handed in to your preceptor's mailbox by 4pm on Tuesday December 5. The lateness penalty is one grade notch (e.g. A to A-) per 24 hours late (e.g., a paper handed in 8 hours late is penalized one grade notch).

As incentive to you to start early, a draft version is due by 4pm on Friday December 1. This draft will not be commented on or formally graded. It will only earn credit if it is a significant start on the paper, containing the guiding idea of the paper and significant development of that idea (even if the development is rough). The penalty for not handing a qualifying draft by then is one grade notch.


Maximum length: 2500 words. There will be a small bonus for papers shorter than 2000 words. That is, all else equal (ground covered, writing quality, and so on), a 2000 word paper has an advantage over a 2500 word paper. Our advice: Don't sacrifice an important idea for length, but if you can clearly explain all of your ideas in less than 2000 words, do so. The best course is to first write the paper to fit in 2500 words, and then see if unnecessary material can be trimmed. Please include a word count.

Clarity code

The clarity code requirement for this essay is the same as for your midterm assignment. Please state and sign the clarity code:

I pledge my honor that I have had this paper carefully read by someone who is not enrolled in the class for which it was written, and who has no special knowledge of the paper's subject area. My reader was [fill in name here]. On the basis of the paper alone (without explanation on my part), the reader was able to correctly state (1) what my conclusion was, (2) the steps of the argument that got me to my conclusion. Furthermore, the reader found no typos, grammatical or spelling errors, "thought-o's", or garbled sentences.

Note that abiding by the clarity code requires advance planning. If you wait until the last minute to do your paper, you will almost certainly not be able to sign the clarity code in good conscience, for two reasons:

Being clear is difficult--you should expect that on the first (and probably second) read, your reader(s) will not be able to satisfy the clarity code conditions. Plan for this by giving your paper to a reader well before the paper is due.

If there is a special reason why you cannot arrange to have such a reader, please contact your preceptor immediately. Not being able to find a reader at the last minute will not be grounds for an extension.


For this part of the assignment (but not the other part), you are encouraged to discuss the assignment with others. But (1) write up your assignment completely on your own, and (2) if you do discuss the assignment with anyone, say who you discussed it with at the top of your assignment. Furthermore, if you use a significant idea that you got from someone in such a discussion, credit the idea to that person.

Part II: Multiple micro-essays


This assignment will require you to answer a number of short, focussed questions about matters we have covered in the course. The questions may draw on any aspect of the course, from any portion of the semester: readings, homework, and material covered in precept or lecture.


Your answers for questions 1-7 should total less than 2200 words. Questions 1-7 are mandatory. Question 8 is optional. Please include a word count.


  1. Are disagreements about religion more like disagreements about political beliefs or disagreements about arithmetic? How does that bear on the question: How much should your level of confidence in the existence of God change when you find out that a respected friend disagrees? Should your answer change if you find out in addition that, had you grown up in your friend's hometown, you would likely have ended up with her views about the existence of God?

  2. Feinberg thinks that a human life can be absurd and yet fulfilled, and that its being fulfilled can in some way redeem it, notwithstanding its absurdity. What makes a life fulfilled, according to Feinberg? Does he or does he not think that a life that is fulfilled is good? In the light of your answers to these two questions, evaluate his suggestion that the fact that an absurd life is fulfilled can redeem it. (Look especially at 'Absurd Self-Fulfillment' pp.323-325.) (This question courtesy of Michael Smith.)

  3. Singer supporter: It is sometimes permissible to kill an infant that has a disability that renders its prospects for a happy life much worse than those of an average infant.

    Opponent: Is it permissible, then, to kill infants that are members of minorities that face significant disadvantages due to widespread discrimination and thus have much worse prospects for a happy life?

    Write the strongest response you can for the Singer supporter that does not involve conceding that it is in some cases permissible to kill infants because they are members of a disadvantaged minority.

  4. Explain how Nagel gets from the claim that nothing within our individual lives can give them meaning to the claim that no greater outside source (political causes, religions, etc.) can give them meaning.

  5. Invent and defend the most interesting application you can of the Bostrom/Ord "reversal test".

  6. Harman's account of harm depends on the species of the individual in question. How? Feinberg's account of fulfillment depends on the "inherited talents and dispositions" of the individual in question. How? Given these answers, flesh out the suggestion "Harm impedes self-fulfillment" in the most interesting way you can.

  7. Consider one of your serious values or interests---say, in a particular activity or cause. Suppose that you found out that this value had been secretly implanted by an Egan-style "loyalty mod". Write a snippet of fiction describing your thoughts and actions as you attempt to come to terms with this news. Your snippet (think: short story fragment) should address the extent to which the value survives your knowledge of how it arose, should reveal your understanding of the arguments for and against undermining in such cases, and should be as interesting as you can make it.

  8. (Optional) Look at some examples of Chindogu and explain how they fit into Nagel's account of absurdity. Invent your own Princeton-specific Chindogu.

Question-and-answer session

The questions will be made available no later than Friday, December 15. There will be a special question-and-answer session from 1-2pm on Tuesday January 9 in East Pyne 010. The thing to do is think about the assignment early, so that you generate your questions early. The question-and-answer session is the latest time we will answer questions about the assignment. It is certain that useful information will arise in the question-and-answer session.

Due dates

The final version of this portion of the final assignment is due handed in to your preceptor's mailbox by 4pm on Tuesday, January 16. Note that since this is Dean's Date, we are not allowed to accept work handed in later than then without permission from the Dean. Any extensions must be gotten from the Dean.

As incentive to you to start early, a draft version is due by 4pm on Friday January 12. This draft will not be commented on or formally graded. It will only earn credit if it is a significant start on the assignment, containing the guiding ideas for a significant number of the questions (even if the development is rough). The penalty for not handing a qualifying draft by then (or not handing in a draft at all) is one grade notch.

Clarity code

Be clear on this portion of the assignment, and proofread your work. There is no formal clarity code requirement, however.


Complete this assignment entirely on your own. You should use only the following materials: your notes, readings for the course, and your homework assignments.

Further information

Further information, advice, and guidance will be interspersed in lecture and precept. This information may include some nice juicy suggested topics for the first part of the assignment, and may include vital information. So if you miss class or precept, be sure to get the scoop from someone who attended.