Essay Options for PHIL 350 Final Exam (Fall 2010)

This page revised 12/8/2010

Don't choose a topic that substantially overlaps with your topic on major paper #2.

Write one essay from #1-4 and one essay from #5-7. Answer as many subquestions as you can for each essay.

1. Discuss Marx's theory of the capital cycle, being sure to cover the source of surplus value and its significance for accumulation. Why is "realization" of surplus value important for capital? What are two different ways in which capital can try to increase surplus value? What motivates decisions that are harmful for the natural environment? That treat workers as mere means? Why has advertising become important since the early 20th century? Consumers living on credit in the early 21st century?

2. What is dialectical about Marx's narrative of the transition from feudalism to capitalism and his description of the growth of contradictions within the capital system possibly leading to a socialist society? Make reference to the dialectical triads involved, using terms deriving from Hegel.

3. What are the major problems that Marx attributes to the capitalist system, being sure to discuss, among other things, the dimensions of the alienation of labor, the drive to accumulate, and the violation of the categorical imperative? What additional negative consequences have 20th and 21st century thinkers in the Marx tradition laid at the doorstep of the capitalist system? Indicate some of the reasoning behind their causal claims, possibly including the nature of the investment/ production/accumulation cycle, the source of surplus value, the "realization of s.v." problem, ways to "solve" it, ways to increase s.v., to keep the value of wages low, to keep costs of raw materials low, and so forth.

4. What does it mean when Marxists say that both capitalism and socialism are "organic systems"? What are elements of capitalism that make it an "organic" system and help explain why it has been able to last for four centuries? What are some aspects of a Marxian socialist system that, if implemented, could help to create it as an "organic system." (Start with the "socialist triangle.") With what view of human nature does the capitalist system operate? With what view of human fulfillment does Marx operate?

5. Several of the following are closely related in Nietzsche's mind. Discuss these items in a coherent essay, and explain Nietzsche's complaints about (hostility to) them. What would N's ideal be like? Slave morality; the ascetic priest; Platonism, Christianity; nihilism; utilitarianism and modern egalitarianism; the will to power; honesty. You may introduce other Nietzschean concepts as needed.

6. Explain Sartre's claim that existence comes before essence? How does this relate to his distinction between consciousness (pour soi) and things (en-soi). Where does freedom fit into this picture? Responsibility. What does he mean by "anguish"? Can we escape responsibility by claiming that God instructs us to do or not do something? That we have been ordered to act by a commanding officer? Why or why not? Why is it problematic that God does not exist, according to Sartre? What does Sartre say to those "Marxists" who tell him to join them because the revolution is inevitable? Does Sartre accept the doctrine of determinism?

7. Upon what assumptions and concepts "that are by no means gender neutral" has the history of (Western) ethics been constructed, according to Virginia Held? With what basic philosophical distinction was the male/female distinction associated in ancient Greek philosophy? What has the effect been of the public/private distinction? What experiences tend to be omitted in the reflections of male moral theorists? What do Hobbesian, Platonic, Rousseauian and Kantian conceptions of reason have in common? What seems omitted in Kantian and utilitarian conceptions of reason? How do feminist thinkers question such approaches? How have they reevaluated emotion's place in morality? What notion of the self has liberal moral theory inherited from male-dominated ethicists? What common liberal assumptions about the self do feminist thinkers question? What conception of self do they offer?

Possible Extra Credit.

8. How does Nietzsche explain the origin of what we tend, in recent centuries, to call the soul? (Genealogy, Essay 2; 100-150 words)