Senior Seminar, Comprehensive Exam Questions

Western Philosophy

Section 1: Ancient & Medieval Philosophy

  • W1: Compare the theories given by Heraclitus and Parmenides. Does either of them provide an acceptable theory? Why or why not?
  • W2: Discuss the various definitions of piety offered in the Euthyphro.  What are some problems with these definitions?
  • W3: Discuss and explain the various charges against Socrates in the Apology.  Explain Socrates’s defense.
  • W4: What is the nature of love? Explaining the various views presented in the Symposium, explain why you think Diotima's speech does or does not help us to know Eros.
  • W5: Explain Plato’s Theory of Forms, and provide at least one argument for them.  What might be one criticism of this argument? 
  • W6: Explain Aristotle's four types of cause (or "explanation"). Show how an analysis of some topic could benefit from such an approach.
  • W7: What is the soul, as Aristotle conceives of it, using his first principles and his theory of substance?
  • W8: What is the role of eudaimonia in Aristotle's ethics?  What are some of the requirements for a eudaimonistic life?  Explain why ‘happiness’ is an imprecise translation of ‘eudaimonia'.
  • W9: For Aquinas, what are the relationships between eternal law, natural law, divine law, and human law?
  • W10: What is Augustine's analysis of the relationship between faith and rationality?
  • W11: Explain one of the major Medieval arguments for the existence of God and at least one objection to it.

Section 2: Modern Philosophy

  • W12: How does Descartes argue for the existence of the external world?  Critique the argument.
  • W13: Discuss the role of systematic doubt in Descartes’s philosophy and the role it plays in modern philosophy.
  • W14: How does Descartes shape modern philosophy?  How does Descartes’s philosophy differ from pre-modern philosophy?
  • W15: Discuss the major developments in the empiricist approach to epistemology in Locke, Berkeley and Hume.
  • W16: Describe the only two kinds of knowledge according to Hume.  Why is it difficult to build a foundation for knowledge using only these two categories of knowledge?
  • W17: What are Hume’s criticisms of making knowledge claims based on causality and induction?
  • W18: Leibniz believed that the universe was constituted by monads. Why did he believe this?
  • W19: Locke argued that the mind is a blank slate from birth. What are the implications of such a claim and what are arguments against it? Discuss his distinctions among primary, secondary and tertiary qualities and how these distinctions influence concepts of perception and reality.
  • W20: Between Spinoza and Leibniz's theory of substance, there are intriguing differences. Explain their theories. Does either theory of being offer an acceptable account of what is? Which, if either, offers a better view of what it is that makes us what we are?
  • W21: Explain Kant's theory of Space and Time: do they provide his defense of transcendental idealism with adequate justification?
  • W22: Kant argues that the consequences of an action do not establish the moral status of that action. Upon examining his argument for this view and the alternative that he proposes, defend your own stance on the source of morality.
  • W23: What did Kant mean by the term "synthetic a priori" and what were its consequences for his theory of knowledge?

Section 3: Critiques of Modern Philosophy

  • W24: What are Nietzsche's criticisms of the tradition of Western morality and philosophy?
  • W25: What critique of philosophy is to be found in the later writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein?
  • W26: What is the critique of the Western intellectual tradition made by feminist philosophy?
  • W27: Discuss the origins of existential philosophy in Kierkegaard as a reaction against the idealism of Hegel.
  • W28: Describe Hegel's concept of God, and why he identifies God as history. What criticism by other nineteenth-century thinkers were made of Hegel's concept?
  • W29: By what reasoning did Descartes justify the existence of the world external to consciousness?
  • W30: Explain Marx's view of dialectic materialism and offer some criticism.
  • W31: Compare and contrast Heidegger's Dasein with Nietzsche's ubermensch (overman).
  • W32: What is Nietzsche's criticism of realism?
  • W33: What is Edmund Husserl's take on what Descartes is doing when he speaks of the Transcendental Ego, the suspension of the thesis of the natural standpoint, constitutional intentionality, and the epoche?
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