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Descartes meditations on first philosophy – Develop a thesis that expresses your interpretation of the selected topi

November 5, 2014| Papers Haven

Descartes meditations on first philosophy

Objectives

You will compose a paper of two pages exploring a self-selected philosophical topic related directly to René Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy. You may also consider Descartes’ Discourse on the Method and any other text in our anthology, but you should focus on the Meditations. You should aim to develop an interpretive thesis that emphasizes an aspect of the assigned text that genuinely interests or challenges you. You should also aim for clarity, good organization, and careful preparation. Overall, as did earlier papers, this assignment aims to promote your ability to think productively and/or creatively about a provocative philosophical text.

Assignment

• Select a topic drawn from Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy.
• Develop a thesis that expresses your interpretation of the selected topic, and defend your thesis in a paper of at least two pages.
• I recommend that you articulate your thesis (the main point or points you are arguing) in the introduction.
• Indicate also early on the essential features of the Cartesian theory or issue you will be discussing. Always lay a strong theoretical foundation for further analysis. You should then establish the details later in the paper.
• On the whole, the opening should give the reader a clear “roadmap” of how your argument will proceed.
• Give adequate textual support for your interpretation and central claims. Textual support could include quotations, paraphrases, or simple parenthetical page references to point the reader to a specific passage. In all cases, be sure to document your analysis in MLA format (in-text citations and a Works Cited page).
• Avoid excessive summary. Instead, state the essential points and focus on your interpretation of the text, referring the reader to key passages with in-text citations, where appropriate.
• Schedule adequate time to edit and proofread your work thoroughly.
• Include the following Honor Code statement at the end of your essay: “I pledge my honor that I have neither received nor provided unauthorized assistance during the completion of this work.”
• Complete the writing checklist below before you submit your paper.

Topic Suggestions

Here are some common topics for your consideration:

• Cartesian method: Does Descartes violate his method at any point in the Meditations? Show how.
• Cartesian method: Assess the legitimacy of positing absolute certainty as the goal of philosophy.
• Cartesian method: To what extent is absolute certainty even possible?
• Cartesian method: Assess the objective of becoming “lords and masters of nature” (see the Discourse, page 47).
• Assess the Cartesian concept of truth as full disclosure of a particular matter.
• What is the natural light and how does it function in Descartes’ epistemology (theory of knowledge)?
• Evaluate the legitimacy of the cogito argument (“I think, therefore I am”) as the first indubitable truth (Archimedean point).
• Analyze, explain, and evaluate some narrow aspect of Descartes’ proof of God’s existence in either Meditation 3 or Meditation 5 (do not attempt to deal with both). Note: do not attempt this topic unless you are secure in your grasp of the material. Work with me if you need clarification of any key concepts.
• How does certainty about God’s existence bear on Descartes’ overall philosophical and/or scientific objectives?
• How is it possible to avoid error?
• Examine an aspect of Cartesian mind-body dualism (you’ll need to read Meditation 6, which was not assigned).

Note the following:

• You must produce at least two full pages, but you may write up to four full pages if you need more space.
• Articulate your thesis (the main point or points you are arguing) in the opening paragraph.
• Make sure you defend your thesis, giving textual support where appropriate.
• Eliminate all unnecessary verbiage, with the aim of clear, precise communication.
• Schedule adequate time to edit and proofread your work thoroughly. Sloppy preparation and/or a significant number or writing errors will lower your grade.
• Include the following Honor Code statement (signed) at the end of your essay (I recommend you write this on the bottom of the Works Cited page, so as not to waste precious space on your two pages): “I pledge my honor that I have neither received nor provided unauthorized assistance during the completion of this work.”
• Be sure to consult with me if any aspects of the assignment pose difficulties. You may also visit the Writing Center (Babson 205; x4356) for assistance, but you must document this assistance in a footnote (see the “Academic Integrity” file). Especially for content-related questions, I urge you always to consult first with me before moving on to the Writing Center, since I am most conversant with the assignment’s objectives and expectations.
• Before submitting your paper, be sure to complete the Writing Checklist below so as to avoid common content, editorial, and formatting errors. I recommend that you reserve this task for the final stages of preparation. Reserve enough time to work through the checklist one step at a time. Trying to think about too many things at once will likely be counter-productive.
• The hard copy is due at the beginning of class on Monday, 10 November; papers received after the beginning of class will be subject to my late penalty (see below).
• Submit an electronic copy of your paper to me as an MS Word attachment via e-mail (waiter@babson.edu) by 6:00 pm on Monday, 10 November.
• Include a Works Cited page in MLA format (in-text citation) to document all quotations and paraphrases (see Diana Hacker, A Writer’s Reference, Section MLA). Consult no outside sources. If you have any problems with documentation, be sure to ask me. I also encourage you to use the Writing Center, which is an excellent resource for dealing with documentation issues. The consultants there are trained to help you interpret and master the essential principles of documentation.
• Your work must be entirely your own, unless otherwise documented. Review the document “Academic Integrity and Documentation,” distributed prior to the semester and available in the “Course Documents” section of Blackboard. Note: Failure to provide a Works Cited (and/or Works Consulted) page will result in the loss of a full grade (e.g., an A becomes a B). Failure to format the page correctly in MLA style will result in the loss of one-third of a grade (e.g., a B becomes a B-).
• All formal papers must be typed and double spaced. I will evaluate them on the basis of (1) the cogency and clarity of your analysis; (2) your understanding of the assigned texts; and (3) the quality of your writing, including grammar, style, punctuation, and care of preparation (editing and proofreading). See the Student Guide: Babson First-Year Rhetoric Program, pp. 19–21 for details on grading criteria.

Late Policy

I do not grant extensions, but you may grant yourself an extension if necessary, provided you accept the following late penalty: Papers submitted after the start of class on the due date will be penalized by reduction of one-third grade (e.g., an A- becomes a B+). You will lose an additional one-third grade for each additional day late (up to a seven-day limit). I will accept no papers after seven days, and such papers will receive an automatic zero. Note: Be sure to back-up your work as you prepare it. Lost files due to computer failure will not excuse lateness.

Writing Checklist

1. □ Introductory paragraph (or early phase of an alternative format): Try to establish the theoretical framework for your paper. You may develop your view later in the paper as well, but the reader needs to know what the issue is before proceeding. You should also try to give a specific overview of the main points constituting your argument. This gives the reader a kind of map and makes it much easier to follow your analysis. Avoid making vague or grandiose statements in the introduction, such as “W. H. Auden points out different elements . . .” (vague: tell me which elements) or “Throughout history . . .” (grandiose: stick to what you know). Make sure the course of the argument follows your map.
2. □ Body: Be sure to give adequate discussion of the position or positions you are defending. This means that you should not leave too many questions about your meaning or interpretation of the text. Be concise but thorough.
3. □ Keeping your conclusion in mind, be sure that you develop a step-by-step argument to convince the reader of the cogency of your point of view. Each paragraph or component (for alternative formats) should contribute to your final conclusion. Especially in a relatively short paper, do not use your conclusion simply to repeat or summarize the paper. Instead, pull everything together for the first time and leave the reader with some memorable line or thought.
4. □ Avoid vague or unjustified claims. Always explain yourself and try to integrate textual support for your interpretations. Doing so will enhance the persuasiveness of your argument.
5. □ Avoid overuse of the passive voice, which only creates wordiness and makes your claims less direct. So, instead of saying, “It is argued in Plato’s Sophist that X,” use the active voice and say, “In his Sophist, Plato argues X.” Instead of saying, “It will be shown in this paper that X,” use the active voice and say, “I show that X.” This change yields prose that is more aggressive, confident, and persuasive, eliminating a lot of academic verbiage along the way.
6. □ Feel free to use the first person. Especially in philosophy, you should take responsibility for your thesis and argument, instead of pretending to keep them at an artificial “objective” distance. There is no need to overdo it, however. Don’t keep saying, “I believe” or “in my opinion,” since this weakens your point, especially given the weak status of belief when compared with knowledge. Just make your claims and defend them,
7. □ Format: Staple your paper. Make sure it is double spaced. (Note: alternative formats may require special arrangements. See me to discuss the matter.) Use black ink and a 10- or 12-point easily read font, such as Times New Roman. Set margins at 1 inch. Number your pages. You do not need a title page. Just put your name, class, assignment, and date in the upper left corner of page one. You may also include your last name in the header, next to the page number.
8. □ Do not permit MS Word to insert extra space between paragraphs (which it currently does by default). If MS Word is inserting such space automatically, go to the paragraph menu and set “spacing before” and “spacing after” at 0. I recommend that you then click the “default” button to make this the default spacing for your MS Word documents.
9. □ Quotations and Documentation: Be sure you have included a Works Cited page and/or Works Consulted page, properly formatted in MLA style. Refer to Diana Hacker, A Writer’s Reference, section MLA.
10. □ Be sure you use in-text citations to document quotations, paraphrases, and or implicit references to the ideas and theories contained in the assigned texts or other sources. Do not use footnotes, except explanatory footnotes or footnotes acknowledging outside assistance, such as assistance received at the Writing Center.
11. □ Do not set quotations in italics. Use italics only if they appear in the original or if you wish to emphasize a key word or phrase. If you do add italics to a quotation, include the phrase “emphasis added” (or some equivalent phrase) after the cited page number: (172, emphasis added). Make sure the in-text citation appears outside of the quotation marks. Final punctuation should appear after the citation: Frodo said, “I will take the Ring” (Tolkien 264). Long quotations (more than four lines) must be set as block text. See Hacker, § MLA3b for one acceptable way of handling long quotations. Do not enclose block quotations in quotation marks. (I will accept single-spaced, indented block quotations, however. In this case, insert an extra space above and below the quotation and indent the entire quotation on the left side only.) Always use double quotation marks (“x”) for non-block quotations or so-called “scare-quotes.” Use single quotation marks (‘x’) only for quotations within quotations.
12. □ Be sure to introduce quotations with adequate context. And make sure you integrate quotations in such a way as to yield complete or correctly formed sentences. If you use an introductory phrase with a quotation in such a way as to yield a complete sentence, use a comma before the quotation. Example: According to Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.” Introduce evidentiary quotations (quotations that serve as direct evidence for a preceding statement, but which do not flow into a complete sentence) with a colon. Example: Plato thinks knowledge is open to everyone: “The power to know is already in every soul.”
13. □ If you add any words to a quotation or alter any words, enclose the additions or alterations in brackets: [ ]. Do not enclose the added words or alterations in parentheses, since that will imply they are part of the original source.
14. □ Quote precisely. Misquotations are unacceptable and show inadequate attention to detail. You should proofread your quotations word for word against the original during the final stages of preparing the paper for submission.
15. □ Proofreading and Editing: Make sure you verify the spelling of all proper names, along with the book title and author’s name! Hint: Once you have verified a proper name, highlight it, then right-click and add it to the dictionary.
16. □ Book titles should be underlined or italicized both in the paper and in the Works Cited. I prefer italics throughout, but whichever you choose, be consistent. Do not underline some titles and italicize others. Italicize foreign words (e.g., eudaimonia, nous, cogito)
17. □ Make sure you form possessives properly: one’s theory, not ones theory; Socrates’ or (Socrates’s) theory, not Socrates theory, etc.
18. □ Insert one space between ellipsis dots and quoted material. Examples: “blah blah blah . . . blah blah.” MLA recommends that you not use ellipsis dots at the beginning of quotations, since the reader takes it granted that material may have been omitted. If you omit a whole sentence, insert a period at the end of the sentence that appears prior to the omission: Plato says, “blah, blah, blah. . . . blahdy blah blah.”
19. □ Avoid contractions altogether in formal writing (may be appropriate in alternative formats, such as written dialogue).
20. □ Be sure you do not make the following all-too-common mistakes: confusing than with then; confusing it’s (a contraction for “it is”) with its (a possessive); confusing there, their, and they’re; confusing principal and principle; confusing affect and effect. To avoid other common usage errors, familiarize yourself with Hacker’s section on usage (§ W1).
21. □ Learn to avoid comma splices (marked CS in the margin), run-on sentences, and fragments! Refer to Hacker, §§ G5 and G6. The presence of such poorly punctuated sentences will lower your grade.

 

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