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PHIL 1301 – Introduction to Philosophy Paper 1. Instructions.
– This paper should be a commentary on the text provided, an excerpt from René Descartes’s Discourse on the Method. The commentary should serve the following purpose: Imagine that someone who has no idea about Descartes or his philosophy reads the text. Your commentary should help the reader to understand the text: its argument and main ideas, how ideas are linked, what is the point or purpose of the passage, what underlying arguments and context is the text addressing, why it matters.
– To prepare your commentary, first create a set of structures (do as we did in class with Montaigne’s fragment):
1) Create a formal structure: Divide the text in parts and subparts. This should help you in creating an outline showing the structure and hierarchy of arguments and ideas.
2) Find the main explicit ideas in the text and place them within the formal structure.
3) Find where more information is required to understand the explicit ideas. In other words, indicate where and which implicit ideas are needed. Implicit ideas are the ideas that are not in the text, but necessary to understand what the text is about (context, philosophical arguments, related ideas, authors that are indirectly addressed, etc.) The more you know, the more implicit ideas you will find.
4) Once the structures are made provide a thesis: In one sentence, formulate what the text is
These structures should serve you as an outline for your commentary.
– To write your commentary:
1) Begin by stating what the text is about (section 4) above) and propose a division (section 1) above). Note that you are commenting on a fragment, not an entire work and that it is you who divides the text (do not say “Descartes divided the text in x parts;” rather, say something like: “The fragment can be divided in the following parts” or “I propose to divide the fragment in…” etc.).
2) Based on this division, explain (i.e., comment on) the text. Show how the argument unfolds and how ideas relate to each other. Explain the explicit ideas and how they relate to implicit ideas.
3) End with a brief conclusion recapitulating the most important aspects of the text, which should be in accordance to your thesis.
“In the first part of the text (l. 1-22), Descartes presents what is known as his methodical doubt. This doubt is not actual (l. 6, “I was willing to suppose”), but rather a way to find an unshakeable ground for knowledge (l.1-2, l.21-22) that can resist any skeptical critique (l. 20). Skepticism is a philosophical current that maintains that there are no reasons to assume that our knowledge is completely reliable. Descartes’s skepticism is methodological, as opposed to other sorts of skepticism, such as dogmatic (as exemplified by Socrates when he affirms that he knows he know nothing, thus at least affirming and knowing one thing), or critical (exemplified by Montaigne, who questions how we obtain reliable knowledge through the senses without offering any answer).”
This is MY example that I provide to you so you get a sense of what I want you to write. DO NOT COPY/PLAGIARIZE ME.
– The commentary is NOT a summary nor a paraphrase of the text. It is NOT a succession of quotes (do not quote, unless it is absolutely necessary, just refer to the text through the line number). It is NOT your personal opinion about the text. It is NOT a summary of the life and works of the author (unless this information is necessary to understand the text, you shouldn’t include it). It is NOT a collection of generalities and platitudes (DON’T say: “Descartes is the most important philosopher to have ever written in French”).
– This paper requires time. Do not try to do everything at the last minute; try to do a little bit every day.
General issues:
– Be clear and concise. Use your words wisely.
– Make sure you understand the philosophical concepts and that what you write down is actually what you intend to say.
– Try to use verbs like “proposes, claims, defends, argues, concludes” and NOT “says, goes on, states, pointsout,decides”.
– Use logic connectors (therefore, since, because, however, furthermore, if…then) and not temporal (first,then,next,afterthat…).
– Avoid rhetorical questions, generalizations and platitudes, unjustified personal opinions.
– Cite only when it is absolutely necessary to understand your argument, avoid long citations (your paper should not be a sequence of quotations).
Before submitting:
– Proof read your text. Read it aloud to see whether it makes sense and to check whether you followed the instructions.
– Add a word count.
– Submit your work in word or pdf (not pages or other file formats).
– Your paper should be around 1000-1500 words; double-spaced and 11 or 12 font. Submit BOTH your outline AND your paper through Blackboard (submit together in the same attempt). You can submit a picture for your structures, you don’t need to type it.
– Thursday, October 17, by midnight on Blackboard.
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