Philosophy Essay 1

Below, you will find your first writing assignment of the semester. In response to the prompt, you are to select from one of the three prompt questions and compose an essay of no less than 750 words—or, roughly, three full pages, double spaced, size 12 Times New Roman font, standard margins— and no more than 1,000 words (roughly four full pages), due no later than midnight (via ecampus) on Tuesday, October 8th. Late assignments will not be accepted without previous arrangements having been made prior to the deadline, and, as the syllabus clearly states, you must turn in all assignments in order to be eligible to pass the class. Your response must be thorough and well-written, with references to the text; to that end, I invite you to visit the ‘Course Materials’ tab in ecampus for resources that provide greater clarity regarding my expectations for what constitutes a strong paper, as well as the standards according to which I will evaluate your essay.

I highly recommend visiting the Writing Center (Medina Hall, Room 216—inside the Learning Center) or submitting your drafts to our Online Writing Center at [email protected]; remember that providing proof that you visited the Writing Center to work with a tutor on your essay will automatically raise your grade by half a letter. For example, a paper that receives a B-, say, an 82, raises to a B, say, an 85, with a visit to the Writing Center. Of course, you are free to go multiple times to that excellent resource, but the extra credit stops after the first visit.

Lastly, I encourage you to use secondary sources, but be sure to cite them to a fault; if I catch a whiff of plagiarism, then you automatically fail the assignment and are subject to further disciplinary actions by the Dean of Liberal Arts.

Be bold in your undertaking; I wish you the best of luck!

Q.1) The death of Socrates, to a large extent, occurred because the citizens of ancient Athens’ were unable to distinguish clearly between Socrates and any old sophist; accordingly, a comparison of Socrates to the sophists will help one to avoid making the same mistake as that committed by those early members of the Western world. Why, then, is Socrates often mistaken as a sophist? In what ways is he different from them? In crafting one’s response, one would do well to consider to what respective ends rhetoric is employed and why; nomadism versus fidelity to Athens; Aristophanes’ portrayal of Socrates in The Clouds; Socrates’ description of himself as a “gadfly”; Socrates’ description of himself as a “midwife”; Socrates’ reason for confessing that he cannot teach knowledge and, accordingly, why he cannot accept payment; the sophists’ reason for charging their students; and relativism and skepticism/cynicism versus absolute knowledge, or Truth.

Q.2) Who are the sophists? One would do well to consider some, if not all, of the following: the historical context surrounding the emergence of sophistry; the nature of the material that the sophists claimed to teach; the definitions of, and the relationship between, rhetoric and relativism, respectively, (including the roles of skepticism, agnosticism, and the logos, as well as Protagoras’ claim that “of all things, man is the measure”); the definitions of, and the relationship between, physis and nomos (including the tie to relativism, the collapse of the distinction between knowledge and opinion, and, consequently, what becomes of the logos).


Q.3) According to Socrates’ friend, Chaerephon, the sacred Oracle at Delphi claimed that no one was wiser than Socrates of Athens; however, Socrates claims to know only one thing: that he possess no wisdom whatsoever. Nonetheless, what four beliefs does Socrates appear ‘to know,’ or hold to be true? What makes him reasonably certain of these convictions? Is there anything ironic about his seeming ‘to know’ these things? One would do well to include consideration of the Socratic method and dialectic vs. dogmatism; Alcibiades’ eulogy of Socrates; Socrates’ attitude in the face of death; and his pronouncement that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”