Philosophy 6: Midterm Paper Prompt

Philosophy 6: Midterm Paper Prompt

     The following is your prompt for the Philosophy Midterm.  While these directions are important to pay attention to, it is not the only thing you should be paying attention to. The Course Syllabus, pages 6-8, will have other important directions and policies you should be aware of (such as formatting guidelines and academic honesty policies).


     Please check the due date in Canvas (and in your Syllabus) to see when your Midterm Paper assignment is due.  This paper should be 5-7 pages long (at least 1800 words), and should be uploaded to Canvas under the Assignments section corresponding with the Midterm Paper Assignment repository. 

     First: develop, analyze, and evaluate two or three required course readings we have covered in class so far.  By this, I mean you should pretend that I do not know anything about the readings.  Explain the content of these readings in a way that is both thorough and concise.  You should not only give occasional quotes here and there to support miscellaneous points, but should provide an account for the whole readings in a way that considers the full context of the reading.  You should also connect the readings together, so that we can see how the material in one reading might engage with the other reading.  In this way, your examination of the course material should integrate all of the content together into one thematic whole.

     Note that you are allowed to re-use parts of the writing material from your BWAW assignments, as long as you provide a footnote referencing your previous work.  However, you are not allowed to simply copy-and-paste several paragraphs or your whole your BWAW assignment(s) into this paper.

The following are the list of readings you may write your paper on (pick two or three):

  • James Rachels, “The Challenge of Cultural Relativism”
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
  • Susan Moller Okin, “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?”
  • Peter Singer, “Moral Mammals” (atheist position)
  • John Hare, “Moral Mammals” (theist position)
  • Marilyn McCord Adams, “Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God”
  • Thomas Aquinas, “Treatise on God”
  • Plato, Republic (Book VII)
  • WK Clifford, “The Ethics of Belief”
  • Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, Meditations 1-3
  • John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

     Second: using these readings as your foundation, consider how you would respond to only one of the case studies below.  When you examine the case study, be sure to make explicit connections back to the reading content.  In other words, show how the various arguments and concepts discussed within the reading content might relate with the way you might respond to the case study.  However, note that the case study content should not take up the majority of your essay, but should still be closely integrated in a way that supports your discussion of the course content.  In other words, you should only use this case study as an ongoing illustration or example for your discussion of the course content. 

     Please keep in mind that I am not looking for two or three separate essays, but one complete essay that integrates all aspects (all readings and the case study) together as a thematic whole.  In other words, everything you write must be clearly centered around your thesis. 

     Third: Do provide me with a conclusion, which helps to bring closure to your discussion.  In connection with what is stated above, this discussion should explain how all the various parts of your paper come together in a way that helps to support your thesis, or the conclusion of your argument.

     Once again, remember that the course content should always be primary, and should be covered in a way that demonstrates an understanding of the whole reading and not just the first few pages of the reading.

Case Studies (choose only one)

  1. Let’s say it’s April 2020.  You are taking a walk through the park during this era of the COVID-19 pandemic, when you see a group of friends hanging out in very close proximity with one another (less than 6 feet apart). It is quite obvious that this group does not all live in the same household, and you notice that none of them are wearing masks.  In fact, the friends are laughing, singing, talking loudly, and occasionally giving each other hugs.  As you walk past this group, you overhear another passerby say, “Look, maybe they’re from one of those other countries or cultures who see things differently than us.  Who am I to criticize their perspectives and their ways?”  Considering what we have learned about cultural relativism and justice, how might you assess this situation, and what do you think you ought to do?
  2. Bajors are a minority population within the nation of Cardas.  The Cardas people take great pride in their history and culture; however, part of this greater culture includes treating many minority populations, especially the Bajors, with fear and suspicion.  You are a Vulca, which is another minority population within Cardas.  Generally you come from a subculture that is more passivist – you are taught to work hard, but mind your own business and never bring attention to yourself.  You are walking down the street one day when you notice that a Bajor is being roughed up by several Cardas SAs (Security Authorities).  The Bajor looks afraid and appears to be in a great amount of pain.  He is pleading with the SAs, but they do not seem to be easing up on him.  A few SAs look up and see you staring at them.  One of then responds, “Be a good model citizen and don’t make any waves, now.  This Bajor broke the law. This doesn’t concern you.”  Considering what we have learned about cultural relativism and justice, how might you assess this situation, and what do you think you ought to do?
  3. The Romuls are an aggressive, militaristic and slaveholding culture.  Its members believe that their gods have granted them the divine right to invade and subjugate, and enslave other cultures.  The Betazed, on the other hand, are a pacifist culture that holds strictly to the codes of cultural relativism. They believe that each society should have the freedom to do whatever they think is right, even if that thing they are doing seems wrong to the Betazed themselves. One day the Romuls, on the counsel of their holy seer, decreed that the gods have granted them the authority to invade Betazed territory.  As strictly cultural relativists, how should the Betazeds respond to this potential invasion? Based on our readings on cultural relativism and justice, how do you think they ought to respond?
  4. Your friend has just been released from prison, where she had been serving time for a crime she had been caught committing.  When she comes out, she tells you that she had “experienced God,” and was committed to living “a moral life.”  You question your friend further on the meaning and motivation behind her apparent change, and she tells you that her prison experience led her to believe that “needed God” to help guide and motivate her towards a life of flourishing.  She strongly believed that, without God, she could not live a fully moral life and be truly happy.  Based upon what you have read on God, knowledge, and morality, how you would respond? 
  5. In 2002, Columbian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt was kidnapped by the guerilla group, FARC, and was forced to march and wander around in the jungle. While in captivity, she was chained by the neck to trees, locked inside of a box, starved, beaten, and raped.  She also nearly died more than once due to illness and disease. During this time, her beloved father passed away, and her two children were forced to grow up without her.  Betancourt was finally rescued in 2008 alongside 14 other captives. While she attributes her survival to God, others may not be so sure.  After all, why would a loving and powerful God allow this terrible evil to happen to her and others in the first place? How might you respond?
  6. A friend of yours tells you that he sometimes goes through these frightening experiences at night, when he seems to be in bed but cannot move a bone in his body.  He even goes so far to say that he is certain that aliens or some dark force seems to tug on him and take him elsewhere.  He says it almost feels like an abduction.  You are initially skeptical, but your friend is adamant about this.  He tells you, “I could see, feel, and hear things.  It’s got to be true because I experienced it.  This was real, and it really happened to me.”  Given what we have learned about knowledge, beliefs, and reality, how might you examine your friend’s claims and experiences? 

Some Reminders:

     Note that your analysis and evaluation should follow CSUS Philosophy Department’s Writing Guidelines (  Please pay special attention to points #2, #6, #8, #9, #13, #14, and #15.

     Once again, remember that this is a midterm – you must explicitly and comprehensively use material & required readings in your essay, in order to demonstrate an understanding of the course material. If you fail to use the required course content, you will fail the paper.

     Remember that your midterm also has a page requirement.  You might count each page you write as worth around 40 points each.  If you write only a 2-page paper, for example, the highest score you might receive is only 80 out of 200; if you write a 3-page paper, the highest score you might receive is only 120 out of 200; if you write a 4-page paper, the highest score you might receive is 160 out of 200.

     Please be sure to also check out the Course Syllabus to see the policies on academic honesty, formatting guidelines, citation of sources, late work submissions, and other requirements.

     A sample rubric is available on Canvas.  The rubric is not used as part of the scoring, but is used as more of a general guideline and indicator for you to see approximately where you might stand in each of the four criteria given. Your actual points will be represented in the grading section of Canvas.

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