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2010 Comprehensive Sample Questions

I. History of philosophy
A. Ancient philosophy
1. Plato and Aristotle must pass between two great pillars of Philosophy: Heraclitus and
Parmenides. What is the philosophical problem of the One and the Many? How does it
arise in Pre-Socratic Philosophy, and how do both Plato and Aristotle contribute to its
solution by showing how there can be a Many?
2. What does it mean to make the claim that in the realm of finite human affairs, the
Good becomes divided against itself? How does Plato try to answer the question of how
the Good can be for the human, i.e. how the Good can be present in a nature which is
other than Itself? How do Platos Republic and Symposium attempt to answer this
question?
3. The retrieval of nature must begin with the flight from nature. How is Sophism the
beginning of Philosophy for Plato? Why must Philosophy pass through Sophism?
4. How does Aristotles understanding of substance and matter help to move him beyond
the Platonic problem of the chorismos, i.e., the separation, between the sensible world
and the world of the forms? Rather than moving away from his master on this point,
how does Aristotle develop Platonism within the Platonic logic and ontology?
B. 17th & 18th century philosophy
1. Machiavelli and Descartes may both be seen as inaugurating modern philosophy by
making the subject a foundational philosophical concept. Discuss critically the theoretical
and political notions of subjectivity in early modern philosophy with reference to at least
two philosophers of the period.
2. Skepticism and doubt figure prominently both in early rationalist and empiricist
philosophies of the 17th and 18th centuries. Discuss critically the reason for this shared
concern with skepticism and the various responses to it, with reference to at least two
philosophers of the period.
3. Both Spinoza and Hume may justly be called ethical naturalists. Discuss critically the
meaning of ethical naturalism with reference to two early modern philosophers and
consider why such a position was common at the time.
4. Kant may be seen as a rational synthesis of early modern rationalism and empiricism.
Discuss critically.

C. 19th century philosophy


1. What was Kants critical revolution and how did it help define German Idealism?
Discuss critically.
2. How is Hegels dialectic a philosophy of becoming and time? Discuss critically.
3. Later 19th century philosophy, e.g., Kierkegaard, Marx, Nietzsche, may be seen as a
reaction to Hegels absolute idealism. How cogent is such a characterization? Discuss
critically with reference to two philosophers of the period.
4. American pragmatism and British empiricism appeared to some to avoid the Hegelian
philosophical paradigm of the 19th century. Discuss critically whether, or to what extent,
this judgment is true.
D. 20th century philosophy
1. The linguistic turn could be described as the characteristic gesture of 20th century
philosophy, both in its analytical and its continental orientation. Discuss with reference to
two or three central philosophers of the period (e.g., Wittgenstein, Russell, Husserl,
Heiidegger, Derrida, Gadamer, Foucault). You may if you wish reflect on some of the
problems associated with reducing philosophy to language analysis.
2. How might the history of 20th century philosophy be recounted as a negotiation of the
tension between natural science and philosophy? Discuss critically with reference to two
philosophers.
3. It might be argued that the 20th century is the first era in the history of philosophy in
which philosophy genuinely endeavoured to craft an ethics without a metaphysics or a
grand-narrative of the meaning of history. Discuss critically with reference to two
philosophers (e.g., Habermas, Rawls, Levinas).

II Philosophical topics
A. Epistemology and logic
1. It is raining. It is not both raining and not raining. Critically examine these utterances
from the point of view of the relation between sensation and logic.
2. Are there facts about concepts? Discuss critically by comparing at least two
philosophers (e.g., Kant and Quine).
3. Can a concept be true of itself? Can a universal be its own instance? Why or why not?
4. In what sense does truth serve as a norm and in what sense is it proper to speak of the
goodness of a belief? Discuss critically the ethical or normative status of logical and
epistemological concepts.
B. Metaphysics
1. Write an essay on ONE of the following topics:
Time
Essence and existence
Universals
Freedom
Infinity
Beauty
Substance
Subject
Necessity and contingency
C. Ethics and political philosophy
1. What is the relationship between human nature and the role played by emotion in
human life? Discuss critically with reference two at least two philosophers.
2. How are philosophy and politics related? Discuss critically with reference to two
philosophers.
3. What is the relationship between human ontology and the good? Discuss critically with
reference two philosophers.

D. Philosophy of mind and philosophy of language


1. Do linguistic meanings exist? Why or why not? What kinds of things are they? Discuss
critically.
2. What role does/should language play in the problem of other minds? Discuss critically.
3. If faced with a hitherto unknown form of life how could we identify whether or not it
is conscious? What about non-living systems such as machines? Discuss critically.
4. Is linguistic meaning a psychological object? Discuss critically.