Philosophy of Mind

Philosophy of Mind

Youressay will be a response to a particular philosophical question. The main task of your essay is to give a developed argument that supports your answer to this question. However, you should also explain the context and significance of your answer, and how your argument is related to existing contributions in the literature. It is important to explain how empirical evidence contributes to your argument, and to give appropriate citations of the studies which provide this evidence, and of the theoretical papers that provide the context for your answer.

 

Questions

 

  1. What reason, if any, is there to believe that there are representations in the brain?
  2. What is information, and what does it have to do with representation?
  3. Does the notion of biological function have a major role to play in the theory of mental representation? If so, what is this role?
  4. Does the brain model the environment? If so, what is the significance of this fact?
  5. What does the fact that we are capable of weakness of will and strength of will tell us about the structure of human motivational systems?
  6. Are we always responsible for actions that express our ‘real selves’?
  7. Does the example of obsessive-compulsive disorder show that as well as beliefs, we also have ‘quasi-beliefs’? Is there any reason to think that ‘quasi-beliefs’ or similar states are not wholly our own?
  8. Is it necessary for an agent to feel a conscious sense of ownership when thinking a thought, in order for that thought to be the agent’s own?

 

In writing your essay, you should aim to do the following things:

  1. Answer the question you have chosen to write about.

Your answer to the question should form the thesis of your essay and the remainder of your essay should elaborate and defend your thesis. For this reason, your answer should be slightly controversial, rather than something obvious or trivial.  It should be something that requires support or argument. You might think, for instance, that bees make magnificent honey. Maybe so. But the essay should explain why you think this is true in a way that is persuasive to a reader. In what sense is the honey magnificent? Is there any data indicating that the honey is magnificent?

  1. Write an argument not an autobiography

In asking you to explain why you think something, we are not asking for a report of your own personal inclinations or idiosyncrasies. We don’t want to know that the idea that perception is encapsulated just seems right to you or that you find Fodor’s argument unconvincing. Instead, we want to know what evidence or reasons support your opinion. Why do you think Fodor’s argument is unconvincing?What is the problem with the argument? However, since you are giving your own views, you are welcome to use the first-person pronoun in your writing.

  • Write an essay with a clear and organized structure

There are two classic ways to write a philosophical essay. First way. You explain a standard, popular answer to the question you select (e.g., it is widely held that people are not responsible for their implicit attitudes). Second, you explain what is mistaken or problematic with that standard answer (e.g., the idea assumes responsibility requires voluntary control which it does not). Finally, you present your alternative view and briefly explain why it is better than the standard you urged the reader to reject. (e.g., in contrast to this, I think people are responsible for their implicit attitudes because of X and Y).

Another classic way is to start with your own answer to the question, present and explain it (e.g., I shall argue that people are responsible for their implicit attitudes because of X and Y).  Second, consider one or two potential objections to your view – things someone would say or think if they were intent on arguing against you (e.g., One objection to my view is that people are not conscious of their attitudes). Finally, you reply to those objections and thereby show why your view is on solid ground (e.g., this objection is wrong because consciousness is not needed for responsibility because X and Y).

These aren’t the only ways to structure a good philosophy essay. But they are good general models that one can adapt to one’s own work. However you choose to structure your essay, it is crucial that the structure should be transparent to the reader – that is, that it should be obvious to the reader what you are doing at each point of the essay, and why.

  1. Write something original

The aim of these essays is for you to demonstrate your mastery of the material covered in the module and, crucially, your ability to think critically about it.  You therefore need to do some independent thinking and not just repeat the points made in the reading. This doesn’t mean you need to create a completely new theory of how psychological processes work! Rather, you simply need to make some modest thoughtful points about the material that you are presenting.

  1. Focus

Most philosophical essays discuss a small point rather than a huge issue. You should make sure to focus on developing a single argument in support of the answer you wish to give to the essay question, rather than presenting a lot of different reasons, evidence, or arguments. The latter approach tends to produce essays that are superficial (i.e., they don’t discuss any single issue in much depth) and are also difficult to understand. Stick to a couple of points and present them well.

 

 

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