Reading and understanding philosophy text

Midterm Takehome Exam (Week 7, Oct.17-21, due Oct. 21, Friday, 12 noon)

Note: Word limits for your answers are strict.

Read very slowly and carefully, perhaps twice or more, the quotes in this exam. Be faithful to the text in your interpretation and engagement, do not read into things (ideas) that are not in the original text, make reasonable inferences or draw reasonable implications from the text. If you have a guess on the text or if you want to change the context or scenario depicted in the text, make sure you indicate that (“my guess is…”, or “if I change the scenario like this…then….”).


1. In the following two passages, one philosophy discourse and the other religious (and philosophical) discourse, the authors stand or imagine to stand on a special position (unlike one specific position one takes in everyday life or one taken by a specific scientist in a particular discipline). Explain how these ambitious discourses are different from those in natural sciences (physics, chemistry, or biology). Explain whether these ambitious discourses contradict with discourses in natural sciences. (It is raining and it is not raining in Richmond today. This is a contradiction). [ 300 words limit; every sentence count]


“I am a physical object sitting in a physical world. Some of the forces of this physical world impinge on my surface. Light rays strike my retinas; molecules bombard my eardrums and fingertips. I strike back emanating concentric airwaves. These waves take the form of a torrent of discourse about tables, people, molecules, retinas, air waves, prime numbers, infinite classes, joy and sorrow, good and evil.”

(W. V. Quine, 1908-2000)


Genesis [in the Bible]: 1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.



2. To demonstrate your carefulness and skills in reading and understanding a philosophy text, read the following passage by German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804):


[What is the most important thing in ethics?]

Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good, without qualification, except a good will. Intelligence, wit, judgement, and the other talents of the mind, however they may be named, or courage, resolution, perseverance, as qualities of temperament, are undoubtedly good and desirable in many respects; but these gifts of nature may also become extremely bad and mischievous if the will which is to make use of them, and which, therefore, constitutes what is called character, is not good. It is the same with the gifts of fortune. Power, riches, honour, even health, and the general well-being and contentment with one’s condition which is called happiness, inspire pride, and often presumption, if there is not a good will to correct the influence of these on the mind, and with this also to rectify the whole principle of acting and adapt it to its end. The sight of a being who is not adorned with a single feature of a pure and good will, enjoying unbroken prosperity, can never give pleasure to an impartial rational spectator. Thus a good will appears to constitute the indispensable condition even of being worthy of happiness.


There are even some qualities which are of service to this good will itself and may facilitate its action, yet which have no intrinsic unconditional value, but always presuppose a good will, and this qualifies the esteem that we justly have for them and does not permit us to regard them as absolutely good. Moderation in the affections and passions, self-control, and calm deliberation are not only good in many respects, but even seem to constitute part of the intrinsic worth of the person; but they are far from deserving to be called good without qualification, although they have been so unconditionally praised by the ancients. For without the principles of a good will, they may become extremely bad, and the coolness of a villain not only makes him far more dangerous, but also directly makes him more abominable in our eyes than he would have been without it. (Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals, trans. Thomas Kingsmill Abbott)


(1) Use your own words to summary the gist of the above passage [50 words limit]. You need to really digest the passage above before trying to compressed it into 50 words.

(2) Use an example (you experienced, can think of, or you have read somewhere else) to show why Kant’s view is important. [100 words limit]

(3) Do we always judge a person’s behavior based on his/her goodwill (or lack thereof)? Are there cases in which we don’t know or don’t particularly about one’s real (deep) moral motive? [200 words limit]


3. Brainwash, Indoctrination, and Blind faith


Watch the film “The Lottery” at (Part I) (Part II)


(1) Explain how indoctrination or brainwash is conducted in this film. You need to refer to details in the film. Do NOT write a plot summary of the film. Just list the details that show indoctrination or brainwash. [ 150 words limit]

(2) Based on what you’ve learned from Lecture 5, what possible strategies or approaches (please be specific) can be used to break the brainwash and the blind faith of the village people depicted in the film. Explain. [150 words limit]

Note: you may have to watch twice of the film to get all the details.




4. Analysis and evaluation of a text (part of a student’s term paper)

Title: Research Funding and Diseases:

First paragraph: “Human, since the childhood, was threatened by different diseases. This kind of intimidation will be after us until we die. Many diseases are curable, but others are fatal illnesses which have been investigated. Such explorations required enthusiastic researchers and funding. Practically, there have been quite a number of researchers who devoted their time for this search. However, funding is still a problem…”


Give what you have learned in Lecture 4 about language:

(1) Identify some of the problems in the above passage (including the title). [100 words limit]

(2) What does this passage show (betray) about the author’s possible lack of a writer’s virtue(s). [100 words limit]



5. Engaging with an idea

One day, having been robbed, the Bible commentator Matthew Henry (1662-1714) wrote: “I thank Thee [God] first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.”


1. Is there a difference between Henry’s thanking God and Henry’s (let’s imagine) thanking of the robber? [100 words limit]

2. In the above quote, did Henry agree with what the robber did to him? Did Henry condemn the robber? [Just say, YES or NO]

3. Do you agree with the following comments on Henry’s dairy? Why or why not?

Imagine someone writes

Henry writes: “I thank Thee… because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed”, therefore implying that because he is morally just and follows the law, he is better than the one who robbed him. Perhaps this implies that seemingly having goodness in one’s heart makes one better in the eyes of religion, the law, and society. Being morally just, in turn, is highly regarded by society, and will get us further in life. However, if this is how Henry thinks, how do we know that the robber did not commit this act for a larger purpose? Perhaps the robber needed the money to feed his family or to take care of a sick family member. Without knowing the circumstance of the robber, it is unfair to say Henry is morally just and the robber is not. An ethical question then emerges : is it moral to disobey the law if it is for a higher purpose? Is it moral to take from another person for the benefit of one’s own self/community/family?” [200 words limit]

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