- In what sense can our authors be called “empiricists”? (Here, as in the
other topics below, you should most likely select two of them to compare,
not necessarily all three together). To what extent would “empiricism” mean
the same thing applied to each, and in what ways would the meaning of the
term have to diﬀer? For example: what is “experience” for each of them, and
in what way does it form the sole basis for our knowledge? As opposed to
what? What makes anyone so much as suppose there might be some other
basis (i.e., against what opponent is the empiricist arguing)? What else is
there to our knowledge besides experience? What is the diﬀerence between
sensation, imagination, and thought (if the last two are diﬀerent)? What role
is played by space, time, body (solid extended substance), spirit (incorporeal
substance), or causation, in making experience possible and/or how does
experience form the basis for the knowledge we have (if any) about those
- In what ways do our authors take themselves to be, or present
themselves as, partisans of common sense? What is common sense, and
what is good about it? What opposes it (e.g. absurd, wrangling philosophy,
“superstition”) and why? What forces tend to corrupt healthy common
sense? How can we tell the diﬀerence between what is really common sense
and what is merely received opinion or entrenched superstition? When, if at
all, is it possible or necessary for correct philosophy to depart from common
sense? By adding to it? By outright opposing it?
- What does or would it mean, according to our authors, for “God” to
“exist”? How could we know, or how do we know, whether he exists? What
possible role is there, for example, for revelation, for tradition, for common
sense, or for philosophical argument, in establishing the right conclusion?
How do our moral failings (e.g., greed, ambition, desire for power, laziness,
desire to escape responsibility) tend to distort our thought about this subject
in particular? Why should we care about getting the correct answer?
- What, according to our authors, is or should be the relationship between
our theoretical concerns (our concerns qua wanting to know the truth) and
our practical concerns (our concerns qua wanting to act correctly)? What
can or should or must we be satisﬁed as agents (doers), and how is that
diﬀerent from what we could be satisﬁed with as knowers? Is there a kind of
knowledge or justiﬁed faith that is based on practical principles (i.e., moral
principles)? Or must it always be the other way around (practical conclusions
must be based on theoretical principles)? Or could it go both ways? Consider
relating these questions speciﬁcally to our knowledge of and/or reliance on
the existence of external world, the predictability of the future, the existence
of others (other minds = ﬁnite spirits), or the existence of God.
- What, according to our authors, is the meaning of personal identity:
in what sense can we say that the same person exists at diﬀerent times?
(Remember that “identity” means “sameness.”) Why do we or should
we think that there are such continuing, self-identical persons (including
ourselves)? Do we know that there are? What, if any, is the role of experience
(including “inner sense”) in establishing that conclusion, if there is such a
conclusion? Why, if at all, does it matter whether the conclusion is correct?
What would be the epistemological and/or moral implications of deciding
that there are no such continuing, identical persons (persons who are the
same person at diﬀerent times)? Or is that supposition (the supposition that
there are no continuing persons) just absurd?
- What, according to our authors, is the basis of, and the content of,
mathematics (i.e., arithmetic and geometry — though you might want to
focus on just one of the two)? In what sense, if at all, is mathematical
knowledge better (more certain, more precise, more universal, more reliable,
more useful) than other types of knowledge, and why? What are the limits
of mathematical knowledge? In what ways do mathematicians tend to claim
more than they are really justiﬁed in claiming, and why? What, if anything,
makes mathematics especially important in physical science? In “mechanics”
(or say, roughly, in engineering)? How is moral knowledge similar to or
diﬀerent from mathematics?