Term paper topics

(~4000 words, on any of the following topics 

OR on one of the entries in the Encyclopédie listed here —instructions here

—due in the Avenue dropbox by noon Monday, November 13; worth 30%)

1.     La Mettrie, Condillac, and other Enlightenment thinkers all extol the empiricism of Bacon, Locke and Newton, especially by contrast with the philosophy of Descartes, Spinoza, Malebranche, and Leibniz. To what extent do their own writings exemplify the empiricist method they promote? Discuss by reference to the primary texts.

2.     Both La Mettrie and Diderot investigate the empirical grounds of morality from a materialist point of view. Compare and contrast their analyses.

3.     Does Condillac fail to avoid falling into Berkeleyan idealism with his sensation-based epistemology, as Diderot implies? Discuss.

4.     “The world will never be happy so long as it does not decide to become atheistic” (La Mettrie, Man a Machine). Evaluate this thesis with reference to the arguments of La Mettrie and the mature Diderot.

5.     “Ah, sir,” said the blind philosopher, “leave aside that beautiful spectacle, which was never made for me” (Diderot, Letter on the Blind). Analyze Diderot’s attack on the argument from design using a fictional deathbed scene of a blind philosopher in relation either to his conversion from deist to atheist, or his philosophy of evolution.

6.     Describe Molyneux’s problem and evaluate the various responses given to it by (for example) Locke, Leibniz, Diderot and Condillac.

7.     Diderot and La Mettrie argue from new results in the science of their day (cf. “a single observation of Malpighi” in Philosophic Thoughts (XVIII) and Man a Machine (pp. 54 ff.), and Trembley's experiments on a freshwater polyp in the latter and D’Alembert’s Dream). Give an account of the influence of discoveries in biology on the development of eighteenth century French materialism.

8.     Evaluate Diderot’s philosophical innovations in D’Alembert’s Dream, with regard to either content or method.

9.     Compare and contrast the conceptions of the “general will” in Diderot’s and Rousseau’s philosophies.

10.  Do the philosophers we have studied consistently apply their progressive views to all peoples? If not, what can we learn from their apparent selective blindness?

*      Whichever you do, you must develop an argument for a specific thesis, and support it as well as you can by reference to primary and secondary sources.

© Richard T. W. Arthur 2016