First Paper

Write a clear, well-argued essay on one of the following topics. Your paper should be 5-6 pages, double-spaced, 12-point type. It is due Thursday, March 19. You will turn in your paper through bCourses. Your GSI may also want a paper copy. Your GSI will provide further details about the mechanics of turning in the paper.


  1. We will be doing anonymous grading, so please do not put your name on the paper itself. If your GSI asks for a printed copy, write your student ID number on it.

  2. The papers will be checked for originality using, which will detect most forms of plagiarism. We will also be using for the Peer Review assignment, in which you will be commenting on other students’ papers and receiving their comments on yours.

General Hints: On the course website, you’ll find a link to James Pryor’s Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper. This will be especially useful for those of you with less philosophy experience, but it may be helpful even for those with more.

Please take the time to review the guidelines on Plagiarism and Academic Integrity, below. Remember, you are writing a philosophical essay, not a “research paper.” You aren’t expected to look at any texts outside of the required readings. If you do look at outside sources, be very careful to attribute ideas you have taken from them, even if you are only paraphrasing, and not quoting.

  1. According to both Grice and Searle, speaker’s meaning depends entirely on the speaker’s intentions. It is sometimes objected that accounts of this kind imply that Humpty Dumpty can mean “a nice knockdown argument” by “glory,” just as he claims he can in Through the Looking Glass. How might Grice and Searle respond to the Humpty Dumpty objection? Will the same reply work for both philosophers? Pay careful attention to the differences between their accounts.

  2. The material conditional “A ⊃ B” (which you can read “if A then B”) is false if A is true and B is false, and true otherwise. It is often thought that the material conditional is a bad representation of the ordinary indicative conditional in English. For example, “If snakes are mammals then cockroaches are smarter than humans” does not intuitively seem to express a truth, but the material conditional “Snakes are mammals  ⊃  cockroaches are smarter than humans” is true, because its antecedent is false. Use Grice’s theory of conversational implicature to make the best case you can for the idea that the English indicative conditional is, in fact, the material conditional. If you do not think that Grice’s theory can fully vindicate the claim that indicative conditionals are material conditionals, explain why.

  3. Searle’s “Chinese Room” system is in some ways similar to Block’s “Aunt Bertha” system (“Psychologism and Behaviorism,” pp. 19-20), and so are the arguments in which these systems appear. Compare the two arguments, especially on the following points. Do the arguments have the same conclusion, or does one attempt to reach a stronger conclusion than the other? Are there objections that would succeed against one argument but not the other?

  4. Suppose Martians have unlimited computational capacity and knowledge of all the positions of the physical particles and the forces acting upon them. Would Martians have any more reason to take up the intentional stance towards us, than we do towards simple machines like electric pencil sharpeners? Consider both what Dennett would say and your own view, if it differs.

  5. Putnam says (in “Meaning and Reference”, p. 702): “My concept of an elm tree is exactly the same as my concept of a beech tree…” What point is he trying to make with this observation? Explain and critically assess Searle’s argument (in “Are Meanings in the Head?”, p. 201) that Putnam’s claim can be reduced to inconsistency.

  6. Everyone would agree that Bertrand, the protagonist in Burge’s thought experiment, is getting something wrong. Burge thinks his mistake concerns arthritis: Bertrand believes (falsely) that he has arthritis in his thigh. An alternative interpretation is that Bertrand’s mistake concerns language: Bertrand does not believe that he has arthritis in his thigh, but rather that ‘arthritis’ in English is the name for the kind of inflammation he has in his thigh. What can be said for and against each of these interpretations of the thought experiment? Which interpretation do you think is correct, and why? (Be sure to take into account what Burge says in section III of “Individualism and the Mental.”)

  7. According to Putnam, I can know just through philosophical reflection that “I am and always have been a brain in a vat” is false. Explain how Putnam’s argument is supposed to go, and critically evaluate it. If Putnam is right about how the meanings of our terms and concepts are fixed, what precisely does it show about the intelligibility of skeptical scenarios?

Plagiarism and Academic Integrity

The standard penalty for violations of academic integrity in this course will be an F grade for the course. Such violations include cheating on an exam, helping someone else to cheat, resubmitting a paper written for another class, and plagiarism.

Plagiarism is the representation of someone else’s words or ideas as one’s own.

The most egregious cases of plagiarism are easy to avoid because they are so obviously dishonest: turning in someone else’s paper as your own, allowing someone else to turn in a copy of your paper as his or her own, downloading a paper from the internet and altering it a little to fit the class, employing a “research service.” Be warned: GSIs are quite experienced at detecting such deception.

Other cases of plagiarism are more subtle. Sometimes students plagiarize unwittingly, out of carelessness or ignorance of the standards for attributing ideas to their sources. However, ignorance is no excuse. You are responsible for knowing the standards and taking care to follow them.

Whenever you make use of another’s words or ideas in a paper, you must give proper credit. Usually this means inserting a footnote or a brief parenthetical reference. If you’re not sure how to give a proper reference, consult a style guide or your GSI. Your GSI can also answer questions about when you must give a reference.

You must provide a reference not only when you use the exact words of another, but also when you paraphrase her words, summarize her ideas, or borrow her metaphors.

When you do use someone’s exact words, be sure to mark them as such, either by putting them in quotation marks or by setting them off from the main text and indenting them on both sides. Be careful not to change the wording at all in a direct quotation; if you do change the wording, use square brackets around the words that have changed.

When you paraphrase, state the author’s ideas in your own words. Don’t just rearrange the words in the sentence and replace some of the words with synonyms. Note: even though you’re using your own words, you still need to give a reference, since the idea is not yours.

It is fine (indeed, encouraged) to talk with other students about your paper as you are writing it, and to be influenced by things they say. But the actual writing should be all your own. If conversations with another student have helped you in writing the paper, acknowledge this in a footnote.