William B. Irvines The Eccentrics Review

Formal Essay


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Choices: This assignment requires you to explore ideas that we have not specifically discussed this semester by reading one of the following selections and then giving a philosophical analysis of those ideas. Your choices include:


William B. Irvines The Eccentrics: This is a chapter of Irvines book On Desire. It considers what we might learn from Diogenes the Cynic and Henry David Thoreau who both chose to live eccentric lifestyles in the sense of how they related to desires.


Sissela Boks Illusion: This chapter of Boks book Exploring Happiness addresses the connections (and disconnections) between illusion and happiness, considering questions such as whether living with positive illusions creates more happiness for us than realizing whats true and whether an illusion of happiness is worth having.


Steven W. Pattersons essay titled Kreachers Lament: S.P.E.W. as a Parable on Discrimination, Indifference, and Social Justice uses characters and events from the Harry Potter series of novels to get us to reflect on prejudice and injustice in our lives. It is not a good choice if you are not familiar with the Harry Potter novels.


A chapter titled The Good Life from Peter Singers book How Are We to Live?


For this assignment, you need to pick one of these readings (all are posted on our D2L site) to reflect on and to write about. This is not a research paper; you are not expected to read or research anything else, but rather to reflect on the ideas and arguments in the selection you have chosen. Focus on the aspects that are relevant to the kinds of issues we have been discussing (issues such as what constitutes a good life, what kind of qualities we ought to develop or work on, what is best avoided, what constitutes real happiness or contributes to it, etc.).


Construction of the essay: The essay you write will need to have two parts. One part will summarize the most important aspects of the view being discussed in the reading. This should constitute about half the essay. Summarizing someone elses ideas well is an important critical thinking skill. Reflect on how to express the ideas mostly in your own words. Some quoting is fine, but it should be minimized. Keep in mind that the focus for this assignment is what these writings are trying to teach us about the kinds of lives we should live or the sort of people we should be or what characteristics we should work on developing, questions like that. Pay attention to how the work you choose addresses those kinds of questions. Particulars of Harry Potter stories or Diogenes life events and such should only be included when necessary to make your argument.

The second part of the essay will be a philosophical analysis of the ideas, the kind of thing we have been doing all semester. For this analysis, discuss the following kinds of things:

What are the strengths of this view?

What is good about it? (This might include reasons why it might be wise for us to adopt these ideas or why its reasonable to think the ideas are right.) Be specific.

This part of the discussion could include answers to the following kinds of questions: Does the view under consideration capture important aspects of human nature or human experience well? Does it give us advice that we need? Will it help us in important ways if we follow it? Explain your answers.

Be sure to give reasons in support of your claims (e.g., in writing about Aristotles account of eudaimonia in his Nicomachean Ethics, one might write, Aristotle captures some important elements of human nature, for example, he acknowledges that the desires for good children, social status, wealth, good looks, and such, matter to most people. This can be seen as a strength of his view compared to other views, such as Stoicism, which advocate retraining our reactions to these common desires. Aristotle accepts that this is the way we are while, at the same time, arguing that these should not be the main things we focus on as they count less than virtue and rational activity of the soul in constituting happiness.[footnoteRef:1]) [1: Note that someone else could argue this is a weakness of Aristotles view in that we cant control these things and so their inclusion can lead a person with a good life to be unhappy because it points out that she is missing elements of the best life. Of course, Aristotle might respond that she would thereby be showing a lack of wisdom. Different conclusions here will in part rely on differing values and aims, but perhaps also differences of temperament or experience.]

What are the possible weaknesses of the view? What serious criticisms or objections might be offered?

Is there a good way to respond to the weaknesses or objections on behalf of Irvine, Bok, Patterson or Singer?

What should we conclude? Would it be good for us to take up the ideas discussed? All of them? some of them? modifications of them? none of them? Why?

In your analysis, dont talk about whether you like the ideas or agree with them, talk about whether they are good ideas and why (or why not).

Dont include information on the authors background unless it is important to the argument you are making.


Avoid spending your time reading what other people have said about the view you are considering. Think for yourself. Granted, its hard to work to think for yourself which is why most people dont do it, but wouldnt you rather be like Socrates or Buddha than someone who just follows everybody else? Be your own person. By the way, considering how other thinkers ideas (such as Buddhas or Aristotles) apply to the questions discussed and positions taken in the reading does count as thinking for yourself.


Advice on putting the essay together: Doing this well requires serious reflection. Given, however, that it is worth 75 points, it is worth doing well. If you try to do it all on the evening before it is due, that will pretty much guarantee that the end product will be less good than it could be. There are a number of stages this should go through.


1. Read a couple of the files to see which grabs you.

2. After picking one, try to outline the most important points (this is often more difficult than it would seem; pay attention to problems you have in doing this; ask questions if you cant resolve them)

3. Think carefully about the points you have determined are most important and make some notes on the strengths and weaknesses you see.

a. You may find it helpful to think about the ideas proposed by your author in light of other views we have considered this semester. Just dont limit yourself to that.

4. Write a roughly two page summary of the most important points.

5. Write a preliminary analysis of the ideas.

6. Put it all aside for at least a day, preferably longer.

7. Come back and consider critically what you have written. Are the ideas good? Is the writing well organized? Will a reader be able to follow your discussion (i.e., is it clear how the various parts of your essay hang together)? Do some parts need further explanation? Do some need less?

8. Revise and rewrite. Be ruthless. If ideas are in your essay that are not really essential for your argument take them out (even if you really like them). If the connections are not clear, change them. If the flow of the essay is not good, reorganize it. And so on

9. Does your essay have a conclusion? Is it clear? Does your essay make evident why a rational, open-minded individual should accept your conclusion? Have you included an objection to your conclusion and responded to it?

10. Read your essay aloud (this will help you catch typos and other errors like sentence fragments, sentences that are hard to follow, etc.)

11. Does it include everything it needs to, cite appropriately, and meet the relevant conditions in the file on D2L about writing philosophical essays?


This essay should be 1200 words long (no more than 1500). About half the essay should be the summary of the ideas and half should be the analysis. The essay is worth 75 points.


Due Date: Wednesday, Nov. 4th.


Evaluation criteria:

quality of the summary of the view being examined

quality of the analysis which includes:

whether there is a reasonable assessment of strengths and weaknesses of the view

evidence of good philosophical thinking and the ability to give reasons to support your claims, including responding to possible weaknesses or criticisms

quality of writing (this affects the quality of your argument and your essay should be an argument for accepting or not accepting the view [or parts of it] under consideration)

following directions for the assignment

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