Phil 255: Essay Topics


Important essay information:

  1. Use a standard bibliographic style. Valid 'external' citations must have been published in a journal or book.
  2. Essays should not be a repeat of exam/quiz questions.
  3. Know what constitutes a good essay: see here and here.
  4. These essays are worth 35% of your final mark. Late essays lose three (of 35) marks per day.

These are suggested essay topics. You may come up with a topic of your own, but it must be approved (email me an outline). I will consider topics up until 1 week before the due date of the paper. I expect the paper to be about 5-7 pages (2000 words) and to include at least 3 external bibliographic references (not to anything in the course texts, and not to reference works (textbooks, dictionaries, encyclopedia, etc.)). You may assume that your audience has this course as background knowledge. Therefore, your essay should not be mostly taken from the notes, and should also not be an extended answer to similar questions on the midterms.

  1. Compare and contrast Introspectionism and Behaviorism. Provide specific examples of how the differences affected the kinds of experiments performed or interpretation of results. Discuss their similarities as well.
  2. To what degree does William James' position cohere with that of present day functionalists? What differences are most apparent? Be specific.
  3. Do you think consciousness is empirically accessible? Why or why not? How would you respond to those who disagree with your position? What is the best argument for your view? Why?
  4. What relation do you see between behaviorism and functionalism? Examine the role of the computer in supporting the switch from the former to the latter.
  5. Describe, and discuss arguments for and against Fodor's RTM. Are there changes you think could be made to the theory to make it better? What alternative do you think is most plausible, why?
  6. Present a brief history of the development of psychology from the time of the Introspectionists through the cognitive revolution to the present day. Discuss the status of the field as a science during this time.
  7. Is folk psychology a theory? Why or why not? What alternatives to an affirmative answer do you find most appealing, if any (if none, critique the most plausible)?
  8. What is the most defensible understanding of the relation between psychology and neuroscience (i.e. how are minds and brains related?)? Consider this question both methodologically and theoretically.
  9. What role should language play in developing our understanding of minds? Consider what role it has played in the past in various debates in psychology and discuss whether that role was appropriate. If appropriate, describe and defend an alternative.
  10. Is it possible for a non-biological entity to have intentionality? What would Searle's position be on your answer? What would the consequences be of constructing such an entity, if possible? Waht are there interesting metaphysical consequences of your response?