Thomas A. Blackson
School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies
Arizona State University

Your answers should be well written and thoughtful. In constructing your answers, it may help you to keep in mind the following points about arguments and how to write about them in philosophy. Remember too that you can post questions about the assignments. It is difficult to write insightfully about material you really do not understand.

Arguments take the form of a set of premises that are intended to support a conclusion. To "present" an argument is to set out its premises and conclusion. To set out the premises and conclusion, you must identify them in the text in question. To show that the premises and conclusions you identify are present in the text, you must quote the passages in which you take them to occur. Begin with the conclusion, and then move on to the premises. To "explain" an argument is to do two things. The first is to explain the technical terms in the argument. The technical terms are the ones whose meanings are not immediately clear. The second step in the explanation of an argument is to provide the evidence for the truth of the premises. This evidence consists in two parts. The first is whatever evidence the author of the argument presents. You must quote the passages in which the author gives this evidence. The second is the evidence that author does not present explicitly but seems to assume. To "evaluate" an argument is to determine whether it is sound. A sound argument is one that is valid and whose premises are true. A valid argument is one whose conclusion cannot be false if its premises are true. If it is difficult to know whether the argument is sound ( which is almost always true for philosophical arguments), then you must provide the case for and against.

Assignment #1

• In Book I of the Republic, Socrates introduces the notion of "function" as part of an argument to show that "injustice is never more profitable than justice." Present, explain, and evaluate his argument.

“Do you not also think that there is a specific virtue or excellence of everything for which a specific work or function is appointed? Let us return to the same examples. The eyes we say have a function?
They have.
Is there also a virtue of the eyes?
There is.
And was there not a function of the ears?
And so also a virtue?
Also a virtue.
And what of all other things? Is the case not the same?
The same.
Take note now. Could the eyes possibly fulfil their function well if they lacked their own proper excellence and had in its stead the defect?
How could they? For I presume you meant blindness instead of vision.
Whatever the excellence may be. For I have not yet come to that question, but am only asking whether whatever operates will not do its own work well by its own virtue and badly by its own defect.
That much you may affirm to be true.
Then the ears, too, if deprived of their own virtue will do their work ill?
And do we then apply the same principle to all things?
I think so.
Then next consider this. The soul, has it a work which you couldn't accomplish with anything else in the world, as for example, management, rule, deliberation, and the like, is there anything else than soul to which you could rightly assign these and say that they were its peculiar work?
Nothing else.
And again life? Shall we say that too is the function of the soul?
Most certainly.
And do we not also say that there is an excellence virtue of the soul?
We do.
Will the soul ever accomplish its own work well if deprived of its own virtue, or is this impossible?
It is impossible.
Of necessity, then, a bad soul will govern and manage things badly while the good soul will in all these things do well.
Of necessity.
And did we not agree that the excellence or virtue of soul is justice and its defect injustice?
Yes, we did.
The just soul and the just man then will live well and the unjust ill?
So it appears by your reasoning.
But furthermore, he who lives well is blessed and happy, and he who does not the contrary.
Of course.
Then the just is happy and the unjust miserable.
So be it.
But it surely does not pay to be miserable, but to be happy.
Of course not.
Never, then, most worshipful Thrasymachus, can injustice be more profitable than justice" (Republic I.353b-354a).

Assignment #2

"By nature, they say, to commit injustice is a good and to suffer it is an evil, but that the excess of evil in being wronged is greater than the excess of good in doing wrong. So that when men do wrong and are wronged by one another and taste of both, those who lack the power to avoid the one and take the other determine that it is for their profit to make a compact with one another neither to commit nor to suffer injustice; and that this is the beginning of legislation and covenants between men, and that they name the commandment of the law the lawful and the just, and that this is the genesis and essential nature of justice—a compromise between the best, which is to do wrong with impunity, and the worst, which is to be wronged and be impotent to get one's revenge" (Republic II.358e-359a).

• Glaucon is unhappy with how the conversation has ended in Book I of the Republic. In Book II, he takes up the argument Thrasymachus has abandoned. He states a common view of justice that he wants Socrates to refute once and for all. State and explain the most important differences between this common and the view Socrates defends in Books II-IV of the Republic.

Assignment #3

"The matter begins to be difficult when you ask whether we do all these things with the same thing or whether there are three things and we do one thing with one and one with another—learn with one part of ourselves, feel anger with another, and with yet a third desire the pleasures of nutrition and generation and their kind, or whether it is with the entire soul that we function in each case when we once begin. That is what is really hard to determine properly" (Republic IV.436a-b).

• Present, explain, and evaluate Socrates' argument (Republic IV.436a-441c) for the Tripartite Theory of the Soul.

Assignment #4

• Socrates argues that the just person is happier than the unjust person. Present, explain, and evaluate his argument.

Assignment #5

"To say that the best good is happiness is apparently something generally agreed, and what we is a clearer statement of the best good is. Perhaps then we shall find the best good if we first find the function of human being (τὸ ἔργον τοῦ ἀνθρώπου)" (Nicomachean Ethics I.7.1097b).

• Aristotle gives an argument from function to show that the good life for a human being is some sort of life of reason. Present, explain, and evaluate his argument.

Assignment #6

• Explain what Aristotle thinks a "choice" (προαίρεσις) is. Since he thinks that "choice" involves "wish" (βούλησις) and "deliberation" (βούλευσις), be sure to explain what he thinks "wish" and "deliberation" are and how they are connected to "choice." Aristotle also thinks that we can "choose" to do something only if it is "up to us" (ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν). Explain why he thinks that.

Assignment #7

• Aristotle thinks that contemplation is the activity in accordance with the virtue of the "intellect" (νοῦς) and that intellect is the cognition most proper to human beings. Further, he thinks that what is most proper to a thing is most pleasant for it. Does it follow from these premises that the life of "contemplation" (θεωρία) is the happiest life for a human being? Explain your answer.

Assignment #8

• Explain and contrast the "teleological" and "deontological" perspectives in ethics. Explain how the teleological perspective informs Plato and Aristotle's view of the good life.

Contact Information

Thomas A. Blackson
Philosophy Faculty
School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies
Lattie F. Coor Hall, room 3356
PO Box 874302
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ. 85287-4302,, www.public.asu/~blackson

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