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TOPIC: What is the meaning of human freedom?
Write a play– a dramatic conversation – that addresses the shared human question of the meaning of freedom.
Is a human being free? How? Why?
Does it matter, with respect to freedom, that all humans will die?
Does it matter that humans are free to write poetry or commit crimes? Why?
Where does responsibility fit in to human freedom?
Do we have any limits on our freedom at all? If so, where do they come from?
These are not listed as questions to be answered, but to get you thinking about the point of human freedom you want to argue about in response to the topic question.
The theme and characters are your choice, as are plot and setting if you choose to have them.
Develop your own style. It is not necessary to imitate Plato. Choose whatever theme you wish, involve whichever characters, whatever dramatic situation and plot-line will best help you get across your theme to the reader.
The purpose is to communicate something you personally think is worth saying in response to the given question, and in light of the way the philosophical questions are developing in class. You are treading in Plato’s shoes a bit — as a creative philosopher playwright — to exercise philosophical imagination and dialogical argument about this universal human question. Productive imagination and careful argument are skills of the discipline of philosophy and of successful philosophers.
FORMAT and GRADING CRITERIA (15% of final course grade or 150 points)
Write between *** words. Make it look like a play with characters. For example,
Tomas: This is not real philosophy. It is just a placeholder for what you would say to show you what spacing looks like for this assignment. The characters so far are Tomas and Lin.
Lin: This is also not real philosophy, just a placeholder.
Tomas: Dear reader, I am Tomas, and I believe you get the point now. Let the reader know who is doing the talking. Alternative ways of doing this are possible, but always attend to the final word count minimum and maximums for this assignment. This is important: If you have any questions, just show me what you have and I can instantly tell you about it.
Lin: Good idea!
The following, starting with the most important, is what the reader will be looking for.
Reasoning/Arguments: take a stand within your creative form and argue for it.
Originality: this writing is your piece of original thinking, be creative.
Did you Learn from Plato? That is, did you learn from the way Plato and Socrates care for and nurture questions in the dialogues? Also, did you learn from other materials presented in class sessions, or discussions up to this point?
Personal Reflection: the human value of your way of putting it; is your paper original, careful and thoughtful, rather than canned, careless and superficial;
General Expression: organization, format, clarity, spelling, etc. (it is understood that characters may speak in nonstandard English, but if so, the dialogue should be consistent).
WHAT ARE THE MOST FREQUENT MISTAKES students commit on an assignment like this?
First and foremost, many papers will have only modest attempts at reasoning. Yet reasoning should start quickly in the paper and develop persistently and continuously on both sides of the issue. This does not mean only that two characters, for example, are disagreeing (arguing). It means that characters are trying to make and sustain claims, as you see Socrates do in Plato’s dialogues. They could develop analogies to explain a point or lead the other character through a sequence of reasoning. See this one pager on argument forms you notice in Apology.
Second, many students will have one side (their side) arguing well and consistently, while the other character(s) does not argue much, or well. The other character should be intelligent and challenge the main point of view. Third, many papers will develop arguments that overlook obvious alternatives. Fourth, students will throw around key terms without any attempt to meaningfully define them.
HOW SHOULD I BEGIN TO WRITE? Start by thinking out your ultimate point – what you want the reader to understand about the topic from your point of view (we call this the theme). Next, try to write it down in a sentence. Next, think about how you would argue for it, and how someone else might argue against it. Then start writing a little dialogue that captures some of the argument. It might help overall to determine which kind of paper you will want to write (see next). This paper has to take a position on the issue – a position that is explained, challenged and defended.
WHAT APPROACHES OR TYPES OF PAPERS WILL STUDENTS DEVELOP? There are two main types of papers for an assignment like this. One is the “I’ve got a point and I’m going to argue it” paper. The other is the taxonomical or typology paper. This approach tries to define and distinguish the various meanings of the key term, so when the paper is finished an essential definition of the key term is argued for. Either approach (the “I’ve got a point” or the taxonomical) works well, and there are other possibilities.
HOW SHOULD THE DIALOGUE BEGIN OR END? These parts can be creative or blunt, it doesn’t matter. A blunt beginning simply starts with the question or tries to develop the theme right away. Ending the dialogue with a summary for the reader apart from the dialogue itself is ill-advised, though a character may sum up the argument or findings. The point of the dialogue should be clear in the dialogue itself. Starting the dialogue with a rather long warmup or introduction is also not a good idea.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THEME? The theme is your own window onto the topic. The theme is the focus of your philosophy on the topic question, it is your perspective on this matter, what you want to convey about its importance or reality. Each student’s theme will be unique. There is no one right theme.
HOW DO I NARROW DOWN MY THEME, my paper is “all over the place”? Try some of the following:
Use only two characters, instead of three, four, etc. Have your characters quickly settle on the main problem or issue that is to be discussed.
Write out in one sentence on a separate piece of paper the overall point of your philosophy of the issue, then incorporate that as a backbone for your paper.
Don’t worry about saying what you believe fully and permanently for all time – you may have to compromise with yourself so that you can get the assignment completed.
CAN I USE CARTOON OR OTHER IMAGINARY CHARACTERS? Yes, if they can argue!
WILL YOU BE UPSET OR OFFENDED BY OCCASIONAL SWEAR WORDS? No. If this usage is important occasionally for your plot, setting, character development, then that’s how it is. Beware of gratuitous swearing since it is tiresome for the reader and detracts from the arguments.
CAN I FAIL THIS? Yes, by significantly ignoring format requirements and/or by including little or no argument and/or committing massive grammar mistakes. Fail the course or more by plagiarism.
(we have read Apology, republic book 2, republic book 4 in class) (the class is about great dialogues of Plato )