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Authors: David Solomon, Peter Wicks
Essay Assignments for the Morality and Modernity Course

Essay Assignments


First Paper

Choose one of the three characters that MacIntyre discusses in chapter 3 of After Virtue and explain why MacIntyre considers this character to represent and partly define modern culture. Also, explain the relationship between the character you have chosen and the emotivist self. Giving reasons for your view, say to what extent you think that the character you have chosen really does represent distinctive and important features of modern culture. 


Second Paper

In chapter 9 of After Virtue, MacIntyre compares the Polynesians' continued adherence to certain cultural practices at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century with our own adherence to moral injunctions for which no rational justification is possible in the modern world. Explain the ways in which MacIntyre believes that Polynesians' predicament was similar to our own, and discuss in detail the ways in which we might think of Nietzsche as the Kamehameha II of the European tradition. Be sure to pay particular attention to the ways in which modern attitudes to moral rules might be thought to be like (and also unlike) Polynesian attitude towards taboos.


Third Paper

Walter Miller, Jr.'s novel A Canticle for Leibowitz explores a number of themes that we have examined in this course. Select one or two themes from the course and critically discuss their treatment in Canticle. Questions you could consider would include, for example, whether the treatment of your chosen themes in Canticle deepends our understanding of them and whether the treatment of those themes in Canticle differs from their treatment in After Virtue or The Ethics of Authenticity. We encourage you to be creative in your approach to your chosen themes, but the themes that you choose should be ones that have received substantial attention in this course. Possible themes that you may consider would include, for example, a culture of fragments, the ambiguous notion of progress, the significance of practices and traditions for the life of virtue, or the distinction between facts and values.


Assignment Notes

You should write your paper as if writing for a reader who is very intelligent but who has no background in philosophy and who has not read the texts that you are referring to. Include any information that would be necessary for such a reader to understand your points.

The cardinal virtue of philosophical writing is clarity. Choose your words carefully and avoid saying things because you think that they sound philosophical. Use technical terms only when necessary, and always explain them.

Be sure to do everything that the assignment asks you to do. Make it clear at each point in your paper what you are attempting to accomplish. The reader should never have to ask "Why are you telling me this?"

When explaining a philosopher's views you should support your interpretation with quotations, but do not treat the quotations as a substitute for explaining the philosopher's views in your own words. Also, do not assume that the meaning of a quotation will always be obvious to your reader. If the meaning of a particular quotation would not be immediately apparent to an intelligent general reader then add whatever comments are necessary to make its meaning clear.


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