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__NOTITLE__ Studying 2014/2 PHI110: Philosophy, Morality and Society. Assessment 2. Undertaken Study Period 2, 2014. Content is quoted and/or summarised from the university website in fair dealing for purpose of research or study.

Files and resources

Forum notes

First essay: writing style (original)

Be relaxed in tone - but not informal. On the other side, avoid being stuck-up, or pretentious, too. Write in the first person, because the essay is about what you think about Epicurus or Cicero, etc.

  • For talking about the text you're analysing, discuss the philosophical ideas in the present tense. Eg. 'Epicurus claims that pleasure is the goal of life'.
  • If you are mentioning events in the philosopher's life - ie. they are historical considerations - then, use the past tense. Eg. 'Cicero was a Roman Senator and orator, who adopted Stoicism'.
  • The last thing to keep an eye on is just to be consistent.

Ego is not a dirty word (original)

As we are working up to our first written assignment, try to answer the questions as if they were part of the assignment. That is,

  • introduce the question
  • explain the terms
  • provide your own answer

as if you were intending to hand this in as part of a written assessment. The point being that practice will improve what you do in the assignment.

First Assignment FAQ (original)

Hi guys,

I've collected together some of your questions asked here and there, and added in some of my own. I'll try to present them so that you can quickly scan through to what you need. I'll also break it up into several posts, to make it easier.

1. Which questions? I noticed we were given essential readings for week 2 and 3 for the assignment. Are we answering the weekly readings questions for the essay?

No, this is not the assignment. The assignments are found in tab 14, ‘Essential Course Items’, and have their own free-standing questions. You have a choice between two: Epicurus, or Stoicism. Answer only the questions given for that topic.

2. Which readings can we use? Are we able to bring in other aspects of the set material i.e. with Epicurus, can we bring in other sections of Letter to Menoeceus to elaborate on points or de Botton?

Yes, you can bring in other parts of Epicurus’ writing. Read de Botton, sure, but don’t worry about bringing in anything from his reading. You should be able to show everything you need to from Epicurus only. I hope some of you do the Cicero one, though!

3. Word limit? I know it says 1000 words, but is there a 10% over/under rule?

No. You're looking at the assignment in the wrong way. The word limit is there to help you, by creating conditions that force you to be clear and simple. This helps you to know what you think a little better. So, sticking to the word limit is for your own benefit. It's also a consideration to others: Marking your long assignment takes time away from marking others' assignments, putting your marker under pressure, and making her or him unhappy. Why would you make your marker unhappy?

4. External sources I know: I kept getting the urge to use knowledge I had prior to the course, is it ok to use some of this knowledge with citations, or best left to our own words and ideas?

What kind of knowledge? Try to stick to just what the course involves. Your previous knowledge should inform whatever you write anyway, but don’t bother name dropping.

5. Quotations: Where it says not to use extended quotations, what does this mean exactly? Can I still quote texts from the article, and if I do is it referenced as usual?

Yes, you can still provide quotations. But only do so when you think you need some evidence to back up your point. Quote the exact part you need, and then write about how it proves your point. I’ll give an example in this week’s forum. I’ll also provide a post on referencing (but note this is also discussed in section 10 of the writing guide).

6. Structure: I'm just trying to figure out how I structure this assignment as I have never written a paper like this.

Use the questions to structure your essay. They are logically linked together, and will help you move through the correct considerations. For more detail on paragraph and sentence structure, see sections 4-6 in the writing essays guide. I can’t stress enough just how valuable the points there are.

7. Using background texts: When writing it I found that it's easier to articulate the answers using philosophy from other Epicurus texts as well as some from the Stoics. Is it still ok to go about it this way? If we do this should it be using quotations/paraphrased or is it ok to put it in our own words?

Try to stick to the indicated text as much as possible. Sacrifice breadth for precision and detail. If you want to draw upon ideas that are in the background texts (the ones given on Epicurus and the Stoics), that’s fine. But think them through carefully to ensure you aren’t just creating more work for yourself. Note that the whole Epicurus reading is background for the questions we are answering.

8. How to represent arguments and objections: As far as the essay for the text-based reading exercise is concerned, what is the best way to deal with counterarguments in this structure? Also, do you recommend to raise objections and disagreements to each premise as they occur or outline the conclusion and all premises as stated in the text first and then state all points of difference?

A counter argument means that two arguments have been presented. One, which is the ‘target’, and then the ‘counter argument’, which is supposed to invalidate the first in some way. Deal with each as two separate, opposed arguments. I would lean towards raising your objections after you have presented the argument in full. (This post is referring to the 'how to' read philosophy document I posted in an earlier thread).

9. Pronouns (I, etc.) and tense: I understand that in Philosophy the language we use is allowed to be a little more personal and somewhat relaxed. However, I am finding it difficult in another area when discussing Epicurus (topic 1). One minute I am talking about his ideas in the current form, ie; 'Epicurus suggests that...' then the next minute I am talking in past tense 'Epicurus suggested that...' being long gone, I am assuming everything should be discussed as what he thought not what he thinks?

For talking about the text you're analysing, discuss the philosophical ideas in the present tense. E.g. 'Epicurus claims that pleasure is the goal of life'.

If you are mentioning events in the philosopher's life - ie. they are historical considerations - then, use the past tense. Eg. 'Cicero was a Roman Senator and orator, who adopted Stoicism'.

The last thing to keep an eye on is just to be consistent.


The submitted essay:

In this essay I will present Epicurus' argument concerning why death is not to be feared and explain the utility in adopting this belief. I will examine what death is and how Epicurus' physics inform his conclusions about the process, or mechanics, of death. I will conclude that Epicurus' argument holds water and happily adopt his perspective.

Epicurus (341-270 BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher and the founder of the Epicurean philosophy which takes his name. Epicurus' philosophy seeks to maximise pleasure and to minimise pain. Epicurus lived with his friends and followers on his property called "The Garden" where he developed his philosophy.

As a component of his philosophy Epicurus' argued that we should not fear death. His argument is based in sensation. Epicurus observes that when death is not present it is nothing to us, and when it is present we have no sensation and it is thus also nothing to us. (Epicurus, "Letter to Menoeceus," p. 49-50.)

According to Wikipedia death is "the cessation of all biological functions that sustain a living organism" (Wikipedia, Death, retrieved July 2014). Dictionaries and encyclopedias don't give an account of what happens to the soul during or after this process, however. In order to accept Epicurus' ideas about attitudes towards death it is necessary to understand something of his physics.

Epicurus was an atomic materialist (Wikipedia, Epicurus) and took the view that human consciousness -- that is, the soul -- was the result of a particular physical material in our bodies. (Epicurus. (1998) (c. 300 BCE). "'Letter to Menoeceus' and 'Leading Doctrines'". In Ethics: the Classic Readings, D. E. Cooper (ed.). Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 48.) That is that the soul was embodied as a particular type of substance. Epicurus believed that on death this 'soul material' left our bodies and was recycled to create future souls. This was not a belief in reincarnation as such, although that might be an easy mistake to make.

In order to aid in the understanding of the period after death Epicurus makes an analogy with the period before our life. That is, we can understand death as 'not being' in the same way we were 'not being' prior to our birth. In the same way that nothing troubled us before life, so it will be beyond death.

So, what is the purpose of Epicurus' articulation and investigation of the process of death? Epicurus makes his argument in order to disabuse the listener of a fear of death which may hamper and cloud the life that they do have. That is, Epicurus doesn't want the fear of death hanging over or disturbing life. According to Epicurus, when we contemplate and come to understand death, we can conquer our fear of it.

By his argument Epicurus seeks to provide an emotional basis for living "the good life" and free us from the fetters of fear. Epicurus considers fear of death a detractor to happiness and well-being and thus goes to lengths to remove or diminish such fear. In this way his conclusions about death have utility for the living.

I think Epicurus has a valid argument. I like the utility in being fearless in the face of death. I think that seeing as death is an unknown it's natural to have some level of concern -- fear, perhaps -- about the nature of it. Epicurus tackles this concern head-on and provides a sound argument for why we should not fear death that frees us to embrace life.

Our acceptance of Epicurus' attitude toward death rests on our understanding and agreement with the aspect of his physics which designates the soul as an embodied and material "thing", or, at least, that the soul is epiphenomenal as a result of physical structures and processes which can wane or decay. The embodiment of the soul (or mind) is a contemporary idea (George Lakoff, Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought, Basic Books 1999) that has re-emerged after Descartes' mind-body dualism (Wikipedia, Dualism (philosophy of mind)) and it is grand to see an Ancient Greek philosophy/physics (such as Epicureanism) anticipate this development.

In this essay I have shown Epicurus' argument as to why death should not be feared, namely that when we are dead we have no sensation; I have investigated what death is and how Epicurus' mechanics bear on his conclusions about death; and I have explained the utility in this belief, that is that it is a basis for the abolition of fear in what life we do have. I have acquiesced to the argument of Epicurus and embraced it for myself. I do not fear death.