Ethics Term Paper

Each student is to write a 6-8 page (double-spaced) essay on one of the topics found below.  These papers ought to be carefully argued exercises in interpretation and analysis.  Do not merely cite passages that support your views; provide an interpretation of relevant passages, and say why you believe this interpretation to be the most coherent or defensible one.  Do not merely say that you favor one position rather than another; develop a reasoned defense of your view, and anticipate and answer likely objections to your arguments.


  1. Socrates draws a tight analogy between the city and the individual soul, maintaining that they correspond with each other in their fundamental parts and in their virtues. His definition of justice is supposed to hold equally well for each.  Does it?  Is the analogy weakened by the fact that in the ideally just city, not all citizens have ideally just souls, whereas there is in the ideally just soul there is no sub-part that could itself conceivably be just (yet is not)?  If you believe that Socrates has a sound response to this prima-facie difficulty, try to articulate and defend it.  If you believe that there is a problem with the analogy, try to say what exactly the problem is, and whether it casts doubt on Socrates’ definition of justice in the city, or justice in the soul, or both.


  1. After comparing the unjust individual to a city torn asunder by civil war (351d), Socrates concludes that the unjust person is not capable of achieving his/her aims. (352c) This conclusion is paradoxical, since unjust people can and often do achieve what seem to be their goals.  Indeed, it would seem that injustice would be a trivial thing, and not a grave threat to shared human life, if it rendered people entirely ineffectual in worldly affairs.  How, if at all, does Socrates clear up this initial paradox?  Is his position on this matter a plausible one?


  1. Why does Plato portray the prisoners in the Cave as resistant to their own liberation? Where does he think the resistance comes from, and what does he think it takes to overcome it? Do you think that this conception of the path towards knowledge, and in particular knowledge of the good, is insightful?  If so, what insight does it contain, and why is this an insight?  If not, why not?


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