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PHIL 108 Philosophy Assignment

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  • Course Code: PHIL 108
  • University: University Of Massachusetts Boston
  • Country: United States


We don’t do this in a vacuum, but rather within a social and historical context where positions have already been staked out and expressed and the debate is already in progress. The first part of the paper is therefore 1) an introduction, which contains some acknowledgement of the history of the debate and identifies the basic issue being addressed and states the problem. The second part should be 2) to give an account of the main arguments both pro and con. This should not be a mere list but also contain some analyses and evaluation of each one. It can also include identifying which side appears to have the burden of proof in general or on one of the points on which the arguments on the various sides conflict. The next part is 3) to state one’s own considered point of view and then, 4) the reasons why one holds it to be correct.

But what counts as a good reason? First it should be the kind of reason which has a good chance of persuading a reader, who doesn’t necessarily share one’s own background or prejudices, to accept your view. That means that one should seek a common ground and give arguments, which potentially have universal appeal. One should thus avoid appeals to authority, which aren’t respected by everyone. ( eg. “the Bible says so”or “the founding fathers held”) and one should avoid personal experiences or biographical details ( eg. “I was raised Catholic, so...” or “in my experience such and such is the case”) which explain perhaps why one personally holds a view, but fails to justify it, unless one goes on to make the point that this exemplifies the typical or universal. Otherwise, these appeals to authority or the particular case will have no good chance of persuading someone, who already doesn’t share your background, experiences, or prejudices, to change their mind. Ethical dialogue should ideally take place on the plane of the universal where in principle a good reason should be able to gain universal assent because people can think for themselves by rising above their prejudices or narrow background or particular experiences. They can transcend their particularity because they are being addressed as rational beings, who have the capacity to evaluate things on the basis of universal considerations such as correct generalizations or general moral principles based upon mutual respect for each other as persons with rights.

These last two steps are an open admission that one’s own position is not unassailable and that one is open to further debate. There is no claim to being in the possession of the absolute truth, but rather a willingness to keep on testing one’s own best insights against the best arguments your opponents can muster. The process here is more important than the tentative result, in that the rational discussion is an on-going invitation to oneself and others to broaden and deepen mutual understanding and to approach the truth without ever claiming that one is already in possession of it. Rational assent is the acknowledgement of what one’s own reason must accept in the light of what one currently understands after weighing the arguments pro and con and attempting to overcome bias through being open to universal considerations. But there is still always the possibility that upon further reflection and discussion, one might be forced by the better argument to change one’s mind. It is this possibility, which keeps rational debate from ending in a new absolutism. And it is the willingness to debate seriously with others to get at the truth, which distinguishes the process of rational debate from a relativism , which would make such a process seem nonsensical.
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