PHL 202 Short Paper 1

The following excerpt comes from a letter written at the Hague by Princess Elisabeth of the Netherlands to her tutor, Rene Descartes on 6 May 1643:

“Today M. Pollot has given me such assurance of your good-will towards everyone and especially towards me that I have overcome my inhibitions and come right out with the question I put to the Professor, namely

Given that the soul of a human being is only a thinking substance, how can it affect the bodily spirits, in order
to bring about voluntary actions?

The question arises because…Your notion of the soul entirely excludes extension, and it appears to me that an immaterial thing can’t possibly touch anything else. So I ask you for a definition of the soul that homes in on its nature more thoroughly than does the one you give in your Meditations, i.e. I want one that characterizes what it is as distinct from what it does (namely to think). It looks as though human souls can exist without thinking—e.g. in an unborn child or in someone who has a great fainting spell—but even if that is not so, and the soul’s intrinsic nature and its thinking are as inseparable as God’s attributes are, we can still get a more perfect idea
of both of them by considering them separately.”

Elisabeth’s Argument I

1. According to Descartes, the soul (mind), defined as a thing which thinks, is completely non-physical.
2. A non-physical thing is, by definition, not capable of interaction with physical things.
3. The body is a physical thing.
4. It follows from premises 1-3 that the mind is incapable of interacting with the body.
5. If the mind is incapable of interacting with the body, then it does not produce human actions.
6. If the mind does not produce human actions, then the description of a soul as a “a thing which thinks” cannot tell us what the soul is.
7. The mind is incapable of interacting with the body (as indicated in premise 4)
8. Therefore, the description of the soul as “a thing which thinks” cannot tell us what the soul is.

Elisabeth’s Argument 2

1. If there are souls that exist without thinking, then Descartes' description of the soul as “a thing which thinks” does not tell us what the soul is.
2. There are souls that exist without thinking (e.g. those of unborn babies and of people who are unconscious).
3. It follows that Descartes' description of the soul as “a thing which thinks” does not tells us what the soul is.


In your paper you must choose one of Elisabeth's arguments and do ALL of the following:

1. Diagram the argument.

2. Give and support an evaluation of the argument (i.e. determine whether the argument is sound, unsound, cogent, or a failure, AND give your reasons in support of this determination).

3. Identify one crucial premise in the argument you chose, and give a possible criticism or counter-argument that could be made against it by a defender of Descartes.

4. Sketch how you think Elisabeth might reply to the criticism or counter-argument you gave in Step 3, above.


Substantive Requirements

The purposes of the Short Papers is for you to demonstrate extended engagement with the themes of the course and to see how well you apply the methods of close reading and argument analysis to the course material.

This is NOT a reflection assignment. Neither is it a subjective or evaluative essay such as you might write for a literature class. In order to do this assignment correctly, you will be required to call on your critical thinking skill set for interpretation, analysis and argumentation.

Stylistic Requirements

  • For purposes of these assignments, your audience is a critical, well-educated group of strangers who are unfamiliar with the reading. The setting is formal. Your audience does not speak slang and cannot be addressed in the conversational style you would use when speaking to a friend or family member.
  • Correct grammar, punctuation and spelling all count.
  • Word choice counts. Make sure that you are using words that accurately convey the ideas you are trying to express. Do not assume that this is happening. Check your work with a dictionary and/or a thesaurus.
  • Organization counts too. Be sure you have a coherent plan. Outline if you wish, but no matter how you do it, have a plan. Do not simply sit down and start "free styling" at the keyboard.
  • Avoid rhetorical tactics that play on emotion, or that rely on flowery verbiage or devices like the rhetorical question. Instead, focus on persuading your audience by giving them sound reasons to believe your judgments. Do not try to "move" your audience. Convince them by appealing to their reason.

Format Requirements

  • * You will not be graded on the number of pages you write. As a general guideline to help you plan, consider 300-500 words to be about right for this task.
  • Pages should have 1 inch margins on all sides,
  • The font used should be Times New Roman, 12 point sized.
  • Double-space your lines.
  • Use black ink on plain white paper.
  • Papers must have a cover sheet. On this cover sheet, The title of your paper should appear in size 14 font in the middle of the page (please choose a title; do not simply write, e.g. "TOPIC 2"). Underneath the title your name should appear, and below it should be the date on which the paper is submitted. Underneath this line should be your word count (i.e., if your paper is 897 words long write "Word Count: 897")
  • All pages EXCEPT the cover page should be numbered, with the page number in the center of the footer.
  • All pages MUST be stapled.
  • No folders, portfolio covers or anything else of the sort should be used. If submitted, they will be thrown away. Such are not an acceptable substitute for stapling your pages.

Help with writing software programs such as MS Word is available in the computer labs or in the library. Help with technical and stylistic aspects of writing is available in the Writing Center. Please use these resources. The College provides them to help you succeed.

Evaluation Rubric

Excellent (4) Good (3) Adequate (2) Poor (1) Unacceptable (0)
Substantive Content A thorough, detailed and accurate understanding of the subject matter of the question or topic is evident. All technical terms are defined and all parts of the question or topic are explicitly addressed. An basically accurate understanding of the subject matter of the question or topic is evident. All parts of the topic or question have been addressed. There may be lapses in terms of completeness, undefined technical terms, or the like but these are minor. A basic familiarity with the subject matter of the question or topic is evident, but it is unclear whether or not real understanding has been achieved. There may be minor errors in recall of some details. Coverage of the topic or question may be partial. Important technical terms, though used correctly, may be undefined. An incomplete or partial understanding of some points of the subject matter of the question or topic may be indicated. Serious errors in recall of important points may be present. Technical terms may be absent or used incorrectly. Main parts of the topic or question may go unaddressed. The answers given suggest that invention has been used to mask inadequate recall of basic facts, or show significant gaps in comprehension, or leave room for doubt that the student has bothered to become acquainted with the material at all.
Relevance No extraneous information is included, and no necessary information is left out. Some irrelevant information may be included or details omitted but such lapses are minor. Irrelevant information may be included, or relevant information omitted, in a way that casts doubt on the student's understanding of the material. Irrelevant information may be included at the expense of relevant information. It may be unclear whether or not student has understood the question. The answer given may be irrelevant to the question in a substantial way, or indicate that the student has entirely failed to understand or has simply ignored the question.
Critical Thinking and Argumentation An objective and fair-minded approach to the assignment has been taken. The paper is logically consistent. Any analyses given are insightful; any argumentation presented is at least cogent and is rationally persuasive. All critical thinking skills implicated in the assignment are demonstrated to an exemplary degree. An objective and fair-minded approach to the assignment has been taken. The paper is logically consistent. Analyses may be pedestrian, shallow, or too focused on minor points. Argumentation may be cogent but rationally unpersuasive. The critical thinking skills implicated in the assignment are clearly in evidence, though their execution may be wanting to some degree. The answer may show an uneven approach to the question in terms of objectivity or fairness. The paper may be open to question as regards its logical consistency. Analyses may be shallow, trivial, or clumsy. Arguments may lack cogency or be misdirected. Though an attempt has clearly been made, an unskillful or incorrect application of critical thinking skills is in evidence. An unfair or overly subjective approach to the question may be taken, or the student may show an inability to escape his or her own point of view with respect to the question.The answer may demonstrates a preponderance of "pop-psychology" or speculation, or unstructured thinking over attempts at analysis or argumentation. The essay may exhibit problematic internal inconsistencies. No discernible attempt at objectivity has been made. The answer consists mainly of unsupported assertions of opinion, or demonstrates uncritical dismissiveness towards disliked positions and arguments, or consists entirely of "pop-psychology", speculation, or personal narrative. Avoidable, pernicious contradictions are present.
Organization The structure of the answer(s) is clear, concise and efficient, presenting a continuous, logical line of thought. The structure of the answer(s), for the most part, displays a continuous, logical line of thought. The answer may follow a conversational format, lack the sort of transitions that indicate an organized passage between thoughts, or similar flaws. The answer may ramble, become incoherent, or exhibit a free-association/"stream of consciousness" sort of pattern. More than one of the flaws listed under "Poor" may be in evidence, or there may be no discernible structure to the answer at all.
Writing The writing exhibits clear, competent English appropriate to a collegiate level of study. The writing exhibits competent English appropriate to a collegiate level of study, but may contain minor, inconsequential errors in structure, word choice, etc.. The writing exhibits flaws in sentence structure, word choice, etc. that hinder uptake of meaning are present. Problematic ambiguity or vagueness may be in evidence. The writing may be overly conversational in tone. The writing, while generally understandable, contains serious stylistic errors or infelicities in word choice that obscure meaning. Problematic ambiguity or vagueness is in evidence. The tone is conversational or otherwise employs language inappropriate to academic writing tasks, e.g. slang, idioms from colloquial speech, texting shorthand ("2" in place of "to") etc. If handwritten, the writing may be illegible. The writing displays any combination of two or more of the flaws listed under "Poor" to a severe degree, is fundamentally incoherent, or is otherwise inappropriate to a collegiate level of study.
Format All instructions and formatting criteria for the assignment have been observed. Writing is not just legible but easy to read. Distracting scratch outs and their ilk are minimal if present at all. All instructions and formatting criteria for the assignment have been observed, but handwriting could be more readable. There might be one or two small but distracting scratch outs or other blemishes that interfere with flow of reading. Most instructions and formatting criteria have been observed, or have been observed inconsistently. Handwriting may be poor, or there may be large or multiple blemishes, scratch-outs, etc. that interfere with the flow of reading. Some instructions and formatting criteria have been observed or have been observed inconsistently. Handwriting is poor or the ratio of text to blemish is unfavorable, making the answer hard to read. Instructions and formatting criteria have been ignored altogether. Handwriting is illegible.

Relative Weights

Relative weights for each area in the rubric are provided to give you a sense of how the factors line up in terms of their importance. Think of the weights as a ratio—much as you would think about the ratio of one ingredient to another in a recipe. A cake recipe may require more flour than sugar, but that does not mean that the sugar can be left out without consequences for the cake! In the same way, it may well be that substantive content is weighted more heavily than organization, but poor organization will have carryover effects on other areas of evaluation. Structure your work accordingly, keeping each of the areas and their inter-relationships with each other equally in mind.

Substantive Content 3
Relevance 3
Critical Thinking and Argumentation 4
Organization 2
Writing 2
Format 1

Note: In accord with Marygrove College's academic honesty policy, any instance of plagiarism or cheating on any assignment or test will be met with a failing grade for the course.

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