STEP ZERO: Before doing anything else, make absolutely sure you understand
the campus policies on citations and plagiarism (see Compass for links). All stages of the paper must be
sent in as searchable text files (via SafeAssign on Compass) to facilitate routine plagiarism checks. All
significant special information, wording, illustrative examples, etc., must have
specific in-text references, not just general bibliographic notes. We are not
picky about the exact format,
but the style must allow a reader to find the source for any material easily and
must specifically identify quotes and paraphrases.
Try to be convincing. Original clear arguments, rather than rehashed class material,
are looked upon favourably. A good general
procedure for answering our questions (and others) is to start with
the strongest and clearest arguments, falling back to weaker or more obscure
ones only as necessary. Most of us will agree on something like this ranking:
- Common experience, and simple logic, including easy mathematics.
- Easily accessible observation and mathematics.
- Harder mathematical reasoning and observation, directly available only
It is not necessary to cite some prior author for every argument. However,
when you employ some possibly unfamiliar observation, you should cite some
source accessible to the reader.
Use a topic paragraph. It's much easier to understand a paper
that announces where it's heading at the start. Don't digress from the
topic. If you find yourself writing conflicting statements, at least acknowledge
the conflicts. Never substitute big words for reason. Never pad the essay
with flattery of science.
Each body paragraph should make a distinct point and, if possible, should
build on the previous ones. In a paper of this length, you should usually
have 2-4 body paragraphs.
Your concluding paragraph should summarize your arguments and
show how they support your conclusion.
Please double-space and submit your papers (on Compass) as Word documents; we will then comment on them and return the commented papers as PDFs on Compass.
- Assignments should generally be 500-750 words long (about 2 pages
or so, but go by word count). However, if you find that you can
complete your argument in
fewer words, do not pad the paper. Brevity is a virtue!
- Late homework will be penalized 5% per day. No homework will be accepted
later than a week after it is due.
Grading of Homework: All homework will be graded out of a total of 20 points.
Both the grammar and the content will be graded. For the first 3 assignments,
grammar will count for 60% (12 points) and the content for 40% (8 points).
In the remaining 4 homework assignments, the point distribution will be reversed:
12 points for content and 8 points for grammar. Note the grading of the grammar
will be strictly quantitative. A single point will be deducted for each grammatical
error including spelling; so please use spell-check. In the first 3 assignments,
points will be deducted until 12 errors are found. Beyond that, no deductions
will be made. Hence, there will be no negative scores in grammar. A grammatical
error will be defined as anything that is not in line with the usage in a standard handbook
of English. For example, subject-verb disagreements, run-on sentences, two sentences
joined together by a comma, misplaced semicolons, non-parallel constructions,
misplaced commas, etc., are all instances of grammatical errors. You should
consult H. Willis, A Brief Handbook of English Grammar (on Compass).
- Assignment 1: due by the beginning of class on Tuesday, January 22 (submit on Compass).
- Choose one of the following two topics.
- Topic 1: Does the Earth go around the Sun or does the Sun go
around the Earth? How do you know? Give some evidence to
support your argument.
- Topic 2: Hume's Missing Shade of Blue:
You are to argue for or against Hume's assertion that one could have an
idea of a missing shade of blue without actually seeing it. You
should refer to the paper by Nelson. If you
argue that this is possible, what does such an assertion say about
Hume's larger claim that all simple ideas are derived from simple
impressions, that is, sense data from the external world?
Because this is the first assignment, you do not need to cite reading
material, except of course for the Nelson article on Hume. If you remember some fact but cannot recall where you saw it,
use it anyway.
- Assignment 2: due by the beginning of class on Thursday, January 31 (submit on Compass).
- Choose one of the following two topics.
- Topic 1: The grounds for deciding between two scientific theories which are both
capable of explaining the observational facts is a subtle problem.
In this homework assignment you are to write an
essay explaining what are the principal reasons why the Newtonian
description of the solar system is preferable over the system
developed first by Herakleides and rediscovered by de Brahe. Restrict your
knowledge to that available to scientists in the 17th century.
Another way of stating this problem is that you are to write an essay
in which you present an argument for choosing
Newton's laws over more and more epicycles.
- Topic 2: The second topic concerns the influence of Plato and
Aristotle on astronomy. Here you will need to refer to ``The
Sleepwalkers,'' by A. Koestler. In 310 B.C. E., heliocentrism was
proposed by Aristarchus. However, it was not until 1506 that
heliocentrism was rediscovered. The key reason Koestler gives is
that Aristotle and Plato had a pernicious influence on Western
astronomy. You are to write an essay on whether or not, in your
opinion, Westerners over-interpreted Aristotle
and Plato or if the words of Aristotle and Plato were to have been taken
literally and hence, the influence they had was warranted. You
should start by considering the quotation from Plato's Timaeus on p.
60 of Koestler or other secondary literature you are familiar with
regarding Aristotle and Plato.
- Assignment 3: due on Compass by the beginning of class on Tuesday, February 12.
- You are to write an essay on your conception of space and time.
Specifically, is there a difference between space and time, and if so, what is it?
You can appeal to the classic arguments about space and time that
were presented in the lecture notes, but your essay should not simply be a
rehashing of the ideas of Newton, Leibniz and Mach. Any essay that does just that will
receive only half the content grade -- that is, 4 points.
- Assignment 4: due on Compass by the beginning of class on Tuesday, February 26.
- Richard Taylor in "Causation" (The Monist, v. 47 n. 2,
pp. 287-313, 1963) argues that there are many instances in which cause and
effect are simultaneous. He cites examples of an engine pulling a
caboose and the wind making a leaf flutter. Once the cable
between the engine and the caboose is taught, Taylor argues that the
motion of the caboose and the pulling by the engine are simultaneous.
You are to analyse his argument in the context of special relativity.
Pick one of his examples and analyse whether special relativity places
restrictions on the simultaneity of cause and effect. If it does, what
does this say about Taylor's argument? In particular, is Taylor's claim
about the difference between cause and effect still true?
- Assignment 5: due on Compass by the beginning of class on Thursday, March 7.
- You are to write an essay on what is left of the Newtonian world
after special relativity (SR) and general relativity (GR). For every
feature of the Newtonian world that is ruled out or allowed by GR and
SR, you are to
present a clear argument as to why.
Assignment 6: due on Compass by the beginning of class on Thursday, March 28.
- Topic 1: T. S. Kuhn has argued that theories are "man-made
of given data". Popper has argued that the falsifiability of scientific
theories removes the "man-madeness" about them. You are to address two
(or three) questions: 1) Does falsifiability solve the man-madeness
problem? If not, how can the man-madeness problem be resolved? 2)
What does the man-madeness problem say about experimental observations?
Topic 2: In either "Galilean" relativity or special relativity,
it is impossible to say whether you are "in motion" without making
a comparison with other objects -- i.e., specifying "in motion"
with respect to what. The question of whether the Earth or the Sun
becomes a question not about instantaneous velocity but rather about
is doing most of the accelerating. Our actual world is described by
general relativity, at least on the planetary scale. Explain carefully
Earth goes around the Sun or the Sun goes around the Earth, what you
by your assertion, and what the evidence for it is. If you decide that
this is really just a convention, say what would be different if we
to choose the Earth as the center.
Assignment 7: due on Compass by the beginning of class on Thursday, April 4.
- In class, we have covered a number of interpretations of
quantum mechanics that deal with the collapse of the wave function.
Are you convinced by any of them? That is, are you convinced
that when we deal with the very small, we must give up the
notion that objective reality exists? I.e., are you content with the fact that
quantum mechanics purports that we lose objective reality
as the wavelength increases from zero?