Homework guidelines
STEP ZERO: Before doing anything else, make absolutely sure you understand the campus policies on citations and plagiarism (see Compass for links). All submissions on Compass will be via SafeAssign. 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 quotations and paraphrases.

Try to be convincing. Original clear arguments, rather than rehashed class material, are looked upon favorably. 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 (best to worst):

  1. Common experience and simple logic, including easy mathematics.
  2. Easily accessible observation and mathematics.
  3. Harder mathematical reasoning and observation, directly available only to specialists.
  4. Intuition.
  5. Authority.

Remember to cite all information/ ideas gathered from elsewhere. We are not overly-concerned about your style/ method, as long as we can find the spot in the source should we need to.

Include an introductory paragraph that includes your thesis and a sketch of your argument for it. It is much easier to understand a paper that announces where it is 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 the homework assignments, which are short essays, you should generally aim for 2-4 body paragraphs.

Your concluding paragraph, if there is space for one, should summarize your arguments and show how they support your conclusion. However, priority should be given to considering objections to your argument.

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.

Finally, consider consulting the Writers Workshop, an invaluable resource for writing help, with a draft of your assignment.



Homework assignments

Assignments should generally be 500–750 words long (about 2 pages or so, but go by word count).

Late homework will be penalized 5% per day (the first day beginning after the due time). No homework will be accepted later than a week after it is due (excepting documented excuses).

Homework grading: All homework will be graded out of a total of 20 points. Both the grammar/ writing and the content will be graded (please consult the rubric on Compass). For the first 3 assignments, grammar/ writing 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 writing/ grammar. Please consult A Brief Handbook of English Grammar on Compass when writing your papers and when questions arise regarding proper usage.




Assignment 1: due on Compass by 5p on Tuesday, 2 February.

Choose one of the following two topics:

    Topic 1: Is the Earth flat or is it round?  How do you know?  Remember to support your thesis with evidence (i.e., present an argument).

    Topic 2: Hume's 'Missing Shade of Blue': 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, i.e., sense data from the external world?




Assignment 2: due on Compass by 5p on Thursday, 11 February.

Choose one of the following two topics:

    Topic 1: The grounds for deciding between two scientific theories that are both capable of explaining the observational facts is a subtle problem. Defend the claim (explaining your principal reasons) that the Newtonian description of the Solar System is preferable to 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: This concerns the influence of Plato and Aristotle on astronomy. Here you will need to refer to The Sleepwalkers by Koestler. In 310 BCE, 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. State (defending with argument) whether or not Westerners overinterpreted Aristotle and Plato, or if the words of Aristotle and Plato were to have been taken literally, and hence, that 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 5p on Tuesday, 23 February.

Write an essay expressing and defending your conceptions 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 only that will receive at most half of the 'Argumentation' grade portion.




Assignment 4: due on Compass by 5p on Tuesday, 9 March.

Richard Taylor argues in 'Causation' (The Monist, 1963) that there are many instances in which cause and effect are simultaneous. He cites examples of wind making a leaf flutter and an engine pulling a caboose. In the latter case, once the cable between the engine and the caboose is taut, Taylor argues that the motion of the caboose and the pulling by the engine are simultaneous. Analyze his argument in the context of special relativity: choose one of his examples and argue 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?