PHIL 11 University of California Santa Cruz Philosophical Theories Discussion


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 practice constructing good explanations of philosophical theories. Please explain two theories from some of the pragmatist philosophers we’ve read this week (you can pick two theories from the same reading). The theories must come from the Peirce, James, or West readings. Your writing exercise should be 500 words total, 250 words to each explanation.

Here’s fairly standard model for a good explanation of a philosophical theory. Your explanations should follow the model, but feel free to innovate or tweak to your writing style).  

-(1) Start by explaining the main point of the theory. Your explanation should be brief and informative. Aim for a 2-3 sentence paragraph.

-(2) Give an example that illustrates the main point really well. Get creative. Aim for a 3-5 sentence paragraph because you’ll want to explain the example.

-(3) Explain some of the author’s reasons for the theory. What answers the question “why does the author think their theory is true?”. One reason per paragraph. 3-5 sentence paragraphs for this exercise.

Here’s an example response for Hume’s idea that all of our interesting ideas are a posteriori or known without experience.

David Hume argues that all of our interesting thoughts are known a posteriori. Interesting thoughts are thoughts that are informative, meaning they tell us something we didn’t already know. Hume thought all of these thoughts were known on the basis of experience. The reasons we think the thought is true have to do with our experience.

To illustrate, according to Hume, my interesting thoughts that ‘war is bad’ or ‘the oceans are getting warmer’ or ‘PHIL 11 students are good writers’ are all known via experience (along with all of my other interesting thoughts). The reason I think they are true has to do with experience. I experience, in one way or another, that war is bad, that the oceans are getting warmer, or that PHIL 11 students are good writers, and so believe those thoughts to be true.

One reason Hume thinks his theory is true has to do with his account of human psychology. David Hume thinks that all of our thoughts come from experience. Even our complex imaginings of things we’ve never seen just break down into amalgamations of things we’ve experienced before. It follows that all of the reasons we have for thinking a thought is true would have to do with experience or come from experience, so Hume’s theory that our interesting thoughts are a posteriori is true. 

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