Political Philosophy (Fall 2010) - Final Exam

Political Philosophy - Final Exam (F10)

Before you begin writing, read this entire document.

Answer five (5) questions. All key terms, theories, and named objections must be explained.

I. Answer one question from 1-2. (The Instrumental Value of Democracy)

1. Evaluate the Information Problem for Dictatorships. Does the problem give us good reason to think that democracy is superior to dictatorships? Why or why not? Can the problem be solved more effectively by means other than voting?

(This question requires evaluation. Make sure that you explain the problem as clearly as you can before you evaluate it.)

2. Evaluate the Condorcet Argument in Defense of Democracy. Does it give us good reason to think that voting will lead to better decision making, say, in the contemporary US?

(This question requires evaluation. You should discuss the problem of mixed motivation voting.)

II. Answer one question from 3-4. (The Intrinsic Value of Democracy)

3. Explain the charge that Rousseau unacceptably sacrifices liberty in order to solve the problems of Democracy.

(This question does not ask for evaluation. I want you to present an objection. But first, you should explain Rousseau's theory of the General Will. He thinks that the General Will is relatively easy to determine? It might help to say why. However, he worries that people will not be motivated to pursue it. How does he propose to solve this problem? What's the price of his solution?)

4. What does Mill propose in order to prevent democracy from becoming ruled by stupidity and class interests? Explain the charge that his solution unacceptably sacrifices equality.

(This question does not ask for evaluation. I want you to present an objection. You should explain Mill's argument for representative democracy. What makes democracy superior to dictatorships? Why doesn't he propose a direct democracy? After you explain the argument, present the problem. Explain Mill's solution and assess the cost.)

III. Answer question 5. (Liberty)

5. Evaluate Mill's argument that liberty is essential for the long-term betterment of humankind.

(This question requires evaluation. You should explain what Mill assumes about human nature. It would be instructive to explain why extensive liberty is not always good for everyone. For instance, liberty can be bad for children. What is it about us that makes "experiments in living" useful? Ultimately, you should ask if Mill is too optimistic.)

IV. Answer one question from 6-7. (Private Property)

6. Evaluate Locke's third or fourth argument for private property rights.

(This question requires evaluation. Consult the handout for the suggested details of the arguments. You must do more than merely copy the premises and conclusion from the handout. Explain what Locke is trying to prove. What is private property? Explain his argument. Then evaluate the argument. You can do this by asking questions such as: Could it be used to justify our right to own luxury goods or land? Could it be used to justify the right to inherit land from one's parents? Are all the premises true?)

7. In the first part of Utopia, More sets up a challenge for Raphael, and for anyone who claims that life without private property would be both possible and desirable. Raphael is tasked with the burden of showing that we have a false conception of human nature. Do you think that the vision of Utopia in book II is possible? Why or why not? If so, would it be desirable? Are the features that make it possible also those that make it undesirable? I want you to see if there are any undesirable features that could be removed without disrupting the society of Utopia--that is, without making a stable society without private property impossible. Are there any necessary features of such a society that ultimately make Utopia undesirable?

(This question is fairly open. I do not want you to merely summarize the text. Please keeps quotes and summary to a minimum. I suggest that you pick a feature or two. Explain its purpose. And discuss whether it could be modified without disrupting Utopian society.)

V. Answer one question from 8-9. (Distributive Justice)

8. Explain Rawls's argument for the Difference Principle.

(This question does not ask for evaluation. Explain the Original Position and Rawls's general argument. Then you will need to explain why he thinks that the maximin strategy is the right principle of rational choice for hypothetical contractors to adopt in the Original Position. As part of your explanation, you should make it clear why he does not think that the appropriate strategy is to "maximize expected utility.")

9. Explain Nozick's argument against Patterned Theories of Distributive Justice.

(This question does not ask for evaluation. Make sure that you explain the argument as clearly as you can. What is a patterned theory? How do they differ from merely procedural theories? Explain why he thinks that pursuing equality will require limitations on liberty. You should discuss the Wilt Chamberlain example.)

Note: In order to evaluate a theory, you must first explain the theory. When explaining a counterexample to a definition, you need to specify whether the example shows that a proposed condition is not necessary, not sufficient, or neither.

If you are evaluating an argument, you need to build up the argument and then show where it might go wrong. To build up an argument, you must do more than merely offer a formalization. You must explain the argument. Typically, showing where an argument goes wrong will require arguing that one of the premises is false.

When providing your own evaluations, be sure to consider obvious, compelling replies to your objections. If you think an argument is good, then you will need to defend it against the strongest objections that you can think of.

Note: Keep quotations to an absolute minimum. Never use a quotation to speak for you.

Due Date

Thursday 12/18/2010


The complete midterm should be no more than 2,400 words. This is approximately 8 pages double-spaced in Arial 12 point font.


The midterm must be typed. It should be double spaced. It should have one inch margins. You should use a 12 point font. I prefer Arial, since it is easy to read. Please follow the general paper and exam instructions under the "course documents / writing" section on Blackboard.

Write a separate essay for each answer. Do not try to answer all the questions in a single essay. Formal introductions and conclusions are unnecessary, though you must use paragraphs.

Please skip a line or two between your answers. Include the question number at the start of each answer. Do not copy the questions.


You don't have much space, so you will need to be clear and to the point. Clarity should be your chief goal in writing the midterm. Pick your words carefully. Write to be understood. Assume that you are writing the paper to be read by someone completely unfamiliar with the issues.

Keep formalization to a minimum. Clarity and precision are not the same. Excessive formalization impedes clarity. Only formalize key definitions and arguments when it will help the reader understand what you are trying to say.

I want you to explain the theories and objections as clearly as you can within the space allotted. I do not want papers that are longer than the word limit. The space limitation is designed to force you to practice verbal economy. That said, it is impossible to write a set of adequate answers in much less space. You'll have to use most of the space, and use it well.


I do not need a hard copy. Nor do I need an email copy. Simply submit the final through Safe Assign via Blackboard by 11:59 pm on the due date.* Safe Assign is a plagiarism detection tool. It will compare your paper against others available online, in journals, submitted in this class, RIC, and from all other universities that use the software.

*If you are unable to submit the paper to Safe Assign due to technical difficulties, you must send an email to the helpdesk <helpdesk@ric.edu> explaining the problem. Make sure to CC me. If this happens, send me a copy of your paper as an attachment. Note: I will not accept your paper if you don't report the problem to the helpdesk.

Note: Plagiarism will result in a failing grade in the class, not just on this assignment.


Your paper should be clearly written, well-structured, and free of grammatical and spelling errors. It is practically impossible to get higher than a C if you start writing the night before the paper is due. The grading scale is as follows:

A = excellent

B = good

C = meets minimal expectations

D = bad

F = awful


Before writing this paper you must read several documents under the writing section of Blackboard. Read the following: 1. Writing Tip Sheet, 2. General Instructions, 3. Kagan's "How to Write a Philosophy Paper", 3. Pryor's "Guidelines for Writing Philosophy Papers", and 4. Pryor's "Glossary of Philosophical Terms."