First Quarter Journal Prompts

  1. Please introduce yourself, sharing whatever information you wish to about your history, your interests, and your values. 500 Words.
  2. What is "nature"? Begin your essay by attempting to create a definition. Continue by considering the implications of your definition. In order to get 500 words, you may wish to consider one or more of the following questions: What do people mean by "human nature"? What are the roots of the word "nature"? (Hint--nativity, pre-natal, nascent, etc.) How can we distinguish between what is nature and what isn't?
  3. Evaluate the following quote from Joseph Wood Krutch's essay, "The Colloid and the Crystal" on the page marked 55 of the handout:
    Perhaps we men represent the ultimate to which the rebellion, begun so long ago in some amoeba-like jelly, can go. And perhaps the inanimate is beginning the slow process of subduing us again. Certainly the psychologist and the philosopher are tending more and more to think of us as creatures who obey laws rather than as creatures of will and responsibility.

    Some questions you may wish to consider: How are we "rebelling" and against what? In light of this essay, what is the relationship between materialism and fate?

  4. Discuss Plato's metaphor of the cave, exploring its possible implications for our perceptions of reality. One question you may want to consider is whether or not the everyday world is "illusory." Here is a link to the animated dramatization of Plato's parable we saw in class.
  5. Modern society increasingly relies on psychology to explain aspects of human experience that used to be explained by religion. "Spiritual struggle" or "the dark night of the soul" is now understood by many people as "depression caused by a chemical imbalance," and we look to the pharmacist for relief and not the spiritual counselor. Likewise, aberrant behavior is no longer considered "evil" by many people, but rather the result of environmental factors (parents, poverty, abuse) or a form of mental illness. These changes imply a fundamentally different understanding of human nature. What accounts for the change? What is gained and what is lost by this shift? Discuss your views on this matter.
  6. The critic E. R. Dobbs, in his essay "On Misunderstanding the Oedipus Rex," states,
    Certainly the Oedipus Rex is a play about the blindness of man and the desperate insecurity of the human condition: in a sense every man must grope in the dark as Oedipus gropes, not knowing who he is or what he has to suffer; we all live in a world of appearance which hides from us who-knows-what dreadful reality. But surely the Oedipus Rex is also a play about human greatness. Oedipus is great, not in virtue of a great worldly position--for his worldly position is an illusion which will vanish like a dream--but in virtue of his inner strength: strength to pursue the truth at whatever personal cost, and strength to accept and endure it when found. "This horror is mine," he cries, "and none but I is strong enough to bear it."

    Please begin your essay by evaluating Dobbs' statement in relation to your own understanding of the play, supporting, refuting, or qualifying his position. Expand your discussion to answer the following question: is the play's view of the human condition ultimately positive or negative? Be sure to make ample and specific reference to the play to support your assertions.

  7. 300 words: Write a dialogue between two people discussing Laplace's Demon. One person knows all about it, and is explaining the idea to another person, who has difficulty understanding it at first. How does the first person go about explaining the idea? What questions does the second person ask? What discussions arise from the conversation? Use a play format (character name, colon, dialogue) without quotation marks or speaker tags.

    For your convenience, Laplace's Demon is quoted again below:

    We ought to regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its antecedent state and as the cause of the state that is to follow. An intelligence knowing all the forces acting in nature at a given instant, as well as the momentary positions of all things in the universe, would be able to comprehend in one single formula the motions of the largest bodies as well as the lightest atoms in the world, provided that its intellect were sufficiently powerful to subject all data to analysis; to it nothing would be uncertain, the future as well as the past would be present to its eyes. The perfection that the human mind has been able to give to astronomy affords but a feeble outline of such an intelligence. (Laplace 1820)--Marquis Pierre Simon de Laplace
  8. Write about your experience working with your philosophical question. How did your thinking about the question change in the course of the time you spent with it? What other thoughts did it lead to? Feel free to discuss any of the other philosophical questions or to go off on a tangent in order to make 500 words that somehow relate back to your question.