Spring 2001

The Final Essay

THE GENERAL IDEA: In this essay, I am asking you to combine opinions, topics, or life events addressed in your freewriting that have culminated in your "platform" with a major philosophical concept. This is a fairly "open" topic because I want you to write about something that you find interesting and personally valuable. At the same time, you do have specific restraints as far as the nature and number of your sources are concerned. One of the main goals of this essay assignment is to encourage you to exercise your critical thinking skills and to engage in a synthesis of your own opinion and experience along with information from varied outside sources. Such writing is at the heart of the best kind of college exposition.

Some steps to take (you may take them in any order, however):

A. YOUR ARGUMENT OR CONCERN: Read over all the freewriting you did this semester including, of course, your Webboard postings. See if you can find a "theme" or area of particular interest or focus within all of these writings that will serve as the main "current issue" that you will be addressing in this essay. Your "platform," as it were, is the stand you are taking in regards to this issue. Sometimes thoughts or events that seem inconsequential can have metaphorical, philosophical, life-defining meanings, so don't disregard ongoing themes (even if they're of a personal nature) in your freewriting.

Please remember that you don't need to take on an ENTIRE issue (gun control, euthanasia, etc.). This paper will not be nearly long enough for you to address these massive topics. Instead, customize the topic so that it focuses in on a containable area of concern and one that, ideally, really matters to you in some way.

As you know, you will have chosen this topic based on what current issues are presented in Current Issues and Enduring Questions. You must assign yourself at least TWO essays to read from our text that relate to the current issue you will be discussing and hand these in to me when you hand in your list of three other outside sources. At least ONE of your outside sources must be an essay from our text relating to your "platform."

B. PHILOSOPHICAL CORNERSTONE: This essay should involve an examination of aspects of the concept of free will and/or obedience as presented in any of the following essays in Current Issues and Enduring Questions. You must include citations from one of these articles in your essay, so it will count as at least ONE of your required sources:

a. Plato, "Crito"
b. Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, "Do We Have Free Will?"
c. Walter Stace, "Is Determinism Inconsistent with Free Will?"
d. Martin Luther King, Jr. "Letter From Birmingham Jail"
e. Stanley Milgram, "The Perils of Obedience"
f. T.S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

Once you think you know which of these areas might best work for your essay, you will need to read a few more pieces in the corresponding chapter in the textbook. Do not rest your essay only on the pieces that were assigned for class--it will pay off if you explore a few more.

C. OUTSIDE SOURCES: What outside thinking or sources can you pull in to this basically personal essay? How can you make it important personally but also engage in "debate" or "conversation" with other thinkers? Can you blend the personal and academic? Don't hesitate to use family history or personal experience or to interview academics or other people who might be able to give you insight on your topic. You'll need at least five outside sources to get credit for this essay.

D. ARGUE A POINT: It's a challenge to make this essay stringently argumentative, but give it a try. You all have the tools to do this now. At the very least, your essay must be persuasive.

E. OTHER VARIATIONS (AND MORE SPECIFIC POSSIBILITIES): First--the above essay assignment is vague because I'd like you to develop your own more specific and uniquely interesting topic. It's a skill that will serve you well not just in college, but in life. But, if you want more direction or if you are going to vary at all from the assignment, please contact me immediately, and certainly before Thursday, March 29. After that time, I will assume that you have your argument, and that your sense of how to incorporate concepts of free will and/or obedience well under control.

1. 1850-2500 words, 12 pts., typed, double-spaced, with a title and a Works Cited page.

2. Use at least five sources as follows:
-- One must be a book or an article from an academic journal or database
--One must be referring to the concept of free will to some extent from as discussed in the essays in our text book (see the list above).
--One must refer to an essay in our text that relates to your "platform."
--The other two or more be of your choice (the media, a second article or book, personal interview, etc.). If you use the internet, you must make sure that you have a valid, serious, and authoritative source. You may also refer to the comments other students in our class have posted to webboard. Be sure to cite them as sources, however.

3. Correct in-text citations

4. Correctly formatted "Works Cited" list placed at the end of the essay.

Deadlines for this essay (please see our schedule for the entire list of homework due and other deadlines):

1. Tuesday, April 3 DUE:

A. A list of at least three sources that you intend to use in your essay.
B. A list of the two essays you are reading in our textbook that relate to your platform (note:
These two essays may not necessarily be something you'll cite).

2. Thursday, April 5 DUE: A typed presentation that you will read to the class on your essay topic. The presentation should:
a. Summarize your argument
b. Explain how you are weaving the concept of free will in (or around) your argument
c. Talk a bit about the sort of sources you are using
d. Take no more than 2-3 minutes to read
This presentation will be graded for content.

3. Tuesday, April 10 DUE: DRAFT

4. Tuesday, April 17 DUE: Typed peer evaluation (this is graded and is worth approximately ½ an essay grade)

5. Thursday, April 26 DUE: REVISION

Please keep in mind that I am drawing the deadlines for this essay out so that you have plenty of time to make this essay the best piece of writing you can produce. I know that this essay may seem difficult at first, but if you move through it in carefully measured steps, you will find that the work comes together much more easily than if you procrastinate. You will have two weeks between the draft and the revision to continue to improve this essay, and my hope is that you will work on it in bits and pieces-daily, ideally-so that you end up with a wonderfully thoughtful and well-reasoned piece of writing.

Another note: If you have not yet met me in conference, please plan to meet with me either during my office hours or on April 12 or April 20 to discuss your progress with this piece.

Please see our syllabus for other draft and revision expectations. Please also keep in mind that I will be grading this essay using the criteria that we reviewed at the beginning of the semester. Some of the grading will also, of course, be based the successful fulfillment of the various research, source, and topic requirements of this essay.

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