Unit 2 Essay Prompt: Philosophical Synthesis

Posted: January 20th, 2023

Unit 2 Essay Prompt
Too often in modern discourse we structure our interactions along binaries of us/them, right/wrong, this/that, and so on.  If you and your interlocutors are in the same camp on an issue, then little intellectual advancement occurs as the core tenets are simply left assumed and unexamined critically.  If you are in different camps then it devolves into a zero-sum game with victory as the only objective.  However, the reality is that most positions on a similar subject have far more in common than not.  It is in the details and nuance where the truly exciting work of intellectual engagement can begin.  This can only occur if all contributing voices are treated as valuable, at least to some extent, and then seeking out the points in which the true divergences occur.
For this Unit Essay I would like you to write a philosophical synthesis.  This is essentially a synthesis essay where I have done the work for you of narrowing down your range of possible philosophies or perspectives, which are listed below.  Your objective in this essay is to present a central claim or thread from which to work through the chosen sources.  There are a number of different claims or possibilities that you can choose from.  Below are a set of possible questions.  Your answer to each question, when presented as a declarative statement would yield a possible central claim.  Choose one, or let this list inspire you in a different direction, and then work that resulting claim through the sources listed below to strengthen and complicate your position.

Does the individual have an obligation to dedicate their talents and resources to the betterment of their community, so long as that dedication does not result in harm to the individual? Why?
Does the government have an obligation to provide for all of its citizens, even if some citizens are not contributing back in return? Why?
Should the individual be guided by personal ambitions or collective development when given a choice? Why?
Is there an intrinsic value, that is to say a social good, to the study of philosophy even for those that are not philosophers by trade? Explain.

Remember that each of these are just possible questions to get you started, you should not try to answer them all, and you might want to go in a different direction.  But once you form an answer you will then continually ask yourself, “what does my source say in regards to my answer here”?
You possible sources for this discussion are:

Plato – The Republic
Aristotle – the Nicomachean Ethics
Cicero – De Officiis
Seneca – De Tranquillitate Animi
Confucius – Analects
Lao Tzu – DàodéJīng

You were assigned samples from each of these texts, but you are free to explore areas of each that are beyond the samples provided.  You need not use all of them, but you should include between 2-4 just to produce a substantial variety.
You need not summarize any of the sources you use.  You can assume I have read them.  Instead, you should focus your essay real-estate on the presentation of the ideas of the sources, your own claims, and your analysis and synthesis of the different voices.
The essay must have a works cited page and corresponding in-text citations for all sources used.  If you need to use any of the videos shared in the unit or other supplemental sources, you are free to do so, but you must cite them correctly.  Plagiarism will not be accepted and will result in zero points for the essay.
This essay is worth 150 points in total or 15% of your final grade.
It will be graded primarily for depth and analytical complexity, though some attention will be paid to proper formatting and editing.  The bulk of this essay should be your claims and your analysis and synthesis of your sources.

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