Essays and Exams


Assignment Goals

In these assignments we will examine main themes, ideas and arguments in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of technology. The goals of this assignment are:

• To pose and refine questions on issues related to the the philosophy of science and the philosophy of technology;
• To examine closely conceptions of, and consequences regarding, science and technology given particular philosophical arguments and approaches;
• To consider the dynamic between conceptions of, and approaches to, science, technology and society based on philosophical understanding.

Assignment Options

You may pursue this assignment in one of the four following combinations:

    • Mid-Term Exam and End-of-Term Exam;
    • Mid-Term Essay and End-of-Term Essay;
    • Mid-Term Exam and End-of-Term Essay;
    • Mid-Term Essay and End-of-Term Exam.

On carefully reading the assignment, and considering your learning goals, please let me know the combination you have selected (as listed above) in an email to me (jim.collier@vt.edu) by midnight on Monday, September 12. Given how quickly the term passes, and the desire of your instructor to plan appropriately, choose wisely. Once you have selected one option, you may not switch to another option.

Essays

Essays belong to a literary species whose extreme variability can be studied most effectively within a three-poled frame of reference. There is the pole of the personal and the autobiographical; there is the pole of the objective, the factual, the concrete particular; and there is the pole of the abstract-universal. Most essayists are at home and at their best in the neighborhood of only one of the essay's three poles, or at the most only in the neighborhood of two of them. There are the predominantly personal essayists, who write fragments of reflective autobiography and who look at the world through the keyhole of anecdote and description. There are the predominantly objective essayists who do not speak directly of themselves, but turn their attention outward to some literary or scientific or political theme. Their art consists in setting forth, passing judgment upon, and drawing general conclusions from, the relevant data. In a third group we find those essayists who do their work in the world of high abstractions, who never condescend to be personal and who hardly deign to take notice of the particular facts, from which their generalizations were originally drawn. Each kind of essay has its special merits and defects ... The most richly satisfying essays are those which make the best not of one, not of two, but of all the three worlds in which it is possible for the essay to exist. Freely, effortlessly, thought and feeling move in these consummate works of art, hither and thither between the essay's three poles — from the personal to the universal, from the abstract back to the concrete, from the objective datum to the inner experience. The perfection of any artistic form is rarely achieved by its first inventor. — Aldous Huxley

To take up Huxley's closing sentiment, and if you will indulge my reference to Wikipedia, I understand the essay as a 'try', 'trial' or 'attempt' to put thoughts into writing using prose. Our attempts will take different forms and will occur at different points in the writing process. Our goal will be to travel to, to inhabit and to integrate the "three worlds in which it is possible for the essay to exist" — the personal, the objective and the abstract. Given Huxley's formulation, an issue we might address in considering, developing and performing our essays is how, in terms of method, evidence and logic, we move (freely) from the personal, to the objective, to the abstract.

I see the essay as a relatively short piece, between 1750 and 2000 words. However, in the digital age, and given that you will post the essay on our wiki, you may use multi-media to supplement your prose.

The essays may take any form that helps you attain your learning goals — for example, a thesis or dissertation chapter, an academic journal article, an academic essay (the traditional course "paper"), a conference presentation, a book review essay, a bibliographic essay, a dialogue, or a less traditional genre. Depending on the assignment option you choose, you may write a stand-alone essay, two stand-alone essays, or you may integrate the mid-term essay into the end-of-term essay to form a coherent whole.

Ultimately the essay, or essays, you write must have a clearly defined connection to the ideas and concepts raised in the course. As appropriate, I would like you to incorporate in your essay references to the question forums, keywords, syntheses or the class presentations.

    Essays: Protocol

    Mid-Term Essay
    If you choose to write the mid-term essay, please send me a concise, 500 words or so, e-mail (jim.collier@vt.edu) by midnight on Monday, September 12 that includes the following:

      • The form, or genre, the piece will take;
      • The central research question you will pose and will explore;
      • A one-sentence argumentative claim (Feel free to employ the standard: "In this essay, I will argue ...");
      • A brief description of the problem you have formulated that specifies the object of your inquiry;
      • A brief synopsis of the argument that you plan to make;
      • A preliminary list of selected central resources you may use.

    On receiving your e-mail, I will schedule a time to speak with you. Your e-mail will provide the basis for our conversation. As you continue to develop the draft, I am happy to speak with you at any time.

      Due: Please post the mid-term essay to the appropriate forum on the wiki by midnight on Monday, October 24;
      Length: 1750 to 2000 words;
      Citation Style: Depends on the form of, and audience for, the essay (the default style is the Chicago Author-Date system).

    End-of-Term, or Combined, Essay
    If you choose to write the end-of-term, or combined, essay, please send me a concise, 500 words or so, e-mail (jim.collier@vt.edu) by midnight, November 7 that includes the following:

      • The form, or genre, the piece will take;
      • The central research question you will pose and will explore;
      • A one-sentence argumentative claim (Feel free to employ the standard: "In this essay, I will argue ...");
      • A brief description of the problem you have formulated that specifies the object of your inquiry;
      • A brief synopsis of the argument that you plan to make;
      • A preliminary list of selected central resources you may use.

    On receiving your e-mail, I will schedule a time to speak with you about the essay. Your e-mail will provide the basis for our conversation. As you continue to develop the draft, I am happy to speak with you at any time.

      Due: Please post the end-of-term, or combined, essay to the appropriate forum on the Wiki by 3:05 on Friday, December 9;
      Length: 1750 to 2000 words (end-of-term essay); 3500 to 4000 words (combined essay):
      Citation Style: Depends on the form of, and audience for, the essay (the default style is the Chicago Author-Date system).

Exams

The exam is patterned on the comprehensive found in many graduate programs in the humanities and social sciences.

Exam questions will be based on any and all of:

    • The primary and secondary assigned course readings;
    • The postings to the wiki — question forums, keywords, syntheses;
    • The class presentations.
    • The exam questions you propose.

    Exams: Protocol

    Mid-Term Exam
    You are responsible for the readings, postings and presentations listed on the calendar from 29 August to 17 October.

    In an email to me (jim.collier@vt.edu) by no later than noon on Friday, October 21, please provide three to five questions that you would like to answer on the exam. Using my discretion I may, or may not, use the questions in whole, or in part, on the exam. In your email, please let me know when you would to take the exam.

    Please select a 48-hour period beginning at noon on either October 25, 26 or 27. I will send you four questions by email by noon of the day you select. The exam is open book, browser and notes. You will limit each answer to 1000 words (2000 words total). You may cite sources. You have 48 hours to complete the exam, no longer.

    Please send me your exam as an e-mail (jim.collier@vt.edu) document (.docx .doc or .pdf) attachment.

    End-of-Term Exam
    You are responsible for the readings, postings and presentations listed on the calendar from 24 October to 5 December.

    In an email to me (jim.collier@vt.edu) by no later than noon on Friday December 2, please provide three to five questions that you would like to answer on the exam. Using my discretion I may, or may not, use the questions in whole, or in part, on the exam. In your email, please let me know when you would to take the exam.

    Please select a 48-hour period beginning at noon on either December 6, 7, 8. I will send you four questions by email by noon of the day you select. The exam is open book, browser and notes. You will limit each answer to 1000 words (2000 words total). You may cite sources. You have 48 hours to complete the exam, no longer.

    Please send me your exam as an e-mail (jim.collier@vt.edu) document (.docx .doc or .pdf) attachment.

Philosophy of Science and Technology