Exams and Essay


Assignment Overview

During the term, you will complete three take home exams. The three exams correspond to the three units found on the course calendar. to This assignment has two options. Given your learning goals, please select carefully the option you will pursue. In order to establish a clear path through the course, once you choose one option you cannot choose the other option. Please make your choice by Wednesday, February 5 and let me know by email (jim.collier@vt.edu) how you will proceed.

    • Option One: Mid-Term Exam, Comprehensive Exam
    • Option One: Mid-Term Exam, Final Essay

Exam Goals

In taking the exams, we will examine the main themes, concepts and arguments found in our class. The goals of the exams are:

    • To pose, refine and answer questions on issues related to philosophy, science, technology and society;
    • To examine closely conceptions of, and the consequences regarding, science, technology and society given the philosophical frameworks we examine;
    • To practice a timed exam.

The exam follows the model of comprehensive exams found in many graduate programs in the humanities and social sciences.

Mid-Term Exam

Exam Protocol

For the mid-term exam, you are responsible for both the primary and secondary course readings (please refer to on the course calendar), the central questions posed by Question Leaders (please refer to the Central Questions page on the wiki) and the class discussions from 21 January to 25 February.

Your exam will consist of four questions. Please choose two questions on which to write.

You may use books, articles, and notes in taking the exam. You may not consult other people, or the internet, regarding exam questions. Work to maintain equal quality and depth of analysis in your answers to each of the questions. I want to hear your voice in order to assess your command of the readings and ideas addressed to the course to this point.

You have a 3000 word limit for the exam. You may distribute the number of words in your answers however you wish, but you may not exceed 3000 total words. Please begin your response with the verbatim statement of the question. (Just copy and paste your chosen question to the top of the answer page. Do not include the words in the question in your word count.)

You will be sent the exam by noon on Thursday, February 26. The exam is due by noon on Tuesday, March 3. I suggest writing and revising in small blocks of time—2 to 3 hours—rather than writing the exam all at once.

Please send your exam to me (jim.collier@vt.edu) as a document (.docx or .doc) attachment.

Comprehensive Exam

Exam Protocol

For the comprehensive exam, you are responsible for both the primary and secondary course readings (please refer to on the course calendar), the central questions posed by Question Leaders (please refer to the Central Questions page on the wiki) and the class discussions from 21 January to 7 May.

Your exam will consist of six questions. Please choose three questions on which to write.

You may use books, articles, and notes in taking the exam. You may not consult other people, or the internet, regarding exam questions. Work to maintain equal quality and depth of analysis in your answers to each of the questions. I want to hear your voice in order to assess your command of the readings and ideas addressed to the course to this point.

You have a 4500 word limit for the exam. You may distribute the number of words in your answers however you wish, but you may not exceed 4500 total words. Please begin your response with the verbatim statement of the question. (Just copy and paste your chosen question to the top of the answer page. Do not include the words in the question in your word count.)

You will be sent the exam by noon Thursday, April 30. The exam is due by 9:00 p.m.on Monday, May 11. I suggest writing and revising in small blocks—2 to 3 hours— of time rather than writing the exam all at once.

Please send your exam to me (jim.collier@vt.edu) as a document (.docx or .doc) attachment.

Essay

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 (emphasis mine).

To take up Huxley's closing sentiment (see also Essays of Michel de Montaigne), 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 being roughly 4500 words long. The essays may take any form that helps you attain your learning goals—an essay proper, a thesis or dissertation chapter, an academic journal article, an academic essay (e.g., the traditional course "paper"), a conference presentation, a book review essay, a bibliographic essay, a dialogue, or a less traditional genre. If you choose a traditional form for your work, say the academic journal article, you should follow the conventions of that genre. We can discuss the particulars one you determine how you will proceed.

Ultimately, the essay you write must have a clearly defined connection to the ideas and concepts raised in the course. Moreover, given our emphasis this term on asking good questions, I will pay particular attention to the central question the essay poses and how you approach answering that question.

Essay Goals

In writing the essay, we will examine the main themes, concepts and arguments found in our class. The goals of the essay are:

    • To pose, refine and answer questions on issues related to philosophy, science, technology and society;
    • To examine closely conceptions of, and the consequences regarding, science, technology and society given the philosophical frameworks we examine;
    • To develop and revise and a cogent piece of prose that, in the spirit of essay writing, tries to convey significant thoughts and arguments.

Essay Protocol

The essay assignment will consist of three parts: 1) the Essay Proposal; 2) the Essay Draft; and 3) the Essay Realized.

Essay Proposal

Please send to me a concise, approximately 500-750 words, e-mail (jim.collier@vt.edu) by midnight on Wednesday, February 11 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 directs 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 during the following week. 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.

Essay Draft

Please send to me as a document attachment (jim.collier@vt.edu) a working draft—approximately 2500-3000 words— of your essay by midnight on Wednesday, March 25. I am less concerned that the draft be fully realized—the draft can be comprised of any combination of full sentences and paragraphs, notes, annotated bibliography, outline, and whatever prose you have worked out—than you have 2500-3000 words of content that may contribute to your final essay.

On receiving your draft, I will schedule a time to speak with you during the following week. 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.

Essay Realized

The final essay will be roughly 4500 words long and will follow the conventions of the form you selected.

The essay is due to me (jim.collier@vt.edu) no later than 9:00 p.m. on Monday, May 11.

Philosophy of STS