The philosophic spirit is to approach a problem thoughtfully, looking at evidence before
making a decision; you try to bring some order to what you are looking at; you are trying
to see what is really there. You are trying to raise questions, propose and test ideas.
A first step is to define a problem to look into — something that interests you and that
you want to know more about.
In writing an essay in philosophy, one approach is to state a thesis, defend it, then offer
counter-arguments that critique your thesis, to see if it can withstand scrutiny. You try
to create powerful counterarguments and to make a strong case against your thesis, so
that you are not just attacking a “straw man” (or knocking down a weak argument). If it
meets strong objections, your thesis is tested, it begins to prove itself and becomes
more plausible. If the thesis fails — that is good information. The concluding summary
of an essay defending a thesis restates the discussion and the result of the argument.
This is not the only approach that makes sense!
You are free to explore whatever topics seem to emerge for you from the readings for
our class, but here are a few example questions that could help get things started.
3-5 pages, double-spaced — send by email to email@example.com by February 9
- Was there ever a time when human beings were purely biological and not
- What is the relationship between human intelligence and technologies? How does the
development of technology impact intelligence? Does intelligence change with the
spear, the hammer, the typewriter, the microscope or the cellphone?
- How would you define ethics, morality, or the idea of value? One of the big problems
in the class is ethics all by itself, before trying to understand the morality of cyberspace.
What is your approach to thinking about terms like good, right, just, fair, moral, ethical?
- People use the term ‘cyberspace’ to refer to the information space or the ideational –
social arena that a person enters while using computers to communicate and interact.
Does the emergence of cyberspace mean that human beings have entered into a new
general type of culture? How should we understand what is taking place?
- People use terms like ‘computer revolution,’ ‘information society,’ ‘artificial
intelligence,’ ‘virtual reality,’ to indicate a huge change that is taking place in
society. Should be we skeptical about the claim that society is undergoing an enormous
change? Are we exaggerating the importance of technology in our lives?
- What is meant by the term Cyberbullying? How does a person deal with a problem
- How do you understand encryption and the ethical problems surrounding encrypted
messages, as e.g. in the case of Apple vs. the U.S.? How do we balance security and
privacy? Should we weaken security protocols to make surveillance possible, in order to
protect against terrorism? Or should we resist government’s assertion that its rights
supersede the owner’s? Who do we trust?
- Philip Zhai in Get Real: A Philosophical Adventure in Virtual Reality (1998) connects
cyberspace to the Platonic tradition:
“Let us imagine a nation in which everyone is hooked up to a network of VR
infrastructure. They have been so hooked up since they left their mother’s wombs.
Immersed in cyberspace and maintaining their life by teleoperation, they have never
imagined that life could be any different from that. The first person that thinks of the
possibility of an alternative world like ours would be ridiculed by the majority of these
citizens, just like the enlightened ones in Plato’s allegory of the cave.”
Zhai argues that people immersed in cyberspace today seem like the people in Plato’s
cave (Republic 514a–520a). Do you buy this?
- Do you think that respect for truth has been impacted by the creation of the Internet
and the new forms of communication made possible by the World Wide Web? Is the
Internet a good thing for democracy or a danger to it? How do you see the Web
- How do you understand the principle of “net neutrality”? What is the “digital
divide” and how should it be addressed?