Monday, September 30, 2013

Paper 2

Our eventual goal in the class is to produce a term paper that offers a detailed analysis--and it need not be of something that is narrowly economic or political--of a particular topic of interest to you. In preparation for this, our next paper will aim at producing an analytical summary of a particular policy, issue, or topic. For this assignment, I want you to design an argumentative paper that explains and informs a general reader about your particular policy/issue. Do not list disjointed pieces of information about the subject, but rather make an informative argument about what people often misunderstand about your issue, how it is possible to clear up those misperceptions, and what is most important to know about your issue in order to understand it most accurately. In other words, you want to explore the argumentative potential of informational modes of discourse, rather than just list facts.
Do not feel that you are stuck with whatever topic you choose for the final term paper, however. In fact, I want us to use this assignment as an opportunity for teaching each other about various possible topics and the different approaches to them. Feel free to be creative and take risks: the ideal topic is one that interests you without being overly sensationalistic or controversial and that you can explore in a detailed, complex way. 
We will briefly share our findings with the class through short, informal, 5-10 minute presentations. Please prepare a small handout that distills your findings and then present it to the class. Hopefully, this will serve as a kind of "topics fair" that allows the class to explore a wide variety of different subjects that might be of interest to them as we lead up to the final paper.

For this paper, I ask that you include at least two academic sources (books or scholarly journal articles). You can use other sources--readings from earlier in the semester, substantive newspapers or periodicals found using the library database--but you must use at least two examples of academic writing. Do not cite encyclopedias (whether online or not), informational websites (, for example), or other websites found using standard web searches. You can read these for background information, but don't cite them as sources. The paper should be in the neighborhood of 4-5 pages, double spaced, in 12 point Times New Roman Font, with one inch margins all around.
Finally, remember that the more specific you can be, the better. Medicare is a better topic than health insurance in general; the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) is a better topic than Medicare in general; and a comparison of two specific cost-reduction schemes associated with IPAB is a better topic than IPAB in general.
Bring a rough draft (at least 3 pages) to class for peer editing this Thursday, October 3rd. We will start our informal presentations Tuesday, October 8th. The final draft of this paper will be due Wednesday, October 9th by 12pm.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

TBA reading for October 3

Read this rundown on the attack from survivors, and then check out this exploration of the history of militant attacks in Kenya. Finally, check out this analysis: how would you categorize it as an informal source of information? From what perspective would you say it is coming from?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

TBA reading 9.26

Here's a good run down of the Navy Yard shooting. This article covers the shooter's personal history and its interaction with issues of war and mental illness. As always, feel free to send additional links or articles, and I'll update the blog with them.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Essay 1

Essay 1: Analyzing the Arguments of Others

For this first essay, we will compose a short (2-3) page paper focused primarily on developing a thesis and supporting it. We will focus more on research later; for now, let’s just practice developing a claim and using textual evidence to prove it. For this essay, you can write about almost anything that has something of a connection to our readings or to our class discussions. Here’s some general topics you might consider writing about:

1. Compare and contrast the ideas of two different theorists we have read, and develop a thesis that shows how their different assumptions about ethics leads to different ideas about politics, economics, or philosophy. Don’t worry about explaining everything about their ideas. This isn’t a report, but rather a paper focused on developing your own argument. An easy way to approach this paper would be to pick a quote from each writer and focus your paper entirely on showing the important differences that develop from the ideas each writer expresses in those quotes.

2. Apply some of the ideas we have been discussing to current events. Pick an idea or two from a writer or two and attempt to explain what these show about a contemporary debate in current affairs. What would Hobbes say about the way we finance pharmaceutical research, for example. What would Mandeville think of restrictions on immigration? These are just a few examples of what you could write about. You could also combine this with option 1 and write about differences in how classical theorists might explain contemporary events.

3. Pick a provocative quote from one writer we have read and explain why it is significant for his argument. Does it reveal something essential that we otherwise would easily overlook? If you had a strong reaction to something one of the writers we read claimed, try to formulate in a more formal, analytic language what that is and then explain the nature of your reaction. What larger implications does this quote present?

Whatever option you pick, or whether or not you pick one of the above options, try to avoid falling into the twin dangers of offering a book report or a harsh polemic. Avoid opinionated language like “I think,” “I believe,” “is wrong,” “is right,” “is good,” “is bad,” “contradicts him/herself,” etc. Also avoid summarizing or listing a series of facts without connecting them back to your thesis or explaining why they are important. The easiest way to do this is to present a clear thesis that empathetically approaches your subject matter without becoming either overly deferential toward it or totally hostile to it.

I’ll primarily be looking for three things: a clearly defined and argumentative thesis; formal, analytic language; and a detailed analysis of the thesis and its implications. For citations, use MLA style (a works cited list with in-text citations). Bring a rough draft of ~2 pages for 9.19. The final is due 9.25 by 12pm. 

For more information on MLA, see here

Basic summary of MLA: It consists of a Works Cited list starting on the top of a separate page at the end of the paper, which contains all the various sources you refer to in the body of the paper AND ONLY those sources that you refer to directly--don't include works that you have read but do not quote from, paraphrase, or cite as evidence. To cite paraphrases, just place the author's last name and the page number at the end of the sentence in parentheses, with the period outside the parentheses [example (Freud 8)]. For quotes, just add in quotation marks around the direct quotation and place the citation again in parentheses at the end of the sentence. If you refer to the author in the sentence and are not referencing a specific page, then you do not need an in-text citation beyond the mention of the name.

The basic rule-of-thumb for MLA is to give as much information in the Works Cited as needed so that a reader can find your source (author, title, publisher, date of publication, title of publication if the work appears in a journal or magazine or newspaper, translator, etc.); for the in-text citations, list only as much information as needed to find the source in the list at the end of the paper. The custom is to start with author's last name and page number, then add a shortened version of the title, and finally a first initial if there is still confusion.

So: (Freud 8), (Freud, Dreams 8), and (S. Freud, Dreams 8) would be how we would provide an in-text citation for the following entry in a works cited list:

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. Ed. and Trans. by James Strachey. 
                  New York: Avon, 1998. 

TBA reading for 9.19

Hey all,

Here's some readings on Syria for next week. For a general background, see here. Here is an article that discusses Syria not in terms of Hutcheson/Smith, but in terms of John Stuart Mill, whose work in many ways builds on theirs.

We can always, of course, talk about issues in broader terms than the articles suggest. Also, feel free to email me with articles or anything else that seems interesting and I will post it on the blog as background for our discussion.

Update: for those interested in Smith's complex views on the relationship between selfishness, self-interest, benevolence, and morality, this article offers a good summary of various views of Smith's invisible hand and corrects some common misconceptions.