Directions: Write a 4-5 page reflection and analysis essay to one of the following prompts. Reflection and analysis papers require that you express your own personal reaction to the topic. You could describe whether or not you agree with the author’s viewpoint, and explain your opinion. You could apply the authors views to something that you’ve experienced in your life. For instance, you could describe an encounter you’ve had in nature and compare it to Emerson’s description of how human beings experience nature. A good paper will make direct use of the text. That is, at some point in the paper you should focus your attention on a specific passage or sentence in the reading and provide analysis and explanation of it (a rough estimate might be: 1 medium-length quote per body paragraph, or 1-2 short quotes per body paragraph). Your use of the text should be well-integrated into the overall development of your essay. I would advise you to spend some time writing an outline of your paper before you begin writing; it’s usually a good idea to have a sense of the overall structure of your essay before you begin writing out the details.
A good essay does not need to address each and every question in prompts (though you’ll probably want to take up several of them in your essay). Take the questions as a jumping-off point for your own thinking in the topic. Remember, these essays should demonstrate your own sustained reflection on the topic, so give yourself some time to turn the issues over in your mind before you begin writing.
Some questions to consider: What is an imperative? How do imperatives relate to the faculty of practical reason? What is a categorical imperative? How does it differ from a hypothetical imperative? What is the relationship between Kant’s notion of a categorical imperative and the moral law?
Some questions to consider: What does the FUL require? How does the concept of a maxim figure into this formula? How does FUL require that we not allow ourselves special privileges that we could not grant to everyone else? Do you think this is an adequate rendering of the moral law at its most abstract and basic level? Why or why not?
Some questions to consider: What does Kant mean when he claims that a human being exists as an “end in itself”? What is an end in itself? What does Kant mean by claiming that human beings are to be treated always at the same time as ends in themselves and never merely as a means? Do you find Kant’s discussion on this issue convincing? Why or why not?
Some questions to consider: What would it mean to live in a kingdom of ends? In what sense is it appropriate to think of a kingdom of ends as the result of full morality? Is the kingdom of ends a compelling idea to set as an ultimate goal for morality? Why or why not?
Some questions to consider: According to Kant, what is a good will? Why does Kant claim that a good will is good “without limitation” (4:393)? How does a good will differ from other good things? What are the fundamental attributes of a good will? Do you find Kant’s account of a good will convincing? Does it cohere with your considered moral judgment? Why or why not?
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Write an essay in response to Emerson’s conception of nature as contained in his 1836 essay “Nature. ”
Some questions to consider: What does he mean when he claims that “nature is the symbol of spirit”? What is the relationship between language (words) and nature? Is it true than an authentic encounter with nature can yield insight that exceeds much of the wisdom contained in book? Other possible themes to explore: solitude in nature, the meaning of ‘idealism,’ and Emerson’s discussion of ‘beauty.’
Reflect on Emerson’s discussion of religion in the “Divinity School Address” from 1838.
Some questions to consider: After giving this speech, Emerson was not invited back to Harvard for about 30 years. Is Emerson’s lecture an affront to religion or an authentic expression of it? What would religious experience be like if one were to try to put into practice the kind of religion that Emerson is expressing? What two aspects of Christianity does Emerson claim could be the basis for a renewed Christianity? Do you agree with these recommendations? Why or why not?
Some aspects of the lecture to consider: his denunciation of most active pastors in his day, his claim that official religion has ossified (and thereby falsified) the authentic meaning of Jesus’s message.
Write a response paper to Emerson’s conception of self-reliance, as described in his essay “Self-Reliance.”
Some questions to consider: What does it mean to be self-reliant? What are some characteristics that would mark a life of self-reliance. Do you find Emerson’s discussion compelling? Why or why not? Other possible themes to consider: the importance of nonconformity and individuality in his account of self-reliance; the tension between society and the individual in achieving self-reliance.