Midterm Examination


Hardcopy answers to exactly five of the following nine questions (at least two from 'Group A' and at least two from 'Group B') are due in class Wednesday, 3/17, in hardcopy and stapled. Except for the Extra Credit question, each question is worth 40 points. I do not mind if you work in groups to help you think about these questions, but your answers must be your own. Make sure that the questions you are answering are clearly indicated, and be sure that each answer is complete, well-expressed, clear, and precise. If you have any questions or puzzles, or require clarification, do not hesitate to contact me (berkich@gmail.com; 3976, 944-2756). Indeed, I would be delighted to entertain questions from you about these questions, none of which are trivial. While I am happy to discuss the questions and readings, I will not, however, comment on or give advice about rough drafts. That said, I strongly encourage you to share rough drafts with one another for specific criticism and advice. Discussion groups really are a good idea. I'm not sure the GroupMe suffices on this, but it is a start.

You must observe the requirements.

The following maximums and minimums must be scrupulously observed:

  • No less than 10pt font.
  • No less than 1.5 line spacing.
  • No less than 1 inch margins on all sides.
  • No more than two full pages for each answer.

Note that these are maximums and minimums only. You may, for instance, use less than two pages for each answer or use greater than a 10pt font. That said, each answer is worth up to 40 points; you should find yourself having to carefully edit and rephrase to keep under the two page maximum. Remember that these are essays in philosophy: no flowery phrases, no cliche beginnings such as "Since time began...". Get to the point quickly and with precision. Keep your sentences short. Explain everything. Imagine you are writing for an untutored freshman with the attention span of a gerbil. Our Writing Philosophy has some helpful links, but just bear in mind that your goal above all is to be as clear as possible. This is important. You have to make each and every word count. It's generally more difficult to write a clear and complete answer in less space than more. Finally, please note that quotes are not allowed under any circumstances. You simply don't have the space for them, nor is 'padding' answers with quotes a useful strategy.

You must think well and express yourself clearly.

It is crucial that you have a very clear conception of

  1. What is being asked; and,
  2. What is required, by the question, to provide a thoughtful, clear, and precise answer.

I am happy to help you with (1), but (2) is entirely up to you. This is your opportunity to think, and think well, about the various issues we have discussed.

Put another way, very little of this exam is strictly regurgitative. I assume at this point that you have mastered the readings and now ask that you begin to go beyond the readings in your own thinking about these issues.

I suppose that means this exam is quite unlike what you ordinarily encounter. I stand ready to help all I can, but ultimately you are on the line to demonstrate your capacity to think well and clearly about these issues.

You cannot cram this exam.

Finally, I very much want all of you to do well on this examination, so please, please do not wait until Monday March 16th to begin working on this exam. Granted, nearly everyone procrastinates, but, trust me, this is not the sort of exam you can do well on at the last minute, if only because you have to think about your answers. I give you plenty of time to work on the exam for a reason.

My advice is to sketch or outline answers to the five questions you select today, let them stew for a couple of days, and come back to them midweek to begin the process of filling them out. Set a schedule to have rough but complete drafts done and ready for polishing at least by March 15th. In short, spread the assignment out over the next two weeks and only work a few hours at a time on it: You will find it remarkable how much work your mind continues to do on your answers even when you are not consciously attending to them, and your answers will be better for it.

Group A

1. Loving the Good, or Just Good Loving?

What is the relationship between the conception of love espoused by Socrates in the Symposium and Augustine's conception of love? How might Socrates and Augustine best defend their conceptions of love in response to Baier's criticisms of the misamorist tradition in "Unsafe Love's"? Are any of the contemporary conceptions of love we have studied compatible with the Platonic and Augustinian conceptions of love? Why or why not?

2. I Just Want to be Loved! Is that so Wrong?

Each of the speakers in The Symposium has something to say about what love is, and in doing so they give different, though not necessarily contradictory, answers to the question, why do we seek romantic love? In other words, it is one thing to understand what love is, quite another to understand why we desire it so strongly. For example, Pausanius would argue that we seek (higher) love because it leads us to greater human excellence: The Ancient Greeks, note, valued almost nothing more than the idea of fostering human excellence or virtue. Aristophanes, on the other hand, argued that we seek love because we seek the other half of us from which we were split by the gods.

Explain why we seek romantic love according to Socrates, Augustine, Firestone, Nozick, and Frankfurt. Setting theory aside for a moment, why do you seek, or why have you sought, romantic love? Which theory (of all those we've considered) comes closest to the reasons you give? Explain your answer.

3. Don't Turn on the Red Light

In what ways is Theano's advice consistent with (supported by) Firestone's account of love and her critique of the expression of love in a patriarchy, and in what ways is Theano's advice inconsistent with (not supported by) Firestone's account and critique? Is Theano's advice worthwhile today or have things changed so much that her advice should be rejected? What hasn't or has changed, as the case may be? In what ways might the feminist critique of marriage--that it is nothing more than a form of legalized prostitution--be true or false today? Of all the theories of love we have considered this semester, from ancient to contemporary times, which one best justifies the common view that marriage is the necessary outcome of romantic love? Conversely, which theory is most directly incompatible with this view? Explain your answers.

4. Our Better Half

We argued in class that the fanciful, maybe also fantastic story Aristophanes tells in the Symposium is too readily dismissed as absurd insofar as it captures deeper truths about the experience of romantic loving, truths any short list of which might include,

  1. Not having a lover can often leave us feeling incomplete or insufficient (witness the pathetic incels movement.)
  2. Not having a lover is frequently accompanied by feelings of longing and desire for what is apparently missing in our lives.
  3. Falling in love feels very much like having discovered that perfect fit to our puzzle piece, somehow completing us or making us whole.
  4. Being in love makes us feel powerful, perhaps even invincible.
  5. Losing a lover, whether by disaster (death) or betrayal (cheating), feels like having a part ripped from us, leaving us staggered and wounded.

Take all of these as givens by Aristophanes. That is, just assume that they are true regardless of whether you agree with them or not. If they are true, then, it must be possible for a theory of love to explain why they are true without resorting to bizarre or implausible mythology in the process. Of the contemporary theories of love we have considered--Singer, Firestone, Nozick, Baier, and Frankfurt, specifically--which one best explains (justifies, rationalizes, or would otherwise predict or entail) these presumed facts? Precisely how does the theory justify each of the above truths? Are there points on which the justification is lacking? How might you revise the theory to better justify these truths?

5. The Rules of Love

In the Symposium, Pausanius argues that the customs and laws attached to expressions of sexuality and romantic love are revealing:

I should point out, however, that, although the customs regarding Love in most cities are simple and easy to understand, here in Athens (and in [b] Sparta as well) they are remarkably complex. In places where the people are inarticulate, like Elis or Boeotia, tradition straightforwardly approves taking a lover in every case. No one there, young or old, would ever consider it shameful. The reason, I suspect, is that, being poor speakers, they want to save themselves the trouble of having to offer reasons and arguments in support of their suits.

By contrast, in places like Ionia and almost every other part of the Persian empire, taking a lover is always considered disgraceful. The Persian empire is absolute; that is why it condemns love as well as philosophy and sport. [c] It is no good for rulers if the people they rule cherish ambitions for themselves or form strong bonds of friendship with one another. That these are precisely the effects of philosophy, sport, and especially of Love is a lesson the tyrants of Athens learned directly from their own experience: Didn’t their reign come to a dismal end because of the bonds uniting Harmodius and Aristogiton in love and affection?13 [d]

So you can see that plain condemnation of Love reveals lust for power in the rulers and cowardice in the ruled, while indiscriminate approval testifies to general dullness and stupidity.

Are his conclusions borne out by our contemporary customs and laws regarding expressions of sexuality and romantic love? Why or why not? Be sure to explain your answer using specific examples.

Group B

6. He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

What is Nozick's account of love? How does his account differ from Firestone's? Of the two accounts, which is the most philosophically defensible? Why? Firestone couples her account of love with a feminist interpretation of freudian psychology to argue that men cannot love. Suppose, however, that we substitute Firestone's account of love with Nozick's. With Nozick's account instead of her own, could Firestone continue to argue that men are incapable of love in a patriarchy? Why or why not?

7. Peeling the Onion of Love

In class I argued that each of the contemporary accounts of love we have considered presupposes the one previous to it. That is, Singer's account is entailed by (contained in) Firestone's, Firestone's by Nozick's, Nozick's by Baier's, and Baier's by Frankfurt. Using concrete examples, explain each of these entailments, if you think they hold. Where you think they fail, give counter-examples to show it.

8. The Elephant in the Room

We have argued that most of the accounts of love we've considered this semester at best get only part of the story of love right. In particular, we argued that many theories of love give a necessary, but not sufficient, condition on love. For example, recall Firestone's account whereby love is a state of mutual vulnerability. It may be true, then, that

If X loves Y, then X and Y are mutually vulnerable to one another.

Indeed, let us just simply grant for the sake of argument that love implies mutual vulnerability. That is, let us grant that mutual vulnerability is a necessary condition on love. It seems another and much more difficult proposition to accept that mutual vulnerability implies love. That is, mutual vulnerability does not also seem to be a sufficient condition on love, since it seems false to say that

If X and Y are mutually vulnerable to one another, then X loves Y.

To show this, all we need is an example where we have mutual vulnerability, but no love. Give such an example to show that Firestone has at most captured a small part of the phenomenon of love. Can you conduct similar analyses for Singer, Nozick, Baier, and Frankfurt? If so, do so. If not, do you think the theory indeed fully accounts for love? Why or why not?

9. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds

Use Frankfurt's account of love to explain and justify Shakespeare's famous Sonnet 116.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle's compass come:

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Is the thesis you find expressed in Sonnet 116 true? Using examples, explain why or why not.

Extra Credit (20)

Frankfurt claims that

  1. We have freedom of the will.
  2. Our wills are determined by what we care about.
  3. We care about what we love.
  4. What we love is outside our immediate control.

These claims appear to be mutually incompatible. That is, it seems they cannot all be true together. Is there a way to understand these claims so they are compatible? If so, how?