University of Massachusetts, Boston
First Paper Topics for Meaning of Life Seminar Spring 2022
PHIL 207G-01C CRN 9530
You must write a 5 page (1500 word), double spaced and typed paper on one of the
following topics from Section A or from Section B. There are two different formats of
paper possible. The first set of options are more traditional papers. The second set of
options include dialogues that you should create. Make sure to have a 5-page length paper
(one line at the top of the 5th page doesn’t count, nor does enlarging the font!)
Make sure to send only MS Word documents. Microsoft Office is available free from UMB.
Do not send pdf, Apple pages, Google docs or other formats please.
Draft due date: Friday, March 4, (by 6 pm, or earlier. No drafts accepted after this time)
Paper due date: Tuesday, March 8, by 6 pm
In these questions you are asked to state and explain the author’s views on the subject.
You are also asked to spend at least one of the pages explaining and defending your own
view of the matter. Accuracy, clarity, and evidence of careful thinking, as well as the
cogency of your position are the crucial features in these essays. If you intend to submit
this paper for WPE consideration, ensure that you spend enough space showing your
understanding of the central concepts without resorting to mere paraphrase or summary.
One draft must be submitted at least four days before submission.
Be sure to use direct quotes to reinforce your interpretations.
In “My Confession”, Leo Tolstoy admits going through a mid-life crisis at age 50.
Explain the background and source of this crisis, showing how he uses a story to
highlight his sense of loss, and the emptiness of traditional solutions. How does
Tolstoy resolve his existential crisis of loss of meaning and overcome his earlier
problems? What sort of questions might an atheist raise to challenge Tolstoy’s claim
that “without faith, one cannot live.” (p14, “The Meaning of Life: A Reader, ed.
Klemke and Cahn). Do you agree with Tolstoy’s theistic claim that only faith in God
can enable humans to escape from the specter of meaninglessness? Why or why not?
According to Louis P. Pojman, theism (if true), provides eight theses which are
advantageous to humans. In the case of four of the theses, unpack what these claims
involve and why they can supply a sense of meaning to humans. Can some of these
theses be attained through secular worldviews? If so, which ones and why? Why
does Pojman think theism is a better option than secular approaches when it comes
to meaning of life issues? What difficulty does Pojman anticipate; how does he deal
with it; and do you think Pojman’s stance is convincing? Why or why not?
Delving into Christopher Gowans’ “The Buddha’s Message”, describe how Buddhism
(and its central teachings) can offer a pathway out of suffering. Is working toward
nibbana (Nirvana) the real gateway for living a meaningful life? Is such a universal
approach possible across different cultures? What tensions, if any, do you discern
between a Buddhist view and a Western perspective on life? What do you see as the
strengths and weaknesses of Buddhism’s stance?
Exploring Henry Rosemont’s “The Confucian Way”, explain how the self as a
“relational being” gains meaning through his/her virtuous relationships with others.
In what way is Western individualism inferior to the concept of Li or virtues like Ren in
supplying the self with a deep cosmic purpose? Is living virtuously according to
societal rules a good route for living a meaningful life? What are the benefits and
downsides to such a Confucian approach in an individualistic society such as the US?
In these questions you are to imagine the dialogue depicted. You should construct the
conversation that would take place between the interlocutors, occasionally using specific
quotations where appropriate. This approach demands that you anticipate criticisms of the
respective positions and bring them to the fore in the dialogue.
Imagine Tolstoy meeting in a café with a close atheistic friend. He is trying to explain
to his companion why he has lost hope in all worldly meanings and his existential
crisis which flows out of his sense of confusion. And he divulges how his turn to God
led to a strong sense of meaning. Write a dialogue of how the conversation goes and
how the atheistic friend raises some objections (along with how you think Tolstoy
might try to defend his theism in response to his friend’s challenges). Place yourself
there as a third person, a bystander to their conversation, and explain which person
you tend to side with and why. (Be sure to weave in some direct quotes from
Tolstoy’s “My Confession” but also explain some of Tolstoy’s views in your own
Imagine Pojman (a.k.a Lois Hope Walker) chatting with an atheist who sees God as an
outdated, demeaning notion which ought to be eliminated. Construct a conversation
between Pojman and the atheist by delving into Pojman’s defense of theism as a
more meaningful way to live life in contrast to secularism. (Don’t try to cover every
one of his 8 theses. Rather explore about three or four and try to give some depth to
them by using Pojman as a mouthpiece for supporting them). Also include how the
atheist might try to challenge Pojman’s defenses of theism as more meaningful than
atheism. (Tie in some direct quotes from Pojman’s essay “How Religion…). Last but
not least, imagine you are a bystander hearing them debate this topic. Where would
you stand and why? Be sure to defend your own position.
Construct a dialogue between a friend who just converted to Buddhism and another
who is skeptical of such an approach. Use Gowans’ “The Buddha’s Message” as a
main launching pad for some depictions of Buddhism as a worldview and make sure
to cover some key beliefs and practices of Buddhism along with what it seems to be
suggesting about living a more meaningful life. How might the Buddhist’s friend
respond if she is skeptical? If you were to jump into the conversation, what might you
add and who would you tend to side with and why?
Imagine you run into a friend and they ask you about the Meaning of Life course you
are taking. They ask you why Confucianism is included and how it can supply
meaning. Construct the conversation which follows by wielding Rosemont’s “The
Confucian Way” as a centerpiece for where you garner your points about
Confucianism. Also include in the dialogue challenges your friend might raise about
the Confucian point of view, especially coming from a contemporary Western stance.
How might you try to defend Confucianism in the wake of such raised issues? In the
end, do you think Confucianism can supply valuable meanings in 2020? Why or why
- Due Date
- Section A
- Question 1
- Question 2
- Question 3
- Question 4
- Section B
- Question 5
- Question 6
- Question 7
- Question 8