Your task is to write a philosophical dialogue – 1750 words(+/- 10%)- that is, a conversation between two or more imagined speakers (‘interlocutors’) debating a philosophical topic – on one of the topics below:
- “Life is not absurd because we can give our lives meaning.” [Camus’s and Nagel’s accounts of the absurd are relevant here]
- “Existence precedes essence” [Sartre]
- “Man is the being through whom nothingness comes into the world” [As discussed in Sartre’s Being and Nothingness Part One, Chapter One, V]
- “It is impossible to choose to do evil authentically, i.e., in good faith”
- “Human subjects are radically free.”
- “Sartre’s waiter is in bad faith.”
- “Other people are a fundamental threat to our freedom.”
Philosophical dialogues are written like scenes from a play or movie script, with characters speaking in turn. Specify where the action takes place, and include any context (scene descriptions, stage directions etc.) the reader needs to understand what is going on.
Your interlocutors can be the authors we’ve looked at this semester, or totally fictional characters, or both – it’s up to you. But you do need to demonstrate both familiarity with the arguments and an ability to construct a back-and-forth debate, with each interlocutor responding to the arguments of the other and trying to advance their position.
Although this is not an essay, you will still be required to reference the ideas you cite, and you will need to reference at least three readings.
Most of the criteria for a good essay apply to dialogue and drama. Key terms must be defined. Arguments must be developed logically. Evidence must be relevant. Proper punctuation and good grammar are required, etc.
1. Because of the nature of the course, your dialogue must be a debate, not a mere discussion of the essay topic. As in an essay, the arguments must collect and organize evidence that either proves or refutes a controversial point. In a debate, the interlocutors use arguments to arrive at the truth of the matter. A discussion, on the other hand, merely identifies what each interlocutor happens to believe without anyone attempting to convince the other(s) that their position is true.
2. In structuring your debate, bear in mind some generic patterns that it may follow:
(a) Interlocutor 1 is is arguing that Interlocutor 2 ought to adopt the position of Interlocutor 1on the issue in question.
(b) Interlocutor 2 is trying to refute the position that Interlocutor 1has already adopted on the issue.
(c) Both interlocutors are arguing that their own position on the issue is stronger than the other’s position. Being clear about the pattern will help
3. While your interlocutors are goal-directed in one of the ways specified in (2), they need not reach a resolution in their debate. That is, they may not come to any agreement by the end of the scene you write. Whether they come to a resolution will depend on the main issue on which they are debating, what they focus on in the debate, the fundamental commitments with which each one begins, and a variety of other factors. (Another factor is the size of the assignment – a shorter dialogue is less likely to yield a conclusive resolution in a debate.) There are numerous options for you to end debate, including the following: (a) Interlocutor 1succeeds completely in convincing (or refuting) Interlocutor 2 (b) Interlocutor 1is partially successful in convincing (or refuting) by gaining a concession on one significant point; (c) Interlocutor 1 and Interlocutor 2identify the crucial point on which they disagree fundamentally (or at least need to consider further in order to settle their disagreement conclusively); (d) one of the interlocutors gives up on the other because a resolution appears to be hopelessly beyond reach; (e) both interlocutors give up on each other because a resolution appears to be hopelessly beyond reach.
4. Your interlocutors should be portrayed realistically, but their conduct should be governed by their role as debaters. It’s fine if they speak in an informal tone and use contractions. But they must also use the kind of terminology and display the kind oflogical sophistication that difficult theoretical issues demand. You have some space to be creative when writing a dialogue or dramatic scene, but you must not forget that this is still an academic exercise.