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Tutor profile: Wil H.

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Wil H.
Cambridge Philosophy student and Tutor
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Questions

Subject: Writing

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Question:

How can I structure a response to an essay question?

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Wil H.
Answer:

When answering an essay question there are two main structural areas to address: the overall structure of the argument, and the internal structure of the individual points. One way in which you can try to structure an argument in an essay, using a three part structure, is by using Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis. In this way you can develop your own argument whilst showing an understanding of the other side of the argument and a deeper understanding of the subject. The thesis of the argument is not your the main point you are aiming to conclude with but is simply one way of interpreting the question. For example if the essay question was 'To what extent is human testing of medical products justified' your synthesis point could be that human testing is justified in all cases. Although this is an extreme point of view it shows your ability to understand alternative points of view and argue them. From this you can then move to your antithesis point which will be the direct opposition to the thesis. Using the example from earlier your antithesis could be that human testing is never justified in any case. This then gives you the opportunity to examine the other side of the argument and show that you are able to counter and argue in an antagonistic manor finding flaws in the thesis argument. Now you have set up the 'clash' of the debate your role as writer is to resolve this clash with the synthesis. This point is the crux of the essay and is your concluding point which finds a balance in the clash of the previous two points. Again continuing with the example your synthesis could be that human testing is only justified in certain extreme cases and not in others. By structuring the argument in this way you demonstrate a deeper understanding of the subject matter and build up to a far more finessed point in your conclusion which does not feel forced. With the overall structure of the essay decided you can now begin to consider the internal structure of these points. One way in which to do this is to use 'PEEL', which stands for 'Point', 'Evidence', 'Explanation', 'Link'. The 'Point' is the opening of the paragraph in which you lay out what the paragraph will be about. You can use the opening sentence as a topic sentence in which you summaries the main point, for example 'many believe that human testing is always justified due to the massive advances in medical science that this would lead to'. Once you have set out the 'Point' of the argument you then must provide evidence for this claim. This section is where you provide the material for discussion in the paragraph and bring in your examples. For example you may references cases in which human testing has lead to advances in medical science or use statistical data. The next step is then to 'Explain' how this backs up your point. The evidence on its own is not an argument, it only can become relevant and convincing once it is explained and interpreted; for instance showing how the cases if medical advancement were caused by human testing and could not have been done so otherwise, and thus we should continue doing this in the future. The final and most important step, which is often overlooked, is to 'Link' this point back to the question. In many students essays brilliant points are made, yet it is never made clear how this relates to the question. Even a simple sentence such as 'on the basis of the possible benefit to humans through science human testing should always be allowed in medical trials' is enough to show you are actively attempting to answer the question. By following these steps and remembering to check you are including them you can effectively, and clearly respond to any essay question regardless of the topic.

Subject: Philosophy

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Question:

Evaluate Cartesian Dualism as a theory of mind.

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Wil H.
Answer:

Cartesian Dualism as a theory of mind is the theory initially developed by Rene Descartes which argues that the mind is identified as a non-corporeal 'soul' which exists separately from the body and is the source of all thought for the person. These Souls are immortal and intangible, and, on Descartes' argument, survive the death of the body. However, this theory of mind is critically flawed for two main reasons: the first being the internal problem of skepticism which this leaves open, and the second is the problem of interaction that haunts any dualistic ontological theory. Descartes' grounds for this theory of mind is a two stage argument, which moves from the 'cogito' to an appeal to Leibniz' law. The first stage of his argument is to show that my mind cannot be doubted to exist, he argues that I can doubt everything I know on the basis of his evil deceiver argument except the fact that I am doubting. The very claim of skepticism is that I can doubt my knowledge, yet since doubting is a mode of thought I can never doubt that I am at least thinking; and therefore I must exist as a thinking thing and this is beyond doubt. Having established this Descartes questions the nature of the thinking thing that is left. According to Leibniz' law, two entities can only be identical if all the properties of one are also the properties of the other and visa vera. However, my mind has the property of being indubitable on the basis of Descartes' earlier argument, while my body can be doubted as I only know of it through the tertium quid of my fallible senses. Therefore, my mind and my physical property do not share the property of being indubitable and therefore are not identical. Thus, Descartes shows that my mind must exist as an entity separate from my body and establishes Cartesian Dualism. However, as Bertrand Russell points out this leads into a Skeptical problem as Descartes fails to adequately establish the existence of the mind as a thinking thing. When Descartes argues 'I think therefore I am', Russell would argue that he in fact claims to much. All we can observe from our introspective perception is the act of thinking, we never gain knowledge of the 'I' that is doing the thinking. Russell gives the example of seeing brown, when we see the colour brown all we can really claim is that 'brown is being seen' and not that 'I see brown'. Therefore, Descartes fails to establish that the mind exists as a thinking thing, undermining the core argument of Cartesian Dualism. This is a major problem for Cartesian Dualism as now Descartes is overtaken by his own universal skepticism and cannot establish the existence of the mind; and as he claims that the mind exists, as a separate entity, this is now shown to be false. However, even if Descartes could demonstrate the logical necessity of the existence of the mind as a separate substance Cartesian Dualism would still fail to overcome the twin problems of regress and interaction. The problem of interaction is often considered the key downfall of a dualist ideology as it claims that a non-physical, non-casual entity (the mind) can have a casual relationship with a physical body. Not only is Descartes vague about the nature of the body mind interaction but the very idea of the existence of such an interaction would violate the casual closure of the physical universe. Since Descartes does not deny that our thoughts and volition cause our actions, for example my thought of raising my arm leads to the physical manifestation of that thought, he must claim that the non-physical is causing events in the physical. Since the universe is a closed system of cause and effect no external interaction is impossible and thus the mental events cannot cause physical events. Furthermore Cartesian Dualism falls into David Marr's 'Cartesian Theater problem'. This highlights the way in which Descartes envisions the mind much like a homunculus in the theater of the mind 'watching' the body through the senses. Yet this raises the problem of how the mind homunculus is able to 'view' these events, does it have yet another homunculus within it watching through its senses? This then leads to a vicious regress through egos with the conceptual apparatus needed to comprehend the senses being regressed through infinite 'theaters of the mind'. In conclusion, although Descartes believes that he has found a solid foundation for his dualism in the basis of the logically indubitable existence of the non-physical ego, this is rapidly undermined by the internal and external problems of dualism. Descartes fails to establish the existence of the ego and thus falls into the skepticism that he aimed to avoid in the first place and cannot overcome the problems of regress and interaction. Therefore, Cartesian Dualism fails as a theory of mind as it cannot verify its two central claims: that the mind exists, and that it exists separately from the body.

Subject: Literature

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Question:

In what ways to do events in the political and social climate influence the literature produced in that period?

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Wil H.
Answer:

Many students make the mistake of understating the role in which social and political events shape and influence the literature of a period and due to this oversight find themselves unable to reach the higher grades they could easily achieve. In this discussion I will show three of the key ways in which context can shape literature, these being: commentary, reaction, and the shaping of an artistic philosophy. The first of these modes, commentary, is the most overt and the easiest to find in a text and may be found in satire and allegory as well as the presentation of historical events. If we take the Restoration theater as an example we can easily see how political events are commented upon and represented on the stage. In this time Kings Charles II returned from exile with his cavaliers and replaced the puritan rule of the protectorate under Cromwell. This lead to an renewal of Royalist theater best displayed by Aphra Behn's play The Rover. In this play the titular rover Willmore represents the royalist cavalier who was charged with the protection of the exiled prince. His libertine excess and charm makes him a representative of the faith in a new order of sexual liberation and excess that Charles II become synonymous with; and his favorable presentation as a lovable rogue indicates Behn's royalist tendencies. However, his acts of sexual violence, including the attempted rape of the virginal Florinda, shows the danger for women that Behn saw in this sexual liberation for men. In this way we can see how the political event of the return of the monarchy and libertine ideals is reflected and commented on in the literature of the period. The second mode of contextual expression is found in the reacts to and challenges the contemporary social context. Examining Othello as an example of a reaction to early modern values and attitudes we can gain a new and deeper understanding of the play. During the Early Modern period, entrenched societal values or identity dictated by ones social standing as identified by Iago at the beginning of the play were becoming undermined. Accompanied by the shift from the concrete realism of Platonic philosophy to the more relaxed and malleable view of identity and purpose of Aristotelian philosophy as the main church doctrine people were increasingly worried about the undermining of identity. Viewing the play through this lens we see Othello searching to form a legacy and identity on the basis of his social standing in a world in which this is no longer possible. Against Iago's nebulous sense of personal identity, indicated by his 'motiveless malignancy', and his manipulation of this new order of identity Othello is doomed to his tragic fate by his failure to bend to the new order. Thus, the play is a reaction against the changing social climate by showing how it leads to tragic ends; an understanding we can only gain by examining the social context. Finally, the idea of political events shaping an artistic philosophy may be harder to grasp when we study pieces in isolation, yet this is an indispensable tool for identifying trends in literature. For example, after the first world war the modernist writers believed that the western artistic climate had been irreversibly shattered. For T.S Elliot the 'European Mind' had been fragmented beyond repair and it is in this climate that he wrote his masterpiece of modernist poetry 'The Wasteland'. This poem shows the fragmentation of the European Mind through the fragmentation of its images. Using many incongruent voices and images Elliot shows his view of a social climate damaged beyond repair. Again, in Pounds writings we see him striving to form an ideal world out of the fragments of Classical Roman and Greek writing to salvage the European mind from the aftermath of the war. In this way the political context of the War formed the whole identity of a movement in literature, and without understanding the social context in which the modernists were writing we can never fully appreciate the fragmentation which characterizes these works of literature. Therefore, when examining a piece of literature we can never forget to bear in mind the political and social context in which it was written. Either as commentary on, a reaction to, or as the basis for the ideology the events that shaped the writers view of the world are deeply reflected in the writing itself; without this context it is impossible to fully appreciate the underlying motifs and meaning of the text.

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