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Introduction to Philosophy

Example Evaluations of Test Essay Questions

Abstract: Further examples are taken from student tests to illustrate how essays are evaluated.

  1. Essays questions—general comments:

    1. Answering essay questions on tests should be similar to writing a paper where you reconstruct the ideas in terms of your own thought and words. Clarify your understanding of the question carefully, as if you were explaining the philosophy slowly and carefully to a younger brother or sister.
    2. If the question asks for your own analysis, then feelings, religious beliefs, and political views should be avoided unless you give good logical reasons, verifiable empirical evidence, or insightful examples supporting your views. For normal essay questions, an adequate answer to test questions requires about 400 to 450 words to completely answer; for short essays, an adequate answer of about 150 words is necessary to cover the subject.
    3. Some example essays taken from student papers may help illustrate how essays are evaluated in this class. Consider, for example, student answers to the following test question:

      What are the central ideas of James' article, What Makes a Life Significant? Explain why you agree with any of his main ideas, if any, and explain why you disagree with any of his ideas, if any.
    4. Main points by which this question is evaluated are as follows. At least five of the seven points from the article should be explained, and several examples should be described to illustrate some of the points.
      1. Subjective sympathy and empathy of friendship results in toleration towards others and gives life significance.
      2. The human emotions involved in the struggle of human existence far outweigh living the ideals of romanticism.
      3. The struggling heroism in the attendance to duty of the laboring people gives life value and results in human spirituality of courage and kindness.
      4. Happiness is a result of faith rather than intellect.
      5. The meaning of life is shown by the presence of inner ideals in the moral courage of dealing with vagaries of life.
      6. Factors of wealth prove not to be significant.
      7. The exercise of active will in the service of our aspiration is how we make progress and significance in our common life.
  2. Evaluation Summaries of Sample Essays

    These, then, are student answers to this question drawn from a recent philosophy class.
    1. F---Answer



      The central ideas of this article are ideas about life having meaning. What makes life significant is doing things that have meaning, living a meaningful life. I definitely agree with this idea. I have come to realize over life that you have to take time out to notice things. You have to reflect so that everything you do is meaningful. You have to step back and enjoy life, and I feel like so many times people get caught up in how busy their lives get that they forget to just life live. James says we fail to realize our values and meaning because of our external and insensible point of view. If we spend all of time looking on the outside of life, then we can never see the true significance of what lies within. We focus so much on getting ahead, and on all the more, more, more that we don’t take time to just enjoy. Significance refers to anything that has an impact on somebody's life. I truly believe that everything we do in the world can possibly be significant, and that what makes a life significant is taking the time to realize that exact statement.
    2. D---Answer



      I agree with his main idea that we the meaning and values sometimes divulged we think are meant for others. That we stand around and look around as if life's little examples are not meant for us, James writes, It is the basis of all our tolerance, social, religious, and political. The forgetting of it lies at the root of every stupid and sanguinary mistake that rulers over subject-peoples make. When we ignore things that are mistakes are lessons that are meant for others we are missing out on what could be valuable information for our selves. I agree with James and he his writings he tries to get the people to see the world as one with less selfish intent, less judgmental attitudes and cruelties toward others. He is saying do not just stand by you to can have this Jack and Jill effect. You two can love unconditionally follow these lessons that have been taught before now. Learn from the previous mistake drop the judgmental attitude and partake in this goodness so you to can feel what this conditional love is like to give and receive. Show more tolerance, be happier, do not be violent or assume the violence of another but live through the goodness and values we know and let go of all the bad that hold us back from being better people or loving others unconditionally. Be better friends, be loving and yes you can love more than one person on the level he is explaining when the person has a goodness in their heart that is beyond all the jealousy and hate that gets tangle up in our every day beings. Sidebar: I really enjoyed James and I could not find anything in this article that I disagreed with I really look forward to reading the other articles he had listed in his writings.
    3. C---Answer



      1. Life's Values and Meanings: I agree that we often get mired down by our own prejudices and shortsightedness that we don't see life's values and meanings. How wonderful it would be to look around and at each other with fresh eyes not affected with ancestral blindness and to be like the persons in James' writings that have enormous capacity for friendship and for taking delight in other people's lives. We often miss out on life's values and meanings by being narrow-minded. As James says we need to use our knowledge of this blindness to make us more cautious in going over the dark places. However, how bland and uninspiring the world would be without some sin and suffering. These sins and sufferings give us the inspiration to appreciate life’s values and meanings and makes life significant.

      2. Courage of the Everyday Person: James states that in God's eyes the things that make us different to each other, position in society, culture, intellect, the way we dress, the way we talk, the things we take pride in are so small as to be non-existent for Him. I agree that some people tend to over-think life and that makes life a dark area. The everyday person, who takes life as it comes, deals with the bad, enjoys the good and hopes for joy to come, helps make life significant.

      3. Ideas of Individuals: Wealth is not an indicator of a significant life. The soldier who does his duty, the person who lives and works as an unskilled laborer may be the noblest of all of God's creatures. These people give attention to duty and exhibit courage.

      4. Ideals: We all have ideals, some good, and some bad. The significance of ideals is using those ideals to get us through the rough spots. I agree with James' that it is more important to have the ideals and believe in them than it is to stay with old ideals that may be more comfortable.

      5. Culture, Courage, Ideals, and Joyful Sympathy: The ability to laugh and cry with others is important in life. It is important that humans have the ability to empathize and sympathize with others trials. We also have courage to deal with life's quirks. Culture, courage, ideals and joyful sympathy all work together to give life significance.

    4. B---Answer



      What Makes a Life Significant, is based on the central ideas of William James and how he perceives things as making life significant in it's sense (Archie & Archie, 2004). Significance is derived from how one puts the ideas of life into focus to come to the central idea that their life has much meaning and much to offer. The central ideas James discussed in his exert are the headings of Life’s Values and Meanings, Courage of the Everyday Person, Ideas of Individuals, Ideals, and Culture, Courage, Ideals and Joyful Sympathy (Archie & Archie, 2004). Each of his central ideas gives detail into life and how one can handle them.

      I agree with his ideas in Life's Values and Meaning because the section entails how we often, fail to realize our values and meaning because of our external and insensible point of view and to flatness and lack of zest (Archie & Archie, 2004). To often we get caught up in the insensible and thoughtless views of the world that we forget to provide greater emphasis and insight into our views. As a result in life actions that are taken occur with flatness and lack of zest failing to impose life's values and meaning forward. With this a sense of lacking significance occurs with the idea of Courage (Archie & Archie, 2004). Courage is an idea that is often unconsciously realized and exposed until something triggers it to arise. James classifies courage as bravery, patience, kindliness and dumbness of the unconscious natural man (Archie & Archie, 2004). To be courageous one must explicit bravery in order to defeat/accomplish the agenda set to make significance present. Courage imposes patience and kindliness to make aware the significance that can be a result throughout views and appropriate gestures applied. Dumbness of the unconscious man is imposed to be able to set aside other things going on and to become focused on the importance's at hand. These main ideas reflect James' central theme in trying to provide essence and reveal life's array to impose and express the significance that's waiting to be discover.

      The idea that I would disagree with is the Ideas of Individuals and the statement, all this is to tell us, in effect, that our lives are hard, barren, hopeless lives (Archie & Archie, 2004). No matter the person or circumstance, I don't believe that anyone's life is hard, barren or hopeless. With saying this, at different times life maybe viewed such as this, but isn't to be applied verbally to anyone's lives but our own if so wished. Everyone will experience things in life that may make them feel like one of these characteristics but noone deserves to have their lives characterized as so. I do agree with James that these characteristics in life aren't or shouldn't be withheld forever. But if so, what would be the meaning left in life, but misery without any significance in sight. James turned his views around with this idea presented to prove that life's offerings are to be enjoyed and not held down by how was once perceived to be.

      Each central idea discussed in the article by James, entails that everything in life depending on how one perceives, acknowledges, and deals with arising situations describes how life is viewed as significant. Significance is within the eye of the beholder and various aspects will be classified as significant and insignificant. James indirectly stated that one should be aware of their life, learn their way to deal with, and apply them to result in much significance to the meaning of life.

      Archie, John, & Archie, Lee. (Eds.). (2004). Reading for philosophical inquiry: An open source reader. Free Software Foundation.

    5. A---Answer



      According to James, life can be hard to enjoy at times. He points out a few things that we could do to see the good in life. He starts by explaining how we should love one another, no matter what. James points out that if two people can love one another unconditionally as husband and wife, then everyone else should be able to love them that way, too. He uses Jack and Jill as an example. If Jack can love Jill despite all her flaws and imperfections, then I should be able to love Jill, too. Jack doesn't necessarily have it easy. From the movie Just Married, You never see the hard days in a photo album, but those are what get you from one happy snapshot to the next. It is hard to love someone and never get tired of them. We should realize that, and approach our relationship with Jill the same way that Jack does -- with much patience and understanding, and an open mind.

      Second, James points out that we should realize life will not be easy. He gives the example of wanting to get away. When he gets to this place, it is total paradise. He loves everything about it. It's so peaceful, there are no worries, and death is nowhere in sight. As soon as he leaves, he was glad to be home. He finds this ironic because just a week ago, he couldn't wait to escape the monotony of his everyday life. I do the same thing. I'm so sick of going to school and having all these projects and papers, I can't wait to get home. Then, I'll get home and want to come back here. I'll graduate and want to come back to school. We discover that the grass is not always greener on the other side. We spend our time wishing that things would get better, and then we discover that better is too boring. James discovered this after much thought. Being on that vacation gave him no variety in his life. He had nothing to work for. Everything seemed planned out, and there seemed to be no chance of a surprise. It is strange, but sometimes, the stress of everyday life is often what keeps us going. We have to have competition or else there would be no reason to play the game.

      James finds that we must have courage, kindness, and patience to carry on. Some of the hardest working individuals, ones that you would think so unhappy, are the ones who enjoy life the most because they have courage and faith. They take their hardships in stride. James argues that we need, not only courage to understand life's significance, but ideals. There are, again, hard working, lower class people that James believes has their ideals set, and that we should learn from them. However, since these ideals are on the inside, we are often too blind to see them because of whatever prejudices we might have. There are many morally exceptional individuals who truly recognize the significance of life, but their inner soles may be forever kept secret because we are so quick to judge.

      Ideals are goals or aspirations that aren't necessarily defined. If people have them, though, they know it, and they use these ideals to keep them going. Solid ideals give their lives yet even more significance. However, recognizing an ideal novelty in oneself calls for intelligence, and not everyone has what it takes to find their own ambitions within themselves. It takes a lot of plucking, as James says. One must dig deep and be strong-willed. All things that James suggests -- culture, courage, ideals, and joyful sympathy -- are not any good alone. They would be best combined in a single person.

    6. A---Answer



      The central ideas of James' article of 'what makes a life significant' are many and varied and sometimes contradictory. I must say though that I found nothing to disagree with. Rather, I found he highlighted my thoughts and expanded them. As I list the main ideas I will comment and give examples of why I agree with them.

      1. We fail to realize the values and meanings of life and how they affect ourselves, because of our external and insensible point of view. We feel others should see our point of view but we fail to see theirs. It is the basis of all our tolerance, social, political and religious. A good example of this is in religion and the various denominations that proliferate. Catholics and Protestants in Ireland have been fighting each other for centuries over sectarian differences.

      2. We should accept others views as correct and try to see why they are. James says 'Every Jack sees in his own particular Jill, charms and perfections to the enchantment of which we stolid onlookers are stone cold'. As he says, who has the absolute truth, he or we? They say 'love is blind' but he asks who is to say we are the ones who are blind and he is the one who sees the truth. I know my dad often says of the 5 of my sisters who are married that because they are all so good looking, talented etc (from the world’s perceived point of view) that he thought they would have married better looking husbands. He is however aware that my sisters all think their husbands are handsome. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Pity we can't all see the beauty.

      3. We have a great cloud bank of ancestral blindness weighing down on us that stops us viewing others as having a significant life. Years ago in the southern states of America, black people were viewed as property; their only value in what they could be bought and sold for as slaves. Some of that mentality still lingers in places today but generally as the generations come and go this view is dwindling. For life to be meaningful you have to strive for it.

      4. James tells of a time he spent a week in a town that was almost perfect, beautiful grounds, lakes etc, Sobriety, industry, orderliness, prosperity etc. proving all the higher wants of man, Utopia almost. After that week though he welcomed his return to normality and after meditating on his feelings came to the conclusion that we had work and sweat and struggle to appreciate the value of life.

      5. What makes a life significant is not conditional on ones station in life. The rich man might not regard his gardener or his chauffeur as having any significance. The poor man might view the rich man as grasping and wasteful and frittering away his life. James does state that the poor and sometimes ignorant have a much better grasp on the value of life (a view shared by Tolstoy and others). As he says; 'they labor quietly, endure privations and pains, live and die, and throughout everything see the good without seeing the variety'. I know as a boy I valued greatly the bicycle that my dad and I built together as I earned money to pay for parts. It does help you to value.

      James puts it beautifully, in conclusion, by saying 'no outward changes of condition in life can keep the nightingale of its eternal meaning from singing in all sorts of different men's hearts'. Every life has significance. If we truly believe it, how our antipathies and dreads of each other, would soften down. If the poor and the rich could look at each other in this way, how gentle would grow their disputes! What tolerance and good humor, what willingness to live and let live, would come into the world.
Further Reading:
  • Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper explains the kind of reasoning necessary for writing a philosophy essay as well as detailing the stages of writing a philosophy paper. The tips on philosophy writing are well considered and clearly explained by Prof. Jim Pryor of New York University.
  • How to Write a Philosophy Essay briefly summarizes the organizational method of writing a philosophy essay. The site outlines a simple model to follow for the essay. Also, worth reading on the site is the page on “How to Write an Essay in Five Easy Steps.”
  • Writing Essay Exams explains how to a well written answer to an essay questions by the six most common types of questions and gives examples comparing essay answers. Tips for good essay writing are also enumerated by the Purdue University Online Writing Lab.
Top of Page

Philosophy is a complex linguistic activity that often hides its complexity in a plain style. All is not quite what it seems when we enter the busy world of philosophical writings. From reading contemporary philosophy journals, one first gets the impression of a serious world of logical argument. Philosophers calmly argue in a judicious and even handed fashion. For the most part they seek truth courteously, trying to remain obejctive, impartial and serious. The stately procession of arguments leading from premises to conclusions is the important thing. Locially sound arguments convince the reader by appealing to what is obvious, clear, or self-evidently true. The obvious truth speaks itself, and the philosopher simply consturcts an orderly channel throught which it can have its say. Jeff Mason, The Philosopher's Address (Idaho Falls, Idaho: Lexington Books, 1999), 2.

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