Pharmakon is American University's journal of philosophy, open to all undergraduate students of any field of study. The journal is meant to serve as a forum for discussion about philosophy and its application across disciplines.
Spring 2011, Issue #3
Faculty advisor: Lauren Weis
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- Happiness and Individuality in Mill
Julio Sharp-Wasserman, Pomona College
In this paper, I identify two competing types of utilitarianism present in John Stuart Mill’s writings, hedonistic utilitarianism and objectivist utilitarianism. His hedonistic utilitarianism commands the maximization of happiness, and his objective utilitarianism the maximization of individuality. I compare the effectiveness of these to two forms of utilitarianism as justifications for individual liberty as defined in Mill’s Harm Principle. I conclude that his objective utilitarianism is superior in this regard because it alone can justify his crucially important voluntary slavery exception.
- Very (Un)Illuminating: An Evaluation of Paul Churchland's Response to the Knowledge Argument
Jonathan R.S. Barker, Wake Forest Univesity
Professor Churchland has opposed Mary Story-style arguments against physicalism by constructing an argument he believes to be analogous to the Mary Story; because the conclusion of his analogous argument is absurd, he suggests that we dispense with similar from knowledge. I argue in this paper that first, Churchland’s parody argument fails to distinguish between knowledge of what it is like for an agent to experience a certain quale and knowledge of the object that causes the quale, second, I will suggest another, more charitable reading of Churchland’s argument against the Mary Story, and argue that this second reading does little to help his position; third, I will consider a distinct but related argument proposed by Churchland, that when Mary leaves her room she gains only knowledge by acquaintance and not propositional knowledge, and conclude that, in fact, Mary gains both acquaintance knowledge and propositional knowledge, and that hence Churchland’s second argument fail.
- Plato's Epistemology as Empiricism
Sean Meslar, Christopher Newport University
Given the extreme importance of Plato’s contributions to the foundation of contemporary Western thought, there are very few aspects of his philosophy that are unexamined and even fewer that are agreed upon universally. One exception to this rule concerns Plato’s epistemological views, namely that his theory of the Forms and divided reality constitute what would contemporarily be called a form of rationalism. It will be the goal of this essay to demonstrate the opposite of this belief, that Plato’s epistemology as expressed through the doctrine of recollection constitutes an empiricist view of knowledge.
- The Metonymy of Transcendence: Derrida and the Diamond Sutra
David W. Pritchard, American University
In The Diamond Sutra, the Buddha says, "the perfection of transcendental wisdom is not really such." The Buddha continually renounces cornerstones of Buddhist thought as being merely names for otherwise inexpressible concepts. Using Derrida's discussions of the supplement in Of Grammatology, I argue for a consideration of transcendence as a metonymic rather than metaphoric operation in Buddhist thought. Ultimately, the idea of "transcendence" is not one of a one-to-one correspondence, where one person moves beyond, to meaning; rather, it is the constant excess of meaning always already exceeding its nominal manifestation—a transcendence of, not to, meaning in discourse.
Spring 2009, Issue #2
Faculty advisor: Lauren Weis
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- Toppling the Jenga Tower: A Critique of Nozick's Theory of Holdings
Chris Lucibella, American University
Proponents of an unrestricted free market and of a minimal state frequently use the philosophy of Robert Nozick to criticize government action. While this has obviously harmful ramifications for any project of social welfare, it alo rests on tenuous philosophic justifications. This paper seeks to analyze the theoretical shortcomings of Novick's theory of holding, a fundamental premise in his political philosophy as described in Anarchy, State, and Utopia. It concludes that, because of theoretical as well as practical shortcomings, Novick's theory of acquisition and transfer is untenable as the basis for a rational theory of distributive justice.
- Hegel, Subjectivity, and Metaphysics: A Heideggerean Interpretation
Sean Castleberry, George Mason University
The goal of this essay is to explicate Martin Heidegger's metaphysical critique and interpretation of G.W.F. Hegel's thought. This explication will include a discussion of Heidegger's view on Hegel's conception of subjectivity, dichotomy, and self-consciousness. For the sake of presenting a concise essay, I will present only a few of Heidegger's major texts concerning Hegel. Two of the most essential texts analyzed in this essay are from Heidegger's later years. These texts include the Four Seminars and "The Onto-Theo-Logical Constitution of Metaphysics." The most important issue will be to demonstrate the fundamental dilemma that Heidegger finds in the thinking of Hegel. Though Hegel brings metaphysics to its highest achievement, Hegel still lacks the ability to demonstrate the grounds of metaphysics because of his own entanglement in the history of subjectivity.
- Descartes' "Traditional Epistemology"
Amanda Hale, Auburn University
In Descartes' "Traditional Epistemology," I examine how Stanley Cavell's explanation of traditional epistemology, as described in The Claim of Reason, is exemplified in Descartes' "Meditations." I use what Cavell provides in The Claim of Reason as a guide to examine the way in which Descartes presents skepticism.
- The Moment in Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Kiersten Batzlu, American University
A close reading of Nietzsche's description of the Moment in Thus Spoke Zarathustra illuminates the way that we ought to think about the eternal recurrence. The Moment, as Nietzsche develops it as both a temporal and spatial entity, helps to illuminate the eternal recurrence of a perpetual reaffirming of the self.
- Heidegger's Secular Fall: How to Read Das Man
Joe Rees, American University
Many commentators are extremely critical of Heidegger's ambiguous conflation of Being-with and das Man in Being and Time. The text of Division One, Chapter Four shifts between an ethically neutral and ontologically necessary account of Dasein's Being-with-others and ethically saturated and contingent account of the same phenomenon, leaving the reader confused as to whether Heidegger is accepting sociality as a necessary and inexorable condition of human existence. In this paper I identify the point of confusion in Heidegger's text and survey the dominant exegetical treatments of the text,which usually only takes one of Heidegger's two contradictory claims as true. I then posit an alternative hybrid reading of the text in which the two dominant readings are integrated. I argue that, though Heidegger's text is confused, the underlying idea is consistent, and what manifests as a logical contradiction in the text masks what is evidently Heidegger's actual claim that the human condition is inherently in conflict. Dasein is necessarily fallen, yet necessarily strives for authenticity.
- On Appeals to "Ordinary Language"
Ilhan Zeybekoglu, Tufts University
In recent decades, the philosophical tradition known as "Ordinary Language Philosophy" popularized in the middle of the 20th century by philosophers such as J. L. Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein, has dissipated substantially, in large part, due to post-Gricean developments in systematized linguistics and philosophy of language. I think, however, that much of what has been in disrepute of ordinary language philosophy has, in fact, little or nothing to do with (many of) the real philosophical concerns of ordinary language philosophers, at least the sort exemplified in the works of Austin and Wittgenstein. I will suggest that many contemporary positions which do purport to deal with these "ordinary language concerns" are missing the point on an important and fundamental level.
Fall 2008, Issue #1
Faculty advisor: Ellen Feder
- Lesley Fredin, An Existential Analysis of The Zahir
This paper will catalogue main existential terms that have parallels in The Zahir by Paulo Coelho. The terms that will be explored in the paper are anxiety, the Other, the they, freedom, death, and storytelling. The paper will use sections from the writings of Søren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre in its analysis of these themes. It will conclude with a discussion of the meaning Coelho finds in life and question whether or not there is a similar meaning that can be found when reading the philosophers addressed in the paper.
- Fran Muhrer, Mythos for the Irrational Mind
This paper explores Plato’s use of myths in three major dialogues: The Republic, Phaedrus, and Phaedo. Why does Plato choose to utilize mythos alongside of logos in his dialogues? I argue that the placement and subject matter of the mythos in each dialogue indicate Plato uses mythos to drive home the points Socrates makes through logos by appealing to the irrational part of the soul.
- Joe Rees, Perception, Particular, and Universals: Aristotle’s Perceiver Explained
In Book II Chapter 19 of Aristotle’s work Posterior Analytics, Aristotle briefly mentions a puzzling assertion about his understanding of perception. He notes “though one perceives the particular, perception is of the universal”(Aristotle 1996, APo 100b1). This assertion is seemingly contradictory, since it seems to make two opposite claims at once. In this paper I explain the soundness of Aristotle’s claim in light of other of Aristotle’s concepts including Aristotle’s epistemology, the rational part of the soul, and universals/particulars and illustrate the consequences of Aristotle’s perception.
- Katie Young, Baruch Spinoza and the Marquis de Sade
This paper is an exploration of some of the differences and similarities between the Radical Enlightenment philosophies of Baruch Spinoza and the Marquis de Sade by virtue of discussing two major themes of their philosophy—metaphysical conceptions of God and of Nature and their ideas about religion and morality. Through a comparison of Spinoza and de Sade we see two different yet connected conceptions of the world spring forth from the philosophical environment of the Radical Enlightenment in Europe.