Essay Prompt 2

According to Socrates and Plato, we have knowledge when we know the essential definitions of things.  Write an essay addressing the following:  1) What are definitions and why would knowledge of definitions be valuable.  2) What are the two ways in which a definition can fail or be inadequate?  What happens if the definition is too narrow?  What happens if the definition is too broad.  3) To illustrate how Platonic definitions work, attempt to define religion.  What is the essence of religion or, alternatively, what are those features a) something must have to qualify as a religion, and b) that are shared by ALL religions.  Here are some things to keep in mind as you attempt to define religion:

  • You are NOT being asked about your own personal religious convictions, so a discussion of these should not appear in your essay.
  • You ARE being asked what features Hinduism, Buddhism, Native American religions, Ancient Greek religion, monotheistic religions such as Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, Shinto, etc., all share in common making them religions rather than sports, politics, government, business, etc., etc., etc..  Just as was discussed in the January 24 announcement on definitions, you are striving for precision and exactness.
  • Your definition should be precise and exact enough to explain why atheism is NOT a religion.
  • While believing in God, gods, spirits, ancestors, cosmic forces, etc., might be essential features of religion, your essay should NOT focus on belief.  Belief is only one characteristic or feature necessary for something to count as a religion.  What other things must be in place for something to be a religion?  I am particularly interested in definitions that recognize the role played by the formation of a community, ritual, and ceremony (I've here given you a big hint).
  • Be careful of the word faith in attempting to define religion.  That is a concept largely unique to Christianity and Islam and therefore is not shared by ALL religions.
  • Remember that there are forms of Buddhism that believe in no God, gods, spirits, or afterlife.  Similarly, Judaism has no official doctrine of the afterlife.
  • Be careful of the word sin.  That is not a concept shared by all religions.  
  • You may not use a dictionary or any secondary sources for this assignment.  I want to see you making the attempt to think and develop your own definitions.
  • To prepare for this assignment you will need to review the 1/24 announcement on definitions and the Week 3 lecture.


Your essays should be written for an audience that has not read the material, attended the lectures, nor seen the prompt.  Imagine you're teaching the material to someone completely unfamiliar with the material, prompt, or lectures.  This will lead you to explain things clearly and thoroughly.  For example, you will need to repeatedly mention the name of the philosopher throughout the essay and should not immediately respond to the questions in the prompt without posing these questions in your essays.  

6. You may NOT use secondary sources of any kind for this assignment.  Your essays should be based entirely on class lectures and the assigned readings.  This includes dictionaries and internet sources.  

7. Quotations must follow proper MLA format and should be used sparingly.  The majority of your essays should be in your own words.  If you quote me you must mention me by last name before the quotation, use quotation marks, and cite the day this was said, or the lecture and page number.  Likewise with the philosophers you're writing about.  

Essay Prompt 2

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8. Your essays must contain a proper thesis statement telling your reader what you will discuss.  

9. Your essays must address the questions in the prompt in the order they are presented in the prompt. 

10. Your essay must be well organized, free of awkward sentences, and must use proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling.  Your essay should be broken into paragraphs addressing specific points.  Your essay should be free of slang and abbreviations.  

11.  Your essays should not contain any numbered or bullet points, but should be written in the form of an essay with distinct paragraphs addressing distinct points.  

12. Paragraphs should be spaced exactly as the rest of your essay (e.g., there should NOT be four spaces between paragraphs, only two).  You will need to adjust your word processing program to avoid this problem.  

13.  Your thesis statement should NOT be a "grabber" like "Since the beginning of time, mankind has wondered..."  Stick to the topic the prompt asks.  A good thesis statement has the following structure:  "In this essay I will discuss Heidegger's account of the worldhood of the world and how tools take on the meaning and significance they have."  It tells your reader exactly what you will discuss.  





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