Select one of the quotations in the Options section below. Each selection offers some contribution to the discussion of the good life and the good regime in the Nicomachean Ethics and the Politics. With reference to those books compose an essay that endeavors to make sense of the selected passage by detailing the significance of the ideas contained therein, or some major element thereof, in the context of the broader argument of those books. Explain what you think the reader is supposed to learn from Aristotle. Essays should not, however, merely offer a descriptive summary of the things Aristotle says. Your essay must involve critical analysis and interpretative work of your own, offering an argument regarding Aristotle’s purpose or positions.
Structure your evidence and analyses in a fashion that generates an essay that is a cohesive and integrated whole, guided and organized by the position you mean to advance. Your first paragraph should state the thrust of your argument plainly and directly and not simply provide an insubstantial sketch of the sort of things you will kind of discuss. Having stated your purpose up front, dive right into your argument and get digging into the texts. Do not waste the short space allotted to you in this assignment by relating biographical facts, broad references to historical context, or sundry curiosities. Avoid long introductions or conclusions, excessive or overlong quotation, or other forms of fluff that pad for length.
Interrogate the assigned material and challenge yourself in an attempt to figure something out regarding the ideas and arguments it contains or entails. Consider drawing attention to an argument’s logic, limits or deficiencies, the meaning of key concepts, connections and tensions between parts of the texts, unspoken assumptions or implications, surprising insights or perplexing puzzles, &c., so that you are able to persuasively establish insights of your own that are interesting and not obvious. An essay that accurately offers a safe and simple observation, complaint, or restatement is less impressive than one that evidences a struggle with the texts and advances a more penetrating viewpoint, even if it happens to run into difficulties that you can spell out. You are at liberty to treat your chosen selection narrowly or broadly, or highlight some especially intriguing element within it, so long as you make your choices for the sake of putting your thoughtful engagement with the texts on display in the most impressive and compelling fashion. Stay focused so that you can provide a detailed, dense analysis of something specific, but do not restrict yourself to the immediate vicinity of the selected quote. Rather, assemble material from across the entirety of the books that you can show to be relevant to your chosen topic. It is always better to acknowledge complexity and offer a provisional argument than to oversimplify and exaggerate the scope and certitude of your conclusions. A modest but in-depth examination of some particular aspect of the selection under investigation is preferable to grand claims presuming to accomplish more than the assigned length possibly permits. Where different interpretations are conceivable, explain why one reading is superior to another.
Maintain a spirit of wonder as you approach the texts so that you may be open to learning something from them. Let the question, “Why would Aristotle say that?” be your starting point. Read the books in a generous spirit, supposing that Aristotle has reasons for writing what he writes, making an effort to understand his positions before passing judgment on them. Allow elements of the texts that seem disagreeable or confusing to serve as occasions for further reflection and investigation. Refrain from straightforwardly applying prefabricated interpretive frameworks, ideological lenses, or technical jargon foreign to the material under analysis. Avoid all reductionism. Nuance and even-handedness is preferable to simplification and one-sidedness. Some rhetorical adornment will enhance your paper, but avoid polemical excesses. Do I need to mention that rhetorical questions rarely make arguments worth making? Write clearly and proofread your essay with care. You may use the first person in writing this essay (e.g., “In this paper I argue that…”), but for the purpose of this assignment, it is immaterial whether or not you agree with Aristotle. You have no stake in approving or disapproving of any of the views expressed in the books, and do not try to flatter the instructor by adopting what you take to be his views (he would rather be corrected or learn something new). You only have a stake in demonstrating that you have worked through the texts and worked to put your best account of the significance of the passage under investigation on display.
Essays will advance arguments based on an attentive reading of the primary source texts and must be strongly supported with ample textual evidence. Incorporate quotations into your prose and remember that quotations are not self-explanatory and do not make arguments for you. It falls to you to explain why they are important in making your case. This assignment requires the use of quotations and citations from the assigned editions of the texts: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Terence Irwin, 2nd ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1999); and Aristotle, The Politics, trans. Carnes Lord (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984). Long Essay Assignments are to be nine to ten pages in length, in 12-point Times New Roman font, with 1.0” margins, double-spaced and without extra spaces between paragraphs. Refer to the assigned texts using in-text parenthetical references to the traditional numbers—for example: (1262b20)—and not footnotes. Work that does not follow all of these specific instructions may be penalized or returned ungraded. Consulting the secondary literature, scholarly or otherwise, is neither required nor recommended. Note that no outside source may be reckoned authoritative—you must return to the original texts and put anyone else’s interpretation to the test. Never cite lectures or classroom discussion as an authoritative source. Sometimes particularly illustrative examples of your own invention will aid in demonstrating your comprehension of Aristotle’s teaching or elucidating your analysis of it. Remember, however, that this is primarily an assignment in text-based philosophical analysis, and so specific references to historical context or impact, or literary or cultural references, must not serve as decisive evidence or represent the main focus of your essay.
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