PAPER TOPICS I
Coming Into One's Own
Andreas Teuber





Drawing on the reading and your own considered opinion and good judgment, answer the following question, think of the arguments that someone might make as well as the objections that he or she might raise to your opinion, and respond to them. In offering your opinion, offer what you believe is the most principled argument you can make, and support that argument and/or position as best you can by reference to the texts.

In thinking of objections to your opinion, argument, or position, think of the best possible objections that someone on the other side might be able to come up with, i. e., give yourself a hard time. If you can respond to the other side at its strongest point rather than at its weakest, that can only help to strengthen your own opinion and make it that much more persuasive.

You may find that you are not sure whether you agree or disagree with some or all of the opinions expressed in the question that you are attempting to answer or that you agree with the conclusions but not with the reasoning or you think some of reasons are better than others or whether you think some of the opinions expressed on the following pages are just plain wrong, completely wrong-headed, from beginning to end. This is what you both love and hate about USEM. To paraphrase what one very good contemporary thinker, J. R. Lucas, has said: "Thought has to be self-thought, if it is to be thought at all. It is an activity rather than a set of positions. You always need to think out the problems and solutions for yourself, and although another person's thinking may help you in your own, you cannot accept their conclusions, or even understand their arguments, until you have already argued a lot with yourself."

The paper should be about five (5-6) pages in length, preferably typewritten. It is due on Friday, October 5th, in class.

Consider the following:

John, on a botany expedition in the most remote regions of the
Brazilian jungle, stumbles into a clearing where he finds two
men with their guns trained on a group of ten South American
villagers. The Captain, or the man who appears to be in
charge, turns to John and announces that "Pedro here" is
about to shoot "all the villagers," but as the result of John's
unexpected arrival on the "scene," he, the Captain, has had a
sudden bout of compassion and if John would be willing to
take Pedro's gun and kill one of the villagers, he, the Captain,
would allow the other nine villagers to go free. If, however,
John refuses to accept the Captain's offer, "Pedro here will
shoot them all." John, his mind racing, entertains several
"Indiana Jones" fantasies (with himself as Indiana Jones),
among them, the idea that he might appear to agree to the
Captain's offer, take the gun from Pedro, and then turn it on
Pedro and the Captain, back away into the jungle with all ten
villagers at his side, and escape to a clearing down river where a
small twin-engine Cesna is waiting and fly all the villagers
and himself to Rio de Janeiro and freedom. But it is quite
evident from the situation that if John were to try anything of
the sort, his "heroics" will result not only in the deaths of all
ten villagers but his own as well. What should John do?

Imagine that John is the leader of these "villagers," a lieutenant of a small guerilla band, that he is their "head of state" and they are his citizens whom he has sworn (when he took office) to support and protect as their comander-in-chief. Imagine that he is a prince-of-sorts and these are his people?

Imagine, too, that John has a cellular phone with him and that he asks the Captain if he may make one phone call. The Captain agrees. John calls you.

Imagine that you have been reading Machiavelli's The Prince. John has also read The Prince but some time ago and wants to know your opinion, since the text, he says, must still be "fresh in your mind." What advice do you give to John based on your understanding of Machiavelli?

Just as you are about to tell him, the phone signal weakens and the connection is lost. "John, John," you say into the phone, "are you still there?" But there is no response.

John elects to accept the Captain's offer. John shoots one of the villagers and the Captain releases all the others who promptly disappear into the jungle. With a somewhat inappropriate, i. e., all too cheery, farewell, the Captain and Pedro head off in the opposite direction. John slumps down. The body of the villager lies a few yards away. John wonders what he has done. Just then his cell phone rings. You have managed to re-connect.

"Well," you say," What's happening?" And John explains what he has done. But now he has a new question.

"Should he feel," he asks you, "guilt or remorse" about what he has done? Or should he feel "good" about what he did, should he believe that he "did the right thing"? Has he acted morally or immorally? What would Machiavelli say? He wants to know and he believes you have the answer, because you, after all, have been reading Machiavelli.

John mentions that he read an essay or a book, he cannot not remember exactly - John is not a great reader - by someone by the name of Leo Strauss, who apparently wrote

We shall not shock anyone . . .
if we profess ourselves inclined to the . . .
simple opinion that Machiavelli
was a teacher of evil.

"According to Machiavelli," John asks, "have I committed an evil deed? And," he continues, " what do you think? Did I act evilly? What is your moral judgment of what I have done?"




BACK TO PART I




| Course Description | Course Requirements | Reading List |
Texts Online | Author Biographies & Links | Writing Resources |


August 2, 1999

USEM 27B

URL: http://www.unet.brandeis.edu/~teuber/courses.html
mailto: teuber@brandeis.edu
Andreas Teuber's Home Page