On the Term Paper This document consists of:
1. Suggested Topics for Papers
2. Notes on Writing papers
Suggested Topics for Papers You may write on any of these topics without my permission. Try to use at least some secondary literature. If you have a different topic you wish to write on, please consult me.
1. Changing representations of Confucius. At the time of the writing of the Zhuangzi, Confucius was already an ancient and revered teacher. What role does Confucius play in later Warring States texts?
2. Zhuangzi’s legends about “sages” are unique in the Chinese tradition. What, for Zhuangzi, makes a person a sage? You may want to discuss the importance of skills, “knack,” and the mastery of crafts. Give examples to illustrate your discussion.
3. How is an explicit view of human nature fundamental to the ethical and political thought of Xunzi? What was the nature of his disagreements with Mencius on this basic question? (How) does Xunzi’s view of human nature affect his views on other issues? For example, why is ritual so important to Xunzi, and what does he mean by the term?
4. Warfare was a major concern in Warring States China. Discuss the place of a philosophy of martiality (or its absence) in at least three Warring States texts. You may want to consider the Analects, the early Mohists, the Sunzi, the Daodejing, the Zhuangzi, the Mencius and the Xunzi. Did these writers think that conflict was inevitable? How did mastery of warfare figure in Chinese portrayals of sagacity?
5. Compare the descriptions of dao 道or “the Way” in the Analects, the Daodejing, the Sunzi and the Zhuangzi.
6. Compare the values of early Confucian ethics (in the Analects, Mencius and/or Xunzi) with one or two Western philosophers’ arguments on the similar topics.
7. Contrast the role of tian or Heaven (the heavens, nature) in at least two texts you have read.
8. Many contemporary scholars have tried to apply virtue ethics to Chinese philosophy. Critically discuss two such attempts.
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9. Discuss the topic of fatalism as it appears in at least two texts you have read this term.
Notes on Papers
● Structure your paper clearly. A good paper is not just a string of “quotes.” ● Avoid mere description of episodes. ● Relate these points, individually, to the original topic.
● Write an adequate introduction. An introduction should states what you will do, or show in the paper. Otherwise the paper may wander.
● Make outlines and stick to them! ● Be wary of flowing phrases whose exact and literal meaning is not quite clear.
● Make your reasoning explicit! Make clear connections in your reasoning. ● Take the time to say
(1) everything you mean and (2) nothing you don’t mean, and (3) cite specific sources and passages to back up your assertions.
● Try not to mix description and evaluation in one sentence. It makes the logical flow of the arguments unclear.
● Cite exact sources. ● Use a citation format that is conventional for the text you are citing (e.g. Mencius
2A3, Analects 2.8). ● Cite specific passages, rather than making general observations.
● Avoid language that is too colloquial for a formal paper. ● Try to develop a sense for the flavor of formal, written language. Often students have
very good insights but sell them short by expressing them in a way that is better suited to conversation. It is a skill that comes over time.
● An argument in conversation sounds different than an argument in writing.
● Avoid vague generalities. “No generalization is worth a damn, including this one.” ● You can avoid generalizations by using evidence to support statements.
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● Overgeneralization and overstatement weaken otherwise good arguments, by drawing you into claims that are impossible to prove.
Grammar and spelling
● All papers should be written in correct, university-level English. Pay particular attention to:
● the correct use of apostrophes. ● tense and agreement of subject and verb. ● correct spelling. Spelling errors (especially on important names) make the author
sound ignorant, or worse.
● Do proofread your papers for grammar and spelling. Don’t trust spell checkers!
Other issues of presentation
● Ensure that your paper has a title which should reflect its content. ● Number the pages of your paper! ● Use standard type faces and margins. ● Staple the pages of your paper. If you don’t own a stapler, buy one.
● Give yourself time enough to think through carefully what you want to say. ● Go through your notes and decide what passages bear on your argument. ● Use an outline to connect the points you want to make to the passages that back
them up, or bear on them. ● If you have particular observations of your own, decide where they fit in, and add
them to the outline. ● Write a draft. ● Think about how each paragraph relates to the next. ● Go back to the outline and revise. ● Write another draft. ● Give yourself more time.