TERM PAPER INSTRUCTIONS
This is how you should plan your paper:
Page 1 –
Please summarize with great detail (showing you watched carefully) the “White Like Me” Documentary (found online:
(**CREDIT CANNOT BE GIVEN IF YOU WATCH THE TRAILER ONLY, SINCE THE TRAILER DOES NOT SHOW CRUCIAL PARTS**)
Page 2 –
Please answer these questions:
a) What was the weakest argument or point made in the film?
b) Please explain if you find X.) or Y.) more compelling (stated below), and then explain why the OTHER side (i.e. the one you disagreed with most) was not convincing – please be specific.
Page 3 –
Please summarize (offering many examples, showing you watched carefully) this documentary, “Witness: Voices from the Holocaust” (found online) – please be very specific.
Page 4 –
For the first half of this page, please summarize what is covered in this short documentary – please be very specific.
For the second half of this page, please respond to this objection:
“Look, these two videos have contradictory messages, which I cannot reconcile.
The first one ends with the somewhat pessimistic, unanswered question, “Has humanity learned anything from all this senseless misery, racism, and mass killing?” But the other one makes you feel uplifted and positive about what human beings are capable of.
So, which thesis is true?
a) “Human beings are capable of almost limitless cruelty and evil, as if we needed to even state the obvious.
When this does happen throughout history, few of us – if any – really internalize the lessons we can learn. As a result, we are doomed to continue repeating such horrors because, time and again, we succumb to our selfishness, fear, laziness, apathy, prejudices, etc…
So, I wish I could be more optimistic, but if we imagine humanity as a whole to be like a single person, then we should ask if it would be wise to give such a person another chance to prove himself, after such a horrid track record of abysmal moral failures – if anything, that person should be PERMANENTLY locked up as a danger to self and others. Just because there are fleeting moments when that person imagines and MAYBE even acts to be moral, in no way justifies giving that person the benefit of the doubt, GIVEN HIS SOLID RECORD OF CRUELTY AND APATHY IN THE FACE OF CRUELTY.
Humanity does not deserve another chance at proving it cares about other people or will act on its highest moral and religious values. When you learn about the Holocaust deeply and fully, you must accept that there is nothing and no one you can trust in this world, since each of us would surely act THE EXACT SAME as all of those supposedly “Good, decent Germans” who did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING – even when the evidence was irrefutable that their apathy results in the murder of innocent men, women, and children.
Just like them, we, too, will find a way to live with ourselves and think of ourselves as decent people when we are complicit with immorality and injustice (think about how easy you rationalize, even now, your own behavior you know is immoral – YOU KNOW IT IS WRONG BUT DO IT ANYWAY, AND THEN LOOK AT YOURSELF IN THE MIRROR WITH NOT A SHRED OF SHAME; BE HONEST, YOU DO THIS ALL THE TIME!).
b) Yes, humans have done and still do unspeakable things to each other. But, if you look carefully in history and today, you will find that there have ALWAYS been those who prioritize being an ethical person at all costs.
Calling these people “heroes” puts a distance between them and us, but the REALITY is that EACH OF US can choose to take the moral path, to do to others what you would want done to you, etc.
It is COP-OUT to say “I could never do what the rescuers did” or “I’m no hero” – that’s self-serving nonsense. It is DIFFICULT to be moral! It is RISKY! It is, at times, TERRIFYING! It WILL CERTAINLY COST YOU to be good! But you can still choose to do the right thing anyway.
You and I COULD do what all the great, everyday moral “upstanders” of history have done, who have all rejected being a passive bystander in the face of injustice and cruelty.
Each time you hear the cry of someone who needs you, and every time your conscience is disturbed, you are being TESTED. Will you choose to prove the pessimists right? Or choose, in that very moment, to actualize your highest moral potential?
Will you prove the pessimists wrong by SHOWING THE WORLD the IMMENSE GOODNESS LYING DORMANT WITHIN EACH OF US, only waiting to be actualized?
Page 5 –
Please watch the following documentary (you can begin watching at 8:00 minutes into it):
After you watched the film, please write one full page, explaining what was shown in the video and showing that you watched it all carefully. Please be very specific.
Page 6 –
For the first half of this page, after reading A. and B. (below), please answer the question that follows (under B.).
For the second half of this page, please read C., and explain if you agree or disagree, and why.
A. Dr. Frankl writes: “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”
“To draw an analogy: a man’s suffering is similar to the behavior of a gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.”
B. In response, someone could reply to Dr. Frankl’s argument this way:
“Dr. Frankl, let’s look again at your gas analogy.
You argue that human suffering is ABSOLUTELY relative, and this seems true in some ways. A rich, ‘successful’ person may (Heaven forbid) commit suicide over a trivial matter while you can find meaning in life starving in a death camp for three years. This makes sense.
But I’m not sure you are entirely correct. If we go with your analogy, what happens when more and more gas is pumped into an air-tight chamber?
Eventually as the hours go by, the gas keeps coming in but there is limited space for all the gas to go. At some point, days or weeks of this will result in a CRITICAL THRESHOLD being met – at this point, the windows, doors, and ceiling will blow open with the additional pressure added by the continual flood of gas.
In a similar way, human beings have the capacity to endure great suffering — but, due to our genetics and environment, each have DIFFERENT THRESHOLDS for enduring suffering. You – quite amazingly, in fact – can withstand very, very high amounts of suffering yet remain sane and purposeful.
But why assume EVERYONE is like you? You could find meaning as a paralyzed person, or as an advanced Alheimer’s patient, or a tortured concentration camp slave, but people are different.
But, more to the point, surely EVEN YOU, Dr. Frankl, have SOME breaking point that would make living totally without meaning if you were honest with yourself.”
After considering A. and B. (above) carefully, which do you think is more compelling, and why?
For the second half of page 6, please explain if you believe this is a strong or weak argument, and please explain why:
“Frankl is clearly a believer in the Divine, even though it doesn’t show on the surface. How else can he have such undeniable FAITH in the meaning of life, regardless of the circumstances?
Please allow me to explain.
Science says we are but mere ‘water bags’ who simply find ourselves existing (the result of being at the ‘right place and the right time’ where microscopic life could eventually evolve to complex, conscious human life) – with no higher purpose than to reproduce our genes – all taking place on a tiny speck of dirt in the middle of nowhere. That scientific picture is our reality, unless we accept what Frankl intuitively knows, deep down, at the core of his being.
Science cannot teach us the value of life (it can only describe life, not say it is worth anything). And our unshakeable sense of meaning in life cannot come from logic, but even if it did, can’t we ask the question, ‘Why be logical?’ If we give a logical answer to that question, we are already assuming it is good to be logical, which commits the logical fallacy of ‘begging the question.’ Logic, then, cannot tell us whether anything has intrinsic value in and of itself. In fact, if all we have are science and logic to help us figure out reality, then there is nothing to stop us from drawing nihilistic conclusions (i.e. nothing has meaning).
This is because logic and science, in and of themselves, have no inherent value – if you (or your society) see them as ‘tools,’ then go ahead and use them, but you have to ALREADY ASSUME ON FAITH many questionable, culturally-specific beliefs, such as ‘Being rational brings clarity,’ ‘Making conclusions based upon physical evidence is good,’ ‘It is better to live than to die,’ ‘Waking life is more real than dreaming life,’ ‘Trust your head over your heart,’ ‘Pharmaceuticals are preferable to prayer when one is ill,’ etc. All these background assumptions are NOT ‘self-evidently true’ (to believe otherwise reflects an ethnocentric bias), but instead reflect our culture’s (unprovable) faith-based ideas about the world. After all, there have been, and still are, individuals and even whole societies who rejected these basic assumptions.
An additional point: if all you have are science and logic to guide you, how can you avoid utter despair at life’s fleeting nature – since all living things will one day die (including their immediate descendants, and the descendants of their descendants, and their descendants of their descendants of their descendants, and so on…)?
Indeed, the scientific evidence shows that everything in existence, including human beings, will be eventually obliterated and forgotten with enough time. For example, scientists are using their research to show how the universe will culminate in a ‘Big Rip,’ when the universe continues to expand and stretch, eventually tearing every single atom in existence apart into sub-atomic ‘dust’; or, alternatively, our universe will experience a ‘Big Crunch,’ when all physical matter will collapse back upon itself, into one, unfathomably dense, microscopic point (wow – I thought I was claustrophobic now!).
However, look at Dr. Frankl’s philosophy and actions throughout his life – everything inside him TOTALLY REJECTS these bleak, but scientifically supported, conclusions. Regardless of what science says, he cannot accept that everything, including his life, will eventually amount to complete nothingness.
The question now becomes: Why, then, does he reject science and logic so blatantly?
One possibility is that he “knows” (quotes are used here because this cannot be an ordinary kind of “knowing”), on a profound and immediate personal level that Something Greater exists, which transcends the limits of science and rationality altogether.
Dr. Frankl – or any of us, for that matter – may not even be aware of this on a conscious level, but it takes only a little reflection to realize human life is intrinsically and already (from the ‘outside,’ as it were) bestowed with so much more than nothingness. If this is true, then isn’t it reasonable to infer that Someone or Something Much Higher and Greater is at work here? (Words, with their finite limits, inevitably fail us on a conceptual level here, being unable to capture That-Which-Is-Without-Limit.)
We can conclude two things from all this:
1) Despite whatever intellectual/philosophical reservations you may have against his views, you KNOW on an undeniable, gut-level that Dr. Frankl’s message IS inspiring. Why? Because you ALSO believe that human life DOES have inherent value and meaning.
Why, then, don’t we all just agree with 1)? Perhaps it is because we have many, many layers of rationalizations and defenses that try to stop us from consciously agreeing with 1).
But, really, what is so scary about accepting 1)? Let’s be honest – because the stakes are very high. Accepting 1) leads any thinking person inevitably to accepting 2), below.
2) If you believe in 1), then you also believe that the basic moral truths that ordinary, civilized people take for granted – such as human rights apply to everyone, it is good to care about others, the vulnerable and weak should be protected, etc. – are not the clever inventions of our society.
Yes, there are areas of ethical controversy that we may debate and discuss, but these basic moral truths are NOT someone’s (or a society’s) mere opinion, like a favorite flavor of ice cream. ‘Rocky road is better than bubble gum ice cream’ is not right or wrong – it’s a personal preference. ‘Kindness is superior to senseless cruelty,’ is, however, objectively true; your preferences for or against senseless cruelty are beside the point. ‘I prefer the Earth is round,’ has nothing to do with whether the Earth is really round. It IS round, so you might as well like it not being flat! Similarly, someone is simply incorrect to claim ‘Senseless cruelty is morally better than kindness.’
Therefore, once you have admitted that 1) is true, then you must also agree that you believe in Something very, very Mysterious.
This Something is so exceptional that science and logic cannot express or even fully comprehend it. And this realization alone does not necessarily mean any particular theistic religion, or any religion for that matter, is true.
It does, however, demonstrate that YOU and Dr. Frankl both hold beliefs that are contrary to:
*ethical and cultural relativism (you already believe Basic Moral Truths have authority over individual opinions and cultural norms)
*materialism/physicalism (the Golden Rule, for example, is NOT a physical thing, so it will NEVER be discovered by science; yet a multitude of ‘non-physical entities’ – such as theories, numbers, yesterday (and the thought of yesterday), a perfect circle, G-d, Moral Truths, etc. – can nevertheless EXIST, but on Another Level).
The same point can be put this way:
How can one, at the same time, believe both of these?
a) It is objectively true (my opinion is totally IRRELEVANT here) that human beings have certain Moral Rights.
b) The only way we can know anything exists is through the scientific method. If science does not show strong evidence in favor of a belief, you should remain agnostic (‘I don’t know’) about that belief.
Now you can understand the real reason why people oppose Dr. Frankl’s arguments – he has reminded all of us what we already know (if we are honest with ourselves), namely, that we cannot make all the rules, that some things are off-limits morally speaking, that there are ethical boundaries that we did not create and no human being can alter.
As a consequence, the ethical truths found in Dr. Frankl’s ideas challenge our unrestrained egoism, hedonism, and self-serving relativistic notions. In short, the true brilliance of Dr. Frankl’s work has yet to be fully appreciated – so much more than a popular “self help” psychiatrist, Dr. Frankl is a moral philosopher who makes a strong case that humanity is not the measure of all things.
Now if only we would have the courage, integrity, and humility to find ways to integrate these partially-submerged Truths into our conscious beliefs, using these insights to enlighten and improve ourselves and the world.”
Page 7 –
For the first half of this page, please explain why you believe this criticism is strong or weak:
“Dr. Frankl, I’m sorry, but your philosophy is IMPLICITLY (not directly) blaming the victim.
Why did those fellow Jews in the death camps – who were starved to death and tortured every day – kill themselves? Because they REFUSED to create a meaningful experience out of such horror, you say.
Why did you push forward during those 3 years of unspeakable conditions in the death camps? Because, you say, you knew that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ But that’s putting the BLAME ON THE OPPRESSED AND THE DEPRESSED for being too weak and for being too lazy to create/find their own meaning.
Your life is inspiring, for sure. But your ethical views encourage us to blame suicidal and oppressed people — after all, if they had only been mentally strong like you, then they would not have taken the cowardly way out by giving up and being paralyzed by depression and hopelessness.
That’s wrong — you should put the BLAME ON NAZIS and SOCIAL INJUSTICE, not on the victims who should get only our compassion.
It is simply NOT true for everyone – sometimes “what doesn’t kill you” DESTROYS you and you are unable to piece together the shattered pieces of your life.”
For the second half of this page, please watch this clip, and then answer the question, below
Imagine if Rodney Hulin was – just moments before he is about to try to take his life – visited by Dr. Frankl, who gave him his best argument for why life always has meaning.
Dr. Frankl used every argument he could think of, including that just like he thought to himself in the death camps, ‘I look forward to adding in these observations into my future books and lectures,’ so too did people like Stephen Donaldson https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Donaldson_(activist) – also a prison rape survivor – transformed that pain into a human rights organization that he formed, Stop Prisoner Rape (now called Just Detention International (https://justdetention.org/), which advocates for an end to sexual violence behind bars.
“You, too, can transform this pain into a personal triumph of survival and, one day, as a means to help others who need you!,” Dr. Frankl pleaded.
Rodney responds back with:
“Thank you doctor, but that is of no help to me. To me, these horrid conditions I am in are not tolerable for even one more moment. NOT ONE MORE MOMENT! I mean no offense, but I MUST exit my life…”
Dr. Frankl suspects he didn’t get through to him, so he instinctually mumbles a quick prayer for some kind of help…
Either serendipitously or miraculously (depending on how you see it), YOU happen to walk by Rodney’s cell on your volunteer job teaching employment skills to prisoners about to be released.
You immediately recognize Dr. Frankl and smile at him with a slightly puzzled look on your face (wondering why you would run into such a towering thinker here?) – he then says “There’s no time to explain!” and frantically gestures to join him in ONE LAST DESPERATE ATTEMPT to try to reach Rodney. You understand immediately what is going on when you see the pain in Rodney’s eyes.
This is it. Just a few moments left to go, before visiting hours end, to make the case that life is still meaningful under totally horrible conditions.
What would you say to Rodney?
Would you feel justified in saying ANYTHING, since you are not in his shoes?
(But, if so, isn’t saying nothing also something – isn’t your silence a message to him? Isn’t silence just trying to avoid your responsibility? Or is silence the wisest approach, since it respects the power that Rodney has to make his own decision about whether to live, thus showing Rodney that he DOES have control in this ‘powerless’ situation. Maybe that would help him regain his sense self-respect, even while you are gambling that he does not exercise that power in a self-destructive way…)
What would you do? PLEASE BE SPECIFIC, AND SAY WHY.
After doing all of these readings and watching the movies, please write your paper in this format:
1) In terms of citations, please use this style: (Author, Page Number); if there are no pages, please use the (paragraph number) method, referring to the number of the paragraph, in the essay, you are referencing, such as: “Morality is perplexing,” he said (paragraph 4). As long as I know where it is coming from, then you will be fine. Always give credit to your sources, and please do not do anything remotely resembling plagiarism (including having others write your paper for you), since it cheats you out of an honest education and can risk your academic career with serious repercussions (all professors are encouraged to report all instances of suspected plagiarism). Remember that your professors know your writing level and style by now, and we are told to report all instances of suspected plagiarism.
2) Please use the following specifications for your paper: font size 12, one inch margins all around, double spaced, times new roman font, avoid using all bold or all capitalization, and double check for spelling and grammar problems. No cover page is necessary. You do not need a title; please just put your name on the very top line of the first page. You can treat each page as separate from the others, so no transitions or introductions are necessary. To get full credit, please be sure to follow all of these conditions.
3) Again, please list your name only on the very top of the first page (please do not list date, course name, title, etc.).
4) Again, no late papers accepted, so please plan to turn the paper in early in CANVAS, under “Assignments.”
5) I encourage you to start on your paper immediately, so you do not rush your paper. Please try to hand in something you are proud of. A quality paper, as well as a hurried paper, are easy to spot!
6) Please do not hesitate to ask me any questions along the way. Writing a paper is work, of course, but you should also enjoy getting the opportunity to analyze a point of view and get clear about your own philosophical positions. (Always being open to another point of view, remaining critical of all views especially one’s own, and avoiding dogmatism are the hallmarks of a true philosopher, and a thinking person in general.) So try to enjoy the process of philosophizing and thinking deeply on these topics.
7) It will be impossible to pass this paper without showing a significant understanding of EVERY article and movie covered, so please do not skip any of the material.
8) Good luck! And, again, please email if you have any questions or concerns.
****ALL MATERIAL MAY APPEAR ON THE FINAL EXAM****