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Assignment One Overview: Explication of a Passage

Assignment One Overview: Explication of a Passage

Your task in this assignment is to explicate a passage from a primary text. This

involves demonstrating that you have comprehension of the passage and can

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communicate that comprehension to another reader. You are not being asked,

here, to evaluate the arguments offered by the philosopher; nor are you being

asked to offer an argument of your own. These tasks will come later. Rather, you

are being asked to demonstrate your ability to read, understand, and discuss

difficult original texts.

Submission Details:

Your paper should be approximately 1000-1200 words in length as indicated on

the syllabus. It must be word-processed in a 12-point serif font (Palatino, e.g.;

Times is very dense and best avoided), double spaced, with 1-inch margins. The

weighting of the paper is 35% of your final grade.

There will be an opportunity to re-submit a revised paper to the instructor. This

may or may not result in any change to your paper grade. Please do not assume

that a revision/resubmission will result in a higher grade.

DO NOT include a cover page on your submitted paper. At the top left-hand

corner of your first page include your NAME, STUDENT NUMBER, and the


NB: It is your responsibility to keep a copy of your paper.

Your paper is due on FEBRUARY 9 by 11:59pm via Quercus. There are no

extensions. If you have medical issues that prevent you from submitting on time,

you must arrange to submit relevant documents and/or register with

Accessibility Services for accommodation.

Late assignments are subject to penalty unless accompanied by proper

documentation (e.g., a doctor’s note from U of T clinic). The penalties are as

follows (stated on the syllabus): 10% the first day, 5% every day thereafter.

Weekends count as one day. Any assignments that are more than ten days late

will not be accepted.


Assignment Expectations:

The purpose of an explication is to present a clearly explained version of the

material included in the passage, i.e., what is most important and what it means.

You are expected to do so in an unbiased and philosophically charitable manner.

‘Charitable’ here means what Donald Davidson and other philosophers mean,

namely, that you approach the text with an expectation of understanding that

optimizes the possibility of understanding. (

This means explicating the given

arguments with an assumption that they make sense, and that you will provide

the strongest possible version of them to another reader. This process does not

assume necessary future agreement, but it does assume the possibility thereof.

This may challenge your own pre-existing ideas – a good thing!

For this, you are expected to:

First, go through the material (readings, lecture notes, etc.) concerning the issue

that the passage addresses with a view of extracting the positions involved, the

arguments given, specific concepts used, and any objections or replies, etc. In

short, familiarize yourself with the topic and make sure you understand it.

Second, spend some time with the passage! Begin to sort out the specific

information that is relevant to accomplishing the tasks set out above. The most

difficult part of writing an explication is determining what content needs to be

included to make your explication clear and complete, and what content can be

left out so as to ensure concision and that the length requirement is met.

Third, write out your explication in clear and unfussy language, using complete

sentences, and making sure to define or clarify any terms and concepts specific to

the debate or issue in question. This may take several drafts and revisions.


Assignment Tips and Resources:

  1. Do not yourself take a position or express your thoughts regarding the issue.

Your own views on the topic should not be apparent in an explication.

  1. Be sure to keep your explication well organized (part of this means NOT

having two solid pages of prose; break it up into proper paragraphs). Draft an

outline of your plan of attack in creating the explication.

  1. Do not go too much over or under the word limit. If your first pass at the

explication lies significantly below the minimum word count indicated above,

then you are not explaining things in enough detail. Alternatively, if your first

pass at the explication lies significantly above the word limit, then you have not

successfully sorted out the more relevant from the less relevant information.

(You will not be able to explain every aspect of the issue; you will have to decide

what to keep and what to set aside).

  1. Use your own words. An explication, especially of this length, does not need to

involve a lot of quotations. If you have more than two or three short quotations

in your explication, go back and replace them with an explanation of the idea in

your own words.

  1. When writing your first draft, after consideration, try not to look at the passage


for a moment. Close all books, set all notes/readings/etc. aside, and then explain

the positions as you understand them in a kind of mental dialogue. Maybe take a

walk while doing this! The exercise will ensure that you are processing your

understanding, not simply replicating the language of the passage.

  1. Do not take yourself to be writing an explication for the TA or instructor; that

is, do not assume your reader knows what specific concepts or terms mean. Be

sure to explain any concepts or terms that are relevant to the topic, how they fit

into the author’s meaning, and why they matter to the author.

  1. No secondary sources are necessary for this assignment. Indeed, they ought to

be avoided. The answers to what the passage means lie in the passage itself. If

the passage is unclear or perhaps even self-contradictory, you should address

that and explain why it might be so. You are permitted to refer to other passages

or in the same work, or by the same author, but be careful not to lose close contact

with the target passage.


  1. Refer to posted online resources if in doubt, or consult the TAs during their

posted office hours.

Assignment Passage Options (choose ONE ONLY of the following quotations

as the subject of your explication):

Descartes One:

“Suppose [a person] had a basket full of apples and, being worried that some of

the apples were rotten, wanted to take out the rotten ones to prevent the rot

spreading. How would they proceed? Would they not begin by tipping the

whole lot out of the basket? And would not the next step be to cast their eye over

each apple in turn, and pick up and put back in the basket only those they saw to

be sound, leaving the others? In just the same way, those who have never

philosophized correctly have various opinions in their minds which they have

begun to store up since childhood, and which they therefore have reason to

believe may in many cases be false. They then attempt to separate the false

beliefs from the others, so as to prevent their contaminating the rest and making

the whole lot uncertain. Now the best way they can accomplish this is to reject all

their beliefs together in one go, as if they were all uncertain and false. They can

then go over each belief in turn and re-adopt only those which they recognize to

be true and indubitable.”


Descartes Two:

“But I cannot forget that, at other times I have been deceived in sleep by similar

illusions; and, attentively considering those cases, I perceive so clearly that there

exist no certain marks by which the state of waking can ever be distinguished

from sleep, that I feel greatly astonished; and in amazement I almost persuade

myself that I am now dreaming.”


Descartes Three:

What do I see other than hats and coats, which could be covering automata? But I

judge that they are people.


Heidegger One:

“Meanwhile humankind, precisely as the group so threatened, exalts itself to the

posture of lord of the earth. In this way the impression comes to prevail that

everything humankind encounters exists only insofar as it is their construct. This

illusion gives rise in turn to one final delusion: It seems as though humankind

everywhere and always encounters only itself… In truth, however, precisely

nowhere does humankind today any longer encounter itself, i.e., our essence.

Humankind stands so decisively in attendance on the challenging-forth of

Enframing that we do not apprehend Enframing as a claim, that we fail to see

ourselves as the ones spoken to, and hence also fail in every way to hear in what

respect we ek-sists, from out of our essence, in the realm of an exhortation or

address, and thus can never encounter only ourselves.”


Heidegger Two:

“Thus we shall never experience our relationship to the essence of technology so

long as we merely conceive and push forward the technological, put up with it,

or evade it. Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether

we passionately affirm or deny it. But we are delivered over to it in the worst

possible way when we regard it as something neutral.”


Heidegger Three:

“[T]he instrumental conception of technology conditions every attempt to bring

humankind into the right relation to technology. Everything depends on our

manipulating technology in the proper manner as means. We will, as we say,

‘get’ technology ‘spiritually in hand’. We will master it. The will to mastery

therefore becomes all the more urgent the more technology threatens to slip from

human control.”