Assignment: Essay 2

Writing Assignment #2

Due April 21, 2009

For the second writing assignment please choose one of the following topics and write an essay of 5-6 pages (2000-2250 words; normal sized fonts and margins).  If you wish to write on another topic please clear it with one of us first.

1)    Write an analysis of the “Chicago” section of Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father in which you explore one or more of the cultural, literary, and philosophical themes and questions we’ve discussed in class.  For example (this is only a suggestion and not a requirement), we considered the importance of “stories” and “experience” in the process of making a self and in organizing a community.  You might explore how Obama represented questions of personal narrative and individual and collective experience in his autobiography.  Or, for example, you might define James’s, Dewey’s, or Rorty’s version of pragmatism, and explain if and how that form of pragmatism is at work in Obama’s retelling of his life story.  These are suggested themes, but you can choose others such as race and inheritance, the importance and limitations of black nationalism, etc.

2)    Richard Posner defends a version of “everyday” pragmatism and paints two pictures of democratic participation:  “Concept 1” is idealistic and Deweyan while “Concept 2” is realistic and, he argues, pragmatic.  In general, consider the strengths and weaknesses of these two versions of democracy and Posner’s depiction of them; more specifically, consider how Barack Obama’s public statements place him as a proponent of either “Concept 1” or “Concept 2” democracy.  This is a potentially enormous topic, so you will need to focus your attention tightly:  e.g., does Posner do justice to the versions of pragmatism described by James, Dewey, Rorty, or Unger? Are there dangers to Concept 2 democracy that Posner glosses over? Do you share his preference for Concept 2 democracy?  As always, be sure to support your position with strong reasons and consider possible objections and counter arguments.

And finally:

3)    It’s always good to revise and expand a piece of written work to take account of objections, questions, new ideas, and extra evidence.  If you wish, you may take this opportunity to expand and develop, in significant ways, your first essay.  Be sure, if you take this option, to do more than simply polish your earlier essay:  respond in a substantive way to our comments or your reconsiderations, add to your case, or refer to a wider range of texts.  Please include a copy of your earlier essay if you take this option.


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