PURPOSE:  We have all had some type of writing instruction, regardless of variations in purpose, writing vocabulary, or expected output.  For the sake of working together to improve our ability to compose, it is useful to have a shared rhetorical vocabulary.  This first assignment aims to introduce you to a shared vocabulary for discussing our individual writing processes, academic expectations of our writing quality, and for exploring rhetoric in the world.  Following the conventions of respectable academic arguments everywhere, you will be expected to articulate an argument and develop it with support and control.  Essays should be 2.5-4 double-spaced pages, in MLA format (Times New Roman 12-point font, appropriate header and page numbering, Works Cited page, etc.).

– Excerpt from The Allegory of the Cave from The Republic by Plato, Trans. Benjamin Jowett
– “What Hairdressers Can Teach Us about Practical Wisdom” by Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpie
– Sections 1, 4, and 6 in “Epistemology.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  Web.
– “Chapter 1: Modes of Knowledge” from Epistemology: An Introduction into the Theory of knowledge  by Nicholas Rescher.  SUNY Press.
– “How to make good decisions? Hint: A pros/cons list won’t help.” Interview with Chip and Dan Heath by Barbara Bogaev.  NPR: Marketplace.

TOPIC:  Oftentimes young writers are hesitant in what to write because they fear they don’t know enough to say something worth reading.  This fear can be crippling, but it is not completely unhealthy, as it points to a larger, worthwhile question: how do any of us know anything at all?  The study of epistemology has long asked this question, and provides many ways of knowing: rationally knowing, empirically knowing, inductive and deductive (or even abductive) discovery, trusting others, instinct or intuition, etc.  At this point in history, most of us consciously accept that we rely on some combination of these ways of knowing.  In any event, the stakes of what we believe we know are high: without what we believe to be true, we would have a very difficult time making daily decisions.  This brings us to the realm of consequence—how what we know, or believe to be true, shapes our choices.

This might be explored via the following questions: How do we know what to choose in a given situation?  Is knowing the right action a guarantee that we will choose the right thing to do?  When do we decide that we know enough to at least proceed with some form of action?  What guidelines should we use to structure the actions we perceive as available options?  If you had to articulate a basic paradigm for how you make informed choices, where might you start?

WRITING PROMPT: How can one reliably know which action to choose in a given situation? 

Note: you may choose a particular realm or area of life within which to examine this question.  For example, you might answer it in terms of your future profession, or in the context of student life, or as a responsible participant in American democracy, etc.


Thesis – 1/27

Rough Draft – 1/29

Final Draft – 1/31