Dan Hausman
5197 Helen C. White Hall
Office Hours:
Wednesday 1:00-2:00
Monday 10:00-11:00

Philosophy 521 Syllabus


Human being live in societies, and their aspirations, characters, and possible ways of thriving depend on societies. At the same time, through their choices human beings constitute, reproduce, and change societies. Yet societies seem not to be material things, like houses, which also influence human beings and are constructed and changed by human beings. What are societies? Can they be studied in the same way that the physical world is studied? Do they have an objective existence and their own laws, or are they more like plays created and played by people? Are there alternative defensible ways of studying societies, some of which resemble the natural sciences, while others are radically different? Do the different domains of social inquiry (psychology, anthropology, economics, political science, and sociology) call for fundamentally different methods? To what extent should the natural sciences be a model for all of social inquiry?

Course Goals:

1. To provide a compact introduction to the philosophy of the natural sciences as a point of comparison.

2. To develop some of the main themes and distinctive features by examining classics in the social sciences (and in methodological reflection on the social sciences) from the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century: Smith, Mill, Marx, Weber, and Durkheim.

3. To explore three central philosophical issues concerning the social sciences: methodological individualism, functional explanation, and rational choice explanation.

4. To explore briefly the distinctive methodological questions raised by the different social sciences, especially sociology, anthropology, economics, and political science.

5. To help you to develop your abilities to present and to criticize arguments both in discussion and, in particular, in writing: Every good essay, regardless of the subject matter, is an extended argument for some thesis or conclusion. The only thing special about philosophy essays is the extent to which one focuses upon the logic of the argument. This course should help you to write more sharply organized, focused and effective essays.

The extent to which these course goals can be achieved is, of course, largely up to you, but it is important that you appreciate what I am trying to accomplish. If you cannot see how any particular lecture or reading assignment relates to the goals of the course, please be sure to ask about it. In abstract matters it is especially important and especially difficult to be clear on what the point is. Keep asking "So what?" Since this course is much more concerned with mastering skills than with merely acquiring information, it demands your active participation, and I think that the interest and importance of the issues we will be addressing will reward that participation, too.

What this course does not aim to do:

1. This course is not a replacement for a serious course in the philosophy of the natural sciences. We will slide over many details and omit central issues that happen not to be as important to the social sciences.

2. This course does not aim to provide a comprehensive or balanced introduction to any of the social sciences. Though we will be examining some striking theses and achievements from the history of the social sciences, the various social disciplines have (of course) moved far beyond these texts.

3. This course does not aim to provide a comprehensive or balanced introduction to the history of the social sciences. Indeed by focusing on only a few major figures, it gives the mistaken impression that the history of the social sciences turns entirely on a few crucial figures.

Note: Students are encouraged to discuss problems concerning the teaching of this course with the instructor and/or the TA. If students wish to pursue a complaint with someone else, they should contact James Anderson, Assistant to the Chairperson, Philosophy Department, 5185 H.C. White Hall, 263-5162.


All the readings will be in a xeroxed collection of essays and book chapters.

Course Web Site:

A variety of material, including the syllabus will abe available on the web. Some of it will be on a public web page: http://philosophy.wisc.edu/hausman/521F2005/default.htm. Other resources (such as student access to grades and discussion forums) will be available via the Learn@UW web site, https://uwmad.courses.wisconsin.edu/.

Course Requirements:

There will be two essays, six quizzes (of which only the five highest grades count), a final examination, and a web discussion requirement. Your semester grade will depend on the essays (40%), the quizzes (20%), the final (20%), and the web discussion (20%).

LECTURES Attendance is optional, but my hope is that these will be so valuable that you will not want to miss any. Intelligent contributions to discussion in lecture will also help to boost your semester grade. I welcome questions and comments during lecture.

QUIZZES These will be a mixture of short-answer and brief essays. They will usually take 20 minutes. Barring exceptional circumstances, make-ups will not be given, but your lowest score will not count. Each quiz will count for 4% of your semester grade.

PAPERS The first essay should be about 1200 words (4-5 double-spaced pages in a good sized font) in length. It counts for ten percent of your grade and is due promptly at the beginning of class on Friday, September 30.

The second essay should be about 2000 words (about 8 double-spaced pages in a good sized font). It counts for 30% of your semester grade. You will have the option of rewriting the paper. The first draft is due on Monday, November 14. It is due relatively early in order to make it possible for you to rewrite it and to submit a revised version. The revised version will be due on Monday, December 12. If you submit a revised version, your grade will be the average of your grades on the two versions.

EXAMS The final examination will be cumulative and will consist mainly of essay questions.

WEB DISCUSSION To encourage active involvement with the issues in the course, students are expected to join in discussion at the Learn@UW web site. Detailed directions are found below and on the Learn@UW web page.

WARNING!! Philosophy challenges complacency. It’s hard to know what the truth is concerning hard questions like the ones we will be addressing this semester.

Course Outline: The following outline is both tentative and quite ambitious. I will not be surprised if we fall behind and have to make changes.

Friday, September 2: Introduction: Philosophy of the Social Sciencs and Philosophy of Science. What are the questions?

Wednesday, September 7:  A crash course in philosophy of science I: Positivism, goals, explanation, and laws

An Introduction to Philosophy of Science, pp. 1-9.

Friday, September 9: A crash course in philosophy of science II: Causation, theories, discovery, and confirmation

An Introduction to Philosophy of Science, pp. 9-20 (omit section A.10.3) and 22-23.

Monday, September 12: A crash course in philosophy of science III: Demarcation, methodology, and problems of the social sciences

An Introduction to Philosophy of Science, pp. 23-27; skim pp. 27-end.

Wednesday, September 14: Summary and introduction to philosophy of social science

Martin Hollis, "Introduction: Problems of Structure and Action"

*Friday, September 16: Quiz #1 on philosophy of science

Monday, September 19: Social structure and mechanics: on the origin of the social sciences.

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book I, chapters 1-5 (xerox, pp. 1-18)

Wednesday, September 21:  Social forces and unintended consequences

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book I, chapters 6 and 7, Book III, chapters 1 and 4 (xerox, pp. 18-35)

Friday, September 23: Social science and social policy

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book IV, ch. 1 and 2 (xerox, pp. 35-49)
D. Hausman and M. McPherson, "Game Theory"

Monday, September 26: Game theory, unintended consequences, and the invisible hand

D. Hausman and M. McPherson "Game Theory"

Wednesday, September 28: The social sciences as sciences of human nature

John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, Book VI, chapters 1-3 (xerox, pp. 1-10)

*Friday, September 30: On the relations between psychology and the social sciences

John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, Book VI, chapters 4-6 (xerox, pp. 10-27)

Introductory paper due: In the selections from The Wealth of Nations that we read, Adam Smith offers explanations for a variety of economic phenomena and historical changes. Pick an explanation that seems persuasive to you and write an essay presenting the explanation and examining how the explanation "works". What (if any) "laws" is Smith implicitly relying on? Is the explanation he gives a causal explanation? Does his explanation rely on identifying a "mechanism?" What sort of appraisal would you offer of his explanation?

The introductory papers should be about 1200 words (roughly 4 double-spaced pages with a 12-point font). They should be correct in their spelling, punctuation, and grammar. When you refer to various texts, be sure to document your references. It is sufficient to include parenthetical references in the text such as (Smith, Course Reader, p. 48). What is crucial is that your readers be able easily to consult the passages you refer to.

Be sure that your paper is well-organized as an argument for a some substantive thesis concerning the particular explanation you discuss. Be sure that your exposition of Smith's explanation is integrated into your argument for your interpretation and assessment, rather than appearing as prelude to your paper.

There is a good deal of information and advice on writing papers near the end of the syllabus as well as references to resources on paper-writing that are available on the web. Please consult that information and try to profit from that advice.

Monday, October 3: Methodology of the social sciences

John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, Book VI, chapters 7-9 (xerox, pp. 27-48)

Wednesday, October 5:  The direct and inverse deductive methods

John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, Book VI, chapters 9 and 10 (xerox, pp. 38-61)

Friday, October 7: Quiz #2 on Smith and Mill and the methods of social inquiry

Monday, October 10: History and social science

John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, Book VI, chapter 11 (xerox, pp. 61-69)

Wednesday, October 12: Introduction to Marx

Karl Marx, "Estranged Labor", "Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right"

*Friday, October 14: Materialism and Hegelian Philosophy

Karl Marx, "Theses on Feuerbach," and The German Ideology

Print-out of postings of two questions and two responses due.

Monday, October 17: Historical materialism

Karl Marx, The German Ideology and "Preface of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy"

Wednesday, October 19:  Marx's method

Karl Marx, "Outline of the Critique of Political Economy"

Friday, October 21: Marx, Mill and Smith on the method of the social sciences

Monday, October 24: Quiz #3 on Marx; introduction to Weber: Facts versus Values

Max Weber, "Objectivity in Social Science" (xerox)

Wednesday, October 26: Weber, Laws, History and Causal Explanation

Max Weber, "Objectivity in Social Science" (xerox)

Friday, October 28: Weber: ideal types and methodological individualism

Max Weber, "Objectivity in Social Science" (xerox)
J. N. Watkins, "Ideal Types and Historical Explanation" (xerox)

Monday, October 31: Individualism and holism, social facts and causal explanations

J. N. Watkins, "Ideal Types and Historical Explanation" (xerox)
Durkheim, "What Is a Social Fact? (xerox)

Wednesday, November 2:  More on Individualism vs. Holism

Durkheim, Suicide, Book 3, chapter 1
Durkheim, "Evaluation of Marxism"

Friday, November 4: Quiz #4 on Weber and Durkheim; Varieties of individualism

Steven Lukes, "Methodological Individualism Reconsidered"

Monday, November 7: Methodological individualism and Marxism

Julius Sensat, "Methodological Individualism and Marxism" (xerox)

Wednesday, November 9: Conclusions on Marx, Weber, Durkheim and methodological individualism

Julius Sensat, "Methodological Individualism and Marxism" (xerox)

Friday, November 11: Quiz #5 on methodological individualism

*Monday, November 14:  Functionalism

Marvin Harris, "Mother Cow"

Term Paper Due

Wednesday, November 16: Historical materialism and functionalism

G.A. Cohen, "Reply to Elster on "Marxism, Functionalism, and Game Theory"

*Friday, November 18: Elster's critique of functionalism in the social sciences

Jon Elster, "Marxism, Functionalism, and Game Theory," pp. 453-63 (not the whole essay now)

Print out of postings of two questions and two responses due

Monday, November 21:  Are there successful functional explanations in the social sciences?

Marvin Harris, "Mother Cow"
G.A. Cohen, "Reply to Elster on "Marxism, Functionalism, and Game Theory,"
Jon Elster, "Marxism, Functionalism, and Game Theory," pp. 453-63

Wednesday, November 23: Functional analysis versus functional explanation

Christopher Boorse, "Wright on Functions"

Monday, November 28: Functions, goals and systems

Christopher Boorse, "Wright on Functions"

Wednesday, November 30:  What do functional explanations explain?

Philip Pettit, "Functional Explanation and Virtual Selection"

Friday, December 2: Functional explanation and virtual selection

Philip Pettit, "Functional Explanation and Virtual Selection"

Monday, December 5: Quiz #6 on functional explanation; Rational choice theory and folk psychology

D. Hausman and M. McPherson, "Rationality"

Wednesday, December 7: Rational choice theory and utility theory

D. Hausman and M. McPherson, "Rationality"
Jon Elster, "Marxism, Functionalism, and Game Theory," pp. 463-73.

Friday, December 9: Rational Choice Theory, Psychology, and Social Structure

Debra Satz and John Ferejohn, "Rational Choice and Social Theory"

*Monday, December 12: What good is rational choice theory?

Debra Satz and John Ferejohn, "Rational Choice and Social Theory"
Donald Green and Ian Shapiro, "Reflections on Our Critics"

Optional Term Paper Revision Due

*Wednesday, December 14: Conclusions: the mysteries of human interactions and how to unravel them

Print out of final postings of two questions and two responses due

Web discussion assignment:

20% of your semester grade will depend on participation in web-based discussion. This assignment has four purposes. First, it encourages you to become engaged with the course material and with each other. You have a great deal to teach each other. Second, it puts you in a better position to particpate in class discussion. Third, it encourages you to master the readings and lectures. Finally, it is a special (and difficult) kind of writing: effective contributions to web discussion need to be brief and extremely clear.

On the learn@uw web page for this course (at https://uwmad.courses.wisconsin.edu/), there is a "Discussion" tab at the top of the page. Clicking that tab, you will see three "forums": (1) "discussion for credit" (2) "exams and papers" and (3) "other discussion." The second is practical and potentially very useful to you, and the third is there to allow students to pursue any further discussion that they wish. The required contributions all pertain to the first forum. In that forum are eleven topics, each of which has an opening and a closing date. For your convenience, the closing dates are included in the topic title.

Your task is to post at least six good questions and to post at least six responses to questions posted by others. These posting should be spread out during the semester. To check that you are doing the posting and to assess your work, I am asking you to hand-in print-outs of some of your postings. Postings of two questions and of two responses are due on or before Friday, October 11. Print-outs of another two questions and postings are due on or before Wednesday, November 16, and print outs of postings of two more questions and responses are due on or before Wednesday, December 14. Only one question may be handed in for any topic, and only one response may be handed in for any topic, though you can hand in a question and a response on the same topic. These limits on what you can hand in are not limits on what you can post. You can post as many questions and responses as you wish. When you hand in postings, please print them directly from your web browser so that the date and context will be clear. That means that all your revising needs to be done before you post your questions and responses. Along with your responses, please hand in a print-out of the question or comment to which you are responding.

Postings should be short and polished. There is a 100-word limit, and still briefer postings are preferable. You should compose your postings on your own computer and revise them carefully before pasting them on to the discussion page. Style is very important in the postings. The clearer your questions and comments, the more useful and agreeable they will be for other members of the course. I will grade your postings both for their content and for their style, and I will place considerable weight on style. Since the postings are brief, they are opportunities for pushing your writing to a higher level of clarity and precision; and each of you will benefit from and appreciate the efforts others make to be precise, brief, and clear.

It ought to go without saying (though I am saying it anyway) that the same standards of etiquette, courtesy, willingness to listen to others, and kindness in both agreement and disagreement that apply to class discussion apply to discussion on the web.

The web discussion is intended as a forum for discussion among the students in the class, and I shall not take an active role in it. I may periodically take a look, and I might even post some comments and responses from time to time, but the idea is to encourage discussion among the class members.


I prefer a format where I lecture and discussion then develops from your questions. That means that you need to ask questions! And since the material is not easy and I am not always right or clear, you should have lots of questions. Please feel free to ask them!

Office Hours:

If my office hours, (Monday 10-11 and Wednesday 1-2) are not convenient, see me after class to arrange another time to meet. My job is to help you to master the skills and material with which this course is concerned, so feel free to come see me.

The Use of Email:

Email can be a great convenience, but it can get out of hand. Feel free to email me at dhausman@wisc.edu with any specific questions you have about assignments or requirements. If the question and answer are relevant to others, I will post them on the course discussion page. If you do not want your question posted, you should let me know. Otherwise I will assume that in emailing me, you’ve given me permission to post your question. You can send me substantive philosophical questions, too, provided that you also post them on the course discussion page. I will post my answers as well. That way I can serve as many students as possible. Some questions are not appropriate. For example, "Could you please restate the last three lectures?" And some questions are better discussed in person than over email. I’ll do the best I can to be helpful. Emails to me do not count toward the web discussion assignment unless you post them yourselves.

A Note on Plagiarism:

Plagiarism is a serious offense. All sources and assistance used in preparing your papers must be precisely and explicitly acknowledged. If you have any questions about what constitutes plagiarism, please come talk with me. Ignorance of what constitutes plagiarism is not a defense. It is your responsibility to be sure. The web creates special risks. Cutting and pasting even a few words from a web page or paraphrasing material without a reference constitutes plagiarism. If you are not sure how to refer to something you find on the internet, you can always give the URL.  It is generally better to quote than to paraphrase from material on the web, because in the absence of page numbers it can be hard to find passages that are paraphrased rather than quoted.

The role of the readings in the course:

Unlike some professors, I usually do not devote my lectures to the exposition and discussion of the readings (though I am happy to entertain questions about how my lectures relate to the readings). Although I will sometimes cite and criticize specific arguments from the readings, the lectures usually present an independent perspective on the issues. Critically engaging with the arguments in the lecture is your most important task, but you may have a hard time understanding my arguments if you do not study the readings carefully. I selected the readings to represent a variety of different perspectives, and even when the readings are mistaken, there are valuable lessons to be learned from understanding their mistakes. The quizzes and final examination will ask not only that you have mastered the material in the lectures but that you be able to relate the arguments in the lectures to the arguments in the readings and to respond intelligently to questions concerning the important arguments in the readings.

Some hints on reading philosophy papers:

Although you will not be able fully to understand every reading assignment completely, that is the goal. Here are some detailed hints about how to achieve it:

1. Use your highlighter very sparingly. It is much more useful to pencil in marginal notes summarizing or querying specific points than to highlight passages. Actively engaging the author is much more valuable than merely trying to assimilate the prose. And if you do highlight, only highlight a small percentage of the text. (There is not much point to highlighting everything, apart from adding color to the page!)

2. The assignments are usually short, and you should plan on reading the assignments at least twice. During the first reading you should ask yourself:

a. What is the author's position?

b. What is the general structure of the paper? Is it a collection of separate arguments, or does it aim to make one main argument?

c. What are the author's main assumptions? (Where is the author coming from?)

d. Against whom does the author take him/herself to be arguing? What is the context in which the piece was written?

e. What is the main line of argument (or what are the main lines of argument)?

f. What objections does the author address and how successful is the author in answering them?

g. How does the author's position relate to your views? To what extent does the author reinforce or challenge your views?

h. How do the author's arguments relate to the arguments developed in lecture and in other reading assignments? What criticisms would the author make of arguments developed in lecture or in other readings? To what extent is the position of the author open to criticisms made in lecture or in other readings?

During the second reading of the assignment, you should proceed more slowly and critically. Rather than merely asking questions about what the author's purposes, organization, and argument are, you should try to assess all of these and particularly the author's arguments

General Directions on Writing the Papers

Style and references:

1. You are expected to give references when you cite detailed claims or arguments made in the readings, and your papers should, where appropriate, show familiarity with relevant materials from the lectures or reading for the course. But you are expected to write essays, not examination answers. So don't introduce irrelevant matters to demonstrate that you have done the course readings. (But you must not ignore relevant supporting arguments and, particularly, objections in the readings.) Cite the readings only when they are relevant. Be sure that your paper is a well organized argument for some clearly articulated thesis.

2. When you quote, paraphrase, or make use of a point made by others, be sure to document the source. I am not particular about what style you use. All that matters is that your references be precise and usable. If you say that Marx says that capitalists are pigs, it should be clear on what page Marx supposedly says that. The easiest way to give a reference is simply to put the source and page number in parenthesis. Papers without clear references (where needed) will be marked down.

3. Papers must be typed or printed double-spaced with wide margins (at least one inch) on all sides, so that there is plenty of room for marginal comments. Be sure to keep copies of your papers. Please do not use binders.

4. Papers for the course must be essentially correct in their "mechanical" aspects-- spelling, punctuation, grammar, typing, and so forth. Papers with more than 3 or 4 errors per page will be marked down, and if they are very messy, they will not only be penalized, but they will also be returned for correction before they are graded. Obviously spelling and typing are of no intrinsic importance, but messy papers are hard to assess; and it is not unfair to expect you to take responsibility for making sure that your papers are correct in these regards. If you have difficulty with the mechanical features of paper writing, please get someone to proofread your paper before you hand it in.

Hints on essay writing:

1. The paper topics are not recipes for writing your essays. You have to decide what it is that you want to maintain in your essays. Do not regard the paper topic as an essay examination question. Although your papers must be on the assigned topic, the point is to write a well-organized and unified argument for some clearly enunciated conclusion.

2. The task of writing a good essay is virtually identical with the task of thinking out a clear thesis or conclusion that you want to defend and then elaborating and defending it. You should be able to say clearly and precisely not only what your paper is about, but also what your paper maintains. Be sure each of your papers has both a thesis--that it asserts something definite--and a logical organization. Once it is clear what you what to show, you will have a criterion to decide what is relevant and the basis for organizing your paper. Can you put your main point clearly in a sentence? Can you say clearly in a sentence what your paper shows or proves? Are all the parts of your paper relevant to your main point? Is the structure of your argument clear? No good essay merely summarizes things you have read and then offers your remarks or points of comparison or differences you noticed. Every acceptable essay integrates its remarks into an argument of its own. Exposition of the views of others should always be part of your argument for your thesis.

3. Note that a well-organized paper is not merely orderly. For example, a paper that argues that Durkheim argues for claims 1, 2, and 3 and that one can defend claim 1 as follows, claim 2 as follows, but not claim 3 is certainly orderly, and it certainly has a thesis. But it would only be well-organized--truly one paper rather than three--if the discussions of the three claims bore some relations to one another and if the paper added up to some unified and substantive statement.

4. Avoid first paragraphs that say things such as, "First I will discuss the views of Marx and Mill. Then I will discuss their strengths and weaknesses. Then I will compare their conclusions and formulate my opinion." Passages such as these make it sound as if your argument will begin only on the last page. Exposition of the views of others has to find its place within your argument, not as a preface to your argument. If you think in terms of what you want to establish, and outline your paper in terms of stages in your argument, your essay will be much stronger.

5. Try to say exactly what you mean. Pay careful attention to your language. Sentences such as "Marx is a mistaken principle" are unacceptably careless. Value your words and use them accurately.

6. To help in organizing your thinking, you should attempt to answer the following three questions:

1. What is your thesis--that is, what is it that you are trying to maintain or show or prove? What is your main argument for your thesis?

2. What is the most important objection to or criticism of your thesis that you need to consider? Formulate that objection or criticism as an argument.

3. What is your argument in response to the objection or criticism mentioned in answer to question 2?

If you cannot answer these questions clearly and easily, then there are serious problems with your paper. Do not regard your papers as finished or acceptable until each clearly implies answers to the above questions. (But an essay is not, of course, a list of answers to any set of questions.) Taking the task of answering these questions seriously can make a big difference in the quality of your paper.

Special considerations in writing philosophical papers:

1. In a political debate, the point is to win, and one consequently tries to make the arguments of one's opponents sound as ridiculous and worthless as possible. In a philosophical debate (or in writing a philosophy essay), in contrast, the objective is to learn the truth. So you should try to make the arguments conflicting with your views as compelling as possible, before you answer them. If there are any objections to what you are maintaining that you cannot answer, then you cannot be sure that you are right. Work hard at trying to see "the other side".

2. Although many sociological and historical facts are relevant to the issues you are addressing in your essays, be careful to keep your focus philosophical. If you aren't sure whether your papers are philosophical or not, check with me.

Seeking help:

When working on the final versions of your essays, feel free to come to your teaching assistant or me for help. You do not need to do further research, but you can consult with us if you want references for further reading.

There are some excellent resources on the web for writing philosophy papers. I particularly recommend:

www.sfu.ca/philosophy/writing.htm This is brief, clear, and helpful.

http://www.princeton.edu/~jimpryor/general/writing.html Excellent, but much lengthier.

www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/philosophy.html For those who are serious about philosophy.

www.cofc.edu/~portmord/tips.htm Contains lots of references for further study.

A terrific general source on writing is Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. The first edition is available on the web at http://www.bartleby.com/141/

Paper grading criteria


An "A" paper typically has all of the following virtues, although in exceptional cases papers with only five of the six virtues might merit an "A"

  1. It has a well-defined thesis and a logical organization.
  2. It shows good sense, intellectual honesty and struggle. It attempts to defend a defensible thesis and takes seriously objections to that thesis.
  3. It is well-informed. If there are passages in the assigned readings for the course that are particularly relevant to the matters under discussion in the essay, these are cited and discussed. The paper shows an awareness of conceptual dis-tinctions and clarifications developed in the course.
  4. It is intelligent, logical, and careful. The argument is carefully articulated and developed. Obvious difficulties are anticipated and answered, and gaps are closed.
  5. It is significant. The issues discussed, although typically matters of detail, are of some importance, and their importance is made clear within the essay.
  6. The paper is written in a lucid and grammatical style.

A "B" paper has the following virtues:

  1. As before.
  2. As before.
  3. As before.
  4. It is logical and not careless. The argument is well articulated.
  5. It is not trivial. The essay provides some motivation for its topic.
  6. The paper is grammatical.

A "C" paper has at least the following virtues:

  1. It is orderly and has some focus.
  2. It shows some serious concern with the issues it deals with.
  3. It is not uninformed. Where relevant, it shows awareness of the content of the course.
  4. There are some definite and cogent arguments in the essay.
  5. The paper has some point.
  6. The paper is readable and minimally grammatical.

A "D" paper

  1. Has some intelligible organization.
  2. Shows some concern with the issues it deals with.
  3. Shows minimal awareness of the course content.
  4. Makes some relevant and sensible argument
  5. Has some point.
  6. Is comprehensible.