Essay Philosophy

I’m studying for my Philosophy class and need an explanation.


Set out Crisp’s arguments concerning autonomous desire and rational choice which purport to show that repetitive advertising and puffery* are both kinds of advertising which subvert autonomy. Identify any important differences between the cases and explain how they affect his conclusions.

* Don’t get confused: Crisp uses this term in an extremely non-standard way.


At the beginning of his paper, Crisp says that he will show “all forms of a certain common type of advertising are morally wrong…[because] they override the autonomy of consumers.” He identifies 3 varieties of this type of advertising: subliminal suggestion, puffery, and repetition (end of last full paragraph on p.413). However, that’s the last we hear of repetition in the paper.

Sometimes this is fine. Suppose I’m arguing that smurfs are awesome. There are a lot of smurfs. It would be tedious to go through them one-by-one (Handy is awesome because…. Papa Smurf is awesome because….). The better thing to do is to pick a representative smurf, show why that smurf is awesome, and then argue that those reasons generalize to other smurfs.

But now the game depends on whether the smurf I’ve chosen is in fact representative. It might be that the reasons Smurfette is awesome (e.g., her impeccable choice in footwear) don’t generalize. Thus the danger of this strategy is that it’s an easy way to mislead your audience (or yourself!). The argument might only work for the one example and not translate to the others.

Analogously, Crisp implicitly asserts that the reasons puffery is problematic also apply to repetitive advertising. Thus what I’m asking you to do is figure out whether his arguments about puffery really do apply to repetitive advertising.

That means you need to, at the very least, (1) explain why he thinks puffery undermines autonomy; and (2) explore whether the same reasoning shows the same thing about repetitive advertising.

You can approach this serially —do (1), then do (2). Or you can approach this in parallel —do (1) and (2) for the argument about autonomy, then do (1) and (2) for the argument about rational choice. Both approaches can be fine. Personally, I prefer the serial approach; the parallel approach makes it easy to get mixed up about what I’m supposed to be discussing. But this is personal preference. Do what works for you.

Here’s a video with some further advice: (Links to an external site.)

Other notes

I want you to focus on the arguments concerning autonomous desires and rational choice (pp. 414-15). However, you will want to read the rest of the paper, since some of the things he says later on make it easier to understand his thinking (e.g., the paragraph starting “A more convincing account…” p.416)

As always, the standard for completeness is that someone who hasn’t taken the class could read and understand your answer. In this case, since ‘autonomy’ is a technical term, you can’t assume the reader knows what you’re talking about. Make sure you give a brief explanation of what autonomy is and why we care about it.

To answer the question in this assignment, you will need to synthesize in your own words material covered in the lectures and do some independent thought which goes beyond the material in the lectures. You will not be able to successfully complete the assignment without reading / watching the course materials (probably several times as you work on this).

You will receive a 1 point amount of credit for completing this assignment. The remaining 6 points will be based on how well you answer the question.

There is no official minimum page length / word count. However, I expect the vast majority of you will need about 1000 words to fully answer the question.