Course Description: 

This course is an introduction to philosophy and to the themes and issues of two of its branches: metaphysics (“What is there?”) and epistemology (“What can we know?”).  We will address the following questions:

The course will have two components: the first, twice-weekly lectures by the professor concerning the assigned readings; the second, once-weekly discussion sections run by the teaching assistants.  It is my hope that students will thereby learn not only through the lectures about the content of the discipline of philosophy but also through the discussion sections what it means “to do philosophy.”

It is something of truism, but let it be nevertheless said: what you get out of this course depends to a great deal upon what you put into it. 


Course Requirements and Expectations: 

Final grades will be based on four separate components and weighted in the following way:

(1)   20% “Reflection” Papers

(2)   20% Class Participation

(3)   20% Mid-term Exam

(4)   40% Final Exam

Because the success of this course depends largely on your reading and reflecting on the assigned texts and attending and thinking about the lectures, you will be required to submit very short weekly “reflection papers”.  These papers are to be no more than 200 words in length (and typewritten or computer-printed) and are to be handed in to your teaching assistant at the beginning of your recitation section.  Each one is to address the following question:

What, to your mind, is the most interesting and important unanswered question raised in or by the previous week’s readings and lectures and why?

By “unanswered question” I mean an interesting and important difficult question – one to which there is, so far as you can tell, no easy or obvious answer.  It is a question you would like the answer to but do not know what it is.  If, after stating the question, you can provide a simple answer to it, the question is not a good one.  After stating the question, you need to explain why it is interesting, difficult and important.

The point of these exercises is for you to develop the ability to ask good questions.  That sounds easy, but it is not.  And the ability to ask good, hard questions is central to the philosophical enterprise.

These assignments will begin the week of September 8-12 and run through the week of December 1-5.  There will be no assignments October 13-17 (Mid-term on October 16), and November 24-28 (Thanksgiving).  That means there will be a total of eleven papers.  Each piece will be graded according to the following scale: 2 = demonstrates that you have read, understood, and thought about the issues; 1 = shows some engagement with the texts and lectures, but the question, in the end, lacks insight into the material; 0 = nothing handed in or a clear case of not having done the reading or thought about the material.       

This course – indeed, philosophy as a discipline in general – also depends upon your willingness and ability to discuss the ideas and issues that arise from these texts and the lectures.  Therefore, you will be graded upon your participation in the discussion sections – but in this way: at the end of the term, each of you will be asked to grade the students in your discussion section as well as yourself.  In grading, you should ask yourself:  How consistently, interestingly, insightfully did your classmate (or you yourself) contribute to class discussion.  How much did you benefit from the comments your classmate made?  Did your classmate attend the sections regularly?  Did he or she treat others with respect? – Note:  you can treat someone with respect even while you are disagreeing with him or her and destroying his or her arguments about a topic.  And you can demonstrate contempt for someone by letting a comment go with, “Yeah, whatever you say.”  The point is this: are you concerned about the truth, about figuring about what is right or a good argument?  Are you trying to help yourself and others to get to those end-points?  If so, that’s good.  If, on the other hand, someone is merely trying to show off intellectually by scoring argumentative points at the cost of someone else; if someone explicitly or implicitly suggests that the views of any or all classmates are unimportant or below him or her; well, that’s not good.  Please recognize too that if, in a normal philosophical exchange, your own views are questioned, challenged or criticized, you should not be personally offended.  In other words, if you are concerned about truth and the clarity of your views, you should welcome philosophical criticism.

At the end of the semester, you will be graded on classroom participation.  More exactly, at the last meeting of your discussion section, you will be asked to grade each other (and yourself).  Criteria include: preparedness, insightfulness, helpfulness; as well as, slothfulness and jerkiness.  In short, you are to ask yourself, “How positive was this person’s presence in this section?  How much did he or she contribute to our learning experience?”  In addition, your TA will take attendance and for every absence after a first unexcused absence your participation grade will go down one full grade.

Finally, the exams will consist entirely of essay questions of the form “How does so-and-so argue for x?” or, taking any of the questions listed above, “What do you think and why?”  The blog mentioned below has very helpful self-study questions, as does the textbook itself.  And I will offer more than enough suggestions and hints that there will be no surprises about the nature and character of the questions.  What will be important is your mastery of the material. 

 Required Texts: 

Various Policies: