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INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY
Spring 2013 MWF 10:00
The first people to call themselves “philosophers” were sixth-century BCE Greeks. They made several important commitments which we make also if we enter into their tradition:
(1) As the word “philo-sophia” or “love of wisdom” implies, to be devoted to wisdom. About this formula, note:
(a) “Wisdom” is not simply knowledge in the sense of knowing facts. (So what is it? Is it perhaps knowledge in the sense of an understanding of how things are that forms an intrinsically desirable basis for living in the best way? What forms would such knowledge take?)
(b) Devotion to something doesn’t necessarily mean possessing it. (Although some philosophers have cultivated a reputation for knowing what’s what, Socrates and Plato both contended that true philosophers do not possess wisdom but long for it and pursue it. So how do philosophers make progress?)
(2) To find out which claims can be justified by using human reasoning powers; or at least to see what happens when reasoning (rather than subjective preference, authoritative command, or continuation of custom) is the test of a claim’s meaning; and to live on the basis of rational concept-formation and argumentation, to the extent one can.
(3) In using reason, to enter into the fullest possible conversation among reasoners, seeking out claims made by other reasoners and exposing one’s own thoughts to questions and objections posed by other reasoners. (The ancient Greek philosophers wove their disagreements with each other into the fabric of philosophy.) This seems to imply that reasoning will go on and on endlessly!
In this course, we will develop our understanding of the possibilities of philosophy by examining some of the most interesting arguments that philosophers have made, and by developing arguments of our own on important subjects philosophers have addressed. Our reading, writing, thinking, and oral discussion skills should be improved as we meet the special demands of the philosophical plunge into unrestricted, independent-yet-collegial reasoning.
Readings will be drawn from handouts and one required book:
John Perry et al., eds., Introduction to Philosophy, 6th ed., Oxford
Grading will be based on class participation (10%); seven 1,000-word philosophical essays (70%); and a take-home final exam (20%).
Subject to revision by announcements made in class and/or by email
All page assignments are in Perry et al., eds., Introduction to Philosophy
If you miss a class, come see me or e-mail with me to find out what happened
Jan. 9 Introduction.
Jan. 11 The question of the meaning of life: Camus (handout)
Jan. 14 The God thesis: Anselm & Aquinas 42-46
Jan. 16 Pascal 52-55
Jan. 18 Lewis (handout)
MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY JANUARY 21
Jan. 23 The problem of evil: Hume 85-90
Jan. 25 Essay #1 due [GOD]
Jan. 28 The nature of mind: Descartes 136-142
Jan. 30 Critique of Cartesianism: Ryle 250-257
Feb. 1 Intelligence (can it be artificial?): Searle 298-310
Feb. 4 Subjectivity: Nagel (handout)
Feb. 6 Paper #2 [MIND & BODY]
Feb. 8 Personal identity: Perry 312-319
Feb. 11 Perry cont. 319-326
Feb. 13 Perry cont. 326-332
Feb. 15 Parfit 343-354
Feb. 18 Dennett 368-376
Feb. 20 Paper #3 [PERSONAL IDENTITY]
Feb. 22 Determinism: d’Holbach (handout)
Feb. 25 Taylor (handout)
Feb. 27 van Inwagen 385-396
Mar. 1 Frankfurt 430-439
Mar. 4 Kinds of causes: Plato (handout)
Mar. 6 Paper #4 [FREE WILL & DETERMINISM]
Mar. 8 Kant’s categorical imperative 504-510
SPRING BREAK MARCH 11-15
Mar. 18 Kant cont. 511-519
Tamar Gendler (Yale U.), “The Costs of Unintentional Racial Bias”
Mar. 20 Mill’s utilitarianism 460-469
Mar. 22 Singer’s utilitarian approach to world hunger 495-502
Mar. 25 O’Neill’s Kantian approach to world hunger 538-543
Mar. 27 Paper #5 [MORAL PRINCIPLE]
GOOD FRIDAY MARCH 29
Apr. 1 Plato on the basic motivation of morality 639-654
Apr. 3 Plato cont. 654-675
Apr. 5 Mackie’s moral subjectivism 708-719
Apr. 8 COURSE EVALUATION. Harman 720-724
Apr. 10 Sturgeon 724-736
Apr. 12 Paper #6 [CHALLENGES TO MORALITY]
Apr. 15 Topic TBA
Apr. 26 Paper #7
FINAL EXAM DUE THURSDAY, MAY 2
FINAL DEADLINE FOR LATE WORK SATURDAY, MAY 4
Every day we’ll try to reserve a few minutes before class ends for writing down The State of the Question for you at that phase of our discussion. Use this opportunity to wonder about points that aren’t yet clear (e.g. meanings of key terms, steps in an argument), reflect on strengths or weaknesses of claims that have been made, or propose new considerations that might be relevant. I’ll read these notes and return them to you at the beginning of the next class. You might want to use 3-hole paper and a loose-leaf binder for this class.
Philosophical texts have been written to explore questions of tremendous depth—the greatest depth the human mind can plumb—so a reader can’t get what a philosophical text offers in one quick read. The reading assignments in this class will be relatively short, but dense. Expect always to read a philosophical text multiple times. You’ll have to get a feel for abstract conceptions and for the varying architectures of arguments. Philosophy texts can be really good reads, I assure you (that’s why I keep reading them), but they’re good in their own very challenging (hence mind-opening) way.
You’ll write 7 short philosophical essays (1,000 words) on topics the class is discussing. Each essay will be either (1) a critical review of another philosopher’s argument, or (2) a constructive argument. The two kinds of essay aren’t all that different. In a critical review you focus on laying out another philosopher’s argument, but you must include your own reasoned evaluation of that argument or some part of it. In a constructive argument you focus on laying out your own reasoning in support of your own thesis, but you must relate your reasoning to at least one other important position in the philosophical literature. Either way, the goal is to achieve insight by making ideas, assumptions, and links of reasoning as clear as possible and (within space limitations) by recognizing and responding to significant objections to the position under examination.
At the beginning of the semester everyone will be writing critical reviews. By the end of the semester everyone will be writing constructive arguments.
If you get an “Ahah! Now I know what I should do!” realization about a paper after getting it back, you can resubmit one of your papers, significantly revised, to try for a better grade. But the emphasis in this class will be less on revision and more on carrying your realizations forward to your next paper—so that you learn how to make needed revisions before you turn it in the first time.
To write a decent paper, give yourself a decent amount of time for doing the necessary reading, reflecting, consulting with your fellow philosophers, outlining, drafting, consulting with your fellow philosophers (always a good idea), and revising your draft.
We’ll talk in class about how to tighten the focus of your topic, how to organize your argument, and how to work toward an appropriate payoff in a short essay. If you want, we’ll talk about how to be brilliant.
WHAT IS AN ARGUMENT?
An argument is an ordered combination of claims. In a good argument the claims are each worth considering and they go together in a logical way that leads to a definite conclusion. Thanks to Aristotle we have a very clear and simple model for argumentation called the “syllogism” (which means, roughly, “combination of reasons”), and here is the classic example:
MAJOR PREMISE: All men are mortal.
MINOR PREMISE: Socrates is a man.
CONCLUSION: Therefore Socrates is mortal.
You should always relate your argument to the form of the syllogism, because any significant argument will invoke some sort of major premise—that is, some apparently reasonable general principle that applies to the matter at hand—and some sort of minor premise—that is, some apparently accurate claim about a particular matter that relates it to the general principle. If your argument deals with a significant issue, then of course your major premise and minor premise will both be debatable, and the challenge for your presentation is to do as much as you can to justify them with further arguments. Consider what back-up syllogisms would be needed to defend each of these premises, for example, in today’s debates on reproductive ethics:
MAJOR: It is morally impermissible to kill an innocent human being.
MINOR: A human embryo is an innocent human being.
A good philosophical argument is not just a debating brief; it is thoughtful and deepens our understanding of what’s really at stake in a debate. A philosophy paper doesn’t always try to prove a great big thesis. More often, a philosophical conclusion is modest, and it could just as well be negative (showing what seems not to make sense) as positive.
SOME COURSE RULES
1. Class attendance. Being in class, being engaged with the work of the class, and behaving courteously are all expected. One discourtesy to avoid is coming into class late. Better late than never, definitely; but lateness counts as half an absence—that is, your work with the class that day will be counted as only half done. One percent of the course grade will be lost for each absence from class for any reason, beginning with the fourth absence. (For example, someone who missed class 8 times would lose 5% of the course grade, or half a letter grade.) The reason for this: our in-class work is a crucial and irreplaceable part of the substance of the course.
2. Electronic communication devices (cell phones, laptops, etc.). In the current state of our social evolution, electronic devices are harmful Interrupters and Distracters. Their use is banned in our class—except, yes, you can whip it out to look something up that bears directly on class discussion. If you have special needs, discuss with me.
3. Late papers. Written assignments turned in late will lose a letter grade or equivalent. Homework may not be turned in more than one week after its due date. No work of any kind will be accepted after the last day of final examinations. Exceptions to this policy will only be granted to the victims of unforeseeable and uncontrollable circumstances.
4. As a general rule, no e-mail submissions. Unless the instructor allows it under specified circumstances, e-mail submissions of assigned writing are not accepted.
5. Plagiarism. Using the words or ideas of others without acknowledgment—that is, passing them off as your own—is a fraudulent practice called plagiarism. It also misses one of the main points of being in college, which is to develop your powers of thought and expression. Plagiarism is an offense under the Academic Honor Code.
6. Incompletes. An “Incomplete” grade for the course will only be given to students who, due to unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances, find themselves unable to complete course requirements during the term and can reasonably be expected to complete them within a few weeks after the term’s end. The “Incomplete” must be requested and appropriately justified before the end of final examinations.
7. Disabilities. Students with documented disabilities should discuss their needs with the instructor at the beginning of the semester.