By the end of this course, you will possess a basic
(1) How philosophers approach problems,
(2) How to write and assess arguments, and
(2) The fundamental issues within four different topics in philosophy: personal identity,
mind and body, epistemology, and ethics.
You won't be a philosopher by the end of this
course, because in an important sense you already are one. By that I mean (a) you possess
a set of beliefs which guide your daily conduct, and (b) you believe you have good reasons
for accepting these beliefs. For instance, you probably believe that murder (i.e. the
unjustified taking of another life) is wrong, that humans have a rich mental
But suppose someone were to press you on why you
believe these things: what would you say? For example, can you explain precisely
what a "mind" is? Most people take the term to refer to a non-physical entity
that interacts (in some as yet unspecified way) with a person's brain. But how can a
non-physical entity interact with a physical one? And how can we have knowledge of that
which is non-physical?
Or again, take your knowledge of the world...why
trust your senses? Everyone has had a dream that seemed absolutely real while they were
dreaming it...how can you be certain you're not dreaming NOW?
Hence what we'll try to do this semester is to make
you a better philosopher than you already are, by subjecting your beliefs to rational
reflection and scrutiny. Doing philosophy is as fascinating as it is frustrating, and I
hope that during the term you will experience more of the former than the latter. If not,
remember the easier it is to obtain something, the less valuable it is; so think of the
challenges this course will present as further indications of its worth.
ONLINE LECTURE NOTES:
If you are viewing this page online, to access the
course lectures notes simply return to the top of this page and click on the button for
the corresponding unit. If you are reading a hard (paper) copy of this
syllabus, the URL for this page is:
YOU ARE REQUIRED to read the online notes
prior to class on the day that a reading is to be discussed. The notes will often
ask you to prepare a given question for discussion, or to print out and answer a set of
questions, etc. and bring them to class. Failure to do so will harm your course grade.
In general, classes will be a combination of lecture
and small group discussion, the proper mix being determined by the material being covered
that class period.
-- Four group projects -- 70% of final grade.
Group Project #1 -- Personal Identity -- 10% of
Group Project #2 -- Minds and Body -- 15% of final grade
Group Project #3 -- What Can I Know? -- 20% of final grade
Group Project #4 -- Ethics -- 25% of final grade
By the end of the first week of class, you
will be divided into groups of four, and will work together to complete the project.
Each project contains a scenario or problem that will require each group
member to focus on a particular aspect of that problem. You will prepare,
discuss, and analyze the given project together, but you will not submit a single paper
for the group. Each group member will write a paper that explains (a) the
group's answer to the project, and (b) how their specific area of expertise figured in the
group answer. To see what the first project looks like, click here.
-- Weekly writing assignments -- 30%
of final grade. Ten (10) times during the term a brief (10 minute) in-class essay
will be assigned, requiring approximately a one paragraph answer. These assignments will
begin at the start of class. (Be warned -- if you arrive 5 minutes late, you will only
have 5 minutes to complete the assignment). You may be asked to explain a portion of that
day's reading, or analyze a passage from an earlier reading, etc. The dates for
these assignments appear on the syllabus. Any missed writing
assignment CANNOT be made up. (Each particular assignment is worth 3% of
Your work in this course will be assessed according
to the grading regulations listed in the Austin College Bulletin:
A -- Unusual and superior
B -- Intelligent, articulate achievement, above-average in fulfilling
C -- Passing work, representing graduation average;
D -- Passing work below the standard required for graduation;
F -- Failure without privilege of re-examination.
S/U -- An "S" will be awarded only
if EACH course requirement is completed, and if one's course average is at the
"C" level or above. Failure to meet EITHER of these conditions will result in a
grade of "U".
MAKE-UPS -- Excluding weekly writing
assignments, "make-ups" will be granted only if the instructor accepts a
promptly presented excuse which explains those conditions beyond the student's control
which made timely completion of work impossible. It is the student's responsibility to
inform the instructor of these absences.
ATTENDANCE -- Attendance is essential. You
get three absences for "free" -- i.e. they will not directly harm your course
grade. Your fourth absence (WHETHER ALL OF THEM ARE EXCUSED OR UNEXCUSED) will lower
your final course grade by 1/3 of a grade. Each additional absence past the
fourth lowers your final course grade an additional 1/3 of a grade. (Hence if your
coursework average is a B-, four absences lowers it to a C+, five lowers it to a C, etc.).
(Of course, any absences may indirectly
harm your grade. Insights that are generated by class discussion may be extremely
beneficial to your understanding of the material; unfortunately, these often cannot be
recreated outside the class).
All work done in and for this class is expected to
conform to the Austin College academic integrity policies as stated in the
College Environment. If you are uncertain about the meaning of these policies, or if you
have any questions about what is considered acceptable within the framework of these
policies, see me immediately.