Course Description and Objectives
Answering the question “What is philosophy?” is perhaps the principal goal of a first course in philosophy. Though there are many possible answers to this elusive question, it is clear that philosophers throughout history have concerned themselves with thinking critically about the nature of human experience and the greater world in which we find ourselves. As philosophers have often questioned the accepted truths and social mores of the societies in which they lived, they have frequently found themselves in trouble with “the man.” However, in forming new concepts about our world and ourselves, philosophers have ultimately brought about much change. When we examine, for instance, our modern scientific point of view, the competing ideologies of capitalism and communism, or our notions about the universal rights of human beings, we can see the clear influence of philosophical thinking. And these are but a few of many examples. In short, it is difficult to imagine what our world would be like without philosophy, even if it seems that anything resembling philosophy has vanished from view in today’s media-driven culture.
In a mere ten weeks, it is impossible to cover the entire history of philosophy. Instead, we shall read selectively from the tradition and focus on a few classic thinkers, emphasizing close reading and critical thinking on the issues at hand. We will divide the course into two parts, ‘pure’ and ‘practical’. For the first half of the course we will read Plato and Descartes for the purpose of examining classic problems in the theory of knowledge, such as the general problem of what ‘knowledge’ itself is and the question “How can we know anything with certainty?” For the remainder of the course, we will concern ourselves with ethical questions. We will read Kant on the meaning of the ‘good’ and the concept of duty, concluding with Sartre’s existentialist critique of traditional ethical concepts in view of the seeming meaninglessness of human existence. There is, however, something of a happy ending to this story, so don’t despair!
Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy
Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace and Other Essays
Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions
All texts cost under ten dollars new and will be available for purchase either in the Lincoln Park Bookstore or online at www.efollett.com. The Plato and Descartes texts are available in many different editions. If you already own one of these texts in another edition, feel free to use it. However, it will be much easier to follow along in class if you purchase the “authorized” editions. Additionally, the translations (none of these works were written in English) are among the best available, so I recommend you purchase them anew if you are working from an old and yellowed text
We will supplement these here and there with shorter articles that I will make available for download at the online Blackboard site for this course.
Mid-term paper: 35%
Final paper: 35%
Weekly assignments: 20%
Class Participation: 10%
There will be two papers of 5-7 double-spaced pages: a mid-term paper due around October 16 (week 6, exact date TBA) and a final paper due the last day of the exam period. Each will count for 35% toward your final grade. You must hand in both papers to pass the course. For each paper, you will be able to choose from a number of topics, which I will hand out approximately two weeks before the due date. I will accept rough drafts. A full list of requirements will accompany the first paper assignment.
The Philosophy Department takes plagiarism very seriously, and I am no exception. I have failed students in the past for plagiarizing, and you will join this infamous group if you are arrogant enough to try it. Plagiarism includes not only direct copying from a secondary text, but also paraphrasing an argument from a source without citing the source in a footnote. I will submit suspicious papers to Turn It In, which is an automated online service that checks student papers for plagiarism. If you’re busted, you will fail the course and be referred to the Dean for possible disciplinary action. Don’t do it!
Reading and Weekly Assignments
All reading assignments will be announced both in class and on the online Blackboard site for this course (see below). To ensure you keep up with the reading, with the exception of midterm week a brief exploratory writing assignment will be due every Monday. Each week I will hand out a series of critical study questions to bear in mind while reading. In general, the aim is to write a critical response to the reading for the week. In doing so, you may focus on one of these questions. However, the format for these assignments is open. If, therefore, you have a question about the reading that is not on the handout, feel free to write about it. These weekly assignments substitute for quizzes and are not as formal as the two papers. One double-spaced page is enough, and even a tight, well-written paragraph will do.
I will hand the assignments back with comments, but I will not grade them. This is because I want you to feel free to write critically about what you have read without the added pressure of a grade. However, this does not mean you can simply scribble something on a sheet of paper—they must be typed and intelligently written. If you hand in eight competent assignments, you will earn 20 points toward your final grade. In other words, this is a giveaway, so take advantage of it! Please note, however, that any missing assignment will cost you 2.5 points. I will not accept late assignments unless you are absent with a reasonable excuse (see below).
The format for this course is lecture and discussion. Each week I will spell out in detail the central philosophical arguments of the texts. However, I will break up the lectures as much as possible by throwing out questions and oddities about the readings (and there will be many), which we will attempt to sort out through discussion. Participation in discussions counts for the final 10% of your grade, and is necessary if we are to truly understand what is philosophically important about our texts. I also encourage you to ask questions of me whenever you wish, even if you may think it’s the most idiotic thing ever asked of someone. (Really, how bad could it be?) You will get that much more out of the course if you do. Though laughing at my lame jokes is nice, this in and of itself does not count for participation. You must actually open your mouth and say something.
Attendance and Punctuality
My policy is simple: show up on time, be ready to work, and all will be well. Philosophy in the morning is tough going, I know, so feel free to bring coffee to stimulate your tired brain. Please note, however, that regular attendance is absolutely required. You are allowed three unexcused absences. After that, you must have a doctor’s note or other documentation of an extraordinary circumstance that prevented you from attending class. Barring that, your final grade will be reduced 5% for each additional absence. Students who miss seven classes need not come back—you will fail the course automatically. No exceptions.
Please also get here on time. Lateness is discourteous and disrupts the class for all concerned, so don’t make a habit of it. If you are late more than three times, any further late arrivals will count as absences. If you are late, please enter discreetly and quietly. Five minutes is OK, but fifteen is not—you will be marked absent. And please don’t walk in front of me while I’m teaching, for goodness’ sake…
Please don’t take notes on your laptop computer. Nothing I say is so important that it needs to be transcribed verbatim. Philosophy is hard, and it requires concentration. Messing around with your shiny new Dell Inspiron is going to distract you from the discussion, and the clickety-clack of the keyboard will distract everyone around you. A pen, though undoubtedly not as impressive, is much easier to use than a computer, and has the added advantage of being silent.
Finally, please make sure that all electronic devices, such as cell phones, pagers, PDAs, digital watches, GPS-enabled tracking devices, Dick Tracy 2-way wrist TV sets, etc. are completely shut off before entering the room. If I hear any blips, bleeps, or cheesy personalized ring tones, I will get very, very cranky.
Contact Info & Office Hours
I have open office hours as listed above, and am also available by appointment. Apart from my office hours, I am more than willing to have an email exchange regarding paper topics or anything else you wish to discuss in relation to our course. Please do not hesitate to email me or see me if there is something you would like to discuss. Outside of class, email is positively the best way to contact me and I do check it several times a day. If you leave a message for me at the Philosophy Department, I may not get it for quite some time, so please use email. And if you don’t have email, it’s time to crawl out from underneath the rock already! Free email accounts are available through either DePaul or an online service such as Yahoo.