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COURSE NAME: "Introduction to Philosophical Thinking "
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2017

EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 10:00-11:15 AM

We all have opinions about what is true and false, right and wrong, what is just, divine, and beautiful, what the self, mind, and soul are, or what makes us free. But can we justify our opinions about such things? Have we given rational and open-minded consideration to criticisms and alternatives, or are our opinions perhaps based only on prejudices and assumptions? In this course you will learn to use philosophical thinking to test and improve your opinions and your ability to evaluate the claims of important philosophers. Through the study and discussion of philosophical texts, classic or contemporary, you will grapple with issues of fundamental human importance and develop your capacities for careful reading, clear writing and speaking, and logical argumentation.

This course has three main parts.  The first part introduces an ancient and also very current philosophical problem, that of soul and body.  Are human beings (and perhaps other living things) endowed with a soul?  Or has this assumption been refuted by modern science?  Without the soul can we still believe in human freedom, morality, and purposes higher than survival and reproduction?

The second part of the course will consist mainly in a careful reading of Plato's Phaedo, which recounts the final conversation of the philosopher Socrates with his friends before his death.  Issues raised by this celebrated dialogue include immortality, the best way of life, what we can know and how we can know it, the causes of generation and change, and whether the universe as a whole has a knowable purpose.

The third part of the course introduces modern philosophy through selections from Voltaire's witty and irreverent Philosophical Dictionary. Voltaire was a leading representative of the Enlightenment, a philosophical movement that transformed the Western world through its bold attempt to substitute reason and science for what it regarded as prejudices and superstitions.  We will also consider Edmund Burke's powerful critique of this movement.

Please note: this course is not for the meek.  While no prior acquaintance with philosophy is required, some of the texts in the course are very challenging and students will be expected to devote substantial time and effort to them outside of class.  We will be grappling with some of the greatest and subtlest minds in the Western tradition.  But the harder we work outside of class, the more enlightening and enjoyable will be our class discussions, and the more progress we will make toward understanding fundamental human problems. 


Improve our capacities for careful reading, clear writing and speaking, and logical argumentation.

Improve our capacity to listen to and consider seriously opinions that differ from our own. 

Deepen our understanding of issues of fundamental human importance.
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
PhaedoPlato (tr. Brann, Kalkavage & Salem)Focus9780941051699 You are required to use this translation.
Philosophical DictionaryVoltaire (tr. Besterman)Penguin9780140442571 You are required to use this translation.
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
De AnimaAristotle (tr. Shiffman)Focus9781585102488 You are required to use this translation
What does it all mean?Thomas Nagel Oxford978-0195052169BD21 .N24 1987 

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Four Texts on SocratesPlato / AristophanesCornell9780801485749B316 .F68 1984 
The Atheist's Guide to RealityAlex RosenbergNorton9780393344110  
attendance, participation, short written comments, quizzes(1) You are strongly encouraged to participate in class discussions. In order to do so productively, you must do the assigned readings ahead of time. (2) You are required to bring to each class a paper copy of the required readings for that day (electronic devices may not be used in class), and you are required to use the editions and translations specified in the syllabus, unless otherwise noted. (3) A short written comment or question (handwritten is OK; please double-space and leave margins) on the assigned readings is due every class, except for five times during the semester at your discretion. In addition, no comment is required on the day you turn in a paper. If you are absent from a class, you should turn in two comments the following class. Each comment should be focused on the assigned reading for that day, and should demonstrate that you have done that reading carefully and thoughtfully. Comments are not graded individually. (4) Quizzes may be administered, and will be graded Pass / Fail. (5) You are permitted two absences without an excuse. Additional unexcused absences will negatively affect your grade. Examples of excusable absences are those due to illness or travel. Requests for an excused absence should be made in advance whenever possible. (6) Please make every effort to be punctual to class; consistent lack of punctuality will negatively affect your grade.20
3 short papersLate papers will be assessed a penalty unless an extension has been granted in advance. For the first paper, students will be required to visit the Writing Center before turning in the paper. A penalty will be assessed if this requirement is not met. 60
final exam Essay questions on the assigned readings. 20

AWork of this quality provides a coherent, orderly argument based on a very careful reading of the relevant texts and a solid understanding of the relevant issues. The student displays superior reasoning skills and has done a good deal of original thinking about the material. He or she knows how to raise important questions about the text and to evaluate possible answers to them. The student writes very clearly and has a near-perfect command of English usage and grammar. (Appropriate allowances are made for those for whom English is not a first language.)
BThis is a good level of performance. The student displays a capacity for careful reading and good reasoning. The work reflects some original thinking and is not simply a repetition of lecture material and readings. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions. The student writes clearly and has a good command of English usage and grammar.
CThis is an acceptable, or fair, level of performance. The student provides answers that are clear but limited, consisting mainly in a repetition of the text or lectures. The student has some ability to write clearly and correctly.
DThe student fails to demonstrate a coherent grasp of the material. Important information is omitted and/or irrelevant points included. The paper is poorly organized, and the student shows limited ability to write clearly and correctly.
FThis work fails to show any significant knowledge of the texts and the issues. Most of the material is irrelevant or inaccurate. There is no coherent argument and the student shows little ability to write clearly and correctly. This grade is also given for an act of plagiarism or other form of academic dishonesty.

You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. The final exam period runs until ____________
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


You must bring to each class a hard copy of the assigned readings for that day.  (The use of electronic devices in class is not permitted.)  Failure to do so will negatively affect your grade.  Students who consistently fail to do so will receive a failing grade for class participation.  

Except for the Phaedo and the Philosophical Dictionary, all readings may be printed out from the course post-it on MyJCU.

For translated works, you are required to use the translations specified in the syllabus. 

August 29 – What is philosophy?  Why philosophy? 

Part I.  A very brief introduction to logic

August 31 – Readings from Hardegree and Joseph (handout - also posted on MyJCU as "Logic A" and "Logic B")

        Written assignment for Hardegree reading:  Invent one argument for each of the following categories:   
                    1. Factually correct but not valid
                    2. Valid but not factually correct
                    3.  Sound (both factually correct and valid)

           Written assignment for Joseph reading: 
                     1.  Invent two arguments that are fallacious. 
                     2.  Describe a thing or event and distinguish between its condition(s) and its cause(s).

No additional written comment is due for this class.

Part II.  Souls, brains, and science: or, what are we, really?

A.    Contemporary perspectives

September 5 – Thomas Nagel on the mind-body problem. [Optional: Nagel, "What is it like to be a bat?"]

September 7 - Alex Rosenberg, "Disenchanted Naturalism": Introduction, sections 1-6, 9 (the other sections are optional).  Recommended: Rosenberg, The Atheist's Guide to Reality (selections) - useful for understanding the references to the second law of thermodynamics in "Disenchanted Naturalism."

September 12 -  Richard Polt, "Anything But Human" and "Reality is Flat" 

September 14 – Conclude discussion of Rosenberg and Polt.  (Write an additional comment on either author.)

B. An ancient perspective: Aristotle on the soul

Note that the translator's Glossary is very helpful in understanding Aristotle's key terms.

September 19 – "Intro to Aristotle"; Aristotle, De Anima I.1

[We will not meet on September 21]

Sept. 26  – De Anima II.1.  

Sept. 28  - De Anima II.2, 4 [recommended: II.3; and for a harmonization of Aristotle's philosophy of form with modern biology and chemistry, Leon Kass, The Hungry Soul, pp. 35-44].  Receive topics for first paper.

Part III. The trial and death of Socrates: Plato, Apology and Phaedo 

The Apology is available on MyJCU, but for the translators' notes and introduction to this text, see Four Texts On Socrates (on library reserve)

Important: While reading the Phaedo, please consult the "Phaedo Study Guide" (MyJCU).  Also consult the translators' Glossary.

Oct. 3 -  "Intro to Apology of Socrates" (MyJCU);  Plato, Apology, 17A-30A (pp. 1-13)

Oct. 5 -  Apology, 30a-end.  

Oct. 6 (make-up for Sept. 21) - Phaedo, 57-65D (pp. 27-36).  (While reading the Phaedo, don't forget to consult the Phaedo Study Guide on MyJCU.)

Oct. 10 - 65D-72E.  First paper due.

Oct. 12 - 72E-78A

Oct. 17 - 78B-84B

Oct. 19 - 84C-91C

Oct. 24 - 91C-95A.  Receive topics for second paper.

Oct. 26 – 95A-99D.  

Oct. 27 (make-up for Nov. 23) – 99D-107A

Oct. 31 – 107B – 115A.  

Nov. 2 – 115A-end. Second paper due.

Part IV. Introduction to the Enlightenment (and its critics): Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary (with Burke's critique)

While reading Voltaire, please consult the "Voltaire Study Guide" (MyJCU). 

Nov. 7 – "Intro to Voltaire" (My JCU); Philosophical Dictionary: Chronology, pp. 401-3; “Abbé”, “Fanatisme: Fanaticism”, “Tolerance: Toleration”.  [Recommended: “Superstition”]

Nov. 9 – Philosophical Dictionary: “Liberté de pensée: Freedom of thought”; “Préjugés: Prejudices” 

Nov. 14 – Interlude: Burke’s response to Voltaire and the Enlightenment

Intro to Burke (MyJCU); excerpt from Reflections on the Revolution in France (My JCU), pp. 73 (from middle of page, “We are not the converts of Rousseau; we are not the disciples of Voltaire”) – 75 (to end of top paragraph – “his duty becomes a part of his nature”). 

Nov. 16 – Philosophical Dictionary: “Liberté (de la): On freewill”; “Nécessaire: Necessary”. Receive topics for third paper.

Nov. 17 (make-up for Nov. 21): “Certain, certitude: Certain, certainty”; “Miracles”

Nov. 21 – no class

Nov. 28 -  “Athée, athéisme: Atheist, atheism”; “Dieu: God”, “Théiste: Theist”.  Third paper due.

Nov. 30 -  “Amour-propre: Self-love”; “Egalité: Equality”.  Review of semester and preparation for final exam.