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

EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 11:30-12:45 PM
OFFICE HOURS: By appointment, Tues., Weds., and Thurs., 12.45-4 p.m.

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.

On this course we will explore a range of philosophical questions about how we understand the world and how to live well in it. We will consider things like what it is to know or explain something, how language works and what thinking is, what is means to be free, happy, or oneself, how and why we should love or respect others, and how society should be organized. We will examine our own and (other) philosophers’ ideas about these things not only in the abstract, but primarily in relation to concrete issues – such as artificial intelligence, friendship, or taxation. We will read philosophical texts, examine practical scenarios and problems, watch debates and lectures, and, most of all, discuss our views and arguments extensively with each other in class and in written assignments.

The course is divided into three parts. In the first part we will think about what the ‘world’ is made up of and how we know things about it, in the second what one’s ‘self’ is and the freedoms one has, and in the third our responsibilities to others in society, personal relationships, and nature. You will prepare a written assignment after each part of the course.


• explain, analyze, and discuss philosophical arguments and debates;
• develop your own reasoned views of them;
• glean meaning from philosophical texts, and make appropriate use of secondary resources;
• do all this in appropriately academic oral and written forms and in individual and group contexts.


Class participationI will give you a percentage grade for each class, and the average of these grades will constitute your final participation grade. The grades will be based on three criteria: how sophisticated an understanding of the relevant materials you display, how critically and thoroughly you show that you reflect on the issues raised, and how clearly and attentively you respond to what I and others say. So, if you show that you have analyzed the materials well before class, develop your own ideas about the issues raised, and contribute to class activities in thoughtful, relevant, and collaborative ways, then you will receive an ‘A’ (95%, or, in exceptional cases, 100%) grade for the class. If you show some understanding of the materials, attend reflectively to the issues raised, and contribute actively to class activities, you will receive a ‘B’ (85%) grade. You will receive a ‘C’ (75%) grade if you show an understanding only of the basics of the materials, while providing little thoughtful analysis and contributing rarely or only when called upon.25%
Forum contributionsSince the class forum is intended to allow for free discussion, I will not assess the content of your posts. Your grade for this assessment will be simply the percentage of times that you post on time, out of the possible total posts. You may also miss up to two posts unexcused without this affecting your grade. 10%
Three written assignments The grade for each assignment will be based on three main criteria: how well you explain the relevant ideas and arguments, how thoroughly and insightfully you discuss them and support your answer to the question, and how precisely and logically you present your answer. So, an assignment that accurately and thoroughly explains the relevant ideas, arguments and information, discusses them in reflective and analytical ways and in support of a clear answer to the question, and presents all of this precisely and logically will receive an ‘A’ grade. If the assignment explains some of the relevant ideas, arguments and information accurately, provides some thoughtful discussion and a clear answer to the question, and is generally clearly expressed and organized, it will receive a ‘B’ grade. A ‘C’ grade assignment will be one that attempts to answer the question and provides some account of relevant ideas, arguments and information, but fails to explain others, gives little discussion and/or is unclearly expressed and organized.25% for the best one, 20% for each of the others

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the cour
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


You may make up a missed assessment only with the permission of the Dean’s Office. This permission is granted only in cases of serious impediment – such as a documented illness, hospitalization, or attendance at an immediate family member’s funeral – and when you notify the Dean’s Office beforehand.

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.


Week 1:           Thursday: Thinking tools                                           

I. World

Week 2:           Reality

                        Tuesday: Knowledge                                                   

                        Thursday: God      

Week 3:           Science

                        Tuesday: Causation                                                     

                        Thursday: Relativism

Week 4:           Minds

                        Tuesday: Meaning                                                       

                        Thursday: Mind or brain?

Week 5:           Preparation of first written assignment                                

II. Self  

Week 6:           What am I?

                        Tuesday: Personal identity                                           

                        Thursday: The unconscious

Week 7:           Freedom

                        Tuesday: Free will                                                       

                        Thursday: Individual freedoms                                                                                                                       

Week 8:           My life

                        Tuesday: Egoism                                                         

                        Thursday: The meaning of life

Week 9:          Preparation of second written assignment

III. Others

Week 10:         Strangers

                        Tuesday: Charity

                        Thursday: Respect

Week 11:         Relationships

                        Tuesday: Friendship

                        Thursday: Parents

Week 12:         Politics

                        Tuesday: Equality

                        Thursday: Voting

Week 13:         Nature

                        Tuesday: Animals

                        Thursday: Genetics

Week 14:         Preparation of third written assignment