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COURSE NAME: "Introduction to Philosophical Thinking "
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2018

EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 11:30-12:45 PM
OFFICE HOURS: By appointment, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 8.30-10 a.m. and 1.30-3 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.

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

The course is divided into three parts. In the first part, we will think about what the “world” or “reality” is and how we know things about it; in the second, about what one’s “self” is and the “freedom(s)” one has and should have; and in the third, about our responsibilities to others in relationships, society, and nature. You will prepare a written assignment after the first and/or second part of the course, and, if you write only one of these assignments, you will give a presentation on a topic from the part of the course that you do not write an assignment on. At the end of the course there will be a cumulative exam.


• 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 participationClasses will involve a mixture of lectures, discussions, debates, presentations, and other activities. The emphasis will be on helping you to develop your own opinions and arguments and your ability to discuss them with others, as well as your understanding of the materials, issues, and relevant concepts, positions, and arguments. Your active involvement in discussions and other class activities, based on adequate preparation outside class, is therefore essential. I 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%
Two written assignments / One written assignment and one review presentationYou may choose either to prepare a written assignment after each of the first two parts of the course or to prepare a written assignment after one of these two parts of the course and give a review presentation after the other. The written assignments will be "take-home" assignments of 1400-1600 words. I will give you a set of questions from which to choose on the last Thursday of the relevant part of the course, although you may also agree an alternative question with me. The assignment will be due a week later, after the review and writing classes. If you choose to give a presentation rather than prepare a second written assignment, you will give it during the review and writing week on a topic agreed with myself. The presentation should provide a useful review of the topic for those writing their assignments on it, as well as a clear explanation of your own views about it. It will be evaluated according to the same criteria of understanding, argument, and clarity as the written assignments, as well as the structure, supports, and delivery of the presentation. If you present in a group, each member of the group will receive the same presentation grade.20% each / 25% and 15%
Final examinationThe cumulative final examination will consist of an essay written over an hour and a half under examination conditions. The questions will be distributed on Thursday of week 13 and at the examination, which will take place in week 15, you will be given a selection of these questions to choose one from. 25%

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 course.
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: How to do philosophy                                           

I. World

Week 2: Reality

Tuesday: What do we know?                                                   

Thursday: Why (not) believe in God?       

Week 3: Science

Tuesday: What is science?

Thursday: Who to believe?

Week 4: Minds

Tuesday: Mind or brain?                                             

Thursday: How do words have meaning?   

Week 5: Review presentation/written assignment                     

II. Self  

Week 6: What am I?

Tuesday: Am I the same person?                                             

Thursday: The imaginary self?

Week 7: Freedom

Tuesday: Do we have free will?                                                           

Thursday: How free should we be?                                                                                                                         

Week 8: My life

Tuesday: How egoistic should we be?                                                  

Thursday: The meaning of life?

Week 9: Review presentation/written assignment   

III. Others

Week 10: Strangers

Tuesday: Why should we give to charity?

Thursday: What is (dis)respect?

Week 11: Relationships

Tuesday: What is friendship?

Thursday: True love?

Week 12: Politics

Tuesday: How equal should we be?

Thursday: What are our (climate) responsibilities to the future?

Week 13: Nature

Tuesday: Responsibilities to animals?                                           

Thursday: Designer babies?

Week 14: Review for final exam