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COURSE NAME: "Introduction to Philosophical Thinking "
SEMESTER & YEAR: Spring 2019

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.

"The argument is not just about any question, but about the way one should live" (Plato, Republic, 352d).

This semester we will read and discuss what is perhaps the most famous work of philosophy ever written, Plato's Republic, which like all of Plato's works is a dialogue or drama.  This comprehensive book, though written by an ancient Athenian, treats questions of concern to all thoughtful human beings.  These questions include:

·         What is justice, and why should I be just? 

·         Is "justice", on closer inspection, merely the self-interest of the ruling class?

·         What considerations should determine the conduct of war and the education of soldiers?

·         Should harmful or "politically incorrect" religious teachings, poetry, art, and music be censored?

·         Should property be private or held in common?

·         Should men and women have the same education and perform the same political and military functions?  

·         Is the best way of life active or contemplative?

Classes will typically consist of a mixture of lecture and discussion, as well as oral presentations by students on the assigned readings.

Please note: This is a very demanding course.  Although no prior experience in philosophy is required, we will be tackling a difficult text.  In order to succeed, you must be willing to read each assignment carefully and at least twice.  You must be diligent, tenacious, and eager to decipher complex arguments that may be baffling at first glance.  And this is only the beginning, for you must then attempt to understand the relation between the arguments and the characters who make them, or in other words between the arguments and the drama of the dialogue. You must combine close textual analysis and rigorous logic with literary sensitivity and common sense.

1. Gain experience in careful reading of a complex text.  In the words of Sherlock Holmes: "Never trust to general impressions, but concentrate yourself upon details," for "the little things are infinitely the most important."  (Of course, in concentrating on details we must never lose sight of the bigger picture.)

2. Improve our capacity for clear and logical thinking, speaking, and writing.

3. Improve our capacity to listen to and consider seriously opinions that differ (sometimes drastically) from our own. 

4. While we do not expect to arrive at definitive solutions of philosophical problems, certainly not in a single semester, we do aim to acquire a clearer understanding of some of those problems as well as some of the possible solutions to them.
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
RepublicPlato (tr. Allan Bloom)Basic Books9780465094080JC71 .P35  

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Plato and the RepublicNickolas PappasRoutledge0415299977JC71.P6P36 
An Introduction to Plato's RepublicJulia AnnasOxford0198274297JC71.P6 A544 
MythologyEdith HamiltonNew AmeranyBL310 .H3 1989 For understanding Greek religion and the mythological references in Plato.
class participation(1) Class discussions help us test our opinions, improve our speaking and reasoning skills, and learn from each other. Philosophic inquiry needs to be, in part, a group effort: since none of us is truly wise (including the instructor), we all need each other's help. You are therefore strongly encouraged to participate in class discussions. In order to do so productively, you must do the assigned readings, carefully and thoughtfully. Be ready to ask questions or offer opinions about the text or the issues it discusses. (2) You are *required* to bring to each class a hard copy of the assigned reading for that day (electronic devices may not be used in class), and for translated texts, you are *required* to use the translations specified in the syllabus. (3) A short written comment or question (minimum two sentences; 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) Once during the semester, each student, in lieu of a written comment, will present orally to the class a 5-minute outline of that day's reading assignment. (You will need to turn in to me any written notes that you prepare for this presentation.) (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. (7) The instructor may require students to attend one or more evening lectures or lunchtime events that are relevant to this course or the study of philosophy.20
3 papersLate papers will be assessed a penalty unless an extension has been granted in advance. Papers that refer to translated texts must be based on the translation(s) specified in the syllabus; failure to use these translations will negatively affect your grade.60
final examEssay questions on the assigned readings. 20

A Work 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.)
B This 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.
C This 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.
D The 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.
F This 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.


Schedule of readings, Plato's Republic

Note that we have a make-up class scheduled for Friday, Feb. 22.

Students are required to use the translation of the Republic by Allan Bloom (Basic Books, 2016, ISBN 978-0465094080) and to bring a hard copy of this translation to each class.  Since Bloom's translation, although it is the most faithful to the original, is sometimes hard to understand, it is very helpful to have a second translation on hand as well.  For this purpose I recommend the one by Griffith (Cambridge University Press, 2000) or by Grube and Reeve (Hackett, 1992).

Students are also advised to consult the instructor's "Notes on Plato's Republic" and "Outline of Plato's Republic," both posted on MyJCU.

Jan. 22: Introduction

Book One

Jan. 24: 327a-331d (= pages 3-7) - handout

Jan. 29: 331d-336a.  (If you do not have the book yet, print out the reading and pertinent endnotes from the PDF posted on MyJCU.)

Jan. 31: 336b-344c

Feb. 5: 344d-354c.  Receive prompts for first paper.  

Book Two

Feb. 7: 357a-362c

Feb. 12: 362d-367e

Feb. 14: 367e-376c

Feb. 19: 376c-383c.  First paper due.

Book Three

Feb. 21: 386a-398b

Feb. 22: 398c-403c

Feb. 26: 403c-417b

Book Four

Feb. 28: 419a-434c. Receive prompts for second paper.  

March 5: 434d-445e

Book Five

March 7: 449a-457c. Second paper due.  Recommended reading: John Gould, "Law, Custom and Myth: Aspects of the Social Position of        Women in Classical Athens" (posted on MyJCU)

March 19: 457c-471c.  Recommended reading: Arlene Saxonhouse, "The Philosopher and the Female in the Political Thought of Plato" (posted on MyJCU)

March 21: 471c-480a

Book Six

March 26: 484a-497a. 

March 28: 497a-511d

Book Seven

April 2: 514a-521b

April 4: 521c-541b

Book Eight

April 9: 543a-555b.

April 11: 555b-569c

Book Nine

April 16: 571a-580a.  Receive prompts for third paper.  

April 18: 580a-592b

Book Ten

April 23: 595a-608b. Third paper due.  

April 30: 608c-614a

May 2: 614a-621d

Recommended secondary sources:

  • Bloom's interpretive essay (pp. 307-436)
  • Julia Annas, An Introduction to Plato's Republic (library reserve)
  • Nickolas Pappas, Routledge Guide to Plato and the Republic (library reserve)
  • Arlene Saxonhouse, "The Philosopher and the Female in the Political Thought of Plato" (posted on MyJCU)
  • John Gould, "Law, Custom and Myth: Aspects of the Social Position of Women in Classical Athens" (posted on MyJCU)
  • Edith Hamilton, Mythology (library reserve)