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

INSTRUCTOR: Annette Merle Bryson
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 1:30-2:45 PM

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 provides an introduction to some of the most enduring and difficult philosophical questions. These include: Can we know that the external world exists? What is the nature of moral obligation? What is the relation between mind and body? We will explore the intellectual significance of the questions we address and evaluate some of the answers philosophers have proposed.We will consider both contemporary and historical responses. We will develop and defend our own ideas regarding these and other questions while refining the skills we will need to critique our own answers as well as those of others through readings, class discussions, and writing assignments. 

Among the topics to be discussed are:

·         knowledge of the self and of the external world;

·         the relation between mind and body;

·         egoism and altruism;

·         the nature and extent of moral obligation.


By the end of this course, you will have gained:  

·         a clearer understanding of some of the fundamental philosophical questions and the range of answers that have been given;

·         a better understanding of the shortcomings and strengths of these various approaches to answering these fundamental questions;

·         a refinement of your own critical reasoning and argumentative skills;

·         a refinement of your capacities to recognize and assess philosophical arguments;

·         an enhancement of the conceptual tools we need to develop and defend our own philosophical views;

·         a refinement of your abilities to defend and express philosophical positions in a clear, well-reasoning way through both writing and conversation;

·         the (re)discovery of the joy of philosophical inquiry!


Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings, 8th EditionJohn Perry, Michael Bratman, John Martin FischerOxford University Press978-0190698720   

Class participationYou will receive a participation grade at the end of the semester reflecting your preparedness, contribution to in-class discussion, and participation in smaller group activities. (This grade will be 15% of your final grade.)15%
PapersYou will be expected to write two short papers over the course of the term. Details about the papers will be provided in class. (One paper will be worth 15% of your grade and the other 20% of your final grade. Paper grade total: 35%.) 35%
Reflection StatementYou will be expected to bring to our final class section a short reflection statement (400-600 words). I will explain more toward the end of the term. (The reflection statement will be worth 5% of your final grade.)5%
Final ExamThere will be a final examination for this course. Any material discussed in readings or in class during the semester is eligible to appear on the exam. (The final exam will count for 25% of your final grade.)25%
Quizzes Our time together in class will be more rewarding for all if everyone does the reading before class. You will be expected to take a quiz on Moodle before each class on the assigned material. The quiz due on Monday will also include questions on the previous week’s readings and in-class discussions. The quizzes will be available until 11:15am the day of class, and you may take each quiz up to two times. You are strongly advised to do the reading, take the quiz, and then if you get any questions wrong, reread the relevant sections before re-taking the quiz. As unexpected events do occur, I will drop your two lowest quiz grades. There will be no opportunities to make up missed quizzes without a letter from the Dean’s office. (This grade will be 20% of your final grade.)20%

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 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.



Note: This syllabus is intended to give the student guidance in what may be covered during the semester and will be followed as closely as possible. However, the professor reserves the right to modify, supplement and make changes as the course needs arise.

WEEK 1: Introduction 

Monday, 9/2: Introduction to Course

Wednesday, 9/4: Doing Philosophy 

Required Reading: (1) “Preface” (Textbook) and Bertrand Russell, “The Value of Philosophy” (Textbook)
Recommended Reading: “Logical Toolkit” (Textbook)


WEEK 2: Normative Theory: Consequentialism

Monday, 9/9: Famine and Moral Obligation

Required Reading: Peter Singer, "Famine, Affluence, and Morality” (Textbook) 

Wednesday, 9/11: A Consequentialist Theory

Required Reading: John Stuart Mill, “Utilitarianism” (Textbook) 

WEEK 3: Normative Theory: Pressures on and Alternatives to Consequentialism

Monday, 9/16: Famine and Moral Obligation 

Required Reading: Onora O'Neill, "Kantian Approaches to Some Famine Problems" (Textbook) 

Wednesday, 9/18: Pressures on Consequentialism 

Required Reading: Robert Nozick, "The Experience Machine" (see Moodle) 

WEEK 4: Normative Theory: Kantian Ethics & Wrapping-up of Unit on Ethics

Monday, 9/23A Deontological Theory

Required reading: Immanuel Kant, "Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals" (Textbook) 

Wednesday, 9/25: A Deontological Theory

Required Reading: Immanuel Kant, "Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals" (Textbook) 


WEEK 5: Knowledge and Reality

Monday, 9/30: Knowledge 

Required reading: Plato, “Plato’s Allegory of the Cave” (Textbook)

Wednesday, 10/2: Knowledge and Reality

Required reading: René Descartes, "Meditations on First Philosophy" (Textbook)

WEEK 6: Knowledge and Skepticism

Monday, 10/7: Knowledge and Skepticism

Required reading: Christopher Grau, "Bad Dreams, Evil Demons, and the Experience Machine: Philosophy and The Matrix" (Textbook)

Wednesday, 10/9: What We Can Know

Required reading: [To be announced]

First writing assignment topics distributed

WEEK 7: Knowledge, Wrapping-up

Monday, 10/14: Knowledge

Required reading: [To be announced.]

Wednesday, 10/16: How to write a philosophy paper & Using the library

Required reading: “Writing Philosophy Papers” (Textbook); Handout on writing philosophy papers





WEEK 8: The Problem of Evil: An Argument Against the Existence of God

Monday, 10/21: Paper 1 Workshop

Required reading:  Bring paper draft to class and be prepared to discuss it! Hume, “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion” excerpt (Textbook)

Wednesday, 10/23

Required reading: William L. Rowe, “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism” (Textbook) 

First writing assignment due: Friday, 10/25 at midnight

WEEK 9: 
Arguments for the Existence of God

Monday, 10/28Response to the Problem of Evil

Required Reading: Marilyn McCord Adams, “Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God” (Textbook)

Wednesday, 10/30: First-Cause Argument for the Existence of God

Required Reading: Aquinas, “The Existence of God” (Textbook)

WEEK 10: Arguments for the Existence of God 

Monday, 11/4: Argument from Design

Required Reading: William Paley “Natural Theology” (Textbook)

Wednesday, 11/6: How to write a philosophy paper & Using the library

Required reading: 

WEEK 11: Arguments for the Existence of God & Writing a Philosophy Paper

Monday, 11/11: First-Paper Workshop

Required assignment: Bring paper draft to class and be prepared to discuss it! 

Wednesday, 11/13:Monday, 10/30Various Arguments

Required Reading: (1) Blaise Pascal, “The Wager” (Textbook) and (2) [Second reading to be announced]



WEEK 12: The Traditional Problem of Mind and Body 

Monday, 11/18

Required reading: Bertrand Russell, “The Argument from Analogy for Other Minds” (Textbook)

Wednesday, 11/20

Required reading: Gilbert Ryle, “Descartes’s Myth” (Textbook)

WEEK 13: The Nature of Mind 

Monday, 11/25: Materialist, Scientific View of Mind

Required reading: David M. Armstrong, “The Nature of Mind” 

Wednesday, 11/27: Eliminative Materialism & Pressures on Physicalism

Required readings: Patricia Churchland, “Neurophilosophy” (Textbook); Recommended reading: Paul Churchland, “Eliminative Materialism”; Frank Jackson, “What Mary Didn’t Know” (Textbook)

Second writing assignment topics distributed

WEEK 14: Course Overview and Review

Monday, 12/2:

Overview of course, Final exam review

Wednesday, 12/4

Presentation of Reflection Papers: Bring to class!