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COURSE NAME: "Introduction to Philosophical Thinking"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2020

INSTRUCTOR: Stefan Sorgner
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 3:05-4:25 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.
We will tackle central philosophical challenges of the following fields: Knowledge and Certainty; Being and Reality; Language and Meaning; Mind and Body; The Self and Freedom; God and Religion; Morality and the Good Life; Problems in Ethics; Authority and the State; Beauty and Art; Human Life and its Meaning.

More specifically, by the end of the course you will be able to:

• recognize and analyze philosophical issues;

• analyze relevant recent cases, along with specific positions and arguments regarding them;

• analyze and employ broader theoretical philosophical approaches, debates and concepts;

• develop informed, reasoned positions regarding these issues, cases and broader theoretical aspects;

• explain and analyze course material orally and in written forms;

• make appropriate use of original and academic resources and undertake guided research work.

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberCommentsFormatLocal BookstoreOnline Purchase
Western Philosophy: An AnthologyJohn G. Cottingham (ed.)Wiley-Blackwell, 2007978-1405124782     

Class participation 10%
Midterm examThe mid-term written assignment will be a ‘take-home’ assignment of 1000-2000 words (incl. bibliography), written in response to one of a selection of questions which I will provide. I will distribute the questions during week 6 and the assignment should be submitted by Friday of week 7. An electronic version of the project must be uploaded on moodle. (Title of Course/Term/Year) A printed version must be given to the instructor. You will find your grade on your written mid-term assignment when it will be given back to you.30%
PresentationsIn-class Presentation: Students are required to give two short individual presentations (5 - 10 minutes). The presentation will be well-organized, concise, and include (when opportune) audiovisual and electronic materials. An electronic version of the presentations must be uploaded on moodle. (Title of Course/Term/Year) The deadline is the last class. No materials will be accepted past the deadline. Please ask your instructor about your grade immediately after the class, in which you will have given the presentation10%
Final examThe final exam will consist in an essay. All students will have to answer the same question.20%
Final projectFinal Project: The final paper (1000-2000 words, incl. bibliography) will be on any topic of the student’s choice related to the class program. The topic should be precisely defined and worthy of investigation. An electronic version of the project must be uploaded on moodle. (Title of Course/Term/Year) A printed version must be given to the instructor. The deadline is the last class (session 28; the deadline is not the date of the final exam). No materials will be accepted past the deadline.30%

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 ____________

A maximum of four absences are allowed throughout the semester.  Any additional absence will result in a penalization of one grade level (e.g.: from B+ to B for five absences, B+ to B- for six absences, B+ to C+ for seven absences, etc.).  Two latenesses count for one absence.  Attendance will be taken at the beginning of each class by calling students’ names.  Students not answering will be marked absent. Students arrived late will ask the instructor to be market late at the end of the class, after which attendance records will not be modified. 
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:          Monday: Introduction

                        Wednesday: Introduction

Part XII: Human Life and its Meaning:.

Week 2:           Monday:
1. How to Accept Reality and Avoid Fear: Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe.

                       Wednesday: 2. Life Guided by Stoic Philosophy: Seneca, Moral Letters.

 Week 3:          Monday:    6. Human Life as a Meaningless Struggle: Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Vanity of Existence.  

                  Wednesday: 7. The Death of God and the Ascendancy of the Will: Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra.

Week 4:          Monday: How to write a philosophy paper!                 

                      Wednesday: How to write a philosophy paper!     

      Part I: Knowledge and Certainty:.       

Week 5:          Monday:     2. Knowledge versus Opinion: Plato, Republic.

  Part II: Being and Reality:.

                       Wednesday: 1. The Allegory of the Cave: Plato, Republic.

Part III: Language and Meaning:.

Week 6:          Monday:   1. The Meaning of Words: Plato, Cratylus.  

  Part IV: Mind and Body:.                                                      

Wednesday: 1. The Immortal Soul Plato, Phaedo                   

Week 7:          Monday:  5. The Identity of Mind and Body: Benedict Spinoza, Ethics.

Part V: The Self and Freedom:.   

                      Wednesday: 8. Freedom to Do What We Want: Thomas Hobbes, Liberty, Necessity and Chance.

Part VI: God and Religion:.

Week 8:        Monday:  2. The Five Proofs of God: Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae. 

    Part VIII: Morality and the Good Life:.             

Wednesday:   2. Ethical Virtue: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

Week 9:         Monday:   5. Duty and Reason as the Ultimate Principle. Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals.

                  Wednesday: 8. Against Conventional Morality: Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil.

Part IX: Problems in Ethics:.

Week 10:       Monday: 4. Gender, Liberty and Equality: Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women.

                      Wednesday: 10. The Relief of Global Suffering: Peter Singer, Famine, Affluence and Morality.

Part X: Authority and the State:.

Week 11:       Monday:   9. The Limits of Majority Rule: John Stuart Mill, On Liberty.

                   Wednesday:   10. The Minimal State: Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia.

Part XI: Beauty and Art:.

Week 12:        Monday: 1. Art and Imitation: Plato, Republic.

                      Wednesday: 2. The Nature and Function of Dramatic Art: Aristotle, Poetics.

Week 13:        Monday: 6. The Metaphysics of Beauty: Arthur Schopenhauer, On Aesthetics.

                      Wednesday: 8. The Value of Art: Leo Tolstoy, What is Art?.

Final Week 

Week 14:         Review for final examination