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COURSE NAME: "Introduction to Philosophical Thinking"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Summer Session I 2024

INSTRUCTOR: Steven Joseph Woodworth
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MTWTH 1:30 PM 3:20 PM
OFFICE HOURS: by appointment

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 course is divided into the following parts:
--- Part I [week 1]. Introduction to philosophy and philosophical argumentation.
--- Part II [weeks 2]. Epistemology: What is knowledge, and how might we obtain it?
--- Part III [week 3]. Metaphysics: What exists, really, fundamentally?
--- Part IV [weeks 4-5]. Ethics: What is ethical theory, and what good is it to me?
In this course you will:
--- examine philosophical questions in epistemology, metaphysics, and ethical theory, and consider the value of attending to such questions;
--- gain competence in the basic techniques and methodologies of philosophical reasoning and critical thinking;
--- develop your skills as an attentive, charitable reader and interlocutor;
--- refine your ability to reconstruct, assess, and develop philosophical arguments;
--- cogently express your thoughts pertaining to the subject matter in conversation and in writing, in both individual and group contexts.

Course participationClasses will involve a mixture of lectures, seminar discussions, small group work, debates, 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 ethical concepts and arguments. Your active involvement in discussions and other class activities, based on adequate preparation outside class, is therefore essential.30
Reflection journalOne of my primary aims as a teacher is to help you develop your own voice as a thinker. To that end I'll ask you to keep a journal in which you reflect on the course material. I'll provide further guidance in class.30
Midterm examQuestions for the midterm exam will be distributed at the end of week two. The questions will cover material from the first three weeks of the course. You'll be provided a small selection of these questions from which you'll choose one at the exam.20
Final examQuestions for the final exam will be distributed at the end of week four. The questions will center on material from the final two weeks of the course. You'll be provided a small selection of these questions from which you'll choose one at the exam.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.

Students are expected to come to class prepared for the day's material. It is highly recommended that Students attend all classes given that the material is comprehensive by nature. Attendance will be considered in your participation grade.

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 period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed.

The University’s attendance policy is described in the catalogue.  Persistent absence or tardiness usually precludes satisfactory performance in the course, and jeopardizes that part of the grade that is based on class presentation and participation.  Students are expected to arrive to class on time; students are responsible for all material covered by the syllabus and/or discussed in class, whether or not they are actually present in class.
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.


Here is a tentative schedule of the topics we'll cover this semester along with some pointers as to what we'll be reading.

I: Introduction [week 1]

--- What is philosophy and what is philosophical argumentation?
--- The value of philosophy

--- Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy, chapter XV: "The Value of Philosophy"
--- W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, chapter VI: "Of the Training of Black Men"
--- one of Plato's dialogues

II: Epistemology [week 2]

--- What is knowledge?
--- Cartesian skepticism
--- Some responses to skepticism

--- Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, selections
--- Jonathan Vogel, "Cartesian Skepticism and Inference to the Best Explanation"
--- Edmund Gettier, "Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?"
--- Linda Zagzebski, "The Inescapability of Gettier Problems"

III: Metaphysics [week 3]

--- The Mind-Body problem
--- Reality and simulation
--- Social construction, with a quick foray into semantics

--- René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, further selections
--- Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, selection of her correspondence with Descartes
--- David Chalmers, Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy, selection
--- Sally Haslanger, "'But Mom, Crop-Tops Are Cute!' Social Knowledge, Social Structure, and Ideology Critique"

IV: Ethics [weeks 4 and 5]
--- The moral evaluation of action
--- Happiness, autonomy, and impartiality
--- Duty, virtue, and going above and beyond
--- The point and application of ethical theory
--- The place of morality in a human life
--- Responsibility and luck

--- Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, selections
--- John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism, selections
--- Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, selections
--- Judith Jarvis Thomson, "A Defense of Abortion"
--- Peter Singer, "Famine, Affluence, and Morality"
--- Susan Wolf, "Moral Saints"
--- Lisa Tessman, Burdened Virtues: Virtue Ethics for Liberatory Struggles, selection
--- Christine Korsgaard, "Two Arguments Against Lying"
--- Charles W. Mills, "'Ideal Theory' as Ideology"
--- Thomas Nagel and Bernard Williams, "Moral Luck"