Introduction to Philosophy

Fall 1999

Marist College

Dr. Greg Moses


Philosophy News Service

Course Description

In this course we will focus on three philosophers of the 20th Century: Martin Luther King, Jr., Angela Y. Davis, and Howard Thurman. In each case, we will ask how the study of philosophy may still prove fruitful in an age of commerce and technology. The autobiography of King, the collected works of Davis, and the sampling of texts from Thurman will help us ask how philosophical analysis and articulation may help to challenge and enrich ongoing developments in human valuation. This course is part of the Core/Liberal Studies curriculum and is being taught with a Praxis orientation.

Required Texts
  • Carson, Clayborne, ed. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Warner Books, 1999.

  • James, Joy, ed. The Angela Y. Davis Reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998.

  • Fluker, Walter Earl and Catherine Tumber, eds. A Strange Freedom: The Best of Howard Thurman on Religious Experience and Public Life. Boston, Beacon, 1998.

Requirements and Grades

The final grade will be based on the following, each weighted equally:


By the end of the course, students should be able to (1) identify and explicate philosophical positions articulated by each of our thinkers (2) critically evaluate philosophical claims and (3) demonstrate independent abilities to develop philosophical analysis of issues most pertinent to the student's sense of development. Major papers assigned for each of the three units of study will challenge students to demonstrate these skills with increasing complexity.

Praxis: Each student is expected to arrange twelve hours of community service (two hours per week for six weeks) and write a four-page report that applies skills of philosophical analysis to issues raised. One reference source should be cited that takes a scholarly approach to the issue addressed (i.e. hunger, poverty, child care, etc.)

Attendance Policy

Excused absences should be documented within two weeks. More than two unexcused absences will result in the deduction of a full letter from the final grade. After more than four unexcused absences, the instructor reserves the right to issues a failing grade for the course.

Preparations: For each class meeting, a preparation is indicated, which will be due at the beginning of class. Work not ready in class at that time will be counted late. Students may substitute up to four reports from their Praxis experience, provided that the reports are also ready for workshop discussion.

Schedule of Inquiry:

Aug. 30-"Introduction":

  • Review syllabus. Looking for philosophy. Cooperative reading.

    Sep. 1-Looking for philosophy in King's autobiography.

  • Read: Carson, Chs. 1-7.
  • Preparation: Two paragraphs, typed. (1) Cite a passage that you would consider philosophical (2) Summarize the philosophical position in your own words.
  • Workshops: Share preps. Nominate a representative for class discussion.
  • Forum: (1) What passages do we consider philosophical (2) How do we summarize the philosophical positions taken? (3) What makes these passages philosophical?

    Labor Day Break

    Sep. 8-Nonviolence in Montgomery.

  • Read: Carson, Chs. 8-12.
  • Preparation: Two paragraphs. (1) Cite a passage that exemplifies the philosophy of nonviolence in the Montgomery movement. (2) What does this passage say about nonviolence as a philosophy?
  • Workshops: Share preps, nominate rep.
  • Forum: (1) What is the philosophy of nonviolence? (2) How does it emerge into King's discipline during the Montgomery boycott?

    Sep. 13-"Letter from Birmingham Jail"

  • Read: Carson, Ch. 18.
  • Preparation: Choose a philosophical position from the letter and summarize it in one page, with citations.
  • Workshops: Share summaries. Prepare report for class.
  • Forum: What issues are addressed in the letter? What do some of the positions look like?

    Sep. 15-Dreams and Nightmares

  • Read: Carson, Chs. 19-21.
  • Preparation: How would you characterize the philosophical insights that illuminate King's dream and his nightmare? Please prepare one paragraph for each, with citations.
  • Workshops: Share dreams and nightmares. Select one of each for class discussion.
  • Forum: King's dream and nightmare; what do they mean philosophically? Where are we today?

    Assignment due Sep. 27:

    Philosophical Positions in the writings of King. In this exercise, we are simply trying to represent and explicate philosophical positions. Choose any three philosophical positions that you find developed in Kings autobiography, cite key claims from these positions, and use your own language to explain and clarify the positions. To clarify a philosophical position, one may carefully attend to an important definition or anticipate a possible misunderstanding. In later papers we will add critical evaluations and creative positions of our own. But for now, we just want to demonstrate competence in representing a position. Points will be given for demonstrating creative ability to present a philosophical position in a complex and interesting way. A "C" paper will demonstrate competence in each of the three positions. A "B" paper will begin to demonstrate deeper complexities of representation and will begin to present philosophical connections between the three positions. An "A" paper will present positions that are thoroughly complex and inter-related. Please do not neglect proper habits of scholarly citation.

    Sep. 20-Southern Challenges, Nobel Prize, & Malcolm

  • Read: Carson, Chs. 22-26.
  • Prepare: How does King philosophically address the continuing challenge of Civil Rights from St. Augustine through Selma? Prepare three paragraphs with three examples from three chapters.
  • Workshops: Share examples of King's philosophical frames.
  • Forum: How is King continuing to address the South while also talking to a global audience at the Nobel ceremonies and a northern audience via the death of Malcolm X? What is the role of economic analysis?

    Sep. 22-The Radical King confronts Chicago, Black Power, Vietnam, Poverty.

  • Read: Carson, Chs. 28-32.
  • Prepare: These are often called King's radical years. Can you identify philosophies that might be considered radical as King confronts a variety of issues? Once again, please write three paragraphs with examples from three chapters.
  • Workshops: Share examples of King's radical challenges.
  • Forum: King's triple evils and the radical mission of nonviolence.

    Sep. 27-Assignment Due (See Above)

  • Workshops: Share papers. Nominate one for class reading.
  • Forum: King's philosophical positions.

    Sep. 29-Davis' Opening Defense

  • Read: James, Part 5.
  • Prepare: Two paragraphs, summarizing (1) the charges against Davis, (2) the defense she makes, (3) the plausibility of the defense in your own opinion.
  • Workshops: Situating the life-or-death argument. Nominate reps to set the scene and to assess the strength of the case as presented.
  • Forum: The Apology of Angela Y. Davis. How can a criminal case be political? Do we buy the argument for the defense?

    Oct. 4-Early works on Prison

  • Read: James, Chs. 1-3.
  • Prepare: Identify two arguments that you would like to assess, from two different chapters. Select one of the arguments for one paragraph of summary and one paragraph of assessment. Please do not neglect scholarly habits of citation.
  • Workshops: Share arguments and assessments. Nominate a rep.
  • Forum: Davis before and during prison. How does she take philosophical positions with respect to prison and liberation? How do we agree or disagree?

    Oct. 6-Recent works on Prison

  • Read: James, Chs. 4-6.
  • Prepare: Identify two arguments from two chapters, select one for summary and assessment. Please keep summaries and assessments clearly separated. Do not neglect scholarly habits of citation.
  • Workshops: Share arguments and assessments. Nominate rep.
  • Forum: Race, slavery, & abolition. Davis holds philosophical positions on the roles of race, crime, slavery, and prison. How do we outline these arguments and assess their merits?

    Oct. 11-Women, Rape, Violence.

  • Read: James, Chs. 7-10.
  • Prepare: Identify two arguments from two chapters, select one for summary and assessment.
  • Workshops: Share arguments and assessments. Nominate one for class discussion.
  • Forum: On systematic violence against women: assessing arguments about collective structures of power.

    Oct. 13-Housework, Motherhood, Professors.

  • Read: James, Chs. 12-14 (or Ch. 11 for extra credit)
  • Prepare: Identify two arguments from two chapters, select one for summary and assessment. (Extra credit: summarize and assess a key argument from Ch. 11.)
  • Workshops: Arguments, assessments, nomination.
  • Forum: Selected predicaments of liberation for women. How does Davis provide critical theories? What do we think?

    Oct. 18-Selected Film, TBA

    Assignment Due Nov. 1:

    Six pages summarizing and assessing two philosophical positions from the works of Angela Davis. Clearly distinguish between summary and assessment. Your assessments need not be entirely positive nor entirely negative-a little of each would be fine. In every case be sure to make clear the reasons for your assessment. For every "I believe" there should be at least one "because". Grades will be based on ability to clearly summarize, with appropriate use of citations; to clearly assess with appropriate use of reasons and evidence; and to build connections between arguments in order to achieve a broader understanding of Davis philosophical perspective. The "C" paper will provide four neat sections of alternating summary and assessment. The "B" paper will demonstrate ability to give texture to summary and assessment by presentation of alternative interpretations. The "A" paper will be thoroughly textured with alternative views and will also draw the elements together into a coherent thesis about the overall philosophy of Angela Y. Davis.

    Oct. 20--Selected Readings in Culture & Esthetics

  • Read: James, Chs. 15-18.
  • Prepare: How does Davis respond philosophically to her chosen works of art and culture? What are the underlying values that support her tastes of appreciation? Choose an example from the readings, show how Davis responds, and assess her response. Again, please clearly separate your presentation of Davis' position and your assessment of its merit. And please do not neglect scholarly habits of citation.
  • Workshops: Assessing philosophical approaches to art & culture. Nominate class presentation.
  • Forum: Philosophizing culture, & art.

    Oct. 25-Selected CDs (students bring CDs to class)

  • Forum: Art where we find it. Philosophizing about cultural taste.

    Oct. 27-A final interview.

  • Read: James, Ch. 22.
  • Prepare: How do positions taken by Davis in this interview help illuminate broad philosophical patterns in the works of Davis? How would you assess the value of these broader patterns? Please cite evidence from the interview, connect it to examples from other writings, summarize the broader pattern, then provide your assessment.
  • Workshop: Identifying and assessing the broader patterns of Davis' philosophy. Compare notes, prepare a class report.
  • Forum: Thinking with Davis. What do we learn from her philosophical companionship?

    Nov. 1-Assignment Due (see above)

  • Workshops: Share assignments. Choose one for class presentation.
  • Forum: Sharing papers.

    Nov. 3-Beginning Thurman: the meaning of life.

  • Read: Fluker, pp. 21-54.
  • Prepare: How does Thurman approach the meaning of life? What do you think about his approach? How would you venture your own proposal concerning the meaning of life? (One paragraph per question.)
  • Workshops: Sharing perspectives on Thurman and life. Prepare a class presentation.
  • Forum: Thurman's God, Life, and Purpose. How do we approach these themes ourselves?

    Nov. 8-Thurman on Spiritual Music & Prayer

  • Read: Fluker, pp. 55-96
  • Prepare: Choose an area of concern where you would especially like to develop your own perspective. Present Thurman's perspective (with appropriate scholarship), present your own perspective. Assess the value of Thurman's perspective, then assess the value of your own perspective. (Four paragraphs.)
  • Workshops: Thurman and us, comparing notes. Prepare a class presentation.
  • Forum: Treasures in song; how Thurman listens. Resources in prayer; how Thurman meditates. Some approaches of our own.

    Nov. 10-A Mystic meets society

  • Read: Fluker, pp. 99-130.
  • Prepare: The relation between religion and social progress has long been called into question. How does Thurman present his view on the possible value of the relationship between mystical faith and social change? What is your own position? Feel free to veer away from these questions if something else catches your interest. Do not neglect brief assessments of Thurman's and your positions.
  • Workshops: Faith and social change. Investigating Thurman's views and our own inklings regarding the deeper resources of reality. Prepare a class presentation.
  • Forum: On the deeper structure of value. Is good a human creation or a cosmic essence? Exploring our relationship to Thurman.

    Nov. 15-Thurman looks at Jesus, the Jewish prophet

  • Read: Fluker, pp. 131-162
  • Prepare: Thurman finds examples of moral leadership in the story of Jesus. What is the approach to moral leadership exemplified here? What aspect of moral leadership interests you? How does Thurman approach moral leadership? How do you? Some brief assessments of each.
  • Workshops: Sharing views of moral leadership from Thurman and ourselves. Preparing class presentations.
  • Forum: The religion of Jesus as a challenge to the history of Christianity. If moral leadership is possible, what may be the sources of its authority?

    Nov. 17-Reconciliation, Nonviolence, and King

  • Read: Fluker, pp. 163-187.
  • Prepare: Thurman writes about the value of reconciliation and nonviolence, and about the moral leadership of King. What aspects of the discussion interest you? How would you develop your own position?
  • Workshops: Sharing positions and assessments of reconciliation and nonviolence. Preparing class presentations.
  • Forum: Centering reconciliation in the process of social conflict. How does this threaten existing orders? Nonviolence: do we believe it?

    Nov. 22-Working against racism

  • Read: Any selection from section three.
  • Prepare: Any section from the reading that interests you as a springboard for personal commitments. What is Thurman saying? What do you say?
  • Workshops: On the relevance of addressing racism today. How is Thurman helpful? What do we say? Sharing and preparing for class discussion.
  • Forum: On the divisions of human lives. How is inequality addressed in spiritual terms? Is a spiritual commitment helpful?

    Nov. 24-Section Three Revisited

    Assignment Due Dec. 6

    Eight page paper developing and assessing philosophical positions in Thurman and ourselves. The first half of the paper will develop and assess a philosophical position expressed by Thurman. The second half of the paper will develop and assess your own philosophical position. Skills from prior exercises will be expected, i.e. the ability to present an interesting, scholarly summary of a position, and the ability to present a careful and interesting assessment. The new challenge here is to present your own carefully prepared position, complete with appropriate definitions, reasons, and clarifications, and then to demonstrate an ability to assess your own position. The "C" paper will present an adequate scholarly summary and assessment of some position found in Thurman along with an adequate summary and assessment of your own. The "B" paper will begin to introduce issues of complexity into the summaries and assessments and also begin to develop relationships between positions taken by Thurman and you. The "A" paper will demonstrate a mastery of abilities to present complex positions and assessments that exhibit interesting relationships.

    Thanksgiving Break

    Nov. 29-Meditating with Thurman

  • Read: Section Four of Fluker's collection.
  • Prepare: A summary and commentary on one of the meditations. We especially want to ask how these meditations help us to exemplify themes that run throughout Thurman's work.
  • Workshops: Sharing Thurman's meditations. Preparing a class presentation.
  • Forum: Concluding texts. What are some of the abiding values that characterize the philosophical work of Thurman? What do we think of his overall project?

    Dec. 1-A meditation of our own

  • Prepare: A meditation of your own (one to two pages).
  • Workshops: Share meditations. Nominate two for class sharing.
  • Forum: Meditations shared.

    Dec. 6--Assignments Due

  • Workshops: Sharing papers. Nominating class papers.
  • Forum: Sharing papers.

    Dec. 8-Concluding remarks

  • What is philosophy? What is the relationship between beauty and truth, between evidence and faith?
  • Final Exam-Praxis Forum TBA

    Contact Information

    Dr. Greg Moses
    Office: Cubicle in SC 149 (near the downstairs mailboxes)
    Telephone: x2217
    Email: JZ7R@maristb.marist.edu
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