Introduction to Philosophy

Spring 1999

Marist College

Dr. Greg Moses


Philosophy News Service

Course Description

The course will fall into three sections. (1) We will begin with the legendary life of Socrates, the perennial role model of philosophy. (2) Then we will study two of the great "systems" of modern philosophy: Berkeley's idealism, and Marx's materialism. (3) Finally, we will explore the comparative values of myth and science in the modern world. This course is part of the Core/Liberal Studies Curriculum.

Required Texts
  • West, Thomas & Grace. Four Texts on Socrates. Ithaca: Cornell, 1998.

  • Berkeley. Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous. Oxford, 1998.

  • Marx. The German Ideology. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1998.

  • McKee, Robert. Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting. NY: Regan, 1997.

  • Feynman, Richard P. The Meaning of it All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist. Reading, MA: Perseus, 1998.

Requirements and Grades

The final grade will be based upon the following components, each of equal weight:


By the end of the course, students should be able to: (1) Identify arguments and discuss the value of reason in human affairs. (2) Give succinct and accurate accounts of the systems developed by Berkeley and Marx, rendering preliminary critical assessments. And (3) characterize and discuss the relative values of philosophy, myth, and science in the modern world. Papers will be required to assess student proficiency for each of the above three objectives.

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.

Schedule of Inquiry

1. Aug. 30-Sep. 4

A. Introduction to course.

  • Review syllabus.

    B. Making fun of philosophy

  • Read: West, pp. 115-138.
  • Prepare: One paragraph (typed) summary of the action in these opening pages of the play Clouds. And one reference to a passage that exemplifies the kind of humor expressed by the playwright Aristophanes.
  • Workshops: Making fun of philosophy. How is philosophy portrayed as a humorous pursuit? Share your summaries and examples. Prepare a class presentation.
  • Forum: Public ridicule of Socrates. Lasting impressions of the folly of philosophy.

    2. Sep. 6-10

    A. Socrates in action

  • Read: West, pp. 41-54.
  • Prepare: One paragraph summary of the drama in this dialogue: what is the situation? Who are the characters? What are they up to? In a second paragraph please give an example of one question that Socrates asks Euthyphro, the answer given by Euthyphro, and the reply given by Socrates. Please include brief quotes and citations.
  • Workshops: Sharing notes, what is the situation of this dialogue? What are some questions and answers at the beginning? Prepare class presentation.
  • Forum: Socrates begins to question Euthyphro. Initial issues.

    B. Pursuing Euthyphro

  • Read: West, pp. 54-61.
  • Prepare: Select one of the issues addressed by Socrates. Write two paragraphs: (1) summarizing the question, the answer, and the rebuttal, with appropriate short quotes with citations. (2) Discussing in your own words the important issue in question. What's at stake, why does it matter?
  • Workshops: Share issues and answers. Prepare a class presentation.
  • Forum: What is the relation between justice and reverence for the gods? What is reverence for the gods?

    3. Sept. 13-17

    A. Socrates defends himself

  • Read: West, pp. 63-82.
  • Prepare: A one-paragraph summary of the predicament: what is Socrates accused of? How does he argue in his defense? In the second paragraph, please outline one argument that Socrates uses (remember quotes & cites).
  • Workshops: The charges against Socrates, and how he defends himself. Share notes and prepare class presentation.
  • Forum: On charges and defenses in the trial of Socrates. Insisting on logical discipline in judgment or siding with leniency?

    B. The final pleadings.

  • Read: West, pp. 82-97.
  • Prepare: Again, please write one paragraph summarizing the drama, then identify one argument that attracts your interest. In a second paragraph, summarize the argument.
  • Workshops: What are some of the arguments in the final pleadings. Prepare for class discussion.
  • Forum: On the passion for reason. Has Socrates proved his worth?

    Assignment due Sept. 24:

    Five pages on philosophical argumentation. Summarize four arguments, one from each dialogue, and one from any other textual source. Do not neglect good habits of scholarly citation. On the fifth page, please tell me what you think about the importance of philosophical argumentation in human affairs. In this paper we are working to demonstrate proficiency in finding and summarizing arguments. What you think about the role of argumentation will be assessed on the merits of the argument that supports the declared opinion (no argument, no points). The "C" paper will demonstrate competence in identifying and summarizing the arguments (the student knows what an argument is). The "B" paper will begin to develop interesting transitions and relationships between the arguments (something is conveyed about the nature of argumentation itself). The "A" paper will comprehensively synthesize all elements of the assignment into a thematic whole (the student has developed an intricate relationship to the nature of argumentation).

    4. Sept. 20-24

    A. Why not run away?

  • Read: West, pp. 99-114.
  • Prepare: One paragraph summary of an argument in Plato's Crito.
  • Workshops: Staking a life on reason? Some final arguments in the life of Socrates. Share and prepare for discussion.
  • Forum: Why are people still passing down Plato after 2,500 years? Some final arguments and thoughts on the role of reason in our lives. Some Platonic warnings about customary and popular opinions.

    B. Assignment due.

  • Workshops: Share papers, nominate one for class.
  • Forum: Sharing selected papers.

    5. Sept. 27-Oct. 1

    A. Approaching Berkeley's Idealism

  • Read: Dancy, pp. 45-49.
  • Prepare: Using the analysis provided on pp. 45-49, select one remarkable argument, summarize it, and then argue in agreement or disagreement.
  • Workshops: Some remarkable arguments in Berkeley. Sharing notes, preparing for class discussion.
  • Forum: Getting a sense of Berkeley's project and the role of reason in it.

    B. First Dialogue

  • Read: Dancy, pp. 55-93
  • Prepare: How does Philonous get Hylas to deny the reality of sensible things? What part of this argument interests you the most? What do you think? Your preparation should clearly present an argument that assesses what you find most interesting here. You may agree or disagree, but please be clear about why.
  • Workshops: Sharing our impressions and preparing for class discussion.
  • Forum: Can it be true that careful thinking leads us to deny the reality of sensible things? How does Berkeley challenge the emerging age of physical science?

    6. Oct. 4-8

    A. Second Dialogue

  • Read: Dancy, pp. 94-110
  • Prepare: Matter is not even possible! What part of this fascinating argument interests you the most? Please try to focus one paragraph on a fair representation of something that Berkeley is saying, then assess Berkeley in the second paragraph, taking care to give reasons for your response.
  • Workshops: Sharing notes and preparing for discussion.
  • Forum: Why do we cling to postulates of material existence? Can we find coherence or possibility here?

    B. Third Dialogue

  • Read: Dancy, pp. 111-143
  • Prepare: Which of Hylas' objections seems most interesting to you? Please briefly characterize the objection, the response by Philonous, and your own assessment of the issue at hand. Please do not neglect scholarship (quotes & cites) and do not forget to give reasons for your assessment.
  • Workshops: Reviewing objections, replies, and assessments. Preparing for class discussion.
  • Forum: What is Berkeley trying to tell us? What changes if we consider taking the philosophical position that he encourages?

    7. Oct. 11-15

    A. Introducing Marx

  • Read: Marx, pp. 569-574
  • Prepare: What is materialism according to Marx? What do you think? Two paragraphs.
  • Workshops: Sharing initial impressions of Marx the philosopher. Preparing for class discussion.
  • Forum: Marx's materialism, humanism, and some background on Feuerbach's theology.

    B. Some initial considerations

    ... on the comparative value of conflicting philosophical systems: a lecture.

    8. Oct. 18-22

    A. Approaching political economy from a philosophical point of view

  • Read: Marx, pp. 1-23.
  • Prepare: Here Marx introduces a way of thinking about economic terms (categories). Choose a term most interesting to you (individual, social, production, distribution) and summarize what you think Marx is saying about that term. Then assess his treatment.
  • Workshops: Sharing thoughts on Marx's treatment of economic terms (categories).
  • Forum: On categories and "dialectical" relations between opposites.

    B. A philosophical approach to private property

  • Read: Marx, pp. 29-43
  • Prepare: In this passage Marx argues not only in favor of a materialist approach but a historically specific approach, too. How would you summarize the main result of this passage? What do you get from it? Where do you locate a key premise? What does it mean? What do you think? One page.
  • Workshops: Sharing impressions and assessments. Preparing for class discussion.
  • Forum: Why the philosophy of Marx is often called historical materialism. What discipline is he encouraging in our thinking?

    Assignment Due first week in November:

    Reviewing two systems of philosophy. Here you will be asked to summarize the immaterialism of Berkeley and the materialism of Marx, indicating some details of what you consider to be the most interesting arguments of each thinker. Then you will be asked to write your own critical (or reasoned) response to each philosopher's work. Please budget one page per author for summary, one page per author for some details, and one page per author for your critical (or reasoned) response. Total of six pages. Please do not neglect careful habits of scholarly citation. The "C" paper will demonstrate competence in the ability to summarize a philosophical system, explicate some details of that system, and respond critically (with reasons). The "B" paper will begin to show how consideration of the philosophical systems has affected the student's own philosophical approach to reality, and will also begin to develop interesting relationships between the two systems under discussion. The "A" paper will clearly demonstrate how the student has taken ownership of the material, both in terms of an ability to interiorize the meaning of the work, but also in the ability to develop interesting relationships between the systems under study.

    8. Oct. 25-29

    A. Individuals and the social division of labor

  • Read: Marx, pp. 43-54
  • Prepare: To begin speaking about individuals, one first explores the social division of labor, but this means that we enter a world of contradictions. How would you summarize this passage and locate a key premise? What does it mean? What do you think?
  • Workshops: Sharing assessments of key points. Preparing for class discussion.
  • Forum: How individual consciousness is placed in a materialist context. Why Marx says we cannot neglect class and contradiction.

    B. Idealism and materialism reviewed.

  • Prepare: How would you summarize Berkeley's position, and where would you identify key arguments of interest to you? How about Marx? What do you think? One page for each thinker.
  • Workshops: Beginning our final assessments. Sharing thoughts and preparing for class discussion.
  • Forum: Idealism and materialism in Berkeley and Marx. How these terms have taken on specific philosophical senses, somewhat different from the usual dictionary meaning. How do these new senses of the terms enhance our reflective engagement with reality?

    9. Nov. 1-5

    A. Paper Workshops and Reports

    C. Film of your choice

    (a film that you think will be interesting to discuss)

    10. Nov. 8-12

    A. Stories, principles, and desires

  • Read: McKee, pp. 3-28
  • Prepare: Summarize a few key points and respond critically. Please draw upon the example of our nominated film.
  • Workshops: Sharing responses, preparing for class discussion.
  • Forum: Introducing story as myth. Why the craving?
  • For Next Time: Organizing cooperative reading.

    B. Elements of story

  • Read: McKee, pp. 31-131
  • Prepare: Summary and assessment of your portion of reading. Please cite films from your own experience.
  • Workshops: Sharing notes, preparing for class discussion.
  • Forum: On the vocabulary of myth workers. What is McKee telling us about our taste for myth, for life?

    11. Nov. 15-19

    A. Principles and design

  • Read: McKee, pp. 135-314
  • Prepare: Summary and assessment of your portion of the reading. Please cite films from your own experience.
  • Workshops: Sharing notes, preparing for class discussion.
  • Forum: How do stories help develop and sustain meaning? What is the relationship between analysis and enjoyment of story, of life?

    B. Some of the complexities

  • Read: McKee, pp. 317-419
  • Prepare: Summary and assessment of your portion of the reading.
  • Workshops: On the complexities of myth-making.
  • Forum: The attitudes of myth and philosophy compared. How does each affect us? What are the comparative values? The race-class test.

    12. Nov. 22-24

    Dialogue, Philosophy, & Myth: The genius of Plato reconsidered.

    13. Nov. 29-Dec. 3

    A. Science & Uncertainty

  • Read: Feynman, pp. 3-28.
  • Prepare: Identify a few interesting points that Feynman is making about science. How would you begin to compare science to philosophy, to myth?
  • Workshops: Interesting features of science and their relation to myth and philosophy.
  • Forum: On doubt and creation. Science not as what we know, but what we test. Some comparisons to myth and philosophy.

    B. Values & Uncertainty

  • Read: Feynman, pp. 31-57.
  • Prepare: How does Feynman apply the method of science to the method of values in general? What are the interesting points and what do you think?
  • Workshops: Comparing notes, preparing for class discussion.
  • Forum: Can we treat values this way? How do myth and philosophy approach values?

    14. Dec. 6-10

    A. How scientific are we really?

  • Read: Feynman, pp. 61-122.
  • Prepare: Feynman discusses principles and attitudes which are scientific. Select a few for discussion and assessment. Can you find good and bad examples from contemporary life?
  • Workshops: Sharing notes on Feynman, preparing for future discussion.
  • Forum: Preparing for the future. How do science, philosophy and myth assist in our anticipations?

    B. Course Review:

    Assignment Due Dec. 17:


    We have studied three philosophers, one mythmaker, and one scientist. Now it is time to consider the relative value of each pursuit. (1) Based upon your reading of Plato, Berkeley, and Marx, how would you characterize the pursuit of philosophy? What value does it play in human affairs? Please do not neglect scholarly habits of citation as you gather evidence for your claims. (2) Based upon your reading of McKee, how would you characterize the pursuit of myth? What value does it play in human affairs? (3) Based upon your reading of Feynman, how would you characterize the pursuit of science? What value does it play in human affairs? (4) Finally, for your own purposes, how do you foresee that the study of philosophy, myth, and science might contribute to your own development? Nine pages.

    Contact Information

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

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