Introduction to Philosophy

Greg Moses

Marist College


Course Description: This course will provide a general introduction to philosophy and the core curriculum. As an introduction to philosophy, we will read Plato and investigate other major figures in the history of philosophy. As an introduction to the core curriculum, we will seek preliminary terms of critical appreciation for the contributions that can be made by religious, scientific, and mythopoetic modes of consciousness. Throughout the course, students will be invited to reflect upon the current state of values, both personal and social.

Course Objectives: By the end of the term, students should know how to identify beliefs and investigate background assumptions or models which provide logical environments for beliefs. With these skills in view, students should be able to investigate their own models of belief, be aware of some historically significant models of belief, and be able to assess the presence of models of belief in contemporary life. In addition, students should have developed some preliminary theories about the importance of philosophical, scientific, religious, and mythopoetic models of reality. Furthermore, students should have acquired basic research skills that would allow them to pursue philosophy according to their own interests in the future.

Required Texts:

Plato. Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo. Buffalo: Prometheus, 1988.

Hawking, Stephen. Stephen Hawking’s Universe. New York: Basic, 1997.

Erman, Adolf. Ancient Egyptian Poetry and Prose. New York: Dover, 1995.

Karenga, Maulana. The Book of Coming Forth by Day. L.A.: Univ. of Sankore, 1990.

Assessing Outcomes: Weekly assignments will demonstrate that students are making appropriate preparations for class discussion. Each student will prepare a class presentation and paper about a major figure in the history of philosophy. Accomplishment of this task will also demonstrate basic proficiency in philosophical research. A summary paper will demonstrate ability to describe and evaluate several world-historical contributions to philosophy. In all cases, the instructor will look for responsible habits of scholarship (citation of sources, bibliography, etc.), logical reasoning (not just declarations of beliefs, but reasons why the beliefs are held), and the usual graces of college-level prose (coherent paragraphs, complete sentences, and interesting use of vocabulary).

Grading Policy: The final grade will be based upon the following components, each of equal worth:

A number grade from 1 to 100 will be assigned to each component and the final grade will be derived from an average of the components, each given equal weight. Letter grades will be assigned according to college policy (please see the catalogue).

Class attendance and participation are expected. Students who have more than two unexcused absences will receive a penalty of one letter grade off the final average; more than four unexcused absences will result in a failing grade. Excused absences are always documented in some form. A documented excuse will be accepted within ten days of the absence.

Penalties will apply for late work (5 pts./day).

Students are also expected to abide by high standards of academic honesty.

Weekly Assignments: Normally, students will prepare brief assignments each week. These assignments will be evaluated and scored on a 10-point basis. The 6-point paper fails to meet minimal standards of college work. The 7-point paper meets expectations of college work and shows that the material has been somewhat understood. The 8-point paper demonstrates not only that material has been understood, but that the student has begun to translate the material into terms of her own. The 9-point paper suggests applications and insights beyond the usual fare. The 10-point paper is unusually distinctive in its presentation, style, and application. These assignments should be brief (1-2 pages). Additional length is not encouraged.

Midterm reflection on reason, feeling, and myth. (4 pages). On page one explain what values are important to you. On page two describe some songs or stories that help to illuminate and sustain those values. On pages three and four defend those values from a rational point of view with sound arguments.

Major Figures Assignment: For this assignment, each student will select a major figure from a list provided by the instructor or will choose an alternative in consultation with the instructor. Then the student will answer the following questions:

Final Meditation on the History of Philosophy: After all the presentations have been made, students will turn in a six-page paper discussing their "top five" philosophers and the meaning of the philosophical quest. For each philosopher students will write one paragraph describing the philosophical contribution of the figure and one paragraph evaluating the importance of the contribution from the student’s point of view. Evaluations can be positive or negative, but they must be reasoned. For every "I believe", there should be at least one "because". In the end, students should sum up the contribution that the study of philosophy may make toward a complete education and approach to life.

A Note on Method: In this class, the instructor will emphasize development of independent thinking through active reading and class discussions. Students will be challenged to analyze the larger, logical structure of texts in order to locate key arguments, conclusions, and terms. In addition, students are encouraged to integrate their own experience. As we approach each text, the instructor will represent the most sympathetic construction possible, postponing more wholesale criticism until the concluding session on each figure. This method is designed to encourage deeper engagement with each thinker as students challenge the instructor to help make sense of the material. Critical questions are welcome at all times. It is the chief value of philosophy students to state the reasons why they disagree.

The usual drill: Your instructor is prepared to present material that will help clarify the complex readings, but he prefers to speak in response to student questions. For this reason, each student should come to each class prepared with questions or comments on specific passages in the readings. Students will thus be able to present their contribution or question when the instructor calls on them. Class participation grades will reflect the instructor’s assessment of overall preparedness and interest.

Weekly Schedule of Activity (letters indicate class periods):

1. (Jan. 21-23) Introduction & Syllabus

2. (Jan. 26-30) "Euthyphro"

A. Lecture: What is philosophy?

In-class writing: Who am I? Why am I here? What do I wonder about the most?

B. What does Euthyphro know about piety?

Brief introduction: Who is Plato?

In class groups: Introductions. What is Euthyphro doing? What is his argument for doing it? What is the crucial issue raised by Socrates? Nominate one member to report.

Class discussion: Reviewing the above questions. What is the importance of the crucial issue for human reasoning about morality?

Assignment: What is the crucial issue of the dialogue? What are the two answers available? For each possible answer, discuss the consequences for reasoning about human morality? (2 pages due next class. All assignments should be typed and double spaced with 10 or 11 point font.)

3. (Feb. 2-6) "Euthyphro" and "Apology"

A. The crucial issue of the Euthyphro revisited.

Introduction: What is the crucial issue?

In-class groups: Share assignments and nominate a representative for each possible answer.

In-class discussion: For each answer to the main issue of the "Euthyphro" what are the consequences for human reasoning?

Summary: Is Socrates impious?

B. "Apology"

Introduction: How Socrates tries to show that his accusers have not thought much about their reasons.

In-class groups: What is the new god that Socrates introduces and how does it work for him? Does it sound familiar to you? Nominate a representative.

In-class discussion: What is the new god and how does it work in our lives?

Assignment: What is the difference between Euthyphro’s relation to the will of god and Socrates’ relation to the "new god"? What is Plato trying to tell us about the proper relation between reason and the quiet inner voice? Do you agree or not? Why? (2 pages.)

4. (Feb. 9-13) "Apology" and "Phaedo"

A. Reviewing the results from "Euthyphro" and "Apology."

Introduction: When are reasons necessary? When are reasons not needed? Plato’s lesson from the "Euthyphro" and "Apology."

In-class groups: Share assignments and nominate contrary opinions.

In-class discussion: Do we agree with Plato or not about when reasons are needed and when they are not.

Lecture: What does the "conviction" of Socrates mean? The emergence of something in writing, the conflict of reason vs. customary faiths.

B. The arguments for immortality in the "Phaedo"

Introduction: Doctrine of opposites, doctrine of recollection, and the metaphor of the harp. Three ways to understand the immortality of the soul.

Assignment: Briefly describe each of the above arguments for immortality. In general, do you agree or disagree with Socrates’ views of immortality? Why or why not?

5. (Feb. 16-20) Philosophy as the art of dying.

A. On the immortality of the soul.

In-class groups: Share assignments. Select contrary views.

In-class discussion: Is Socrates correct or not about the immortal soul?

Lecture: Life goes on. Facing death with integrity and dignity. The proper respect of friends.

B. How is philosophy like the art of dying?

In-class groups: How is philosophy like the art of dying? Is the body really so much trouble? Select representatives with contrary views (if someone has not yet served as group representative, now is the time!)

In-class discussion: Should philosophy be like the art of dying? What’s the body good for?

Lecture: Plato’s three-part soul (appetite, passion, reason). What Aristotle said.

Assignment: Can you think of any feelings that ought to influence reason? Why?

6. (Feb. 23-27) Assessing the role of reason and our commitment to it.

A. Can feelings assist virtue?

In-class groups: Share assignments. Select contrary views.

In-class discussion: Are some feelings helpful as a guide to reason?

Lecture: What Alain Locke said. Values arise more out of attitudes than out of reasons. Sometimes truth means we sustain an attitude. But what does this say about the value of the body?

B. Implications of body-truth.

Lecture: If feelings have value, and if feelings are mediated by the body, and if the body is a living organism, then the life of truth as we know it depends upon the body’s tuning. That tuning is largely customary, i.e. historical, which returns us to Plato’s deep problem. The body-truth of conviction and custom vs. rational logic. There is a proper order difficult to achieve. We are left to inquire about the proper use of reason, but also the proper use of passion, custom, and friendship.

Assignment: In what ways have your body, feelings, and attitudes been "tuned"? How is re-tuning possible?

7. (March 2-6) Tuning in, checking out--values and attitude formation. (Read Karenga)

A. Mass media favorites.

Introduction: We want to examine some ways in which we are tuned in to our shared world of value. So we just want to pick some favorite items from mass media, also known as pop culture. What are some of our favorite television shows, movies, musical groups, etc.

In-class groups: Compile a list of five favorites in each category: t.v., movies, cd’s. Which cd will you bring to class next time?

In-class discussion: Compare notes. Begin to discuss the attitudes and values that seem to be shared here.

Assignment: Bring cd’s.

B. Sharing tunes.

In-class discussion: What attitudes and values do we hear? How might they guide reason?

8. (March 9-13) Stories, feelings, and tunes as myth--a powerful path of human value. (Read Karenga)

A. "The Greatest Story Ever Told"

Lecture: Back to the stories about the gods. What are the big stories that are important to us? I will call these stories myths, not to dismiss them, but to connect to their power. The Jericho Road. What if it never happened? The power of the story is not diminished.

In-class groups: What stories do we take most seriously? What stories help us make sense of our lives? What stories help us to guide reason?

B. Midterm essay due.


9. (Mar. 23-27) "Introducing the Story of Human Consciousness" Read Hawking, Ch.1.

A. "Reviewing our results"

Lecture: For Plato, the last days of Socrates presents a dramatic rendering of what happens when there is deep conflict between customary convictions and critical reason. This becomes an important story for philosophy. The results are rarely good for reason in the short run. So the story of critical reason is often a tragic story. And yet we live in a revolutionary world order. Those who cling blindly to their customary attitudes, without proper reflection, will have no guarantees. Philosophy is often troubling to students because here we keep the conflict between custom and reason alive. Here we insist that settled convictions must be tested for their soundness. But this is not really so foreign to your own experience--unless you think college is a place where you are supposed to get the real answers once and for all. But college is not that kind of place. College is where you learn to systematically engage your questions for a lifetime of critical, revolutionary possibilities. And so we will now study the history of cosmology and philosophy as a kind of mythology--a story that you can reflect upon as you face your own unanticipated changes in belief. Three cosmological periods explained. Warnings against dismissing "mythologies" and old views. They are to be studied until the difference between what is true and false becomes problematic, then clear again.

Assignment: What is the Copernican revolution? How did a change in cosmology affect other realms of human experience? How does science depend upon mathematics and experience? (Remember the value of absolute equality?)

B. The Copernican/Newtonian Cosmology. Read Hawking Ch. 2

In-class groups: Share assignments. Nominate representative presenters.

In-class discussion: Share representative assignments. Compare and contrast the Aristotelian/Ptolemaic cosmology with the Copernican/Newtonian model. What assumptions change? What assumptions stay the same? What is a law? What is a model? In what ways do cosmologies interact with other arenas of human endeavor?

Assignment: How does Einstein’s theory of relativity imply an expanding universe? What evidence do we have to support the theory of a big bang? Now how does our cosmological age compare with the two great ages of the past? (Hawking 4&5)

10. (Mar. 30-Apr. 3) The Whole Universe in Motion. Read Hawking: 4, 5, &7.

A. Space/Time and Big Bang. (Hawking 4&5)

Introduction: Space and time are inseparable; they curve together. Stars have a life cycle. The universe is constantly changing.

In-class groups: Share assignments. Nominate a representative.

In-class discussion: Share assignments. How does the math of relativity imply expansion of the universe? How does the observation of COBE confirm mathematical implications? Why do equations seem to have such power? What values were "natural" for each cosmological age? What values are "natural" today for the contemporary cosmology?

B. Microcosm/Macrocosm--Theoretical Pluralism in Physics (Hawking 7)

Introduction: See plate, pp. 140-41. Exploring the subatomic universe. Some lessons from quantum mechanics. But the math doesn’t add up. Quantum mechanics is not mathematically compatible with relativity. We need at least two theories of the physical world.

Assignment: Describe three ways in which contemporary physics requires alternatives to common sense. What do you think of these challenges?


11. (Apr. 6-10) Summing up Science (Hawking 12-14)

A. Eleven Dimensions and More.

Introduction: We have talked about the ongoing dramatic conflict between customary attitudes and critical reason. Now we see signs of the contemporary drama.

In-class groups: Share assignments. Select contrary opinions.

In-class discussion: Share assignments. What gives physics the right to overturn obvious realities?

Follow-up: A theory or model is set of assertions that describe complex phenomena. A scientific model must also have the feature of falsifiability. There must be some test or observation which can be made that will confirm or deny the predictions made by the model.

Assignment: What observations falsified the earlier cosmologies? How were new models created? What is the role of the imagination in scientific inquiry? How is it possible to treat our own beliefs like scientific models?

B. Beliefs and Models

In-class groups: Share assignments and select contrary views.

In-class discussion: Share assignments. Is it always appropriate to convert our beliefs into scientific models?

12. (Apr. 13-17) Presentations from the History of Philosophy 1-4

13. (Apr. 20-24) Presentations 5-8/9-12

14. (Apr. 27-May 1) Presentations 13-16/17-20

15. (May 4-7) Presentations 21-25 & Review

Final Exam Due on Last Day of Finals

Instructor contact:

OFFICE: Fontaine 316

PHONE: x2217


HOME: 473-4737


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