Philosophy: The Art of Thinking (
Tu,Th: 12:30-1:45 L
Office hours: 2:00-2:45pm Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 3-3:30 Wednesdays in my office, 145 Baker Hall. I would also be happy to meet with you at another time, to be arranged in advance. If you would like to schedule such a meeting, just send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call at 273-7487.
Required texts (available at University Book & Supply):
- Steven M. Cahn (ed.), Classics of Western Philosophy, 7th Edition.
- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York: Bantam, 1988; ISBN: 0-553-21406-3; Please note: make sure that you receive this edition, which was the only one ordered for the course).
Required course packet of photocopied materials from Plato, John Stuart Mill, and Friedrich Nietzsche (soon available at Copyworks, located at the corner of College and 23rd Streets).
Course description: This course will introduce you to philosophical thinking by surveying some of the great texts in the history of Western philosophy. Among the topics we will cover are ethics, knowledge, God, religion, and the nature of reality.
We will read each philosopher with a critical eye toward identifying basic assumptions that they make. Sometimes these assumptions are right on the surface of the texts; more often, however, they will become clear only after some “digging” on our part. We will see that a philosopher’s basic assumptions tend to center around his or her interpretation of what being is – that is, what it means for something or someone to be at all. This sounds like a very abstract question, and in a way it is. But it is also intimately connected with our everyday experience. After all, whenever we relate to anything in our daily lives – ourselves, other people, cars, computers, nature, etc. – we experience it as being in some way or other. It is just this everyday sense of being that philosophers try to articulate in their concepts and theories. In the words of former President Bill Clinton (in a very different context!), “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”
Our focus on being will allow us to ask a number of questions throughout the semester. How have Westerners in the past (say, in ancient Greece or medieval Europe) experienced being? How is this experience of being evident in philosophical texts and views from these periods? How are these past ways of experiencing being related to social, economic, and political arrangements of the time? How do we experience being now? How are our current ways of experiencing being related to past ways? How is our experience of being evident in our relation to religion, technology, and the natural environment? How are our current ways of experiencing being related to social, economic, and political arrangements of our time? Are there problems with, or alternatives to, these current ways of experiencing being? If so, what might these be like?
Course goals: This course has three main goals:
(1) to introduce you to some of the most important figures and topics in Western philosophy;
(2) to help you recognize, analyze, and evaluate arguments; and
(3) to give you practice in writing cogently and persuasively.
Course format: Class meetings will consist of a mixture of lecture, discussion, and group work. In order to benefit from this, it is essential that you do all of the reading for each class.
Evaluation: The grade you receive for this course will be computed as follows:
1. Worksheets: 25% of your final grade will come from the worksheets you complete on the reading assignments. The purpose of the worksheets is to encourage you to do each reading assignment, and to come to class prepared to discuss them. I will drop your three lowest scores (including those for missing worksheets) on the worksheets. Note that completing the worksheets will help you greatly in doing well on the quizzes, papers, and the final examination. For purposes of review, make sure you keep all of your worksheets.
Generally, your answers to each worksheet question should be between 2 and 5 sentences. You may answer the worksheet questions in any way that is complete and legible. The best way to do this, and the way that I prefer, is to open the worksheet document from our online syllabus, save them on a disk or your computer hard-drive, type in your answer below each question, and then print out the whole document when you're done. Following this method will save you paper and printing. It will also be easiest for me to read, and most convenient for you for purposes of review. Please staple together all the pages that go with a single worksheet.
2. Quizzes: There will be about 10 brief, in-class quizzes, each worth about 2.5% of your final grade, for a total of 25% of your final grade. The quizzes will generally cover both material discussed in class since the last quiz. Note that although no individual quiz is worth a very large percentage of your final grade, the quizzes combined are quite important. If you miss a quiz day for any reason except an illness explained by a doctor’s note or funeral announcement – in which case you may request to retake it – you will receive a 0 for that quiz.
3. Final examination: There will be a cumulative final examination (about 100 multiple-choice questions on Thursday, December 13, 3-4:50 in our regular classroom), worth 25% of your final grade.
4. Class participation: I expect that all students will participate actively and constructively in classroom discussions. Asking questions and responding to what I or fellow students say are excellent ways for you to learn. Doing so regularly will boost your final grade by one third of a letter grade, for example, from a B+ to an A-. On the other hand, if your presence in class contributes to a negative learning environment (for example, repeatedly coming to class late, treating fellow students with disrespect, obviously not paying attention, passing notes, whispering, etc.), this can reduce your final grade by one third of a letter grade.
5. Attendance: Attendance will be taken at the beginning of each class period. You are permitted two unexplained absences during the semester. For each unexplained absence beyond these three, your final grade will be reduced by one third of a letter grade. For example, someone with a B+ average with 5 unexplained absences (i.e., 3 more than the 2 allowed) will receive a C+ in the course. The only explanations I will accept are a doctor’s note or a funeral announcement.
I realize that this is a fairly strict attendance policy. I have instituted it mainly because much of the learning that you will do in this course will take place in class. Asking good questions, raising objections, and listening to others are important skills that you will get to practice in class discussions. In addition, coming to class is necessary to doing well in this course. After all, anything discussed in class could appear on the quizzes or final examination; and (virtually) nothing will appear on the final examination that was not discussed in class.
6. Paper: One paper on an important aspect of one or more of the texts we read. Depending on the topic you choose, your paper will be due either on Wednesday, October 18; or on Thursday, May 5, from 3:00 to 4:50pm (at the time of the final exam). Suggested paper topics are linked to these due-dates on this syllabus. The paper should be at least 5 double-spaced pages (1500 words) in length and will be worth 25% of your final grade. I don’t require – and don’t recommend – that you use any secondary sources, i.e., anything but the texts assigned in class, but if you do use any you must cite them.
I strongly encourage you to co-write your paper with (just) one other member of the class. Co-writing is an increasingly important skill in such fields as business, science, teaching, law, etc. Since I will hold a co-written paper to exactly the same standards as a single-authored paper, it is definitely to your advantage to co-write a paper. After all, two heads are better than one! If you co-write a paper, however, please make sure that you and your co-author both check it for consistency in style, verb tense, coherence, etc.
Criteria for writing and evaluating a paper:
I. Thesis (20 points).
A. Does your essay have a clear, informative, and compelling thesis?
B. Does your thesis offer a compelling insight into the text and issue under consideration?
C. Do you explain why your thesis matters, i.e., why it’s important?
D. Is your thesis stated at the end of an introductory paragraph?
II. Support of thesis (60 points).
A. Thesis defense. Does your essay have a consecutive argument that defends your thesis, carefully moving the reader from one point to the next (or does it simply run in place)? Your aim is not to prove to the reader that your thesis is iron-clad, but to show that it is reasonable, that what you see in the text is there to be seen. So do you cite and quote evidence from the text (a good rule of thumb is to use three examples), and do you explain how that evidence supports your thesis? Do you lead the reader through your argument, one step at a time, explicitly telling me how that step supports your thesis?
Remember that the reasons you give for or against an argument should be more than simply your beliefs or opinions. Rather, they should be potentially convincing to someone else, even if this person may not initially share your beliefs or opinions. After all, are you convinced that something is true just because someone else happens to believe it? Thus in trying to bring your reader over to your side, make sure to meet him or her in the middle by appealing to reasons that they might accept.
B. Evidence and reasoning. Does your essay have adequate citation and quotations from relevant texts that support the argument of the paper, and do you explain how those citations and quotations in fact support the argument?
C. Consistency. Does your essay demonstrate internal consistency or ways of handling contradiction and paradox as they emerge in the argument?
D. Addressing an objection. Does your essay show an awareness of a possible objection to your thesis? Does your essay address this objection?
III. Style and presentation (20 points).
A. Does your essay
1. avoid grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors? (This is very important, since the reader can’t help but take these factors as indicating the author’s care in writing the paper.)
2. have clear and well-structured sentences, paragraphs, and arguments?
3. have properly defined key terms?
4. have properly documented quotes? Page numbers in parentheses placed after the quote are sufficient if you are dealing with just one text.
B. Succinctness. Is every paragraph, sentence, and even every word absolutely necessary to your argument (or do you have irrelevant material and rambling discussion)?
Notes on the papers:
One thing that a philosophy paper should not be is a “book report”, i.e., an attempt to summarize an entire philosophical text. Instead, a good philosophy paper should give a close analysis of a single key argument in a text. An “argument” in this sense isn’t a verbal fight (this isn’t the Jerry Springer Show, after all!). Rather, an argument is a chain of reasoning from certain statements (called the “premises”) to another statement (called the “conclusion”) that the argument claims is supported by the premises.
A good philosophy paper contains both an analysis of such an argument and some criticism of it. A good criticism generally consists of either (1) reasons why one or more of the premises of the argument is false, or (2) reasons why the premises in fact do not support the conclusion (in which case the conclusion still might be false even if the premises were true). You may or may not agree with the argument; and you may or may not agree with your criticism of it. This doesn’t matter for the purposes of this course. Remember that the reasons you give for or against an argument should be more than simply your beliefs or opinions. Rather, they should be potentially convincing to someone else, even if this person may not initially share your beliefs or opinions. After all, are you convinced that something is true just because someone else happens to believe it? So don’t just state whether or not you agree with the author’s conclusion. Instead, try to give reasons for or against the author’s argument for this conclusion.
In my experience, the most common way for paper grades to suffer is due to a lack of documentation in the texts. You should use direct citations sparingly – generally only if the exact wording of the passage is either directly relevant to the argument you’re making, or particularly clear and concise. (Short direct citations should be placed in quotation-marks; direct citations over 3 lines long should be offset, indented, single-space, and without quotation-marks.) In other cases, use indirect citation – paraphrasing in your own words what the author says, and telling the reader where s/he says it.
Further note: Each semester, I teach almost 100 students. Although I give each as much individual time and attention as I possibly can during the semester, I will not be able to send you your individual grade for the course at the end of the semester. I submit the grades to the Registrar as soon as I can during the week of final exams, and ask you to kindly wait see your grade until it has been reported electronically.
Website: The Department of Philosophy and World Religions has relatively few funds available for photocopying (or for anything else, for that matter!). The great majority of our course materials will therefore be placed on our website: http://www.uni.edu/boedeker. There you will find the following:
- our syllabus (i.e., this document),
- worksheets for you to fill out and hand in on the readings and videos,
- handouts (which are for you to keep) outlining lectures,
- materials for use in in-class group projects, and
- suggested paper topics.
Please check the website frequently for updates.
MAILSERV: From time to time, I will send announcements pertaining to the class via e-mail. To facilitate our electronic communication, a MAILSERV distribution list has been created for this class using your UNI e-mail addresses. The list members include myself and the students who were registered for the class when the list was created. It is a private list (i.e., only the list members may post to it), but has open subscription. To send to everyone on the list, use
If you registered late, or if you wish to be able to send and receive e-mails at an e-mail address other than your UNI one, then please add your e-mail address to this list by sending a message to
where the body (not the subject heading) contains these two lines:
In a similar manner, if you drop this course, you may remove yourself from the list by sending a message to
where the body (not the subject heading) contains these two lines:
It will be your responsibility to make sure you are subscribed to the MAILSERV right away, check your e-mail regularly, and read the announcements. I strongly recommend that you purchase a 3-ring binder to organize and store the various handouts for this class.
Cheating and plagiarism (from UNI’s academic ethics policy): “Students at UNI are required to observe the commonly accepted standards of academic honesty and integrity. Except in those instances in which group work is specifically authorized by the instructor of the class, no work which is not solely the student's is to be submitted to a professor in the form of an examination paper, a term paper, class project, research project, or thesis project.
“Cheating of any kind on examinations and/or plagiarism of papers or projects is strictly prohibited. Also unacceptable are the purchase of papers from commercial sources, using a single paper to meet the requirement of more than one class (except in instances authorized and considered appropriate by the professors of the two classes), and submission of a term paper or project completed by any individual other than the student submitting the work. Students are cautioned that plagiarism is defined as the process of stealing or passing off as one’s own the ideas or words of another [person], or presenting as one's own an idea or product which is derived from an existing source.
“It is not acceptable for the work or ideas of another scholar to be presented as a student's own or to be utilized in a paper or project without proper citation. To avoid any appearance of plagiarism or accidental plagiarism, it is important that all students become fully cognizant of the citation procedures utilized in their own discipline and in the classes they take. The plea of ignorance regarding citation procedures or of carelessness in citation is not a compelling defense against allegations of plagiarism. A college student, by the fact that he or she holds that status, is expected to understand the distinction between proper scholarly use of others’ work and plagiarism.”
Any student who is found to have cheated or plagiarized will receive the grade of “F” for the class. In addition, if you are found to have copied anything from an Internet website without proper documentation, or to have engaged in other particularly flagrant forms of cheating or plagiarism, the instructor reserves the right to “recommend suspension from UNI for a period ranging from the term in which the infraction occurs (with a loss of all credit earned during that term) to permanent suspension from the University.” The instructor will also report this “action in writing to the instructor’s department head (and, if the student is from a different department, to the head of the student’s department), and to the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. The Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs will notify the student in writing that such action has been taken, and will maintain a file for each student so disciplined.”
Disabilities: I will make every reasonable effort to accommodate disabilities. Please contact me if I can be of assistance in this area. All qualified students with disabilities are protected under the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C.A., Section 12101. The ADA states that “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” Students who desire or need instructional accommodations or assistance because of their disability should contact the Office of Disability Services located in 213 Student Services Center (273-2676 Voice, or 273-3011 TTY).
Academic Learning Center: I strongly encourage you to utilize the Academic Learning Center's free assistance with writing, reading, and learning strategies:
1. The Writing Center offers one-on-one writing assistance open to all UNI undergraduates. Writing Assistants offer strategies for getting started, citing and documenting, and editing your work. To schedule an appointment, drop in at 008 ITTC or call 319-273-2361.
2. The Reading and Learning Center provides the Ask-a-Tutor program, consultations with the reading specialist, and free, four-week, non-credit courses in Speed Reading, [and] Effective Study Strategies. Visit http://www.uni.edu/unialc/, 008 ITTC, or call 319-273-2361.
I imagine that these services might be very helpful to you as you think about, organize, and write your papers. Why not give them a try? It certainly can’t hurt!
Tentative course schedule:
NOTE: The assignments are due in class on the date indicated. For example, the assignment from Plato’s “Meno” (70a-80d) is due in class on Thursday, January 13.
All reading assignments, unless they are specifically noted as in our course packs or The Communist Manifesto, are from Cahn’s Classics of Western Philosophy.
I. Ancient Greek philosophy (c. 600-250 B.C.E.): being as constant, eternal presence
21 Aug.: Introduction. PLEASE bring this handout with you to our first class meeting; don’t fill it out in advance, but please do so in class.
23 Aug.: Plato (c.428-348 B.C.E.), “Meno”, 70a-80d, Worksheet.
30 Aug.: finish Plato, “Apology” Worksheet.
18 Sept.: This will be the only day on which 3 worksheets are due, but the first two are fairly brief. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.), “Categories”, Chapters 1-5, especially 4-5 Handout Worksheet; Aristotle, “Physics”, 192b1-195a27 Worksheet; and Aristotle, “Nichomachean Ethics”, Book I, Chapters 1-10 Worksheet (In class, we’ll make these admittedly difficult writings clearer with group work on the four “causes” of substances.)
27 Sept.: Aristotle, “Nichomachean Ethics”, Book VII, Chapters 1-3 Worksheet.
2 Oct.: Aristotle, “Nichomachean Ethics,” Book VIII, Chapters 1-3, 9; and Book IX, Chapters 4, 7, 8, 9, and 12. Worksheet.
4 Oct.: Aristotle, “Nichomachean Ethics”, Book X Worksheet.
or “neo-Platonism” in this course)
II. Medieval philosophy (c. 387-1400 C.E.): free will, and being as exerting “efficient” causality on something
9 Oct.: Augustine (354-430 CE) on God as creator; read “Confessions” (398 CE), Book XI (pp. 353-365) Handout Worksheet; and Augustine on God and the good; read “On Free Choice of the Will” (395 CE), Book I (pp. 338-341) Worksheet.
(We won’t be reading any Renaissance philosophy [c. 1400-1610] in this course.)
III. Early modern (or “Enlightenment”) philosophy; being as what can be legitimately willed by an individual (mainly c.1610-c.1830, but still including John Stuart Mill [1806-1873])
18 Oct.: criticisms of the concept of “free will”: read Thomas Hobbes (1558-1679), selections from Leviathan (1651: in course packet). Also read Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), Ethics (1677), Part I: Concerning God, Proposition 17, its two Corollaries and its “Scholium” (= “Note”: pp. 558-559 in Cahn textbook); and from Propositions 32 and 33 (including Scholium 1 and Scholium 2 to proposition 33) through the end of Part I, especially the Appendix (pp. 564-570 in Cahn textbook). Worksheet
23 Oct.: John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), first half of selection from On Liberty (1859), in course packet. Worksheet
25 Oct.: Mill, On Liberty, second half of selection from On Liberty, in course packet Worksheet
IV. Critiques of some Western philosophical and religious traditions (c. 1830-present)
1 Nov.: Marx & Engels, Communist Manifesto, pp. 32-43, 56-58. Worksheet
6 Nov.: in class: view the documentary The Corporation (no new reading). Please bring this worksheet with you to fill out in class; it will count as one worksheet.
8 Nov.: more on Marx & Engels (no new reading).
27 Nov.: Nietzsche, The Antichrist (1888), pp. 570-599 in course packet. Worksheet
29 Nov.: Nietzsche, The Antichrist, pp. 599-628 in course packet. Worksheet
4 Dec.: in class: view a lecture on the historical Jesus by John Dominic Crossan (b. 1934), given at UNI in 2000. Please bring this worksheet with you to fill out in class; it will count as a regular worksheet.
6 Dec.: in class: discussion of Nietzsche and Crossan on the historical Jesus and later Christianity (no new reading).