Philosophy: The Art of Thinking (Honors) (PHIL-1020-01 [3027])        

Dr. Edgar Boedeker            

Spring 2014: Mon., Wed., Fri., 12:00-12:50, in Lang Hall 211


Office hours: 3:10-4:00pm Mondays and 2:15-3:00pm Thursdays in my office, 2099 Bartlett. 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 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 (2007; ISBN: 0872208591).

- 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).


Course packet of photocopied materials from Plato, John Stuart Mill, and Friedrich Nietzsche.  You won’t need the course packet right away and, depending on how things go this semester, may not need it at all.  If we don’t get to Friedrich Nietzsche, for example, then there’s no need to purchase additional readings by him.  I’ll keep you posted as to whether you’ll need to purchase the course packet.


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 the officially-scheduled final exam time in our regular classroom), worth 25% of your final grade.  Please see the very end of this syllabus for the day and time of the final exam.


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 up to two-thirds 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, texting, whispering, etc.), this can reduce your final grade by one third of a letter grade per episode.

Each time that I notice you ‘texting’ on an electronic device, I will ask you to leave, and will reduce your final grade by 1/3 of a letter grade, e.g., from B to B-.  I have instituted this policy in part because texting is very distracting to me, reduces my ability to teach effectively, and hence does a disservice to the students in the class.  In addition, it’s important to break the habit of feeling the need to text during inappropriate times.


5. Attendance: I will take attendance at the beginning of virtually each class period.  You are permitted two unexplained absences during the semester.  For each unexplained absence beyond these two, your final grade will be reduced by one third of a letter grade.  For example, someone with a B+ average with 4 unexplained absences (i.e., 2 more than the 2 allowed) will receive a B- in the course.  The only explanations I will accept are a doctor’s note, funeral announcement, notice of military service, etc.

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 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 in class by Friday, March 14; or on Monday, May 5, by the time of the final exam.  (Please note that early e-mail submissions are welcome, but make sure that you send the document in Microsoft Word format.)  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: 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.


I strongly recommend that you purchase a 3-ring binder to organize and store the various handouts for this class.


MAILSERV: From time to time, I will send announcements pertaining to the class via e-mail.  Please check your e-mail every morning prior to class just to make sure that class isn’t cancelled due to some unforeseen event (illness, etc.).  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 is supposed to be constantly updated to include just those students who are registered for the class at a given time.  The Powers that Be allow only me, and not students, to send to the list.


Cheating and plagiarism: It is your responsibility to read UNI’s Student Academic Ethics Policy (Chapter 3.01 of UNI’s Policies and Procedures Manual, available at  Using the terminology defined in this document, please note the following:

Any student who commits a Level One violation will receive no credit for the entire assignment in question.

Any student who commits a Level Two violation will receive no credit for the entire assignment in question; and, in addition, a reduction in the course grade by two full letter grades, i.e., 20% (e.g., from a B- to a D-).

Any student who commits a Level Three violation is mandated by the University to receive a disciplinary failure for the course. (This will automatically appear on the student’s transcript.)  As your professor, UNI also requires me to reprimand the student in writing in the form of a letter addressed to the student and copied to the faculty department head, the student’s department head (if different) and the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.


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, 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


13 Jan.: 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.


15 Jan.: Plato (c.428-348 B.C.E.), “Meno”, 70a-80d, Worksheet.


17 Jan.: Plato, “Meno”, 80c–100b, Handout Worksheet;


22 Jan.: Begin Plato, “Apology” Worksheet. Handout.


24 Jan.: Finish Plato, “Apology” Worksheet.


27 Jan.: In-class discussion of Socrates’ concept of virtue (no new reading).


29 Jan.: Plato, “Republic”, 475b-480a (from Book V, in course packet) and 504b-511c (from Book VI, in Cahn textbook) Handout Worksheet; in-class group work on Socrates’ trial.


31 Jan.: Plato, “Republic”, 514a-521b (from Book VII, in Cahn textbook) Handout Worksheet.


3 Feb.: Plato, “Phaedo”, 57a-69e Handout Worksheet.


5 Feb.: Plato, “Phaedo”, 88c-91c and 100b-118a (lightly skimming 107e through the last full paragraph at 114b) Worksheet. (More on the “Phaedo)


7 Feb.: In-class discussion of the Phaedo and Socrates’ trial (no new reading).


10 Feb.: Review and/or catch-up day on Socrates and Plato (no new reading).


12 Feb.: This will be the only day on which 2 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.  (In class, we’ll make these admittedly difficult writings clearer with small group work on the four “causes” of substances.)


14 Feb.: read Aristotle, “Nichomachean Ethics”, Book I, Chapters 1-10 Worksheet


17 Feb.: Aristotle, “Nichomachean Ethics”, Book I, Chapter 13; and Book II. Handout Worksheet


19 Feb.: Aristotle, “Nichomachean Ethics”, Book III, Chapters 1-5 Worksheet;


21 Feb.: Book VI Worksheet. (In-class group work on Aristotle’s ethics.)


24 Feb.: Aristotle, “Nichomachean Ethics”, Book VII, Chapters 1-3 Worksheet.


26 Feb.: Aristotle, “Nichomachean Ethics,” Book VIII, Chapters 1-3, 9; and Book IX, Chapters 4, 7, 8, 9, and 12. Worksheet.


28 Feb.: Aristotle, “Nichomachean Ethics”, Book X Worksheet.


3 Mar.: in-class small group work on Aristotle’s ethics and the D.A.R.E. program.


5 Mar.: Review and/or catch-up day on Aristotle (no new reading). 


II. Medieval philosophy (c. 387-1400 C.E.): free will, and being as exerting “efficient” causality on something

(We won’t be reading any Roman philosophy [c. 250BCE-386CE]

orneo-Platonism” in this course)


7 Mar.: Augustine (354-430 CE) on God as creator; read “Confessions” (398 CE), Book XI (pp. 353-365) Handout Worksheet;


10 Mar.: Augustine on God and the good; read “On Free Choice of the Will” (395 CE), Book I (pp. 338-341) Worksheet.


12 Mar.: St. Augustine on free will; read “On Free Choice of the Will”, Book II (pp. 341-343) Worksheet Handout.


14 Mar.: Augustine on divine providence; read “On Free Choice of the Will”, Book III (pp. 344-352) Worksheet. (In-class group work on the Andrea Yates case.) paper from first set due


(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])


24 Mar.: 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


26 Mar.: John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), first half of selection from On Liberty (1859), in course packet. Worksheet


28 Mar.: 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)


31 Mar.: Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895), The Communist Manifesto (1848), pp. 1-32. Handout Worksheet


2 Apr.: Marx & Engels, Communist Manifesto, pp. 32-43, 56-58. Worksheet


4 Apr.: more on Marx & Engels (no new reading).


7 Apr.: 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.  These things change, but it might be available via at the following URL:


9 Apr.: Finish watching selections from The Corporation (no new reading).


11 Apr.: In-class discussion of The Corporation (no new reading).


14 Apr.: Review and/or catch-up day on Marx and Engels (no new reading).


16 Apr.: Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), “Twilight of the Idols” (1888), pp. 1080-1087. Handout Worksheet


18 Apr.: Nietzsche, “Twilight of the Idols”, pp. 1087-1094. Handout Worksheet


21 Apr: Nietzsche, The Antichrist (1888), pp. 570-599 in course packet. Worksheet


23 Apr: Nietzsche, The Antichrist, pp. 599-628 in course packet. Worksheet


25 Apr: in class: view a lecture on the historical Jesus by John Dominic Crossan (b. 1934), given at UNI in 2000.  It’s available on at the following URL:

Please bring this worksheet with you to fill out in class; it will count as a regular worksheet.


28 Apr.: In class: finish watching the Crossan video on the historical Jesus (no new reading).


30 Apr.: discussion of Nietzsche and Crossan on the historical Jesus and later Christianity (no new reading).


2 May: review and/or catch-up day (no new reading).


Monday, May 5, by the time of our final exam: paper from second set due.  Please note that early e-mail submissions are welcome, but make sure that you send the document in Microsoft Word format.


Monday, May 5, 1:00-2:50pm, in our regular classroom: final examination (here’s a very brief study guide).