Intro to Philosophy

Introduction to Philosophy

How to Write a
Philosophy Paper
Reading Guides:
Plato's Republic
Descarte's Meditations
Perry: Dialogue on Personal Idendity and Immortality
Sartre: Nausea


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Introduction to Philosophy (PHIL09 12102)
Rowan University, Fall, 2011
Tuesday and Thursday, 12:15 -1:30 pm, Education Hall 1081
Instructor: Dr. David Clowney

Introduction and Course Requirements:

This course will introduce you to some of the main topics of philosophy, as they have been raised and dealt with by several of the most influential thinkers in Western history. Rather than reading about these thinkers, you will read works written by them, as well as by recent philosophers who have been inspired by their work. The texts will be supplemented with occasional class handouts, which will also be required reading.

The Readings:

We will start near the beginning of traditional western philosophy, with Socrates and Plato. Plato's Republic will introduce you to the philosophy of Plato and of his mentor, Socrates. The Republic is an inquiry into the nature of justice, at both the individual and societal level. It is one of Plato's mnost famous dialogues, written in the middle of his career to give students a clear picture of his main ideas and his method. The narue of the just society; censorship and the arts; what humans can know and how we can be sure of it; what is the fundamental nature of reality; what is the best education; these are just a sample of the many questions raised in this dialogue.

Along with the Republic, we will read selections from Nancy Tuana's Woman and the History of Philosophy, and from Elizabeth Spelman's Inessential Woman. These works by modern feminist philosphers raise important questions about gender, and the way that our ideas about gender affect our philosophical thinking. We will be reading selections from Tuana and Spelman throughout the semester.

From Plato we will turn to the early modern philosopher René Descartes. We will read his Meditations, a set of explorations on the question of what we can know and how we can know it. We will also read Nancy Tuana's chapter on Descartes, "The Man of Reason".

Our third reading is A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality by the contemporary philosopher John Perry. Perry's dialogue will take us through several of the traditional philosophical arguments about it's title themes, and give us a chance to ask what philosophical reasoning might or might not teach us about such an important question.

We will close the semester with a novel by the existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. The title, Nausea, refers to the disoriented feeling the protagonist gets when he experiences the world as simply there, and sees all the familiar ways of finding order or meaning in it as arbitrary. The novel is full of references and connections to the other material we will study during the semester; it is philosophy in another form. (Don't worry; it's still a novel!) We'll supplement Nausea with a short essay by Sartre, "Existentialism is a Humanism," in which Sartre explains the main points of his philosophy. To complete our gener subtheme, we'll also have a look at the philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre's life partner and a powerful existentialist philosopher in her own right.

All of these books are available in the bookstore. I have managed (I think) to keep the cost well under $40, even if you buy them new. Please get them all before the bookstore sends them back!

Class participation and attendance:

Discussion and debate have been an essential part of philosophy since it began. I will call on you frequently, involve you in small group discussions, and expect you to contribute to the discussion. For that reason, part of your grade is based on class participation. What I am looking for is preparation, and engagement in a serious effort to deepen our understanding of the material at hand.

I allow three unexcused absences. After that your participation grade will suffer if you cut class. Please come see me if you are having difficulties that will interfere with your attendance or your work in the class. I'll be glad to help you in any way that I can.

Doing the Readings:

If you have not read philosophy before you may find the readings harder and stranger than most things you've read. Don't take these difficulties personally; everyone finds philosophy hard to read at first, and a lot of it is very strange. On the other hand, once you get past the difficulties, the material may seem familiar. Philosophy deals with questions that people all over the world, adults and children (especially children), have been asking ever since there have been people. You have undoubtedly asked some of them yourself. What makes philosophy difficult is the rigor with which philosophers approach these common questions.

I have asked the bookstore to order some copies of reference aids that will help you. Palmer's Looking at Philosophy: The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter is quite a good summary of the history of western philosophy with cartoon illustrations; although I don't require it, it would make a great companion to this class, and it doesn't cost very much. For those who want something that will take you deeper, W.T. Jones History of Western Philosophy (six volumes) is in the library, and I've asked the bookstore to stock a couple of copies of it. It's expensive, but if you are interested in philosophy you might consider picking it up a volume at a time. Reasonably priced used copies are also available on-line.

Class time will be taken up almost entirely by discussion of the readings, and of questions raised by the readings. My lectures will usually occur on the fly, as part of the discussion. Plan to read everything three times: once quickly, and a second time more carefully, before class discussion; then once more after class to review what we talked about. Keep some written record of your thoughts, whether you do so in the margin of the text or in some other place. If you do this, and if you bring questions to class about what you don't understand, you will probably find yourself both learning from and enjoying the class, and your grades on papers and the final should be good ones. If you miss lots of classes and do last minute cram reading, you are most likely not to have a clue, your grade will show it, and you won't have gotten your money's worth. The choice is yours.

Assignment and Policies:

There will be a test at the end of each major reading, and a cumulative exam at the end of the course. For each of these I will provide you with the questions in advance, but you will write the test in class. You will also write a short paper on an argument or position of one of the philoosphers we read. I will post a variety of topics on Blackboard form which you may choose (you may also propose your own topic for my approval). A guide for writing this paper is posted on Blackboard. You must submit a rough draft to me; I will return comments to you, and you will then prepare a final draft. Please submit both your rough and final drafts on Blackboard. I will not accept a final draft without having commented on a rough draft first. As a regular ungraded assignment, you will also keep a philosophy notebook. Write in it at least once in preparation for each class. Use it to record your thoughts and questions about the readings, class discussions, and possible paper topics, and bring it to class with you. You can keep it online on Blackboard, if you want, and have it available in class on a laptop. I will call on you regularly and ask you to share some of what you've written, and this will contribute to your participation grade.

Late work will penalized at the rate of one letter grade for each week it is late. If you think you have a legitimate excuse you must clear it with me in advance of the deadline unless you have a true emergency. Spelling and grammatical errors in final drafts will also be penalized.

Important dates:

Plato test: 9/29
Descartes test: 10/27
Perry test: 11/17
Sartre test: 12/13
Short paper dates: rough draft 11/10; final draft 12/8

A word to the wise about plagiarism:

Every now and then, students pretend that the work they are handing me is their own, when it really isn't. Most of you won't do this, but if the temptation arises, please resist it! Deliberate plagiarism is dishonest, unfair to your honest classmates, and also unfair to yourself, because it cheats you of the learning you are paying for. If these more noble reasons don't dissuade you,think about this: If I catch you at it, you will at least fail the assignment, and I am very likely to catch you. If you're not sure what plagiarism is, here is a rule to help you avoid it: On all of your written academic work you are absolutely required to say where you got your information and ideas, unless they are your very own original words and thoughts, or they are common knowledge. If the words are not your own, you must put them in quotes and say whose words they are. (Long quotations, more than three lines, should be indented and single spaced rather than put in quotation marks.) If the ideas are not your own, you must tell your reader where you got them. Use one of the standard forms for acknowledging your sources, like the one you learned in your freshman composition courses. Not giving your sources is considered plagiarism (copying). All assignments in this class, including the take home final, are governed by the no-plagiarism rule. If you hand me a plagiarized assignment it will get a grade of "F". (That's the minimum penalty for deliberate plagiarism. If you deny that you've engaged in plagiarism, and I can prove that you have, you will fail the course.)

Turnitin Policy:

Rowan University has a licensing agreement with Turnitin, an online servide to help prevent student plagiarism. As part of this course I will be using Turnitin at my discretion to determine the originality of your work. If your work is submitted to Turnitin, it will be stored in the Turnitin database. You have the right to refuse either to submit your work to Turnitin or have the university do so; avialing yourself of this right will not negatively impact your success in this course. If you do not wish to use Turnitin you must notify me by e-mail within two weeks of today's date. If you object to the use of Turnitin I will use other procedures to assess originality.

Documented disability policy:

Your academic success is important. If you have a documented disability that may have an impact upon your work in this class, please contact me. Students must provide documentaion of their disability to the Academic Success Ceter in order to recrive official University services and accommodatins. The Academic Succes Center cna be reached at 856.256.4234. The Center is located on the 3rd floor of Savitz Hall. The staff is avialable to answer questions regarding accommodations or assist you in your pursuit of accommodations. We look forward to working with you to meet your learning goals.

Class Schedule:

September 6: Introduction
September 6-27: Plato
, Republic
September 29: Plato test
October 4 - 25: Descartes, Meditations
October 13 : Guest lecturer TBA
October 27: no class (I'm out of town at a conference). Take home test on Descartes due (submit through Blackboard)
November 1 - 15: Perry Dialogue
November 10: Short paper rough draft due (submit on Blackboard)
November 17: Perry Test
November 24 Thanksgiving, no class
November 22 - December 8: Sartre, Nausea
December 8: short paper, final draft due (submit on Blackboard)
December 13: Sartre test
December 15: Final exam (2:45 - 4:45 pm)

My contact information (please stay in touch):

I am always glad to see students, whether you just want to talk or need help. Please don't hesitate to come see me. You're paying me to teach you; if you're not learning I want to know about it! The Philosophy and Religion Department is located in Bunce Hall, suite 315. My e-mail is My office hours are Tuesday and Thursday, 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm. If these times are inconvenient, I'll be glad to arrange others. In any case, please make an appointment to be sure we catch each other. Enjoy the course!

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