Introduction to Philosophy
Philosophy 110: Introduction to Philosophy
MWF 8:45-9:50 AM
Professor: Matt Tedesco
Office Hours: MWF 11:15-12:15, and by appointment
Office: Morse-Ingersoll 210
Textbook: Reason and Responsibility (13th ed.), edited by Joel Feinberg & Russ Shafer-Landau (Wadsworth, 2008)
The purpose of this course is to introduce students at Beloit College to some of the fundamental metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical problems central to the discipline of philosophy. These problems range from the relationship of the mind and the body, to the limits of our knowledge of the external world, to the possibility of God’s existence, to the moral status of a range of our actions and practices. As a philosophy class, our emphasis will be on the analysis of concepts and the critical evaluation of arguments. Beyond gaining a familiarity with some of the core problems of philosophy, students should expect to develop their analytic and evaluative skills through both in-class discussion and a range of writing assignments.
Your grade in the class will be determined as follows:
I. TWO EXAMS (40%)
There will be two in-class written exams this semester, each worth 20% of your overall class grade. The first will be administered in class on October 5th, and the second will be administered on December 14th at 7PM (our assigned time during finals week). This means, for planning purposes, that you should not plan to leave campus earlier than the time and date of this second exam. On the exams, anything discussed in class or assigned as class reading is fair game for a question topic. Note that these two will largely, but not entirely, overlap.
II. TWO PAPERS (40%)
You will write two papers in this class, each worth 20% of your overall class grade. The first paper will be due in class on September 21st, and the second will be due in class on November 16th. Details (regarding specific guidelines and expectations) will be passed along as the semester progresses. For you to receive a passing grade in the class, both papers must be satisfactorily completed.
III. REACTION E-MAILS (20%)
You will be responsible for sending reaction e-mails to me throughout the semester. These e-mails should be at least two substantial paragraphs in length. The first paragraph should briefly summarize what you take to be the thesis, main point, or purpose of the reading being discussed. The second paragraph and beyond should contain your reaction to the reading. Here, you should be critically evaluating some aspect of the reading: what was particularly interesting, convincing, problematic, confusing, etc.? Your reaction e-mails will not be evaluated for correctness, but they should demonstrate a serious engagement with the reading for class. Reaction e-mails that fail to seriously engage the reading will receive no credit.
There are two important rules to keep in mind for this assignment: first, the e-mails must be received before we discuss the reading in class, and second, you can turn in no more than one per week. If you turn in thirteen (one for each week, excluding the first, last, and mid-term break) satisfactorily, you will receive an A for this portion of your grade. For each one not turned in, this portion of your grade will decrease by one-third of a letter grade (so, turning in twelve earns an A-, eleven a B+, etc.). For our purposes, each week ends at the start of our Friday class; any reaction e-mails sent afterwards will count for the next week.
You will need to adhere to three rules in formatting your reaction e-mails. First, the subject of your e-mails should include both the number of the reaction and the name of the philosopher or philosophers to whom you’ll be responding (e.g., Reaction 1: Thomson). Second, don’t send any attachments; your reaction e-mail should be the text of the e-mail itself. And third, don’t include other business (questions about assignments, requests for a meeting, etc.) in your reaction e-mails; send all of that stuff as a separate correspondence.
These reaction e-mails serve a number of purposes. Beyond ensuring your critical engagement with the text throughout the semester, they give me a window into your reading of the text, which in turn directly informs my teaching. I’ll have a sense of what you focused on in the reading, and what needs special attention in class. I will also draw from the content of your reaction e-mails in class, sometimes generally, but also sometimes by referencing particular reaction e-mails. I will do my best to use discretion, but please let me know in your reaction e-mails if there are details in it that you would prefer not to reveal to the rest of the class.
Given the sheer volume of reaction e-mails that I will be receiving from all of you, you should not expect regular feedback on individual reaction e-mails. I will, however, be responding to you on at least two occasions: I will respond to your first reaction e-mail, to let you know that I’ve received it and whether it meets the criteria of the assignment, and I will respond at the middle of the term to provide feedback on the set of reaction e-mails I’ve received to that point. Early in the semester, I will also send you examples of reaction e-mails from previous semesters so that you can get a sense of my expectations for this assignment. I may also respond to individual reaction e-mails intermittently throughout the semester. Beyond all this, you should regularly be reviewing your reaction e-mails after our class discussions, to see how your understanding of the text has developed.
IV. PHILOSOPHY IN THE NEWS PRESENTATION (variable)
We will devote a part of several class meetings this semester to looking at philosophy in the world around us. All the time, philosophically interesting things are happening, and the purpose of these presentations is to give us a chance to learn more about them and discuss them. Early in the semester, each student will be assigned a presentation date; on that date, you will be expected to bring to the class some philosophically interesting news story for a 15-20 minute discussion. For those 15-20 minutes, you should be prepared to summarize the story, explain why it is philosophically interesting, and offer a brief argument defending some position with respect to the story. Because several students will be presenting each PIN class, and in order to prevent overlap of stories within a given class, you will be required to e-mail your proposed story to me no later than two days prior to your presentation at noon for approval—first come, first served for each topic. This assignment is a mandatory component of your class activity grade (see below); failure to satisfactorily complete it will result in a mandatory class-grade penalty as described below.
V. CLASS ACTIVITY (variable)
The final component of your overall class grade encompasses several different elements, including (but not limited to) class participation and classroom behavior in general. This component is unique in that, unlike the other components, it is subjective. Attendance, first of all, is mandatory, and students with excessive absences will be penalized, where excessive absences are understood as those over and above the equivalent of one week’s worth of class time. In accordance with Beloit College policy, I expect everyone to come to class, and I furthermore expect everyone who comes to class to be alert and ready to participate. Participation also is mandatory. Though this requirement is most commonly met by making positive contributions to in-class discussion, it may also be met through e-mail communication or office visits that demonstrate a serious engagement with class material beyond the assigned reaction e-mails. Elements of class activity that may negatively impact your grade include disruptive behavior (e.g., engaging in side-conversations with others, ringing cell phones) or visibly obvious detachment from the class (e.g., reading outside material such as the newspaper or work for other classes, sleeping). Exceptionally strong class activity may raise your overall grade by one-third (e.g., if your final grade is a B, it may be raised to a B-plus), while poor class activity may lower your overall grade by at least one-third (e.g., from B to B-minus or lower). As a rule of thumb, expect to have your class grade lowered by one-third for each hour of class missed beyond three.
Note that, as a matter of class policy, laptop computers will not be allowed to be used in class. If you believe you have a compelling reason to be exempt from this policy, please see me to discuss the matter.
If a situation of prolonged absence is unavoidable, please make sure to contact me about it. Be aware that I will normally request proper documentation should such a circumstance arise.
What follows is the plan for the semester as I see it now. Reading assignments should be completed before the class that they’re assigned. Note that this schedule is tentative; we may deviate from it as the semester progresses and class discussion takes on a life of its own. If changes are required, they will be announced in class.
If you have specific physical, psychiatric, or learning disabilities and require accommodations, please provide the appropriate documentation to me from the Learning Enrichment and Disability Services office early in the semester so that your learning needs may be effectively met. Be aware that I cannot make special accommodations without direction from the LEDS office.
8/26: Class introductions
Knowledge of the External World
8/28: Descartes, “First Meditation” (166-168)
8/31: Chisholm, “The Problem of the Criterion” (150-156)
9/2: Hume, “An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding,” Sections IV & V (222-234)
9/4: Popper, “Conjectures and Refutations” (264-268)
9/7: Kitcher, “Believing What We Cannot Prove” (268-277)
Personal Identity and the Mind
9/9: Descartes, “Second Meditation” (169-173)
9/11: Gertler, “In Defense of Mind-Body Dualism” (285-297)
9/14: Carruthers, “The Mind is the Brain” (301-309)
9/21: Jackson, “The Qualia Problem” (297-300)
PAPER 1 DUE
9/23: Parfit, “Divided Minds and the Nature of Persons” (373-378)
9/25: Perry, “A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality,” First & Second Night (387-401)
9/28: Perry, “A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality,” Third Night (401-406)
10/5: EXAM 1
Freedom of the Will
10/7: Holbach, “The Illusion of Free Will” (458-463)
10/9: Chisholm, “Human Freedom and the Self” (438-445)
10/19: Ayer, “Freedom and Necessity” (414-419)
10/21: Pereboom, “Why We Have No Free Will and Can Live Without It” (464-477)
10/23: Nagel, “Moral Luck” (493-500)
10/28: Midgley, “Trying Out One’s New Sword” (567-570)
10/30: Kant, “The Good Will and the Categorical Imperative” (625-640)
11/4: O’Neill, “Kantian Approaches to Some Famine Problems” (686-692)
11/9: Mill, “Utilitarianism” (640-653)
11/13: Singer, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” (678-685)
PAPER 2 DUE
11/18: INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM DAY
11/20: Clarke, “A Modern Formulation of the Cosmological Argument” (22-23)
11/23: Anselm, “The Ontological Argument” (6-7)
11/27: THANKSGIVING BREAK
11/30: Mackie, “Evil and Omnipotence” (78-85)
12/4: Pascal, “The Wager” (119-122)
Clifford,” The Ethics of Belief” (101-105)
12/7: James, “The Will to Believe” (106-114)
12/9: Class wrap-up & review
12/14: EXAM 2 (7 PM)