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Introduction to Philosophy

Philosophy 110: Introduction to Philosophy

Fall 2013

MWF 8:45-9:50 AM

Morse-Ingersoll 209

Professor: Matt Tedesco



            Phone: 363-2146

Office Hours: Tuesdays 11:00-12:00, Wednesdays 2:45-3:45, and by appointment

            Office: Morse-Ingersoll 210

Textbook: Reason and Responsibility (15th ed.), edited by Joel Feinberg & Russ Shafer-Landau (Wadsworth, 2013)

The Class:

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 our actions and practices. We will take a broad historical view of these problems, drawing from both classical and contemporary sources throughout our semester. As a philosophy class, our emphasis will be on the analysis of concepts and the critical evaluation of arguments. Beyond gaining a familiarity with the problems of philosophy described above, students should expect to develop their analytic and evaluative critical-thinking skills through in-class discussion and a range of writing assignments.


Your grade in the class will be determined as follows:

I. TWO EXAMS (2/7)

There will be two in-class written exams this semester, each worth 1/6 of your overall class grade. The first will be administered in class on October 11th, and the second will be administered on December 14th at 9 AM (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. As the semester progresses, I will provide you with possible exam questions on Moodle on a regular basis, and I will pick from those questions on each exam. Anything discussed in class or assigned as class reading is fair game for a question topic—note that these two categories will largely, but not entirely, overlap.

The purpose of the exams is to give you opportunities during the semester to review and further internalize the material from the class. Ideally, this material should become a part of your understanding of a complex world, and this should last well beyond this semester.


You will write two papers in this class, each worth 1/7 of your overall class grade. The first paper will be due by 8:45 AM on September 18th, and the second will be due by 8:45 AM on November 15th. These papers will be submitted to me by e-mail. For you to receive a passing grade in the class, both papers must be satisfactorily completed. Details (regarding specific guidelines and expectations) will be passed along as the semester progresses. On your paper, you will be evaluated on three central criteria:

1.     The clarity and organization of your writing

2.     Your understanding of the material

3.     The argument you defend on behalf of your thesis

With those three criteria in mind, your paper grades will be determined as follows:

1.     A-range: very well-written, clear & accurate understanding of the material, thesis compellingly defended

2.     B-range: very well-written, clear & accurate understanding of the material, thesis thoughtfully defended

3.     C-range: some serious writing problems, OR some important misunderstandings of the relevant material, OR no serious attempt is made to either offer or defend an argument for your thesis

4.     D-range: Any two of the following: some serious writing problems, some important misunderstandings of the relevant material, no serious attempt is made to either offer or defend an argument for your thesis

5.     F-range: Some serious writing problems, AND some important misunderstandings of the relevant material, AND no serious attempt is made to either offer or defend an argument for your thesis

Whereas the exams will primarily ask you to demonstrate your understanding of the course material, the purpose of these thesis-driven papers is to ask you to critically engage with texts from our class, staking out positions and defending them. More than merely understanding the complexity of problems, philosophy is an activity, and the aim of these papers is to engage these problems.


You will be responsible for posting weekly text responses to me in Moodle throughout the semester. These responses 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 assignment you’ve selected to discuss (presumably something on the schedule for our next meeting). The second paragraph and beyond should contain your response to the reading. Here, you should be critically evaluating some aspect of the reading: what was particularly interesting, convincing, problematic, confusing, etc.? Your text responses will not be evaluated for correctness, but they should demonstrate a serious engagement with the reading for class. In order to help ensure that you are seriously engaging the material, each text response must be a minimum of 350 words in length; the word count must be included in the text response. This word count is merely a bare minimum; response e-mails may, and frequently do, exceed this number. Text responses that fail to seriously engage the reading, including those that fail to reach the minimum word requirement, will receive no credit.

Text responses must be received before we discuss the reading in class, and 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 meeting; text responses will close at the start of our Friday class meeting.

These, then, are the key principles to keep in mind about text responses: one per week, on something we have not yet discussed in class.

These text responses serve a number of purposes. Most importantly, they help ensure your critical engagement with the text throughout the semester, and may serve as the bases for your papers. You should regularly be reviewing your text responses after our class discussions, to see how your understanding of the text has developed; in this respect, they provide for you a way to track your engagement with the material. They also 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 text responses in class, sometimes generally, but also sometimes by referencing particular text responses. I will do my best to use discretion, but please let me know in text responses if there are details in it that you would prefer not to reveal to the rest of the class.

Given the volume of text responses that I will be receiving from all of you, you should not expect regular feedback on individual text responses. I may, however, respond to individual text responses intermittently throughout the semester.


One of the most effective strategies for reading critically is composing a brief summary highlighting the key elements of the reading selection in question; one of the most concise and elegant forms of writing is the classical Japanese poetry form, the haiku. This assignment combines these two distinct considerations, in an assignment aimed at helping to jumpstart our discussions through your reading of our texts. For every reading assignment on our syllabus, you are expected to compose and bring to class a haiku to be read aloud in class. For each reading, I will draw names at random from the class list, and those students will read and explain their haikus to the rest of us. Your haiku should reflect what you take to be one or more important or interesting elements of the assigned reading selection. You will be allowed considerable creative flexibility in composing your haikus—this assignment should be fun, not stressful—but be aware that you will be expected to explain your haiku, and the elements of the reading that it captures.

As with the text responses, every student begins with an A on this portion of the class grade. If you read a haiku that you have composed prior to our meeting each time you are randomly called upon, you will receive an A on this part of your grade. If you miss a haiku because you are absent from class and within your allotted three absences (described below, in section VI), you will not be penalized; if you miss a haiku either because you are unprepared or because you are absent and you have already missed class three previous times, your grade here will decrease by a letter grade (from A to B, from B to C, etc.).


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, to see the ways in which philosophy is a living discipline that interacts with all of our lives. 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 minute discussion. For those 15 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. Additionally, you should be prepared to raise philosophically interesting questions connected with the philosophical issues raised in the story. These stories should be reasonably current—while there is no sharp cutoff here, stories should be no more than a few years old. Because stories may not be repeated, they will be allotted first come, first serve—to claim a story, simply email me with a link and a brief description. You are required to email me your story and a paragraph explaining why you think it is philosophically interesting at least one week prior to your assigned date, but you certainly may email me to claim a story earlier.

Your PIN presentation will be graded along the following lines:

F: No presentation, or else one lacking any serious philosophical content

B: A story is presented, and its philosophical content is explained

A: A story is presented, and its philosophical content is both explained and compellingly analyzed

Failure to email me at least one week beforehand will result in a penalty of one letter grade; failure to email me at all will result in a penalty of two letter grades.


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. This means that I expect every student to contribute to our ongoing class discussion throughout the semester. I recognize that class participation comes more naturally to some students than others. If you expect this requirement to be difficult for you, then plan accordingly—no one is exempt from this expectation. 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 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 class missed beyond one week of absence.

Note a couple of things about the grading in this class. First, notice that the penalty for excessive absences is serious, and may be compounded by the impact of excessive absences on your discussion haikus. This should signal to you the importance in this class of being present, and being prepared, every time. Second, notice that a full one-third of your grade (between the response e-mails and discussion haikus) is entirely in your control based solely on effort. There is no good reason for anyone to receive less than an A on these parts of your grade.

As a matter of class policy, laptop computers and tablets may not be used in class. The reason for this is straightforward: the classroom is a place for community conversation, and for a variety of reasons, laptops and tablets hinder conversation. The only exception to this policy is class meetings where we are discussing one of the readings available electronically; on those days, you may, if you choose, bring a laptop or tablet solely for the purpose of accessing the reading during our discussion. 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, where the days listed signal when I expect us to begin discussing the article in question. 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


The Mind

8/28:     Carruthers, “The Mind is the Brain” (327-335)

8/30:     Gertler, “In Defense of Mind-Body Dualism” (312-323)

9/2:       Jackson, “The Qualia Problem” (324-327)

9/4:       Parfit, “Divided Minds and the Nature of Persons” (377-382)

9/6:       Turing, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” (343-351)

9/9:       Searle, “Minds, Brains, and Programs” (351-358)

The Will

9/11:     Holbach, “The Illusion of Free Will” (438-443)

            PAPER 1 ASSIGNED

9/13:     Chisholm, “Human Freedom and the Self” (418-425)

9/16:     Ayer, “Freedom and Necessity” (461-466)

9/18:     Pereboom, “Why We Have No Free Will and Can Live Without It” (443-456)

            PAPER 1 DUE

9/20:     PIN 1



9/23:     Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, I & II (201-207)

9/25:     Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, IV & V (251-263)

9/27:     PIN 2

9/30:     Popper, “Science: Conjectures and Refutations” (292-296)

10/2:     Kitcher, “Believing Where We Cannot Prove” (296-305)

10/4:     PIN 3

10/7:     Continued

10/9:     Review

10/11:   EXAM 1



10/21:   Anselm of Canterbury, “The Ontological Argument, from Proslogion” (30-31)

10/23:   Clarke, “A Modern Formulation of the Cosmological Argument” (46-47)

10/25:   PIN 4

10/28:   Mackie, “Evil and Omnipotence” (100-107)


11/1:     Pascal, “The Wager” (142-145)

11/4:     Clifford, “The Ethics of Belief” (125-129)

11/6:     James, “The Will to Believe” (129-137)

11/8:     PIN 5

            PAPER 2 ASSIGNED



11/11:   Plato, Euthyphro (580-590)

11/13:   Aristotle, “Virtue and the Good Life” (556-568)

11/15:   Continued

            PAPER 2 DUE

11/18:   Kant, “The Good Will and the Categorical Imperative” (590-596)


11/22:   Continued

11/25:   Mill, Utilitarianism (596-610)

11/27:   Continued



12/2:     Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion” (641-648)

12/4:     Continued

12/6:     Marquis, “Why Abortion Is Immoral” (648-653)

12/9:     Continued


12/11:   Class wrap-up & review

12/14:   EXAM 2 (9 AM)