PH101 Intro to Philosophical Thinking

for F1FF 2007

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PH 101 Intro to Philosophical Thinking


F1FF 2007 FA


Alexander, Kathleen M.


Adjunct Faculty in Philosophy

Office Location


Office Hours

Before Class and by Appointment

Daytime Phone

509 / 230-2041


Semester Dates

August - November

Class Days


Class Time

7:45 - 10:25 PM

Credit Hours


Chaffee, John. The Philosophers Way: Thinking Critically About Profound Ideas. Pearson-Prentice Hall. 2005.   ISBN #0-13-048069-X.

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Course Description:
An entry into philosophy by two routes an exploration of philosophical problems through reading and discussing selections from the great thinkers or a lecture-discussion survey of philosophy conceived in the broadest fashion. 3:0:3

Educational Philosophy:

A learning environment conducive for maximum student progress utilizes approaches relevant to assimilating the target information. In the class Introduction to Philosophical Thinking, these approaches all center on immersing ourselves in philosophic discussion. We will be covering a lot of material, so the assignments are designed to help you to delve more in depth into the ideas and look at them with a critical eye. Through short lectures, rousing discussion with other students, and dedicated effort on your part, we will come to understand and be able to respond to some of the theories of Western Philosophies’ great thinkers. This will require a fair amount of writing. Yes—writing! You cannot learn philosophy through multiple-choice exams. If you can write well, you can think well.

Class Assessment:

  • This is a discussion class, so participation is mandatory. It is hard to participate if you are not in class. I will award 3 points each for 16 of the 18 class days for a total of 48 points possible for attendance.
    • Read the material assigned! I will try to make each class as interesting and challenging as possible.  I expect the student to be an active learner, to be a part of the class, and to take intellectual risks. 
    • If you will be gone an extended amount of time, please let me know so that we can work something out.
      • In the case of emergencies (hospitalization, death in the family, etc.) this attendance policy is waived.
  • Two small in-class personal essays are given, one on the first day of class, one on the second-to-last day of class. A reflective in-class essay will serve as the class final. These are each worth 10 points for a total of 30 points.
  • Throughout the chapters, I have specified response questions I would like you to address.
    • Each response question should be at least a good-sized paragraph (around 200 words), single-spaced. Some response questions will call for more and some for less for a variety of reasons.
      • These must be posted online no later than midnight Friday.
      • Each question is worth 4 points for a total of 76 points possible.
    • Then reply critically to at least 3 other posts by midnight Monday.
      • Each critical reply is worth 3 points for a total of 72 points possible.
    • The purpose of this assignment is to get you into the habit of thinking abstractly and critically. I want you to take that subject to an abstract level and address meaning or implication or ramifications, etc.
  • Throughout the chapters, I have also specified questions to be addressed in a personal journal. Each journal question is worth 5 points for a total of 85 points possible.
    • The journal may take any physical format. This is akin to a traditional diary, with specific direction. Each subject should be taken to an abstract level and address meaning, implication, consequences, ramifications, etc.
    • The purpose of this assignment is to get you to start thinking abstractly on a personal level.
    • I will look at the journals every Tuesday and collect them for final grading on the last day of class.

Grades are determined by the student’s earned points (311 total possible) divided by 300 points. 90% - 100% = A, 80% - 89% = B, 70% - 79% = C.

Late Submission of Course Materials:
I will not accept anything (except your journal) that is not typed. I want you to do and understand the work. Therefore, late assignments will be accepted. However, they will receive a reduced grade. 

Classroom Rules of Conduct:
We are all learning. I expect you to treat others in this classroom with patience and respect. Assignments are due the date listed on the syllabus. Students should contact the instructor in advance if unable to attend class. 

Course Topic/Dates/Assignments:

Week #1

What is Philosophy?


Internet Discussion – Due Friday.

1.3 – List two definitions of philosophy that you find particularly appropriate. Explain each definition and why you selected it. Create your own definition of philosophy and explain your reasoning behind it.


1.11 – According to Russell, the “practical” man does not understand that “the goals of the mind are at least as important as the goals of the body.” Explain what you think he means by this statement.


1.11 – One reason that philosophy does not provide definite answers to its question is that “as soon as definite knowledge concerning any subject becomes possible, that subject ceases to be called philosophy and becomes a separate science.” Explain what Russell means and how this relates to the characterization of philosophy as the “mother of all disciplines”.


Respond to 3 other posts by Monday.



Journal Entries

1.9 – List some area in your life in which you would like to be able to think more clearly. What impact would develop your understanding have on the choices you make and the person you are?


1.10 – Think about some of the particularly confusing moral decisions you’ve had to make in your life. What made these decisions so difficult? Do you believe you have a clear and accurate moral compass that you can use to guide you when complicated moral dilemmas arise in the future? What are some of the moral areas in your life in which you would like to have a clearer set of values?


Week #2

What is the Philosopher’s Way?


Internet Discussion – Due Friday.

2.3 – As we noted, Socrates is a very complex individual. Do you think that he really believes that he is only a “little wiser” than the others, and that his advantage is solely due to his acceptance of the fact that he is not wise? Why or why not? Why is the admission of his ignorance the beginning of wisdom?


2.8 – Consider Socrates central argument regarding education: would you agree that the formation of a person’s thinking and character is typically the res ult of many influences throughout their lives? Some people believe that cult leaders are able to exert a brainwashing kind of influence on individuals. Contrast how their techniques for mind control are different from Socrates’ method of questioning and dialectical exploration.


Respond to 3 other posts by Monday.



Journal Entries

2.4 – Describe an incident in which someone has presented you with a “might makes right” philosophy of justice. Compose a brief dialogue that explains how Socrates might have handled the situation.


2.5 – Describe an educational experience you have had in which a teacher was able to help you “give birth” to your own knowledge or understanding. The experience could have been part of your schooling or in some other area of your life. What approach did the teacher use to stimulate you to develop your own independent ideas, rather than employing a more traditional didactic approach? In what way was this approach analogous to that used by Socrates? How could such an approach be used in course you are currently taking or have taken? 


Week #3

Who Am I?


Internet Discussion – Due Friday.

3.6 – Explain your reaction to Descartes’ challenge, “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not? If so, how?


3.9 – Evaluate Locke’s claim that your conscious self is not permanently attached to any particular body of substance. Do you agree with this view? Why or why not?


Respond to 3 other posts by Monday.


Week #3

Who Am I?


Journal Entries

3.3 – Describe an experience in your life in which you experienced a vigorous conflict between the three dimensions of your self identified by Plato: Reason, Appetite, and Spirit. What was the nature of the conflict? How was it resolved?


3.8 – Here’s an opportunity for you to analyze your own views on the self, using Locke’s conclusions as a guide:

o       How would you define your personal identity? How would you define you as a person? How would you define the relationship between the two?

o       What do you think are the essential mental qualities that define all people?

o       What do you think is the relationship between your consciousness and your concept of self-identity as something that remains the same in different times and places?


Week #4

Who Am I?



Internet Discussion – Due Friday.


3.10 – Choose one to write on:

o       Descartes’ key point was that even if we are dreaming, fantasizing or being deceived, the act of doubting proves that I have a self that is engaged in the activity of doubting. Is the same true for Hume? By denying the existence of a self, is he at the same time proving that the self exists. The self that is engaged in the act of denying? Why or why not?

o       Compare how Plato (in the Phaedrus) and Nagasena use the analogy of a chariot to explain the nature of the self. What are the similarities? What are the differences?


3.16 – Explain the reasons why materialists believe that to fully understand the nature of the mind, we have to fully understand the nature of the brain.


3.16 – Explain the arguments against eliminative materialism. Which arguments do you find the most persuasive? Why?



Journal Entries

3.13 – Neurosis: Describe one sort of neurotic behavior in which you engage. (Don’t worry, everyone has at least one neurosis!) What do you think is the origin of this neurosis? Do you think this syndrome is persuasive evidence for Freud’s concept of the unconscious?


3.14 – Do you have a concept of an “inner self” that the world does not completely see or fully appreciate? If so, how does your “inner self” differ from your “outer self” that is available to others?


Week #5

Am I Free?


Internet Discussion – Due Friday.

4.6 – Determinists maintain that people believing in free will are deluded and in denial about their lack of freedom. James maintains the reverse: the vitality of our moral lives makes clear that it is determinists who are deluded and in denial about their genuine freedom. “This reality, this excitement, are what the determinists, hard and soft alike, suppress by their denial that anything is decided here and now, and their dogma that all things were foredoomed and settled long ago.” Who do you think is ultimately deluded and in denial, determinists or indeterminists? Why?


4.9 – According to Aristotle, what conditions must be met for an action to be considered “voluntary”? How does this definition relate to the concept of external constraints on freedom that we discussed earlier? Why does the author consider this definition of “autonomy” to be inadequate from a feminist perspective?


Respond to 3 other posts by Monday.


Week #5

Am I Free?


Journal Entries

4.7 – A number of factors seem to influence a person’s development, including: environmental experiences and learning, genetic programming and inborn instincts, social pressures and cultural socialization, etc. Think about the blending factors that have produced you as a person. How do you describe your unique “recipe”? Which factors had a particularly strong impact in certain areas of your life? How would Sartre respond to the ideas that factors other than free choice contributed to your development (if you believe they have)?


4.8 – Identify some of the important external constraints or limitations on your options that are imposed by people or circumstances outside of you. Are there people in your life that actively seek to limit your freedom? Are your locked into situations that present limited opportunities? After identifying some of the significant external constraints, identify ways to diminish their impact on your freedom by either modifying them or eliminating them.


4.8 – Evaluate the extent to which you are passively content to choose from a limited selection of alternatives that are presented to you. Identify several situations to begin actively creating your own possibilities.


4.8 – Identify some important internal constraints in your life using the following criteria to identify behaviors that: you feel are out of your conscious control, add negative results to your life, or you cannot provide a rational explanation for.


Week #6

What is Morality?



Internet Discussion – Due Friday.

5.4 – In your own words, provide a clear definition of ethical subjectivism. What is attractive about this ethical theory? What are the fatal flaws that undermine the credibility of this approach?


5.5 – Choose one of the following to write on:

o       When we explored ethical subjectivism in the previous section, we saw that is seems to commit the naturalistic fallacy—trying to derive an “ought” from and “is”. Can the same criticism be leveled against cultural relativism?

o       Cultural relativism seems to assume that in most cultures, the majority of people agree about basic moral values. Although this may be true in smaller, simpler cultures, this seems untrue with large, complex, modern cultures. How would a cultural relativist go about determining the prevailing view on moral values in a culture that is deeply divided? Is this a fatal flaw?

o       The history of civilization includes individuals who stood alone against the prescribed moral values of their culture, which they considered to be immoral. Who are some of these individuals? Why do so many people admire them? How would cultural relativism view these individuals: as courageous heroes and heroines or as abnormal deviants? Does this pose a problem for cultural relativism? Why?


Respond to 3 other posts by Monday.



Journal Entries

5.1 – Think of someone you know whom you consider to be a person of outstanding moral character. This person doesn’t have to be perfect—he or she doubtless has flaws. Nevertheless, this is a person you admire, whom you would like to emulate. After fixing this person in your mind, list the qualities this person displays that, in your mind, qualifies him or her as a morally upright individual. For each quality, try to think of an example of when that person displayed it.


5.2 – Answer the following questions explaining your answers:

o       Do we have a moral responsibility towards less fortunate people?

o       Is it wrong to divulge a secret someone has confided in you?

o       Should we eat meat? Should we wear animal skins?

o       Is it all right to tell a “white lie” to spare someone’s feelings?

o       Is it wrong to kill someone in self-defense?

o       Should people be given equal opportunities, regardless of their race, religion, or gender, or sexual orientation?

o       Is it wrong to ridicule someone even is you believe it’s in “good fun”?

o       Should you “bend the rules” to advance your career?

o       Is it all right to manipulate people into doing what you want if you believe it’s for their own good?

o       Is there anything wrong with pornography?

o       Should we always try to take other people’s needs into consideration when we act or should we first make sure that our own needs are taken care of?

o       Should parents be held responsible for the misdeeds of their children?


Week #7

What is Morality?



Internet Discussion – Due Friday.

5.9 – In her analysis, Rand equates the term elf-interest and selfishness. Do they really mean the same thing? Can’t you pursue your own self-interest without being selfish? Provide an example to support your response.


5.10 – Rachels concludes his critique of ethical egoism with an expression of personal contempt and disapproval: “Indeed, a man without any sympathy at all would scarcely be recognizable as a man; and that is what makes ethical egoism such a disturbing doctrine in the first place.” Do you find this a persuasive argument? Why or why not?


5.13 – King quotes the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in observing that “groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not? Is so, why do you think this is?


Respond to 3 other posts by Monday.



Journal Entries

5.7 – Reflect on your own views regarding moral values. Do you live your life assuming that there are some universal moral values that apply to al cultures in all time periods? If so, identify which morals values these are. If not, explain how you would deal with someone whose moral values included hurting you?


Week #8

What is Real?


Internet Discussion – Due Friday.

8.3 – Explain how the images projected on the back of the wall pf Plato’s cave are similar to the images we perceive on the television, or the images that are communicated through the newspaper, magazines, and books. Why do the people in Plato’s cage believe that the perceptual images they are viewing projected on the wall are “real”? Why do people who view television and read information sources uncritically tend to believe that what they are viewing is “real”?


8.4 – Plato believes that Forms occupy the highest level of reality in the eternal realm of Being. Thus, the perfect Idea of “horse” is the most real element in his metaphysic, the actual horse the least real. Aristotle inverts this hierarchy of reality: the individual horse is the most real element in his metaphysic, whereas the abstract concept of “horse” the least real. Explain which view you find to be most intelligible and the reasons why.


Respond to 3 other posts by Monday.



Journal Entries

8.3 – Evaluating your life as a whole, at what stage in Plato’s allegory would you place yourself?


8.7 – Descartes’ “evil genius” bears an uncanny resemblance to the evil forces in the film The Matrix. In that film the central character, Neo, is faced with a provocative choice: Does he want to continue existing in a “virtual” world, which is pleasant but unreal, a manipulated reality created by evil forces? Or does he wish to experience the real world, which is unpleasant and dangerous? If you were presented with these alternatives, which would you choose? Why? Is there any resemblance between this type of choice and the one suggested by John Stuart Mill, between being a “contented fool” or a discontented Socrates”? Why or why not?


Week #9





In-class Final Essay.


Celebratory Potluck.


Academic Honesty:
Academic integrity is the foundation of the academic community. Because each student has the primary responsibility for being academically honest, students are advised to read and understand all sections of this policy relating to standards of conduct and academic life.   Park University 2006-2007 Undergraduate Catalog Page 87-89

Plagiarism involves the use of quotations without quotation marks, the use of quotations without indication of the source, the use of another's idea without acknowledging the source, the submission of a paper, laboratory report, project, or class assignment (any portion of such) prepared by another person, or incorrect paraphrasing. Park University 2006-2007 Undergraduate Catalog Page 87

Attendance Policy:
Instructors are required to maintain attendance records and to report absences via the online attendance reporting system.

  1. The instructor may excuse absences for valid reasons, but missed work must be made up within the semester/term of enrollment.
  2. Work missed through unexcused absences must also be made up within the semester/term of enrollment, but unexcused absences may carry further penalties.
  3. In the event of two consecutive weeks of unexcused absences in a semester/term of enrollment, the student will be administratively withdrawn, resulting in a grade of "W".
  4. A "Contract for Incomplete" will not be issued to a student who has unexcused or excessive absences recorded for a course.
  5. Students receiving Military Tuition Assistance or Veterans Administration educational benefits must not exceed three unexcused absences in the semester/term of enrollment. Excessive absences will be reported to the appropriate agency and may result in a monetary penalty to the student.
  6. Report of a "F" grade (attendance or academic) resulting from excessive absence for those students who are receiving financial assistance from agencies not mentioned in item 5 above will be reported to the appropriate agency.

Park University 2006-2007 Undergraduate Catalog Page 89-90

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Park University is committed to meeting the needs of all students that meet the criteria for special assistance. These guidelines are designed to supply directions to students concerning the information necessary to accomplish this goal. It is Park University's policy to comply fully with federal and state law, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, regarding students with disabilities. In the case of any inconsistency between these guidelines and federal and/or state law, the provisions of the law will apply. Additional information concerning Park University's policies and procedures related to disability can be found on the Park University web page: .

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Last Updated:7/2/2007 12:37:47 PM