PH 101 Intro to Philosophical Thinking
F1FF 2007 FA
Alexander, Kathleen M.
Adjunct Faculty in Philosophy
Before Class and by Appointment
509 / 230-2041
August - November
7:45 - 10:25 PM
Chaffee, John. The
Philosophers Way: Thinking Critically About Profound Ideas.
Pearson-Prentice Hall. 2005.
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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.
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.
What is Philosophy?
Internet Discussion –
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.
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?
What is the Philosopher’s Way?
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.
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?
Who Am I?
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
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.
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:
How would you define your personal identity? How would you define
you as a person? How would you define the relationship between the two?
What do you think are the essential mental qualities that define
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?
3.10 – Choose one to
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?
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?
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?
Am I Free?
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
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
What is Morality?
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:
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
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
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?
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
5.2 – Answer the
following questions explaining your answers:
Do we have a moral responsibility towards less fortunate people?
Is it wrong to divulge a secret someone has confided in you?
Should we eat meat? Should we wear animal skins?
Is it all right to tell a “white lie” to spare someone’s
Is it wrong to kill someone in self-defense?
Should people be given equal opportunities, regardless of their
race, religion, or gender, or sexual orientation?
Is it wrong to ridicule someone even is you believe it’s in “good
Should you “bend the rules” to advance your career?
Is it all right to manipulate people into doing what you want if
you believe it’s for their own good?
Is there anything wrong with pornography?
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?
Should parents be held responsible for the misdeeds of their
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?
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?
What is Real?
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
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
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
In-class Final Essay.
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Last Updated:7/2/2007 12:37:47 PM