PH205 The Meaning of Life

for S1J 2013

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PH 205 The Meaning of Life


S1J 2013 IN


Harrison Hartley


Senior Adjunct Instructor/Academic Administrator (KC Metro. Area)


M.A. (English; Philosophy) (Teaching Fellow, MU - Columbia English Dept., MO School of Religion)
B.S.Ed. (English, Education); MO Life English Certification
B.A. (English, Social Science)M.A. (English; Philosophy)

Office Location

Before and after class and as arranged.

Office Hours

Before and after class and as arranged. (Call or email any time.)

Daytime Phone

(816) 279-8100 (Leave a number on the answering machine for a prompt response.)


Harrison.Hartley  (Use if Park site is down or as backup.)

Semester Dates

14 Jan. - 10 Mar. 2013; Last Day to Drop: 1/21; Last Day to Withdraw: 2/17

Class Days


Class Time

5:30 - 9:50 PM



Credit Hours


The Meaning of Life: A Reader, E. D. Klemke and Steven M. Cahn; Third Edition
(Oxford Univ. Press, ISBN 978-0-19-532730-4)

Additional Resources:
Other resources will be provided by the instructor or will be available on the Internet or in the University or local public library.

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Course Description:
PH 205 The Meaning of Life (GE) Students in this course participate in the quest for meaning in life through reading and discussion of the contributions of philosophers, religious prophets, poets and writers, and through talking with persons who seem to have achieved meaning in their own lives. Students are expected by the end of the course to have formulated in writing or some other medium a statement of where they are in their personal quests. 3:0:3

Educational Philosophy:

If there is a single "most important" principle in Philosophy, it may be the one implied in the following question:
     "What evidence would you accept, if any, that what you now think to be true is not true?"

The Meaning of Life (at least, as it develops over the eight weeks of this term), will present itself as a constant reexamination of that question. This venture will be guided by one of the instructor's cardinal principles (which all class members will be asked to internalize, either as a direct quotation or in their own words). We will call it (somewhat immodestly), "Hartley's Dictum:"

       "On the important issues, make up your own mind. Make sure it's mind you're using and 
                not fear, tradition, desire, or prejudice, then make up your own mind, or you become nothing
        but a pale reflection of somebody else's experiences and ideas." 

Philosophy is not for the faint of heart, and central to this course will be the examination of questions regarding conflicts between science and religion (or knowledge and belief), as well as problems of meaning as imposed by family, culture, and biology (bodies) as differentiated from meaning generated by an evolving, independent self (mind). Class members will be encouraged to consider all sides of these issues and respond verbally and in writing, and the catalysts of consideration will be formal philosophical essays as well as poems, short stories, jokes, paintings, and each class member's own experience as far as he or she wishes to share it. 
     The breadth of the subject demands eclectic resources, and there will be lectures, discussions, demonstrations with art and artifacts from many world cultures (including a visit from Tibetan monks) as well as scientific specimens (about 500 pounds of fossils at one point), video essays, and readings from great literature. There is also a sense in which this is a "two for one" course, since many of the foundation elements of philosophical thinking will also be included in order to provide a proper apparatus for real analysis and debate. It will be demanding, but if it works right, it will also be fun, and by this route, we will try to clarify at least some  part of the meaning of life.

  Instructor Learning Outcomes

  1. Participants who successfully complete this course will, at a minimum, be able to define and properly employ 50 to 75 terms common to philosophy;
  2. Name and describe  the subject content of  the major philosophical disciplines (including the ability to identify and explain a dozen of the most common logical fallacies);
  3. Define, explain, and identify empiricism, rationalism, and mysticism and their presence as aspects of contemporary thought;
  4. Describe and explain the tension between subjectivity and objectivity;
  5. List, define, and explain the five universal characteristics of all mystical religions and the difference between mystical and state religions; name and give examples of the three functions of religion in society; demonstrate a clear understanding of myth; be able to describe fundamental Judeo-Christian doctrines (primarily, "the fundamentals") and compare and contrast Catholicism and Protestantism as modes of thought (including the ability to name and explain the five tenets of Calvinism); and cearly explain and  analyse  theism, atheism, and agnosticism;
  6. Define science, compare and contrast it to mysticism (particularly in the context of materialism and idealism as oppositional aspects of the philosophy of life) , and discuss its place as a social institution;
  7. Demonstrate in discourse and in writing the ability to identify and explicate ideas relative to the problem of the meaning of life in works of art and literature;
  8. Frame a coherent, well-reasioned personal statement on the problem of finding meaning in life.
  9. And, in addition to the above, be able to succinctly define and explain the basic elements of literary criticism as used for philosophical analysis.
Class Assessment:
     There will be five *take-home study guides with questions over the assigned readings, cumulative midterm and final examinations, two analysis papers based on readings and research (specific topics will be proposed by each class member - subject to the instructor's approval - and a writing guide will be provided), and an essay ( as part of the final examination) regarding the class member's current position on the meaning of life.

(*As indicated below, there will be support for this job by way of discussion and explanation in class prior to writing for at least one essay assigned per group; more if time permits; and definitions of terms and explanations of concepts unique to each essay will also be provided by the instructor.)


Five Study-Guide Groups at 8% Each:            40%
Midterm Examination:                                      15%
Two Analytical Papers at 10% Each:               20%
Personal Position Essay:                                  05%
Final Examination:                                           20%
A note on grades: the standard scale will determine final marks; 90% up=A, 81-89%=B,
70-79%=C, and 60-69%=D; but essays may be rewritten (as long as there is time within the course calendar to evaluate them) and a positive trend in test and essay work will be considered to offset the rigidity of the arbitrary scale.

Late Submission of Course Materials:
All class members are encouraged to submit materials on time, but some work will be accepted late with the instructor's approval and for unavoidable cause. NB: The Study Guide groups MUST be submitted on the dates indicated so they can be discussed in a timely fashion. Points for guides not submitted will be adjusted (to be fair to others), but in order to facilitate this work, at least one essay in each group will be examined in class and the instructor will provide notes on vocabulary and concepts to help with the rest. 

NB: ALL work MUST be submitted by the end of the last class; delayed grades require permission from the University Administrative Staff and are not, as a rule, granted for anything less than serious illness, military duty (with proof of orders), or natural disaster akin to the meteor strike that finished off the dinosaurs! 

Classroom Rules of Conduct:
Please remember to turn off your cell 'phone or place it on "silent" mode. If you wish to bring food or drink, please do so! We will break for supper about 6:40 and again to enjoy the benefits of civilization about 8:15.

Course Topic/Dates/Assignments:

   Following are class dates, quotations and topical comments intended to "bump start" discussion, provide assignments for the following session, and indicate quizzes, tests, and papers due. (* References to the main text are shown as "Klemke" or by specific author and/or chapter number; other material will be provided.)

1. Jan. 15 .:                                                     ASSERTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION

"If God does not exist, then life is futile. If the God of the Bible
does exist, then life is meaningful. Only the second of these two
alternatives enables us to live happily and consistently."
                                          "The Absurdity of Life Without God" 
                                                      - William Lane Craig 

"The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more
to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a
sober one."
                                                                          - George Bernard Shaw
  (1) To Tell the Truth: a basic kit of philosophical terms and concepts. 2. Something about fact (landscape) and fiction (inscape) and "us" in the making. (What does it mean to be human? Are there absolute, universal requirements for human happiness and well-being? Is "truth" one of them? What is "truth?" Does truth equal "knowledge?" If so, what is "belief?")
(3) A short introduction to literary criticism and analysis with reference Pojman as time permits.
     NB: Everyone will be provided with a succinct introduction to logic (including induction and deduction) and a list of 
        common logical fallacies to which we will refer throughout the course, and which will be used for the final examination.
     For next time, read Klemke's introduction; Pojman Ch.3; Taylor Ch.12, and Nozick Ch. 19.
     Study guide group 1 due next time.
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
                                                           - St. Paul  (Hebrews 1:11)

                        "A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything."
                                                                                                              -  Friedrich Nietzsche

2. Jan. 22.:             Belief in Belief - Faith, Reality, and the Problem of Fatalism.
  (1) A reading of "The Oxen" by Thomas Hardy compared to "Batter My Heart" by John Donne and the soliloquy of despair from MacBeth (with responses from Omar the Tent Maker, Stephen Crane, and Jack Nicholson.) (2) Black Elk and "the central mountain of the world;" an observation of mysticism on the American frontier. (3) Three kinds of "foi"....)
(4) Succinctly discuss group one study guides (due now); begin work on Klemke as time permits.
      For next time, read Quinn Ch. 5, Klemke Ch. 15, Wolf Ch. 20, Cohn Ch. 21; begin considering a topic for the first paper. Study guide group 2 due next time.  

What's the matter with Kansas... and everywhere else? To wit:
"The cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure
while the intelligent are full of doubt."
- Bertrand Russell

3. Jan.29.:   (1) " Think as I think," said a man, 
         Or you will be
                         An abominable wretch;
                         A toad!" And after I had thought of it,
 I said, "I will, then...
                         Be a toad."
                                                 - Stephen Crane
(2) An intoduction to the philosophy of science and a paleontological interlude; i.e. fossils! Participants will discuss and examine the tension between science and religion in American culture. (3) Succinct discussion of group two study guides.
(4) Midterm examination review.
    For next time: MIDTERM; read Huxley essay and complete the study guide (due in advance of the test). NB: For week five, essay one is due; read and prepare to discuss the essay by Richard Feynman on science and religion (provided). The assigned readings for week six (Hemingway and Orwell) will be provided tonight (by way of a head start.)

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." - Carl Sagan
(It follows, then, that claims require evidence.)
The problem: what counts as evidence?

 4.  Feb. 5: "It doesn't matter so much what you believe. so long as you don't quite altogether believe it." - B. Russell
           (1) Another look at the elephant in the room... with notes from John Godfrey Saxe.  
           (2) Meaning: Intrinsic, Extrinsic, or Both?   (3) Brief introductory remarks on ontology and the problem of evil.
   (4) Some extra "heads-up" notes on the readings for next week (to compensate for lack of discussion time).

                                                         MIDTERM TONIGHT!

      Huxley study guide due; for next time, read Swenson, Ch. 2, Schlick Ch.8 and Wisdom Ch. 18.
     Study guide group 4 due next time; essay one due next time (refer to the writing guide provided).  

"Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely."
                                                           - Lord Acton (1888)

                                                                     "If absolute power corrupts absolutely, where does that leave God?" 
                                                                                                          - George Daacon 

5. Feb. 12: The Problem of Origins and The Problem of Evil: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion.
                  (1) "Creation" and the problem of infinite regression. (A brief history of the divine, with "proofs.")
                  (2) Tyger, Whale, and Spider: The Problem of Evil. 
                      "Is God willing to stop evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
                        Is God able to stop evil, but not willing? Then he is malevolent!
                        Is God both anbe and willing? Then, why is there evil?
                        Is God neither able n or willing? Then why call him God?"
                                                              - Epicurus

                   (3) The types and functions of religion.
                   (4) The universal characteristics of mystical religions.
                   (5) A reading from The Night Country by Loren Eiseley.
   (6) Study guide. group 4, due now; discuss as time permits.

*Essay one due now.
For week 6, finish reading "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" and "Shooting an Elephant" as provided week 3; consider topics for essay 2, due week 7.

6. Feb. 19:   PART 1: Religion and the Sacred Through Other Eyes: A Brief Excursion in Hinduism and Buddhism
                         (with a visitation by Tibetan Monks, as well as art and artifacts from India, Nepal, and Tibet).

                   PART 2: Facing the Darkness: Philosophy and Poetry in Tandem 
1."When the fall is all there is...." considerations of the existential dilemma in "A Clean, Well Lighted Place" (with a short introduction to existentialism). (2) The Night Country revisited: "Ozymandias," "Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind," Poe's "The Raven," and three poems on the meaning of life (to arrange for week 7). (3) What makes a "happy" life, and how dos a life go wrong? (We will consider answers from Hemingway and Orwell.)
For next week, read work provided ("The Company Man" by Ellen Goodman, and poems from Robinson, Shelley, Sandburg, & two mystery writers);  and group 5 study guides for Ayer, Ch. 16; special assignment on Kekes, Ch. 22. 
Paper two due next. week; check topic and progress.

"Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture which they cannot understand;
but as for me, I always notice that the passages in Scripture which trouble me most are those that I do understand."
- Mark Twain

7. Feb. 26:   The Dilemma of Oudah Abou Tai and Tycho Brahe's Dying Wish (ambition, regret and the meaning of life).
1. As time permits, we will further discuss materialism and the contrast between Occidental and Oriental cultures.
    Study guide group five due; essay two due ASAP
    2. NB: final review; for the final, read Flanagan and Russell essays provided. (The Flanagan essay is from Klemke's second edition.)  *Final examination next week; all work due.

Bertrand Russell's Goal: To lead a life of reason guided by compassion.

8. Mar. 5.:  (1) A 'parting shot' from Lady Coghill.  (2) Bertrand Russell's goal (he noted) would work just as well either way around. What is your goal? All course assignments are due now; after any last discussion, we will proceed to the (not) final. (As long as there's life left, how can anything related to the meaning of life be "final?") Good luck, keep in touch; bon voyage!
  "The meaning of life in and of itself is that it gives us    
                      the chance to talk about the meaning of life."
                                     - Terry Eagleton in The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction 


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  1. The instructor may excuse absences for valid reasons, but missed work must be made up within the semester/term of enrollment.
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Last Updated:12/9/2012 9:24:11 PM