PHIL 1301: Introduction to Philosophy PCM

Matthew M. Daude


Summer, 2001

The ACC catalogue describes this course as "A study of the nature of philosophy and various traditions. Includes a study of major western philosophers, philosophical problems, and critical thinking."

PHIL1301 Objectives

  1. to understand the nature of philosophy as both a process and a subjectmthe r.
  2. to learn and practice critical reading, thinking, and writing skills.
  3. to become familiar with major divisions and problems of philosophy.

PHIL1301 Outcomes

  1. Students will demonstrate improved critical reading, thinking, and writing skills.
  2. Students will be able to reason philosophically about issues of both personal and universal significance.
  3. Students will be able to identify major divisions and concepts in philosophy.

My theme for this semester’s exploration of philosophy is "Human Knowledge and Reality." We will consider some of the major issues involved in metaphysics and epistemology, focusing on the ultimate nature of reality and the relation between any such reality and human knowledge.

Preliminary Issues

There are no prerequisites for Introduction to Philosophy. A passing score or the equivalent on the reading portion of the TASP is required, and I highly recommend a passing score or the equivalent on the writing portion. The major form of evaluation will be written work, and the main instructional methods will include readings and email discussion.

Internet access, including an email account, is required. All written work and other course business will take place by means of email and the web pages for these sections. (To find the main page for your section, go back to the top of this page and click on your section number.)

Our objectives for the semester reflect the goals listed above: demonstration of improved critical thinking skills, familiarity with the basic problems and concepts of philosophical thought, improved understanding of our philosophical tradition, and a working knowledge of the theories we will study. The major form of assessment will be writing assignments (essays).

Please note that you must complete a online Orientation prior to beginning work on this course.

Office Hours

Please consult my instructional web page for office hours and contact information.

Texts and Reading Assignments

I will post reading assignments in the "classroom" (a password-protected page). I expect everyone to read and think about the assignment. Reading philosophy takes tenacity; expect to spend several hours a week working through the readings. The major texts for the course are

Descartes. Meditations on First Philosophy*
Hume. Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding*
Palmer. Looking at Philosophy (recommended)

Texts marked with an asterisk are are available on line; I will post links to these texts on the reading assignments page. These texts are also available in many bookstore(s), if you prefer to do your readings off-line. The recommended text is an entertaining overview of the history of philosophy (with explanations of most of the major figures). It may be helpful in filling in gaps or as a resource for your coursework (and paper topics!).

For each reading assignment, I will post a "lecture" which (I hope!) will help you work through the reading. In addition, I will give you study questions for each reading assignment. Links to reading assignments, study questions, lectures, and other handouts will be found on the reading assignment page. Be sure to get in touch with me if you are having problems with the course content.

Work and Grading Policy

Your grade for this course will be based on written work demonstrating the pursuit of the goals of the course. The application essays form the basic component and are required of all students, . You may complete additional components for a higher grade, as indicated in the following table:

To earn a C
  1. Complete the four application essays
  2. The average of your grades must be at least a C.
To earn a B
  1. Complete the analytical essay
  2. Complete the application essays
  3. The average of your grades must be at least a B.
To earn an A
  1. Complete a research essay 
  2. Complete the analytical essay
  3. Complete the application essays
  4. The average of your grades must be an A.

In any case, the average of your grades will determine the course grade. (For example, if you completed the application essays, the analytical paper, and the research essay, but your average is a B, your course grade will still be a B. Quality should be of greater concern than quantity!) The grading criteria chart gives a detailed exposition of how I evaluate each assignment. 

The grade computation system I use allows for an initial "adjustment" to philosophical essay-writing. I compute the grade for the application essays two ways and use the higher result in the computation of the final grade. One way is the arithmetic mean of the application essays (the average of the four grades weighted equally). The other method is a "weighted average," in which the last three application essay grades are weighted proportionately greater than the first. For a more detailed explanation of this computation, see the grade computation procedure. This weighted average is intended to help people who weren't sure what to expect on the first essay, but did well on the others.

I recommend that you look carefully at my comments and feedback as you prepare for the subsequent essay. If you have questions about a comment, contact me so I can explain what I meant. After each of the application essays, I will post general comments about the assignment in the classroom and some sample essays from our class (which will be posted anonymously). This material will provide some additional feedback and guidance (and discussion) of the application essays.

Due dates for written work will be posted; please check the main page for your section regularly for announcements and deadlines. You may hand in assignments earlier than the due date, but assignments must follow the stated sequence. (For instance, I will not accept essay 3 before essay 2.) Please note that I will not accept work after the stated due date, except by prior agreement. All written work must be submitted by email, with the correct subject heading. Please see the Procedures section of the Orientation for guidelines on email.

Coursework Guidelines

Application Essays

The main theme of the four application essays is the Melissa/Melinda quandary and the ways in which the philosophers we are studying may contribute to their deliberation. I will give you a topic for each essay, consisting of several questions regarding the application of the theories we are studying to the Melissa/Melinda quandary. The point of the essay is not merely to answer the questions, but primarily to justify your answers, using reasons drawn from the texts and from your reflections on these theories. These essays should be 250-300 words (about 1 1/5 typed, double-spaced pages).

For fans of Bloom's taxonomy, the essays begin at the knowledge and comprehension levels and move beyond comprehension to application (at least).

Analytical Essay

This assignment is an opportunity to analyze a philosophical problem in some detail (500-600 words, or about two typed, double-spaced pages). I will assign the topic, which will be derived from our readings and which will involve comparing and contrasting particular approaches to a major philosophical issue. Again the central idea is justification of your conclusions based on your understanding of the texts. I will include further instructions in the assignment.

On Bloom's taxonomy, I will be looking for work at the analysis level.

Research Essay

The paper will be a 1000-word (four-page) exploration of a specific philosophical question relating to the theme of the course. For a detailed discussion of this assignment, see the Research Essay help page. Topics for the research essay are to some extent negotiable, so please do not hesitate to contact me about your interests if you don't find something in the assignment.

Please note that, if you decide to complete a research essay, you must hand in a topic question and a rough draft. See the main page for your course for due dates. Also note that I am not stipulating a particular format for this paper; any standard format for term papers is acceptable (MLA, for instance). However, (1) you must use some recognizable format and you must be consistent, and (2) the format will have to be adjusted somewhat for email delivery.

This assignment should operate at the analysis/synthesis level of Bloom's taxonomy.


It may seem odd for me to say this, but the assigned readings are, in fact, a required course component. I do try to make these philosophers' arguments more clear in my lectures, but the lectures are not intended as a substitute for reading and thinking through what these philosophers say in their own words. In fact, one of the points of this course is to get some exposure to our philosophical tradition. How would you rate a poetry course that didn't involve reading any actual poetry? Or a music appreciation course that didn't involve listening to any music? It would be absurd to think that you had been "introduced" to poetry or music, right? So, don't forget your readings! (And don't forget my warning: do not rely strictly on my lectures in your written work!)

The email list

You must register for an email list, which will be the main means of communication within the class as a group. There is a registration form in the classroom, and you should register for the list as soon as you receive your password to the classroom. I will use the list to communicate with the class, engage in discussions, etc. If you have questions about the course content or structure, I would encourage you to post your questions (and comments) to the list. Since we do not meet in a "real" classroom, this list will be our only form of class discussion.

Please note that, while I will monitor the discussion and comment when appropriate, I will not grade your participation. Even so, I encourage you to engage other students in conversations about the course. If you find something difficult or peculiar, chances are someone else in the class is having a similar reaction.

Course Calendar

Check the main page for your section frequently for due dates and links to the schedule of readings and coursework.

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This page was last updated 03/01/2009 07:09:03 PM by mdaude.