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PHL 103

INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY

Instructor:
Dr. Bob Zunjic



Office Hours:
Fr 10:00-11:00am, Chafee 184
and by appointment

Phone: 874-5499
E-mail: szunjic@uri.edu


Course Description:

This course aims at being an introduction to philosophical thinking in general rather than to provide a full survey of philosophical disciplines, their methods, doctrines and leading ideas. Instead of trying to give a comprehensive account of all possible forms philosophy has assumed throughout its long history we shall zero in on several characteristic examples illustrating how classical and modern thinkers formulate their questions and how they grapple with their issues in contrast to ordinary, religious and scientific consciousness. Consequently, we shall focus on questions (for instance: Is knowledge possible? Does it come from reason or from experience? What is the ultimate substance of the world? Is it material or ideal? Are human actions free or determined? Does God exist? Why is there evil? Are moral norms relative or absolute?) as well as on some specific concepts philosophers use to articulate their experience and the world we live in (being, substance, justice, a priori, a posteriori, contingent, necessary, empirical, etc.). In addition, the course will provide a preliminary orientation about the notion of philosophical argument, its various forms and the ways arguments should be analyzed.

Objectives:

The main objectives of this course are:
(1) to become familiar with major philosophical problems and the methods of dealing them,
(2) to learn how to read and interpret philosophical texts (rightly considered as belonging to the category of the most complex intellectual products),
(3) to acquire an initial command of philosophical language.
The ultimate objective, of course, remains
(4) to demonstrate what does it mean to adopt "philosophical attitude" as an elevated form of human curiosity and resistance to any kind of dogmatism.

Course Text:

Steven M. Kahn, ed.,
Classics of Western Philosophy
Hacket Publishing Company, Indianapolis/Cambridge 2002 (6th edition).
or
Forest E. Baird, Walter Kaufmann, eds.,
Philosophy Classics: From Plato to Derrida
,
Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, 2004 (4th edition)


Almost all readings will be taken from these two collections of original texts. I shall supply additional material when necessary. There is an accompanying online study guide to the latter reader at www.prenhall.com/baird. Students may visit this site for supporting exercises and assignments. This website includes online quizzes, writing activities and other useful links.

In view of the fact that a full understanding of what philosophy is cannot be acquired by producing a single definition of the word 'philosophy' it is critical to become acquainted with a representative range of its historical specimens. Our selection of readings covers the following four areas of philosophical thinking: Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, and Philosophy of Religion. The selection includes pieces from different traditions, periods and authors (Plato, Descartes, Hume, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Mill, Russell, Sartre).

Requirements:

Contrary to some widely spread opinions (these are in fact misconceptions), advancing in studying philosophy requires some specific skills that need to be mastered through hard work both at home and in class. Among other things, these skills include the ability to read complex texts, to express yourself effectively in writing as well as the capacity to use qualitative data in testing hypotheses or evaluating adduced arguments.

Reading: Reading philosophical texts is very different from reading a novel or a newspaper article. Quickness and quantity in reading do not value in philosophy as much as proper understanding of the problems, good insight into the questions and an alive awareness of different interpretive possibilities. Thus it is better for you to read less material thoroughly than to cover more readings superficially. Careful reading takes time. Seemingly students do not have much to read in this course - only a dozen or so selections for the whole semester. But it is a daunting task if carried out properly, which requires doing extensive annotations, formulating questions, providing terminological explanations and making argumentative sketches.
This course addresses the difficulties involved in the process and supplies the skills requisite to deal effectively with the problem of deficient or incorrect understanding.

Students need to do all assigned readings as indicated by the syllabus. We shall spend most of our class time going over the assigned readings in an effort to penetrate into the ideas and arguments as deep as possible. Therefore always bring the book with you. As a rule, we shall read together all critical passages in class, but only as a compliment to your individual studying, not as a substitute! Therefore, read repeatedly the assigned readings and make extensive notes.

Philosophical Language: In order to be able to acquire a satisfactory command of philosophical ideas we are going to undertake a very close analysis of the selected texts. With regard to our ambition to elucidate the specific meaning of the philosophical jargon used in the selections this course could be also described as an introduction to the language of philosophy. The complex language used by philosophers is one of the foremost and most persistent difficulties in any encounter with philosophy. The language of philosophy tends to be more terminological and conceptual than the language of ordinary communication or literature. Even when philosophical concepts nominally coincide with respective common or scientific notions they may be profoundly different from them. Students will thus face a variety of hurdles and tasks while pursuing the goal of correct interpretation.
Sometimes we cannot get a grasp of the text because we are not familiar with its terms (they might be archaic or technical) or even if we know all the expressions we may still be unable to understand the idea and the intended argument.
The first step in dealing with this problem is to clarify the meaning of all the words, especially those with terminological status. The next step is to develop a working capacity to understand and correctly apply fundamental philosophical concepts. Finally, students need to learn how to recognize and evaluate arguments by assessing their logical status and the weight of the supporting evidence.
In order to be able to obtain a satisfactory command of philosophical language, we are going to undertake a very close interpretation and conceptual analysis of the selected texts.
With regard to our ambition to elucidate the specific meaning of the philosophical concepts used in the selected readings this course could be also described as an introduction to the language of philosophy.
Participants are therefore expected to regularly look up the meanings of the terms in philosophical and other dictionaries and make necessary excerpts. Within the confines of class outlines I shall provide brief philosophical lexicons covering the terminology from the readings, but students need to set up their own terminological lists. They are also urged to make brief sketches of argumentative units that include complex notions.

Writing: Writing is an area of philosophical training which has an equal importance as our oral teaching and exercising in class. Putting down your thoughts in written form gives you an invaluable opportunity to scrutinize them once again and to better assess the validity of your initial arguments. Therefore, students are expected to write papers simultaneously with doing their readings.
Some useful tips: Focus on one main question! First do your best to understand and explain the text as accurately as possible and only then start to comment on it and make your own critical remarks! Always give reasons for your opinion no matter whether you agree or disagree with the author! Try to consider different venues and the validity/cogency of opposing argument!
Each genre of writing is good as any other: informative report, argumentative discussion, critical analysis, personal expression. But it could be as bad as any other as well - depending on what you put into it and how do you support your statements. No matter which genre of presentation you may choose, the paper needs to be executed in keeping with the requirements of the particular style and approach that were selected. The following rubrics list the criteria and the qualities that will be evaluated in writing assignments given in this class.

PARAMETERS OF EVALUATION

EXEMPLARY

SATISFACTORY

DEFICIENT

 

UNDERSTANDING AND INTERPRETATION

  • Excellent understanding of language and reasoning.
  • Precise interpretation of text and accurate rendering of content.
  • Apprehends entirely context and rationale of ideas.
  • General understanding of terminology and reasoning.
  • Roughly renders content and meaning of text.
  • Partially grasps context and intellectual motivation.
  • Inadequate understanding of terminology and reasoning.
  • Misinterprets ideas and assertions.
  • Lacks any apprehension of context and motivation.

 

ANALYSIS AND ARGUMENTATION

  • Thorough articulation of arguments.
  • Logic of assertions fully clarified.
  • Well argued critical points.
  • Main lines of arguments indicated.
  • An intuitive grasp of logical patterns demonstrated.
  • Certain critical argumentation attempted.
  • No analysis of argumentation offered.
  • No awareness of logical relations and structure.
  • No argumentation attempted.

 

 

CLAIM SUPPORT AND USE OF SOURCES

  • Relevant facts/examples adduced.
  • Various sources consulted and appraised.
  • Adequate applications identified and proper conclusions drawn.
  • Insufficient factual basis established.
  • Limited sources consulted.
  • Conclusions undeveloped or suggested by association.
  • No use of sources.
  • Sheer statements of agreement or disagreement. Guesswork w/out support.
  • Superficial or irrelevant conclusions or no conclusions at all.

 

 

STYLE AND CORRECTNESS

  • Penetrating insights and interesting observations.
  • Outstanding articulation and autonomous conceptualization of issues.
  • Clear and thoughtful exposition – sophisticated style.
  • Scattered comments and remarks .
  • Excessive dependency on original wording (direct quotes and paraphrasing).
  • “Normal” flat style and exposition.
  • Disorganized and shallow presentation.
  • No conceptualization, no use of theoretical tools.
  • Broken colloquial style – statements loosely connected.



Please contact me to get additional clarification and feedback on your writing. I'll be glad to review your first draft as well as discuss the final version of your paper. Students in this class are also encouraged to visit the URI Writing Center - located on the 4th floor of Roosevelt Hall - at anytime during academic semester. The Center serves students who are seeking support as well as those with more advanced academic ability who are interested in helping others. For more information go to the URI Writing Center's website at http://www.uri.edu/artsci/writing/Writing_Center_Pages/index.html

Using Qualitative Data: In accord with the most recent revision of the University's General Education Program this course includes assignments (home or class) that involve the "analysis, interpretation, and/or use of qualitative data to test a hypothesis, build a theory, or illustrate and describe patterns". Practically, this means that I shall ask you to do a small research on a specific issue by going on-line or working in the library and then assessing the obtained data as to their suitability to corroborate or refute a certain contention. The purpose of these assignments is to enable participants to test some theoretical hypotheses or to provide evidence for a given position.


Speaking: Given the size of this class it is obvious that all participants will not have the opportunity for long oral presentations. And yet we shall be able to practice the skill of effective speaking as the ability of articulating our thoughts accurately and communicating them to others clearly. Formulating your ideas and exchanging arguments in class discussions serves that purpose and therefore requires an active involvement from your part.

In addition to individual studying, students are strongly encouraged to join the URI Philosophy Department E-group ( www.uri.edu/artsci/phl/egroup.htm.) where participants can discuss any philosophical issue they might be interested in. Participating in an e-mail group means not only adding a new medium to our regular work, but expanding our discussion circle beyond the boundaries of one single class and even department.

Attendance and Exams: Regular attendance and doing reading on time are indispensable for being successful in this course (they will be reflected in the participation grade accordingly). What counts most, however, is not mere physical presence, but a productive and reasoned participation in answering questions, in doing presentations and taking part in class discussions. Ultimately what matters is what you say and how you say it, not the sheer fact that you are saying something.

And remember: class discussion is not a battlefield wherein everyone fights everyone in order to establish personal superiority. Our objective is not to defeat others but to collaboratively find the right interpretation, the correct argument and possibly the true explanation of the problem. Therefore everybody's contribution should be phrased in accordance with that objective.

There will be two exams including one final. They will have the form of both short answer quizzes and multiple choice questions. In addition, you are expected to write 2 papers, based strictly on the course material. The suggested scope is from 2 to 5 pages.

Grading:

First Exam: 30%
Second Exam: 30%
Papers: 20%
Class Participation: 20%

Arrangements for extra-credit work must be made before final exam.

Students with Disabilities: Any student with a documented disability is welcome to contact me early in the semester so that we may work out reasonable accommodations to support your success in this course. One should also contact Disability Services for Students, Office of Student Life, 330 Memorial Union, 874-2098.

Course Schedule:

Week I: Introduction to the Course: Why Study Philosophy?
Week II: B. Russell: The Value of Philosophy, Ch. 15
Week III-IV: Plato: Euthyphro, (in full)
Week V: D. Hume: Treatise of Human Nature (selections)
Week VI: F. Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, (selections supplied)

  Mid Term Exam

Week VII: R. Descartes: Meditation I (in full)
Week VIII: R. Descartes: Meditation II (in full)
Week IX: J. S. Mill: Utilitarianism (selections)
Week X: F. Nietzsche: Twilight of the Idols, (selections)
Week XI - XII: J. P. Sartre: Existentialism is Humanism (selections)

  Final Exam



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