hilosophy 110 — Introduction to Philosophy                         11:00-12:00 MWThF,   MI 208

D. Vessey                               363-2146 (Office)                               Office Hours: 210 MI

vesseyd@beloit.edu    368-9612 (Home)                                           MW 12:00-1:00

                                                                                                            Th 1:00-3:00

Required Texts:                                                                                   and by appointment

            Plato, Five Dialogues

            Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics

            René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy

            Fyodor Dostoyevski, The Grand Inquisitor

            Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals

            Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto

            Additional photocopied readings from Plato, Augustine, Thomas                         Aquinas, Blaise Pascal, and Patrica Hill Collins



Course Content

            In this course we will tackle three of philosophy’s most fundamental questions: What can we know?  What ought we do? and For what may we hope?  We will look at the answers given to these questions by philosophers in three different historical periods: Ancient Greece, Europe in the early stages of the scientific revolution, and the brink of the twentieth century.  The goal will be to see the way these views were informed by their particular cultural-historical context, but yet can still provide us with many important philosophical insights.  The Final two weeks of the class will be on a topic decided by the class just before midterm break (so there is time to order the books).


Course Method

            To the extent that we are concerned with coming up with true understandings of the world, philosophy must not be an activity of mere thought, but one of dialogue.  To this end, every Monday will be set aside solely for discussion (though discussions will not be restricted to Mondays!).    In order to discuss an issue, however, we must be able to both understand what we have read, and briefly and clearly articulate our own views on the issue.  No activity works better for learning these skills than writing.  There will be a number (9 from which I will count the top 6 grades) of typed, single page, discussion-prep papers which will be graded A,B, C, F.  Since the papers are meant to facilitate the discussion, there is no point in turning them in after the Monday class.  There will also be four, 4 page papers which will allow us to explore more in depth our own reactions to particular arguments. All typo grading policies apply to both papers (lose one grade for every four typos).  Finally, there will be a midterm and (in class) final exam. 



Exams: 20%                Long papers: 40%       Participation/Discussion Papers: 40%



1. Wed., Sept. 1          Introduction


2. Thurs., Sept. 2        Plato — Background

                                                            Reading: Apology 17-24b


3. Fri., Sept. 3             Plato   — What sort of life is led in pursuit of truth?                                                                                    Reading: Apology  24b-42




4. Mon., Sept. 6          Discussion      Plato — What makes a good definition? Can                                                                         a definition tell us anything new?

                                                            Reading: Meno 70-86d

                                                            Discussion Paper #1 due


5. Wed., Sept. 8          Plato — Is knowledge any better than true opinion?

                                                            Reading: Meno 86d-100b


6. Thurs., Sept. 9        Plato — Can we ever achieve full knowledge in thislife?                                                                   What is the best motivation for living?

                                                            Reading: Phaedo 57-69e


7. Fri., Sept. 10           Plato — What is our knowledge of? Are there procedures                                                                which, when followed, will lead us to


                                                            Reading: Phaedo 74b-77a; 96a-102

8. Mon., Sept. 13        Discussion      Plato — Is there a connection between                                                                      experience and knowledge?    

                                                            Reading: Republic Bk. V (handout)

                                                            Discussion Paper #2 Due


9. Wed., Sept. 15        Plato — Does morality pay? Should we be good “for                                                                                  goodness sake”? Is anyone ever good only for                                                           its own sake?

                                                            Reading: Republic Bk. II (handout)                                                    

10. Thurs., Sept. 16    Plato — What is our obligation to the state?

                                                            Reading: Crito 43a-53e


11. Fri., Sept. 17         Aristotle — Introduction




12. Mon., Sept. 20      Aristotle — What kind of life is the best life?

                                                            Reading: Nicomachean Ethics 1.1-1.4

                                                            Long Paper #1 Due


13. Wed., Sept. 22      Aristotle — What is the role of knowledge in leading the                                                                 best life? What are the criteria for the best life?

                                                            Reading: Nicomachean Ethics 1.44-1.52


14. Thurs., Sept. 23    Discussion Aristotle   Is there any human nature?  Is                                                                  there a type of life which fits human nature?

                                                            Reading: Nicomachean Ethics  1.52-1.7


15. Fri., Sept. 24         Aristotle — What role do external goods (money, friends,                                                               good family, . . .) play in the best life?

                                                            Reading: Nichomachean Ethics 1.7-2




16. Mon., Sept. 27      Discussion      Aristotle — What are Virtues and how are                                                               they acquired?

                                                            Reading: Nicomachean Ethics 2.1-2.3

                                                            Discussion Paper #3 due


17. Wed., Sept. 29      Aristotle — What is required of us to be virtuous?                                                                          Reading: Nicomachean Ethics 2.3-4


18. Thurs., Sept. 30    Aristotle — Why are friends valuable?

                                                            Reading: Nicomachean Ethics 9.1-9.49

19. Fri., Oct. 1             Aristotle — Should the government encourage us to live                                                                  the best life?

                                                            Reading: Nicomachean Ethics 13.1-14.43




20. Mon., Oct. 4         Discussion      Augustine — Is there any possibility of true                                                                       happiness in this life?

                                                            Reading: City of God, Bk. XIX (handout)

                                                            Discussion Paper #4 Due


21. Wed., Oct. 6          Aquinas — Is faith rational? Is reason ultimately based in                                                               faith? Does it make sense to use reason to                                                                             show God’s existence?

                                                            Reading:  Summa Contra Gentiles I:3-5, 7 and                                                                       Summa Theologica I:I, Q.2, A.3 (handout)


22. Thurs., Oct. 7       REVIEW FOR MIDTERM EXAM


23. Fri., Oct. 8 MIDTERM EXAM





24. Mon., Oct. 11       Descartes — Background to the Modern Age


25. Wed., Oct. 13        Descartes — Is anything certain?

                                                            Reading: Meditations, Meditation I

                                                            Long Paper #2 Due


26. Thurs., Oct. 14     Discussion  Descartes — “I think therefore I am”

                                                            Reading: Meditations, Meditation II


27. Fri., Oct. 15          Descartes — Where do our ideas come from?

                                                            Reading: Meditations, Meditation III






28. Mon., Oct. 25       Discussion      Descartes—How do errors arise?

                                                            Reading: Meditations, Meditation IV

                                                            Discussion Paper #5 Due


29. Wed., Oct. 27        Descartes — Can we be certain of the material world?

                                                            Reading: Meditations, Meditation V

30. Thurs., Oct. 28     Descartes —Is the universe fundamentally dual?  Are                                                                     there two separable substances: minds and bodies?

                                                            Reading: Meditations, Meditation V


31. Fri., Oct. 29          Pascal — Is humanity powerful or weak?

                                                            Reading: Pensées §II (All), §III (All); 198-202, 401




32. Mon., Nov. 1        Discussion      Pascal—Should one gamble on religion?       

                                                            Reading: Pensées 387, 418, 449 (Handout)

                                                            Long Paper #3 Due


33. Wed., Nov. 3         Pascal— Where should we look to find spiritual                                                                              guidance?

                                                            Reading: Pensées   §VII (All); §X (All); §XI (All);

                                                                        564, 403-407   (Handout)


34. Thurs., Nov. 4      Pascal—What control do we have over our “hearts”?                                                                       Should we listen to our “gut?

                                                            Reading: Pensées §VI (All); §XIII (All);  423-4, 620-1


35. Fri., Nov. 5           Kant — Is anything unqualifiedly good?

                                                            Reading: Grounding, §393-§397




36. Mon., Nov. 8        Discussion      Are there moral duties?

                                                            Reading: Grounding, §397-§405        

                                                            Discussion Paper #6 Due


37. Wed., Nov. 11       Kant   Can we have certain moral knowledge?

                                                            Reading: Grounding, §406-§419


38. Thurs., Nov. 12    Kant — The Categorical Imperative

                                                            Reading: Grounding, §420-§432


39. Fri., Nov. 13         Kant — What does it mean to be free?  Are we always                                                                    determined by external desires?

                                                            Reading: Grounding, §433-§445




40. Mon., Nov. 15      Kant — Can God and Evil co-exist? 

                                                            Reading: “Grand Inquisitor” pp. 1-18

                                                            Discussion Paper #7 Due


41. Wed., Nov. 17       Dostoyevski — Is freedom light or heavy? A blessing or a


                                                            Reading: “Grand Inquisitor” pp. 19-37


42. Thurs., Nov. 18    Dostoyevski — Are we “responsible for all”?

                                                            Reading: “Grand Inquisitor” pp. 38-end


43. Fri., Nov. 19         Marx and Engels — What is the role of class in the way we                                                                       think?  Can you be a poor worker and free?

                                                            Reading: The Communist Manifesto pp. 49-65




44. Mon., Nov. 22      Marx and Engels — Is there hope for a perfectly free society?

                                                            Reading: The Communist Manifesto pp. 65-91

                                                            Discussion Paper #8 Due


45. Wed., Nov. 24       Patrica Hill Collins — Do gender and race shape knowledge?

                                                            Reading: “Towards an Afrocentric Feminist                                                                          Epistemology”  (Handout)




46. Mon., Nov. 29      To Be Voted Upon

                                                            Discussion Paper #9 Due


47. Wed., Dec. 1         To Be Voted Upon


48. Thurs., Dec. 2       To Be Voted Upon


49. Fri. Dec. 3             To Be Voted Upon



50. Mon., Dec. 6         Discussion To Be Voted Upon    

                                                            Long Paper #4 Due


51. Wed., Dec. 8         To Be Voted Upon


52. Thurs., Dec. 9       To Be Voted Upon


53. Fri., Dec. 10          To Be Voted Upon



54. Mon., Dec. 13       To Be Voted Upon


55. Wed., Dec. 15       Review and Evaluations


Fri. Dec 17, 2:00-5:00 FINAL EXAM