Philosophy | Introduction to Philosophy
P100 | 3177 | Shaw

Philosophy's Greatest Hits

I have two goals for the course.

My first goal is to introduce you to philosophy.  We will study writings
by fascinating thinkers like Plato and Descartes.  We will also discuss
the "big Questions" from the various branches of philosophy:  Does God
exist?  If so, why is the so much evil in the world?  What can I know with
certainty?  Who am I?  What is the meaning of life?  What is art?  What is
beauty?  You might want to think of this course, then, as a kind of a
giant "mix-tape" of what I take to be Western philosophy's greatest hits.

My second goal is to show you that philosophy isn't just a collection of
writings or a string of "deep" questions.  Philosophy is a way of life.
But what does it mean to "live philosophically?"  Why would anyone want to
do this?  (Warning to prospective philosophers:  it doesn't pay very well
and far too many philosophers have been persecuted and/or executed for
philosophy to rank high on Newsweek's top ten professions.)  So what do we
gain by assessing problems in our everyday lives from a philosophic

To answer these questions, we will look at essays by philosophers on
practical issues - things like the moral aspects of romantic relationships
and the idea that eating animals is somehow immoral.  We will also read
philosophic texts (like Plato's Meno and Apology and Descartes' Discourse
on Method) as if they were works of literature whose central characters
are philosophers.  We will ask what sorts of lives these people lead and
what it means for them to live philosophically.  We will also watch films
that explore philosophical themes and make, I think, some insightful
points about philosophizing.  (At present, I want to watch the director's
cut of Blade Runner, the 1944 film Gaslight, and the 1991 Australian
comedy, Proof.  But I'm a big film buff, and I'm apt to add more films to
the syllabus before I'm through with you.)

Class will meet twice a week.  I will probably lecture during our first
weekly meeting, just to clarify the basic arguments and to introduce basic
concepts and terminology.  The second weekly meeting will be devoted to
discussing the readings and your questions about them.  I will call on
you, and class participation will count for a significant part of your
grade.  So this may not be the best class for you if you dislike talking
in front of your peers.  There will also be regularly scheduled short
quizzes throughout the semester.  I will ask you to write a midterm essay
in class.  (You can work on it at home, but I want you to write it in
class.)  There will also be a final paper and a final exam.