Philosophy | Introduction to Philosophy
P100 | 3246 | 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 it
to rank high on Newsweek's top ten professions.)  So what do we gain
by assessing problems in our everyday lives from a philosophic
perspective?

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 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.  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.  You should be forewarned, then, that
this class will be a lot of work.  At the same time, I plan to put a
lot of time, energy, and enthusiasm into teaching it, and it should
be a lot of fun.