Introduction to Philosophy:
Relationship of the Individual to the World
(Dr. David Hildebrand, CU Denver, Fall 2015)
MW 12:30 - 1: 45 p.m. Room: Plaza M-108
Does life have meaning? This deceptively simple question will provide our entry point into philosophy. We will read and discuss a number of writers, from Plato to the present, who, in considering the relationship of the individual to the world also raise the question of the meaning of life. This fundamental philosophical question will lead us into discussions regarding character and the good life, death and suicide, advertising and consumerism, and the impact religion and science can have on meaningfulness.
Jump to: Schedule of Readings
Required Texts, Websites:
1. The Trial and Death of Socrates by Plato, GMA Grube, translator (Hackett ) — Available at Auraria Textbook in the Tivoli student union.
2. Course CANVAS site: other required readings are posted here: https://ucdenver.instructure.com
YOU MUST PRINT OUT ANY ONLINE READING THAT IS ASSIGNED AND BRING IT TO CLASS.
Canvas/Website: There are two online sites related to this course. Familiarize yourself with them right away. Both will offer you access to information about the course such as study questions, announcements, grades, extra credit assignments.
1. The first and most important one is our course Canvas site: https://ucdenver.instructure.com. On this page are LOGIN INSTRUCTIONS. Please make sure you enroll right at the beginning of the class.
2. The second site is my home page at http://www.davidhildebrand.org. Here there are a variety of general study tips and resources in philosophy.
Time Management and Expectations about Reading/Understanding Material
Time Per Week: Many of us have responsibilities that compete with this class. Though I am sympathetic, these will not excuse poor attendance or late work. Expect to spend approximately 5 hours per week on this course, out of class. If short term, non-emergency illnesses or other contingencies create problems with attending class or completing assignments in a timely manner, students must notify me before class time by leaving a message on my office telephone. I will discuss the matter with students during the next class meeting or schedule an appointment at that time if needed. I will only consider an extension if I receive notification prior to the class or deadline except in cases of documented emergency.
It is expected that you have done the readings before we discuss them. As you read, copy out important points and questions you have onto a separate sheet of paper. (These will help you with your short reflection papers.) You may also want to note problem passages (e.g., with a "?" or "Q.") in your text as you read. These are good points for class discussion. You should come to each class able to discuss the main issues of the reading and you could be asked during class to present the main points to the class. Your well-prepared participation is crucial for a successful class. Please see the Tips for Understanding Philosophy and for Writing Philosophy Papers on my home page. See also this page for tips on participating and reading.
Very important: please set aside about 10 minutes shortly before class to look back over (skim-review) the readings and whatever you have written for that day.
Philosophy needs to be re-read. Unlike some fiction, philosophy needs to be read slowly and deliberately. Don't rush through it -- think about issues as they are raised, going back and forth if necessary. And if you're burning out, take a break. You will find that a text can seem quite different the second time through. Thomas Kuhn, a noted philosopher, wrote
When reading the works of an important thinker, look first for the apparent absurdities in the text and ask yourself how a sensible person could have written them. When you find an answer, ...when these passages make sense, then you may find that more central passages, ones you previously thought you understood, have changed their meaning. (from The Essential Tension, p. xii.)
Nietzsche wrote, “In the midst of an age of 'work', that is to say, of hurry, of indecent and perspiring haste, which wants to 'get everything done' at once, including every old or new book: -this art [philosophy] does not so easily get anything done, it teaches to read well, that is to say, to read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate eyes and fingers.” (Dawn, Preface)
Course Requirements/Evaluation: 1000 total points can be accumulated for this course
• Participation 150 points (including visit with Dr. Hildebrand)
• Short writings (6) 150 points (25 each; 3 due by Oct. 14; rest due by Nov. 30)
• Exam 1 200 points (covering material up to first exam) on September 30.
• Exam 2 200 points (covering material after first exam) on October 28.
• Exam 3 300 points (covering entire semester) due December 8.
Attendance: Attendance is required. Two unexcused absences over the course of the semester are permitted without penalty. An excusable absence is a medical illness or emergency that is completely unavoidable. It is the student's responsibility to talk to me about excusable absences ASAP after the absence. Each additional absence will lower your final course grade, approximately 30 points per absence. (E.g., having a total three unexcused absences would lower a cumulative 900 point course average by 30 points to 870—effectively a reduction from an A- to a B+—and so forth.)
Participation (100 points): Active participation is part of the class grade. This means making oral contributions to the collective learning experience of the class as a whole: asking pertinent questions, answering questions correctly or, at least, provocatively, making insightful observations, presentation of your short papers in class, and your participation in any group work. Seminar days will be devoted to discussion, so there will be lots of opportunities on that day to participate. Shyness is not an excuse—oral participation is part of your evaluation. You can also demonstrate “active” participation in other ways: informed dialogue, presentation of your short papers in class, and your participation in any group work.
Visit with Dr. Hildebrand: must be done near the end of third week of class. This will be an informal 10-15 minute “hello” visit. We will share interests, background, and hopes for the class. It’s a chance for you to tell me what you think may be your greatest challenges or areas of interest in the class so we can figure out, together, how to make the class a success for you.
You can sign up for the visit on Canvas. Here’s how: http://guides.instructure.com/m/4212/l/354555-how-do-i-sign-up-for-an-appointment-using-the-scheduler
Short Writings (6 total; 3 by Oct. 14, rest by November 30) 150 points
The purpose of these assignments is to help you clarify your understanding of the readings and to help you think critically about the issues. You will be expected to present them in class. Follow these instructions carefully, please.
What to write on short/critical reaction papers:
• Short papers should be: one-page, typewritten reactions or questions about some specific issue which you find compelling in the readings. Your paper must not simply sum up the reading or repeat points made there. (I.e., no book reports, please.) Rather, you must try to raise a question or discuss some original insight. You may use these papers to demonstrate your application of a concept/idea in the readings to an experience you have making or experiencing art, but the connection to the reading must be significant (and not a mere "jumping off" point. See my davidhildebrand.org website link called: "Writing short, critical papers" for further hints about how to write a good paper.
• The first paragraph should state in 1-2 sentences a summary of what the paper is about.
• Only papers written on a reading or topic that will be discussed in the class immediately coming up are acceptable.
When to write short papers:
• You must do 6 critical papers total and you may not hand in more than one paper on the same date. THREE papers must be done by the course midpoint, October 14. Students who have not done 3 papers by this point will only be permitted to do 3 more papers and will get 0 for the ones not done.
• You must come to class for a paper to be accepted.
Grading on short papers
• Grade: This will be a "graded" assignment only in a loose sense; in other words it will be either S-satisfactory (full credit or 25 points) or U-unsatisfactory (half credit or 12.5 points). A zero (0) will be awarded if nothing (or next to nothing) is turned in on time.
• TWO MAKE-UPS: If you get a Unsatisfactory on up to two papers, you may revise and resubmit them. The old grade will be dropped in favor of the revised paper's grade.
• TWO MAKE-UPS: If you get a Unsatisfactory on up to two papers, you may revise and resubmit them. Use the rubric below and the comments on the paper as a guide to what needs improvement or see me. If the revised version is satisfactory, the old grade will be dropped in favor of the revised paper's grade.
Grading Rubric for Short Papers
There are two grades: Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory. A paper deserving of an "S" will do at least the following:
Content/Ideas: The paper will raise and answer a question or offer a commentary on the reading. It must not be vague or confusing. It will likely include examples, though not necessarily.
Thesis/Argument: As mentioned below, the paper will offer an early, summary glimpse about the paper's topic and objectives.
Organization: Even though the paper is short, it should not ramble. It should have a beginning, middle, and end, and paragraphs should be in a clear sequence, leading one to another.
Grammar, Syntax, & Mechanics: Papers should not contain misspellings and grammar need not be perfect but it must not get in the way of the points being made. Papers which cannot be understood or are filled with spelling, grammar, and other mechanical errors will not be passed.
Exams (700 points, total):
3 Exams. Format is likely to be a mixture of short answers, multiple choice, and essay. Material on exams can include required readings and anything (lecture, film, assignment) done in class. no make-up exams will be given without extenuating circumstances and arrangements made prior to the exam. A zero will be given for any missed exam not arranged for in advance. "Extenuating circumstances" include severe medical problems; talk to me about which other circumstances would count as "excusable."
Grade Dissemination and SCALE: Papers and exams will be returned in class. As much as possible, I will update grades on Canvas, but please keep track of your grades, too. Final grades will be available on Canvas through UCD Access as soon as they’re ready. SCALE: I use the plus/minus system. There are 1000 possible points for this class. An "A" for the course will be a body of work achieving at or above 930 points; an "A-" will be 900-929 points; a "B+" is 870-899 points, etc. Values for those letters, as well as the policies regarding other grades such as Incomplete, are available in the CU Academic Policies and Regulations section of the handbook. I have set out my standards of what a grade means on my FAQ section of my website.
Plagiarism/ Academic Dishonesty Plagiarism is a form of stealing. It occurs when an author uses the words or ideas of others as if they were the author’s own original thought. (It may include word-for-word copying, interspersing one’s own words with another’s, paraphrasing, inventing or counterfeiting sources, submitting another’s work as one’s own, neglecting quotation marks on material that is otherwise acknowledged.) Plagiarism is often unintentional. It can be avoided by always acknowledging one’s debt to others by citing the exact source of a quotation or paraphrase. Since plagiarism is such a serious violation of academic honesty, the penalty for it will be an automatic “F” for this course.
Academic dishonesty is the intentional disregard of course or university rules. This may include (but is not limited to) collaborating with others when rules forbid (such as on exams) or using sources/experts not permitted by an assignment. The CU handbook has a more complete description of plagiarism and academic dishonesty. Anyone caught violating the rules of an exam or an assignment can expect a failing grade for the assignment and possibly the course as well.
Access, Disability, Communication: UCD is committed to providing reasonable accommodation and access to programs and services to persons with disabilities. Students with disabilities who want academic accommodations must register with Disability Resources and Services (DRS), 177 Arts Building, 303-556-3450, TTY 303-556-4766, FAX 303-556-2074. I will be happy to provide approved accommodations, once you provide me with a copy of DRS’s letter. [DRS requires students to provide current and adequate documentation of their disabilities. Once a student has registered with DRS, DRS will review the documentation and assess the student’s request for academic accommodations in light of the documentation. DRS will then provide the student with a letter indicating which academic accommodations have been approved.]
Students called for military duty: If you are a student in the military with the potential of being called to military service and /or training during the course of the semester, you are encouraged to contact your school/college Associate Dean or Advising Office immediately.
Course Communication: In addition to announcements made and written handouts distributed in class, I may need to contact you between classes, which I'll do through individual and group email messages. One of the requirements for this course is that you maintain an email address, check it regularly for messages, be sure it is working, and let me know if you change your email address. You are responsible for any messages, including assignments and schedule changes, I send you via email. You also may contact me via email, in addition to seeing me during office hours or calling me.
Civility and Technology: Laptops are not permitted. Turn off beepers and cell phones during class. Text messaging, web surfing, and other electronic distractions may result in expulsion from class and will be counted as an "unexcused absence" from class. Students who are speaking deserve your attention and respect as much as I do. Listen to one another. Adherence to the Student Conduct Code is expected.
Contact Information and Office Hours
Phone : 303-556-8558
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: http://davidhildebrand.org
Office and Hours: Plaza M108 Hours MW 11-12 or by appointment.
Purpose: I strongly encourage you to participate by dropping by during office hours. We can talk about the class readings and lectures, exams and papers, your progress, or just philosophy in general. Note: If you are a student with a disability, I will make myself available to discuss appropriate academic accommodations. Before accommodations will be made, you may be required to provide documentation. Students with disabilities will be accommodated. Students with disabilities are required to register disabilities with the UCD Disability Services Office, and are responsible for requesting reasonable accommodations at the beginning of the term.
Please note: All course requirements are subject to change at the discretion of the instructor.
Remember, course help is also available at my web address: http://DavidHildebrand.org
Where should I look for the readings? (1) If the schedule says "Trial and Death" then it's from the little Plato book; otherwise, the readings will be posted on Canvas as a PDF.
Note: This is a rough schedule. Subject to revision. I will let you know in each class what is coming up.
Approaching the Question and a couple Big Guesses about the Meaning of Life
THEME: What is philosophy? What is argument? Mapping the course: what is involved in asking and answering the question, What is the meaning of life? What does it mean to raise the question, “What is the meaning of life?” How does philosophy raise such questions? From where does it get the questions and what can philosophy do with such questions? Is a meaningful life a pleasurable one? A self interested one? What is the relation between self interest and fulfillment or meaningfulness in life?
8/19 Wed Eagleton, Meaning of Life, A Short Introduction, Ch.1 Exploring the question, "What is the meaning of life?"
THEME: What are some reasons that we ask the meaning of life question? What does the question tell us about who we are, right at the moment of history? To whom or what do people turn for answers to this question? Are people finding answers in religion, art, entertainment, or sensual pleasures? If the meaning of life needs to be constructed—rather than "found"—then what tools are needed to construct it? Or perhaps it's the process of building meaning—if so, what is that process like?
8/24 Mo "On the Meaning of Life" by Schlick
THEME: Why purposes and goals can't make life meaningful. Only play can give meaning to life. Is play the key to meaning in life? Schlick argues that meaning in life is thought to come from our goals and purposes; but these don't lead to meaning. We should embrace the enthusiasm, creativity, and play we see in youth.
8/26 Wed "The Vanity and Suffering of Life" by Schopenhauer
THEME: Our destiny is suffering, either through boredom or pleasure. We should come to terms with this as the meaning of life. Whether one's goal is pleasure or happiness, the result is always the same—suffering, according to Schopenhauer. There might be ways to escape suffering, but they're difficult, Schopenhauer says. What are they?
8/31 Mo SEMINAR DAY—NO NEW READINGS Material from previous classes. Be ready: bring (1) written comment about material since last seminar day/test, (2) review the material from recent sessions, and (3) be ready to present your thoughts in class.
Socrates: The Value of One’s Life Depends on Living Virtuously
9/2 Wed Plato and Socrates: Film in class, The Greeks (part 3) Read: “Lavine Socrates to Sartre--on Plato and Socrates.pdf”
THEME: Historical background: Greece, Socrates, Plato Who were Plato and Socrates? In what context were they writing? How did their contributions set up many of the most important philosophical questions and traditions for the next 2500 years? What questions did they ask which are still important to you?
9/7 Mo LABOR DAY
9/9 Wed GUEST LECTURE Trial and Death---Euthyphro
THEME: Philosophy-in-action: seeking the definition of a virtue. Plato's dialogue seeks to show us how two people attempt to define a virtue (the virtue of piety). How does this attempt at definition lead to larger questions about ethics? What does it reveal about Euthyphro's character? Notice that a dialogue can terminate with no "answers" and yet change participants by making them more prepared for further dialogue.
9/14 Mo GUEST LECTURE Trial and Death---Apology
THEME: Socrates' mission as a philosopher and the anger this provokes. Philosophy as tool for criticizing concepts. The search for knowledge is different than persuasion.
9/16 Wed GUEST LECTURE Trial and Death---Apology Socrates’ as searcher for virtue and provoker of hypocrites. Philosophy as tool for changing society; the anger provoked by asking deep questions.
9/21 Mo SEMINAR DAY—NO NEW READINGS Material from previous classes on Euthyphro and Apology Be ready: bring (1) written comment about material since last seminar day/test, (2) review the material from recent sessions, and (3) be ready to present your thoughts in class.
9/23 Wed Trial and Death---Crito
THEME: Character as dependent upon ethical consistency. Crito appeals to Socrates to escape, but Socrates refuses on moral grounds. Why is escape the wrong choice, according to Socrates? What does he reveal to be just as important (in this choice) beyond his single, individual life? Why is Socrates willing to obey the laws of the state?
9/28 Mo Trial and Death---Crito; Phaedo, death scene
THEME: How we die, and how we react to another’s death, can reveal the kind of meaning we have been ascribing to life. At the end of his life, does Socrates fear death? Why do his followers react to his impending death the way they do?QUESTION: What would be positive or negative about living a life more like Socrates?
9/30 Wed EXAM 1 Exam review & Exam Review the readings and bring questions to class. The exam will take place after the review, during the last 45 minutes of class
Pleasure, Happiness and Consumer “Bliss”
10/5 Mo (a) “The Experience Machine” by Nozick and (b) “Pleasure and Desire,” an excerpt from Plato's Gorgias
THEME: What is pleasure? Is it the same as happiness? Socrates' warning that the goal of pleasure cannot lead to true fulfillment. Would you live in a machine which guaranteed you pleasure rather than in the actual world? A thought experiment. Plus, in our excerpt from Plato's Gorgias dialogue, we see Callicles claiming that there's no more to happiness than pleasure. What is Socrates' response to this vision of happiness? How does Socrates argue that pleasure is not equivalent to good?
10/7 Wed Aristotle, "How Should a Man Live?"
THEME: Aristotle’s answer to the question, “What is happiness?” Some seek pleasure in life; others seek fame and honor. Still others seek a more meditative or contemplative life. What is truly the happiest and most meaningful life, according to Aristotle? Is an ethical life the highest?
10/12 Mo SEMINAR DAY—NO NEW READINGS Material from previous classes. Be ready: bring (1) written comment about material since last seminar day/test, (2) review the material from recent sessions, and (3) be ready to present your thoughts in class.
10/14 Wed Last day to turn in a short paper from the 1st batch of 3. (a) Study guide Advertising and the End of the World (in class) (b) Hildebrand Lecture on Advertising; PART 1/2 FILM: Advertising and the End of the World (in class)
THEME: Many in our culture would like to define “happiness” for us. Advertising is an institution designed to do this. Socrates and Plato thought that dialogue was THE primary way to criticize and refine a society's views about values, in other words what makes living ethical and meaningful. How does communication about values happen today? Which values?
10/19 Mo PART 2/2 FILM: Advertising and the End of the World (in class)
THEME: The impact of advertising messages on happiness, society, and the environment. Often, we hear stories told by advertising. How do the patterns of advertising communicate what happiness is? How are those things we take to be beyond our individual pleasure (society, morality) affected by the construction of reality that advertising creates? Is this reality-portrait of advertising ethical?
Existential Crisis 1: The Turn to Faith
10/21 Wed (a) Ecclesiastes passage (b) "My Confession" by Tolstoy
THEME: Why do successful people contemplate suicide? One portrait of an existential crisis and its solution. Sometimes a happy life is not as happy as one thinks; one can be fulfilling one's purposes and out of nowhere an existential crisis can arise. Has you ever experienced this or known anyone who has? What do you think of Tolstoy's reasons for rejecting science and philosophy for answers?
10/26 Mo "Pensées" by Pascal Why God is the best gamble to escape the problem of insignificance in life. When one considers how great the universe is, our significance seems small, puny, meaningless. How to cope? For Pascal, we can face our smallness with at least a wager on the existence of God. What are the benefits and costs of believing in God for these reasons?
10/28 Wed EXAM 2 Exam review & Exam Review the readings since exam 1 and bring questions to class. The exam will take place after the review, during the last 45 minutes of class
Existential Crisis 2: The Turn away from Faith
11/2 Mo "The Absurd" by Nagel.
THEME: Is life "absurd"? Nagel argues that absurdity is a peculiar kind of suffering created by two a clash of two "perspectives" both natural to human beings. Much suffering arises, according to Nagel, from two different perspectives we can take on our life. We're both engaged agents in the world (striving after purposes or evading pains) and yet we also can "pull back" as reflective critics of our lives, seeing it from a distance. Can knowing this help us in our darker moments?
11/4 Wed "Man Against Darkness" by Stace
THEME: One theory about why some people stop believing in a god. The role science plays in this phenomenon. The crisis in human culture when scientific and technological ways of thinking undermine the magic and mystery of the religious vision. What fills the void left by religion? How successfully?
11/9 Mo "The Purpose of Man's Existence" by Baier
THEME: An argument that religion confuses people about the role that “purpose” plays in life, and the damage this can do to the pursuit of morality. Does religion make people more or less moral? Baier, like Stace, questions the need for a grand, religious backdrop to give meaning to our lives. He says that the problem of living meaningfully without God is just based on a confusion of two different senses of "purpose." We may have no ultimate purposes but we still have purposes. Besides confusing us, he goes on, religion also induces people to live in a way too child-like to be truly moral.
11/11 Wed "What I Believe" by John Dewey What if the nature of spiritual belief could shift from an otherworldly focus to this world--to human experience? Dewey proposes that while religious feeling is genuinely felt by people, it needs to be directed to experience and moral needs here on earth rather than toward an afterlife.
11/16 Mo SEMINAR DAY—NO NEW READINGS Material from previous classes. Be ready: bring (1) written comment about material since last seminar day/test, (2) review the material from recent sessions, and (3) be ready to present your thoughts in class.
11/18 Wed "Why Bother?" by McDermott Life as aesthetic, creative, again. A personal story of a journey from despair to meaning; living a life that is aesthetic in a day to day way. Responding to the temptation/threat of suicide, McDermott analyzes "life" and "living." He articulates two keys to significant living: amelioration of others' suffering and living in a way that is aesthetically fulfilling. This echoes Dewey.
11/23 & 11/25 Wed FALL BREAK
11/30 Mo Last day to turn in a short paper from the 2nd batch of 3. "What Makes a Life Significant" by William James
THEME: What basic factors must exist for a life to be meaningful or significant? How do we balance our “inner” meanings with our “external” situation? James talks about how three factors must play a role in life to make it significant: (a) intelligence and education, (b) action and will, and (c) ideals and aspirations. What does he mean by each of these? How do they need to combine to make life significant?
12/2 Wed EXAM 3 Handed Out Wrap up, review, take home out (comprehensive) Be ready: bring questions about material from throughout the semester for review before exam is handed out.
12/8 Tue TAKE HOME EXAM DUE by noon in Philosophy Department box of Dr. Hildebrand
CORE COURSE AND CORE LEARNING OUTCOMES: This is a Core Course that fulfills a requirement in the Humanities. By the end of a general education course in the Humanities, students should be proficient in the following areas characteristic of critical thinking:
1. Textual analysis: Students analyze texts of a variety of types, distinguishing the various philosophical, historical, and/or literary elements. These activities are typical of “critical thinking.”
• Opportunities to show learning in this area will show up in: (a) in-class discussion, (b) short writings, and (c) exams.
2. Interpretive skills: Students engage with texts to develop supported meaningful readings. These activities are typical of “critical thinking.”
• Opportunities to show learning in this area will show up in: (a) in-class discussion, (b) short writings
3. Context awareness: Students identify the cultural, historical, and intellectual influences on a text.
• Opportunities to show learning in this area will show up in: (a) in-class discussion, (b) short writings
4. Ethical thinking: Students recognize various ethical situations and ideas, and distinguish viable ethical positions from simple opinions or self-interest. These activities are typical of “critical thinking.”
• Opportunities to show learning in this area will show up in: (a) in-class discussion, (b) short writings
5. Verbalization. Be able to summarize a philosophical position, without notes, using your own words. Be able to criticize a position this way. These activities are typical of “critical thinking.”
• Opportunities to show learning in this area will show up in: in-class discussion and presentations
6. Conversation and Debate. Be able to discuss issues in a focused and informed way with others in the class. This will involve listening closely to their points, then responding in a way that moves the discussion ahead. These activities are typical of “critical thinking.”
• Opportunities to show learning in this area will show up in: in-class discussion and occasional group projects.