Phil 130 Philosophy and Persons
Philosophy and Persons
John Felice Rome Center
Susi Ferrarello, Ph.D
Office hours: by appointment (via email, blackboard)
Classes: Monday/Wednesday 5:00-6.15 p.m.
Outline of Sections:
1) Course Description
2) Learning Objectives (knowledge and skills)
5) Course Outline
6) Reading Schedule
7) Essays/Tasks/Role Plays
The course examines the way philosophy looks for fundamental characteristics that identify life as a properly human life, asks about its ultimate meaning or purpose, and raises questions about what counts as a good life. This examination studies the positions taken on these issues by major philosophers representing different philosophical traditions or approaches and different periods in the history of philosophy. It explains and analyzes the way these philosophers justify their claims and focuses especially on how the different traditions or approaches use different principles and methodologies to support their view. This examination exposes several features of human living that seem to distinguish being human from other ways of being alive: something special about the way human beings seek and acquire knowledge, govern their actions, relate to nature and to each other, and raise questions about something above and beyond human life. Thus, the course organizes around a common concern fundamental questions that define specific areas of philosophical inquiry: knowledge questions, nature-spirit questions, freedom questions, moral and social issues, the transcendence issue; and it shows how these questions belong to and emerge from reflections on what defines human life or gives it meaning.
Knowledge Area(s) satisfied: Philosophical Knowledge
Skill(s) Developed: Communication Skills and Sensitivities-Written, Critical Thinking Skills and Dispositions, Ethical Awareness and Decision-Making
Values Requirement(s) satisfied: Understanding the Other, Promoting Generosity and Sensitiveness, Increasing Civic Engagement.
Knowledge Area (Philosophical Knowledge):
The course addresses a question that has been a major issue for philosophers throughout the history of philosophical inquiry. Eastern thought brings out of its meditations on self-knowledge or on the fundamental inclination of human nature its reflections on the nature of the self, benevolent government, virtuous life, true relationships. In the West, philosophers of the ancient and medieval periods address the question of being human by looking for a form or essence that defines human life. Early modern philosophy absorbed the concern with what is characteristically human into a concern with the character of human knowledge, its nature and limits. Late modern and contemporary philosophy opened up the question by showing how relations to nature, other human subjects, and society play a fundamental role in what makes life a properly human life. Finally, the course has as an explicit aim the task of showing how the main issue it addresses, what identifies life as a properly human life, functions as a foundational issue in more specific areas of philosophical inquiry. In the process, it organizes around a common concern most of the major questions addressed by philosophy throughout its history: human knowledge, free action, ethics and social relations, philosophy of religion. Thus, this course promotes informed reflection on various areas, topics, and figures in philosophy, makes students familiar with influential philosophical questions, positions, and methods of inquiry, and helps them develop intellectual attitudes appropriate to philosophical reflection.
Skills (Communication Skills and Sensitivities-Written):
Because philosophy expects students of philosophy to organize their thinking in an orderly way, philosophy courses improve students writing skills.
Skills (Critical Thinking Skills and Dispositions):
Aristotle says that philosophy begins with wonder. Wonder sees the familiar with new eyes, and thus liberates the mind to look at life in new ways. This is what makes critical thinking enriching and creative. This course elicits wonder by questioning the ultimate meaning of the most familiar thing of all, human life. It works with this perspective shift by entering into dialogue with great philosophers, paying close attention to their meaning, their reasons, their concerns, their vision, and by examining the way their different philosophically defended views challenge each other. In the process, it brings the students own reflections into the dialogue, and shows them how to recognize reasons supporting a view, identify unexamined presuppositions, appreciate astute insights, and expose vulnerabilities. In this way, the course reinforces the dispositions and skills involved in critical thinking.
Skills (Ethical Awareness and Decision-Making):
This course contributes to ethical awareness by showing how moral concerns emerge in reflections on a meaningful human life. By encouraging good listening, and by showing how relations to others belong to fundamental human aspirations, the course fosters an expanded spirit toward other people.
There will be two essay type take-home examinations. All exam questions will have their basis in the texts being studied and presuppose familiarity with the explanations and tests provided by the lectures. All the take-home exams must be typed and must be limited to five double spaced pages with standard margins and a 12 point font.
Plagiarism is unacceptable. All information and quotations form sources must be documented.
There will also be an ongoing discussion on the assigned reading. Students will be asked to write a brief presentation of the assigned materials and a volunteer will read its presentation to the class. A one-page essay assigned by the instructor may be substituted for the students missed presentations. Substitute essays are due to the class following the missed presentation; otherwise, they will not be accepted.
The following is a breakdown of how various grades will be weighed
Final Grade Breakdown
10% Attendance and class participation
10% Home assignments
15% Oral presentation
25% Midterm Exam
25% Final Exam
I use the following table in determining final grades:
Letter Grade Weight Meaning
A 98-100 % Excellent
A- 92 %
B+ 88 %
B 85 % Good
B- 82 %
C+ 78 %
C 75 % Satisfactory
C- 72 %
D+ 68 %
D 65 % Poor
F 62% Failure
Attendance & Participations:
• Each absence from class will negatively impact your final grade
• Before or after every absence the students are asked to email the instructor
• Active Participation: students are expected to be attentive in class, respond to the intellectual soliciting, manifest their needs for clarity and express their own thoughts when they find the topic stimulating, actively participate and contribute to class discussion. Being physically present in class, but doing other activities (reading things that do not regard the course, using lap tops to check emails, engaging into private small talk etc) will lower the points granted for participation. Each student is expected to have his or her copy of the course pack.
• Students are asked to behave respectfully with the professor and their class colleagues.
• Cell-phones must be off
• It is always the student's responsibility to know how many absences they have in a course.
The course explores philosophical perspectives on being human—your human nature—by addressing four core questions:
1. Are you a critical thinker?
2. Are you free?
3. Which values do you promote?
4. What do you do to increase your civic engagement?
• Philosopher's Index
• Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
• Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Lectures are based on power point displays and readings from philosophical texts. Class discussion is encouraged at all times.
I. Are you a critical thinker?
Mon. 9/2 – Plato, Introduction
Wed. 9/4 – Plato, Crito, Euthyphro
Mon. 9/9 – Plato, Phaedo
Wed. 9/11 – Plato, Phaedo
Mon. 9/16 – Plato, Republic (video on blackboard)
Wed. 9/18 – Plato, Republic
Mon. 9/23 – Plato, Republic
Wed. 9/25 – Plato, Republic
Mon. 9/30 – Plato, Republic
Wed. 10/2 – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
II. Are you free?
Mon. 10/7 –St. Augustine, On the free Choice of the Will
[First take-home exam]
Wed. 10/9 – St. Anselm, On Truth, on Freedom of Choice, on the Fall of the Evil
III. Which values do you promote?
Mon. 10/14 -- Review
Wed. 10/16 -- Review
Mon. 10/21 – Hobbes, Leviathan
Wed. 10/23 – Hobbes, Leviathan
Mon. 10/28 – Locke , Second Treatise on Government (video on blackboard)
Wed. 10/30 – Locke , Second Treatise on Government
Mon. 11/4 – Locke, Second Treatise on Government
Wed. 11/6 – Hume, Treatise on Human Nature
Mon. 11/11 -- Hume, Treatise on Human Nature
Wed. 11/18 – Movie in class “Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go”
IV. What do you do to increase your civic engagement?
Wed. 11/20 – Husserl, Crisis
Mon. 11/25 – Sen, Development as Freedom
Wed. 11/27 – Arendt, The Origin of Totalitarianism
Mon. 12/2 – Arendt, The Origin of Totalitarianism [Second take-home exam]
Wed. 12/4 – Study-day
Mon. 12/9 - FINAL EXAM
Essays/ Tasks/ Role-Plays/ Oral Presentation:
I. Are you a critical thinker?
What is critical thinking? What are some critical thinking skills? What are some critical thinking attitudes? Besides critical thinking, what are some other forms of good thinking? What are some heuristics (tools) related to intuitive thinking? What are some heuristics related to critical reasoning? Why is critical thinking so valuable? What is a criticism of critical thinking? How can you acquire your knowledge?
09/4 (1st essay) 2%
Type 100 words (min.): One way to explore the meaning of critical thinking is to examine a model case. Choose a former teacher, friend, or family member who is a good critical thinker, and then give an example of when this person exercised critical thinking.
09/23 (1st role play) 5%
Role-play: work with a partner or a group of three people maximum and reproduce a dialogue in the style of Plato where your aim is to find out your partner’s values without asking (e.g. without using phrases “Do you believe…?”)
09/30 (2nd essay) 2%
Type 200 words (min.): Give me an assessment of your critical thinking skills by selecting your strongest (choose one) and weakest (choose one) skill, and then illustrate each one with an example.
10/2 (3rd essay) 2%
Type a 300-word (min.) on weaknesses and strengths of Plato’s idea of knowledge and State
II. Are you free?
What is the relation between your freedom and God? What are the three components of authentic decision-making? Why authenticity instead of happiness? What is the role of emotions in decision-making? What are three different kinds of emotions involved in serious decision-making? What is the relation between subjectivity and decision-making? What is a coward in relationship to decision-making? What are examples of non-authentic decision-making? What is the relation between depression and decision-making? How do you make a decision?
[Mid-term exam] (25%)
• It counts for 25% of the final course grade.
• it will take place on October 14. For no reason the date and time of the scheduled exam can be changed.
• The Midterm exam will consist of text commentary: two excerpts out of three from the texts in the course pack (30 points); a concise essay (not less than one page) on a well-circumscribed issue (40 points) and a list of about 10 short questions on the issues debated in class summing up to 30 points in case of all perfect answers.
10/23 (4th essay) 2%
Type 200 words (min.): write what you mean by “freedom” and which kind of relationship there is between freedom and God.
III. Which values do you promote?
How do you choose your values? What is your hierarchy of values? Which of your values are in conflict? How does a society choose its values? How do we defend them? Do we all share the same values? How do we handle values of different cultures which are incompatible with are own ? Are all the values fair and right? Who decides political values?
11/04 (5th essay) 2%
Type 100 words (min.): how a state of nature passes to a civil society
11/13 (6th essay) 2%
Type 200 words (min.) choose a passage from Locke and comment on it in light of the “Articles of Declaration”.
11/21 (2nd Role Play) 5%
Role Play in class: build a society from scratch. Which values will be at the basis of this new society?
11/20 (7th essay) 2%
Type 400 words (min.) about Locke’s, Hobbes’ and Hume’s political system. What would you keep and change? Which values do they defend?
IV. What do you do to increase your civic engagement?
How do you live with other people? This question has two parts: How do you live with one other person in a friendship/love relationship, and how do you live with groups of people in society?
11/28 (3rd Role Play) 5%
Role Play in class: write your own declaration (six articles) and defend it against other groups’ arguments.
12/02 (8th essay) 2%
Type 300 words (min.) the question of “Do you exist? Who is your witness? Do you need to have one? “
[Final exam] 25%
• it counts for 25% of the final course grade.
• it will take place on December 8. For no reason the date and time of the scheduled exam can be changed.
• FORMAT: Part One: 31 multiple choice questions (A-D) of which the student must answer 30. Each question is worth 1% of the Final Exam so thirty correct answers will be worth 30%. Part Two: Five essay questions of which the student must answer two. Each essay is worth 35% of the Final Exam. The student is expected to write at least two sides of A4 on each essay question and should not duplicate material in the two essays.
Terry Eagleton, The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Retail Price: $11.95
Other readings will be provided before the beginning of the course by blackboard or by copies