Syllabus, Philosophy 107, Introduction to Philosophy, Fall 2011

CRN 41288, 9:oo MWF in Harry Griffith Hall (HGH) 226;
Prof. J. W. Powell, Ph.D., ph. x5753; Office: 502c BSS; e-mail, jwp2@humboldt.edu;
Website: Files were recently moved to a new server, and a few addresses are not yet corrected; . http://www.users.humboldt.edu/jwpowell
Office Hours: MW (not Friday) 11-12:20 and Tuesdays at Wildberries 12:30 to after 2, and by appointment. Feel free to stop by--odds are good that I'm in my office if I'm not teaching or in committees.

Description: The Meaning of Life. Knowledge vs. Skepticism/Appearance vs. Reality. Justifying Moral Judgments. Minds and Bodies and Their Relationships. The Essence of Human Beings. The Rationality of Religious Faith (including the problem of evil). The Nature and Functions of Philosophy. After we settle these easy matters, we will take up whatever more difficult questions the class wants.

Course Format: The main business of the course will take place in the classroom, in mixed lecture and discussion. The readings are not the course but instead support what happens in class. Those whose grades are disappointments to them are often those who skipped classes. The proportion of lecture to discussion will vary. There may be several lectures in a row with only minimal discussion, though more often we will have short lectures at the beginning of each class meeting followed by discussion, some of it in small groups. I hardly ever show videotapes, and I use the blackboard rather than overheads or Powerpoint. I accommodate students with disabilities. Some accomodations are made unnecessary by the practice of assigning essays with a week lead time before they are to be turned in. Students can participate in discussion via e-mail (see below), but not as a substitute for coming to class. I will sometimes write and hand out summary letters to the class as we come to the end of a set of problems. Students will help choose the course topics toward the end. The schedule provided is only a model of how things may go--in fact, our agenda is flexible and depends on our interests. We will make changes to accommodate those interestes and to accommodate the needs more time for discussion to lead to resolution of issues (or to defeat). The course is fairly writing intensive, with an expectation in common with other philosophy department courses that each student will write 20 graded pages over the semester. (That's not counting ungraded exercises.) Grading is mostly determined by grades on four 1500 to 2000 word essays using a required format and three-part structure.

The Discipline of Philosophy: I go back and forth on whether to try to give students some idea of what they are getting into by taking a philosophy course. Currently I seem to be willing to take a stab at it.
              First, not everyone is interested, and not everyone CAN be interested. Most students like the course, but a few drop and a few more should drop. If the teacher loves the stuff, as I do, that only makes it worse for some students. The kinds of thinking philosophy requires can take a while to get used to, and frustration is common, so tolerance of frustration is a help. Keeping track of how this course can help you with your life is also hard--indeed, whether philosophy is valuable is one of the traditional problems in philosophy. For some it will be delightful--you'll take to it like a duck having crossed a desert to a marshy lake. On the other hand, for some the whole semester will be poking ashes of a dead fire. Students who are convinced that they hold views which are important insights sometimes find themselves tripped up. Some of these views are current intellectual fads--everything is subjective, words are just conventional marks, morality is only cultural customs in disguise, gender and race and knowledge are only human constructions--but all of these are almost certainly mistakes, and it is difficult for some of us to cast a cold eye on such ideas when we have committed ourselves to believing them.
               So, Part of the difficulty is that you will be challenged to give up some beliefs. Some of these may go easily if you have not thought much about them, but some may prompt dismay if you thought they were insights or were important. One, for some of you, might be how you have thought about what philosophy is. There is a common way of talking about philosophy which has very little to do with the philosophy we will do here. People speak of putting together a philosophy, or give as a philosophy something that could be captured on a bumpersticker. Businesses trumpet philosophies about being centered on customer service, colleges about being student-centered or (the phrase du jour) learning centered. Garrison Keillor on Prairie Home Companion sometimes speaks of a Lutheran philosophy which centers on the claim that "It's not that bad." None of those counts as philosophy for our purposes. Further, some people think their philosophy is like their religion or their tastes or their political preferences, in that it is all subjective or that no one is entitled to tell you that you are wrong, or that there is no such thing as reality because all the candidates for being truth or reality are only human constructions. Well, those sets of ideas are wrong, and they are easy to show that they are wrong (if it were true that all truths are only constructions, then there would be an exception and so the alleged truth would be false--I know, it's a toy argument in a way, but it works against the game-like logic of the position), and we will do that in this class early on. The only part of it that is right is that you have to do the crucial, central work yourself rather than have someone else tell you whether you are wrong. You may want to change your mind because you come to see there are good reasons to do so. In other words, this is a course which may have real stakes involved for how you think about your own basic beliefs. If you are unwilling to re-examine your own views, if you are convinced you have already got all this figured out, if you approach the questions as a competition rather than as an inquiry in which you might find something new, if you let what you want to think run the show of what you do think, then your odds are not good. (On the other hand, some very good students have been deeply skeptical about the materials we read and about what I say in lectures. Willingness to look at the arguments is not at all the same as trusting them.)
              Next, what counts as progress in philosophy is in contrast to what counts as progress in many other disciplines--the emphasis is often not on answering philosophical questions but rather the emphasis is on questioning or unpacking those questions, figuring out what they mean and the implications of what they mean, and whether there might be mistakes built into the questions before we ever get to the answers. Instead of trying to get the material covered, we work very hard to go slowly and to catch our mistakes. Philosophy is crucially about catching mistakes. It has often been said that philosophy is in part thinking about thinking, but that is too easy, so easy that it is misleading. What it misses is the hard insight that there is a kind of schizophrenia (in the old Greek sense of the word as meaning split or divided attention) involved in thinking about our thinking. You do need to think, to start with, but then you need to re-examine that thinking with a cold eye. Rather than defending your own view, you will learn to attack it; rather than trying to kill your opponents, you will try to help them out, help make their views as strong as possible. You do not have to change your mind, but you do have to take the possibility of changing your mind seriously. --As seriously as possible, and, probably, more seriously than you are doing as you read these words. There is a nice thing that happens if you do. It is this: if you do take the possibility of changing your mind seriously, then every relevant argument becomes your friend. Every relevant argument is a help in thinking things through. Even bad arguments can help us clarify our thinking.
               There are many ways to avoid thinking about our own beliefs, and we may spend time considering some of those.
               Although in general philosophy attracts some of the smartest students in the university (Philosophy majors have consistently had among the very highest averages on standardized tests of students going on to graduate school), being smart does not correlate directly with enjoying philosophy or with being good at it. It seems to me some of my very best students have been those with a distaste for purely abstract thinking, for example, and who have their feet on the ground, who have something like common sense. Some students who do not fit in well in other disciplines in the humanities or the sciences or social sciences find a home in philosophy, and some of the things that make a person a good philosopher may make that person a pain in the ass in other academic settings.
               Finally, philosophy can be thought of as grappling with a set of difficult and fundamental questions, questions which have generally remained the same throughout human history. These questions have engaged and continue to engage many of the smartest and best people of all cultures. The course gives students a chance to work on some of these most profound and dizzying questions we can devise, and gives you training on thinking straight, learning how to work with arguments and how to clarify issues. We do this in part by reading some of the central documents in the history of thought (East and West), by reading some works from thinkers who have been pushed to the margins, and in part by discussions in which some students (always and only by volunteering) will crawl out on a limb in front of a couple of dozen others, some of whom will try to cut them down. (I do call on students, but it is always fine for you to decline to answer or to ask that I try someone else.)
               The course is rehabilitation of the reputation of thinking, lately thought a whore of ideology; it is in part self-examination; it is Big Questions without cynicism (well, maybe a little cynicism); a backpack trip into the life of the mind. I aim also to make clear how this discipline is a central part of a good education. I include notes on how this course meets General Education Goals and we will discuss what education is for as one of our philosophical topics.

Texts and Materials: There are no required texts for you to buy. I put readings up on Moodle, give them out in class handouts, or put them on reserve in the library. Neither this nor the online version of this syllabus on Moodle has a complete list of the readings. For that, log on to Moodle, which will still leave out some of the in-class handouts. Two texts are available for free on Moodle (and available widely on the Web, in part because they are out of copyright and in the public domain) but are ones you might want to buy anyway: Plato: Apology, Euthyphro, often bundled together with a couple of other dialogues, as in Trial and Death of Socrates, trans. Grube (Bobbs-Merrill, 1953, first published about 390 BCE), and The Problems of Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell (there is an Oxford University Press 1998 edition with an introduction by John Perry, though the book was first published in 1912). In addition to the materials available through Moodle, all handouts in class will be relevant to discussion and will be needed as you write the essays. If you miss a class meeting, be sure to check whether there were handouts.
               The reading load is not large in number of pages, but some of the reading is difficult. Give yourself time to go slowly. The reading load is well within the standard expectation at Humboldt State that students will spend two hours preparing for each hour in class. The emphasis throughout is on clarification of issues and description and evaluation of arguments, and we will spend some time on crucial methods early on. Again, what happens in class is more important than the readings; don't skip class.

Grading: Quizzes are possible at any moment. If the class seems to need quizzes as motivation to do the readings, the quizzes will be more frequent. They will be short, basic, multiple-choice, no trick questions; they will not be returned to students except that a key will be posted on Moodle.
               ATTENDANCE is required: No one who misses more than five of the approximately forty-five classes will receive a grade higher than a B, and no one who misses more than ten will receive higher than a C. Students who score lower than 60 % on a quiz will be marked absent. I do not remind the class about this policy and you are free to remain in denial about the consequences of missing classes until it is too late to repair your grade.
               The main grades, however, are grades you earn on your essays. Your first essay is to be posted to the Moodle forum for the class (that means that it will be e-mailed to everyone in the class, and will be available for you to look at for the rest of the course). Feel free to post other of your course essays as well. You can expect on average to write twenty or more pages of essays over the semester, about five thousand words, divided into four assignments. There will be three midterm essays and a final essay exam, each exam counting 1/4, except that stellar performance on the aforementioned quizzes, optional assignments, extra research, outstanding participation in class or via e-mail or on the Moodle forum (see below) can raise your final grade by one third of a grade point (e.g., from a B+ to an A-). Essay exams will consist of four to eight essay questions from which you choose one or two to write. All essays are to be written using a three-part structure which we will drive into the ground. We will go over it in class, do trial runs for which you grade yourself and then check against how I would have graded you, and feedback on your essays will emphasize how well or poorly you have used the structure. Mastering this structure is a main goal in this course--it is the structure of critical thinking regarding arguments. Essay prompts will be distributed at least a week before the essays are due. The Final for the course is scheduled for Friday 16 December at 8 a.m. You will have an opportunity to draft a question of your own for each essay after the second, and you will have opportunity to submit rough drafts of essays during the week before they are due.
               I will spell out the grading criteria I use, and post and hand out grading criteria along with the 3-part structure before the first midterm. An abbreviation of that structure goes as follows: Students are graded not on the positions they give on the philosophical problems but rather on how well they articulate the arguments involved, how well they work to clarify the issues, and whether they have sympathetically articulated the strongest objections to their own views and responded to those thoughtfully. If you are trying to support a position argued for or against in the readings or in lecture or discussion, be sure to show you understand those arguments. Directions for the essay assignments provide organizational suggestions to make fulfilling these criteria easier, and the handout on grading also provides some help regarding strategy for writing philosophy. These grading criteria and the help with strategy are broadly applicable, not just to philosophy but to any situations in which you are working with issues and arguments and in which critical thinking is called for.

Discussion: Students will be required to access the HSU Moodle web page to get materials and to post (send) their first essay to the class forum discussion list. After that, participation in discussion via e-mail is encouraged but not required. I sometimes make paper copies of some e-mail exchanges available to the class.
               I taught for several years at a university in which the courses like this one were taught to auditoriums of 180+ students. That made discussion impossible, and the teaching and learning that are helped by discussion did not happen, and I hated it. I will not require you to take part in discussion, but I will provide opportunities and I will encourage you not to hide out, because sometimes having people respond to your ideas is a help in thinking things through. The electronic discussion is another place where this can happen. (It helps, both online and in class, if you listen as well as talk.)
               E-mail discussions are not an adequate substitute for group and one-to-one discussions--they are a rather distant second choice, at least for some. On the other hand, often the choice is not between computerized discussion and classroom discussion but is rather between computerized discussion and no discussion at all. The computer discussion sometimes has some virtues which are rare in the classroom--the pace can be more thoughtful, the lines of thought preserved better in the face of wisecracks or startling examples or someone becoming offended. The arguments for you participating in the electronic discussion are strong, and the argument against my requiring it is mainly based on the commitment to being inclusive, by leaving the course open to those who will not participate. Please participate if you can see your way clear.

Model Schedule: (Pace depends on pace of discussion. These dates will be revised. Students help pick the last topics.)
Weeks (estimated). . . . . Topics and readings . . . . . . Essay assignments/ Exams

1 and 2. Intro and methods; Excerpts from Powell's Radish Logic; handouts on methods, Plato's Apology . Critical thinking as describing arguments and clarifying issues. Written practice describing arguments.

3 and 4. The Meaning of Life: Is there something we are here for? Plato's Apology; Tolstoy's A Confession; Sartre, from "Existentialism Is a Humanism;" Tom McGuane, from Nobody's Angel; William James, from "On a Certain Weakness in Human Beings;" Summary of Zen tenets, from Zen Art For Meditation; John Tarrant on Zen Koans; Stephen King, "All That You Love Will Be Carried Away;" Various poems regarding the meaning of life; Tobias Wolff, "Bullet in the Brain." Chuang Tzu, from the Inner Chapters; John Wisdom, "The Meanings of the Questions of Life," from Paradox and Discovery. John Wisdom's "Gods." Midterm I at end of this discussion or before (announced a week ahead).

5 and 6. Appearance and Reality, Knowledge and Illusion. Bertrand Russell, Chapters One, Two, Three, and Four from The Problems of Philosophy. Meditations I and II from Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy. O. K. Bouwsma, "Descartes' Evil Genius;" F. B. Ebersole, "Does It Look the Color It Is?" J. L. Austin, Lecture Seven from Sense and Sensibilia; Powell, "Dreams and Illusions"

7 and 8. Absolutisms, Relativisms and Moral Judgments; Plato: Euthyphro; Ruth Benedict, "Psychology and the Abnormal," handouts on ethics, examples (e.g., adultery, academic cheating, The 8% Project) for moral judgments, tolerance and relativism.

9 and 10. Power and Oppression, and Can Logic Help? Nancy Tuana, from Feminism & Science; Andrea Nye, from Words of Power; James Faris, from Navajo and Photography. Midterm II.

11 and 12. Minds and Bodies: Dualism and Pathetic Attempts To Get Out of It. Could We Make a Computer Our Equal? Human Beings, Machines, Bodies, and Consciousness: Daniel Dennett's "Where Am I?" J.F.M. Hunter, "How We Talk" (on having a speaking machine); John Searle, "Brains, Minds, and Programs."

13 and 14. The Problems of Love and Problems of Definitions; Plato, from Symposium; Russell, Chapters Nine and Ten [on universals]; Dichotomies; from John Farella, The Main Stalk: A Synthesis of Navajo Philosophy; handout on definitions.

14 and 15. The Value of Philosophy; Derek Parfit, "Sterile Questions," from Reasons and Persons; wrapup.
Final Exam : Friday 9 May at 8:00.

Course Goals and Objectives, Outcomes and Assessment : This course meets General Education Lower Division Area C requirements. An outline of how this course fulfils College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences General Education Area C Goals is attached as part of this syllabus. When I review these goals, as faculty were recently requested to do, it seems to me that the Philosophy Department's courses are the only courses which have any hope of fulfilling those goals. This course is also exemplary for developing some central critical thinking skills. Those are skills in recognizing and articulating arguments, clarifying issues, identifying assumptions, anticipating objections, and developing one's own independent views based on arguments rather than based on, e.g., desires that some beliefs be true, or laziness, or trust of others or your own reflexes or intuitions.

               There are changes afoot in the discussion of General Education's current direction. We may have to spend time thinking about these changes. The word "objectives" in connection with talk about goals is often meant as a way of getting at more specific and short-term statements of what we will accomplish. The phrase "outcomes assessment" is a bit of current jargon targeted at the same, well, objective. The occurrence of that phrase or of the word "outcomes" in a syllabus, with its origin in direct instruction and behavioral outcomes models in education and in business management models, is evidence that the syllabus is being written for two audiences--for administrators trained in those traditions as much as for students. There is at least a quantum chance that some administrator or committee member will actually read this syllabus. So, here are some objectives or outcomes, and then some comments on the need to include such talk in an Intro to Philosophy syllabus, and comments on what that talk leaves out.

             Objectives can be articulated in different ways. Consider the following: Objective or Outcome 1. Students will produce an informed, careful, and thoughtful response addressing the question, "What is the Meaning of Life?" To do this, each student will demonstrate in written essay form knowledge of a majority of the main alternatives philosophers have offered as answers to that question with the main arguments supporting those answers, the student's own appraisals of those alternatives, and through application of clarification strategies will examine assumptions and other problems involved in the question. The student will provide independent arguments for the student's own views and will defend those in the face of objections which the student articulates.

Objective or Outcome 2. Ditto for the question, What Is the Relationship Between Appearances and Reality?

Objective or Outcome 3. Ditto for the question, How Do We Properly Justify Our Moral Judgments?

 Objective or Outcome 4. Ditto for the question, What Is the Relation of the Mind to the Body?

 Objective or Outcome 5. Ditto for the question, What Is the Role of Definition in Responding to Questions Such As, What is X? (Where X May Stand for Such Things As Knowledge, Love, Goodness, Language, Justice?)

--And so on. You get the idea. We could include the following, which would be more to the point:

               Objective or Outcome 6. Students will master ways of responding to philosophical questions which include strategies for clarifying issues and ways of describing arguments. Students will deploy these ways of responding before arguing for their own answers to philosophical questions and will anticipate and respond to the best objections to their own views.

               Now the comments on what's left out. You will not find on the list of objectives anything about how philosophy feels or how I hope you will feel about philosophy by the end of the course. This is not because that touchy-feely stuff is hard to say, not because I don't really hope for it to happen, not because it's too subjective to measure, not because it won't happen. I am about to say it in this very paragraph, I really do hope for it, we'll share at the end the extent to which we did achieve it, and for many in the class it will happen. Here's what I mean: I hope this course will be an unsettling experience for you. To the extent that happens, these more specific objectives will follow: You will worry about your own goals and about how you have screwed up thinking about your life. You will lose sleep. You will develop headaches regularly. You will show signs of gastric distress. You will spend time thinking about suicide. You will regard some of these problems as urgent and will feel profoundly ignorant of how to settle them. You will consider the society around us mad for not paying more attention to these philosophical problems. You will wonder whether bad philosophy is responsible for some of the human pathologies which threaten the survival of our species and several other species, pathologies which kill off our compassion for each other, which make us feel alone, which license consumerism and so license the rape and pillage of the earth, which attitudes reach so deep that it looks like enlightenment when people try to do a better job of managing the rape and pillage of the earth.

               Those statements do not show up on the list of objectives or outcomes, and it is proper that they do not. I do not grade you based on whether you come to class with a note from the student health clinic saying that you have to drop, that you are developing a peptic ulcer because of Philosophy 107, (though if you do I'll give you an A, because I just won't be able to help it). Instead, I grade you on the arguments and other lines of thinking which led up to your developing these feelings. Those arguments and questions and clarifications all have to do with particular philosophical problems which have shaped our world and which still shape it.

               The focus on objectives and outcomes, which is receiving a renewed emphasis from the captains of industry who govern our university system, serves one legitimate purpose, that of assuring that our goals influence our day-to-day activities. But in focusing on those aspects we must not become blind to others; we need to remember our surroundings, the contexts in which we work. Philosophy is about thinking about our thinking, especially the underlying assumptions on which our thinking rests. Reflecting on what our objectives are and reflecting on what they are not and reflecting on whether we ought to have such objectives is part of philosophy. Our objectives, our outcomes, then, are not the big picture. Philosophy is about the big picture as well as the small and cannot be reduced to outcomes because the outcomes themselves need to be re-examined.

The Instructor: I have been teaching philosophy for over thirty years. My Ph.D. is from the University of Oregon in Eugene, where I taught for a dozen years. I am particularly interested in ancient philosophy, philosophy of language, critical thinking, philosophy of education, and issues about philosophical methods, but I have lots of other interests as well. You can see some of those interests on my website, although some of the urls are still not updated to reflect addresses on the new server. This course is one of my favorites to teach. I never get it quite settled--I am always revising the course, partly because I only use topics I am still thinking about. I did an undergraduate major in English and three years of graduate work in literature before shifting to philosophy. This fact and several years of teaching experience in literature and in writing shows up in my philosophical work. I have long-standing interests in Native American philosophy. I attend and sometimes present at Navajo Studies Conferences, have written on contrasts between Western-Civilization-type philosophy and Native American Philosophy, and I regularly use examples from Navajo and other Native American sources. I have a daughter in her thirties living in Seattle and a daughter who is ten and a son eight. I grew up on a farm in Missouri, was a conscientious objector medic during the Viet Nam War, have worked as an auto and truck mechanic and in lumber mills, was Services Coordinator for the Educational Opportunities Program at the Univ. of Oregon, and am in my fourth and last year serving as the General Faculty President, an elected position which mostly requires endless patience sitting in committee meetings. I've written and published regarding what education is for, and have recently returned to writing on this topic.

On the relation of this course to General Education Area C Goals:

The University has been over the last few years changing its approach to evaluating its own performance. There's a story behind this, involving the U.S. Department of Education, Congressional pressures to make the results of education more clear and more measurable, and accreditation agencies like the Western Association of Schools and Colleges implementing requirements for universities to articulate and use programs of assessing outcomes. Some see behind these changes a narrow-minded emphasis on making education into little more than job training to supply the labor market and get everyone to pay more taxes. If you are interested in this story, I have written at length about problems with the idea of outcomes assessment and I would be happy to share a draft of a paper I am reworking after a journal invited me to revise and resubmit. One place where you can pretty easily appraise the effects of these changes is by contrasting an earlier version with the current documents stipulating the Measurable Student Learning Outcomes for Area C (Philosophy GE courses are part of Area C), which are on HSU's Undergraduate Studies website. You might pull up a separate tab or window with those, and then take a look at the version below, used for a decade until a few years ago. I am partial to the earlier version. During this summer an essay I wrote on the topic was published in the American Association of University Professors Journal of Academic Freedom

                The University and the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences ask faculty to review courses in the light of General Education Goals. Some of the adopted goals turn out to be shaping ideas for this course. Again, I often have moments where I think the philosophy department is the only place competent to address them; here they are.

--We will develop an understanding of how humanistic approaches are important to an overall understanding of human experience. For instance, a scientist may work away at discovery of the causes of AIDS or amotivational syndrome or schizophrenia, but it is a philosopher, working within the humanities, who works to make us aware of what counts as a cause, why we ask about causes, and what are the limits to causal explanations. A fisheries biologist may work to rehabilitate spawning grounds but it is in philosophical moments that we place that effort within larger questions of significance or articulate the values and assumptions that she takes for granted in her work. A psychologist may trace interesting relations between mental illness and artistic genius, but we are doing philosophy when we ask about whether those relations should change our concept of art. We will see many instances of these distinctions in this course.

--We will understand how scholarly questions and writing in the humanities are different from scholarship in other fields, and how those other fields may connect with philosophical or other humanistic scholarship. For instance, we are going to read work by some long-dead philosophers and then point out how our philosophical interests in their arguments and issues is different from the interests of a historian.

--We will become able to question the relationships between generalizations and examples, especially in connection with our work on general philosophical questions. This is a recurrent theme in philosophy courses. For example, in our work on the question of the meaning of life, insights from our own lives and the lives of Socrates, Sartre, William James, Zen masters, and others help us think through our answers and provide evidence. In this course, the question how we recognize whether a proposed meaning of life is better or worse than others requires us to attend to a sliding scale of abstractions, from the example of your own life to questions about the life of your culture or the life of the human race or the existence of the universe. We will first concentrate on putting together possible answers, but then will shift to the question of how general we are requiring each answer to be, and what assumptions we have to make to ask the question at various levels of abstraction.

--We will be working consistently through the semester to identify our own resources for providing good answers to the philosophical problems. That is, we are not going to limit our possible answers to those provided to us, mostly by dead white European males, but instead will stretch to imagine other alternatives. We will regard ourselves and our own imaginations as important resources in our work. Especially in questions about appearance and reality, for example, common sense is an important preventative measure against mistakes.

--We will increase our awareness of the environment of ideas around us which shapes possibilities we might otherwise take for granted. That is, we have been raised to think in particular ruts and need to lift up our heads to look around us. We will also look in the mirror--note our own reactions to this environment of ideas. It's a recurrent theme in philosophy that we need to think of things we had not considered. For instance, in work on the question of the meaning of life we will read works by people who disagree with each other profoundly, and our reactions of agreement and disagreement, or of scorn or admiration, may help or hinder our ability to think independently about the question. What can we do so those reactions we have don't paralyze us or make us miss important insights? Trying to understand ideas from traditions which are quite different from our own, for example American Indian thinking, can help us see new possibilities.

There are some by-the-way parts of meeting those goals. Accordingly, we also work on the following:

--We will learn the lingo. We will learn the vocabulary of argument, and clarify those terms we use everyday which are philosophically loaded. Philosophy is one place where clarity of language is absolutely necessary, and our work to show what words do and how they mark distinctions from each other helps to clarify how crucial clear thinking, writing, and speaking are to the humanities.

--We will be active. This does not mean students have to talk out every class, but it means passivity and memorization which might work in other disciplines don't here. Worse, passivity shows you don't get it. We will worry, take the stakes seriously, find causes for enthusiasm, feel attacked, and feel as though what we have to say on these matters, matters.

--We will raise our standards of discussion. We will pay attention to how arguments fail and how they could be made better. We will watch ourselves fail and do better. We will become enlightened about the possibilities of doing better and failing. We will become more demanding--this comes with being educated.

--We will pay attention to how people have been unfairly robbed of their voices by others with more power. We do this in order to take arguments seriously no matter who gives them voice. We will insist that arguments work not because the arguer has the right number of limbs, the right skin color or sexual plumbing or money or powerful friends, but because they are good arguments. We will note arguments which have been discounted unfairly because they came from women or minorities or otherwise marginalized people.


Miscellaneous Legal and Regulatory Notices

Send questions via e-mail: Remember that the final is scheduled for 8 a.m. on Friday of Final Exam week, December 16th. The beginning of the final exam period is the deadline for handing in your last essay as a take-home; if you have not gotten it to me by then, you must complete your essay in the classroom during the exam period on the 16th.