Required Texts

Plato, The Republic (Sterling/Scott trans.)

Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy

A Nietzsche Reader (Hollingdale, ed.)

Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy

Peirce, "Fixation of Belief" (Handout)

Course Themes and Issues

    ´ human perfection and the pursuit of justice, truth, and knowledge

    ´ rational justification as a basis for defending truth-claims

    ´ the meaning and significance of the proclamation "God is dead"

    ´ the role of belief and hypothesis in science, religion, and philosophy

    ´ the contrast between "modern" and "postmodern" philosophy

Specific Course Objectives

    ´ To sharpen your power of critical analysis and improve your capacity to communicate ideas effectively.

    ´ To master the art of philosophical reading in relation to four distinct styles of philosophical argument (as reflected in the writings of Plato, Descartes, Nietzsche, and Dewey)

    ´ To identify four pivotal developments in Western philosophy (Plato's dialogical instantiation of philosophical reasoning as a critical attack on unwarranted authority, Descartes' deductive rational intuition as a method for reconciling power conflicts between science and religion, Nietzsche's proclamation of "the death of God" as a challenge to embrace the true human prospect, and Dewey's experimental reasoning as a paradigm for developing the human sciences).

    ´ To write in an argumentative fashion so as to give expression to your understanding of significant philosophical distinctions and to improve your capacity to reflect on philosophical issues from more than one perspective (while assessing the relative value of each point of view).

How to Approach the Reading and Writing Assignments

You will not gain much benefit from the class discussions if you fail to take the reading assignments seriously and complete them before class. (Refer to the calendar of readings for specific assignments.) We will spend class time identifying and analyzing the persuasive force of central arguments emphasized in the assigned readings, but we will also address issues raised in the course of our class discussions. Class discussions will stimulate a process of thinking to provide context for understanding and criticizing the moral issues and arguments raised in the readings. You will address these issues and arguments in your written work.

I encourage you to be an active participant in class discussions. The extent to which you make productive use of these discussions will depend on how carefully you read the assignments. Our task will be to identify and analyze the central issues and positions intrinsic to each assignment. We will develop sound critical assessments of the assumptions supporting each philosopher's conclusions. So look for the following aspects of an author's argument:

    ´the ISSUE of the selection (w/an emphasis on identifying the principle context of concern),

    ´the POSITION (or conclusions) defended in the selection, and

    ´the BASIS for the position (with an emphasis on identifying the author's supporting assumptions and principles)

Here are some additional questions you might want to consider:

    ´Why is the focus on this formulation of the issue?

    ´Why privilege these assumptions?

    ´Are the implications of this position acceptable? Why/why not?

You should record your responses to these questions in a journal, along with personal philosophical reactions to the points you summarize. The final exam will be closed book, but I will allow you to use your journals. By keeping careful track of the key focus of each reading assignment, you should be in good shape when the time comes to prepare for the exam.

My evaluation of your progress and performance in the course will be based largely on the extent to which you learn to summarize and reflect in a thoughtful manner on the argumentative structure of the assigned readings. In particular, I will expect you to spot the rational support for key points in the readings and to reflect on implications that might follow from accepting a given line of argument.

As the semester unfolds, I will expect your written work to reflect a growing sensitivity to the controversies and issues under discussion. Try to identify and evaluate representative arguments for competing sides of an issue before turning your attention to the position you find most defensible. Focus initially on the logic of the arguments: establish the connection between the assumptions and conclusions, and pay special attention to any unspoken assumptions motivating the derivation of conclusions. Formulate your assessment of the implications of a specific line of argument.

Your writing assignments are to be completed in a timely manner. They should reflect careful consideration of the issues and positions you have chosen to write on. As an upper-division GE elective, this course presupposes prior competence in the argumentative writing techniques covered in a 2000-level "critical thinking" course. I also assume you have developed prior competence in basic techniques of English composition, as stressed in freshman-level writing courses. Papers that lack appropriate organization and focus generally fail to communicate ideas as effectively as written work that has a good argumentative structure and a clearly defined focus. The key to successful philosophical writing is the ability to communicate well-ordered connections between ideas. The structural quality of your writing will influence my assessment of your work.

Proofread papers before turning them in. Aim to tighten up your grammar. Clarify the logic of your presentation. As you write, assume your reader can see the relevance of critical points discussed in class (so identify and respond to obvious objections); but don't assume the reader recalls the issues and positions well enough to follow undeveloped points (so develop the basis for any point that seems central to your discussion). Your semester grade will be based on my assessment of the overall quality of your written work. In particular, I will look for evidence of serious attempts to infuse critical analysis into your writing. Elements of this critical analysis should be derivable from our class discussions.

Specific Writing Assignments

´ You will be assigned take-home topics for two 7-8 page papers (12 point type, double spaced, each to include 5+ pages of exposition and 2+ pages of critical analysis or elaboration). Each paper should convey understanding of the defining issues and positions set forth in relevant readings and should provide a critical assessment of the supporting basis for each philosopher's concluding points. Papers that do not meet the following two conditions will be returned for revision:

´ The paper should convey clear understanding of what is at issue.

´ The paper should also include a coherent summary of the supporting rationale
for significant conclusions.

´ There will be an in-class final exam (2 hours, two essay questions).

´ You are to keep a journal of entries related to each week's assignment. Plan to write for at least 30 minutes to an hour per week. Each journal entry should include a statement of:

´ the key issues and the author's context of concern

´ the conclusions derived from the argument

´ the supporting rationale for these conclusions

´ any critical reactions you might have to the argument (framed in terms of philosophical considerations judged relevant to the issues)

´Weights and Measures: Each major assignment (the journal, the final exam, and each paper) represents 25% of your semester grade. I will adjust border-line course grades using the following criteria:

´ an assessment of your participation in class discussions (including input from small groups)

´ your sustained progress over the course of the semester.

Grading Criteria: The two papers and your final exam will be graded on the following 20-POINT SCALE:

19-20=A 18=A- 17=B+ 16=B 15=B- 14=C+ 12-13=C/CR ll=D/NC 0-10=F/NC

Though I consider the general quality of your assignments in comparison to the work of your classmates, I will grade your philosophical writing primarily on the basis of the following criteria:

A paper that identifies relevant points in the readings, without developing a clear connection to the organizing issue, is likely to earn a 14 or 15.

A clear and straightforward summary of relevant points from the assigned reading (including a statement of the defining issue) will earn a 16.

A paper that organizes this summary in terms of the key unifying ideas or issues from the reading will earn a 17. A paper that provides relevant development or elaboration of these key issues and ideas will earn an 18.

Papers that add relevant critical perspective to the discussion will earn one or two additional points. But I will deduct at least one point from any paper that fails to make adequate use of paragraph construction (i.e., using well-structured paragraphs to organize your discussion of the central issues, concepts, or philosophical developments of an argument).

Initially, I will return for revision papers that do not meet the criteria for a 14. Any paper earning less than a 17 may be revised and resubmitted for a grade, but to earn a higher grade the revised paper must address the comments, questions or criticisms raised in response to the earlier draft.

Please note that you will lose 10 extra points (in addition to the 20 points possible) for each missing 20 p oint assignment.

Journal entries will be graded on the following scale:

plus / check-plus / check / check-minus

A "plus" grade means you have clear focus on a central issue and have summarized the more important points in the reading that bear on this issue. A "check-plus" means you have touched on relevant points, but either have not developed a clear focus on a central issue or have not established relations between key ideas in the reading that relate to the issue. A "check" means you have only sketched out some ideas without careful development, and need to go back and establish a better definition of the central issue and some clear relations between key points in the reading related to this issue. A "check-minus" means you have provided no identifiable clue as to what's going on. I will assign a cumulative grade to these entries based on the 20-point scale discussed above.

Contact Information: My office (L-195F) is located in the Library Building, in an office housing the English & Philosophy Departments (195). My office phone is 667-3286 (w/ voice mail for messages). E-mail: <>

Please do not wait until you are hopelessly behind to come see me! If you sense a problem with your approach to the course, or begin to feel lost or intimidated, see me right away so we can work it out. If you wait too long, there may not be much I can do for you. I reserve the right to return for revision any paper that fails to address the assigned topic in a minimally acceptable way, so try to develop a clear focus before you sit down to write. Don't be afraid to brainstorm with other students in the class if you are having trouble pulling your focus together.

Calendar of Reading Assignments

Wk 1: Socrates, the Pre-Socratics, and Plato: background issues

Wk 2: Plato, The Republic, Books I-II (327-368)

Wk 3: Plato, The Republic, Books II-IV (368-445) and IX (588b-592b)

Wk 4: Plato, The Republic, Books V-VII (472-541)

Wk 5: Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy (I and II)

Wk 6: Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy (III and IV)

1st paper topic distributed. (Due by end of Week 9)

Wk 7: Nietzsche, A Nietzsche Reader (pp. 15-70)

Wk 8: Nietzsche, A Nietzsche Reader (pp. 71-124)

Wk 9: Nietzsche, A Nietzsche Reader (pp. 149-166, 197-262)

2nd paper topic distributed. (Due by end of Week 12)

Wk 10: Peirce, "The Fixation of Belief"
Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy (pp. 1-52)

Wk 11: Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy (pp. 53-102)

Wk 12: Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy (pp. 103-160)

Wk 13: Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy (pp. 161-213)

Wk 14: In-class Final Exam. Turn in journals with exam.
Rewrite of 2nd Paper Due (required revisions only)



You are to choose one of the following options. Your paper should be typed (double-spaced, 12-point type).

Aim for 7-8 pages (to include 5+ pages of exposition and 2+ pages of critical analysis or elaboration).

Option One

Write a paper on one of the following sets of questions. Make sure you establish the context for this discussion in clear, straightforward terms. Identify an organizing theme to bring unity to your discussion, and discuss your specific points in sufficient detail to connect up with your other relevant points. Make sure you include some critical analysis of the key moves in Plato's argument.


How does Plato's conception of the proper art of ruling relate to his conception of the proper relationship between reason, spirit, and appetite? What is the specific relevance of his parable of the ship (487e-489d)? What motivates his concern about the damaging impact of negative environmental influences on character formation? Do you agree that censorship of negative influences is essential to establishing a natural order in human beings? Why does Plato's theory of character development stress exposure to geometry, music, and poetic stories?


What do you make of Plato's contention that all our actions are done for the sake of the Good (505e)? If we are already in pursuit of the Good -- that is, if all our actions are always already directed at securing progress toward a life that is truly to our greatest advantage -- then why so much emphasis on character development and the importance of proper models and targets? How is the cave allegory relevant to this point? And what do you make of Plato's program of study to "turn the soul around"?

Option Two

Write a well-structured paper that addresses the following questions> Begin with several paragraphs designed to give your reader a sense of what your paper will be about (that is, establish a context to set up your presentation of central issues and ideas). Make sure you include some critical analysis of the key moves in Descartes' argument.

What role does the hypothesis of the "Evil Genius" play in the course of the argument of the Meditations? What is Descartes' chief motive for posing the hypothesis, and what is the epistemological impact on his project if the hypothesis is not refuted? What strategy does he employ in his effort to refute the hypothesis, and what is established on the basis of the refutation? Identify the central assumptions in his argument, and include an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of his reasoning.

Option Three

Our reading and discussion of Plato's Republic and Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy has exposed us to a therapeutic style of philosophy designed to open up access to the disciplined life of reason.

Write a paper that expresses your understanding of the focus of this philosophical style of work. Include a critical analysis of the central organizing assumptions of their respective projects, and conclude with an assessment of the value of their ideas, their issues, and their concerns, when conceived from the perspective of your life. 


Study Questions on Descartes

1) How does the wax example provide a basis for Descartes' conclusion that mind/soul and body are separate things?

2) Why is Descartes convinced that God exists as the cause of his idea of God as an all-perfect being?

3) Why is the hypothesis of the "evil genius" incompatible with the existence of an all-perfect God?

4) How does Descartes absolve God of responsibility for human errors of judgment? How would this argument apply to the problem of accounting for evil in a universe created by God?

5) How might you reconcile Descartes' trust in "natural light" (in the context of his "cause-effect" proof for the existence of God in Meditation III) with his decision to question the veracity of mathematical reasoning (in the context of his appropriation of the hypothesis concerning the "evil genius" in Meditation I)?


You are to choose one of the following options. Your paper should be typed (double-spaced, 12-point type). Aim for 7-8 pages (to include 5+ pages of exposition and 2+ pages of critical analysis or elaboration).

Option One

Choose at least one related aphorism from each chapter we read from A Nietzsche Reader (including the Preface). Write a paper that develops conceptual relations between these aphorisms. Include an interpretation of what you think is at issue (try to develop this as a complex of issues). Lay out the most important points you see Nietzsche making, and include some critical analysis of his conclusions.

Option Two

Develop and discuss at least one dominant theme or aspect of Nietzsche's philosophy in relation to Plato's philosophy (as reflected in The Republic). Include a summary of the basis for their respective views, and conclude with an assessment of their views from the standpoint of your own life.