Introduction to Philosophy

Phil A201 Web course

Summer 2018

William Jamison

THEME: Introduces works of influential thinkers, both ancient and modern, in the Western philosophical tradition. Emphasizes central problems of knowledge, reality, and good and evil.

Special Note:  This page links to other pages on my web site that are an important part of the syllabus. Students should select those links to become familiar with the other elements of the syllabus. On following a link a page will state that it is part of the syllabus if it is. Other links are supplied as resources for students that are interested in taking advantage of them, but if they are not specifically noted as part of the syllabus it is up to the student to pursue them or not. The purpose of this is to simplify the main page of the syllabus while supplying supplementary information as necessary or to enrich the experience of taking the course.

Student Outcomes

Students completing this course should be able to identify, comprehend, analyze, and evaluate complex philosophical arguments in oral and written discourse. They should also be able to understand, analayze, interpret, and apply major works in the areas of the History of Philosophy, Ethics, and contemporary topics.


Look Inside This Book
Author: NOZICK
ISBN: 9780671725013


ISBN 9781133612100


Course grades are based on:

 50% of the grade will be based on short papers, equally weighted, showing an understanding of the materials covered in the assigned readings,

 25% of the grade will be based on a term project,

 25% of the grade will be based on dialogue.

 See this link for the grade key.

CLASS: By Web using Blackboard and e-mail. This course makes use of a dialogue between students. A weekly question is posted for dialogue (here) to which  everyone can respond on Blackboard. All requirements for this course can be met through use of the Internet and use of texts. Please disregard general requirements for ATS courses that imply on site exams are part of this course. There are no on site exams required. There are no videos for this course but students are encouraged to find relevant videos on the web and discuss them in the dialogue.

OFFICE: Hours: Check news. Phone: 786-4458 or CERC TBA. My home phone is 694-1023. My e-mail address for this course is: and my web page is (in case you are reading a printed copy of this page) which has links to other sources not included in the text. Please include your name in the text on e-mail since I may not be able to match student name to e-mail address. (Sorry for this, but we all experience "Duh" every so often!) Also include "Philosophy" in the subject line of the email message so I know it is not spam!

The best way to get a message to me is via e-mail. Please feel free to call my home phone or office phone. All papers should be turned in using e-mail. This syllabus on my web site has links to other sources for many of the texts for the philosophers we will discuss. As indicated in the special note above, some of the links are supplements to the syllabus and must be read to understand specific instructions for parts of the course. Other links are to notes that may help understanding materials presented in the texts. Still other links are to web sites that might be of interest but certainly are not required reading, as should become obvious. Since in many cases these are links to full texts I have not book marked the specific pages that may come up in discussion since I have no way to do this. Some of the links include wonderful web pages on the various philosophers. It is not possible to read all the links on this page! I make these available for those who may have not used the Internet to do philosophical research before.

This is a "Webcourse," a college-level course that makes use entirely of the Internet and text books as an integral part of the course material. In taking this course, you will have the opportunity:

-- to read, in your copy of Philosophy: A Text with Readings, Manuel Velasquez comprehensive introduction to Philosophy along with substantial selections from primary sources, written by philosophers through all our history, from ancient Greece and Palestine to the present time with a focus on Robert Nozick;

-- to watch no-holds-barred discussions on the major issues by the some of the most important philosophers living today;

-- to join the debate yourself through the papers you write each lesson on those concepts;

-- to reflect on the whole conversation including the views of all participants from Plato to yourself;

-- to understand the place that Philosophy has in our lives.

Components for the Course:

This syllabus will take you week by week through the concepts that provide the basis for this course;

Philosophy: A Text with Readings, which contains a broad selection of the most important works in the history of philosophy to provide the background you will need to understand how we have come to the views about life that we do and to read Robert Nozick's book EXAMINED LIFE.

To complete this course successfully, you are obligated to complete the following assignments:

1. Read all the materials assigned for the course as this syllabus directs. The link leads to the list of readings.- Reading list updated for various editions though the bookstore is selling edition 12. But they are close.

2. Email a short paper according to the schedule on each of the two lessons to Take the link to read more detailed directions. Notice the schedule for the five week course only has half the time to complete the work - of course.

4. Prepare a term project (follow this link for the minimum requirements) due by August 2 on one of the following:

a. Explore the implications of one philosopher's views that you find most interesting. For example, how does that view explain what a person is, what our place is in the universe and how we should maintain that place. Nozick can certainly be your choice for this if you like but you can request to do your paper on another philosopher if you wish.

b. Explore the competing claims of several philosophical positions. For example, discuss how the principles of faith clash, if they do, with science.

c. Follow the due dates in this syllabus below.

In the term project, as in the short papers, use of your own experience is very helpful.

5. Dialogue on Blackboard with other members of the class.

Your grade will be determined by your performance as follows: One-half of the grade will be determined by the short papers, one-quarter by the term project and one-quarter by dialogue participation. See grade key.

Schedule of Readings. (Take this link to the list of readings or follow the link for each set, or go to the bottom of this page)

Set 1: (300 word essay on this set due by May 27)

101) What Is Philosophy?
Combines two classic models— Plato’s Parable of the Cave and the character of Socrates—with contemporary philosophers comment on the subject. If you are interested in my notes for the class room lectures I give they start here: philnotes\philnts1.htm but these are not required reading for this course.

102) What Is Human Nature?
Contrasts traditional Greek and Judeo-Christian views of human nature with post-Darwinian and existential views.

Respond to dialogue questions posted on the web site.

E-mail me ( so that I have your address and can include you in things I send to the whole class via e-mail. This is very important! 

Set 2: (300 word essay on this set due by June 2)

103) Is Mind Distinct From Body?
Examines how Descartes dualistic view has been subject to waves of attacks from materialism, including present exponents of artificial intelligence and neuroscience. The program features commentary by John Searle, Daniel Dennett, Paul Churchland, and various other philosophers.

104) Is There An Enduring Self?
Weaves the reflections of an expectant mother with inquiries from philosophers ranging from Socrates to the present about whether or not a person has an enduring self.

Set 3: (300 word essay on this set due by June 9)

105) What Forms Our Identity? Are we social beings?
Looks at the relation between personality and socio-cultural context. Contrasts an atomistic and a situational view of the self, represented by Descartes and Hegel using the endangered culture of the Laplanders in Sweden. Contemporary philosophers include Charles Taylor.

106) What Is Real?
Explores the conflict between Thomas Hobbes’s materialism and George Berkeley’s idealism and the 20th century conflict between realists and anti-realists. Philosophers include John Searle, Hilary Putnam, and Richard Rorty.

Set 4: (300 word essay on this set due by June 16)

107) How Do We Encounter the World?
Examines the views of Husserl, Heidegger, and others in which reality is a phenomenon of consciousness.

108) Do We Have Free Will?
Asks if our lives determined, or if we freely choose among alternatives? Ancient philosophers believed us to be free moral beings, but how do we define our options in a world governed by the laws of physics?

Set 5: (300 word essay on this set due by June 21)

109) Is Time Real?
Questions whether time is something measured only by clocks and calendars or exists as a separate entity in its own right. The program explores theories of time presented by Aristotle, Augustine, and Kant, and contrasts Newton’s theories of time with Einstein's theory of relativity.

110) Does God Exist?
Delves into how philosophers have examined the universe for evidence for God’s existence. How did the world begin? Is there a reason for its order and design? And, can we reconcile the existence of God with the existence of evil?

Set 6: (300 word essay on this set due by June 28)

111) Can We Know God Through Experience?
Considers whether certain mystical experiences are indications of the existence of a Divine Being, and what kind of evidence is necessary for religious belief.

112) Is Reason The Source Of Knowledge?
Presents the rationalism of Descartes and Leibniz, the roots of rationalism in Plato and geometry, and the continuing debate over whether the mind alone can generate knowledge.

Set 7: (300 word essay on this set due by July 4)

113) Does All Knowledge Come From Experience?
Focuses on the 17th and 18th century empiricism of John Locke, George Berkeley and David Hume, and the 20th century empiricism and naturalism of W.V.O. Quine, who is interviewed.

114) Does The Mind Shape The World?
Examines Immanuel Kant's position that we interpret the world through a priori constructs of the mind, as well as later philosophers’ views of how these constructs may vary among languages and cultures.

Set 8: (300 word essay on this set due by July 9)

115) How Does Science Add to Knowledge?
Highlights the classic, Baconian inductivist view that grew (from Francis Bacon) out of the Scientific Revolution and the challenges posed by Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn. Includes consideration of Kuhn’s views about the role that paradigm theories play in scientific revolutions.

116) Does Science Give Us Truth?
Looks at correspondence, coherence, and pragmatist theories of truth, and how conflicts have carried over into realist vs. antirealist views of science, including the Einstein-Bohr debate about quantum mechanics.

Set 9: (300 word essay on this set due by July 14)

117) Are Interpretations True?
Inquires how it is possible for us to interpret and understand each other? Is there a true or correct way of interpreting the meaning of what people say or write? Explores the views of Schleiermacher, Gadamer, and Wittgenstein on language and meaning.

118) Is Morality Relative?
Discusses whether all morality is culturally determined, or whether there are some moral values that are valid for all cultures. Interviews with Harman, Wong, and Rachels explore the claims of relativism. The implications of relativism for the issue of child labor are explored.

Set 10: (300 word essay on this set due by July 19 -notice this is a few days less than usual)

119) Does the End Justify the Means?
Looks at utilitarianism against the backdrop of a construction project with environmental import and discusses the problem of what is intrinsically valuable.

120) Can Rules Define Morality?
Addresses formalist theories of ethics, particularly that of Immanuel Kant, and explores some of the implications of his views for particular issues in ethics.

Set 11: (300 word essay on this set due by July 24)

121) Is Ethics Based On Virtue?
Explores Aristotle’s and other ancient views of virtue and the good life and contemporary virtue ethics with its focus on emotions, personal relationships, character, and long-term values.

122) Moral Dilemmas... Can Ethics Help?
Considers the relevance of utilitarian, Kantian, and virtue ethics to the situation of a family with a severely impaired newborn.

Set 12: (300 word essay on this set due by July 29)

123) What Justifies The State?
Asks whether the state is merely an artificial arrangement we construct to make life better, as social contract theorists claim, or whether it’s a natural organism through which people achieve their potential.

124) What Is Justice?
Explores questions about distributive justice, both from a national and global perspective, examines the views of Aristotle, Marx, Rawls, and Nozick .

Final Week for Introduction to Philosophy:

Send in your term project and Set 13: (300 word essay on this set due by August 4)

125) What Is Art?
Looks at several views on the nature of art, and how these have been affected by changes in artistic styles and techniques. Danto, Duchamp, Lyotard and others are interviewed on the significance of contemporary conceptual art.

126) What Is The Meaning Of Life?
Evaluates how the meaning and purpose of life have been viewed in light of religion, culture or history, as well as from an individual existential perspective. Program features the views of Hegel and Kierkegaard..



a. Keep copies of all your work in case some email gets lost in cyberspace. Keep a copy of your work on your own disk or machine in case the e-mail system doesn't work right.

b. Email is the best way to ask questions but you can also call me. You can call me at the office (786-4458, or 786-7649) or my home phone. My home phone number is 694-1023. During my office hours I will be in Eagle River Center 211. The most convenient method to reach me is e-mail.

This syllabus may be adjusted at any time to meet the class or instructor’s requirements upon one week’s notice to students. 


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Readings in Velasquez - list updated for edition 11 and Nozick



Set 1

Lesson 1. What is Philosophy?




1.8                                 none in ed. 10 or 11

Nozick chapters 1 (Introduction) and 26 (Philosophy's Life)


Lesson 2. What is Human Nature?


2.6                               not yet in ed. 10 or earlier editions


2.8                               none in ed. 11

7.9                               in ed. 10 or earlier 7.10                                   

Nozick chapter 3 (Parents and Children)


Set 2

Lesson 3. Is Mind Distinct from Body?


2.7  Refer again to Readings from Lesson 2                  

Nozick chapter 6 (The Holiness of Everyday Life)


Lesson 4. Is there an Enduring Self?


5.6  (Hume)                  in ed. 10 or earlier 5.7

Nozick chapter 2 (Dying)


Set 3

Lesson 5. Are We Social Beings?


Nozick chapter 8 (Love's Bond)


Lesson 6. What is Real?






3.9 (especially question 9)         in ed. 10 or earlier 3.10

Nozick chapter 12 (Being More Real)


Set 4

Lesson 7. How Do We Encounter the World?


3.10                                         in ed. 10 or earlier 3.11

Nozick chapter 9 (Emotions)


Lesson 8. Do We Have Free Will?



Nozick chapter 7 (Sexuality)


Set 5

Lesson 9. Is Time Real?


Nozick chapter 4 (Creating)


Lesson 10. Does God Exist?




Nozick chapter 5 (The Nature of God, The Nature of Faith)


Set 6


Lesson 11. Can We Know God Through Experience?



Nozick chapter 19 (Theological Explanations)


Lesson 12. Is Reason the Source of Knowledge?



5.7                               in ed. 10 or earlier 5.8

Nozick chapter 23 (What Is Wisdom and Why Do Philosophers Love It So?)

Set 7


Lesson 13. Does Knowledge Depend on Experience?


5.6 (review Hume)                    in ed. 10 or earlier 5.7

Nozick chapter 24 (The Ideal and the Actual)


Lesson 14. Does the Mind Shape the World?


6.5                               in ed. 10 or earlier 6.6

Nozick chapter 21 (Enlightenment)


Set 8


Lesson 15. How Does Science Add to Knowledge?


5.7                               in ed. 10 or earlier 5.8

Nozick chapter 17 (The Matrix of Reality)


Lesson 16. Does Science Give Us Truth?




Nozick chapter 16 (Importance and Weight)


Set 9


Lesson 17. Are Interpretations True?


Nozick chapter 15 (Value and Meaning)


Lesson 18. Is Morality Relative?



7.8                   in ed. 10 or earlier 7.9

Nozick chapter 20 (The Holocaust)


Set 10


Lesson 19. Does the End Justify the Means?


7.9                               in ed. 10 or earlier 7.10

Nozick chapter 14 (Stances)


Lesson 20. Can Rules Define Morality?


Nozick chapter 11 (Focus)


Set 11


Lesson 21. Is Ethics Based on Virtue?


Nozick chapter 10 (Happiness)


Lesson 22. Moral Dilemmas...Can Ethics Help?


Nozick chapter 13 (Selflessness)


Set 12


Lesson 23. What Justifies the State?



8.5                               in ed. 10 or earlier 8.6

Nozick chapter 25 (The Zigzag of Politics)


Lesson 24. What is Justice?


8.5 (review Marx and Rawls)                in ed. 10 or earlier 8.6

7.9 (review)                                          in ed. 10 or earlier 7.10

Nozick chapter 22 (Giving Everything Its Due)


Set 13


Lesson 25. What is Art?


Nozick chapter 18 (Darkness and Light)


Lesson 26. What is the Meaning of Life?


9.4                                           none in ed. 10 or earlier

9.5                                           none in ed. 10 or earlier

8.5 (review Marx)                                in ed. 10 or earlier 8.6

Nozick chapter 27 (A Portrait of the Philosopher as a Young Man)


Robert Nozick "The Examined Life"

You can certainly read this text through from start to finish. Some chapters might make better sense if you had read the previous chapters in order. What I am trying to do is fit the chapters to the topics. Some chapters fit the topics I have selected better than others. The topics of Time and Art strike me as hard choices especially. I would have like to put Creating with Art but that left me with nothing exactly appropriate to go with Time. If after reading the book you feel a different sequence would be better, please let me know!

This syllabus may be adjusted at any time to meet the class or instructor’s requirements upon one week’s notice to students. 


This page is maintained by William S. Jamison. It was last updated March 12, 2017. All links on these pages are either to open source or public domain materials or they are marked with the appropriate copyright information. I frequently check the links I have made to other web sites but each source is responsible for their own content.