Notes on Introduction to Philosophy -- Phil A201

William Jamison - Instructor

Lecture 1

I begin the course by explaining what philosophy is. I use the following slide:

What is philosophy?

Doing Philosophy - love of wisdom

learning the tradition

taking up the quest

Study of the tradition

read the texts

learn the interpretations

Explanation: "Philosophy" is Greek for "love of wisdom." The link to William James What is Pragmatism starts with an explanation of philosophy.

Our university system has an institutional tradition associated with the subject of philosophy. This tradition entails the study of a certain corpus of philosophers and views them in certain categories. Idealism, realism, empiricism, rationalism, are some of these main categories. They are also broken up by historical period: ancient, medieval, modern, contemporary, are some of the traditional periods used. Most refer to our day as "Postmodern." One task of any philosophy course is to learn this tradition.

Philosophy is also a quest. The things we will discuss are the most important things in our lives: our values, beliefs in God and religion, and how we think the world works. Since these topics are so important to us, it becomes a great concern to us that we find the values we hold confronted by radically different views, especially when those views are presented in a manner that argues our previous views and beliefs are error. Depending on how well this presentation is done, we can easily find ourselves desperate for answers to questions that pull at our heart and soul. Philosophy in this light becomes a quest.

Study of the tradition: the texts we are using are perfect examples of core materials in the university tradition of what is important in the history of philosophy. You have to read these. Learning how to read them is part of learning the tradition. They do not read like anything else you may be familiar with. They are various in their presentation, and age, -- most are in translation -- which always makes things difficult. It is very much like learning a foreign language even in translation. The vocabulary is different and technical. Many of the words are familiar from other uses in everyday life, but in philosophy take on very specific meanings that can lead to confusion. To add to this, there are too many texts easily available for anyone to read even a small part of the tradition in a lifetime. How should we choose which texts to read? Which ones are most important?

Learn the interpretations: just as reading the Bible can lead each individual to come to their own interpretation of what they read, so reading philosophical works results in many interpretations of what is written. To some extent, this is actually encouraged by our tradition, and each student is encouraged to reach their own opinions. But there are also major parts of the tradition that should be interpreted in certain ways or points that have been successfully used throughout the tradition become lost. Reading the text on your own is important, but becoming familiar with the main points of the tradition in those texts is also important. This means the true benefit of the texts only comes after multiple readings. The "aha!" feeling only comes after work.

Slide two:

Why study philosophy?

As answer to the three main questions:

Who am I?

What is my place in the universe?

How do I maintain that place?

As part of a Liberal Arts Education:

to learn the craft of Free people

to understand the virtues

because we are curious

To understand other people

why do they believe and act the way they do?

Slide three:

Key issues:

texts are old the vocabulary is new

Texts are difficult Most are in translation

Cultures of the authors are not ours their ideas are easily misunderstood

You have to read to learn the tradition You have to learn the tradition to read

Some of our problems are different Some of our problems are the same

Slide four:


3 approaches to history of philosophy


inquiry will lead to truth and knowledge of the world

belief in progress of reason


inquiry traces a tradition to undermine it

paradox of truth is there is no truth


understands truth to belong to a tradition

seeks a view that explains all traditions

Explanation: How should we approach the study of philosophy? For reasons that will be more clear towards the end of the course, we will take the approach of "tradition." This was somewhat discussed with slide one, but the two alternatives need mention here. The method of "encyclopedia" follows the belief (primarily associated with the "Enlightenment" and the Britannica tradition (!)) that we can use scientific methods to find out all there is to know about the universe. As we find out each fact, and fact by fact compile all the facts we need to know all there is to know, our job will be done. This approach has been discredited and is no longer viable -- as we will see. The method of "genealogy" (primarily associated with Nietzsche) follows the trail of a tradition but then seeks to discredit that tradition by arguing that there can be no truth in mere accident. This tradition becomes hypocritical in the sense that it denies it's own genealogy, or plays with the nature of truth by recognizing that it all becomes nonsense. This is still a very popular view. I argue against using it towards the end of the course.

The approach that studies traditions -- very much as the genealogist does -- but holds that truth only makes sense within a tradition, seems to be the most cogent approach.

(Note, if this lecture is given in one three hour session the following is the second half. If it is given in two seperate class periods it is the second class.)

Following a break, I do a quick summary of what led up to the point at which Philosophy begins. This is too brief, but it sets the stage, so to speak, for our course.

The Greeks are credited with starting the western tradition of philosophy. (There are other traditions which may come up in discussion, but this is a course in the western tradition.) I like to discuss what went on before the Greeks to give an idea of how they may have gotten interested in what they did, and to show the relationship to neighboring cultures. In this I take what I consider the correct postmodern approach. I make use of what we now "know" concerning the evolution of man. (You may reference work done in Kenya, genetic codes that indicate a strong association with hundreds of thousands of years of experiences as hunter - gatherer groups, that only recently became "civilized." I also mention current work in the Middle East with regard to Egyptian studies, Dead Sea Scrolls, etc. and how these show us wonderful things about the relationships among the various cultures and the convergence of values and interests.) This leads up to the concern with water for all the various communities including the Greek, so it is no surprise that Thales asks what makes the universe tick and answers, "water." What makes it philosophy, from this point onward, is that the question is posed and answered in a manner we would recognize as "scientific" compared to the mythological traditions current before this.

Slide one:

Thales of Miletus, 6th century BC Water

Anaximenes Air

Anaximander Infinite

Heraclitus Fire (Change)

Anaxagoras Mind (atoms)

Pythagoras Number

Parmenides The One


Empedocles fire, air, earth, and water

Democritus Atoms

Sophists "Man is the measure" ex. Protagoras

Explanation: here is a list of some of the most notable along with the "arche" (Greek for "beginning, first cause, origin") they thought was the basis of all things. It is comparable to what theoretical physicists today study when they discuss quarks.

These are notes from the lecture I give associated with Leibniz comparing his theories with those of Stephen Hawking. (At this point in the lecture we may stay on this topic or pass on it until we do Leibniz.) They are a summary of what make up current thought about the "arche":

There are 4 forces in the universe (though two are now considered one!):

Gravity (weakest), Electromagnetic, Weak Nuclear, Strong Nuclear (strongest)

Particles: Atoms are made up of Protons (made up of 3 Quarks -- 2 up, 1 down)

Neutrons (2 down, 1 up)

Electrons ( spin particles)

The name "quark" came from a quote: "Three Quarks for Muster Mark" of James Joyce's in a bar that got picked up, as things often do. There are six Quarks:

Up, Down, Strange, Charmed, Bottom, Top

Each has three flavors: red, blue, and green

and a spin: (takes 2 x 360 revolutions to look the same)

0 (looks the same from all directions)

1 (looks the same after 1 revolution of 360)

2 (looks the same after 180 degrees revolution)

Pauli's Exclusion Principle - 2 similar particles can't be in the same position at the same speed.

Antiparticles and spin particles don't follow the exclusion principle. They are the force carrying particles and can be exchanged but have higher mass.

Those particles with less mass go farther.

Gravity -- Gravitons have no mass, spin 2 long range, virtual only

Gravitational waves are so weak we have not yet been able to observe them.

Electromagnetic force -- works only with electrons and Quarks but not with gravitons (no charge) and cause electrons to orbit nucleus. Million to the 7th power stronger than gravity. Spin 1 particles, photons exchanged. (energy is released and visible light can be seen with the naked eye)

Weak nuclear force (radioactive) only acts on spin particles

Spin 1 massive vector bossons W+, W-, Z0 (naught) each mass = @ 100 GigaElectron volts (or 1 thousand million electron volts)

Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking: fast -- then particles are similar

slow -- then symmetry breaks (like balls on a roulette wheel)

Strong nuclear force holds protons and neutrons together. Spin 1, Gluons.

If time reverses symmetry T changes.

Other particles --- Quarks -- anti-Quarks.

neutrinos, anti-photons, (Top quark is a Preon). Muons? Etc.?

As I said, these are just my notes. I recommend Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time to make sense out of it. We will discuss these theories when we discuss Leibniz. But I bring this up here to show a relationship between how science views nature and how the Greeks did at the beginning of the philosophical tradition. They are of the same frame of mind. They both view the universe as a physical puzzle that we can explore and figure out. There are also remarkable similarities. Are the four forces similar to the arches?

Here are a couple of links you might find interesting with respect to some things discussed last evening at class:  is the PBS site for the programs about Brian Greene (String Theory) for an article discussing current brain research.


This doesn't mean that Greek philosophy was not religious. Far from it, there is a great deal of association between the Greek religions and the philosophical theories that developed.

But one result of the differences of opinion, and the inability of any group to persuade the others, was the development of the last group on the list above - the Sophists.

They conclude that we can never know the answers to these kinds of questions. Instead, they view "Man as the measure" of values and truth. I compare this group with our contemporary views. As Americans we are familiar with a plurality of views concerning what is valuable. In fact, "we" consider it valuable that each person have the right to their own views and to act according to their values as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. We realize a difficulty here in professing a religion or belief in a value as the correct religion or belief by adding "for me" when we discuss it. "That might be the right religion for them, but not for me." Peter Berger points out in his book, The Heretical Imperative, that, as Americans, we view religion as personal preference. "What is your religious preference?" Just as we have a supermarket for all the various kinds of foods to choose from, so we have hundreds of religious institutions put in the position where they have to advertise their service (The Family Church) to attract the right members. How does this square with the view that a religion is instituted by God? How can they all be right? Is Man the measure? If it feels good do it? Is the Warlock just as close to God as the Baptist?

Sophists taught for money. They were hired by wealthy parents to teach their children what would enable them to accumulate wealth, power and prestige. What we consider the virtues had little or no importance among them, winning was all that counted. No matter what was necessary, get that dollar was the goal. Since that is what the people wanted, that is what the Sophists taught, popular opinion was right. In our country, popular opinion directs policy. Presidents lead by polling their constituents and playing to the desires of the people.

Socrates thought this was a horrible way for his community to raise their children.

He engages the wise men of his day in dialogues. He does this for two reasons. One is that he seeks the wisest man. He is interested in doing this because a friend of his had asked the Oracle at Delphi, was there anyone wiser than Socrates and the mouth of Apollo said, "None." Socrates could not believe this, and so, he spent the rest of his life in search for a man that was wiser than he was. The second reason he engages the wise in dialogues is to teach them a lesson. They think they know many things. While they may know much concerning their specialty, they let that fool them into thinking that they know a lot about everything. They have failed to examine themselves. Above the entrance to the temple of Apollo is the phrase, "The unexamined life is not worth living." For Socrates, this is true. He engages those who consider themselves wise in dialogue to examine his own life and to encourage others to examine theirs. We view this, today, as wonderful, engaging dialogue, but for the elite, the wise, the Sophists of Athens, this was insulting and corrupting. They put Socrates on trial and found him guilty of corrupting the youth and not worshipping the gods.

Prior to next class, read the Apology. This is Socrates' defense at his trial.

There are also some sections of the Republic that should be read prior to next class.

His slide:

The Socratic Problem

Meet the challenge of sophistry with Socratic method

Socratic method

challenge hasty and popular opinions with tests from everyday life

get others to think for themselves through dialogue

Socratic ethics

Knowledge is virtue - "Know thyself."

Socrates met this challenge so well the elite of his community came to hate him and put him on trial. The charge was that he did not worship the Gods, and that he corrupted the youth. He was found guilty and condemned to death by drinking hemlock.

Aristocles was one of Socrates' students and began a school in a public garden in Athens named the Academy. He became known as Plato which means "broad." (Some say this was because he had a very broad head, others that it was because he had such broad knowledge, still others because he was fat.) His first slide:

Hierarchy of the Sciences

1 Arithmetic 2 Geometry 3 Astronomy 4 Harmonics 5 Dialectic

Doctrine of Ideas

Idea of the Good as source of all the rest (logos)

Forms or Ideas are real entities

Ideas belong to a realm, a "heaven of Ideas"

Ideas are eternal and not dependent on a mind

Ideas are apprehended by reason, not by sense

His second slide:

Nature - Mater is perishable, imperfect, unreal


Demi urge - urge to create order and beauty

Pattern - order and beauty follows the Ideal

Receptacle - source of evil, matter, brute factuality

Good - animates the world soul as our soul animates us, source of all reason and natural order

Psychology - Soul is principle of life, immortal

1 Rational 2 Spirited 3 Lower appetites

Slide three:

Eros - sensuous love and desire for the beautiful and good is the same basic impulse as desire for eternal values and immortality

Ethics - the ideal is a well-ordered soul

body is the prison house of the soul, release and return to Ideal World the goal and end of life

reason rules over the spirited faculty - brave

reason rules over appetites - temperate

Politics - the Republic is "Man writ large"

Explanation: Plato came to conclude that we did know virtue, but that our relationship with the ideas was closest before we were born. Our souls are united with all of the ideas in heaven, where everything is perfect. At birth we enter into a material body. The shock of our entering into the material world causes us to forget much that we knew. By following a well set up program following the hierarchy of the sciences, we can gradually come to remember much of what we forgot. Learning is remembering. Our connection with the material world causes us to experience pain and deprivation because we long to return to where our soul feels at home, in heaven.

Next to the Bible, Plato's Republic has had the greatest impact on western culture of any book. Plato's philosophical position is called Idealism. We will see more about this later.

Next lecture 


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