An Introduction to Philosophy - Spring 2008 Instructor: Dr. Elizabeth Shadish
Office Hours: On campus: TTh, 8 - 9:30 am Office Phone: 310=660-3763
  Online: MW, 4 - 6 pm ("instant email")

It's sometimes said that everyone has some sort of "philosophy of life," and there is some truth to this belief. Most people do have a "way of looking" at things, or a "world view," and in this sense do have a philosophical perspective on life. More precisely, most people operate under a set of assumptions about what is real (the world of science only? or the spiritual dimension of religion as well?), what is most valuable (happiness, justice, power?), and so on.

This course is an introduction to how - and why - philosophers have reflected on just these sorts of assumptions. We will look at what major thinkers have had to say about such things a the meaning of life, the just society, and the extent and nature of human knowledge and human thinking. The course is especially designed to expose students to these issues in a debate-type format, ensuring that multiple perspectives are available for study.

Generally, then, this course is designed to familiarize students with the issues, themes and problems that dominate in philosophy, to develop the student's ability to think critically about the fundamental questions addressed in philosophical inquiry and to introduce students to the relevance of philosophy to social and civic institutions and issues. A bit more specifically, students will learn to:

  • Identify the main areas and problems of philosophy
  • Describe and practice what it means to argue philosophically
  • Explain and critique positions and views on various philosophical issues in the three main areas of philosophical inquiry, including ethics (theoretical and applied), metaphysics (existence of God and of the mind, freedom) and epistemology (knowledge and science)
  • Assess philosophical issues from multiple theoretical perspectives
  • Clarify their own views on fundamental philosophical issues

Course Readings (required)

Waller, You Decide!: Current Debates in Introductory Philosophy (Pearson/Longman, 2007)

Rachels, Problems from Philosophy (McGraw-Hill, 2004)

Course Grading Policies

Grades will be based primarily on written work. Grades will not be based on the student's position on any particular issue we might discuss, nor on how close or far that position might be to my own. As we will see, philosophical inquiry often deals with issues about which reasonable people can disagree. Thus, I will be looking for and rewarding accuracy of understanding, serious efforts to contribute to college-level discussion of our readings and a willingness to question and challenge all positions, even one's own.

Grade Scale
A = 330 - 297 (90%) B = 296 - 264 (80%)
C = 263 - 214 (65%) D = 213 - 165 (50%)

Course Policies

  • Keeping all your graded work in some format - and, for that matter, all communication that relates significantly to your graded work - is strongly recommended. While problems related to grades or "missing emails" and the like are very unlikely, you can always document your concerns in those unlikely events if you can produce your work. Even if instructor error is involved in your reasons for discussing a grade or a prior communication, no changes can be made without such documentation.
  • There is no extra credit for this course. Students may take one make-up test, if necessary and if your reason for missing a test is unavoidable. For each exam (if necessary) there will be one specific makeup date I will arrange. While I will consider all affected schedules, there is no guarantee that this makeup date will accomodate the schedule of any one student, and there is no recourse beyond this makeup date/time to take exams.
  • Journal submissions will be accepted late, but will be penalized by 10% for each day that they are late.
    Note: in my experience, even one late journal submission can lead to a lower grade. I strongly urge you to use your option to submit late journal entries only in genuine emergencies.
  • Debate reports may not be submitted late (exception: use the the NQA form). These reports must be submitted in typed/double-spaced form.
  • Should it be necessary to send me work through my ECC email outside our course site, it is essential that you send your work to me in the correct format - that is, as a Microsoft Word document (*.doc), rich text format doc (*.rtf), Adobe Acrobat format (*.pdf) or a plain-text document (*.txt). Any work I receive that I cannot open in a timely manner simply because it is in the wrong format will be penalized as late until I receive it in the correct format, even if the original, incorrectly formatted work arrived on time. If you have any problem with this requirement, you must speak with me before beginning to turn in your assignments.

  • If you find it necessary to drop the course, please do not assume that I will drop you if you stop participating. Even though I reserve the right to drop any student who has failed to submit two assignments in a row, experience has taught me that this sometimes happens when the student still intends to remain in the class. If you must drop, it is your responsibility to take care of the paperwork yourself.

  • Unfortunately, because of the actions of some, I must make the following statement: plagiarism of any sort will not be tolerated. If you plagiarize, you will automatically and permanently receive a grade of "0" for the assignment in question, and will lose all rights to petition for a higher course grade should you be, for instance, only one or two points from the total necessary for that higher grade. A clear and user-friendly summary of avoiding plagarism can be found at Purdue University's Online Writing Lab (OWL -