Introduction to Philosophy FA '12 @ Cortland College


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Philosophy is an activity.  It is a way of investigating and interrogating both the world and our understandings of the world.  In this course, you will learn the basics of philosophy by both exploring what others have argued in the past (and the present) and examining your own views of the world and those of your classmates (as well as those of the instructor).
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At the end of this course, you will be able to

  1. a) Understand the general practice of philosophy, as well as some concepts and theories underlying ethics, personal identity, and metaphysics
    b) Explain the practice of philosophy and the above concepts to others.
  2. Competently read and analyze philosophical arguments
  3. Articulate coherent and thought out personal values in select areas of philosophy

To meet these goals, you will

  • Contribute to class discussions
  • Write regular short essays
  • Create quiz questions on course topics
  • Successfully complete regular quizzes
  • Successfully complete short reading quizzes
  • Complete a comprehensive final exam

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Form of Course

Because philosophy is such a broad field, no introduction course can cover the full range of topics.  Instead, we will concentrate on the process of doing philosophy within these three areas: the nature of reality, personal identity, and ethics.  During the first half of the course, we will cover the basics of argumentation and general concepts in ethics.  During the second half of the course, we will focus more narrowly on historical and modern philosophical texts.

The basic format of the course is a combined lecture-discussion.  You are responsible for being in class, awake, paying attention, and ready to interact.  Throughout the semester, we will do a number of different in-class activities, such as watching film clips, working through thought experiments, writing quiz questions, and (of course), taking quizzes.  Additionally, there will be short essays assigned during each unit.

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Required Texts

Author: WESTON, Anthony
ISBN: 9780872209541
Publisher: HACKETT

Author: PERRY, John
ISBN: 9780915144532
Publisher: HACKETT

Author: BERKELEY, George
ISBN: 9780915144617
Publisher: HACKETT

All other texts will be available electronically through the course site or provided by the instructor.

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The instructor's grading philosophy is here.

Short Essays [40%]

During each unit, a short essay question will be assigned to the class.  Each of these essays should be roughly 1000 words.  Specific instructions will be given on the individual assignments.  A general rubric is available here.

Reading Quizzes [5%]

Occasional short multiple choice quizzes will be given during each unit to test engagement with the texts.  These quizzes will only test basic factual information, not conceptual understanding.

Quiz Questions [15%]

At the end of each unit, one class period will be devoted to making quiz questions. Each student should come to class with 4 questions prepared from the current unit's material (2 multiple choice and 2 short answer).  In small groups, students will work together to pick out and polish the best questions and test each others knowledge.  At the end of the class period, each group will turn in 10 questions.  See instructions for full details.

Study Guide [15%] Updated: Oct 10 to eliminate Quiz Question assignment and add Study Guide assignment.

On the last day of each unit, students will work together in groups to complete a blank study guide provided by the instructor.  This activity counts as an open book, collaborative quiz.  The study guide will be graded, corrected and returned to the students to use as a study guide for the unit quiz.

Quizzes [25%]

After each unit (except the last one, see Final Exam below), a quiz will be given on the material from the unit.  The quiz will be made up entirely of student-created (and instructor-edited) quiz questions.  The basic format will be a combination of multiple choice and short answer questions.

Final Exam [15%]

At the end of the semester will be a comprehensive exam (read: covering all material from the course) consisting of new material from the final unit and quiz questions taken from previous quizzes.

Extra Credit: Philosophy Bites Interviews

Each unit will have one or more optional audio files to listen to.  Twice during the semester, you may write a short paper about one of these interviews.  Extra Credit points will be applied to that unit's quiz grade (Unit 4's extra credit points will be applied to the Final Exam).

Full instructions for the Extra Credit papers can be found here.

Extra Credit: Notes [S003: 5% | S004: 5% | S005: 15%]

Reflection on lecture and class discussion, as well as readings, is an important part of learning new information.  At the same time, concentrating too hard on taking notes during class can distract you from the substance of the material.  This extra credit assignment will help with both of these issues.

Volunteers will take notes for the course, meeting stringent requirements.  Guidelines for notes can be found here.

The amount of extra credit is dependent on the number of volunteers.

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You cannot learn all the material in the course unless you are present.  You are allowed three [3] unexcused absences during the semester.  For each unexcused absence beyond this number, your final grade will be penalized one-third of a letter grade (an A would become an A-; a B- would become a C+).   Please discuss any necessary absences with the instructor before the absence or as soon after as possible.

Each lateness counts as 1/3 of an unexcused absence.

Students with Disabilities

Cortland College is committed to upholding and maintaining all aspects of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. If you are a student with a disability and wish to request accommodations, please contact the Student Disability Services. Any information regarding your disability will remain confidential. Because many accommodations require early planning, requests for accommodations should be made as early as possible. Any requests for accommodations will be reviewed in a timely manner to determine their appropriateness to this setting.

Academic Integrity

All students must adhere in their work to the College’s academic integrity policy, which is listed in full in the Student Handbook. By taking this course, the student agrees to adhere to the College’s Honesty Code. Any and all violations of the Honesty Code will be referred to the Academic Honesty Committee and the referred student will fail the assignment. All graded assignments should be worked on by the student submitting the work and no one else, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the syllabus or by the instructor.

As per the Student Handbook, section 340, examples of academic dishonesty include, but are not limited to:

  1. Failure to use quotation marks: sources quoted directly must be shown with quotation marks in the body of the project and with the appropriate citation in the references, notes or footnotes
  2. Undocumented paraphrasing: sources "put into one's own words" must have the source cited properly in the body of the project and in references, notes or footnotes
  3. Creating false documentation: purposefully presenting wrong information in references or citations or manufacturing false information used in references, notes and footnote

The full academic integrity code can be found here

Some resources on avoiding plagiarism here (@ Cortland's English Dept).

In addition, consider this from Hugh LaFollette (originally from, no longer available):

Why Shouldn’t I Plagiarize?

  1. “It undercuts the aims of education. If you plagiarize you will not learn the skills you should learn – you are merely copying someone else’s words and ideas – and that you already knew how to do . . . .
  2. You will get caught. Think about it for a minute: if you plagiarize from a good source – one that is likely to help your grade – the prof may well know (or can easily find) the source. And if your writing style drastically changes from sentence to sentence or from paper to exam, that will be obvious to even a causal observer. To plagiarize well – to plagiarize in a way that is likely to land you a decent grade and minimize the chance you will get caught – you would have to know the material so well, that it would be easier – and more educationally beneficial – to write the essay yourself.”

Grading Philosophy

Grades are meant to reflect your achievement in the course.  Achievement can only be judged by the work you turn in.  Effort is input, while achievement is output.  This means that no amount of effort can guarantee you a good grade in this course.   Of course, all things being equal, the ideal situation for grades would be that effort actually did determine achievement.  But all of us are skilled in different ways.  This means that some students may achieve an A with very little effort, while others might struggle to get a C with overwhelming effort.  Part of overcoming this inequality is knowing where to apply your effort.

The course is designed to help you put the right kind of effort into the assignments.  The hopeful outcome being that you can show that you have learned what you are meant to learn and get that A.  However, keep this in mind: effort is no guarantee of a good grade.  Think of effort as a safety net.  If you work hard, you will not fail (in fact, you will most likely not get a D).  But a B requires that you can successfully demonstrate the basic knowledge and skills and an A requires that you demonstrate mastery of basic and advanced knowledge and skill.

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