1. The structure and content of the course

This introduction to the discipline of philosophy has two goals—one related to the content of the course, and the other to methods of reasoning.

The first and most obvious is to introduce you to five major problems in philosophy, and to some of the solutions which have been offered to them. These problems, in the order in which we will address them, concern:

    1)     God

    2)     Value

    3)     Freedom

    4)     Mind

    5)     Knowledge

The second purpose, which is at least as important, is to introduce you to the rigorous study of reasoning.

Philosophy is all about the reasons thinkers have (or had) for their beliefs. While it is important to know what various great philosophers thought and said, it is even more important to know why they thought that and said it,  to be able to follow their reasoning, and to be in a position to critically evaluate it.

Not all reasoning is good reasoning.  Not all reasons offered for sundry views are good reasons.  Indeed, one of the things we will learn in this course is just how difficult it is to come by good reasons. So we will need to find out what it takes for an argument to be a good one.

By the end of the course you should have a firmer grip on what makes an argument a good one, know how to criticize an argument, and know how to evaluate and construct  arguments yourselves. Knowing what a good argument consists in is the first step to being able to articulate good arguments.

To write well you must be able to think well. To think well  you have to know what good thinking, good reasoning, is. If you know what makes for a good argument you will be well on the way to being able to write a good paper.

We will break this study of arguments down into a number of simpler steps.

    1)     Detecting arguments in written texts;

    2)     Analyzing the structure of arguments in texts (or, reconstructing such arguments);

    3)     Recognizing different types of arguments a

    4)     Knowing what makes an argument good or bad;

    5)     Constructing a criticism of an argument;

    6)     Writing a paper based on the criticism or development of an argument.

2.     Classes

Each week there will be two classes (T/Th 930 am - 1045 am) in Hellems 177.

Most sessions will involve around 45 minutes of presentation and half an hour active discussion.  

I expect a high level  of class attendance and active participation.  Philosophy is not a body of doctrines.  Rather, it is a skill to be mastered.  You learn the skill of doing philosophy by doing philosophy.

3.     Texts, Readings and Resources

TEXT:  There is NO required textbook for the course. The following book, by Thomas Nagel, is a short introduction to philosophy which I highly recommend. Even though it is only recommended, it is a great little book to read and to own, at least for a time.  It can be purchased, new or used, on Amazon for a fairly modest sum.

Thomas Nagel,  What does it all mean? (New York: Oxford University Press).  Any edition.

It is an excellent introduction to a host of interesting problems in philosophy. We won't have time to explore all of them in the course but we will look into most of them. You could browse through it in an evening or two. But if you find you really don’t like the kinds of problems presented in it, then I might advise you to withdraw from this course, sign up for something else, and allow someone else to explore philosophy.  

READINGS: There will be a reading for each class and you must have done the reading by the time you attend your recitation. The readings will be posted on the Canvas website. So make sure you know how to access this course through Canvas.

OTHER WEB RESOURCES: Students sometimes like to look for other philosophical writings. I don't really encourage you to do this. There is an enormous amount of rubbish out there, especially the kind of rubbish that a google search will turn up on these topics.

If you want to look at online encyclopedias do not be tempted to explore Wikipedia.  When it comes to philosophy it has a low overall quality.  (I know this because I once tried to amend an entry a topic on which I am an expert, on a purely factual matter, and some nutter kept changing it back to the fake stuff.)  If you want to explore topics further or find good references for further reading you can consult:

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

The SEP is a properly peer-reviewed publication and the articles are all written by experts in the field. Occasionally I may recommend articles from this site for those of you interested in a more intensive investigation.  However it is written more for professional philosophers than for those at the introductory level, so do not be too daunted if you don't find it completely accessible.

For genuine introductions to topics, you might try:

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The IEP includes some quite good introductory articles on a range of topics.


My personal webpage is

My office is Hellems 273.

My office hours for this course are: Thursdays 2.00 pm - 3.00 pm in Hellems 273.  If that time does nto suit you then make an appointment at some other hour.

The best way to contact me is  email: I generally respond pretty quickly.