PHL100 Problems of Philosophy, past assignments

23 January
A conception of philosophy. The branches (logic, epistemology, metaphysics, ethics) of philosophy. Using and understanding arguments (basic concepts of logic). Phenomenology. Background on Plato.

0: The branches of philosophy

25 January
The Allegory of the Cave. Read the selection that I sent you, and be prepared to explain it to the rest of us.

Question 1: Can we have certain knowledge?

27 January
Read: this paper by Harry Frankfurt.

Reading question: answer on BlackBoard or on a paper to hand in in class: What is bullshit, according to Frankfurt? Give an example when you unfortunately said something that was bullshit (according to Frankfurt's definition).

30 January
What is knowledge? What is truth? Read this paper by Gettier before class.

Also: bring you copy of Descartes Meditations to class. If we have time we'll start reading it together.

1 Feb
Read Meditation I.

This meditation is very brief, so it's not hard to read it before our next class. Be sure you can answer the following questions when you are done (re-read the meditation if you cannot):
  • What is Descartes trying to do? What is his goal here?
  • Descartes says he's willing to assume he's not mad, but what human activity makes him worry that he may be systematically deceived?
  • Why does he say that his argument shows composite things are to be doubted? What are composite things, anyways?
  • What is the "evil genuis"? What role does it serve in Descartes's task?
Our library has The Matrix. If you go to the second floor you can ask them to borrow it and you can even watch it on one of the TVs there. If you've not seen Descartes's favorite movie, take some time this week to watch it.

There are some good translations of The Meditations on the web, for those of you waiting for the book. Also, the library has copies, and it has an ecopy you can read on a computer or other device. But here is a decent looking translation online.

Do get a copy of some kind (e or paper) that you can bring to class, though. We want to read it together often this semester.

3 February
Read Meditation II.

Homework: Write a brief but clear account, in your own words but in clear and complete sentences, of what Descartes claims (here in Meditation II) that he cannot doubt. Is he right? See if you can reconstruct his argument. This should only take a page, preferably typed. Due at the beginning of class, either in paper or in BlackBoard.

6 February
We'll review coherentism and some other alternative concepts to Descartes's approach. There will also be an online practice quiz. This can be taken on BB between 1020 am and midnight. It's short! Then, we'll discuss scientific method!

8 February
The quiz is short, so let's do it in the last 35 minutes of class. For 15 minutes before that, we will introduce our next topic: arguments for the existence of God.

Here is a study question.

Consider the following claim: This piece of wax can be made into thousands of shapes.
  • Suppose you are a foundationalist. How will you evaluate whether you should believe this claim?
  • Suppose you are a coherentist. How will you evaluate whether you should believe this claim?
  • Suppose you want to use the scientific method to determine what you should believe in this case. How will you evaluate whether you should believe this claim?
  • Suppose you are an empiricist, how might you expect to learn about such a thing?
  • Suppose you are a rationalist, how might you expect to learn about such a thing?

9 February
One time only, by popular demand, I am making practice quiz 1 available this day.

10 February
Read: Meditation 3 in Descartes.

A note about quiz 1. I use a rubric to grade that is precise but that makes my grades seem harsh. Don't worry, I grade on a curve. All your numerical grade indicates is how much you accomplished on the quiz relative to the questions. I can give you approximate course letter grades in a few weeks, when we have more work.