Introduction to Philosophy (PHIL 20101-03, T/R 3:30-4:45)

PHIL 20101-03

Tuesdays & Thursdays 3:30-4:45pm

330 Coleman Morse Center

Professor Margaret Schmitt //

Office Hours Wednesdays 12:30-3:30 pm in 205 Malloy Hall


Teal-Square crop

Philosophy engages a capacity we all have to wonder—about ourselves, the world, and our place in the world. This course enables you to systematically examine these topics, reflecting on your own views as well as the relationships between your views and alternative views espoused by great thinkers throughout history. We explore questions falling under five main headings:

(1) Epistemology: What is knowledge? What justifies us in believing what we do?

(2) Metaphysics: What are we like as human beings? Are we free? Are we morally responsible? Are we primarily thinkers or doers?

(3) Philosophy of Religion: Does God exist? If God exists, why is there evil in the world? Should we practice a religion?

(4) Ethics: How should we live? Are there objective moral truths? What does morality require?

(5) Existentialism: Is death bad? What makes our lives meaningful?


All required reading will be accessible via links on the schedule below.


  • Participation and attendance: 10%
    • You are expected to read the assigned material before coming to class. Your questions, comments, and critical responses are encouraged in class discussion. Every unexcused absence will negatively affect your participation grade. The only excused absences are those excused due to university activities that the university takes to be sufficient reason to miss class or documented illness.
  • Reading Responses: 10%
    • Over the course of the semester, submit 14 short write-ups (~250 words) on readings (viz. the primary philosophical texts that get assigned as opposed to supplementary popular media pieces that are sometimes included) you find particularly interesting, challenging, or objectionable. Explain what you think is interesting, challenging, or objectionable about the reading. You need not and should not summarize the entire article. Write-ups must be emailed to me (in Word or PDF format) by 11:59pm the night before the class for which the reading is assigned. (Note: I do not always open the reading responses right away. Do NOT include questions or comments that require immediate attention in the email submitting your reading response. Always send a SEPARATE email with any questions or comments you would like me to address.)
  • Argument Reconstruction: 5%
    • Together with one of your classmates reconstruct assigned arguments from course texts
  • Podcasts: 20%
    • Throughout the semester you will produce two podcasts engaging philosophical issues discussed in class. Each podcast is worth 10% of your final grade. Podcasts are assigned as group projects to be completed by 3 students working together. (However, podcasts can be completed individually if desired.)
  • Co-Authored Paper: 25%
    • Together with one of your classmates write an analytical essay engaging a philosophical issue discussed in class. (The essay can be completed individually if desired.)
  • Philosophy in Action Campaign: 30%
    • Students will work in groups of 5. Each group will identify an issue in the community with a philosophical dimension that the group would like to address. The group will then develop a campaign to address that issue, and put the campaign into action during the semester. Groups will present their campaigns and results to the class during the time of the final exam.

Academic Honesty

In all assignments, students are responsible for compliance with the University’s honor code, which can be found at

The philosophy department has prepared a document explaining what the honor code requires of students when writing a philosophy paper. I strongly recommend that you read this document, which is available at:


[Click on tiles for each day’s readings and assignments]

Tu 1/16
2_Cartesian Skept, pt1
Th 1/18
Class cancelled
Tu 1/23
3_Cartesian Skepticismpt2
Th 1/25 **Argument Reconstruction Due**


4_Common Sense
Tu 1/30
5_What is common sense
Th 2/1
6_Getting past appearances
Tu 2/6









Th 2/8


















Libertarian Free Will
Tu 2/13
Compatibilist Free Will
Th 2/15








Th 2/22
13_Hard Determinism
Tu 2/20 **Podcast #1 Due**








Active Life
Tu 2/27
Th 3/1








15_God is First Cause
Tu 3/6
16_God doesn't exist
Th 3/8 **Campaign Proposal Due**










17_God Allows Freedom
Tu 3/20
18_Faith is Immoral
Th 3/22








19_Faith is Inherently Valuable
Tu 3/27
20_Moral Nihilism and Relativism
Th 3/29








21_Moral Absolutism
Tu 4/3
Th 4/5








Tu 4/10 **Paper Due**
24_Give to the Poor
Th 4/12








25_Work Alongside Poor
Tu 4/17
Th 4/19








Tu 4/24
27_Life is Meaningless
Th 4/26








Tu 5/1 **Podcast #2 Due**