Introduction to Philosophy – PHIL 1303-007

Fall 2016 – Texas A&M University – Kingsville

TR 9:30-10:45 am
ENGC 106
3 credit hours

Instructor: Brian Robinson, Ph.D.
Rank: Assistant Professor
Office: Rhode 313
Office Hours: MWF 9-11 & TR 11-12
Phone: (361) 593-3602
Fax: (361) 593-3502
*Preferred Mode of Communication


Catalogue Description:

Inquiries into the nature of the self, the universe and society as they relate to various definitions of reality, truth and value with readings from major works of classical and modern philosophers.

Course Overview:

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”

– Bertrand Russell

The primary aim of this course is not to train you to be professional philosophers, but rather to teach you to think philosophically. The ability to think philosophically consists of four things: (1) the courage to question that we haven’t questioned (and often would rather not); (2) the ability to make distinctions; (3) the ability to interpret and understand complex ideas expressed in written or spoken form; (4) and the ability to intelligibly express one’s own questions, assumptions, or complex ideas. These skills are practical for almost any human endeavor, personal or professional. This is so in part because philosophy is everywhere; it’s just hiding and you have to know where to look. To develop your ability to think philosophically, we will examine some long-standing philosophical questions, such as what’s the right thing to do and why should I do it, do I exist and if so what am I, what is my mind, do I have free will, and what’s the meaning of life anyway? We will examine the answers provided by some philosophers, both ancient and contemporary. Finally, it is important to note that philosophy happens in dialogue with others, not alone in an armchair. Therefore, we will regularly engage in dialogue with one another in order to engage in philosophy and train ourselves to think philosophically.

Students will:

  • Develop the ability to reveal philosophical assumptions of themselves and others through dialogue,
  • Gain an understanding of major theories in ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics,
  • Learn to engage in reasoned debate and discussion with others,
  • Improve skills in active reading to understand and explain philosophical texts,
  • Improve your ability to think critically, reason soundly, and write clearly,
  • Develop the ability and a willingness to question one’s own previously unquestioned assumptions.


Technological Requirements:

  • Computer or mobile device that can access Blackboard (,
  • Printer (or access to university printer),
  • Audio recording device that can produce a digital audio file. (NB: most computers, smart phones, or tablets can already do this without extra software. Speak with the instructor if you do not have access to any such recording device; something will be worked out at no extra cost to you.)

Course Grading:

  1. Attendance/Participation – 10%
  2. Dialogue Project 1 – 9%             September 29 @ 5 pm
  3. Dialogue Project 2 – 12%          October 27 @ 5 pm
  4. Dialogue Project 3 – 15%          November 29 @ 5 pm
  5. First exam – 18%                            October 11 @ 2 pm
  6. Second exam – 18%                      November 8 @ 2 pm
  7. Third/Final exam – 18%             December 2 @ 10:30 pm


Dialogue Projects

Three group dialogue projects will be assigned through the semester. The groups will be two (or three if necessary and pre-approved by the instructor). Each group will conduct and record a philosophical dialogue on one of the assigned topics. Each student will then upload to Blackboard the audio file of the dialogue and a written summary. The minimum length of the dialogues will increase throughout the semester. The first must be 10 minutes; the second 20 minutes; the third 30 minutes. The conversation must stay on topic for that length of time. The conversation starters for the first dialogue will initially be supplied by the instructor, and students will become increasingly responsible for these for the next two. 20% of the grade will be based on the dialogue itself. 80% will be based on each student’s individual work (preparation for the dialogue and the written summary).


There will be three exams, each over two sections of the course. (See the Schedule below.) Since the point of studying philosophy is not to memorize who said what, but rather to understand what was said (and be able to explain it in your own words), the exams will be take-home and open-notes exams. The questions will be distributed at least one week prior to the due date (see above). The are to be submitted via Blackboard; a demonstration of how to do this will be provided in class prior to the first exam. They will be subject to an automated plagiarism checker (Turnitin or similar).


Attendance and Participation

Since philosophy is hard and much of the course will be discussion based, attendance is necessary for learning. It is your responsibility to be in class. Attendance will be taken regularly, and at the beginning of class. You may miss up to five class days without penalty, but on the sixth missed day your overall grade in the course will be reduced by one-half grade for each day missed beyond the fifth. Falsifying the attendance of another student by signing in for them carries the penalty of immediate course failure. (See Academic Misconduct below.) I do not provide make-up lectures for students who were absent from class. (If, however, a student has problems understanding certain points about material covered during an absence, I will help by answering specific questions.)

Please provide documentation if absences are due to legitimate reasons. (That means come talk to me.) Excused absences are absences excused by the university for official purposes, those excused by me in advance, or those excused subsequently for documented reasons (e.g., health problem, family emergency). I will review material from an excused absence, after the student has obtained notes from a classmate and if the student has clearly read the assignment first.

Participation includes being in class on time, having the assigned text for the day, and being attentive in class. Simply being physically present in class is not sufficient to attain a passing attendance grade. As such, it is necessary to demonstrate some form of active engagement in the learning process. Besides being on time, and silencing cell phones, I must stress the importance of everyone allowing for an open forum for discussion, so that we are all free to speak our minds on any topic without condemnation or hostility. Our job is to examine and evaluate ideas, not each other.


Reading Assignments

The schedule for reading assignments is provided below. They are to be read prior to that day’s class. Students are required to always bring the assigned reading to class. If the assigned reading is online (instead of the textbook), students are required to bring a printed copy.

Office Hours

My office hours are listed above. My door is open and I highly encourage students to come see me. If my office hours don’t work for you, let me know and something can be arranged.


I am available by email and you are welcome to contact me with questions. I generally respond the same day. However, you should think of any email to me as something formal, instead of as a casual email to a friend. You must include a subject, a salutation, and your name. I advise you read the following as well:

Cell Phones, Computers, & Tape Recorders

  1. You may not use your phone during class (for calling or texting).
  2. Unless otherwise stated, you may not use a computer (or tablet) in class, including to take notes or to view an assigned online reading. Several studies have shown usage of computers in class leads to more distraction and lower grades for you and those around you.
  3. You may only record the course if you obtain my permission beforehand.


All assignments must be turned in by the date and time specified. I do not accept late work unless class was missed for a documented emergency that arose without time for you to submit your work in advance. If you know that you will miss a class session prior to that session, you will need to submit your assignment in advance.


A: Outstanding. The individual displays thorough mastery of all material and genuine engagement with the subject matter. This grade is reserved for those individuals who attain the highest levels of excellence in thought and expression. Exceptionally good writing.
B: Good. The individual displays accurate understanding of the bulk of material. Writing is clear and free of mechanical errors.
C: Adequate. The individual displays basic grasp of roughly three fourths of the course material. There may arise occasional misunderstanding or inaccuracy. Writing is acceptable.
D: Marginal. The individual displays a grasp of the course material that deserves credit. Quality of apprehension of material indicates lack of effort and/or lack of aptitude.
F: Unacceptable. The individual displays virtually no grasp of the material as addressed in the course.

A+   97 – 100
A      93 – 96
A-     90 – 92
B+    87 – 89
B       83 – 86
B-     80 – 82
C+   77 – 79
C      73 – 76
C-     70 – 72
D+    67 – 69
D      63 – 66
D-    60 – 62
F       0 – 59

Six Drop Policy

The following provision does not apply to students with Texas public college or university credits prior to Fall 2007. The Texas Senate Bill 1231 specifies the number of course drops allowed to a student without penalty. After a student has dropped six courses, a grade of QF will normally be recorded for each subsequent drop. Additional information on Senate Bill 1231 is available at the Registrar’s Office at (361) 593-2811 and at

Students with Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodation of their disability. If you believe you have a disability requiring an accommodation please contact the Disability Resource Center (DRC) as early as possible in the term at (361) 593-2904. DRC is located in the Life Service and Wellness building at 1210 Retama Drive.

Classroom Conduct Expectations

Students are referred to the Student Code of Conduct section of the Student Handbook.

Students are expected to assume individual responsibility for maintaining a productive learning environment and conduct themselves with the highest regard for respect and consideration of others. Ongoing or single behaviors considered distracting will be addressed by the faculty member initially, but if the behavior becomes excessive and the student refuses to respond to the faculty member’s efforts, the issue will be referred to the Dean of Students. In the case of serious disruptive behavior in a classroom, the instructor will first request compliance from the student and if the student fails to comply, the instructor has the authority to ask the student to leave the classroom. The student is expected to comply with the instructor’s request and may subsequently contest this action using procedures established by the department. If the student fails to leave after being directed to do so, assistance may be obtained from other university personnel, including the University Police Department. The incident shall be handled as an academic misconduct matter using established departmental procedures for academic misconduct to determine if the student should be allowed to return to the classroom.

Academic Misconduct

Students are expected to adhere to the highest academic standards of behavior and personal conduct in this course and all other courses. Students who engage in academic misconduct are subject to University disciplinary procedures. Students are expected to be familiar with the current Student Handbook, especially the section on academic misconduct, which discusses conduct expectations and academic dishonesty rules.

Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to:

  1. Cheating: deception in which the student misrepresents that he/she has mastered information on an academic exercise that he/she has not mastered; giving or receiving aid unauthorized by the professor on assignments or examinations.
  2. Aid of academic dishonesty: Intentionally facilitating any act of academic dishonesty. Tampering with grades or taking part in obtaining or distributing any part of a scheduled test.
  3. Fabrication: use of invented information or falsified research.
  4. Plagiarism: unacknowledged quotation, and/or paraphrase of someone else’s work, ideas, or data as one’s own in work submitted for credit. Failure to identify information or essays from the internet and submitting them as one’s own work also constitutes plagiarism. Please be aware that the University subscribes to the Turnitin plagiarism detection service. Your paper may be submitted to this service at the discretion of the instructor.
  5. Lying: deliberate falsification with the intent to deceive in written or verbal form as it applies to an academic submission.
  6. Bribery: providing, offering or taking rewards in exchange for a grade, an assignment, or the aid of academic dishonesty.
  7. Threat: an attempt to intimidate a student, staff or faculty member for the purpose of receiving an unearned grade or in an effort to prevent reporting of an Honor Code violation.

Other forms of academic misconduct include but are not limited to:

  1. Failure to follow published departmental guidelines, professor‘s syllabi, and other posted academic policies in place for the orderly and efficient instruction of classes, including laboratories, and use of academic resources or equipment.
  2. Unauthorized possession of examinations, reserved library materials, laboratory materials or other course related materials.
  3. Failure to follow the instructor or proctor‘s test-taking instructions, including but not limited to not setting aside notes, books or study guides while the test is in progress, failing to sit in designated locations and/or leaving the classroom/ test site without permission during a test.
  4. Prevention of the convening, continuation or orderly conduct of any class, lab or class activity. Engaging in conduct that interferes with or disrupts university teaching, research or class activities such as making loud and distracting noises, repeatedly answering cell phones/text messaging or allowing pagers to beep, exhibiting erratic or irrational behavior, persisting in speaking without being recognized, repeatedly leaving and entering the classroom or test site without authorization, and making physical threats or verbal insults to the faculty member, or other students and staff.
  5. Falsification of student transcript or other academic records; or unauthorized access to academic computer records.
  6. Nondisclosure or misrepresentation in filling out applications or other university records.
  7. Any action which may be deemed as unprofessional or inappropriate in the professional community of the discipline being studied.

Harassment /Discrimination

Texas A&M University-Kingsville will investigate all complaints that indicate sexual harassment, harassment, or discrimination may have occurred by the facts given by the complainant. Sexual harassment of anyone at Texas A&M University-Kingsville is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Any member of the university community violating this policy will be subject to disciplinary action. A person who believes he/she has been the victim of sexual harassment, harassment, or discrimination may pursue either the informal or the formal complaint resolution procedure. A complaint may be initially made to the complainant’s immediate supervisor, a department head, any supervisory employee, the Dean of Students (593-3606), or the Office of Compliance (593-4758). Regardless of who the complaint is filed with, the Compliance Office will be notified of the complaint so it can be investigated.


The following is the tentative schedule. It is subject to change during the course of the semester (including readings, assignments, and exam dates). I will announce in class and post online any such changes. Readings are to be completed before coming to class on the assigned day. All readings are from the textbook unless noted below.


8/23 – Louis Pojman, “How to Read and Write Philosophy Papers” (Blackboard)
Bertrand Russell, “The Value of Philosophy”
8/25 – Plato, “Apology: Defense of Socrates” (book)
Plato, “Allegory of the Cave” (Blackboard)


8/30 – Plato, “The Republic” (book II, chapter V)
9/1 – James Rachels, “Morality is not Relative” (Blackboard)
James Rachels, “The Divine Command Theory” (Blackboard)

9/6 – John Stuart Mill, “Utilitarianism”
9/8 – Immanuel Kant, “Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals”
Recommended: J. David Velleman, “A Brief Introduction to Kantian Ethics”

9/13 – Rosalind Hursthouse, “Right Action”
9/15 – Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”
Onora O’Neill, “Kantian Approaches to Some Famine Problems”


9/20 – John Rawls, “A Theory of Justice”
9/22 – Robert Nozick, “Justice and Entitlement”
               Annette Baier, “The Need for More Than Justice”

9/27 – Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Racisms”
9/29 – Linda Martin Alcoff, “Racism and Visible Race”
               Dialogue Project 1 Due – 5 pm

Personal Identity

10/4 – John Perry, “A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality,” the first night
10/6 – John Perry, “A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality,” the second & third nights

10/11 – David Hume, “We Have No Substantial Self with Which We Are Identical” (Blackboard)
                  Buddist Scripture, “Questions to King Milinda”; (Blackboard)
                  Exam 1 due – 8 am
10/13 – Daniel Dennett, “Where Am I?”

Philosophy of Mind

10/18 – René Descrates, “Substance Dualism” (Blackboard)
10/20 – David M. Armstrong, “The Nature of Mind”
                  Frank Jackson, “What Mary Didn’t Know”

10/25 – A. M. Turing, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”ght
10/27 – John R. Searle, “Minds, Brains, and Programs”
                  Dialogue Project 2 Due – 5 pm 

Free Will

11/1 – Peter van Inwagen, “The Powers of Rational Beings: Freedom of the Will”
11/3 – David Hume, “Of Liberty and Necessity”

11/8 – Harry G. Frankfurt, “Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person”
               Exam 2 due – 2 pm
11/10 Susan Wolf, “Sanity and the Metaphysics of Responsibility”

Existential Issues

11/15 – Epicurus, “Moderate Hedonism” (Blackboard) AND Epictetus, “Stoicism, Enchiridion” (Blackboard) (11/16
11/17 – Epictetus, “Stoicism, Enchiridion” (Blackboard)
                  “Epicureans, Stoics, and Skeptics: Happiness for the Many” (Blackboard)

11/22 – Albert Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus”
11/24 – Thanksgiving Break – No Class

11/29 – Thomas Nagel, “The Absurd”
                  Dialogue Project 3 Due – 5 pm

Final Exam

12/7 – Final Exam (Friday; 8:00-10:30)