Introduction to Philosophy

Fall term

Dr. David Roberts

Texts: 1. Introduction to Philosophy Through Science Fiction (located at

2. Short Stories and text located on reserve at the Sterne Library front desk.

3. I may be reached by e-mail at or by phone 934-4805.

Course Description and Purpose: In daily living, we make many judgments. Some are crucial, some moderately important, while others are relatively lack-luster and common sensical. Judgments are made utilizing criteria that we affirm to be correct. The sets of criteria, which each of us has, constitute what may be called primary beliefs. In this course, we will examine a number of primary beliefs that have been developed by many thinkers, some persons just like you and me, some who have remarkable intellect or insight. More than likely some of these beliefs will be similar to your own if not identical, and I would suspect that you regard these beliefs as highly fundamental in making decisions and judgments. The purpose of this course is to examine critically primary beliefs and the reasons supporting them. The justification for such critical examination is that none of us would wish to make important decisions and judgments using beliefs that are incorrectly formulated or based on improper foundations.

Benefits: The main benefits of the course for you are threefold. (I borrow these ideas from Monroe Beardsley). One, you will obtain increased clearness with respect to your own beliefs and their formulation. Two, you will obtain increased assurance that your beliefs are reasonable, that the grounds of your beliefs admit of consistency and adequacy. Three, your beliefs will become more harmonized into a unified set of beliefs so that your judgments will retain a high degree of compatibility.

A final benefit for you is that an organized set of primary beliefs has practical value. Your future employer will interview you to determine one primary thing; he has problems and he needs a problem solver. He wants someone who can recognize a problematic set of conditions, ask the proper questions, obtain the relevant data, suggest and test a resolution to the problem, and carry through. This course will attempt to develop in you a critical attitude; it will be an intellectual boot camp, as it were. The goal will be to develop critical thinking skills now so that you will not have to try to develop them later, which will be too late. To put it frankly, now is the time to develop the problem solving skills you will need to succeed in the professional or business world.

A side benefit is that the course will be fun, at least, I hope so. Part of that fun will be your helping me to find out what works with the text and short stories. A lot of the fun will also be hammering out arguments in class. Your input will be invaluable. Much of how the book turns out will depend on you. I think that you will have fun critically examining the contents and determining what makes sense and what doesn't.

Along those lines, please do not hesitate to send e-mail concerning criticisms, corrections or suggestions. Or, just drop me a written note. May I suggest that you keep a running diary about class discussions and the text. Since the book is free, mark in it your notes and comments. Then, bring up your points in class so that we may discuss them with everyone else.

Requirements: There will be four exams, each worth 25 points: total possible points 100. The exams will be multiple-choice, true/false, fill in the blank, and short answer. Please, do not show up late for an exam. Should you come in late and someone has left, then you will be required to take a make-up exam. (See below about make-up exams). There is the possibility of Bonus Quizzes at anytime during the course.

Office Hours: I do not have an office at UAB. However, should you need to see me, please catch me after class and we will find a place to meet. If at any time you need help, do not hesitate to contact me, but please do not wait until the last minute should there be something important (for example, doing poorly on an exam).

Class Attendance: Attendance is required. Roll will be called on an irregular schedule, but usually taken each class. Six absences constitute failure of the course. You are responsible for keeping up with the number of your missed classes. If you must miss a class, please have a friend take notes for you. If you are late, please enter quietly and take a chair by the side. Do not cross in front of the class, as doing so may interrupt the concentration of your classmates, not to mention my own. Should you have to leave early, please let me know. Sit at a side seat so that your exit will not disturb the class. Please turn your cellphones and beepers to silent mode.

Makeups: (NO EXCEPTIONS) Quizzes or exams will not be made up unless I am contacted before or immediately after the class for the specific quiz. A missed quiz is recorded as a 0. Make up quizzes, which will be essay exams, will be more difficult than original quiz inasmuch as more time for study is obtained. All make-up exams will be on the day of the 4th quiz --usually the day scheduled for the final exam.

Cheating: Cheating is unacceptable at any time. Your answers on exams should be precisely that, your own. Using the ideas of others constitutes grounds for failing the course.

Specific Objective of Course:

1. I will expect you to know the definitions of some of the basic terms used in philosophical language. Clarification of these definitions should be of great use to you as you advance through school and life. You will also learn the introductory arguments for and against philosophical principles underlying fundamental beliefs. Pay attention to these arguments; they serve as the basic road maps to overall positions on more specific matters.

2. I will expect you at the end of the course to be able to make judgments that are supported by sound reasoning. You will learn the fundamentals of sound reasoning in our class discussions. Hands on practice is the best way to learn the methods of critique and defense. In or out of school, now or later, you will eventually have to make some very important decisions. It is all for the good to have a background in reasoning properly on important issues. That background will undoubtedly save you toil and trouble later on. Thus, try to participate in class discussion; present and defend your judgements/on important matters.

3. The course will be difficult. It will require careful reading, listening, dialogue, preparation for quizzes, and writing on your part. But though the going will be tough, the rewards, educationally and personally, will be there if you do the work. Remember, learning is done by the student; the instructor merely acts as a supply house and guide. You will get out of the course only what you put in it.

Helpful Hints:

1. Always prepare well ahead of an exam. Get together with other students and form a study group. Study group participants almost always do better on exams than persons who study alone.

2. To prepare for an exam, again get together with other students. Review your notes. If there are parts of your notes that do not make sense, clear the problems up as soon as possible. Needless to say, I am available for help if there are items in your notes which you do not understand. However, if you come to me for help, make sure that you have first read the material and struggled with the arguments.

3. If you don't understand a point made in class, raise your hand and ask a question. Don't let the point slip by; it may be an important one. In my class, there are no stupid or ridiculous questions or answers unless I make them.

4. Don't hesitate to ask questions after class if you think that you need a more complete explanation of points made.

5. DO NOT call me the day before the exam with a multitude of questions.

6. If you do poorly on exams one and two, make an appointment to see me. Do not go into exams three and four with a low average. Should you have difficulty with grammar, syntax or paragraph development of the written short answer questions, I strongly recommend that you seek help at the English Writing Lab located on the second floor of the Humanities Building.

7. When taking my essay exams (on any exams for that matter), follow these procedures:

a) read the questions carefully;

b) conceive in your mind what you think the main point(s) of the question are;

c) outline an answer to the question beginning first with an introductory paragraph telling the reader what you think is the problem, then go on to describe the solution you think is appropriate to the problem, and how you will establish that solution;

d) then develop your answer accordingly. Write carefully using straightforward language; be clear and precise. Don't pad your essay with irrelevant material;

e) proof read your exam; read it slowly moving your lips. If you have to pause because the sentence(s) doesn't make sense, because you have unrelated points in the same paragraph or sentence, because you cannot see where the argument is going or why it ended where it did, then you can be quite certain that I will have the same problems. Do not hope that I will read between the lines, as it were, to get the ideas clear for you. Remember, I will only give you credit for what you put down on paper;

f) Go over you exam when you get it back. If you have questions about it, call me and we will go over it together.

8. Prepare for exams at least two days before the exam. Do not prepare only on the day before. Never read any material just before the exam. It may be all that you remember and could confuse you.

9. When you take notes, write in complete sentences as much as possible. Cross-reference your notes with page numbers from the book. You should be able to read your notes as if they were a newspaper article on the discussed topic.

Course outline (the introduction and chapters one and two will be given a quick outline of the material covered):

Introduction: The philosophic enterprise and science fiction. What do philosophers do and why? What is a reasonable belief? What methods do we have to establish reasonable beliefs?

Philosophy, what's in it for me?

Consistency, completeness and pragmatism.

The dangers of doing philosophy.

The virtue of intellectual honesty.

Science fiction is an art that opens our minds to new experiences.

Chapter one: Epistemology and metaphysics. Descartes' experiment to search for certain knowledge. What are minds, bodies? How do they exist and/or relate to each other? What constitutes knowledge?

Descartes' philosophical and religious problem.

Descartes' method to find the Truth (knowledge): the method of doubt.

Knowledge consists of clear and distinct ideas; they are ideas which are absolutely certain and self-certifying.

Empiricism; we find that it cannot give us certain knowledge.

Realism; there is a real world apart from our ideas. But, is there?

Idealism; reality consists of minds and their ideas.

Solipsism; reality consists of just one mind, yours.

Skepticism; Can there be any knowledge at all?

A correspondence theory of truth will not do to obtain knowledge.

A coherence theory of truth will not do to obtain knowledge?

Kant changes the concept of an idea to establish an epistemology that makes knowledge possible.

The mind/body problem; are we minds and bodies? If so, how do they interact? Answers given by materialists, idealists, monists and dualists may not do.

Maybe God can solve Descartes' problem.

Chapter two: Religion. What are proofs for the existence of God? What are arguments that God does not exist --the problem of evil?

The argument for the existence of God from mystical experience.

There is a problem of "verification" with regard to sentences concerning God.

Miracles and morality; proofs and problems.

The teleological argument for the existence of God.

The cosmological argument for the existence of God.

The ontological argument for the existence of God.

The argument that a belief in God is a good bet.

A quick look at some specific arguments that God does not exist.

Theodicy; how can the attributes of God be justified in light of the evil in this world?

The nature of faith and its existence in a social context.

Chapter three: Existentialism. What is it to be a person in a world that is beyond understanding? What does it mean to be the author of one's own being to remove him/herself from the "human predicament?"

Chapter four: Freedom and Determinism. Are we persons or biological robots? What is this power called "free-will?" Can such a power exist and if not, what becomes of moral responsibility?

Chapter five: Social and Political Philosophy. What is a society? Is a marriage a society, a good society? What is the nature of a political society? What governmental controls over political liberty is a government justified in using?

Chapter six: Ethics. What ought we to do and how do we know? In situations of famine relief, premarital sex, animal rights, abortion and homosexuality, what is the morally correct action or principle to obey? Is socialized medicine the best measure to prevent moral tragedies in the ER?

Chapter seven: What is the meaning of life, especially your life?

Take me to the table of contents