Introduction to Philosophy (PHIL 110A)

Introduction to Philosophy: Knowledge and Reality

What is the point?

The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions, which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects arouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find, … that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only incomplete answers can be given. Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts that it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities, which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never traveled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect.
– Bertrand Russell,   “The Value of Philosophy” in Perry and Bratman

The previous statement also applies to women. 

Carla Fehr

This course considers different ways that we create and recognize different sorts of knowledge both about the world and about other people.  Our tools are analytic arguments that we employ while reading, writing, and talking. Developing these tools is as much a part of this course as employing them in our philosophy discussions.

Here are some things that we hope you gain from this class:

  • Skills
    • Recognize an argument and know the difference between premises and conclusions, and validity and soundness
    • Be able to make a philosophical argument
    • Have proper confidence in what you know
  • Content
    • Learn about a few areas of metaphysics and epistemology
    • Understand the positions of a few important philosophical figures
  • Attitudes
    • Love philosophy
    • Epistemically curious and humble

Class participation:

This class will be more effective if you read, as well as think about, the text that we will be discussing that day, before you come to class. You should drink coffee before arriving to class. I will expect you to raise questions concerning points that either intrigue or confuse you. Some people define philosophy as a discussion among friends, and it is my job to keep it that way.  We will regularly engage in critical and possibly heated discussion.  It is imperative that you treat your classmates with empathy and respect. Sexist, racist or homophobic comments will not be tolerated.

Important Dates:

Date Activity Percent of final grade
Sept 27 Quiz 1 5
Oct 22 Quiz 2 8
Oct 27 Paper 1 Due 18
Nov 10 Quiz 3 8
Nov 19 Paper 2 Due 23
Finals week Final 28
Weekly Online participation 10

 Quizzes and Final:

There will be three quizzes and one final exam in this class. They will all be multiple-choice.  They will be cumulative.


You will write two, three-page papers for this class. The papers will be double-spaced and in 12 point, black font. You will submit them to LEARN as Word (.doc or .docx) documents.

In these papers you will make a philosophical argument. This entails (1) identifying the conclusion of your argument, (2) identifying the premises, or in other words, the reasons why the conclusion is true, (3) showing how the premises support the conclusion, (4) telling me why I should think the premises are true. If there is a trade off between being fancy and being clear, pick clear. You will receive a handout on the details of these papers at the beginning of the semester.

Paper one:

Do you prefer Descartes Rationalist approach, or Locke’s mechanical empirical approach to understanding the relationship between our ideas and things in the world? What are the reasons for your preference?

Paper two:

Do you prefer Popper’s logical approach or Kuhn’s historical approach to understanding the philosophy of science? What are the reasons for your preference?

Online participation Assignments

You will write 6 short online participation assignments. The Introduction assignment due on September 12 is mandatory. You will complete five of the remaining 11 possible assignments. On days that you complete an online assignment you will read the online assignments of at least two other students. You will receive a handout on the details of these assignments at the beginning of the semester.

Philosophy readings:

Philosophy readings are difficult. If they were easy, they wouldn’t be any fun. Don’t be discouraged if you need to read the material several times before you arrive at a critical understanding of it. We all have to do that. Before you come to class you should have at least begun to wrestle with some of the following questions: What is the argument that the philosopher is trying to make? Is the argument valid? Are the premises true? What are the implications of this argument? Why is this argument important or interesting? and Why would someone be motivated to make such an argument?

Online participation assignment Reading
Sept 8 Syllabus
10 Introductions Logic (Kenyon)
15 Kenyon 3-2-1 Logic (Kenyon)
17 Aristotle (Metaphysics)
22 Lecture comment/question Aristotle (Physics)
24* Quiz Introduce Moderns and Descartes
29 Med 1– 3-2-1 Descartes Med 1
Oct 1 Descartes Med 2
6 Make a connection between Borges and Descartes Borges and Carroll
8 Locke (On human understanding)
15 Locke 3-2-1 Locke (On human understanding)
20 Introduce Berkeley
22 Quiz Lecture comment/question Berkeley
27 Paper 1 Due Code (What can she know?)
29 Longino 3-2-1 Longino
Nov 3 Summary
5 Popper 3-2-1 Popper
10 Quiz Popper
12 Kuhn 3-2-1 Kuhn
17 Kuhn
19 Paper 2 Due Lecture comment/question Quine
24 Fox Keller
26 B and G Study group 3-2-1 Biology and Gender Study Group
Dec 1 Summary and Review