Introduction to Philosophy

University of Tennessee Knoxville

Fall, 2011


There are many different kinds of introductions. Imagine you’re at a party. As soon as you walk in the door, you’re introduced to a room full of people. They tell you their names, you shake their hands. In a few minutes, you can’t remember anything about any of them. That’s one kind of introduction. Another kind of introduction may take place at the same party, a short while later, when you go to get a drink. You say hello to the person standing in the corner, near the bar or the refrigerator. Before you know it, this person is telling you their life story. Maybe you don’t want to hear it. Maybe this person has cornered you and is keeping you from getting to know the other guests at the party. But this person might also have something interesting to say. Maybe they’re someone you’re glad you had the opportunity to meet.

Although it may be uncomfortable, this course aims to provide the latter kind of introduction to philosophy. It will force you into a corner with philosophy, present strange ideas, and pose difficult questions. Hopefully, you will see the value of some of these strange ideas and formulate some answers to those questions as you become better acquainted with philosophy. I hope that you will get to know philosophy so well that you even begin to love it. After all, philosophy means love of wisdom. Great philosophers, philosophers who love wisdom more than anything else, have spent their lives trying to understand what philosophy is and how to get to know it better, so an introduction might not be enough to really know and love philosophy. We will, however, do our best.

We will explore the historical context in which philosophy emerged by studying the works of Sophocles, Aristophanes, and Plato. We will then proceed to explore different models of philosophical life and thought, exemplified by the Cynics, Stoics, and early Christian philosophers. After that, we will consider modern conceptions of the philosophical life, notably those found in Descartes, Kant, and Nietzsche.

In the process of reading, thinking about, and discussing these works, we will address important conceptual questions. The answers to these questions are not reducible to the peculiarities of ancient Greek literature or culture or the opinions of their authors; yet they are questions which must be asked if we are to get to know philosophy, namely, “what distinguishes love of wisdom from wisdom?” “Does the distinction wisdom and the love of wisdom mean that one can love wisdom without attaining it? Must one already be wise in order to love wisdom? Do lovers of wisdom have wisdom as their own, do they have a proprietary claim on the object of their affections? Does that make wisdom the property of a bunch of long-dead Athenians, medieval schoolmen, modern scientists, Germans, and university professors? Or does it have something to offer students in the twenty-first century?


Technology in the Classroom: Because laptops, ipads, ipods, cell phones, and other electronic communications devices inhibit discussion and limit participation, they are not to be used in class. Exceptions to this policy may be considered on an individual basis, but abuse of these exceptions (checking e-mail, social networking, texting, etc.) during class time will result in the loss of all attendance and participation points for the course.

Assignments: Students will be expected to pass an in-class mid-term exam, write a 7-page final paper, and turn in six 2-page reflection papers. These reflection papers will serve as readers’ journals as you make your way through the course reading. The mid-term exam will be an in-class essay, testing your knowledge of the course material. The final paper will help you develop your understanding of philosophy and its significance more systematically.

Paper Submissions: Papers must be submitted according to standard formatting (one-inch margins, double-spaced, twelve-point Times New Roman font). Papers displaying enlarged fonts, line spacing, and page margins annoy me and they will be graded punitively. Citations must refer to the texts and editions required by the syllabus. The use of outside sources is strongly discouraged, but they must be cited when they are used. References should be noted parenthetically in the text and should be accompanied by a full bibliographic entry on a works cited page. Extensions will only be granted in exceptional circumstances. Late papers will be marked down 10% for every day after the due date.

Academic Integrity: The definitions of cheating and plagiarism contained in Academic Standards of Conduct for the University of Tennessee ( will apply to all written work submitted in this course. All incidents of plagiarism will be reported to the Dean of Students.

Grading: The mid-term and final papers will each be worth 25% of your grade. The reflection papers will constitute another 25% of your grade. The remaining 25% of your grade will be derived from attendance and participation.

Attendance: Attendance will be considered a necessary form of participation. Frequent and unexcused absence may result in failure of the course, or, in less extreme circumstances, lowering of the attendance and participation portion of your grade.


Required Texts: Required texts are available at the bookstore. You must use the required editions and translations, even if you purchase them elsewhere. These editions and translations include the following:

-Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Included in Sophocles I. Edited and Translated by David Grene. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

-Aristophanes. The Clouds. Translated by Jeffrey Henderson. Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing, 1992.

-Plato. Five Dialogues (Second Edition). Translated by G.M.A. Grube. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2002.

-Epictetus. The Handbook (The Encheiridion). Translated by Nicholas P. White. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1983.

-Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. Translated by Joel C. Relihan. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2001.

-Descartes. Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy. Translated by Donald Cress. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1999.

-Friedrich Nietzsche. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Translated by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.

Supplementary Texts: Supplementary texts will be made available by the instructor. They will either be held in reserve at the library, reproduced online, or will be distributed in class. While they are considered required reading, they will generally be short excerpts from longer texts. These are intended to provide additional information about the required readings, or to serve as interesting points of contrast to the required readings.


August 17: Introductions

August 19: Sophocles, Oedipus the King

Supplementary Reading: Aristotle: Poetics (Selections)

August 22: Sophocles, Oedipus the King

August 24: Aristophanes, The Clouds

August 26: Aristophanes, The Clouds

August 29: Plato, Apology

August 31: Plato, Apology

September 2: Plato, Apology

September 5: No Class (Labor Day)

September 7: Plato, Phaedo

September 9: Plato, Phaedo

September 12: Plato, Phaedo

September 14: Plato, Phaedo

Supplementary Reading: Nietzsche, The Gay Science

September 16: Diogenes Laertius, Life of Diogenes the Cynic

September 19: Diogenes Laertius, Life of Diogenes the Cynic

September 21: Epictetus, On the Cynic Calling

September 23: Epictetus, The Handbook

September 26: Epictetus, The Handbook

September 28: Mid-Term Exam

September 30: No Class (Fall Break)

October 3: Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy

October 5: Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy

October 7: Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy

October 10: Anselm, Proslogion (Selections)

October 12: Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy

October 14: Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy

October 17: Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy

October 21: Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy

October 24: Descartes, Discourse on Method

October 26: Descartes, Discourse on Method

October 28: Descartes, Discourse on Method

October 31: Descartes, Discourse on Method

November 2: Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (Selections)

November 4: Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (Selections)

November 7: Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (Selections)

November 9: Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (Selections)

November 11: Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

November 14: Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

November 16: Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

November 18: Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

November 21: Philosophy in the 20th & 21st Centuries

November 23: In-Class Writing Workshop

November 25, No Class (Thanksgiving)

November 28: What is Philosophy?

December 2: Final Papers Due

2 responses to “Introduction to Philosophy”

  1. Jamie Leslie says :

    Hey Colin,
    I enjoy perusing your blog and checking out your syllabi. Where do I sign up for your courses?


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