Winter 2017: Introduction to Philosophy


Peter Gratton, PhD

Winter 2017

Class Time, Location: T/TH 1400-1515 ED 2018B

Office Hours: T/TH 12:00-2:00pm and by appointment



What is philosophy? Does one need training to become a philosopher? What is the relationship between the philosopher and the culture surrounding him/her? In this class, we will read a number of different thinkers in relation to these basic, though far from easy, questions. We will begin with perhaps the most famous text in the history of philosophy, namely, Plato’s Apology, which will take us through questions of the role of philosopher in society. We will then read from important canonical figures in philosophy, from Aristotle to Fanon. We will broach a number of important philosophical concerns, from the nature of the soul to the problems of societal inequality. But our first and last concern is captured in the question, what is called thinking? In modernity, thought and its patient formation is being short-circuited in the name of efficiency, where all that can be said must fit into 120-character tweets or text messages to friends. Are we on the cusp of loving thought forever? By reading closely these canonical and ever-important texts, we will find it is always necessary to think about our world and our place within it, politically, socially, and ethically.

Please note: the syllabus may change due to various circumstances, including canceled classes due to inclement weather, or a choice to continue to focus on one or more philosopher. The website should be consulted continuously for the most current assignment and evaluation dates.

Books ordered:

Plato’s Five Dialogues. Hackett, 0872206335

Aristotle, Metaphysics, Penguin, 0140446192

Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, Hackett 0872201929

Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, Norton, 0393304515

Fanon, Black Skin/ White Masks, Grove, 0802143008


Thursday, January 5

Introduction to the course

Tuesday, January 10

Plato’s Apology, pp. 21-45

Multi-media assigned:

1. BBC In Our TimesSocrates

2. Philosophy Bites, “Edward Craig – What is Philosophy?” (podcast)

Thursday, January 12

Plato’s Apology, 45-80

Tuesday, January 17

Meno, pp. 58-80

Quiz 1: Short quiz on Plato’s Apology (5 pts)

Thursday, January 19

Meno, pp. 80-93

Tuesday, January 24

Crito (all)

Read MUN’s guide on plagiarism:

Thursday, January 27

Quiz 2 (2 pages, single-spaced): What is a philosopher? Use three examples–at least–from Plato’s MenoApology, and Crito to illustrate what makes Socrates different from others (the sophist, the politician, etc.). Begin with a clear introductory paragraph and make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors. (10 pts)

Tuesday, January 31

Plato, Phaedo, 93-120

Thursday, February 2

Phaedo, 120-end

Tuesday, February 7

Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book Alpha 1 -4

Also Assigned:

  1. Prof’s opening lecture and overview.
  2. Nigel Warburton, Philosophy Classics, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (podcast) 

Quiz 3 (2 pages, single-spaced, 10 pts.): In the Phaedo, Socrates gives three arguments for the immortality of the soul. Quickly provide them. Then tell the reader why Socrates gives these arguments. What is the relation of the soul to the body? How does this relate to any of Socrates’ views as depicted by Plato in our previous readings? Begin with a clear thesis statement about the relation of the soul and the body in the Phaedo, then go through the three arguments, noting any problems you see with them. Then end by describing how this relates to the type of philosophy Socrates does, as you depicted it in your first paper.

Thursday, February 9

Aristotle, Metaphysics, Alpha 8-9; Gamma 1-7

Tuesday, February 14

Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book Delta (first 16 definitions)

Thursday, February 16

Aristotle, Metaphysics, Theta

Tuesday, February 21

Winter Break

Thursday, February 23

Winter Break

Tuesday, February 28

Aristotle, MetaphysicsLambda 1-12

Quiz 4 (3 pages, single-spaced, 10 pts.): In Book Alpha of the Metaphysics, Aristotle lodges several criticisms of Plato’s theory of the forms. First, describe what is Plato’s theory of the forms. Next outline the criticisms of Plato that one finds in Aristotle. Why are they important? How is this important for understanding Aristotle’s own work?

March 2

Descartes, Meditations, Meditation 1 and 2

Also assigned:

  1. Philosophy BitesA.C. Grayling on Descartes’ Cogito” (podcast)
  2. BBC, In Our Times“Mind/Body Problem” (podcast)

March 7

Descartes, Meditations, Meditation 3

March 12

Arendt, Essays in Understanding, “Mankind and Terror,” and “On the Nature of Totalitarianism: An Essay in Understanding” 

Quiz: Descartes’ first three meditations (5pts.)

March 14

Arendt, Essays in Understanding, “Understanding and Politics.”

March 16

Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, chapters 1-3

Also Assigned:

  1. BBC, In Our Times, “Psychoanalysis and its Legacy”
  2. Professor’s podcast on Freud.

March 21

Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, chapters 4-6

March 23

Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, chapters 7-8

March 28

Fanon, BS/WM, preface, chapter 1

Also assigned:

  1. The Steiner Show, “What Fanon Said”

March 30

Fanon, BS/WM, chapter 5

April 4

Fanon, BS/WM, chapter 6 and 8

Quiz 5: Short answer and multiple choice on Fanon and Freud. (10 pts.)

FINAL EXAM: Final Exam Study Guide  April 19, 3-5pm


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s