PHIL 114: The Origins of Western Philosophy
Credit Hours: (3)
This course introduces students to philosophy by tracing the development of the discipline from its origins in ancient Greece to the decline of the ancient world in the 4th and 5th centuries CE. Through an examination of the work of such thinkers as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, students learn to engage in careful and critical reflection on both the human and the natural world and to experience the sense of wonder that animates the discipline of philosophy. This course has been approved for General Education credit in the Humanities Area of the curriculum.
Detailed Description of Content of Course
Through examining the major thinkers associated with the origins of Western philosophy, this course introduces students both to the history of philosophy and to the activity of philosophy as a discipline with a special focus and unique subject matter. Through the themes raised by these thinkers, students learn to engage in careful and sustained reflection on fundamental philosophical issues that confront each of us as thoughtful human beings such as:
Questions about the nature of human knowledge:
What, if anything, can we know with certainty? How is knowledge possible? Are there limits to what can be known? Does all knowledge come from experience? How can we distinguish genuine knowledge from belief or opinion?
Questions about the nature of reality:
What are the most basic characteristics of what we call reality? How can we distinguish reality from mere appearance? Is there a dimension to "being" beyond what we experience in ordinary life? Is there such a thing as mind or soul distinct from a body?
Questions about ethical and social-political values:
How should I live my life? What is the meaning and purpose of life? Is there a universal good in life? Are values objective and universal, basically social, or merely subjective? What is justice? What is a just society?
This course examines these and other basic philosophical issues through a study of the historical figures associated with Ancient philosophy. Because it is taught by several instructors, the specific course content may vary, but in every case the historical figures are examined with the purpose of engaging students with the fundamental philosophical questions outlined here. Historical figures covered in the course include a number of the following:
Pre-Socratic philosophers: Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Xenophanes, Pythagoras, Parmenides, Zeno, Heraclitus, and Democritus. Sophists: Protagoras, Antiphon, and Gorgias. Classical Greek philosophers: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Epicurean philosophers: Epicurus and Lucretius. Stoic philosophers: Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Cicero. Neoplatonic philosophers such as Plotinus.
By thinking about the issues raised by these significant thinkers in a systematic way, students will gain not only a basic understanding of the origins of Western philosophy, but also a basic understanding about what philosophy is, how philosophical thought is relevant to our lives today, and about what it means to be a thoughtful, critically educated human being.
Detailed Description of Conduct of Course
Though primarily a lecture course, this course will also involve students in small group and open class discussion and in a variety of formal and informal writing activities. Because this course is taught by several instructors, the specific format may vary, but in every case the course will involve a plurality of instructional strategies designed to engage students in doing philosophy not just learning about philosophers. Whether or not a formal research paper is assigned in the class, students will be expected to employ basic research skills, including the use of computer technology, to investigate and gather information on various topics and figures discussed in class. Among the teaching activities students can expect in this course are the following:
- Lecture and discussion led by the instructor
- Small group discussion
- In-class formal or informal debates
- Individual and group oral presentations
- Informal in-class and out-of-class writing assignments
- Individual and collaborative research activities involving library and Internet searches
- Written and oral analysis of texts
- Written summaries/ evaluations of out-of-class events
Goals and Objectives of the Course
Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to demonstrate (1) a basic understanding of the nature and methods of philosophy as an academic discipline; (2) a basic knowledge of some of the most important thinkers in the period of Ancient philosophy; (3) an historical sense of the ways our intellectual traditions evolve through the critical interplay of philosophical ideas (4) an awareness of the value of logical clarity and precision in both thought and expression; and (5) an appreciation of the relevance that philosophy – as critical reflection on one’s experience and one’s world – has in their own lives.
Broad General Education Goals
As part of the General Education program, this course is designed to help students achieve a number of broad learning goals in addition to the course-specific goals identified above. Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to:
- Think critically and creatively about the ideas, issues and problems encountered in the texts and lectures of the course.
- Identify and analyze logical arguments in the texts and construct logical and persuasive arguments appropriate to the subject matter of the course.
- Employ basic research skills, including the use of computer technology, to investigate and gather information on various topics and figures discussed in class.
- Work cooperatively with others in small group discussions, research projects, and presentations.
- Identify personal and cultural assumptions and values underlying the views presented in the texts and by classmates.
Goals for General Education Area Four – Humanities
In addition to the course-specific goals and the broad General Education learning goals indicated above, this course is intended to help students achieve a number of learning objectives in the Humanities Area of the General Education program. In particular, upon successful completion of this course students should be able to:
- Demonstrate knowledge of the general nature and methods of inquiry in the humanities, especially as those methods apply to the study of classical texts and cultures.
- Demonstrate an appreciation of the characteristically human quest for meaning, value, and order in life as this quest is manifest in the early period of Western civilization.
- Analyze and evaluate historically and culturally diverse conceptions of the meaning and purpose of human life as reflected in the works of various ancient authors.
- Interpret and critically evaluate classical philosophical and literary texts as diverse expressions of the human condition.
- Discuss in speech and writing the relevance of humanistic inquiry into meaning and value as this relates to their own lives.
Student progress in achieving the course-specific objectives and the General Education goals established for this course will be measured in a variety of ways. Because this course is taught by several instructors, the specific assessment instruments employed may vary, but in every case the instructor will employ a number of the following methods to evaluate aspects of student learning.
- Graded and ungraded homework assignments may be used to measure the student’s ability to read texts carefully, to identify underlying values and assumptions, to articulate central concepts, to analyze and construct logical arguments, and to employ basic research methods.
- Journals may be used to measure the development of self-reflection and progress in critical and creative thinking about the ideas, issues, and texts of the course.
- Class discussions, debates, and small group discussion may be used to measure the student’s logical reasoning and oral communication skills as well as the student’s ability to work with others in a shared process of inquiry.
- Individual and group oral presentations may be used to measure the student’s understanding of particular philosophical positions or issues as well as the student’s ability to present logical and persuasive arguments.
- Quizzes and objective tests may be used to measure the student’s basic knowledge of the course material and the student’s ability to read carefully and think with clarity.
- Essay exams may be used to measure the student’s understanding of the nature and methods of philosophy, knowledge of the course material, ability to analyze and construct arguments, and ability to think and to write with clarity.
- Research reports may be used to measure the student’s ability to employ appropriate research methods and technologies.
- Term papers may be used to measure the student’s understanding of the nature of philosophical inquiry and knowledge of specific figures or issues addressed in the course, as well as to measure the student’s ability to develop a sustained and persuasive argument, to think and write with clarity, and to demonstrate an appreciation of the significance of philosophy to his or her own life and concerns.
Other Course Information
Approval and Subsequent Reviews
Date Action Reviewed by
July 1991 Compilation from all instructors Charles D. Taylor
May 1994 None Kim J. Kipling
May 1995 Catalog entry revised Kim J. Kipling
January 27 1997 Course number and title changed Approved by VPAA
April 17, 1998 None Kim J. Kipling
April 7, 1999 Syllabus revised Kim J. Kipling
September 18, 2001 Reviewed Kim J. Kipling