PHIL 201 - Introduction to Philosophy - Spring 1999

Ron Bombardi
Department of Philosophy
Middle Tennessee State University

Objectives Texts Topics Assignments Attendance Make-Ups
Grade Repair Grades Exams Essays Disabilities Annotations

The problems treated in this course all arise from standard philosophical attempts at questioning human nature and experience. While the discipline of philosophy does encompass specialized agendas and many complex technical issues, the sorts of questions we will address are ones to which most of us have, at one time or another, evolved some answers, however rudimentary. In this course, neither fluency nor even passing acquaintance with the history and practice of Western philosophy is presupposed; curiosity, on the other hand, is.

Email: Ron Bombardi
Office: 307 JUB, Ext. 2049
Office Hours: 11:05-12:05, MWF; 11:00-12:30, TR

Course Materials

Required Text

The following text is required; a thorough familiarity
with its contents is advised:

  • Gaarder, Jostein. Sophie's World: A Novel
    about the History of Philosophy
    Trans. Paulette Møller. New York: Farrar,
    Straus & Giroux, 1994.
Recommended Texts

The following texts are recommended for those students who wish to advance their philosophical understanding or abilities:
  • Audi, Robert. Philosophy: A Brief Guide for Undergraduates. American Philosophical Association, 1982.
  • Biffle, Christopher. A Guided Tour of René Descartes' MEDITATIONS ON FIRST PHILOSOPHY. Mayfield, 1989.
  • Palmer, Donald. Looking at Philosophy: The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter. Mayfield, 1994.
Course Links

Course Division
After a brief overview of the main branches of contemporary philosophical practice, readings, lectures, exercises, and discussions will pursue the following topic areas (a more comprehensive overview, including subtopics, reading and writing assignments, as well as a course calendar, appears in the Course Outline, q.v.):

        Readings:Gaarder, Chapters 1-15 (127 pages);
        Exercises & Exams:Exercise #1.

        Readings:Gaarder, Chapters 16-25 (134 pages);
        Exercises & Exams:Exercise #2.
EXAM #1.

        Readings:Gaarder, Chapters 26-35 (133 pages);
        Exercises & Exams:Philosophy Paper;
EXAM #2 (comprehensive).

For the most part, reading assignments will be made on a weekly basis. Exercises will be assigned at least one full calendar week before coming due; however, exercises will be accepted for credit ONLY on or before the assigned days. The philosophy paper will be assigned sometime during mid-semester, with the paper due on or before Friday, 23 April. Class format will follow but will not always overlap the readings, so it is important that you keep up with the designated material.

All students are expected to attend all class periods. While reasonable pleas for exemption from the attendance requirement will be duly considered, a 'reasonable plea' should ordinarily be documented by a physician, team coach, facu lty advisor, or a dean. Unexcused absences exceeding EITHER four (4) class meetings on the TR schedule OR six (6) class meetings on the MWF schedule may result in a grade-penalty.

Make-Up Exams
Students who miss an examination or fail to hand in an exercise AND who satisfy the conditions for exemption from the attendance requirement (specified above), are entitled to receive a MAKE-UP examination or exercise. Make-ups will be provided at the earliest mutual convenience of both student and instructor. Students who miss an examination or fail to hand in an exercise BUT who DO NOT satisfy the conditions for exemption from the attendance requirement, will receive NULL CREDIT f or that exercise or examination. Students falling into this category may, HOWEVER, take advantage of the GRADE REPAIR OPTION specified below.

Grade Repair Option

Any student who wishes to improve what he or she takes to be an unsatisfactorily low grade may submit (in lieu of the material for which that grade was received) a FULLY COMPLETED copy of the programmed text, A Guided Tour of Ren&e acute; Descartes' MEDITATIONS ON FIRST PHILOSOPHY (see "Recommended Texts" above). If the grade assigned this additional work proves more satisfactory, the new grade will replace the old.
    NOTA BENE: the following conditions will apply to the use of this option in all cases:
  • use of the option must be approved by your instructor prior to your submitting the text;
  • texts must be submitted on or before the due-date assigned at the time you secure option-approval;
  • the option may be used only ONCE per semester;
  • the option does NOT apply to the FINAL examination;
  • all copies of texts submitted for a grade will be retained by your instructor.

Exercises and exams, as well as the philosophy paper, will receive numerical scores intended to reflect your performance levels on an absolute scale (measured against your instructor's expectations). Each assignment will also receive a letter grade indexed according to the (relative) class mean. Final grades sent to the registrar are based on cumulative average performance: specifically, the overall class average is set to the current University mean GPA, with letter grades adjusted to yield this mean. (Note: the purpose of this grading policy is to avoid grade-inflation WITHOUT penalizing students arbitrarily.)

Schedule of Exercises and Exams

Exercise #1Ancient & Mediæval Thought301515
Exercise #2Renaissance & Enlightenment301530
Exam #1Ancients & Moderns402050
Exercise #3Philosophy Paper603080
Exam #2Comprehensive Final4020100

Philosophical Essays
The exercises and examinations in this course will comprise some short-answer and some essay writing; the philosophy paper will likewise involve the exercise of your writing skills. In each instance, you will be asked to reflect on a prominent course-topic and to provide some indication as to how thoroughly you understand that topic; your writing will, however, indicate little or no actual understanding if you restrict your exposition simply to the recapitulation of reading an d/or lecture material. When assessing written work, your instructor will generally be looking for evidence of your ability to carry a reading assignment or class discussion beyond its initial presentation (rule of thumb: you may be said to underst and something when you know what to say next). Accordingly, if your response to an essay question or paper assignment consists mainly of verbatim notes, you can expect at best the equivalent of a C-grade on that item.

Accomodation for Students with Disabilities
If you have a disability that may require assistance or accommodation, or you have questions related to any accommodations for testing, note takers, readers, etc., please speak with your instructor as soon as possible. Students may a lso contact the Office of Disabled Students Services (898-2783) with questions about such services.

Essay Annotations
I. NUMERICAL MARKERS:  The following markers are designed to index problems in essay work. They are NOT arranged in order of severity. They do NOT necessarily correlate with grade assignments.


(1) Spelling error here.

(2) Noncritical weakness in sentence structure.

(3) Critical weakness in sentence structure. (meaning lost).

(4) Punctuation not clear.


(5) Term or phrase unclear or unexplained.

(6) Term or phrase ambiguous.

(7) New paragraph warranted here.

(8) Circumlocution here; simpler expression available.


(9) General structure of this argument unclear.

(10) Conclusion does not follow without unstated assumptions.

(11) Relevance of this point to your argument is not clear.

(12) This assertion is questionable and requires further support.

(13) Further consequences of this claim are unmentioned but relevant.

(14) This inference is formally invalid.

II. GLOBAL MARKERS:  These symbols DO correlate with grade assignments.

Ø  Null credit: either question misunderstood or analysis irrelevant.

/    Response is deficient of the (expected) mean.

Ö   Response is at the (expected) mean.

+   Response is well above the (expected) mean; well-argued analysis.

++  Response is superior, no deficiencies.

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