introduction to philosophy

course description

This class provides a brief introduction to philosophy, focusing on questions about the possibility and limits of human knowledge.  Some of the questions we will approach include:  Can we ever know the true nature of reality?  What is the relationship between the way things seem to us and the way they really are?  Could we be seriously mistaken or deceived about the world?  Is the nature of reality somehow determined by our minds or by our perception of it, or is the world “mind-independent,” existing whether anyone perceives it or not?  And, perhaps most importantly:  Can we offer serious answers to any of these questions—and if so, how? 

Throughout the semester, we will approach these questions by studying the work of several important philosophers in the Western European tradition, including Plato, Descartes, Berkeley, and Kant.   In studying their views and arguments, our goal is to understand and evaluate the reasons they think their positions are correct and to achieve a basic competency with the investigative and argumentative tools philosophers use to approach any issue.  Central to this approach is the method of philosophical argument—starting from premises that most parties to a disagreement would accept and moving to significant conclusions using clear and unobjectionable reasoning.  After taking this course, you should acquire a basic ability to not only evaluate the philosophical reasoning of others, but engage in some yourself.