Course Syllabus

Course Description

Welcome to your first Philosophy class! If you are reading this (assuming you're in the right classroom today), it means you have already demonstrated the precious quality of curiosity. I invite you to hang on to this at all costs as it is your most valuable asset in Philosophy. As Plato wrote: "I am the wisest man, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing." (Apol. 21d)

Throughout this course you will think constantly and are expected to develop your own understanding and opinion of material presented. This is a carte blanche to agree, disagree, detest, and love anything covered in class; the only requirement is that you be able to rationally justify that position and respect every other student's right to do the same. More about this below.

This course is going to expose you to ideas you've never seen or had before. It will ask you to open your mind and it will tie your tongue in knots expressing yourself. We are going to talk (with a straight face) about the nature of time, why you might not actually exist, whether or not it is possible to be on Santa's 'naughty list', and nobody is ever going to be happy with their government.
In short, it's going to be both tough and a lot of fun!

"Big-Picture" Goals

These are the four things students need to succeed. By the end of this course, students will:

  • Think critically about ideas they are presented with
  • Argue a position by organizing supporting facts or rationale
  • Create and evaluate abstractions to make connections
  • Develop an awareness of themselves as rational agents


Title Description
1 What is Philosophy? In this first unit of the course, students will spend time looking at what the 'activity of Philosophy' actually is and what makes a person a philosopher. Common and uncommon forms of philosophy will be discussed. The questions "what is philosophy?" and "how does one do philosophy?" will form a groundwork for the rest of the course.
2 Metaphysics Metaphysics is foundational to philosophical thought. Students will grapple with fundamental questions like "what is existing?", "why are we here?", and "what is time?" while attention is paid to how we approach such questions. Students will evaluate established theories of metaphysics and formulate their own answers to these questions.
3 Epistemology Closely tied with Metaphysics, examining knowledge and 'knowing' are some of the fundamental questions in Philosophy. Examining everyday suppositions like the truth of the senses, memory, and order v. chaos, students will continue their work on criticism, abstraction, and self-awareness
4 Ethics The Ethics unit will give students the tools to consider human action and decision-making with a view of determining what is 'good' or 'right'. Students will consider relativism v. altruism and use learning from prior units to unpack concepts like blame (guilt), morality, and an imperative. A strong emphasis on application in contemporary issues will ground the discussions and result in practical and theoretical understanding for students.
5 Politics A functioning democracy is supposed upon informed and rational citizenry. The Political Philosophy unit will expose students to the development of organized governance as a concept and to the theories that have given rise to modern political institutions.
6 Conclusion The conclusion of the course will be a unit of integration in which students will develop connections within the skills developed and focus on their ability to argue what they have created. Reflection on ideas presented will form the basis of preparing a culminating activity that allows the student to focus on one area of Philosophy that particularly interests them and to apply skills learned to develop and argue their own theory relating to it.

Materials & Texts

All materials and texts will be accessible online either directly on this course website or via a link to another website. In the few cases of zealously copywrited material, it will be made available in class under the auspices of an Educational Exception. A full list of all materials used is available in the course bibliography.

Student Expectations

The Philosophy classroom is unique because the growth of individual thinking is the principal objective. At the same time, however, the types of things discussed are exactly the things which produce passionate responses. If it were simple or easy to agree on, we wouldn't be talking about it! As a result, very clear expectations must be upheld to preserve the integrity of the discussion and the dignity of the participants.

    The most important consideration when voicing an understanding or argument is respect for your colleagues both personally and intellectually. You recognize their right to their (rationally supported) argument and they will do the same for you. As elsewhere in school: derisive and derogatory statements or behaviour will not be tolerated.

    If you are in Philosophy class, you have a responsibility for your learning. You will not be provided with an understanding of the material covered, you must think for yourself to succeed. Much of the course evaluation is what you create rather than what you repeat and it is your responsibility to do so.

    Taking this course represents a commitment to developing your skills in Philosophy. This will require you to think, create, and articulate. You are expected to put forth effort for all assigned tasks regardless of how difficult or easy they might seem to you. If you're not challenged by something, you might be missing the point (refer to point 2 above).

Instructor Expectations

Expectations worth both ways. The instructor has the above expectations of students, and students can have the following expectations of their instructor.

    The instructor will always respect a position that is thought-out and presented rationally.

    The instructor will make every effort necessary to allow the student to succeed. The instructor will be available for extra help, they will make academic expectations as clear as possible, and they will work on the student's behalf at all times.

    For classroom meetings, giving feedback on assignments, and performing evaluations (grading) the instructor will be as punctual as possible.

How to Suceed