Instructor: James Woodbridge
email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Course Webpage: http://fsweb.wm.edu/jawoo2/wm/150w.htm
Office Hours: T 3:30pm-5pm, W 10:30am-12pm, and by appointment
Office: 126 Blair Hall
Office Phone: 221-2713
Dept. Phone: 221-2735
I. COURSE DESCRIPTION
The theme for this course is relativism, the view that everything is just a matter of opinion,
that there is no single correct view about some subject-that "anything goes." In some cases this
seems obviously right; consider the issue of what is and is not funny. In other cases it seems highly
implausible; consider the issue of whether the Earth is round or flat. We will consider the theme of
relativism from within several different areas of philosophy. This will lead to such questions as, Are
there any objective truths about reality (how the world is), or are all "facts" just relative to some
worldview? Are we "the measure of all things"? Are there any objective criteria for knowledge, or will
any belief system qualify as well as any other? Is there anything more to truth than being "true-for-me"?
Are there objective moral standards, or is custom "king of all"? Is morality just relative to culture or
individual opinion? If we want to resist relativism, are there constructive alternatives? In considering
these issues, we will examine what historical and contemporary philosophers have had to say about them,
paying particular attention to the methods philosophers use to identify, critique, and construct arguments.
II. COURSE OBJECTIVES
This is a writing-intensive seminar, so one of our main objectives is to develop the sorts of good
writing skills that students need to excell at college and beyond. We will also develop oral communication
skills. Our ultimate goal will be to learn to apply the methods of philosophical inquiry in thinking, talking
and (especially) writing about philosphical issues like relativism.
III. REQUIRED CLASS MATERIALSDescartes, R. Meditations on First Philosophy, Third Edition. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1993.
IV. CLASS REQUIREMENTS AND GRADING SCHEME
Response Essays (4) ..................................................20%
About the Requirements:
Class Contribution--One thing this requirement covers is your
class attendance (surprisingly, if you don't attend class you can't contribute
to it). However, to get an "A" for class contribution you must do more than just show up;
you have to contribute frequently to class discussion. You are expected to show up
having read the assignment for the day and ready to talk about it constructively and
analytically. A further element of this requirement involves posting contributions on the
Electronic Discussion Board. Everyone must make at least six entries on the
EDB during the term, either asking a (substantive) question about a reading, following up on
class discussion, or attempting to answer a question posted by someone else. Everyone must
have made three postings by the end of February.
The Response Essays--During the term you will have to write four 2-page essays responding to various readings. You will pick your four essay choices from a range of eight options. Essay options will be announced on Thursdays and due in my mailbox by 3pm the following Monday. You must complete at least one Response Essay before the First Paper assignment and a second by the end of February.
The First Paper--There will be a 4-5 page paper due in mid February. Topics will be posted on the course Webpage 12 days before the paper is due, and all papers are due at the beginning of class on the due date. Late papers will be subject to a substantial grade reduction (you really don't want to find out how much). The final rewrite of this paper will be due in mid March.
The Second Paper--There will be a second 4-5 page paper due in mid April. Topics will be posted on the course Webpage 12 days before the paper is due. Late submission is still not a good idea. The final rewrite of this paper will be due at the beginning of exam week.
V. CLASS FORMAT
This is a seminar course, so our class meetings should be geared mainly toward student discussion. I hope that you will all have views about the issues we are going to address, and I want you to express and explore those views. It is the nature of the topics we will be considering that people's views will differ. You are encouraged to question your classmates (and me) when anyone says something you disagree with, but everyone should always keep in mind that disagreement is not a personal attack. Philosophical discussion thrives under this kind of interaction and often stems from disagreement. At the same time, philosophical discussion aims at reaching some sort of agreement. We probably won't reach agreement every time, but we should aspire toward it.
VI. TOPICS AND READINGS
The readings for the course are from a variety of different texts. They are listed below by author and chapter numbers in roughly the order they will be assigned. Readings from the Moser and Carson anthology are listed by selection author, followed by "MR" and the page numbers.
A note about the readings: Philosophical writing is often subtle and
difficult. Do not be fooled by the shortness of an assignment into thinking
that it will take little time. Most of these readings should be read at least
twice. I recommend a first time straight through and then a second pass
After a brief introduction to the topic of relativism, the course will be divided into 2 main parts. These units and the readings for them are as follows.
Melchert, Chapters 1-22. Knowledge, Truth, and World: Objective or Perspective?
Kirk, Chapters 1-2
Plato, Theaetetus, 142a-186e3. Morality, Values, and Standards: Is Custom King of All?
Kirk, Chapter 3
Goodman, Chapters I, VI-VII
Kirk, Chapters 6 and 9
Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy
Kirk, Chapter 7
Melchert, Chapter 3
Kirk, Chapters 10-11
Brandt, MR 25-31
Sumner, MR 69-79
Benedict, MR 80-89
Wellman, MR 107-119
Rachels, MR 53-65
Harman, MR 165-184
Foot, MR 185-198
Scanlon, MR 142-162
Mill, Chapters I-IV
Mackie, MR 259-276