The Undergraduate Center

 Introduction to Philosophy (PHL101)
Course Syllabus, Fall 2009

Dr. John Wager
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Philosophy means the "love of wisdom." The course is designed to help you recover a sense of wonder at the fundamental questions of life, and to help you begin to formulate more satisfying answers to some of those questions.

Our goal is to become wiser than we were when we started. In a semester long course, we will not become "wise," but we may hope to be a bit "wiser."

Some people think that wisdom can ONLY come from experiences. It's possible to become wiser by "learning from experience," but as Confucius points out, learning from experience is the "bitterest" way to learn. It's also expensive, slow, and doesn't give college credit!

So we will take an "easier" route. We will begin with our own questions, but we will read what others have written in their attempts to answer those questions as a starting point in developing our own answers. In terms of the grade for the course, if you to understand what the readings are saying, you will pass. In addition, if you want to do more than pass, you should be able to compare the readings with each other, apply them to new situations, and use them to develop your own answers.


The readings for this course are fairly difficult; think of reading them as a kind of "weight lifting." You should have the same experience of resistance (and the same feeling of satisfied exhaustion) after a workout on an assigned reading as you do after a workout lifting weights; otherwise, you are not growing in your comprehension or ability. You may get copies of any hand-outs you are missing from the Philosophy literature rack next to the mailboxes in RC-215. 


Mid-Term Exam, multiple choice and essay: 20%
Journal: 30%
Quizzes, Short Assignments, Class Participation (including initial 5 minute conference): 10%
Final Exam, multiple choice and essay:  40%

Notes on Attendance:

  1. Attendance is essential for success in this course. Your existence, by itself, does not confer academic credit. If you are absent for any reason for more than three times, a conference with the instructor will be necessary to determine if you should continue in the course.
  2. Absences due to illness, family crisis, or similar unforseen circumstances will be excused if documented, and if not prolonged. You will not be automatically dropped for lack of attendance, but you can't do very well if you're not here!
  3. Punctuality is also required. Tardiness will be excused only if the reasons are reasonable.
  4. If you miss a class, you are still responsible for anything covered in that class, no matter what your reason.
Explanation of Journal:
  1. A philosophy journal is a record of your own personal reactions/thoughts/ experiences about the material we cover in class. It should be your personal reaction to what you study or your (rough) attempt to think about philosophy. It does not need to be a polished "paper." Grammatical errors won't be graded. A philosophy journal is not a daily dairy of what you did. Neither is a philosophy journal just a record of what we discussed in class - it's not the same as class notes. It is your personal reaction to class topics.
  2. I want you to start off on the right foot on the first two entries so I'll collect them early. I probably will ask to see your journal only 1 or 2 times this semester, and I'll announce in class a week ahead when I'll collect them. If I indicate a problem to you, your first entries will not count against you as long as you go back and make a fresh start.
  3. You should "keep" the journal by writing something in it at least twice a week before or after your class. Make a heading for each date you make an entry - "Sept. 28" - then whatever thoughts you have that day. Each day's entry is one entry. I'll read the entries and decide if they are focused on the philosophy material and if they relate that material to your own life. If they are, you get a "yes" - if they do not seem to be, you get a "no." An entry might be a VERY insightful, VERY perceptive single sentence, a paragraph, two separate paragraphs, or a couple of pages, but anything less than a page may not be a fully-explored "entry."
  4. I will sometimes make comments on your journal, but I will not grade the entry. Feel free to explore the ideas in class, even if you're not sure where your thoughts will wind up. You can get full credit for an entry even if what you say is completely wrong.
  5. Your grade on this assignment will be determined by how many "yes" entries you have. If you make 2 entries a week for 15 weeks, you'll have 30 entries. To get an "A", you must have 25 entries. For a "B", you must have 20 entries. A "C" is 15 entries. A "D" is 10 entries. An "F" is fewer than 10 "yes" entries.
  6. If you have any questions about your journal, write them in the journal and I'll answer them, or see me. I also will have a longer handout available on journal writing only if you think you need it. You should find this journal both fun and a challenge to get you to "think" about philosophy.
  7. Keep your journal in a separate spiral notebook or something like it. Do not try to use your notebook; do not try to keep loose papers as your journal because they will get lost.


This is a "BlackBoard Enhanced" course. That means there is extra support available "on line." You have already been given a "userid" and "password" to get into this website, which is available only to students in the course. Course readings and "Make-up" quizzes are available at the course website. You will not be required to use this resource, but you will probably find it so helpful you will want to use it. The following instructions should help you get into the course website:


Philosophy, rightly defined, is simply the love of wisdom. 
Cicero (B.C.E. 106-43)

By three methods we may learn wisdom:
First, by reflection which is noblest; 
second, by imitation, which is the easiest; 
and third, by experience, which is the bitterest. 
Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.) 

The childish go after outward pleasures;
They walk into the net of widespread death. 
But the wise, knowing immortality, 
Seek not the stable among things which are unstable here. 
Upanishads (ca. 800 B.C.E.)

In seeking wisdom thou art wise;
in imagining that thou hast attained it - thou art a fool. 
The Talmud ( 500? B.C.E.-400? C.E.) 

The clouds may drop down titles and estates,
wealth may seek us; 
but wisdom must be sought. 
Young (1683-1765) 

Wise men learn more from fools than fools from the wise. 
Cato the Elder (234-149 B.C.E.) 

There are two sentences inscribed upon the Ancient oracle...
'Know thyself' and 'Nothing too much'; and upon these all 
other precepts depend. 
Plutarch (46-120 C.E.)

The philosopher is Nature's pilot. And there you have our
difference: to be in hell is to drift: to be in heaven is to steer. 
G. B. Shaw (1856-1950) 

To ridicule philosophy is truly philosophical. 
Pascal (1623-1662)

The wise only possess ideas;
the greater part of mankind are possessed by them. 
Samuel Coleridge (1772-1834)

Wonder is the feeling of a philosopher,
and philosophy begins in wonder. 
Plato (427?-347? B.C.E.) 

The most evident token and apparent sign of true wisdom
is a constant and unconstrained rejoicing. 
Montaigne (1533-1592)

The strongest symptom of wisdom in man is
his being sensible of his own follies. 
La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)

Common sense in an uncommon degree
is what the world calls wisdom. 
Samuel Coleridge (1772-1834) 

Philosophy is a kind of journey,
ever learning yet never arriving 
at the ideal perfection of truth. 
Albert Pike (1809-1891) 

Philosophy is systematic reflection
upon the common experience of mankind. 
Robert Maynard Hutchins (1899-1977) 

Happy is the man who finds wisdom, 
and the man who gets understanding,
for the gain from it is better than gain from silver 
and its profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels, 
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand; 
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, 
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; 
those who hold her fast are called happy.
Proverbs (1000?-200? B.C.E. )

Perfect wisdom has four parts:
Wisdom, the principle of doing things aright. 
Justice, the principle of doing things equally in public and private. 
Fortitude, the principle of not fleeing danger, but meeting it. 
Temperance, the principle of subduing desires and living moderately. 
Plato (427?-347? B.C.E.) 

Philosophy is the art and law of life, and it teaches us
what to do in all cases, and, like good marksmen, 
to hit the white at any distance. 
Seneca (3 B.C.E. -65 C.E.) 

Wisdom is the conqueror of fortune. 
Juvenal (40-125 C.E.)

Philosophy, when superficially studied, excites doubt;
when thoroughly explored, it dispels it. 
Bacon (1561-1626) 

The career of a sage is of two kinds:
He is either honored by all in the world, 
Like a flower waving its head, 
Or else he disappears into the silent forest. 
Nagarjuna (ca. 100-200 C.E.)

Wisdom is to the mind what health is to the body. 
La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) 

The weak have remedies, the wise have joys;
superior wisdom is superior bliss. 
Young (1683-1765) 

In seeking Wisdom, the first stage is silence,
the second listening, 
the third remembrance, 
the fourth practicing, 
the fifth teaching. 
Solomon Ibn Gabirol (1021?-1053)

Call him wise whose actions, words, and steps
are all a clear because to a clear why. 
Lavater (1741-1801)

To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts;
but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates. 
Thoreau (1817-1862)

A philosopher is one who desires to discern the truth. 
Plato ( 427?-347? B.C.E.)

Wisdom is the wealth of the wise. 
Ecclesiasticus (200? B.C.E. )


Grade of A:

  1. Consistently superior scores on exams.
  2. Assignments completed in prescribed form, on time, with evidence of careful research on subject matter and planned presentation.
  3. Consistently shows independent thinking in terms of the subject matter of the course, either in written assignments and/or class discussion.
  4. Shows grasp of relationships among various parts of subject.
  5. Applies learning to new situations.
  6. Asks questions which are appropriate and stimulate relevant discussion.
  7. Complies with attendance regulations.

Grade of B:

  1. Consistently above average achievement on examinations.
  2. Assignments completed in prescribed form and on time; above average in quality.
  3. Demonstrates independent thinking in written assignments and/or class discussions.
  4. Shows grasp of general organization of subject matter by noting parallels in written ssignments and discussions.
  5. Demonstrates that the reasons for learning subject matter are understood and some applications made.
  6. Asks questions which clarify presentation of the subject and demonstrate above average knowledge.
  7. Complies with attendance regulations.

Grade of C:

  1. Satisfactory scores on examinations.
  2. Assignments completed in correct form, on time, and of an acceptable quality.
  3. Presents evidence of satisfactory grasp of assigned subject matter, either written assignments and/or class discussions.
  4. Shows satisfactory grasp of organization of subject matter.
  5. Demonstrates some understanding of the relationship of the subject to academic, vocational, or social goals.
  6. Asks relevant questions.
  7. Complies with attendance regulations.

Grade of D:

  1. Below average examination scores but high enough to show better-than-chance responses.
  2. Assignments completed in imperfect form or not completed on time; quality of work is marginal.
  3. Shows grasp of individual units of subject matter but little evidence of inter-relationships.
  4. Shows some application of material, but with little insight.
  5. Is a passive listener rather than an active participant in class discussion.
  6. Complies with the attendance regulations of the college.

Grade of F:

  1. Unsatisfactory test scores.
  2. Assignments omitted, incomplete or unacceptable.
  3. Is inattentive in class.
  4. Demonstrates little or no interest in or comprehension of subject matter.
  5. Unsatisfactory progress toward achieving intended class goals.
  6. Does not comply with attendance regulations.


Classroom: R-211
Times: Monday - Wednesday - Friday, 9:00 a.m. -- 11:50 a.m.
Office: R-215B.
Office Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday 1:30-2:30 p.m. and by appointment. You can also usually find me before or after class in R-215E.
Phone: (708)456-0300 ext. 3327.

 Don't hesitate to drop by the office just to chat! And don't hesitate to call me at home if you need to contact me! 


Since this course is "co-requisite" with two others, the link above will take you to a detailed daily joint syllabus, listing what you need to do each day for all three courses together.

In addition to this joint syllabus, each of the other courses also has their own individual course over-view; click below for them.

[SPE101]Principles of Effective Speech (SPE101) Instructor: Terry Fencl.
[PHL101]Introduction to Sociology  (SOC100) Instructor: Allen Salzman.

Return to Joint Course Syllabus
Return to The Undergraduate Center

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