Professor Talbott  (Email:                                      Autumn Quarter 2012

Office: Savery 387                                                                                                      General  Studies 197J:

Office Hours:  Thursday 3:30 to 4:30 pm                                                               Freshman Seminar

  and by appointment                                                                                                    in Philosophy

Phone:  543-5095                                                                                                        Wed. 2:30-3:20

Web page:                                                            Savery 408                        






What is Philosophy?


Disability Resources For Students.  If you would like to request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact Disability Resources for Students (DRS), 448 Schmitz, (206) 543-8924 (V/TTY).  If you have a letter from DRS indicating you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to me so we can discuss the accommodations you might need for the class. 


               I.  Goals of the Seminar:  What is Philosophy?  This seminar will provide you an informal introduction to philosophy at the University of Washington.  In this seminar, you will learn about some of the major areas of philosophy, you will read about some of the important philosophical issues in each of the major areas, and you will have an opportunity to discuss those issues in an informal setting.


               II.  Course Requirements:  This is a one-credit seminar graded Credit/No-Credit.  The only requirements are to do the short reading assignment each week; to attend the seminar sessions; and to participate in the seminar discussion.  DO NOT TAKE THIS SEMINAR IF YOU WILL NOT DO THE READINGS AND ATTEND CLASS.  The seminar will meet ten times during the quarter.  We meet from 2:30 to 3:20 p.m. every Wednesday, except the day before Thanksgiving.  If you are absent from a seminar session, please send me an email message explaining the absence and submit a one-page essay on the reading to make up the absence.  Absences not made up are grounds for assigning a grade of No Credit.


               III.  Course Readings and Discussion Topics:  Course readings and discussion questions for each session of the seminar will be found below.  Please do the readings and think about the discussion questions BEFORE the date they are to be discussed.  All the readings are collected in a photocopied reader that is available for purchase at the University Bookstore.  Note that the order that the readings appear in the Reader is not the order in which we will read them.


Week #1, Wed. Sept. 26:  Introduction


Week #2, Wed. Oct. 3:  The Euthyphro Question

               Reading:   Euthyphro”, a dialogue between Socrates and Euthyphro, G.M.A. Grube, translator, "Euthyphro", in Plato:  Five Dialogues (Hackett Publishing Company; 1981).  Socrates and Euthyphro meet outside the criminal court.  The dialogue begins with Socrates explaining that he has been indicted by Meletus for corrupting the young.  Then Euthyphro tells Socrates that he has indicted his father for murder!  The remainder of the dialogue is a discussion of right and wrong.  Socrates and Euthyphro use “pious” to refer to what is right and “impious” to refer to what is wrong.  The crucial question is:  Is an act right (pious) because it is loved by the gods, or is it loved by the gods because it is right (pious).  Focus especially on pp. 11-16 (i.e., focus especially on Reader pp. 36-39).  [READER pp. 34-42]


Week #3, Wed., Oct.10:  Is there any reason to be moral?

               Readings:  (1) "The Ring of Gyges", an excerpt from Francis MacDonald Cornford, translator, The Republic of Plato (New York:  Oxford Univ. Press; 1941).  How would you behave differently if you had Gyges’ ring?  What would happen if everyone had a ring like that?  [READER pp. 21-22] 

(2) Robert Nozick, "The Experience Machine", from Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York:  Basic Books; 1974).  Would you be willing to hook up to the Experience Machine for the rest of your life?  [READER

pp. 23-24]


Week #4, Wed. Oct. 27: Prisoner’s Dilemma/Collective Action Problems

               Reading: William Poundstone, Prisoner’s Dilemma (New York:  Anchor Books/Doubleday; 1992), excerpt from Chapter 6.  Can you think of other examples of situations that are like the Many Person Prisoner’s Dilemma?  Would you Cooperate in a Many Person Prisoner’s Dilemma, if you could be a Free Rider and get away with it?  [READER pp.  51-58.]


Week #5, Wed., Oct. 24: Are Men Oppressed?  Are Women Oppressed?

               Reading:  Kenneth Clatterbaugh, "Are Men Oppressed?", from Larry May, Robert Strikwerda, and Patrick D. Hopkins, eds., Rethinking Masculinity, 2nd Ed., (New York:  Rowman & Littlefield; 1996). 

[READER pp. 25-33]


Week #6, Wed., Oct. 31:  What do we know?  How do we know it?

               Reading:  Wesley C. Salmon, "An Encounter With David Hume", from Joel Feinberg, ed., Reason and Responsibility, 8th ed., (Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth Publishing Co.; 1993).  What reason do we have to believe that the sun will rise tomorrow?  [READER pp. 3‑20]


Week #7, Wed., Nov. 7:  Minds and Brains

               Reading:  (1) Charles Marks, "Split Brains".  Could there be two conscious subjects sharing your body?

[READER pp. 43-50]

               (2) Thomas Nagel, "What is it Like to be a Bat?", Chapter 12 of Mortal Questions (Cambridge:  Cambridge Univ. Press; 1979).  What is consciousness?  [READER pp. 63-71]


Week #8, Wed., Nov. 14:  Death

               Reading:  (1) Thomas Nagel, "Death" Chapter 1 of Mortal Questions (Cambridge:  Cambridge Univ. Press; 1979).  Is death at the end of one's natural lifespan good or bad?  Which of the following would be better:  100 years of the same kind that you have now or an eternal life of the same kind that you have now?

[READER pp. 79-84]


Week #9, Wed., Nov. 21:  No class.  Happy Thanksgiving!


Week #10, Wed., Nov. 28: Species Extinction and Other Environmental Issues

               (2) Edward O. Wilson, "The Environmental Ethic", in The Diversity of Life (Cambridge, MA:  Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; 1992), pp. 343-351.  Is the extinction of a species only bad if the extinction has adverse effects on human beings?  [READER pp. 73-78]


Week #11, Wed., Dec. 5:  Final Session/Course Evaluation.  Should the U.W. abolish grades?


               Reading:  Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (New York:  William Morrow and Company; 1984; pp. 194-201).  The author describes the attempt of “Phaedrus” to abolish grades in his college writing class.  “Phaedrus” thinks of the University as a kind of church, the Church of Reason.  References to “the Church” are references to this metaphorical Church of Reason.  Do grades help or hinder education?

[READER pp.  59-62.]