Fall 2018, Section 16943
9-12:10 Friday, BRCH 1108


Doug McFerran, Professor of Philosophy
Office hours: a half hour before and and a half after class each Friday in the classroom)
Phone:  818-364-7600, ext 7710 (Mission College)

So what is this course about?

From the Pierce Catalog:

Students study and evaluate some of the traditional and contemporary theories in social and political philosophy, covering topics such as rights, governments, social institutions, citizenship, and distributive justice.

(CSU GE Area C2 IGETC Area 3B)

At one time on the schedule it was recommended as the first introductory course in philosophy.  This had been true for a long while at Pierce after we adopted a pattern from UCLA which reversed the traditional sequence of having a course about how we should live (ethics and political thought) follow a basic course on how to talk about truth and reality (epistemology and metaphysics).  The reason was that questions about society and values seemed more clearly relevant to the beginning student than the more abstract issues covered in Philosophy 1 and so would offer a better starting point for someone who might take only a single semester of philosophy.

Are there any prerequisites for this class?

No, there are no courses you need to have taken first, but given the amount of reading and writing involved I do strongly recommend that you have met the prerequisites for English 101. 

What are expected as the student learning outcomes for this class?

    1. Students will demonstrate the ability to apply thinking skills to some of the major problems and responses central to philosophical questioning.
                   As a result of this class we want you to be better able to carry on a reasoned discussion about society and values.
    2. Students will understand, comprehend, subdivide, and inter-relate major problems, philosophical questions, and responses central to social and political philosophy.
                   A reasoned discussion will involve being able to see the connections of some of the ideas that have come up in the more than twenty-five hundred years of both Western and Asian philosophy.          

What about a textbook?

Everything you need is on the Campus portal.*  

And what if you want to know ahead of time who are the main writers we will be discussing?

Although this will be primarily a discussion-oriented class, with the lecture material you may expect to meet, among others, Plato and Aristotle from ancient Greece, Mencius and Xun-zi from ancient China, Locke and Hobbes, Kant and Mill, Rousseau and Marx, John Rawls and Peter Singer.  

And how are you graded?

Each class there will be one or more things I ask you to do on paper, and together the points will be 80 percent of the grade with the rest coming from a midterm and a final.

Anything about attendance you should know?

You are expected to be in class on time and full time each week.

As a general rule you are to put away all laptops, tablets, and cell phones during the class (sorry, I expect you to take notes old school and also for the time we meet to ignore what's happening with the rest of the world).

So what is the schedule we'll follow?

There are certain expectations for any course intended as an introduction to philosophy with a focus on the traditional questions of what is right or wrong, either for as individuals (ethics) or as a particular society (political philosophy).  As someone commented at an international conference about teaching philosophy that I attended some years back, we might all agree that we should learn something about the nine most important figures in the history of philosophy but (a dramatic pause) we will never agree on who counts.

What is also true that those of us teaching philosophy do not agree on how it should be done.  Should it be an historical rundown with appropriate selections to read, a problems-oriented approach (again with things to read), or a more or less unstructured discussion?  Usually, when there is specific textbook and specific assignments, the syllabus is supposed to let someone know what to expect and when to expect it (rather like a contract between instructor and student).

However, in teaching philosophy for more than half a century (gasp!) I have tried different approaches and almost always felt that things never worked out as well as I had intended. So there were students who definitely "got it" and typically everyone else was going through the motions, hoping not to get called on and certainly not all that interested (as though they might be taking a required class in Mongolian literature and just hoping to survive).

So this time around I am going to take my chances on seeing how well I can induce you to take seriously some of the basic questions that have been around since the time of Socrates.  But that means throwing out any fixed schedule and seeing if I am clever enough get you actually involved well enough so that at the end of our time together this summer most of you really have achieved something of what has been spelled out as the student learning outcomes for this course.  But this means I need to put a lot more emphasis on just being in class all the time each day.  Yes, there does have to be a couple of exams, and each class I will have some specific assignments that count toward your grade, but I hope you are sufficiently interested in what is happening that you would be here even if I did not make your participation alone count for as much as it will.

Please note:  whether I would personally agree with stands you may take in any discussion, including a paper or an exam, is not relevant to your grade.  Also, it is understood that at any point you may present a view for the sake of argument and it should not be assumed, either by myself or by other students, that what you say is what you personally believe. At all times, however, the same standards of courtesy and mutual respect appropriate in a face-to-face classroom setting apply.

Additional things to note:

Students with disabilities have access to a number of services.  Please see the webpage for our Special Services office (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site..

Important dates, especially those affecting withdrawal from a course, are on the calendar on the Pierce website. (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. 

Disruptive behavior and academic dishonesty (cheating on an exam, plagiarism on a paper) are violations of school rules subject to a range of penalties.  Please see the information about both on the Pierce website (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site..

Being late to class or leaving early can interfere both with your own progress in the course and the ability of others to concentrate.  Please make every effort to be on time and remain full time (cell phones off, please).  I do expect regular attendance.  

*The lecture material, with some additional material, is based on my text Right and Wrong and Whether We Can Tell the Difference (available through Amazon or free download at my website (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.).