Sacramento City College

Philosophy 300

Introduction to Philosophy * Student Information Sheet

Dr. Robert T. Carroll 

Philosophy and Contemporary Issues, edited by Burr and Goldinger, 8th edition (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1995) [ISBN: 0-13-020993-7] is required. Recommended, but not required, is the Student Success Guide by Robert T. Carroll. You will be asked to write several essays for this course, so it is highly recommended that you at least look over the sections on writing in the SSG. Both texts are available in the College Store. The Burr & Goldinger text is also available from

Other online bookstores you might try:

The word philosophy derives from the Greek words for love and wisdom. Hence, some define philosophy as "the love of wisdom." Philosophy as way of life preceded philosophy as an academic discipline. As a way of life, philosophers were those who inquired into the nature of things physical and metaphysical. They asked fundamental questions about Nature, Society, Human Being, etc. Academic philosophy began with Plato (c. 427­347 B.C.E.) who established the first school with several departments.

Academic philosophy is today divided into several disciplines. Logic studies the nature of reasoning and argument, providing guidance for distinguishing sound from unsound arguments. Metaphysics studies the nature of reality and provides various ways of understanding the possible origin and nature of the universe and other possible types of being. Epistemology studies the nature of knowledge. Ethics studies the nature of moral values such as right and wrong, good and evil, and provides guidance for resolving moral questions. Aesthetics studies the nature of aesthetic values such as the beautiful, the sublime and the ugly.

Philosophy of religion studies basic issues regarding the nature of religious values and beliefs such as faith, the soul, immortality, the existence of God, etc. Social and Political Philosophy studies human nature and the nature of human societies, political and pre-political, including ideal societies. Philosophy of Science studies the nature of science, scientific claims and methodologies.

In this introductory course, you will be introduced to such philosophers as Socrates, Plato, Descartes, Hume, and Bertrand Russell. The course will focus on topics such as free will and determinism, human nature, freedom and responsibility, fate, atheism and belief in God, the nature of good and evil, etc. These topics will be discussed in light of contemporary problems such as drug use, immigration, abortion, thinking machines, the conflicts between science and religion, etc.


          Unit 1. Freedom, Nature and Society

      Key concepts:


      disease theory of crime




      free will

      humanitarian theory

      immaterialism (idealism)




      Occam’s razor

      retributive theory

      soft determinism (Skinner)


          Unit 2. God and Religion

      key concepts



      argument from design

      religious experience

      argument from the moral law to God's existence

      ontological argument

      first cause argument

      live option, forced and monumental choices (James)

      will to believe

      problem of evil



      systematic doubt of Descartes

      mind (according to Descartes)


      mitigated skepticism

          Unit 3. Morality, Liberty and Society

Study Questions 60%; exams, one on each of 3 units, 30%; class discussions 10%.

You will be given a set of study questions for each unit. These will help you focus your reading and prepare you for class discussions. Turn in your responses to the study questions when they are due. Use your responses for reference when you are given the exams.


Exams will consist of 50% concepts and definitions, and 50% essay questions. Each exam will be worth 10% of your course grade. Your responses to the Study Questions, the handouts and your notes should help you answer the exam questions. The third exam will be administered during the final exam period.

The final is scheduled for Thursday December 19, 2002, 10:40 am-12:50 pm

Attendance Policy
Attendance at all classes in expected. You may be absent twice the number of weekly scheduled classes without being dropped from the course. If you miss more than this number of classes, you may be dropped from the course.

A note for those who register late or drop a class: you are obligated to notify the Registrar. There are deadlines for adding or dropping. If you do not officially add by the deadline you will not be allowed to take  the class. If you do not officially drop by the deadline, you may receive an 'F' for the class. The instructor's signature is not needed to drop any class, but is required to add any class that filled during registration. 

Readings and Study Guide Questions  

Note: Mr. Connelly, an instructor at Longview Community College, has posted his notes on some of our readings. These notes may be useful to you. They give you something to compare to your understanding of the reading and to my comments. His notes probably won't make much sense to you until you have read the assigned material.

Unit I. Freedom, Nature, and Society

Introduction to the course: Plato's Apology (Reading 1: pages 2-27)

Introduction to Freedom and Determinism pp. 30-34

Determinism (2. Robert Blatchford)

1.       How does Blatchford define determinism and free will?

2.       What is a delusion and do you think he proves that free will is a delusion?

3.       Is it possible to do something against your will? Is it possible to refrain from doing something that one desires to do? Why does Blatchford deny that either case would be evidence for free will?  

Materialism (43. Hugh Elliot)

4. What is materialism?

5. What is teleology?

6. What is Occam's razor?

7. What is monism?

8. What is epiphenomenalism?

Free Will (3. Corliss Lamont) 

9. What does Lamont mean by relative determinism and relative free choice?

10. Why would terms such as ‘moral responsibility’ change their meaning if determinism were true? Would it make sense to reward and punish people for good and evil actions if determinism were true?   

Dualism (44. C. E. M. Joad)

11. What is dualism?

12. Do you agree with Joad that the mind can best be understood in terms of its being immaterial?

Freedom and Control (5. Skinner; 6. Krutch) 

13. Would you agree that as long as force and punishment are not used, and as long as one’s intentions are to improve or help others live better, it would be morally justifiable to use a science of behavior to determine the behavior of either all citizens or a select group in society (say, criminals or those with brain disorders)?

14. Do you believe that advertising in American society reduces, increases or has no effect on personal freedom?

further reading:

Moral responsibility (8. C.S. Lewis) 

15. What does Lewis mean by ‘the humanitarian theory’?

16. What is the retributive theory of punishment and what is the main criticism of that theory by those who adhere to what Lewis calls the ‘humanitarian theory’?

17. Is Lewis right to fear that “if crime and disease are to be regarded as the same thing, it follows that any state of mind which our masters choose to call “disease” can be treated as crime; and compulsorily cured”? 

Fate (10. Richard Taylor)

18. What is the difference between determinism and fatalism?

19. Is it logically consistent to believe in free will and fatalism?

20. If you were Osmo, would you continue reading the book to discover what was in your future? Why or why not? What would be the advantages and disadvantages of doing so?

21. How much of whom you are has been determined by coincidences, chance encounters, luck, etc.? 

 Unit II. God and Religion

Introduction: pp. 116-119.

Creation? (11.Morrison; 12. Darrow)

1.  How would Darrow respond to each of Morrison’s 7 reasons?

2. Whose arguments are more compelling? Why?

Religious Experience (13. Trueblood)

3.  What is a religious experience? Is such an experience proof of God’s existence? Why or why not?

God and the Moral law (14. C.S. Lewis)

4.  Is Lewis correct about the existence and nature of "the Moral law"? And does the existence of the moral law prove there is a "Power" behind the law?

Atheism (15. Russell)

5. Why does Russell reject a belief in God? Are his reasons satisfactory?
6. Russell claims that religion is "unworthy of free men." What is his evidence for this claim, and do you agree with him? Why or why not?

Faith, Evidence and Belief (18. W.K. Clifford; 19.  William James)

7.  Cliford argues that all our beliefs should be based on evidence and probabilities, not hopes and wishes. Do you agree? Why or why not?
8.  Does James believe that there is a good proof or a good argument for the existence of God? Why or why not?
9.  Why does James believe in God? Are his reasons satisfactory?

The problem of evil (16. Hick; 17. B.C. Johnson)

10.  What is theodicy?
11.  Why does God allow moral evil and suffering, according to John Hick?
12.  Does Johnson prove that either a) God does not exist, or b) god is not All-Good; or c) God is not All-Powerful?

Rationalism (52. Descartes)

Introduction pp. 476-482.

13. What is it possible to doubt, according to Descartes?

14. What is the purpose of the "malignant demon" hypothesis?

15. What is the nature of the human mind, according to Descartes?

Skepticism (54. Hume)

16.What is the difference between Pyrrhonism and mitigated skepticism?

17. Why does Hume think mitigated skepticism can be good for humankind?

Unit III. Moral and Political Philosophy

Introduction pp. 200-203.

Ethical Relativism (22. Stace)

1.  What is the difference between ethical relativism and ethical absolutism?
2.  What does the word ‘standard’ mean to an ethical relativist and absolutist?
3.  Does the fact that different cultures have different moral values prove ethical relativism? Why or why not?
4.  Does the fact that there is no moral standard accepted by all cultures disprove ethical absolutism? Why or why not?

The Morality Trap (23. Browne)

5. Do you believe that you have to obey a moral code created by someone else? Is this a "trap" as Browne claims?
6. Is being selfish immoral and does being selfish mean that one is not sensitive to the needs of others?

Man's Rights (34. Ayn Rand)

7. What is "the right to life," according to Rand? 

8. What does she mean by "the source of rights is man's nature"?

9. She claims that altruism is incompatible with freedom and individual rights. What do you think? 

10. Rand claims that the only advocates of man's rights are those who advocate laissez-faire capitalism (no government interference in trade and commerce; no welfare state, no socialism, no communism). What do you think?

further reading

The Right to Life and Abortion (28. Thompson)

11.  What is the right to life, according to Thompson? Do you agree with her account of this right?
12.  What is Thompson’s argument that even if abortion is the intentional killing of a human being, it isn’t necessarily immoral?
13.  Under what conditions is abortion morally wrong, according to Thompson?
14.  Do you think her analogy of a pregnant woman with the kidnapped violinist is a fair one? Why or why not?

Altruism and Selfishness: Social and Moral Obligations (27. Singer; 26. Hardin)

15. How would you vote in Singer’s referendum and why?
16. Is Singer’s analogy of refugees as outsiders in peril from nuclear radiation a fair one?
17. Do nations or governments have moral obligations? If so, what kind of obligations and to whom do they extend? Their own people, neighboring nations, all nations?
18. Is Singer’s argument for obligations to refugees a consequentialist or deontological argument?

19. Do the rich nations of the world have any moral obligations to feed the poor nations of the world?
20. Is reproduction an inalienable right—the right to breed?
21. Do individuals have moral obligations towards people in other countries, towards refugees, immigrants or future generations? If so, what kind of obligations do we have?
22.  Is Hardin’s metaphor of the poor being in the water and the rich in boats a fair one? Do you agree that our survival depends upon the ethics of the lifeboat?

further reading

Liberty and Society: Introduction pp. 292-302.

Pornography (37. Longino; 38. Narveson)

23.  Do you agree with Longino that pornography is immoral because it advocates and promotes harm against women and should be illegal because it libels and defames women and deprives them of equal status in society?
24.  How strong is Longino’s argument that pornography nourishes sexism and inequality? If so, what is the proper remedy, if any?
25.  How strong is her argument that the fact that most ‘victims’ of pornography are willing ‘victims’ is of no account in determining the morality or legality of pornography?

26. How do Longino’s and Narveson’s definition of pornography differ? Are these differences significant to their arguments?
27. Is pornography a matter of taste, as Narveson seems to believe, or is it a matter of immoral and criminal behavior, as Longino maintains?