PHIL 101.001 – Introduction to Philosophy: Main Problems

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Instructor: Kyle Driggers. This course meets MTWRF 1:15 – 2:45 p.m. in WI 202.

Perhaps you decided to enroll at UNC to increase your knowledge about a particular subject. Maybe, after a few courses, you would say that you know a thing or two about, for example, calculus or business administration or art history. But how can you really be sure?

Ask yourself: how do you know that you aren’t dreaming right now? Or that you aren’t in an elaborate virtual reality simulation? Could it be that all of the experts you rely on for “knowledge” are really just trying to cheat you out of money? Once you begin to doubt these things, how can you be sure that you really “know” anything?

In Introduction to Philosophy, you will learn how to tackle skeptical questions like these. In our first unit of the class, we will ask about the foundations of knowledge. What does it mean to know something? Does it require that we be certain of something?

We will also consider questions in a variety of different areas of philosophy. For example, we will wonder about the relationship of your mind to your brain. Are they the same thing? Could your mind exist apart from your brain? Could there be zombies with no mind at all?

In addition to questions about knowledge and the mind-body relationship, we will also ask ourselves: Does God exist? What is the meaning of life? and What is the ethical thing to do?

Our primary goal will be to construct and evaluate arguments based on good evidence in favor of different answers to these questions.  The answers we will consider come from both classical readings in Philosophy (like Descartes’ Meditations) as well as from more contemporary sources.

This course aims to develop students’ skills in critical thinking, reading, and writing. Class time will largely be discussion-based. Readings will typically be short, but students will be encouraged to engage in “slow reading” to help them master texts before they attend class.

Students will be asked to write two papers about different philosophical topics. They will also be asked to participate in a peer review process to help them challenge their ideas and strengthen their arguments. The rest of the course grade will be based on students serving as discussion leaders and their performance on a final exam. There is no textbook for this course: all course materials will be available online.

If you have any questions about the course, please feel free to email me at rkdrigge [at] live.unc.edu.