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Introduction to Philosophy:

Philosophy 20

Professor William Blattner

Department of Philosophy

Office: 240 New North

Phone: (202) 687-4528

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Click here detailed information on the Spring 2010 semester

Course Description:

What is human freedom?  Is there such a thing anyhow? Are you free when you choose what to do? Or does freedom require that you choose rationally? Or alternatively, does freedom require that your choices reflect your character, who you are? If freedom does require that you express yourself in your choices and/or actions, are there any moral or aesthetic constraints on such self-expression? Or finally, does freedom require that whatever you choose, you choose in a completely unconstrained manner, free of all determining and limiting factors? We will examine these alternative conceptions of the freedom of action and choice by working through four models of freedom present in the Western philosophical tradition: those of St. Thomas Aquinas, David Hume, William James, and Friedrich Nietzsche.

In this course, we will place a premium not just on learning these views, but putting them into debate with one another.  We will try to sort out our understanding of human freedom and the arguments that can be marshaled for or against these several conceptions of it.  You will practice the art of philosophical analysis and argumentation in your papers, in which you will learn how to take a philosophically informed stand on the issues and defend it with argument.  You will also practice this art in weekly mandatory discussion sections.

Philosophy 20 is part of the Main Campus core curriculum and satisfies the general philosophy half of the philosophy requirement.  (After completing Phil. 20 successfully, you may finish off your core requirements in philosophy with any ethics course, i.e., any Philosophy course numbered 050-149.  See the Phil. Dept.'s guide to the core curriculum for further information.)


Course Requirements:

Mandatory (click here for more info) weekly discussion sections and whatever assignments are listed for the current semester.


Course Prerequisites:

You may not enroll in Philosophy 20 if you have passed any philosophy course numbered 001-049. Seniors may enroll only with special permission. Students who have completed the Liberal Arts Seminar in the College should not take this course, or any other First Philosophy course.  Rather, they should take a Bridge Course next.  SFS students who have completed Philosophy 99 are strongly discouraged from taking this course.


Course Format:

Two weekly "plenary" lectures (for students in any of my sections of Philosophy 20) and one weekly discussion section. The plenary lectures are large, attended by all students in all sections of my Philosophy 20, between 150 and 250 students. Weekly discussion sections are smaller, consisting of somewhere between 10 and 25 students each.

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