2008-09 Catalog

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Program Description

What's What and What Isn't?

NEW! Last Updated: 02/24/2009

Fall, Winter and Spring quarters

Faculty: Charles Pailthorp philosophy

Faculty Signature Required: Spring Quarter.

Major areas of study include philosophy (metaphysics, epistemology and moral), history of philosophy, history of science and expository and argumentative writing.

Class Standing: Sophomores or above; transfer students welcome.

Accepts Spring Enrollment: This program will accept new students who have appropriate background. Contact faculty at Academic Fair or by email. New students should expect to complete some catch-up work during the break.

For the most part, we behave confidently that we know what’s what and what isn’t. Yet when pressed, we find it difficult to say with any certainty why we believe or think we know one thing rather than another. Habit? Common opinion? Can’t imagine otherwise? When pushed, we examine our beliefs and what we think we know, and have to admit that experience sometimes guides us and sometimes leads us astray. When we turn to reason for help, we find certainty turning to doubt and a sense that we’ve taken too much for granted. Questions and issues have proliferated: Are there things we know but cannot say? Are there things we might believe but can never know? Will the sciences show us the way to what’s really what? In the end, must we fall back on common sense or common belief? As would-be knowers, are we on our own or inevitably embedded with others?

Uncontested answers have not been found, but discussion and debate have brought venerable issues about Knowledge and Being into sharper focus. We will study closely what earlier thinkers have offered, and alongside these texts, we will study what philosophers have written in the last century or so. Why bother? First and foremost, out of love for the texts. Secondarily, because questions about Knowledge and Being remain pertinent in a society puzzled about the roles of faith and science in determining public policy, a society where solutions to pressing problems often make matters worse, a society surely confused about what’s what and what isn’t. Our work will concentrate on the relationship between science and common sense, and we will address the relationship between thought and action and how our roles as knowers intersect with our roles as moral agents.

We will begin with Plato and Aristotle, then move to major 17th-century Rationalist and Empiricist texts. Since mathematics has played a central role in how Knowledge and Being have been understood, we will study (as students have for more than two millennia) Book I of Euclid’s Elements. With that in hand, we will develop our understanding of how mathematics has shaped and continues to shape what we make of Knowledge and Being, though students are not expected to have a background in mathematics.

These studies will be followed by close and extensive attention to Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. From Kant, we will turn to Hegel's study of consciousness and later developments in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Throughout the year, we will intersperse venerable classics with later texts that have reshaped how contemporaries read earlier works, texts by Wittgenstein, Quine, Sellars, Strawson, and others. One important goal will be to examine and assess the various “linguistic turns” of 20th century philosophy.

Students will write expository and argumentative essays and be pushed to develop their own thinking by learning to write well about complex issues. We will use peer-response writing tutorials to sharpen writing skills. Student work will be supported by lectures. This program will cover a wide range of newer and older philosophical texts, but it is not a survey course, for students will work closely with texts that are particularly challenging, mostly because they love such study.

Credits: 16 per quarter

Enrollment: 25

Books: www.tescbookstore.com

Program is preparatory for careers and future studies in humanities, writing and rhetoric, language studies

Planning Units: Culture, Text and Language

Program Revisions

Date Revision
February 15th, 2008 This is a new program, not printed in the catalog.
February 24th, 2009 Spring Enrollment field utilized; faculty signature required.