PHIL 100W Knowledge and Reality

Summer Semester 2012 | Day | Burnaby


INSTRUCTOR  Lyle Crawford


  • L. Pojman and L. Vaughn (eds.).  Philosophy: The Quest for Truth (7th ed.) (Oxford, 2008).
  • Vaughn and McIntosh.  Writing Philosophy: A Guide for Canadian Students (Oxford, 2009).


Philosophy has been the central intellectual activity of western culture: every other discipline (e.g., math, biology, psychology) have sprung from it.  It is, among many other things, an attempt to think clearly and rigorously about the fundamental presuppositions we all make about the world, especially the puzzling and problematic ones.  The many discussions and arguments of everyday life -- even those commonly thought to be primarily 'practical' and/or 'personal' -- depend in great measure upon deeper, more fundamental commitments (despite a common unawareness of these deeper assumptions).  For instance, someone might be opposed to the legality of abortion on the grounds that “it involves a violation of the right to life,” while another might find it deserving of legal protection since “it involves a woman's right to treat her body as she will.”  The first person might well be presupposing that the fetus is a person, and the second might be presupposing either that the fetus is not a full-blown person, or that even if it is, the mother's rights have greater weight.  Thus, in examining this disagreement in depth we would be faced with some rather tough philosophical questions; for example: What is a person exactly?  What is a 'right'?  How can we go about deciding?  Are people simply material bodies, or are they really non-material entities (minds, souls)?  Can moral judgments be objectively true or false in some fashion?  How?  What is the connection -- or what should the connection be -- between morality and the law?  Life is full of these kinds of puzzles, and wondering about them is what philosophy is all about.

It is our task in this class to begin to uncover and examine some of these fundamental presuppositions about things and the implications they have for our lives; investigating such questions as: Does God exist?  What does 'God' mean, anyway?  Are there any reliable ways to answer this question?  Is God's existence compatible with the great amount of suffering in the world?  Are there objectively true moral rules that we have some access to, or are ethical judgments basically an expression of 'subjective preferences' (along the lines of 'Ice cream tastes good!')?  What can we know about the nature of reality and how do we know it?

Our method for investigating these and related issues will involve the critical examination of the reasons and arguments people produce to justify their answers to these sorts of questions.  Thus, the course will begin with a brief introduction to logic in order to give us some common tools to investigate these reasons and arguments.  The goal of the class is to acquaint you with some classic texts of philosophical thinking, the lives of a few famous philosophers, and the overall problems and methods of Philosophy.  Although we are going to be investigating questions that often do not have any easy, clear, or universally accepted answers, learning to think more clearly about these things may benefit you in a variety of ways, ways that we'll be discussing as the course proceeds.



  •  Two short papers, each with revisions:
    • Paper 1: 20%
    • Paper 2: 30%
  • Midterm exam: 15%
  • Final exam: 25%. 
  • Participation in tutorial (including low-stakes writing assignments): 10%

  Philosophy 100 has no prerequisites and may be applied towards the Certificate in Liberal Arts, the W-requirement, and the Breadth/Humanities requirement.