PHIL 100W Knowledge and Reality

Fall Semester 2013 | Day | Burnaby


INSTRUCTOR: L. Shapiro, WMC 5661 (lshapiro at


Philosophy starts with asking a slew of questions about things most people take for granted. By trying to answer these questions we gain understanding of both ourselves and the world. In this course, we will address questions proper to what is referred to as Metaphysics (Reality, or what exists) and Epistemology (knowledge) as outlined below, through readings of both historical and contemporary philosophical writings.

Central questions guiding this course include: What sorts of things exist? Does God exist? What about bodies? Minds? What do we know about what exists? Should we simply go by how things appear to us? Or can appearances be deceiving? What about appearances? Is there something distinctive about the way things appear to us, the way in which we humans are aware of the world (as opposed to, say, the way it appears to our pet dog or cat or hamster or frog)? What about the way I see the world? Is there something distinctive about me? What makes each of us the individual persons we are?

Students will:

  • Become familiar with some basic philosophical terminology (including what an argument is!)
  • Be exposed to some foundational philosophical questions and their answers through readings of canonical and contemporary writings
  • Learn to evaluate arguments addressing those questions by raising objections
  • Respond to those questions with arguments of their own
  • Improve their writing skills in this writing intensive course, by learning how to construct a philosophical essay and improving the clarity and conciseness of their prose


  • Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (available online)
  • RenĂ© Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy (Cambridge UP) 978-0521558181
  • David Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (Oxford) 978-0199549900
  • Custom Courseware (McGraw-Hill) (CC) 978-1121922273
  • SFU Library Reserve readings (LR)


  • One 3-4 pp paper, either constructed with 3 parts or with revisions - 20%
  • One 4-5 pp paper, with revisions - 30%
  • Midterm Exam - 20%
  • Final Exam - 20%
  • Participation (including low-stakes writing) - 10%

 All papers must be submitted to Failure to do so will result in a failure to complete the course requirements, and may result in failing the course.

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