Course Information

Philosophy of the Person I

PL07012 | Fall, 2010

MWF 10am | Room: McElroy 237B

Instructor: Jeffrey C. Witt

Course Description:

Philosophy of the Person is a two semester core course intended for students who plan to make a commitment to that course for the duration of the school year. The objectives of the course are two-fold. The first is to introduce students to the general history of philosophy. Second, within this general historical context, the course will focus on the development of a connected web of issues surrounding the human person and the good life. Students will be asked to absorb philosophy’s long preoccupation with these issues, recognize the perennial difficulties that arise, and actively reflect on the consequences of their own views of the human person.


Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, trans. David Ross (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1925)

Plato, Gorgias, trans. Robin Waterfield (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994)

Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, trans. Joel Relihan (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2001)

Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, trans. Alastair Hannay (London: Penguin, 2003)

Black Board Readings (BB)

Course Requirements

Participation (15%)

Reading Quizzes (10%): One objective of this course is to be exposed to the classic texts of the history of philosophy and to develop reading comprehension of philosophical texts. Achieving this goal requires, at the very least, the simple act of forcing oneself to read and learning to read well. In order to facilitate the necessity of reading and preparation for class, we will have short reading quizzes at the beginning of each class twice a week. The quiz is meant to be short and succinct. It will not presume that you understood the text with perfection or memorized every detail. Rather, it simply presumes that you’ve prepared for class: which means you’ve read the text, and, with the help of reading questions, attempted to discern its general structure and main argument.

Occasionally, reading quizzes may take a different form: namely, in a short in-class writing exercise, which will ask you to reflect on the assigned reading. This will serve as good starting point to our in-class discussion.

I will distribute reading questions for each assigned reading. These questions are designed to focus your reading and to draw your attention to important aspects that will likely come up in class. Questions from the reading quizzes will often pertain to these reading questions (though not in all cases).

Rather than distinguishing between excused and unexcused absences, I will simply drop your lowest five quiz grades. If circumstances (i.e. health or family emergencies) require you to miss more than five classes, please let me know and we will find a different solution. Quizzes will begin promptly at the beginning of class and cannot be made up, so come to class and be on time.

Explications (20%)

These ‘explications’ represent an opportunity to sharpen your reading comprehension of philosophical texts and to increase your ability to discern the essential from the inessential. It is also an exercise in faithfully explicating someone else’s reasoning and being able to quickly and accurately present the core of their argument (an essential skill for constructing your larger arguments about the views of others). ‘Explications’ are meant to be written in prose form, but are neither a summary nor a mere response. Rather, they are a presentation of the essence of a given text that traces the flow and logic of the argument and insightfully anticipates its consequences. In these ‘explications’, I am looking to see if you can grasp the important components of an argument, see how they fit together, and follow them to their conclusion. These ‘explications’ should always aim at brevity and succinctness; nothing should be said that is not crucial to the argument being made. For this reason, they are limited to 350 words. I will be fastidious about this word count in my grading! It should be very hard to meet this word count. The writing process should involve repeated revision and removal of the inessential. If you commit to this process, you will be surprised at how much you can fit in a small space, and at how many redundant things can be removed. ‘Explications’ are also an opportunity for me to give feedback on your writing and for you to internalize that feedback and gradually improve your writing over the course of the semester. Late ‘explications’ will not be accepted.

Papers (2) (45%)

There will be two papers (5 pages) during the course of the semester. Prompts will be distributed in advance to guide your writing. The goal of each of these papers is to identify a motivating question or problem that you think some of the authors we’ve considered can help illuminate, solve, or clarify. Your task is to defend a thesis regarding how this author contributes to the resolution of the posed problem.

Final Exam (20%)

The cumulative final exam will include short fact based questions, quotation identification, and a few short essay questions focusing on core concepts and problems discussed during the course of the semester.


See college policy on plagiarism:

Computer and Email Policy

I ask you not to use your computers in this class. They are almost always a distraction: if not to you, then to me and to others. (If there is a special reason that a computer is needed, please let me know, and we can mostly likely work something out.) If you find this policy frustrating, then I encourage you to watch the Frontline documentary: Digital Nation viewpage&utm_medium=grid&utm_source=grid. I have posted this link on BlackBoard.

Papers will not be accepted via email. Please print out hard copies and turn them in during class. If, for some reason, this is not possible, a hard copy in my mailbox is the next best option. Email is useful for setting up appointments or informing me about emergencies, but about most other things, I prefer to meet with you face to face. This is what office hours are for. Do not be scared; I am nice! If my office hours conflict with your schedule, I will be glad to work with you to find a time that does fit.

Course Schedule

I. Philosophy and the Pursuit of Happiness and Justice

W 9/8 Introduction

F 9/10 Jonathan Lear, The Desire to Understand, pp. 1-10 (BB)

M 9/13 Aristotle, N. Ethics, Book I, c. 1-12, pp. 1-23

W 9/15 Aristotle, N. Ethics, Book I, c. 13, pp. 24-27 and Book II, c. 1-7, pp. 28-43

F 9/17 Aristotle, N. Ethics, Book III, c. 1-5, pp. 48-62

M 9/20 Aristotle, N. Ethics, Book III, cc. 6-12, pp. 63-78

W 9/22 Aristotle, N. Ethics, Book VI, cc. 1-8, pp. 137-148 and cc. 12-13, pp. 154-158

F 9/24 Aristotle, N. Ethics, Book X, cc. 1-8, pp. 248-269 (Explication 1 – chapters 6-8 only)

M 9/27 Plato, Gorgias, 447a-461b, pp. 3-27

W 9/29 Plato, Gorgias, 461b-472c, pp. 27-46

F 10/1 Plato, Gorgias, 472d-481b, pp. 46-62

M 10/4 Plato, Gorgias, 481b-492c, pp. 62-79

W 10/6 Plato, Gorgias, 492d-499b, pp. 79-91, 499b-506c, pp. 91-103 (Explication 2 – 492d-499b only)

F 10/8 Plato, Gorgias, 506c-527e, pp. 103-135

M 10/11 Columbus Day

W 10/13 Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Book I , pp. 1-21

F 10/15 Class Cancelled

M 10/18 Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Book II, pp. 22-48 (Paper 1 Due)

W 10/20 Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Book III, pp. 49- 67

F 10/22 Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Book III, pp. 67-90

M 10/25 Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Book IV, pp. 91-112

W 10/27 Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Book IV, pp. 112-125

F 10/29 Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Book V, pp. 126-150 (Explication 3)

II. The Philosophical Ideal and Revealed Religion

M 11/1 Saadia Gaon, Book of Beliefs and Opinions, Introduction, I-IV, VI-VII, pp. 3-16, 26-36 (BB)

W 11/3 Anselm, Proslogion (Selections), pp. 1-10 (BB)

11/5 Al-Ghazali, The Incoherence of the Philosophers (selections), pp. 235-238 and Averroes, The Decisive Treatise from On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy (selections), pp. 241-260 (BB)

M 11/8 Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, I, c. 4-7, Harmony of Faith and Reason (BB) (Explication 4)

W 11/10 Aquinas, S. T. II-IIae, q. 2, a. 3-4, pp. 112-114 and Treatise on Happiness, qq. 1, 5 (BB)

F 11/12 Aquinas, Treatise on Law, qq. 90-92 (BB)

M 11/15 Blaise Pascal, “Faith Beyond Reason,” pp. 182-185; John Locke, “The Provinces of Faith and Reason,” pp. 183-189; David Hume, “Analogies and Disanalogies,” pp. 192-194 (BB)

W 11/17 Immanuel Kant, “Denying Knowledge to Make Room for Faith,” pp. 201-203 (BB)

F 11/19 Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, pp. 105-117 (BB) (Explication 5)

M 11/22 Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, pp. 118-129 (BB)

W 11/24 Thanksgiving

F 11/26 Thanksgiving

M 11/29 Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, Attunement and Speech in Praise of Abraham, pp. 44-56

W 12/1 Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, Preamble from the Heart, pp. 58-82

F 12/3 Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, Problema I, pp. 83-95

M 12/6 Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, Problema II, pp. 96-108

W 12/8 Review (Paper 2 Due, Wednesday 12/8, 4:30pm)

Final Exam: Thursday, December 16th, 12:30pm

*Course Schedule is subject to alteration and revision according to the needs and progress of the class