Course Description

Course Number: PHILO 301
Meetings: MWF 11:30-12:20, Kedzie 214
Grades and Assignments: On Canvas

This one semester course is an introduction to the history of western philosophy. The time period covered will begin slightly before the classical period in Greece, and will end with the crisis of the Enlightenment, around 1780 AD.

Because we cannot cover everything, we will emphasize especially

  1. Epistemology: the evolving understanding of truth, proof and evidence during the periods that we study.
  2. The Philosophy of Religion: how philosophers justified, analyzed, and criticised religious belief, and how philosophical doctrines informed the work of influential religious thinkers.
  3. Ethics: how we’ve arrived at some of the core ethical concepts—virtue, the good life, the will, and the social contract—that are still the foundation of ethical reflection today.

As we study these topics, we will strive to understand not just the theories and arguments contained in the philosophical texts we read, but also the relationship between those texts and the practical questions (particularly about political and social justice, religious belief, and scientific method) that confronted their authors.

By the end of the semester, you should expect (1) to know more about what a few philosophers have said about the topics listed above (2) to better understand “how we got to today”—how our common sense and basic intuitions depend on the path through history that happens to lead up to the present moment—and (3) to have faced and overcome significant challenges, and as a result, to have grown as a reader, a writer, and a philosopher.

Classroom Expectations and Policies

Books and Materials

The main textbook for this class is Kenny’s A New History of Western Philosophy. This book should be available at the campus bookstore, and you can also find it for a reasonable price on, for example, We will also read a large number of (translations of) primary texts.1 The primary texts we’re reading available for you to download through canvas. You should print them out. You should also get a three ring binder, or a large folder. You should keep the readings in the binder, so that they’re there when you need them, and so that you don’t lose anything.

If you don’t have a printer, you can use the printers that the university provides at Hale Library. Instructions on how to use the library printers are available by following this link: The university gives you ten dollars worth of free printing. If you need more printing, you can add to your reserves at the ID center in the student union, or online at


You’ll be expected to have completed the assigned reading before each class meeting. It’s in the nature of a class like this that you’re going to have to read a fair amount—up to thirty or forty pages per class period. Some of what we read will be material from the textbook, and should not be too difficult. But the primary sources we read may be genuinely challenging.

There are many reasons why reading historical philosophical texts is hard. The most obvious is that there is we are separated from the authors of these texts by time, language, and culture. We need to make an effort if we are going to get across that gap. Reading original texts is also hard because the ideas they contain are very new to the authors. They are expressed in a raw and unpolished way and they do not have the comforting feeling of obviousness that philosophical ideas acquire once they make their way into common sense and are worn smooth by the passage of time.

You should read carefully. When you don’t understand what the author is saying, try to figure out what’s puzzling you. When you do understand what the author is saying, try to think about why he or she is saying that, and whether you agree with what’s being said (and why or why not!). Careful reading will be richly rewarded. You’ll find that you have good questions for discussion, and intelligent things to say when you’re asked to say what you think about the topic and why. Careless reading wastes everyone’s time, especially yours.

Here are some tips on how to read carefully.

  1. Be active. Don’t just let the words wash over you. Underline the parts that you think are important. Write questions you have in the margins of what you’re reading. Take notes, if you can, and try to put the difficult parts in your own words.
  2. Evaluate what you read. Think about what you’re being told, and ask yourself “do I want to add that to the list of things I believe?”. It’s a good sign if you find yourself writing things like “Yes!” or, “This seems wrong” in the margins.
  3. Go slowly. Careful reading takes time.



In the classroom, I expect you to be respectful of others. This doesn’t mean never objecting to or disagreeing with what other people says (quite the opposite—if you respect someone, and you think they’re wrong, you let them know). But it means keeping the focus on ideas, rather than on the people who are putting the ideas forward. It should go without saying that any kind of language or activity that threatens or demeans another person—in particular, any racist, sexist, or homophobic language, or its equivalent—will not be tolerated.


I’m most likely to respond quickly if an email is clearly worded and organized. The best way to organize your email is to begin with a salutation (like “Hi Graham”), to end with a signature (like “Cheers, —Megan Zellner”), and to have the first line of your email say what the subject of your email is (for example, it might say “I have three questions”).

I’ll respond most quickly to specific questions about class material. For example, if you write to ask “What does Descartes mean when he uses the word ‘extension’ on the first page of the reading?”, then you can pretty much be sure that I will write back to you within twenty-four hours. If you ask me a question that’s not very specific (like “What is Descartes talking about in the first meditation?”), or if you don’t ask a question at all (for example if you say “I have some questions about Descartes’ first meditation”, and then don’t say what those questions are, or you just report a sensation of confusion), then it may be a while before I’m able to get back to you.

If you ask a question which can be answered by looking at the syllabus, or at the K-State website, I’ll try to point you in the right direction, but I’ll expect you to figure out the answer yourself.


It is important to participate, and I’ll base your grade partly on how much I think you’ve engaged with the class and the material we discuss. But there are many ways of participating.

You can participate by

  1. asking questions in class, or by answering them;
  2. being active on canvas discussions of the readings, by raising questions about the text, trying to answer questions, or even by doing some original philosophizing based on the content of the readings.
  3. otherwise evidencing thought, understanding, and curiosity related to class—for example by talking to me outside of class (I’ll often be at the department Tea, Thursdays at 4), by organizing a reading group, by incorporating what you’ve learned into other parts of your life. So long as you let me know what you’re doing, any or all of these things would prove to me that you are not a cleverly disguised rutabaga.

Submitting Material

Written work should be submitted by 5pm on the day that it is due.

Late assignments will lose 5% (about a half letter grade) with each deadline, with a new deadline beginning every 24 hours. So, for example, if you turn in an assignment that would have earned 85 points 25 hours late, you’ll get 75 points on that assignment, since you lost 5% for missing the first deadline, and another 5% for missing the deadline 24 hours after that.


If you need an accommodation because of the effects of a disability, you can contact me privately. Please also contact the Student Access Center, as the official K-State statement recommends:

Students with disabilities who need classroom accommodations, access to technology, or information about emergency building/campus evacuation processes should contact the Student Access Center and/or their instructor. Services are available to students with a wide range of disabilities including, but not limited to, physical disabilities, medical conditions, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, depression, and anxiety. If you are a student enrolled in campus/online courses through the Manhattan or Olathe campuses, contact the Student Access Center at , 785-532-6441; for Salina campus, contact the Academic and Career Advising Center at , 785-826-2649.


If you plagiarize anything, I will fail you—you’ll receive a grade of XF for the course. You’ll also be required to take the K-State Development and Integrity Course. Completing this course will remove the X from your record, but not the F. This penalty is explained in K-State’s official statement on academic honesty.

Kansas State University has an Honor System based on personal integrity, which is presumed to be sufficient assurance that, in academic matters, one’s work is performed honestly and without unauthorized assistance. Undergraduate and graduate students, by registration, acknowledge the jurisdiction of the Honor System. The policies and procedures of the Honor System apply to all full and part-time students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate courses on-campus, off-campus, and via distance learning. The honor system website can be reached via the following URL: A component vital to the Honor System is the inclusion of the Honor Pledge which applies to all assignments, examinations, or other course work undertaken by students. The Honor Pledge is implied, whether or not it is stated: “On my honor, as a student, I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this academic work.” A grade of XF can result from a breach of academic honesty. The F indicates failure in the course; the X indicates the reason is an Honor Pledge violation.

The basic idea behind plagiarism is that it is a kind of lying, where the lie is caused either by carelessness or by a deliberate intent to mislead. What makes it plagiarism is that you’re lying, intensionally or unintentionally, about the source of an idea. It doesn’t matter if you put those ideas in your own words. If they’re not your ideas, and you allow someone to get the impression that they are, that’s plagiarism.

The way to avoid plagiarism is to make sure that your readers know where ideas come from. If you got an idea from a friend, cite the conversation. If you got an idea from a website, cite the website. Research is great—but research without citation is plagiarism.

For more information about how to avoid plagiarism, you can consult K-State’s Student Tips Website, The Harvard Guide to Using Sources, or the wiki’s sections on plagiarism and on proper citation.


Phones, laptops, and other electronics don’t work well in a discussion setting. They’re distracting, and they potentially shut you off from the people around you. So, I think it’s probably a very bad idea to use any of these devices in class unless you absolutely have to.

I don’t intend to police your usage, but please, if you must use electronics in class, be mindful of the effects of this usage on yourself and on those around you.

Assignments and Grading

Grades will be based on your participation, your presentations, and on a midterm and final exam.


As part of your work for the class, you’ll make two short video presentations—perhaps ten minutes—either in collaboration with a group, or by yourself. In these presentations, I’ll ask you to explain some topic from class—an important puzzle, concept, argument, or thesis that is related to what we are working on.

You can choose the idea yourself, or I can help you find one. You can work with a group of up to four of your classmates, or you can work by yourself.

There will be four main due-dates for presentations: February 12th, March 12th, April 9th, and May 7th. You will only need to produce a presentation for two of these dates. You’ll be assigned your presentation due dates by the beginning of the second week of class.


The midterm and the final exam will both ask you to answer questions about the views of various figures from the history of philosophy, to define or explain some of the concepts that we’ve encounter, and to reconstruct important arguments from passages of text (which you will have seen before, and which will be made available during the exam).

The Midterm will take place about halfway through the semester, on March 10th. The final exam date is May 11th, 11:50 AM.


Your work will be evaluated entirely on the basis of its quality. Good work is clear, thoughtful, and free from factual or logical error. In particular, you will need to write grammatical sentences, spell words correctly, and organize your thoughts. You should not repeat clichés, or say things that you don’t really mean. You should make sure you know what you want to say before you start writing. Don’t say anything that’s obviously false.


Participation 30% Presentations 40%
Midterm 10% Final 20%

Your final grade is calculated according to the weights given in the table above. 30% of your grade will be based on your participation, and 70% will be based on your quizzes, exams, and contributions to the Wiki. Once the final percent score has been calculated, it will be converted into a letter grade with percentages 100-90 an A, 89-80 a B, and so on. K-State doesn’t give pluses or minuses, but I’ll round up fractions.

If you ever need clarification about the reasoning behind a particular grade, I encourage you to contact me. I’ll never lower your grade as the result of reexamining an assignment and if you give me reason to believe that I undervalued your work, I’ll correct my mistake immediately. I ask only that before coming in to speak with me, you send me a short ( 1 page) written explanation of your question or explanation of why you think your work deserves a better grade than the one I gave it. If you think I missed your point, try to explain that point again or indicate exactly what I misinterpreted. If you think that I’m missing a reasonable interpretation of a piece of text, include the text and show me what I’ve got wrong.

Having something specific written down makes it much easier for me to answer your question or to see where I may have gone wrong in evaluating your work. And, in philosophy as elsewhere, sometimes just carefully articulating a question is nine-tenths of arriving at the answer. You may discover that you don’t need me for that final tenth.

Late Assignments

Assignments are due by 5pm on their due date. If an assignment is late in reaching me, or in reaching your partner for working on a given page, I’ll subtract 5% from your grade for that assignment for each 24 hour period that it is late—so an assignment that is one hour late will lose 5%, and an assignment that is 25 hours late will lose 10%.

Important Dates

Last day for a full refund on drop: February 6th
Last day for a 50% refund on drop: February 13th
Last day to drop without a W: February 24th
Midterm: March 10th
Last day to drop a course: March 27th
Final Exam: May 11th, 11:50 AM

If there are any questions that the syllabus leaves unanswered, please don’t hesitate to .

  1. a primary text is an original historical source. A secondary text is something like our textbook, which is about original sources.