Course Description

Course Number: PHILO 100
Meetings: MWF 9:30-10:20, Dickens 207
Grades and Assignments: On Canvas

This one semester course is an introduction to the methods, the vocabulary, and a small fragment of the subject matter of Philosophy. We will ask difficult questions like:

  1. Is there a God?
  2. Are we free?
  3. How should we reason? How should we come to believe things?
  4. What kind of life is moral? What kind of life is good?

and familiarize ourselves with some of the approaches that philosophers of different historical periods have taken to justifying their answers to such questions. By the end of the semester, you should expect (1) to know more about what a few philosophers have said about these weighty matters, (2) to better appreciate the challenges these questions present to all of us, and (3) to have acquired a few versatile tools for thinking clearly about such questions (and, incidentally, for thinking clearly about everything else as well).

Classroom Expectations and Policies

Books and Materials

You don’t need to buy a book for this class. Instead, I’ll make the articles and chapters we’re reading available to you 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 The total cost of printing the readings will be less than the cost of a textbook.


You’ll be expected to have completed the assigned reading before each class meeting. The readings will generally be short. Easier readings might be as long as 10 pages. More difficult readings may be as short as one or two pages.

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.

Reading Quizzes

After you complete each reading, you’ll be asked to log on to canvas and answer a few simple factual questions about the reading: what the reading was about, what the author says, and so on. Sometimes, when the semester gets busy, it can be very tempting to skip a reading and focus on other things. These quizzes are supposed to reward you for sticking with it and doing the reading even when there are other responsibilities you’re coping with at the same time.


At the end of each class, I’ll ask you to spend five minutes writing a short summary of what we discussed that day in a journal, which I’ll provide for you. I’ll keep your journals when we’re not in class. This exercise serves several purposes.

First of all, trying to remember what we’ve done and “get the big picture” of our topic in class on a given day is a good way to help yourself remember the material. Second of all, by consulting your journals, I can get an idea of what you’re understanding, and what material might not have been so easy to understand. That way, I can make sure to clarify anything that everybody found confusing. And third, the journals help create a record of what you’ve learned over the semester, which I can use when trying to figure out the degree to which you’ve engaged and participated in the class.

You’ll be allowed to use your journals as a resource during the midterm and final exam, so it’s a good idea to try to make your entries as clear and systematic as you can—that way, when you’re asked about something that we discussed, you can look back on your notes and have the answer there waiting for you.



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. 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), 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.


Coming to class is an important part of the work that you will do this semester. If you miss more than one or two classes, you’ll find yourself unable to complete some required assignments, and unable to answer questions on the midterm. If you miss more than five classes, you will lose half of your participation grade, and if you miss more than seven, you will lose all of your participation grade. This is true even if you have a reason (for example, an extracurricular commitment, or another professor who has scheduled a meeting at the same time that we are scheduled to meet) for missing class—your participation grade is based on how much you’ve actually participated, and in the same way that I can’t give credit for a paper that was never submitted (even if it was not submitted for a good reason), I can’t give credit for participation in a class that you did not attend.

Submitting Material

Written work should be submitted on Canvas 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, or The Harvard Guide to Using Sources


Phones, laptops, and other electronics don’t work well in a discussion setting. So, I’ll ask you not to use them. If you use your phone (or laptop, or tablet) in class, I’ll ask you to put it away. If I need to ask you to put away a phone, laptop or tablet after the first two weeks of class, you’ll lose one quiz worth of credit for each time you need to be asked.

If using a laptop is an absolutely crucial part of your note-taking, then come and speak to me during office hours about an exception. But make sure to get approval before using your laptop—otherwise the previous paragraph still applies.

Assignments and Grading

Grades will be based on your reading quizzes (see the section Reading Quizzes), participation, graded classroom exercises, optional take-home exercises, and on a midterm and final exam.


Exercises may ask you to do things like formalize an argument, create a table of some of the positions we’ve been discussing, or attempt to define a term. They’ll be an opportunity for you to practice skills that you’ve learned during the course, and to encounter new methods that will enrich your understanding of the material we discuss in class. They may be part of an in class activity, or they may something that you do at home.

Exercises are optional, but will count towards the assignment portion of your grade. The amount an exercise counts for will vary from exercise to exercise.


Both the midterm and the final exam will have the same format. Each one will present you with some passages that you have read. You will need to identify the author of each passage, the context of the passage (what piece of writing it is a part of), and give an interpretation of the passage. The Midterm will be about halfway through the semester, on March 10th. The final exam date is May 8th, 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.


Particiation 30% Assignments 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 in-class work. The optional exercises will count towards the assignment portion of the grade, with each exercise contributing up to 5%. 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

I can’t accept late reading quizzes (since the reading quizzes are supposed to encourage you to do the reading before class), or late optional exercises.

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 8th, 11:50 AM