Introduction to Philosophy: Great Thoughts Worth Thinking

 I. Course description

By developing an understanding of a range of philosophical concepts, theories and arguments, the course aims to help students develop a broad intellectual appreciation of how philosophical views influence our understanding of ourselves, the life we live, and the things we claim to know.

According to the Times of London, in the August 15, 1998 issue, speaking specifically of philosophy in the United States:

The great virtue of philosophy is that it teaches not what to think, but how to think. It is the study of meaning, of the principles underlying conduct, thought and knowledge. The skills it hones are the ability to analyze, to question orthodoxies and to express things clearly. However arcane some philosophical texts may be – and not everybody can come to grips with the demands of Austrian logical positivism – the ability to formulate questions and follow arguments is the essence of education.

II. Instructor’s educational preparation and current employment

B.A. in European History From St. Louis University

Nicholas Kirschman

Chaminade College Prep.

425 South Lindbergh Blvd.

St. Louis, MO  63131


II. Rationale for inclusion in a program for gifted students

Philosophy has always had a real interest for gifted students.  They maintain strong beliefs and are interested in exploring what other’s have thought and how thought has developed over time.    Often, outside of name dropping in history classes, philosophy as a core discipline is not in most high schools curriculum.

IV. Major topics covered



  • The Predecessors of Socrates.
    • Selected Fragments from the Pre-Socratics.
  • Socrates (469-399 B.C).
    • The Trial of Socrates (Plato’s Apology — complete). The Death of Socrates (from Plato&38217;s Phaedo).
  • Plato (427-347 B.C).
    • Doctrine of Forms (General Statement, from Parmenides). Doctrine of Forms (Creation Myth, from Timaeus). Knowledge: Analogy of the Cave (from The Republic, Book VII). Knowledge: The Divided Line (from The Republic, Book VI). Learning as Recollection (from Meno). Socrates’ Dinner Party Speech (from Symposium). Virtue and the Highest Good (from Laws, Book IV). Laying the Groundwork for Justice (from The Republic). The Philosopher King (from Epistle VII).
  • Aristotle (384-322 B.C).
    • Toward a Definition of Wisdom (from Metaphysics, Book I). The Prime Mover: One and Eternal (from Physics, Books I and VIII). Thought, Contemplation, and the Life of God (from Metaphysics, Book XII). Happiness and Man’s Good (from Nicomachean Ethics, Book I). Moral Virtue and the Mean (from Nicomachean Ethics, Book II). The End of Human Nature: Happiness (from Nicomachean Ethics, Book X). Wisdom and Virtue as the Basis of Society (from Politics, Book VII). The Civil Society (from Politics, Book I).
  • Epicurus (341-270).
    • The Letter of Epicurus to Herodotus (complete).
  • The Stoics: Epictetus (50-138 A.D.) and Marcus Aurelius (121-180 A.D.).
    • Cleanthes’ Hymn to Zeus. The Manual of Epictetus. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.


  • St. Augustine (354-430).
    • Augustine’s Conversion (from the Confessions). Love of God (from the Confessions). The Problem of Human Freedom (from On Free Choice of the Will). The Problem of Evil: 1 (from Confessions). The Problem of Evil: 2 (from Enchiridion). The Mystery of Time (from Confessions, Book Eleven).
  • St. Anselm (1033-1109).
    • Faith Seeking Understanding (from Proslogion). The “Ontological Argument” for the Existence of God (from Proslogion).
  • Maimonides (1135-1204).
    • On Knowing God by Negation (from The Guide for the Perplexed). On Naming God (from The Guide for the Perplexed). On the Existence and Oneness of God (from The Guide for the Perplexed). The Universe: Created in Time, or from Eternity? (from The Guide for the Perplexed). God Is Not the Creator of Evil (from The Guide for the Perplexed). Man Is the Cause of His Own Misfortunes (from The Guide for the Perplexed).
  • St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).
    • On the Existence of God (from Summa theologiae, Part I). The Problem of Evil (from Summa theologiae, Part I). On the Soul (from Summa theologiae, Part I). The Unity of Man (from Summa theologiae, Part I). On Happiness (from Summa contra Gentes, IV). On the Essence of Law (from Summa theologiae, Part I-II). On the Various Kinds of Law (from Summa theologiae, Part I-II).
  • William of Ockham (c. 1280-1349).
    • On the Problem of Universals (from Logic, I, 14-15). A Universal Is Not a Thing Outside the Mind (from Logic, 15). A Universal Is Indistinct Knowledge of Many (from Commentary on Aristotle’s `On Interpretation’). On Being (from Logic,I, 38). Book I (ordinatio) Distinction 2, Question IX (from Commentary on the `Sentences’).
  • Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464).
    • The Maximum and the Minimum Are the Same (from Of Learned Ignorance, Book I). How in the Infinite, Opposites Are One (from Of Learned Ignorance, Book I). Everything Is in Everything (from Of Learned Ignorance, Book II).


  • René Descartes (1596-1650).
    • Discourse on Method, Part II. Meditations on First Philosophy (complete). Meditations on the First Philosophy in which the Existence of God and the Distinction between Mind and Body Are Demonstrated. Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677).
    • Definitions and Axioms (from Ethics, Part I). Seven Propositions on Substance (from Ethics, Part I). The Third Degree of Knowledge and the Love of God (from Ethics, Part V).
  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716).
    • From The Monadology. Evil as Privation (from Theodicy, #20). The Analogy of the Boat (from Theodicy, #30-1). No Better World Possible (from Theodicy, #193-5).
  • Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679).
    • From Leviathan, or the Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiastical and Civil.
  • John Locke (1632-1704).
    • From Essay Concerning Human Understanding. From The Second Treatise of Civil Government.
  • George Berkeley (1685-1753).
    • From A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge. From Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous.
  • David Hume (1711-1776).
    • Impressions and Ideas (from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section II). Doubts Concerning the Understanding: The Cause-and-Effect Relationship (from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section IV). The Advantages of Scepticism (from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section XII, Part III). Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.
  • Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).
    • Introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason. Transcendental Illusion (from Critique of Pure Reason). The Three Regulative Ideas of Pure Reason (from Critique of Pure Reason). The Categorical Imperative (from Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals). Postulates of Pure Practical Reason (from Critique of Practical Reason).
  • George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831).
    • The Absolute as Process of Self-Becoming (from Phenomenology of Spirit, Preface). The Introduction to Phenomenology of Spirit: Consciousness and the Dialectical Process.
  • John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).
    • What Utilitarianism Is (from Utilitarianism). Of the Law of Universal Causation (from A System of Logic). Of Liberty and Necessity (from A System of Logic). On the Probable Futurity of the Laboring Classes (from Principles of Political Economy). Liberty (from On Liberty).


  • Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855).
    • The Search for Personal Meaning (from Journals). Abraham and “Breaking Through the Universal” (from Fear and Trembling). The Subjective Truth, Inwardness; Truth Is Subjectivity (from Concluding Unscientific Postscript).
  • Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900).
    • The Death of God and the Ascendancy of the Overman (from Thus Spoke Zarathustra). Fearlessness (from The Gay Science). Anti-Christ and Revaluation (from The Anti-Christ).
  • Karl Marx (1816-1883).
    • A Chapter in the Exploitation of the Working Man (from Das Kapital). On the Alienation of Man (from Economic And Philosophical Manuscripts).
  • Henri Bergson (1859-1941).
    • From Creative Evolution. Open Morality and Dynamic Religion (from The Two Sources of Morality and Religion).
  • William James (1842-1910).
    • The Meaning of Pragmatism (from What Is Pragmatism?). The Pragmatic Method Applied to the Problem of Substance (from What Is Pragmatism?). The Pragmatic Method Applied to the Problem of Religion (from What Is Pragmatism?). The Will to Believe.
  • Edmund Husserl (1859-1938).
    • Author’s Preface to the English Edition (from Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology).
  • Martin Heidegger (1889-1976).
    • The Fundamental Question of Metaphysics (from An Introduction to Metaphysics). Selections from Being and Time. Selections from Letter on Humanism.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980).
    • The Meaning of Existentialism (from Existentialism and Humanism). Reflections on Being and Nothingness (from Being and Nothingness). Reflections on Dialectical Reason (from Critique of Dialectical Reason). Bertrand Russell (1872-1970).
    • Mathematics and Logic (from Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy). Man’s Place in the Universe (from An Outline of Philosophy). The Value of Philosophy (from The Problems of Philosophy). Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951).
    • Preface to Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Language as Picture (from Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus). Beyond the Limits of Language (from Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus). Language as Language-Games (from Philosophical Investigations).
V. Pre-requisite knowledge

None-the class operates under the assumption that no student has any knowledge of philosophy in a formal sense.

VI. Learning objectives

The course aims to introduce students to the subject of philosophy and its methods of inquiry through discussion of a range of topics including:

  • the existence of God
  • the meaning of life
  • skepticism
  • personal identity
  • the nature of mind
  • freewill and determinism
  • how do we know what we know
  • are there absolute truths in the universe
  • how should we behave
  • what should we teach
  • what responsibilities do we have
  • how to be happy
  • some notorious philosophical paradoxes.

VII. Primary source material

Assigned Text:

  • Shawn, Wallace.  Aunt Dan and Lemon.  Grove Weidenfeld, 1985
  • Ballard, J.G.  War Fever.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990.
  • Barzun, Jacques.  From Dawn to Decadence.  HarperCollins, 2000.
  • Bukowski, Charles.  Betting on the Muse:  Poems and Stories.  Black Sparrow Press, 1997
  • De Beauvoir, Simone.  After the War:  Force of Circumstance 1944-1952.  Paragon Press, 1992
  • Beer, Samuel, ed.  The Communist Manifesto.  Crofts Classics, 1955.
  • Camus, Albert.  The Myth of Sisyphus and other essays.  Vintage Press, 1955
  • Camus, Albert.  Caligula and Three Other Plays.  Vintage Press, 1958.
  • Frankl, Viktor.  Man’s Search for Meaning.  Washington Square Press, 1985.
  • Foucault, Michel.  Discipline and Punish:  The Birth of the Prison.  Vintage Press, 1995.
  • Foucault, Michel.  The Ethics of Care.  Vintage Press, 1998.
  • Kant, Immanuel.  Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals.  Bobbs-Merrill.  1959
  • Nietzsche, Frederich.  Walter Kaufman, Walter, translator.  The Portable Nietzsche.  Viking Press, 1968
  • Nietzsche, Frederich.  Walter Kaufman, Walter, translator.  On The Genealogy of Morals.  Viking Press, 1984
  • Nietzsche, Frederich.  Walter Kaufman, Walter, translator.  Ecce Homo.  Viking Press, 1980
  • Nietzsche, Frederich.  Walter Kaufman, Walter, translator.  Thus Spoke Zarathusta.  Viking Press, 1968
  • Mamet, David.  Goldberg Street:  Short Plays and Monologues.  Grove Press, 1985.
  • Mamet, David.  Make Believe Town:  Essays and Remembrances.  Little, Brown and Company.  1996
  • Sagan, Carl.  Billions and Billions:  Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium  Random House, 1997
  • Shawn, Wallace.  Aunt Dan and Lemon.  Grove Weidenfeld, 1985
  • Tzu, Lao.  Tao Te Ching:  Translated by Victor H. Mair.  Quality Paperback Book Club, 1990.
  • Wittgenstein, Ludwig.  Tractatus Logico-Philosophcus.  Rutledge, 1922
VIII. Supplementary source material
  • Allen, E.L.  From Plato to Nietzsche:  An Introduction to the Great Thoughts and Ideas of the Western Mind.  Fawcett, 1957
  • Appingnanesi, Richard and Chris Garratt.  Introducing Postmodernism.  Totem, 1995.
  • Bender, Carl.  Constructing a Life Philosophy.  Greehaven Press, 1993.
  • Bly, Carol.  Changing the Bully Who Rules the World:  Reading and Thinking about Ethics.  Milkweed, 1996.
  • Cobley, Paul and Litza Jansz.  Introducing Semiotics.  Totem, 1998.
  • Fletcher, Joseph.  Situation Ethics:  The New Morality.  Westminster, 1975
  • Friedlander, Shems.  When You Hear Hoofbeats Think Of A Zebra:  Talks on Sufism.  Mazada, 1987.
  • Gane, Laurence and Kitty Chan.  Introducing Nietzsche.  Totem, 1996.
  • Hayman, Ronald.  Sartre:  A Biography.  Carroll and Graf, 1987.
  • Horrocks, Chris and Zoran Jevtic.  Introducing Baudrillard.  Totem, 1996.
  • Horrocks, Chris and Zoran Jevtic.  Introducing Foucault.  Totem, 1996.
  • Jones, W.T. et al ed.  Approaches to Ethics:  Representative Selections form Classical time to the Present.  McGraw Hill, 1962
  • Kessler, Gary.  Voices of Wisdom:  A Multicutural Philosophy Reader.  Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1992
  • Lechte, John.  Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers:  From Structuralism to Postmodernity.  Rutledge, 1994.
  • Lucas, George R and Thomas W. Ogletree.  Lifeboat Ethics.  Harper Forum, 1976.
  • Marinoff, Lou.  Plato not Prozac!  Applying Philosophy to Everyday Problems.  Haper Collins, 1999
  • Morris, T.V.  The Bluffer’s Guide to Philosophy.  Diamond Communications, 1989.
  • Oglesby, Carl.  The New Left Reader.  Grove Press, 1969
  • Osborne, Richard.  Philosophy for Beginners.,  Writers and Readers, 1992.
  • Palmer, Donald.  Looking at Philosophy:  The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter.  Mayfield, 1994.
  • Parfrey, Adam ed.  Apocalypse Culture.  Feral House Press, 1990.
  • Popkin, Richard H and Avrum Stroll.  Philosophy Made Simple.  Doubleday and Company, 1955.
  • Raeper, William and Linda Smith.  A Beginner’s Guide to Ideas:  Philosophy and  Religion Past and Present.  Lion Educational Press, 1991.
  • Repp, John.  How We Live Now: Contemporary Multicultural Literature.  Bedford, 1992.
  • Shattuck, Roger.  Forbidden Knowledge:  From Prometheus to Pornography.  St. Martins Press, 1996
  • Spencer, Lloyd and Adrzej Krauze.  Introducing Hegel.  Totem, 1996
  • Stevenson, Jay.  The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Philosophy.  Alpha Books, 1998
  • Van Doren, Charles.  A History of Knowledge.  Ballantine, 1994.