The goal of this text is to present philosophy to newcomers as a living discipline with historical roots. While a few early chapters are historically organized, my goal in the historical chapters is to trace a developmental progression of thought that introduces basic philosophical methods and frames issues that remain relevant today. Later chapters are topically organized. These include philosophy of science and philosophy of mind, areas where philosophy has shown dramatic recent progress.
This text concludes with four chapters on ethics, broadly construed. I cover traditional theories of right action in the third of these. Students are first invited first to think about what is good for themselves and their relationships in a chapter of love and happiness. Next a few meta-ethical issues are considered; namely, whether they are moral truths and if so what makes them so. The end of the ethics sequence addresses social justice, what it is for one’s community to be good. Our sphere of concern expands progressively through these chapters. Our inquiry recapitulates the course of development into moral maturity.
Over the course of the text I’ve tried to outline the continuity of thought that leads from the historical roots of philosophy to a few of the diverse areas of inquiry that continue to make significant contributions to our understanding of ourselves and the world we live in.
As an undergraduate philosophy major, one of my favorite professors once told me that philosophers really do have an influence on how people think. I was pleased to hear that the kind of inquiry I found interesting and rewarding might also be relevant to people’s lives and make a difference in the world. Then he completed his thought, “it only takes about 300 years.” Over thecourse of my teaching career, it has struck me that the opinions many of my students come to class with have just about caught up with David Hume. So perhaps things are not quite as bad as my professor suggested. While Hume did publish young, he was still an infant 300 years ago. My mission as a philosophy teacher has been to remedy this situation to some small degree. Most of the philosophy I read in graduate school was written by living philosophers, people I could meet and converse with at conferences. Every time I’ve done so I’ve come back with a new list of living philosophers I hoped to read. My experience with living philosophers has convinced me that philosophy has progressed as dramatically as the sciences over the last century or so. It is a great misfortune that the educated public by and large fails to recognize this.
Philosophers, no doubt, carry much of the blame for this. At the cutting edge of the profession we have been better researchers that ambassadors. At no time in history have there been as many bright people doing philosophy as there are today. Clearly articulated fresh perspectives on important issues abound. But at the same time, philosophy’s “market share” in the universitycurriculum has fallen to historic lows. If the flourishing of philosophy over the past century or so is to continue, philosophy as a living discipline will have to gain a broader following among the general educated public. The front line for this campaign is the Philosophy 101 classroom.
This is an open source text. It is freely available in an editable, downloadable electronic format. Anyone is free to obtain, distribute, edit, or revise this document in accordance with the open source license. No one is free to claim proprietary rights to any part of this text. Sadly, one of the main functions of academic publishing, both of research and textbooks, has become that of restricting access to information. This is quite against the spirit of free and open discourse that is the lifeblood of philosophy.
Introductory students should be exposed to as many philosophical voices as possible. To that end, links to primary source readings and supplemental material are imbedded in the text. I’ve restricted myself to primary source materials that are freely available on the Web. Students should require nothing more than a reliable Internet connection to access all of the required and recommended materials for this course. Limiting primary and supplemental sources in this way has presented some challenges. Classic sources are readily available on the Web, though not always in the best translations. Many contemporary philosophers post papers on the Internet, but these are usually not intended for undergraduate readers. Most good philosophical writing for undergraduates is, unfortunately, proprietary, under copyright and hence unavailable for an open source course. The strength of an open source text is that it is continually open to revision by anyone who’d care to improve it. And so I’d like to issue an open invitation to members of the philosophical community to recommend writing suitable for this course that is currently available on the Web and has so far escaped my notice. Or, better yet, to write for this course.