Intro Philosophy: Social & Political Issues (PHIL*1010-01) | College of Arts

Intro Philosophy: Social & Political Issues (PHIL*1010-01)

Term: Fall 2012


This course serves as a general introduction to social & political philosophy. It will be divided into three
main sections: 1) Human Nature, 2) Freedom & Unfreedom 3) Justice and Goodness.
Every week we will read excerpts of philosophical or literary texts. These readings will be from theorists
such as Irigaray, Plato, Marx, Epicurus, Foucault, Hobbes, Lao Tzu, Rawls, Freud, Sartre, Mill, Kant,
Levinas, Aristotle, Fanon and Beauvoir, or fiction writers such as Tolstoy, Austen, Marias, Melville, &
Coetzee. Whether literary or philosophical texts, they are written in order to work out and try to offer a
plausible answer to the big questions: What makes a life worth living? What makes anything someone’s
private property? Is progress possible? Is pleasure different than or the same as happiness, and is either
of these more valuable than knowledge? On what basis is power ever legitimate? Are we by nature
individuals or social beings? Are we basically all the same or are we basically different? Are class
gender and other social inequalities simply inevitable?
In order to think through these questions systematically and well, philosophers rely on two main tools:
concepts and argumentation. Each week of the course will be organized around a particular concept
central to social and political issues: justice, freedom, selfhood, death, property & ownership, identity,
love, happiness, duty, evil, knowledge, pleasure, force, liberty, otherness. The readings chosen will focus
on that concept, unpacking its meaning either by argument or demonstration. For each of these
readings as well, we will look at how it is that they construct their responses: the strength of their
argument, or the power of their expression. Then, in turn, in your end-of-week discussion groups, you
will be able to apply those concepts and use those approaches or argumentation skills to think through
more concrete, topical and local issues such as internet privacy, electoral integrity, legalization of
marijuana. The goals of the course are: to expose you to many different, even contradictory ways of
answering the same questions, to help you read more patiently, carefully and to understand what you are
reading more fully, to help you yourself think more deeply & systematically about complex
philosophical issues, to enable you to make good connections between abstract ideas and instances in
your own daily life which call for those ideas, to support you in building good arguments for your
positions, to give you tools for constructively & critically assessing other people's approaches &
arguments, and to communicate your philosophical ideas more clearly orally and in writing.


PDF icon PHIL1010-01_Houle_.pdf11.11 KB