Course description for
Introduction to Philosophy
Taught by Karen Howes, BA Philosophy, College of William & Mary
This Introduction to Philosophy Course is presented in two high school semesters to provide similar
information to that presented in a one semester college course. It considers three aspects to the
study of philosophy:
History: The history of philosophical thinking and the great philosophers
Thinking: The art of questioning, thinking, reading, writing and speaking philosophically
Skill: Logic, proofs and argumentation
I. Grasping the basics through a historical approach to the study of Philosophy
In the area of History, students will study how people throughout history have proposed and
answered philosophical questions. The class will become familiar with some of the issues that
concerned past societies and also learn how the nature of “thinking” has developed and changed
throughout different time periods. We will study some of the greatest thinkers, logicians and
philosophers with a focus on developing skills of analysis, inquiry and argumentation.
Students will be introduced to several philosophers from Ancient Greek to Modern times -- these
include Thales, Democritus, Plato (Socrates), Aristotle, Aquinas, Hobbes, Descartes, Locke,
Berkeley, Hume, Kant, and John Stuart Mill.
Students will be introduced to the three basic areas of Philosophy: Ethics, Metaphysics, and
In the study of Ethics, the class will explore the Philosopher’s Island and analyze ten different
theories that have fashioned the way man has chosen to create governments and laws. A good deal
of class time will be spent on the philosophy of law and the development of ethical frameworks upon
which laws have been based.
In the area of Metaphysics, the class will delve into some of the more esoteric issues of philosophy,
including existence, space/time, infinity, causality, and what is possible. In this area, students will
begin to understand how philosophers approached questions concerning the nature of things, like
what makes a dog a dog? And if man didn’t exist, would there still be time? In this area students will
study the difference between the empiricists and the rationalists.
Concerning Epistemology, students will consider what it means when we say that we know something.
This area of philosophy examines the nature of knowledge, including what different philosophers
have determined to be our source of knowledge, the limits of our knowledge and the scope of
knowledge. We will examine aspects of the film The Matrix, and students will be expected to
understand how different philosophers would differentiate a dream and reality.
II. Acquiring the skills of analysis, synthesis and argumentation
Students will learn how to think philosophically by knowing first how to ask the right questions – not
necessarily with the intent of finding the right answer, but with the intent of embarking on a journey of
inquiry, investigation and discussion. Philosophical thinking is an exploration of ideas and concepts.
It is about the journey and not the destination.
III. Developing analytical reasoning in the areas of symbolic and propositional logic
Students will have a clear understanding of the difference between inductive and deductive
arguments, and they will begin to analyze theories in terms of the logical progression of propositions
The class will learn how to analyze arguments and determine whether an argument is sound,
contradictory and/or invalid. Several weeks will be spent on understanding paradoxes and solving
Participation in class discussions is the most important aspect of the student’s involvement. There will
be several projects throughout the course, including developing Power Point presentations, leading
lectures, and presenting dialogues. There is also an end-of-year final paper.