Read chapters 1-3 from the book provided below and Please answer the following questions in your own words. The format is that of a “short answer” test, meaning that each question can be answered in a short paragraph. This exam is also “open book,” so I expect you to use your textbook.
1. Please explain the meaning of an “Ad hominem” attack.
2. What was the rationale that Thales of Miletus gave for his idea concerning the fundamental nature of the world?
3. Name and explain Plato’s tripartite theory of the soul.
4. In terms of validity, what is the difference between inductive and deductive arguments?
5. Name and explain Aristotle’s “Four causes.”
6. What is Philosophy?
7. Under what division of Philosophy would skepticism fall? Please give a definition of skepticism and describe one example of its ontological limitations.
8. According to Bertrand Russell, what is the primary task of philosophizing?
9. Explain how divine commands are related to the field of Ethics.
10. From your textbook, name and explain one of the most popular sayings of Heraclitus.
An Introduction to Philosophy
W. Russ Payne
Copyright (cc by nc 4.0)
2015 W. Russ Payne
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document with attribution under the
terms of Creative Commons: Attribution Noncommercial 4.0 International or any later version of
this license. A copy of the license is found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/
Introduction ………………………………………………. 3
Chapter 1: What Philosophy Is ………………………….. 5
Chapter 2: How to do Philosophy ………………….……. 11
Chapter 3: Ancient Philosophy ………………….………. 23
Chapter 4: Rationalism ………….………………….……. 38
Chapter 5: Empiricism …………………………………… 50
Chapter 6: Philosophy of Science ………………….…..… 58
Chapter 7: Philosophy of Mind …………………….……. 72
Chapter 8: Love and Happiness …………………….……. 79
Chapter 9: Meta Ethics …………………………………… 94
Chapter 10: Right Action …………………………………. 108
Chapter 11: Social Justice ………………………………… 120
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
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 the
course 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 university
curriculum 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 online, though not always in
the best translations. Many contemporary philosophers post papers online, 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. This is my humble attempt to remedy that situation. It can no doubt be improved
upon and so I invite more capable thinkers and writers to do so.
1. What Philosophy Is
What is philosophy?
Many answers have been offered in reply to this question and most are angling at something
similar. My favorite answer is that philosophy is all of rational inquiry except for science.
Perhaps you think science is all of human inquiry. About a hundred years ago, many
philosophers, notably the Logical Positivists, thought there was nothing we could intelligibly
inquire into except for scientific matters. But this view is probably not right and here is a telling
question: what branch of science addresses the question of whether or not science covers all of
rational inquiry? If this question strikes you as puzzling, this might be because you already
recognize that whether or not science can answer every question is not itself a scientific issue.
Questions about the limits of human inquiry and knowledge are philosophical questions.
We can get a better understanding of philosophy by considering what sorts of things other than
scientific issues humans might inquire into. Philosophical issues are as diverse and far ranging as
those we find in the sciences, but a great many of them fall into (or across) one of three major
branches of philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.
Metaphysics is concerned with the nature of reality. Traditional metaphysical issues include the
existence of God and the nature of human free will (assuming we have any). Here are a few
metaphysical questions of interest to contemporary philosophers:
What is a thing?
How are space and time related?
Does the past exist? How about the future?
How many dimensions does the world have?
Are there any entities beyond physical objects (like numbers, properties, and relations)?
If so, how are they related to physical objects?
Historically, many philosophers have proposed and defended specific metaphysical positions,
often as part of systematic and comprehensive metaphysical views. But attempts to establish
systematic metaphysical world views have been notoriously inconclusive.
Since the 19th century many philosophers and scientists have been understandably suspicious of
metaphysics, and it has frequently been dismissed as a waste of time, or worse, as meaningless.
But in just the past few decades metaphysics has returned to vitality. As difficult as they are to
resolve, metaphysical issues are also difficult to ignore for long. Contemporary analytic
metaphysics is typically taken to have more modest aims than definitively settling on the final
and complete truth about the underlying nature of reality. A better way to understand
metaphysics as it is currently practiced is as aiming at better understanding how various claims
about the reality logically hang together or conflict. Metaphysicians analyze metaphysical
puzzles and problems with the goal of better understanding how things could or could not be.
Metaphysicians are in the business of exploring the realm of possibility and necessity. They are
explorers of logical space.
Epistemology is concerned with the nature of knowledge and justified belief. Here are a few
noteworthy epistemological questions:
What is knowledge?
Can we have any knowledge at all?
Can we have knowledge about more specific matters, like the laws of nature,
fundamental moral principles, or the existence of other minds?
The view that we can’t have knowledge is called skepticism. An extreme form of skepticism
denies that we can have any knowledge whatsoever. But we might grant that we can have
knowledge about some things and remain skeptics concerning other issues. Many people, for
instance, are not skeptics about scientific knowledge, but are skeptics when it comes to
knowledge of morality. Later in this course we will entertain some skeptical worries about
science and we will consider whether ethics is really in a more precarious position. Some critical
attention reveals that scientific knowledge and moral knowledge face many of the same skeptical
challenges and share some similar resources in addressing those challenges. Many of the popular
reasons for being more skeptical about morality than science turn on philosophical confusions
we will address and attempt to clear up.
Even if we lack absolute and certain knowledge of many things, our beliefs about those things
might still be more or less reasonable or more or less likely to be true given the limited evidence
we have. Epistemology is also concerned with what it is for a belief to be rationally justified.
Even if we can’t have certain knowledge of anything (or much), questions about what we ought
to believe remain relevant.
While epistemology is concerned with what we ought to believe and how we ought to reason,
Ethics is concerned with what we ought to do, how we ought to live, and how we ought to
organize our communities. It comes as a surprise to many new philosophy students that you can
reason about such things. Religiously inspired views about morality often take right and wrong
to be simply a matter of what is commanded by a divine being. Moral Relativism, perhaps the
most popular outlook among people who have rejected faith, simply substitutes the commands of
society for the commands of God. Commands are simply to be obeyed, they are not to be
inquired into, assessed for reasonableness, or tested against the evidence. Thinking of morality as
so many commands based on the authority of God or society leaves no room for rational inquiry
into how we ought to live, how we ought to treat each other, or how we ought to structure our
communities. Philosophy, on the other hand, takes seriously the possibility of rational inquiry
into these matters. If philosophy has not succeeded in coming up with absolutely certain and
definitive answer in ethics, this is in part because philosophers take the answers to moral
questions to be things we need to discover, not simply matters of somebody’s say-so. The long
and unfinished history of science should give us some humble recognition of how difficult and
frustrating careful inquiry and investigation can be. So, we don’t know for certain what the laws
of morality are. We also don’t have a unified field theory in physics. We are far more
complicated than atoms, so why expect morality to be easier than physics?
So we might think of metaphysics as concerned with “What is it?” questions, epistemology as
concerned with “How do we know?” questions, and ethics as concerned with “What should we
do about it?” questions. Many interesting lines of inquiry cut across these three kinds of
questions. The philosophy of science, for instance, is concerned with metaphysical issues about
what science is, but also with epistemological questions about how we can know scientific truths.
The philosophy of love is similarly concerned with metaphysical questions about what love is.
But it also concerned with questions about the value of love that are more ethical in character.
Assorted tangled vines of inquiry branch off from the three major trunks of philosophy,
intermingle between them, and ultimately with scientific issues as well. The notion that some
branches of human inquiry can proceed entirely independent of others ultimately becomes
difficult to sustain. The scientist who neglects philosophy runs the same risk of ignorance as the
philosopher who neglects science.
What is the value of philosophy?
Philosophy is a branch of human inquiry and as such it aims at knowledge and understanding.
We might expect the value of philosophy to be found in its results, the value of the ends that it
seeks, the knowledge and understanding it reveals. But philosophy is rather notorious for failing
to establish definitive knowledge on the matters it investigates. I’m not so sure this reputation is
well deserved. We do learn much from doing philosophy. Philosophy often clearly reveals why
some initially attractive answers to big philosophical questions are deeply problematic, for
instance. But granted, philosophy often frustrates our craving for straightforward convictions. In
our first reading, Bertrand Russell argues that there is great value in doing philosophy precisely
because it frustrates our desire for quick easy answers. In denying us easy answers to big
questions and undermining complacent convictions, philosophy liberates us from narrow minded
conventional thinking and opens our minds to new possibilities. Philosophy often provides an
antidote to prejudice not by settling big questions, but by revealing just how hard it is to settle
those questions. It can lead us to question our comfortably complacent conventional opinions.
Reading: The Value of Philosophy
Our first Reading is Chapter 15 of Bertrand Russell’s Problems of Philosophy, “The Value of
Philosophy.” The whole book can be found here: http://www.ditext.com/russell/russell.html.
(Follow one of these links and do the reading before continuing with discussion of it below)
We humans are very prone to suffer from a psychological predicament we might call “the
security blanket paradox.” We know the world is full of hazards and like passengers after a
shipwreck we tend to latch on to something for a sense of safety. We might cling to a possession,
another person, our cherished beliefs, or any combination of these. The American pragmatist
philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce speaks of doubt and uncertainty as uncomfortable anxiety-
producing states. This would help explain why we tend to cling, even desperately, to beliefs we
find comforting. This clinging strategy, however, leads us into a predicament that becomes clear
once we notice that having a security blanket just gives us one more thing to worry about. In
addition to worrying about our own safety, we now also have to worry about our security blanket
getting lost or damaged. The asset becomes a liability. The clinging strategy for dealing with
uncertainty and fear becomes counterproductive.
While not calling it by this name, Russell describes the intellectual consequences of the security
blanket paradox vividly:
The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the
prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation,
and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the cooperation or
consent of his deliberate reason. . . The life of the instinctive man is shut up within the
circle of his private interests. . . In such a life there is something feverish and confined, in
comparison with which the philosophic life is calm and free. The private world of
instinctive interests is a small one, set in the midst of a great and powerful world which
must, sooner or later, lay our private world in ruins.
The primary value of philosophy according to Russell is that it loosens the grip of uncritically
held opinion and opens the mind to a liberating range of new possibilities to explore.
The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its very uncertainty. . .
Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts
which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free
them from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to
what things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the
somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never traveled into the region of
liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an
Here we are faced with a stark choice between the feeling of safety we might derive from
clinging to opinions we are accustomed to and the liberation that comes with loosening our grip
on these in order to explore new ideas. The paradox of the security blanket should make it clear
what choice we should consider rational. Russell, of course, compellingly affirms choosing the
liberty of free and open inquiry.
Must we remain forever uncertain about philosophical matters? Russell does hold that some
philosophical questions appear to be unanswerable (at least by us). But he doesn’t say this about
every philosophical issue. In fact, he gives credit to philosophical successes for the birth of
various branches of the sciences. Many of the philosophical questions we care most deeply
about, however – like whether our lives are significant, whether there is objective value that
transcends our subjective interests – sometimes seem to be unsolvable and so remain perennial
philosophical concerns. But we shouldn’t be too certain about this either. Russell is hardly the
final authority on what in philosophy is or isn’t resolvable. Keep in mind that Russell was
writing 100 years ago and a lot has happened in philosophy in the mean time (not in small part
thanks to Russell’s own definitive contributions). Problems that looked unsolvable to the best
experts a hundred years ago often look quite solvable by current experts. The sciences are no
different in this regard. The structure of DNA would not have been considered knowable fairly
recently. That there was such a structure to discover could not even have been conceivable prior
to Mendel and Darwin (and here we are only talking 150 years ago).
Further, it is often possible to make real progress in understanding issues even when they can’t
be definitively settled. We can often rule out many potential answers to philosophical questions
even when we can’t narrow things down to a single correct answer. And we can learn a great
deal about the implications of and challenges for the possible answers that remain.
Suppose we can’t settle some philosophical issue. Does that tell us that there is not right answer?
No. That is not to say that every issue has a right answer. There is no answer to the issue of
whether chocolate is better than vanilla, for instance. But when we can’t settle an issue this often
just tells us something about our own limitations. There may still be a specific right answer; we
just can’t tell conclusively what it is. It’s easy to appreciate this point with a non-philosophical
issue. Perhaps we can’t know whether or not there is intelligent life on other planets. But surely
there is or there isn’t intelligent life on other planets. This question obviously has a right answer,
we just haven’t been able to figure out which it is. Similarly, we may never establish whether or
not humans have free will, but, at least once we are clear about what we mean by “free will”,
there must be some fact of the matter. It would be intellectually arrogant of us to think that a
question has no right answer just because we aren’t able to figure out what that answer is.
Review and Discussion Questions
The first quiz covers this chapter and Bertrand Russell’s essay “The Value of Philosophy.” You
will find a link to the quiz in the course module for this chapter. Watch the course calendar for
when to take the quiz. The following questions will help you prepare. Feel free to take these
questions up on the discussion board.
On this Chapter:
Why should we doubt that science covers all of human inquiry?
What are some metaphysical issues? Some epistemological and ethical issues?
What problem does the view that morality is simply a matter of the say-so of some
authority lead to?
On Russell’s “The Value of Philosophy”:
What is the aim of philosophy according to Russell?
How is philosophy connected to the sciences?
What value is there in the uncertainty that philosophical inquiry often produces?
On the commentary on Russell:
Explain the “security blanket” paradox.
How can understanding of issues be advanced even when definitive knowledge can’t be
What’s the difference between saying we can’t know the answer to some question and
saying that there is no truth of the matter?
Finally, consider some of the definitions of philosophy offered by philosophers on the page
linked at the opening of the lecture. A number of these would make for good discussion. Here’s
the link again: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/04/09/what-is-philosophy/
Some Vocabulary from this Chapter
2. How Philosophy is Done
As a kind of inquiry, philosophy is aimed at establishing knowledge and understanding. Even
where certain knowledge about a particular issue can’t be had, there are often interesting things
to learn about why we can’t have certainty and what sorts of less-than-certain reasons there are
for or against holding a position on that issue. So, rational inquiry may be interesting and fruitful
even when we are denied straight-forward answers to our initial questions. Once we raise a
philosophical issue, whether about the nature of justice or about the nature of reality, we want to
ask what can be said for or against the various possible answers to our question. Here we are
engaged in formulating arguments. Some arguments give us better reasons or accepting their
conclusions than others. Once we have formulated an argument, we want to evaluate the
reasoning it offers. If you want to know what philosophers do, this is a pretty good answer:
philosophers formulate and evaluate arguments.
Your introduction to philosophy should be as much a training in how to do philosophy as it is a
chance to get to acquainted with the views of various philosophers. To that end, you should
carefully study the sections below on arguments.
Once a philosophical position is considered, we want to ask what arguments can be advanced in
support of or against that issue. We then want to examine the quality of the arguments.
Evaluating flawed arguments often points the way towards other arguments and the process of
formulating, clarifying, and evaluating arguments continues. This method of question and answer
in which we recursively formulate, clarify, and evaluate arguments is known as dialectic.
Dialectic looks a lot like debate, but a big difference lies in the respective goals of the two
activities. The goal of a debate is to win by persuading an audience that your position is right and
your opponent’s is wrong. Dialectic, on the other hand, is aimed at inquiry. The goal is to learn
something new about the issue under discussion. Unlike debate, in dialectic your sharpest critic
is your best friend. Critical evaluation of your argument brings new evidence and reasoning to
light. The person you disagree with on a philosophical issue is often the person you stand to learn
the most from (and this doesn’t necessarily depend on which of you is closer to the truth of the
Dialectic is sometimes referred to as the Socratic Method after the famous originator of this
systematic style of inquiry. We will get introduced to some of Plato’s dialogues chronicling the
exploits of Socrates in the next chapter on Ancient Greek Philosophy. This will give you a good
sense for how the Socratic Method works. Then watch for how the Socratic Method is deployed
throughout the rest of the course.
As varieties of rational inquiry, it’s natural to think that science and philosophy are mainly
concerned with getting at the truth about things. There are some interesting and some confused
challenges to the idea that philosophy and science are truth oriented. But for now let’s assume
that rational inquiry is truth oriented and address a couple of questions about truth. Let’s focus
on just these two:
What is it for a claim to be true?
How do we determine that a claim is true?
It’s important to keep these two questions separate. Questions about how we know whether
something is true are epistemic questions. But the question of what it is for something to be true
is not an epistemic issue. The truth of a claim is quite independent of how or whether we know it
to be true. If you are not sure about this, consider the claim that there is intelligent life on other
planets and the claim that there is no intelligent life on other planets. I assume we don’t know
which of these two claims is true, but surely one of them is. Whichever of these claims is true, its
being true doesn’t depend in any way on whether or how we know it to be true. There are many
truths that will never be known or believed by anyone, and appreciating this is enough to see that
the truth of a claim is not relative to belief, knowledge, proof, or any other epistemic notion.
But then what is it for a claim to be true? The ordinary everyday notion of truth would have it
that a claim is true if the world is the way the claim says it is. And this is pretty much all we are
after. When we make a claim, we represent some part of the world as being a certain way. If how
my claim represents the world fits with the way the world is, then my claim is true. Truth, then,
is correspondence, or good fit, between what we assert and the way things are.
Is Truth Relative to Meaning?
There is a further potential source of confusion about truth that might be worth addressing at this
point. Words and sentences can be used in lots of different ways. Even if we are not being
inventive with language, there is lots of vagueness and ambiguity built into natural language. A
tempting pitfall in thinking about truth is to think that truth is somehow …