Course Description       
An introduction to four major philosophical questions: What can I know for certain? Does God exist? How should I act toward others? What is justice? This analysis of the foundations of knowledge, religious belief, ethical theory, and social justice includes readings from Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas, Descartes, Kant, Mill, and contemporary philosophers.

Course Objectives         
To gain some basic understanding of philosophical ideas and methods by reading, debating and writing about some of the key texts and issues.

Required Texts 
  • Kathleen Higgins and Robert Solomon, The Big Questions (Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2009). 8th Edition. ISBN-10: 0495595152| ISBN-13: 978-0495595151 (downloadable)
  • Both a print copy and an electronic copy are allowed in class.
  • Rule/Warning: the in-class abuse of digital freedom such as texting or net-surfacing will be penalized by the immediate eviction from the classroom and one letter grade reduction per violation.

Monday Class Meeting Schedule| Writing Submission Due on Friday of Each Class Week
  • 09/12  CH 01 Philosophical Question| Submit Journal by 09/16, 11:59pm| Examples (pass)
  • 09/19  CH 02 The Meaning of LIfe and INTRO and Glossary| Submit Journal by 09/23, 11:59pm
  • 09/26  CH 06 Self  and CH 10 Philosophy, Sex, Race, and Culture| Submit Journal by 09/30, 11:59pm
  • 10/06  CH 05 The Search for Truth and CH 04 The Nature of Reality| Submit Journal by 10/07, 11:59pm
  • 10/17 & 24Mid-semester Writing: Start Working on Your Paper. No Class| (Optional: Submit Paper Outline by 10/28)
  • 10/31  CH 09 Justice and the Good Society| Submit Journal by 11/04, 11:59pm
  • 11/07  CH 08 Morality and the Good Life | Submit Journal re Morality and Good Life by 11/11, 11:59pm
  • 11/14  CH 03 God| Submit Journal re God by 11/18, 11:59pm
  • 11/21   Dr. Lee's Writing Clinic @ My Office, Rm 8.63-15, One-on-one conference| Bring Your Work-in-progress Paper
  • 11/28   Dr. Lee's Writing Clinic @ My Office, Rm 8.63-15, One-on-one conference| Bring Your Work-in-progress Paper
  • 12/05  Philosophical Writing Workshop| (Optional: Submit Draft Paper by 12/09)
  • 12/12  Last Day: Philosophical Writing Workshop| Submit Final Paper by 12/16, 11:59pm

<<On Daily Reading and Journaling>>
  • Try and read all the assigned/required reading per class day  and
  • write a well-condensed and composed (no rambling or waffling, please) journal either
  • combining all/any of the readings or doing an in-depth analysis of one text (or chapter) of your choice. 

Examples from Student Submissions
Journals on "The Personal is Theoretical?"; Theoretical is Scientific?; "Naming Opression and Position":
These examples are quite extensive, and you should aim for a shorter version of the comparable level of analytic and critical reading.

Examples from Professional Philosophers' Publications
Douglas Kellner, Virilio, "War, and Technology: Some Critical Reflections"
Study especially the first few paragraphs to see how the terms and frames of arguments are formed with all the key references in place.
Your academic journal (not a diary) should be a miniature/compressed version of such articles.

Grading Scale
97- A+
93- A
90- A-
87- B+
83- B
80- B-
77- C+
73- C
70- C-
67- D+
63- D
60- D-
Below 60 F (Fail)

Grade A: Mastery of the issues and literature, and an ability to make some original contribution.
Grade B: Good grasp of issues and literature, but little or no attempt at own contribution.
Grade C: Some but uncertain grasp of the issues.
Grade D: Failure to grasp issues but some attempt made.
Grade F: Not even trying.
[I have borrowed this description of the evaluation criteria from the standardized syllabi used in New York University in London.]

  • 100 points system is used.
  • Grades are nonnegotiable, unless there is a clerical error.
  • All the grades up to the final exam or paper are calculated numerically in order to give each student maximum opportunities to recuperate, and also to evaluate more accurately the learning process and incremental achievements.
  • The numeric total will simply be converted to the corresponding letter grade. Therefore, there is very little reason either to rejoice or to despair at any stage of following the course. Just keep putting coins in the piggy bank, and your consistent and overall efforts will be justly rewarded: you reap what you sow, no less, no more.

Course Requirements and Evaluation Criteria
Attending (10 points)
  • Up to 2 absences are allowed with no penalties and 100 % attendance is rewarded with 3 extra points (13 points); save/use those for occasional medical/personal/family emergencies, accidents, mood swings, heart-breaks, personal rainy days, etc. No need to contact me about such in advance. Save your time otherwise.    
  • From the 3rd absence, you lose 3 points per class missed. Only upon providing an official document explaining/justifying your absence, e.g., the doctor's note, your absence will be given a special consideration and possibly excused. If the total number of absences exceeds 50% of class days, you fail the class.  If necessary, submit by email/post/in person a relevant document after such extra absences (i.e., beyond 3, noted above) occurred. Again, there is no need to contact me beforehand, and just submit an official record later, which is all we need. 
  • Lateness causes disruption and affects your own learning process: late counts as half-absent (1.5 points deducted where applicable). 
Preparing/Presenting/Participating (30 points)
  • Preparation (20 points): Your knowledge of the reading material for each day will be constantly, individually and randomly checked. The result will be assessed and logged daily. This functions as a loose form of daily quiz; if you get "caught" unprepared, you lose points.
  • Presentation (5 points): At least 1 presentation required, upto 2 allowed if no one else volunteeres; each maximum 5 points.
  • Participation (5 points): Active and meaningful participation in classroom discussion is not an option but a requirement.
Writing (60 points):| Class ID: 13357777| Password: madness
  • submission through only: no email submission accepted or acknowledged.
  • 5 Journals (20 points, each 4 points): Each minimum 700 words on class readings and those only. Each must clearly contain:
  • a succinct summary of the reading material
  • a critical response to or close analysis of any crucial passage(s) which should also be clearly cited, and
  • a conclusive elaboration of the significance of the topic and the passage(s) under discussion.
  • Any entry lacking in any of the above three elements receives a zero point: fail (0 pt); pass (2 pt); good (4 pt)
  • 5 journals are required.
  • If you submit more than 5 ournals, those extra submissions will receive extra credits, each up to 2 pt.   
  • The grade & feedback for each journal submission will be emailed to the address you used for
  • 1 Paper (40 points): The final paper of minimum 4,000 words must clearly contain:
  • Topic: any figure/topic of your choice from the textbook(s) or classroom discussions
  • Primary Source: textbook(s)
  • Outside Sources: print or internet-based, in any combination, up to 10; any reference, whether a url, a chapter, or a book, counts as 1.
  • Bibliographic Format: any standard academic style such as APA/Chicago/MLA
  • The submission deadline is firm. For each calendar day day missed, 2 points will be deducted.

Statement of College Policy on Plagiarism
"Plagiarism is the presentation of someone else‘s ideas, words, or artistic, scientific, or technical work as one‘s own creation. Using the ideas or work of another is permissible only when the original author is identified. Paraphrasing and summarizing, as well as direct quotations, require citations to the original source. Plagiarism may be intentional or unintentional. Lack of dishonest intent does not necessarily absolve a student of responsibility for plagiarism. It is the student‘s responsibility to recognize the difference between statements that are common knowledge (which do not require documentation) and restatements of the ideas of others. Paraphrase, summary, and direct quotation are acceptable forms of restatement, as long as the source is cited. Students who are unsure how and when to provide documentation are advised to consult with their instructors. The Library has free guides designed to help students with problems of documentation." (From the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Undergraduate Bulletin, p. 36)
Should plagiarism be determined, a formal disciplinary action will be taken immediately: the student in question will receive an F grade for the course.

Accommodation of Religious Observances
Upon request, academic accommodations for a religious observance are available on an individual basis; by the end of the second week, please provide me with a supplementary document that specifies and verifies your context and needs for modification.

Accommodation of Documented Disabilities
Please contact me within the first two weeks of the semester. An appropriate, case-by-case arrangement will be made to ensure that the student in question is given an equal opportunity for learning.

Any questions about the basic details already specified on the syllabus here will be disregarded.

PHI 231. The Big Questions (NOTE: WRITING-INTENSIVE)
Prof. Kyoo Lee, 524 West 59th St. Rm 8.63.15, Dept. of Philosophy, John Jay College, CUNY
Office Hours: By Appointment