Introduction to Philosophy

What value can philosophy provide high school students today?  Skeptics often dismiss philosophy as being too difficult, too boring, and, most importantly, too disconnected from anything practical.  In their defense, philosophers insist that pursuing answers to philosophical questions like “What can I know?” and “What is ultimately real?” encourages students like yourself to develop the critical thinking skills you’ll need if you are to succeed in an era of Facebook and “fake news.”


Neither of these answers would have made sense to philosophers of the ancient world (nor to a few alive during the last two centuries).  Indeed, according to French philosopher Pierre Hadot, during antiquity “philosophy was a method of spiritual progress which demanded a radical conversion and transformation of the individual’s way of being.”  Neither defined by its subject matter nor its relevant skills, philosophy was understood to be a way of life.


In this course, we will adopt this ancient definition as we try to understand the relevance of studying philosophy in the 21st century.  What can philosophy teach us about how to live a good life?  Our investigation into this question will be historical and comparative, with a focus on both classic and contemporary texts.


May 15

Topic: Outlining Workshop for Essay on Romantic Love


May 17

Topic: Romantic Love Essay Revision


May 19

Topic: Philosophy at the Movies—Three Theories of Romantic Love


May 18

Topic: Philosophy at the Movies—Three Theories of Romantic Love


May 16

Topic: Romantic Love Essay Drafting



Philosophy Readings and Resources


Unit 2: The Way of the Ascetics

Philosophers East and West understood philosophy to be a “spiritual exercise” not unlike the kind we associate with religious experiences today.  Despite their differences, these ancient and medieval thinkers agreed that philosophy should aim at making us better people.  Among Hindus, Buddhists, Epicureans, Stoics, and Christians, the systematic denial of pleasure—a practice called “asceticism”—was widely seen as the path to spiritual purity and personal happiness.  Could their recommendations become popular today?

Late Greek and Roman Philosophy: Epicureanism & Stoicism

Classical Indian Philosophy: Hinduism & Buddhism

"The Sermon on the Mount," from The Gospel of Matthew

The Way of the Ascetics: A Synthesis of Early Christian Philosophy

Journal Assignment: "Live Like an Epicurean or Stoic"

Journal Assignment: "Live Like a Hindu or Buddhist"

Unit 2 Essay Prompt and Rubric

Unit 3: Art and the Good Life

As far as we know, human beings have always made art, although it’s not entirely clear why we do it.   Philosophers since Plato and Aristotle have tried to explain why art has value for human beings, but it wasn’t until the 18th century that “aesthetics”—the study of art, beauty, and the experience of each— emerged as its own branch of philosophy.  After briefly surveying classical Greek aesthetics, we will focus on the writings of 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously declared that art and an aesthetic sensibility was the only thing that could save us from drowning in pessimism.

Classical Greek Aesthetics: Aristotle vs. Plato

Nietzsche on Art and Human Life

Unit 3 Socratic Seminar Prep Sheet

Unit 3 Socratic Seminar Reflection

Unit 4: Love and the Good Life

Are the Beatles right that “all you need is love”?  Ordinary high school students like yourself might be surprised to learn that this question wouldn’t have made sense to philosophers prior to the Middle Ages, who would have said much about sex, but little about a kind of love based on personal feelings and the pursuit of a soulmate.  Today, however, the idea of “romantic love” dominates, so it’s worth taking seriously if we are to discover what makes a good life.  Our investigation will focus on an eclectic mix of thinkers that includes Stendhal, Sigmund Freud, Phillip Slater, and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Three Views on Romantic Love

Unit 4 Essay Prompt and Rubric

Unit 1: Philosophy as Way of Life

The word “philosophy” literally means “the love of wisdom” (philo-sophia), which is a fitting description for a way of life that emerged in ancient Greece once students like yourself stopped simply memorizing information and began asking the all-important question “What do you mean?”  In their pursuit of truth about human beings and our place in the cosmos, philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle turned away from traditional sources and began to rely on reason.  What followed was a way of life that has endured from antiquity to the present.

Socrates: Philosophy, Reason, and the Good Life

Excerpts from the Euthyphro: What is Holiness?

Plato: Reason as the Path to Spiritual Purity

Aristotle: Reason as the Path to Living Well

Unit 1 Essay Prompt and Rubric

Course Policies and Procedures


Review the following policies and procedures carefully, as they not only explain how this class will be run, but also articulate my expectations for you this year.


(1) Classroom Environment.   

When you cross the threshold of my classroom door, you enter into a special community. In order to prevent disruptions I keep the door locked, so make sure you arrive on time. Consistent lateness will lower your class participation grade. I am fine with you eating and drinking in my classroom so long as it does not distract you or your classmates, and so long as you tidy up when you are done.  But please note: this privilege will be revoked in all of my classes the minute any student leaves trash in my room or fails to clean up their mess.  Don’t let this be you!

(2) Cell Phones and Technology.

This class moves quickly, so it is important that you keep up with the conversation and are free from distractions. No cell phones, iPods, iPads, or personal computers may be used during class. Exceptions will be made at the teacher’s discretion.



You will submit take-home writing assignments using Please log on to the site as soon as possible and add your class.

(4) Absences and Late Work. 

You are responsible for completing all of the assigned work for this course. If you are absent, consult the course’s online calendar and get in touch with a friend to see what you must make-up. All work must be submitted within three (3) days of returning to class for it to earn credit. Please submit your work in the black-wire bin by the classroom door.

If there is an exam on the day of your absence, and you were notified about it beforehand, then you must email me as soon as you know you’re going to be absent in order to schedule a make-up. The first time I hear from you should not be the day you return from school. Please note that make-ups are only granted for excused absences. In addition, if you fail to show up for the make-up exam, you will not be able to re-schedule and you will not receive credit.


(5) Feedback.

Success in this class will depend on your ability to receive and act upon feedback from your classmates and from me.  Independent and critical thinkers must also be able to reflect and give themselves feedback. I will provide numerous opportunities for you to receive feedback over the course of the semester. Due to time constraints, however, I will not give substantial feedback on late work. You are welcome to see me during office hours to discuss your performance on these assessments.

(6) Cheating and Plagiarism. 

Learning is a shared activity, and during class discussions I encourage you to record each other’s ideas and use them in your writing. That said, I do not tolerate academic dishonesty. Any student caught cheating or found guilty of plagiarism will receive a fail for the assignment with no possibility for make-up, as well as a drop in their final grade. Bottom line: don’t do it.


(7) Work Habits and Cooperation.

Work habits grades are based on consistently coming to class prepared and on time, as well as consistently turning in assignments and essays by the due date. Cooperation grades are based on your conduct in class. Violations of the policies and procedures outlined in this syllabus, as will any display of extremely rude or disrespectful behavior, will result in lowered work habits and corporation grades. Please note: I will not write letters of recommendation for any senior who has earned a U in cooperation in my classes.


(8) Grades. 

Grades for individual assignments are weighted such that assignments given towards the end of a unit count more than assignments given at the beginning. This is because I do not expect you to master the skills and content at the beginning of the year, or even at the beginning of a new unit. However, I do expect that you continuously push yourself. Slacking off will only lower your grade.


Minor assignments are graded using a check system that is then converted into points. The specific number of points depends on the assignment, but the grade breakdown is roughly as follows:


                           √+ = 100%             √+/√ = 90%            √ = 85%             √/√- = 75%         √- = 65%


Major assignments (e.g., essays, projects, and exams) are given letter grades, which are then converted into points depending on the assignment.  Letter grades adhere to the following scale:


                           A+  98-100%              B+  88-89%                C+  78-79%                D+  68-69%

                           A    93-97%                B    83-87%                 C    73-77%                D    63-67%

                           A-   90-92%                B-   80-82%                C-   70-72%                D-   60-62%

                                                                         F        59% and below


(9) Communication.

Please note that while I always respond to emails, I rarely check them after 7pm, so please allow for up to 36 hours for a response.  Emails inquiring about specific grades are never answered; schedule a meeting or see me during office hours to discuss your performance on a specific assignment.