my Introduction to Philosophy seminar

I will be teaching Intro to Philosophy at Tufts this semester, starting tomorrow. This course can be taught in several different ways: for instance, with a chronological sequence of major works, with a focus on one large issue, or with an array of excellent but accessible recent articles that give a flavor of the current discipline. I’ve opted to emphasize one of the great philosophical questions: “How should I live?” I’ve tried to select authors who represent reasonably diverse cultural traditions; it was while planning the syllabus that I wrote a piece for Aeon entitled “The lack of diversity in philosophy is blocking its progress.”

The readings will specifically consider whether truthfulness, happiness, and justice are important aspects of a good life. Some of the assigned authors will argue that these three goods fit together neatly, for to be happy requires being truthful and just. But some of our authors will dispute that premise.

I paste the reading assignments below.

Syllabus: Subject to Change

Sept. 7: Overview and introduction

I. Truthfulness

Is there an obligation to seek the truth? To say or teach the truth to others? How does truthfulness relate to happiness and justice? Can we know truths about ethics?

Sept. 12: Plato, Apology, sections §17-35. Also Justin P. McBrayer, “ Why Our Children Don’t Think There are Moral Facts ,” The New York Times, March 2, 2015. Or in this PDF if you have trouble reading it on the NY Times site.

Sept. 14: Plato, Apology §35-42

Sept. 19: Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, aphorisms §1-12

Sept. 21: Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, aphorisms §13-32

First paper due. Describe a situation in which it’s problematic whether to be truthful or not. Argue in favor of being truthful or not being truthful in this situation. Define what you mean by the term “truthful.” Give reasons for your position and explain and counter good reasons against it. Cite at least one relevant passage from Plato or Nietzsche.

II. Happiness

What is happiness? What are the best paths to happiness? Do we have a right to pursue our own happiness? Can we make others happy?

Sept. 26: Epicurus, “Letter to Menoeceus” (We will also discuss Socrates’ remarks about happiness in the “Apology,” already assigned.)

Sept. 28: “Buddha,” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (entry by Mark Siderits)

Oct. 3: “Buddha” (continued)

Oct. 5. Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

Oct 10: No class (Columbus Day)

Oct. 12: More discussion of the “happiness” readings.

Second paper due. Assignment TBA

III. Justice Toward Others

What are principles of justice? Which principles of justice are binding on whom? How do they relate to each other?

A. Welfare

We discussed happiness in the previous section. Could maximizing the happiness of all human beings–or something similar to that–be the main principle of justice?

Oct. 17: Mill, Utilitarianism, chapter 2 (“What Utilitarianism Is”) and chapter 5 (“On the Connection Between Justice and Utility”)

Oct. 19: Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Part I, chapter 1, §5 (versus utilitarianism)

Oct. 24: More discussion of welfare.

B. Liberty

Oct 26: Milton and Rose Friedman, Free to Choose, Introduction and chapter 6 (“What’s Wrong With Our Schools?”)

Oct 31: Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, Chapters 1, 4 and Postscript (pp. 11-21, 54-70, 397-411.)

Nov. 2: John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Part I, 1 §1-4, 2 §11-17, and 3 §24

Nov. 7: Discussion of Rawls continues.

Nov. 9: Isaiah Berlin, “Two Concepts of Liberty” (1958), in Isaiah Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty (1969)

Third paper due. Assignment TBA

B. Equality

Nov. 14: Tim Scanlon, “When Does Equality Matter?

Nov. 16: Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, pp. 149-177

Nov. 21: Bayard Rustin, “From Protest to Politics: Future of the Civil Rights Movement,” Commentary (February, 1965)

Nov. 23: More discussion of the “equality” readings. Fourth paper due.

D. Democracy

Nov. 28: Robert A. Dahl, Democracy and its Critics, pp. 106-52

Nov. 30: Kwasi Wiredu, “Democracy and Consensus in Traditional African Politics” ( and Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, “Democracy or Consensus?” (

E. Identity

Nov. 30: Audre Lorde, “ The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House ” and Steve Biko, “Black Consciousness and the Quest for True Humanity

Dec. 5: Todd Gitlin, “The Left, Lost in the Politics of Identity,” Harper’s Magazine, 1993; and Susan Bickford, “Anti-Anti-Identity Politics: Feminism, Democracy, and the Complexities of Citizenship,” Hypatia Vol. 12, No. 4.

Dec. 7: More discussion of the readings on democracy, diversity and inclusion.

Fifth Paper due.

Assignment: Dec. 12: Final discussion

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.