An Introduction to  Philosophy



Please, each of you answer each of these questions.  NO MATTER HOW SIMPLE or OBVIOUS they are!!! You will come to learn why it is important to do so as we proceed through the course.  We need to establish a starting point. 

1. Do you believe that there is a real world?

2. Do you believe that you are real and are part of the real world?

3. Do you believe that you have a body?

4. Do you believe that you have a mind?

5. Do you believe that you have a soul or spirit that survives after death?

6. Do you believe that there is a force, agency, spirit or greater reality that is responsible for the existence of the universe?

goto top


Greek Culture  

How are the social conditions and cultural upheavals that were going on in Athens in the time of Socrates and Plato, from 440 to 370 BC, similar to events and conditions today in the USA? 

Why do you think so? 

For example, do you think that there is a decline in belief in god and the influence of religion over our lives?  If so, where do you think people are getting the foundation for their morality? 

I don't want to suggest other ways in which the USA in 2001 is similar to Athens in 399BC.  What do you think based on the reading and what you know of our times? 

The Pre-Socratics

Pythagoras and Parmenides, each in his own way distrusted what are senses report to us and believed that we should trust in our reasoning and what we have in our minds.  Parmenides went so far as to say that the entire universe of changing things is an illusion and could not be real.  Hinduism also holds for this idea and there are people who hold a similar view of reality known as Idealism.  Do you trust your senses? Do you believe that the physical world of change is the real world?  What do you think about the relationship of your reasoning and your mental abilities to your emotions and your senses as far as leading you to the truth and to knowledge and to wisdom? 

Socrates: the Man

Answer and discuss at least ONE of the following questions.

A. Socrates believed that no one does wrong voluntarily.  Evil is the result of ignorance.  If people knew what was the right thing to do they would do it.  We always choose what we think is the best or good for us.  So, if someone chooses to do what we think is wrong, then that person made a mistake and must be educated to see the error.  They mistook evil for the GOOD. Do you agree?  Why or why not? 

B. If Socrates had the same principles at the age of 37 that he had at the age of 72 do you think that he would have remained in prison to be executed or would he have accepted the offer of his friends and left the prison and gone into exile?  Why or why not?  Give reasons. 

C. If Socrates had left the prison Plato would not have become a philosopher and the Western world would have developed along other lines and at a different pace.  The entire world would be different and you and I would not exist!  Plato's ideas contributed to science, religion, to Locke , Rousseau, Jefferson and Adams and to Hegel and to Marx and to communism.  The world would be different.  Socrates' decision not to escape prison was one of those moments that changed all of history!  Do you agree?  Why or why not? 

Plato: the Philosopher

A. Plato believed that there were four levels or approaches to knowledge and genuine understanding.  They are illustrated in the REPUBLIC in the allegory of the cave and in the divided line.

Level one:   guided by images, stories guesses, opinions

Level two:  guided by practical common sense, trial and error approach, practical

Level three: a theoretical, scientific approach seeking to understand why things are as they are

Level four: philosophical approach, by which theories are themselves evaluated. True understanding 

People in the cave spend their time playing games and identifying the shadows on the wall.  They think that the shadows on the wall are the real things.  They are happy to win prizes in the cave for being so quick and accurate at identifying the shadows.  They do not know that those are just shadows(I) caused by the light crossing over the statues (II) which are themselves representations of the things outside the cave(III) and all of those would not exist if not for the source of all things and all life, the sun(IV) .

Are there many people that you know who are at the first two levels , living in a cave and thinking it is the only reality?  Thinking that the shadows on the world are the reality and refusing even to turn around and look at what else may be the actual truth?  Do you know of people who are happy to have a nice position in the cave and are looking for little beyond that?  People who don’t want their thinking to be disturbed even if it is wrong? 

B.    Plato believed that through careful abstract reasoning we arrive at the real truth.  He thought mathematics was the key to unlock the truth about the physical universe.  Do you agree with him that humans need to arrive at the true knowledge as distinct from opinions through careful analysis, critical thinking and abstraction, categorization and inductive reasoning as to ascertain the essence of things? 


Plato: Philosophy, the Process

A chance to do a little Philosophy; Platonic style! 

What is Love?  What is its essence?  If you can, follow a Platonic approach to arrive at the essence of love!  Does it have necessary or sufficient conditions? 

goto top



What exactly should our conception of a deity be?  Is it possible for a deity to have all the qualities associated with the god of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition:  Supreme, All powerful, All good, Eternal, All Knowing, etc……

 What do you think of god ? 



For the Jews belief in a Supreme Being was supported by the miracles associated with Moses.  For the Christians belief that Jesus is god is supported by the miracles associated with him.  For the Islamic peoples the miracles associated with the rise and spread of Islam are supportive of their faith as well.  Are these events really miracles?  Are there really miracles?  Are there really events that break the very laws of nature and for which there could be no other possible explanation other than the Supreme Being, the author of the laws of nature, being responsible for those events? 


To accept some event as being a miracle we must satisfy two conditions: 

1.     The event must violate the laws of nature

2.     There must be clear and indisputable evidence which compels us to accept that the event took place just as reported 

Why is it so difficult to satisfy both conditions at the same time?


God made the universe.  God made all the angels.  God made everything.  God made Lucifer and knew in advance everything that Lucifer would do.  God made Lucifer and allowed him to do those evil things.  God makes humans, knowing in advance all that they are to do.   God knows in advance that humans will surrender to temptations or to the actions of the devil (Lucifer) and do evil.    Is God then responsible for what Satan (Lucifer) and humans do that are called evil? 

Consider this situation: I ask some human being, say Susan, to baby sit for a group of eight children aged 3 to 7.  I ask Susan to watch them for 5 hours.  They are playing in the very large ballroom of a mansion.  In the ballroom are a large number of toys, electronic games and small rides for children.  Some workers had been removing paint from the iron windows and left cans of paint at the far end of the ballroom where the windows are.  There is also paint remover, thinners, flammable liquids and a blowtorch they have been using to get the old paint off of the window frames.  I instruct Susan to keep the children at the end of the ballroom far away from the painters’ materials.  I return five hours later to find the mansion on fire, Susan out in front with three of the children.  The other children were trapped inside and burned to death.  I ask her what happened and she said she stepped out of the ballroom for a break and when she returned it was on fire.  I ask her how she could do such a thing and she replies that she only stepped out for five minutes and he warned the children before she did so not to touch the materials at the end of the ballroom near the windows.  She told them that it was very dangerous.  They touched those things anyway.  She claims it was not her fault that she warned them, that she didn’t know what would happen.  Now if some human made those claims there are few rational adults who would not think that the person who was left to watch the children was responsible for the harm that came to them.  That Susan should have known.  If this is what we would think about Susan, then what should we think about GOD, who is supposed to know everything about the past, present and future and is all powerful as well?  Is God responsible for EVIL? 



Was it correct for God to punish Adam and Eve and all humans thereafter for an action taken by Eve and then Adam.  After all GOD knew in advance that the devil (serpent) was going to tempt them.  GOD knew that Eve would take the fruit from the forbidden tree and eat of it.  GOD knew this.  GOD made the serpent, the humans, the tree and all other things.  GOD knew all that would happen.  Why would GOD punish all humans for what GOD knew in advance GOD’s creatures would do?  

Since GOD made Lucifer and knew what Lucifer would do and since GOD does not stop Lucifer, why isn’t GOD responsible for the evil?  Why is it acceptable for GOD to punish others for what GOD could stop? 

Do people need to believe in a god?  Why or why not?

Do people need religion?  Why or why not?

goto top


1.  What is reality?  How do we know?   

NOTE: This does not mean a view of what is real or a perspective or an individual experience of whatever is real. This question is asking about what is reality itself. What makes something real? What does any thing that exists in any way need in order to be real as opposed to an illusion, fantasy, fake?    What would you do to determine whether or not something was real?

2. Can there be more than one reality at the same time?

NOTE: This means what is real and not a person's view of what is real. This question is asking if there can be more than one total reality. It is not asking about whether or not people can have different experiences or views of the same reality. This question is asking whether there can be more than one entire reality (universe) at the same time. Granted that people have different experiences and different views what are they of?  Is there a single reality that people have different views of?  or, are there as many realities as there are different views?  Is it possible that there is one reality and some people have correct views of it and other people have wrong or incorrect views of it?  Or are there many realities and each group of people can have their own reality?  What becomes of the reality of other groups?  Are they no longer real?

3. Is it possible that there is no such thing as reality and that word is just a device for the group in power to suppress minorities?

goto top


1. How much and what type of evidence or support is needed to warrant a claim to know something?   

NOTE: Different types of knowledge would require different types of support. What would be needed and how much to prove a claim to know something?

2. Is objective truth possible?  How would we obtain it or confirm it?

goto top


Do you have a non-physical mind or is it just your brain that does those things that you thought were your mind’s actions?   

goto top


If I enter the room with an envelope that predicts that I will get a particular person to get up and leave the classroom and the building for the duration of the class period and if someone gets up and leaves the classroom and the building because I have offered them a higher grade on several papers does this constitute evidence that the determinists are correct? 

If I can get someone to do something by “pushing “ the right “buttons” does that constitute evidence that humans are not free but are conditioned animals and not much different from a mouse, pigeon or monkey? 

What is it you choose to bring up for discussion concerning the topic of your freedom or lack there of?  (If you have a choice!)

goto top


1.Can you say that you have experienced the consequences of the Theory of Normative Ethical Relativism in your own thinking?  If so, describe why you think so?  How did you come to hold that view? 

2. Have you ever watched a talk show?  Have you ever seen a show where the guests disclose that they have done things that ordinarily one would think of as quite bad.  The audience shouts at the them their disapproval and then the guest(s) shout back that they have no right to judge someone such as the guest.  Then the audience grows quieter as if to say that that is correct and they should not be disapproving of their actions.  I have heard that there has been more than one Jerry Springer show on which there have been a number of couples consisting of a man and his own daughter who are living together as husband and wife!  These couples explain about their circumstances and their love for one another and more often than not the audience begins to sympathize and empathize and then accept their behavior.  Who are we to judge? 

What do you think of this? 

3.Explain how the utilitarian principles led to New York State legislators passing a law that bans “Dwarf Tossing” in establishments that sell liquor.  Why shouldn’t dwarfs get tossed if they want to and get paid to do it?  What’s wrong with picking up a dwarf and tossing him down a bowling alley or into a sand pit or onto a wall with Velcro strips to catch the dwarf?  What’s wrong with people betting on who can toss the dwarf further? 

Why not have a 24-hour 7 day a week cable station featuring nothing but public executions and tortures?  Why not have a station that would charge for live execution coverage (pay-per-view)?  How would utilitarians approach this question?  

4. What do you find appealing or discouraging about Natural Law Theory? 

5. What do you find appealing or discouraging about  Kant’s Theory?

6. What do you find appealing or discouraging about Rawl’s Theory?

7. What do you find appealing or discouraging about Nietzsche’s Theory? 

8. What is wrong with being an EGOIST?

goto top


Consider some matter of importance to us today that relates to the question of the distribution of goods and services.  Apply any of the social theories you have read about and take a position on it.  For example, income taxes, are they good or bad, why?  Medicare and Medicaid, are they a good system for distributing wealth to provide for health care services or not? Why?  Welfare, Workfare etc...  

goto top


Consider some matter of importance to us today that relates to the question of the conflict between individual rights and the rights of the group, i.e. the conflict between the welfare of the individual and that of society and then apply some one of the political theories to its resolution.  For example, smoking tobacco in public, wearing seatbelts in cars or on motorcycles, owning guns, hunting, contagious diseases (std’s and HIV), earning income "off the books", the homeless remaining in public to solicit, etc… .  How would a Utilitarian or a Libertarian or a Rawlsian or Marxist approach these matters? 

You do not need to personally endorse the basic principles or theory from which you approach these conflicts but it would be better if you did or if you were at least "leaning toward" one of them.

goto top


under development

goto top


1. OK, here we are at the end of the semester.  What does Philosophy now mean to you and why?  Is it any good at all for anyone?  What has it meant to others through time? 

2. What can we do to make this course better and why do you think so?

What seems to work well, the best, the least?  Try not to rate things by the amount of work involved.  Please attempt an evaluation based on its effectiveness in assisting you to achieve the learning objectives or intended outcomes.  We know that the course required a great deal of time, effort and labor on your part.  Here is where we can express whether the labor was worth it in terms of contributing to the goals for the course. Those goals were set by both the instructor and the students.  For those of you who wanted to take a course like this because you wanted to learn about how others thought about things, the world, GOD, souls etc...  Did you get to learn about such things?   For those of you who were looking to find answers to questions are you now in a better position to go about that task?

goto top
Creative Commons License
Introduction to Philosophy by Philip A. Pecorino is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Return to:                 Table of Contents for the Online Textbook