Syllabus Philosophy 180 Fall 2015

Knowledge and Understanding

     Catalog Description


Examines the concept of knowledge.  Representative topics include  the role of sense perception and memory,  the importance of certainty, the justification of belief, philosophical skepticism, the concept of truth, and the nature of philosophical inquiry.


    Course Goals


Our aim in this course is to develop an understanding of contemporary views of the nature of  human reason, knowledge and understanding.  Our focus will be on how the philosophical study of knowledge and understanding has changed in response to the failure of purely a priori approaches to the subject. We will learn how current views on the nature of knowledge and understanding are shaped by scientific inquiry into the nature of information, perception, cognition and communication.


This course requires at least two previous courses in philosophy.   Students are strongly advised to take both Philosophy 127 and 128 before taking any class above 150.  Basic knowledge of modern European epistemology (Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant) will be assumed.

    Course Requirements

 Your grade in this course will be based on your performance on 3 analytical essays, an online journal, class-participation, an in-class  final exam and accrued extra credit.

Essays (150 pts.)

Analytical Essays are worth 50 points each.  Essays will normally be 2-3 single-spaced pages in length.  You will submit the essays electronically using Google Docs.  Essays will follow the departmental analytical essay format.  Be sure to acquaint yourself with it thoroughly

Online journal (100 pts.)

You will keep an online journal using Google Docs. In this journal enter the following:  (a) answers to questions I ask about your current views or ideas on a subject, (b) answers to questions about a subsequent relevant reading, (c) revisions to these answers based on your engagement with online lecture slides, (d) follow-up questions about your revised ideas or views on the subject. Your journals will not receive a  final grade until the end of the semester, but we will be using them in class as the basis of discussion, and it will be wise to have access to your answers for class participation.  Questions concerning your own views and your initial understanding of an article will be assessed for their level of care, thoughtfulness and engagement with the material.  Revisions will be assessed for all of these as well as accuracy. Be aware that your journal is not a place to keep notes. All writing must be in college-level English, free of typos and grammatical errors, and properly formatted. See further specific journal instructions below.

Final exam (50 pts.)
The final exam is a comprehensive essay exam that will be administered in class on the final exam date.  A list of study questions will be given prior to the exam and you will write on a subset of those questions. If your final exam score is higher than any one of your essay scores, the lowest such essay will be raised to that score.  (i.e., if you receive 40 points on your final exam, and your lowest essay score is a 15, it will be raised to a 40.  If your lowest score is the result of  having missed an essay or submitted one that receives 10 points or less, then it will be raised to half of your final exam score .)  

Class participation and attendance 

Beginning with the second week of classes , every day at the beginning of class you will submit a page containing two entries.

1. A thoughtful answer to a question I have asked on the What's Up page at least the evening before class.

2. An interesting and informed  question, composed by you, about the day's material.  This question may not simply be one that I have asked you to answer in your journal, as you will be expected to be acquainted with the slides that have answered this question already. It may, however, be prompted by the answers provided in the slides.  I will provide some guidance as to what constitutes an interesting question, and standards will rise as the semester progresses. 

A subset of these pages will provide the basis of the day's discussion. On any given day, if your page is chosen, you will be asked to elaborate your answer to the What's Up question, or your own question, or both.  If called upon, you must respond articulately to get get credit for that day's submission. If the professor judges your question to be either uninteresting or uninformed or both, you will not receive credit.  You will also not receive credit if you are called upon to articuale your question and you do not do so competently. 

Your page must be submitted at the beginning of class when collected to receive credit. You also must be in class during the period to get credit, as the page is tracking attendance. Do not submit the page if you do not plan to stay for class. It may be handwriten, but only if exceptionally neat.  Your page will receive credit only if it is neat, free of typos and grammatical errors and meets the above criteria. Standards of thougtfulness and interestingness will rise as the semester progresses.

Please note that this assignment is subject to the academic honesty requirements stated in the Academic Honesty section below.  Questions or answers discovered to be plagiarized will result in participating students failing the class. 

You must receive credit for a minimum of 24 of these class participation assignments. For every assignment below 24 you will lose 15 points .

Extra Credit
      • The Philosophy Department sponsors a few colloquia each semester.  Students who attend these may submit a roughly one-page analysis of the lecture in their online journals.  Thoughtful, well-composed, analyses free of typos will be awarded 5 points.  A maximum of 3 of these assignments may be submitted.  This opportunity will also apply to Philosophy Club meetings when the Club is sponsoring a lecture and, with permission, to lectures at other campuses or philosophy conferences. Your analyses must take the form of the departmental analytical essay, and must be posted to your journal by the Sunday after the lecture.
      • Students who, in the judgment of the author, post interesting comments and questions in response to blog posts on Dance of Reason can get up to 2 points per comment, for a maximum of 5 points. You can get credit for no more than 1 comment per post, and no more than 5 students may get credit for any one post.  Comments must occur within 6 days of publication.
      • Course evaluations for this course are conducted online. As an incentive to participation, all students will receive 5 extra points if 95% of students who take the final exam participate in the survey.

     Grading Criteria for Written Work

Your written work will be evaluated primarily for the quality of the thought it represents and how well it applies the concepts learned in class. Of course, it is necessary that these essays represent a college-level comprehension of English.  In philosophy we practice a writing method that you should be familiar with by the time you take this course: our ideal is to express our thinking clearly and completely, but also precisely and concisely. In philosophical writing

vagueness, ambiguity, verbosity and repetition are considered to be major defects and are penalized accordingly.  For further advice on philosophical writing consult the writing guidelines

      Grade Calculation

 QuantityValueMax Possible
Essays 3 50150
Journal 1 50100
Participation 24 0 0
Final Exam 1 5050
Extra Credit  25
Total Basis  300

Sample Calculation for Zeke:

Essays:                   125 

Journal:                     75 

Final Exam:               40

Class participation:    -15

Extra Credit:               15

Total                         240

Grade = 240/300    = 80%    = B-

Final letter grades are assigned on a standard scale. 92% and above = A, 90-91% = A-, 88-89% = B+, 82- 87% = B, 80-81% = B-, etc. Fractional point totals are rounded up from .5. You and only you are responsible for monitoring your performance in this course. Be sure to pay close attention to the drop deadline.

Note: Students who have attended class regularly and completed the majority of the assignments will not receive less than a D in this class if they score a 70% or better on the final exam.

    Journal Creation, Maintenance and Submission

Instructions for creating and sharing your online journal will be provided in the What's Up section of the course website at the beginning of the semester.  Your journal will be monitored by the professor  Your journal will not receive a numerical grade until the end of the semester, but you will be prompted regarding the basic quality of your entries. Your entries will be assessed for the degree of care, thoughtfulness and effort you put into understanding the text. Some important facts about the journal.

1.  It is imperative that you engage the readings and finish your journal entries prior to the due date.   No late entries are accepted.  Journals that contain any late entries will be failed. The Google utility contains a revision history that shows whether entries have been done on time. 

2. Each new journal entry must be pasted into the top of your Google Doc.  Each answer must be written below the corresponding question.

3. Journal entries must be done neatly and in college level English with complete sentences and correct grammar, punctuation and spelling.  

4.  Journal entries must always be done in your own words.   Do not quote the text or the professor unless specifically directed to do so or unless the precise wording of an author is important.  Note that this restriction is not about plagiarism.

5.  If a journal contains plagiarism of any kind the student will fail the course.  Journals and analytical essays will not be reviewed in their entirety for plagiarism until the end of the course. This means that a student who plagiarizes anytime during the semester may go on to complete all of the course requirements and still receive a final grade of F.  The names of students who plagiarize will also be given to Student Affairs for disciplinary action.  Plagiarism includes all of the standard forms identified here as well as copying from other student journals (including those from previous semesters).  

6.  Absolutely do not share your Google Doc journal with any other students and do not share your answers with any other students.   This will be treated as aiding and abetting plagiarism and will be treated in the same manner as plagiarism, as defined above.

7. It is ok to respond to comments on your journal page made by the professor but absolutely do not resolve or delete these comments.

8.  During finals week you will submit your journal, which will also contain all of your analytical essays, in its entirety, to This is a simple process, and you will be referred to the information below at the end of the semester.

    • Student instructions for creating an account and submitting assignments to
    • Class ID: 10516533
    • Enrollment password: mayesphil180
          Before proceeding, read all of the following carefully:
  1. If you have never used Turnitin before, then you will follow the instructions for creating an account at the Student Instructions link above.
  2. If you already have an account, then you will follow the instructions for enrolling in a new class.
  3. After you have enrolled in the class, you will be able to submit your journal by following the instructions to submit a document using Google Drive.
  4. When you submit the document you will be required to name it.  Give it the same name that is on the top left hand corner of your journal.  For example:  Smith, Sam Philosophy 180 Journal.
  5. Before submitting your document, be sure you understand why you are doing this by reviewing lines (5) and (6) above under Online Journals.  It is important to understand that you will fail the entire class if your journal contains any entries or parts of entries that are identical or sufficiently similar to those of other students, or plagiarism of any kind. It will not matter whether you are the one who plagiarized or who allowed your work to be plagiarized. 
  6. Submit your journal only when you have understood all of the above and are entirely finished with it. 
  7. The absolute due date for submitting journals to will be the Friday of final exam week.
  8. Only journals that are submitted to will receive credit.

Grading rubric for journals

Although you will not receive a score for individual answers, the basic grading rubric for individual answers is as follows.

100%  =  Answer is neatly formatted, on time, thoughtful, complete and contains few or no writing errors.  Errors corrected in revised answers and subject to previous criteria.

75% =  Answer is neatly formatted, on time, fairly thoughtful and  complete and contains few writing errors.  Minor misconcpetions may persist in revised answer.

50% = Answer is perfunctory or significantly incomplete and/or contains some writing or formatting errors.  Or answer meets criteria for higher grade, but is substantially revised or created after the due date.

25% =  Answer is very perfunctory or incomplete and/or poorly formatted and/or poorly written and/or late.

0 = Either not done or utterly incomplete, perfunctory or otherwise poorly executed


    Writing Help

        Students in need of writing assistance are encouraged to use Smarthinking, a free service now available to CSUS students.

    Late Policies


As noted above, you are required to submit your work electronically through Google Docs.  Late essay submissions are downgraded 5% for every 12 hour period late, with no essay being accepted more than 72 hours late.  Your submission is counted as 12 hours late if it is received anytime within the 12 hour period after the assignment is due.  Note the policy on late journal entries above.


Keep up with the reading and be sure to post your answers to study questions on time!  You already know that a few pages of philosophy can take a very long time to digest.  This is especially true of the subject at hand.

    Academic Honesty

You are free to study together outside of class. However, all work done in this course is subject to the CSUS academic honesty policy, which you may read at: Academic Honesty Policy & Procedures.  If any assigment contains plagiarism of any kind the participating students will fail the course and be reported to Student Affairs for further disciplinary action. This means students who plagiarize as well as students who permit their work to be plagiarized.

    Course Materials

All reading material will be made available online at the schedule page.

    Students with Special Needs

Students who have special learning or testing needs must notify the professor by the end of the second week of the semester. Students who fall into this category should visit SSWD Lassen Hall 1008 (916) 278-6955 with appropriate documentation.


Minor changes in dates, times and the schedule of readings are subject to revision at the discretion of the professor.