Syllabus Philosophy 180 Spring 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 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, and an in-class  final exam.

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 (50 pts.)

You will keep an online journal using Google Docs. This journal will typically consist of answers to questions I ask about the reading for upcoming classes.  Your journal 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.  Your answers will be graded not so much on the correctness of your responses as the effort and care you take in answering the questions.  To get full credit journals must be done regularly, show acquaintance with the relevant readings and contain well-composed answers free of typos and ungrammaticality.  See 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.  This does not apply to missed essays and it does not apply to the Nammour essay should you decide to participate.)  For this purpose, the score is the score you received prior to any late penalty.

Class participation 

Almost every class will begin with a short 5-7 minute writing assignment.  By the end of the semester you are expected to have received credit for at least 24 of these.  For every assignment fewer than 24 for which you have received credit, the total points you have accumulated at the end of class will be reduced by 5 points. You will receive credit for all answers that are thoughtful and reasonably informed by the reading. You must be present in the beginning of class to do the writing assignment.  If the professor misses any classes during the semester, the total expected responses will be reduced by the number of classes missed. 

Classes will mostly be conducted as discussions of the reading material, with students providing their answers to journal questions as the primary discussion vehicle.  In any given week (M & W) you must receive credit for contributing to discussion at least once.  You will receive credit for all contributions that are thoughtful and reasonably informed by the reading.  For every week in which you fail to make at least one contribution to discussion, your final grade will be reduced by 5 points.  If the professor misses any classes during a week, the discussion expectation for that week will be dropped.  

Note: The maximum number of points a student will lose as a result of failure to participate is 30.  Students who lose points due to failure or reluctance to participate should strongly consider the extra credit options below.  

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 wishing to participate in the Nammour Symposium's student essay contest will receive 50 points on their lowest scoring analytical essay for this class.
      • 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 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 5050
Final Exam 1 5050
Total Possible  250

Sample Calculation for Zeke:

Essays:                   125 

Journal:                     45 

Final Exam:               35

Class participation:    -10

Extra Credit:               15

Total =                      210

Grade = 210/250     = 84%     = 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.   The Google utility contains a revision history that shows whether entries have been done on time.  You may revise your entries after the due date, but all revisions  and corrections after the due date must be written in a blue font. 

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.  You will be supplied with a sample journal entry for comparison.

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: 9384432 
    • Enrollment password: mayes180
          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 is May 22nd @ 11:59 PM.
  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 thoughtful, complete and contains few or no writing errors.  Answer is neatly formatted, on time , with only minor corrections or revisions being made after the due date. 

75% =  Answer is fairly thoughtful and  complete and contains few writing errors.  Answer is neatly formatted, on time, with only minor, infrequent corrections or revisions being made after the due date.  

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 after the due date.

25% =  Answer is very perfunctory or incomplete and/or poorly formatted and/or contains unacceptable 

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.  

    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.