Syllabus Philosophy 180 Spring 2016

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 traditional 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, explanation, understanding 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 this class (or 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, online reading quizzes, class-participation, an in-class final exam and any 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 according to instructions provided below.  Essays will follow the departmental analytical essay format.  Be sure to acquaint yourself with it thoroughly. (See grading rubric below.)

Online quizzes (100 pts)

Each reading will be accompanied by a set of study questions posted to the instructor's blog.  Students should compose careful written answers to these questions. Prior to discussing the reading in class, students will take a basic reading comprehension quiz in Blackboard. The quizzes will be timed, so it is important that you do the reading and answer the questions prior to taking the quiz. There will be 15 quizzes worth 10 pts each. Your best 10 quizzes will count toward your final score.

Discussion questions (50 pts.)

Beginning the second week of the semester, students will submit questions to be discussed in class.  These questions will be submitted as repllies to a thread  created by the instructor in a Blackboard discussion forum.  The questions must relate to the article under discussion that day. Questions will receive a grade between 0 and 6.  A maximum of 50 points may be earned in this way. (See grading rubric below.) To receive credit your question must not be identical to or a simple variation on a previously asked question.

Thought questions and attendance (50 pts.)

Beginning with the second week of classes, every day at the beginning  of class you will submit a page containing your answer to a thought question posted on What's Up?  These will often form the basis of an opening discussion. Do not submit the page if you will not be in class, as it is tracking attendance.  Questions will receive a grade between 0 and 3.  A maximum of 50 points may be earned in this way. (See grading rubric 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 a previous essay score on which you received a grade of 30 or better, the lowest such essay will be raised to your final exam score.  (e.g., if you receive 40 points on your final exam, and your lowest essay score above 29 is a 33, it will be raised to a 40.)  If your lowest score is the result of having missed an essay or submitted one that receives less than 30 points, it will be raised to the average of those two scores. (e.g., If you received a 10 on a previous essay and a 40 on your final exam, the essay will be raised to a 25.)

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 Google Docs. Analyses must take the form of analytical essays submitted for this class. Thoughtful, well-composed, analyses free of typos will be awarded 5 points.  A maximum of 2 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 Google Doc by the Sunday after the lecture.
      • If you have other classes that award credit for doing colloquium critiques, it is permissible to submit the same ones for credit here as well. However, they must still be done in the form of an analytical essay.
      • Students who, in the judgment of the author, post interesting comments and questions in response to blog posts on Dance of Reason can earn 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.

      Grade Calculation

 QuantityValueMax Possible
Analytical essays 3 50 150
Online quizzes 15 10 100
Discussion questions 15 6 50
Thought questions 28 3 50
Final exam 1 50 50
Extra credit   20
Total Basis  400

Sample calculation for Zeke
Analytical essays 125
Online quizzes  75
Discussion questions  40
Thought questions  35
Final exam  42
Extra credit   5
Total Basis 

Grade = 322/400    = 80.5%   = 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.

    Evaluation Criteria


            General grading criteria for written work

Generally written work will be evaluated for the quality of the thought it represents, how well it applies the concepts learned in class and how well it satisfies the specific requirements of the assignment in question. Of course, it is necessary that all written work 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

           Submission and treatment of analytical essays

Instructions for receiving your online document will be provided in the What's Up section of the course website at the beginning of the semester. This document will be formatted in a particular manner, and it is imperative that you do not alter the format in any way. Absolutely do not share this document with any other individual. This will be treated as aiding and abetting plagiarism, which carries the same penalty as plagiarism, as defined above. The instructor will leave comments and grades directly on this document. It is ok to respond to these comments but absolutely do not resolve or delete them.

During finals week you will submit your entire document, which will contain all of your analytical essays and any colloquium critiques you elect to do, 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: 11541492
      • 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 document 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 document.  For example:  Smith, Sam Philosophy 180.
    5. It is important to understand that you will fail the entire class if your document 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 document only when you have understood all of the above and are entirely finished with it. 
    7. The absolute due date for submitting your document to will be the Friday of final exam week.
    8. Only the documents that are submitted to will receive credit.

Grading rubric for analytical essays


No sub section of an analysis may receive more than half credit if it fails to conform to basic submission requirements, writing style, writing standards and formatting requirements all specified here.   Compositional errors such as prolix sentences and paragraphs, multiple gramatical mistakes and typos are also heavily penalized.


All essays have a draft due date as well as a final submission due date.  Drafts must be substantially complete in all three sub-sections, though there is no requirement that the final submission be substantially similar to the draft.  When a draft is not submitted or is substantially incomplete, 5 points will be subtracted from the final submission.  Final versions are also subject to an extra 1-5 point penalty when basic writing errors existing in the draft are uncorrected in the final version.

Introduction (10 pts.)

Contains three distinct subsections as specified here and does exactly what is specified in each subsection. Introductions that do not specify the aspect of the article under consideration in the summary and clearly state a project to which the the critique may be held accountable receive 0 points.

Summary (20 pts.)

Conforms to the instructions for writing a summary as specified here.  Summaries that do not carry out the intentions expressed in the introduction receive 0 pts. Summaries that contain criticism also receive 0 points. Summaries written in a narrative style covering aspects of the article that have no relevance to the critique can receive no more than 10 points.  Summaries that meet basic presentational requirements are further evaluated according to whether they display an accurate understanding of the article.

Critique (20 pts.)

Conforms to one of the models for writing a critique identified here.  Critiques that do not carry out the intentions expressed in the introduction receive 0 points. Critiques that meet basic presentational requirements are further evaluated according to whether they (1) display a strong understanding of the article,  (2) pose thoughtful, interesting and substantial questions or challenges, and (3) propose interesting answers or solutions.


Grading rubric for discussion questions.

Grade Reason
 0Not submitted, not relevant to the reading in question, not comprehensible, repeats a previously asked question or a study question without greater elaboration.
 1Question is insubstantial or very clearly answered in the reading. Not particularly worthy of class discussion.
 2Question is substantial, interesting and worthy of class discussion. 
 3Question is unusually interesting, thoughtful, challenging or well-elaborated. 


Grading rubric for thought  questions.

Grade Reason
 0Not submitted or very unthoughtful and sloppily written answer, whether typed or handwritten.
 1Handwritten, legible, reasonably thoughtful but not dicussion worthy, few writing errors. (Or typed but not discussion worthy.)
 2Typed, interesting, discussion worthy, few or no writing errors.
 3Typed, unusually thougtful and interesting, very discussion worthy few or no writing errors.

      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 essays electronically through Google Docs.  Essays have a  draft due date and a final submission due date.  Essays that miss the draft due date are downgraded by 5 points.  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.  No other late assignments are accepted.


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 or in Blackboard.

        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.