Syllabus Philosophy 192N: Naturalism

Spring 2016

Catalog Description

Examines the significance of naturalism for the history of philosophy and at least four of the following subject areas: aesthetics,  ethics, epistemology,  philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, philosophy of law, philosophy of history, social and  political philosophy, metaphysics, and logic.

Course Goals

Naturalism may be understood briefly as the view that a human being, and therefore a human mind, is a part of the natural world, the world we know through empirical inquiry. According to naturalism, philosophy must refrain from attributing any supernatural powers of perception or cognition to human beings, and must reject all theorizing that makes essential reference to entities or processes that are necessarily inscrutable to human beings so conceived. Most naturalists also hold that scientific inquiry is the only legitimate form of empirical inquiry, which means that philosophical inquiry must be conceived as continuous with scientific inquiry, not as an alternative to it or an independent means of evaluating it.

Naturalism has ancient roots and it affects every area of philosophy. It modern times it has gathered strength from the development of evolutionary theory and a growing understanding of the biological basis of thought.  It remains highly controversial, however, because it appears to challenge widely held concepts and theories about the nature of morality, religion, and human reason.  Our goal in this course will be to develop an understanding of naturalism as a view about the nature of human knowledge and also as a way of engaging in philosophical inquiry.  

By the end of this course you should be able to:

    • 1. Characterize the main varieties of philosophical naturalism.
    • 2. Summarize the historical development of naturalism.
    • 3. Summarize and criticize  arguments against naturalism.
    • 4. Summarize and criticize arguments for naturalism.
    • 5. Competently identify, engage and assess research that proposes naturalistic solutions to philosophical problems.

Course Requirements

Analytical Essays

In this course you will submit 4 essays, the best 3 of which will count toward your final grade. These essays will be roughly 3-4 single-spaced pages long. In each essay you will critically analyze an assigned article.  The article will not have been covered in class, but it will be relevant to the material we have studied.  Instructions for writing analytical essays are available on the schedule page.  (See grading rubric for analytical essays below.)


You will keep a daily online journal in which you respond to questions asked about the reading. Before every class meeting I will post a series of questions concerning the upcoming reading. You will copy and paste these questions into your journal and then answer them. I will occasionally read and comment on your answers online, but your journal grade will not be assigned until the end of the semester. The journals are graded primarily on the basis of the care with which they are done. This entails consistent entries, college-level writing without typos or grammatical mistakes, and evidence that you are making a serious attempt to understand the reading, as well as to correct mistakes discovered after class discussion. All late entires to journals must be typed in a blue font. It is extremely important to make regular and timely entries in your journal, as they will form the basis of class discussion, which is also graded (see below). Access to your journal answers during class is highly recommended.  

Please note that Google Docs tracks and dates all revisions to your document, and I will review your document at the end of by examining its revision history. Also, it is very important that you do not answer journal questions by simply copying from the book or filling it with direct quotes from internet media. Students who do this will receive no credit for their journal and blatant plagiarism will result in failing the class. (See grading rubric for analytical essays below.) 

Oral participation:

You will be called on more or less randomly (but at least 2-3 times per class meeting) to present your answers to journal questions orally. Your oral participation is graded as follows. 
      • If you answer the question competently you will receive 0 points!
      • If your answer is particularly interesting (as judged by me) then you will receive 1 point.
      • If you are present but unprepared, you will lose 1 point.
      • If you are not present in class on any given day you will automatically lose 2 points, regardless of the reason for your absence.
      • There is no defined upper or lower limit to the number of points you can gain or lose through oral participation.  But your aim should be to receive at least 0 total points.  Points in excess of 0 are extra credit.
Occasionally you may be stymied by a question and be unable to answer it. In such cases, you should explain what it is that prevents you from answering the question.  Answers of this sort will still be graded as competent if they show real engagement with the text. 


Attendance is monitored through the participation policy described above.


 QuantityValue Total 
Essays 3 2575
Journal 1 2525
Total Basis*  100

*But see oral participation points (above) and extra credit points (below).

In calculating your final grade fractional point totals are to the nearest whole point, with point totals ending in .5 being rounded up.  Grades are assigned on a standard scale with minuses (-) added to scores less than 100 ending in 0 and 1 and plusses (+) added to scores less than 98 ending in 8 or 9.  Hence, after rounding: :  A= 92-100,  A- =  90-91,  B+ = 88-89,  B= 82-88,  B- = 80-81, etc.

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


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.

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 journals

Although you will not receive a score for individual answers, the basic grading rubric for the journal is as follows. Any scores between those shown will result from unevenness in the quality of the answers. 

25 pts.  Answers are generally neatly formatted, on time, thoughtful, complete and contain few writing errors.  Misunderstandings are corrected in revised answers and meet same criteria. 

20 pts.  Answers are generally neatly formatted, on time, fairly thoughtful and  complete and contain few writing errors.  Minor misconceptions sometimes persist in revised answers. 

15  pts.   Answers are perfunctory or significantly incomplete and/or contain some writing or formatting errors and/or little effort to correct misconceptions in revised answers. Or answers often meet criteria for higher grade, but are substantially revised or created after the due date.

10 pts. (or less) =  Answers are very perfunctory or incomplete and/or poorly formatted and/or poorly written and/or late. and/or missing.

Submission of written work

Instructions for receiving your Google Doc 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 journal  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: 11552649
      • Enrollment password: naturalism
          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.

Academic Honesty Policy

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.

Late Essay Policy

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.

Extra Credit

The Philosophy Department sponsors several lectures each semester. Students who attend these lectures may submit an analysis using the analytical essay format. A well done analysis will receive 2 points of extra credit. Analyses must be submitted to your journal by the Sunday  after the lecture occurs. A maximum of 4 points can be accrued in this way.  Also, if everyone in class does an online class evaluation, everyone will receive 1 point.

Course Materials 

All course materials will be distributed online, either on the course schedule page or in Blackboard.

Students with Special Needs

Students who have special learning or testing needs must notify the instructor 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.


Dates, times and the schedule of readings are subject to minor revisions at the discretion of the instructor.