Class: PHL100 Problems of Philosophy
Professor: Craig DeLancey
Office: CC212A

Past Assignments

The branches of philosophy and the methods of philosophy

23 August
In class, we'll discuss our goals and then the branches and the methods of philosophy.
24 August
Tuesday's online office hours 10-12 are at:
25 August
The Allegory of the Cave. Read the selection.
Reading assignment: answer the questions on BlackBoard, and come to class prepared to explain it to the rest of us. The questions are:
  1. Describe in your own words the situation of the people in the cave, as Plato describes their initial condition. What are they doing? How are they arranged?
  2. This is an allegory. Who do the people in the cave represent?
  3. Plato says the philosopher may appear useless. How is this described or represented in the allegory of the cave?
30 August
We're going to wrap up our discussion of the methods of philosophy, and then turn to our first big question: can we (and do we) know anything for certain?

This week, because I have academic meetings constantly, my office hours will have to be online Tuesday 10-12 and Thursday 9-11. I'll post links.
31 August
Office hours 10-12 on GoogleMeet. Here's the link: .
1 September
  • Do the practice problems on logic that are on BlackBoard (they are listed as a "quiz"). They are just meant to help you think about these kinds of issues. (It's OK if you don't do well. Lots of people actually struggle with these kinds of problems, which is why we have a class in logic which no doubt you'll take next semester!)
Some thoughts:
  • It takes a while to learn how to tell good arguments (that is, valid arguments) from bad arguments (that is, invalid ones). I don't expect you to have that skill. Instead, I want you to know what a valid argument and a sound argument are. But, I thought it might help you think about this issue, by testing yourself against a few examples.
  • So far, the things I want you to focus on, and learn, are the five concepts of: valid argument, sound argument, empirical claim, logical-mathematical claim, and normative claim.
  • If you find logic interesting, you can take PHL111. Also, if you are very self-motivating, you can read some of my free online textbook that is here.
2 September
Office hours from 8:30 - 10:30 am at
3 September
Before class on Friday, please do two things:
  1. Take the practice quiz on BlackBoard.
  2. Before class read Meditation I and Meditations II in Descartes Meditations on First Philosophy. A fair translation is available at: These are brief, so it's not hard to read them before class. Be sure you can answer the following questions when you are done (re-read the meditation if you cannot):
    • What is Descartes trying to do? What is his goal here?
    • Descartes says he's willing to assume he's not mad, but what human activity makes him worry that he may be systematically deceived?
    • Why does he say that his argument shows composite things are to be doubted? What are composite things, anyways?
    • What is the "evil genuis"? What role does it serve in Descartes's task?
10 September
Answer the questions about Meditation II on BlackBoard.
13 September
We'll review coherentism and some other alternative concepts to Descartes's approach. Then, we'll discuss scientific method! No assignment but: review meditations I and II before class.
14 September
Office hours 9-11 at
15 September
Semi-optional assignment #1 due. Remember, you'll have to do 4 of these this semester. I'll post at least 6 but maybe 8. The assignment is a viewing and some questions on BlackBoard.

Short writing assignment, 1-2 typed pages. This can be done in BlackBoard or on paper you hand in in class. Watch the movie "Roshomon." The movie is available on Kanopy (see the link in our current assignments page) and also on HBOMax if you have that.  This is one of the greatest films ever made, directed by the greatest director who ever drew breath. How lucky you are to see it for the first time! Watch "Roshomon" and then answer the following questions in a short essay.

What do you think happened? Are all three stories true or just one of the stories true? Or none of them? Why do you think so? What might a relativist say? What might a skeptic say? How is your own interpretation of the film related to relativism or skepticism? (That is, is your answer to question 1 relativistic? Skeptical? Or something else?)

try accessing Kanopy from top of this page.
September 17
Practice: There will be an online practice quiz on epistemology. This can be taken on BlackBoard between 6 am and midnight.
September 20
Reading: Read Meditation III. A fair translation is available at: Here's another version that seems a decent translation: , and here's another:

Practice: Answer the questions on BlackBoard about Meditation III.
23 September
Office hours online 9-11 am at
29 September
I will have in-person office hours in MCC212A from 3-4+pm.
1 October
Practice quiz on theology is on BlackBoard. Take it before midnight.
1 October
Semi-optional assignment 2: read ML King's essay "Pilgrimage to Nonviolence." Answer the questions on BlackBoard (which are: "What is his 'sixth basic fact'? Does this claim require that there is a god? Is King right-- that is, does ethics dependent upon the claim that the universe has purposes independent of us? What do you think Descartes would say? (Descartes did not give us a theory of ethics, but he did have a lot to say about the relationship between knowledge and God.)").

In class, we'll finish our discussion of the question, "Does God exist?" (I got some flack about not discussing Kierkegaard, so we could return to him also if you like.) Then I want to give you a survey about the mind!
4 October
Let's have an in-class quiz on arguments for (and against) the existence of a god. Questions could include asking you to reconstruct each of the pro- and con- arguments we've seen. And what is a reductio ad absurdum again, anywaze?
27 October
Read from Hume's Inquiry section VIII part I. This is a bit long but just focus on sections 65, 66, and 73. A free version is here. This is our introduction to compatibilism.

We will discuss also this paper by Soon et al. Reading it is optional, but it is here.
28 October
Office hours online from 3-4 pm at: .
28 October
Philosophy Club will be meeting In MCC 210 on Thursday at 5:30pm to watch the movie, Fahrenheit 451. This film has been remade a few times but the 1966 version is generally considered the best. It is based on the Ray Bradbury novel of the same name. Anyone is welcome!
29 October
Online quiz on the free will problem. Due by midnight.
29 October
Semi-optional assignment 6. Read Wegner's The Illusion of Conscious Free Will. Write your brief answer to the following. What is the consistency principle? What is the priority principle? What is the exclusivity principle? How together do they (according to Wegner) cause the experience of will? Do you agree with Wegner that your conscious experience of free will is an illusion? Why or why not?
2 November
Office hours online today from 3:00 -- 5:00 pm. Link is: .
29 October - 8 November
What is the good?
1 November
Office hours in MCC212A from 3:00-4:00 pm.
1 November
Read: Chapter 1 of the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Ethics by Kant. You can read it here.

I know it's tough reading, but it's a magnificent and great work! Dive in!

Extra-credit: Look in BlackBoard for two extra-credit questions about Kant.
3 November
Read: Chapter 2 of Mill's Utilitarianism.

Homework: Answer the questions on BlackBoard about Mill.
4 November
The Steinkraus Lecture! You can join us via Zoom, using the QR code on the talk poster.

Semi-optional assignment 7: attend this talk (it's all via Zoom) and write up your understanding of the main hypothesis defended. What do you think is the strongest evidence for the hypothesis? What do you think is the strongest evidence against the hypothesis?
5 November - 10 November
What is justice? What is the best form of government?
5 November
In class we will consider challenges to the very idea of ethics. Then, continue with different ethical theories, we'll turn to contract theory. This will also let us switch our perspective to the questions: What is justice? What is the best form of government?

Watch: This is the video I mentioned, in which the utilitarian Peter Singer argues for what he calls effective altruism. What do you think of his initial argument, which is analogous to the trolley problem.
08 November
Read: "Justice as Fairness" by John Rawls.
09 November
Office hours online from 3-5 pm at:
10 November
Office hours in my office from 3-4:30 pm.
10 November
Before class, read Marx's "Communist Manifesto" Preamble and part 1. Here is a reasonable version.

Practice quiz: There will be a practice quiz on ethics available until midnight.

Semi-optional assignment. Read the short story by Ursula Leguin, "The Ones who walk away from Omelas." It is on BlackBoard. Would you walk away from Omelas? Why or why not? How can this story be interpreted as a criticism of consequentialism? Explain. When is it appropriate to put the interests of a child over the interests of a community?
11 November
Office hours in my office from 2-4 pm.
12 November
Take the online quiz on ethics. Available on BlackBoard until midnight. To prepare, consider the following questions.
  • What is a valid argument?
  • What is a sound argument?
  • Consider a moral problem of our time. What would Kant's theory tell us about the problem? What would Mill's theory tell us about the problem? You must briefly explain their theories, and then apply those theories to the problem. Your answer will be judged on how well you understand and apply the theory. Do the two theories agree? If they do, are there any related situations where they may give different answers? (Advice: you could structure your answer as: introduce the problem; explain Kant's view; apply Kant's view; explain Mill's view; apply Mill's view; discuss the differences of the two theories. Decide which you think is best.)
15 November
Our last theme is purpose. In class, we will review the naturalistic theory of Aristotle, and then discuss the Divine Command Theory. These make an important contrast with the existentialists. We're going to read a few things here in the final stretch. I know we're near the end, but remember there's no work after these (no final papers or anything like that) except our final, so I'm not asking much.
17 November
Read before class: I have posted on BlackBoard selections from Nietzsche. We will discuss Nietzsche's theory about how we can overcome or confront nihilism. This is only a page long! So print it, read it, and bring it to class.

We'll have a quick quiz in class on Nietzsche.

The Last Man living life to the fullest.
15 November - 1 December
What is the purpose of life?
15 November
I'll have office hours from 3-4 pm in MCC212A.
November 16
Office hours via GoogleMeet from 3-5 pm. .
17 November
Read before class: I have posted on BlackBoard selections from Nietzsche. We will discuss Nietzsche's theory about how we can overcome or confront nihilism. This is only a page long! So print it, read it, and bring it to class. Ask yourself: What is the eternal return? What is the Ubermensch (the superman)? What is the Last Man?

We'll have a quick quiz in class on Nietzsche.

The Last Man living life to the fullest.
18 November
Philosophy club is meeting In MCC 210 at 5:30pm to watch the movie, The Social Dilemma. This is a recent Netflix docudrama about the hazards of social media. It is quite entertaining and informative. Feel free to bring something to eat and drink. Everyone is welcome.
November 18
Office hours online from 3-5 pm at:
19 November
Reading: Read Sartre's "Existentialism is a Humanism."

Reading assignment: Answer the questions on BlackBoard, which are: You must understand and apply Sartre's concepts of anguish, abandonment, and despair. The homework is to write up examples of each from your own life. That is,
  1. Briefly describe a situation in which you felt what Sartre calls anguish;
  2. Briefly describe a situation in which you felt what Sartre calls abandonment;
  3. Briefly describe a situation in which you felt what Sartre calls despair.
You can do this on BlackBoard.
19 November
Office hours in MCC212A from 3-4:30 pm.
19 November
Semi-optional assignment.
Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote a great novel, The Brother's Karamazov. You must read it as soon as you have time. Meanwhile, in the novel is a very famous story-within-a-story. One of the brothers (Ivan) tells another of the brothers (Alyosha) an allegory that has come to be known as "The Grand Inquisitor." An online readable version is at: here. Or you can watch a dramatization of it on YouTube.

Write up your answer to the follow question, preferably on BlackBoard: What does the Inquisitor criticize Jesus for? That is, why does he claim that he is kinder than Jesus? What is the burden that Jesus put on his followers, according the Inquisitor. Do you agree with the Inquisitor--that is, did Jesus put this great burden on his followers? Should he not have done so?
22 November
Before class, watch: Sartre's play No Exit. It's about an hour long.

Reading assignment: Answer the question on BlackBoard: Why don't Joseph, Estelle, and Ines leave the room at the end of the play? Remember and apply Sartre's ideas from "Existentialism is a Humanism." (Note: "they are afraid" is not a complete answer. If you think they are afraid, what are they afraid of? That is the most important question! Can you apply the concepts of anguish, abandonment, and despair?)