Course Overview and Syllabus


PHIL 003: Persons, Moral Values, and the Good Life

LEAP Session, Summer II 2013

The Pennsylvania State University

Instructor: Dr. Mark Fisher/ Sparks Building (by appointment)

Course Site:


1. General Description

This course is designed to introduce students to some of the basic themes of Western Philosophy and to help students develop philosophical habits of reading, thinking, writing, discussion, and participation.

We will consider some of the ‘big questions’ that have remained central to Western Culture since the time of the Ancient Greeks; e.g., ‘What/Who are we?’, ‘How do we fit into the ‘Grand Scheme of Things’?’, ‘What are our obligations’, ‘Why are we obligated in these ways?’, ‘What are we looking for?’, and ‘How do we find it?’.

Just as importantly, we will consider some of the ways in which the particular starting points from which we approach questions like these in the 21st Century affect the ways we go about seeking answers and living our lives; e.g., ‘How do new digital media influence our sense of ourselves and of the communities in which we function?’, ‘What generational differences do we see in attitudes about our rights and responsibilities?’, ‘Do  new technologies make life better, or distract us from what is really important?’

The course material will often be delivered in a way that reflects some of the differences of our 21st-Century starting points (as should be evident, if you pause to consider how you are currently getting information about the course). Our day-to-day activities, both in class and outside of class, will also depend on the use of a variety of tools that have become available only relatively recently. The activities themselves, and the general capacities they are designed to help develop, however, will connect us to a tradition that predates the institution of formalized higher education in the West and that is often seen as providing what is distinctive about Western Civilization.

2. Required Texts



Author: PLATO
ISBN: 9780872206335
Publication Date: –
Publisher: HACKETT


ISBN: 9780804752985
Publication Date: –
Publisher: UCP

Other readings will be made available electronically.

3. Outline of the Parts

The course is broken up into four parts, each of which takes a slightly different perspective on our course themes:

  • Part I: Introduction to Course Themes: Persons, Moral Values, and the Good Life
  • Part II: Ethical Literacy for a Digital Age
  • Part III: Classical Sources for Discussion of Themes
  • Part IV: Contemporary Reflections on Themes

In the first part of the course, we will work to orient ourselves to the various ways in which terms such as ‘Persons’, ‘Moral Values’, and ‘The Good Life’ are used. This will serve as an introduction to the kind of method philosophers will often adopt when thinking, writing, and conversing about matters they take to be important.

In the second part of the course, we will turn to look at some of the particular challenges that confront us in online contexts and how well (or poorly) more standard conceptions of persons and their proper conduct prepare us to deal with these challenges. The focus will be on developing some skills and capacities that can be referred to collectively as ‘ethical literacy’ as a set of tools for navigating changing and unfamiliar territory in ways that reflect general ethical commitments like respect for persons, avoiding harm, treating others fairly, and maximizing well-being.

In the third part of the course, we will read and analyze some texts from Classical Greek sources that address the basic themes of the course, and that have provided points of reference for thinkers in the West from that time forward. Our primary texts will be works by Plato that feature his mentor, Socrates, who is generally recognized as the father of Western Philosophy and who, to this day, continues to serve philosophically-minded thinkers as a source of both puzzlement and inspiration. We will also discuss the primary points of agreement and divergence concerning the themes of our course between Socrates and the many other Classical Greek and Hellenistic thinkers who see themselves as continuing his legacy in various ways.

In the final part of the course, we will consider some contemporary philosophical discussions of Persons, Moral Values, and the Good Life. These discussions are informed by Ancient Greek, Hellenistic, Medieval and Modern Christian and Humanistic thought, on the one hand, and Nineteenth- and Early-Twentienth-Century movements to reject some of the cornerstones of this tradition, on the other. Accordingly, they provide us with an historical and philosophical perspective on our themes, while also presenting ‘live options’ for us as we move forward in our thinking.

4. Expectations for Participation and Completion

Readings, other outside assignments, and in-class activities have been designed to exercise our thinking and engage our interests in a variety of different ways. The time we spend together in class is a supplement to the time you spend alone and/or in smaller groups working to develop your reading, thinking, writing, and communication skills. There is nothing the instructor can do in class, or that some web site or other outside source can do, that will relieve you of the need to be working on these things for yourself on a daily basis. While there are surely any number of other things competing for your attention and time, you should be planning to devote a minimum of two-and-a-half hours of preparation time for each hour and fifteen minute period we spend together in class. (Yes, given two courses, that means two and a half hours per day in class, and a minimum of five hours of outside work per day.)

Students are expected to complete all assignments prior to class meetings, submit required work in a timely fashion, attend every class meeting, and participate in in-class activities to the best of their ability.

Failure to do any one of these could have adverse effects on the level of your achievement in the course. Given the condensed time-period for summer courses, there simply will not be ample time to catch up, if you fall behind.

  • Late work will be accepted only under the most unusual of circumstances, and only after one-on-one consultation with your instructor.
  • Your instructor does not ‘excuse’ absences. If you are forced to miss class for some reason that you believe entitles you to special consideration, you will inform the instructor of this in person or via email as soon as possible, and offer to provide a further explanation of the matter in a one-on-one consultation. Please do not explain the situation in detail in an email.
  • If you are struggling with the demands of the course for any reason, you will inform the instructor of this in person or via email as soon as possible, and ask for a one-on-one consultation to identify and address the sources of your struggles. Please do not explain the situation in detail in an email.

5. Graded Evaluations

Overall Course Grading Scale
93-100% – A
90-92% – A-
88-89% – B+
83-88% – B
80-82% – B-
78-79% – C+
73-77% – C
70-72% – C- (Note: for final grade, no C- is given; C = 70-77%)
68-69 – D+ (Note: for final grade, no D+ is given; D = 60-69)
0-59 – F

Breakdown of Percentages

Journal Entries = 20%

You will be expected to keep a daily journal of your thoughts, questions, and reflections throughout the course. For some days, I will give you prompts concerning a topic to write on, and I will ask that you turn those entries in.* Other days, you should write freely, work out whatever is going on in your thinking, respond to something you have read or heard about, or work on ideas for the final group project.

*Journal entries can be turned in to me prior to the class meeting for which they are due in one of several ways. If you would like to share your thoughts with the rest of the class, you are welcome to post your entries to the course blog. If you would prefer to keep them between us, you may submit them electronically as an attachment (pdf or Word) via email, or write them out/print them out and give them to me in class.

Video Presentation = 5%

During the second week of class, you will be required to submit a short video presentation (no more than 3 minutes playtime) that provides your response to one of a set of questions concerning what we have done in the class so far. You can create the presentation using whatever tools you feel comfortable with (i.e., simple video recorded on your phone or other camera, Power Point, Keynote, or Prezi with voice over, music, special effects, whatever.) These should be posted to YouTube no later than Tuesday July 2nd, and you should post a link to your video in the ‘Reply’ section of blog post entitled ‘So Far, So What?’

Completion of Online Survey = 5%

You will be asked to complete an online survey concerning digital literacy and moral/ethical literacy prior to our class meeting on July 8th.

Blog Posts = 20%

We will use the course blog for some community discussions that will take place partly in class and partly outside of class. Some posts and responses will be required, but you are always welcome to initiate and carry on course-related discussions on the blog.

Quizzes = 20%

You can expect regular quizzes that are designed to check your level of preparation for that day’s class and to get your thinking heading in the direction we will be going during that day’s class discussion.

Final Group Project = 30%

The final project for the course will be one that you do in small groups (2 to 4) in several stages over the course of the term. Details concerning the stages and concerning the general idea of the project will be forthcoming.

Extra Credit of up to 5% will be awarded for participation in online discussion above and beyond the requirements to complete the course.

6. University Policies

Academic Integrity

Penn State defines academic integrity as the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner. All students should act with personal integrity, respect other students’ dignity, rights and property, and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts (Faculty Senate Policy 49-20).

Dishonesty of any kind will not be tolerated in this course. Dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, cheating, plagiarizing, fabricating information or citations, facilitating acts of academic dishonesty by others, having unauthorized possession of examinations, submitting work of another person or work previously used without informing the instructor, or tampering with the academic work of other students. Students who are found to be dishonest will receive academic sanctions and will be reported to the University’s Judicial Affairs office for possible further disciplinary sanction.

Disability Access Statement

Office of Disability Services (

The Pennsylvania State University encourages qualified persons with disabilities to participate in this programs and activities and is committed to the policy that all people shall have equal access to programs, facilities, and admissions without regard to personal characteristics not related to ability, performance, or qualifications as determined by University policy or by state or federal authorities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation in this course or have questions about physical access, please tell the instructor as soon as possible.

Affirmative Action & Sexual Harassment Policy

The Pennsylvania State University is committed to a policy that all persons shall have equal access to programs, facilities, admission, and employment without regard to personal characteristics not related to ability, performance, or qualifications as determined by University policy or by Commonwealth or Federal authorities. Penn State does not discriminate against any person because of age, ancestry, color, disability or handicap, national origin, race, religious creed, gender, sexual orientation, or veteran status. Direct all inquiries to the Affirmative Action Office (, 211 Willard Building, University Park.

 Teach Act Statement

The materials on this course Web site are only for the use of students enrolled in this course for purposes associated with this course and may not be retained or further disseminated.


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