A critical history of thought in North America, tracing its gradual transformation from 17th-century Puritanism to 20th-century pragmatism.
Welcome to Philosophy 303, "American Philosophy."
America has unique origins: religious discontents seeking freedom to worship combined with Enlightenment thinkers seeking to craft a new politics. As early Americans attempted to break free of Old Europe's historic monarchies, cultural traditions, and state churches, they undertook the task of building a new nation.
This course seeks to understand America's intellectual history: the forces, events, and patterns of thought that shape how Americans think about ourselves, our national identity, our citizenship, and our place in the world. The focus will be upon reading and understanding primary texts from the 17th century Puritans up to the middle of the 20th century. The selected readings all, in some way or another, are ones that have helped shape American thought and identity.
The following texts will be required for this course: Nancy A. Stanlick and Bruce S. Silver
Philosophy in America: Primary Readings – Volume I Edition: 2004
Publisher: Pearson Education
ISBN-10: 0130950378 ISBN-13: 978-0130950376 Retail Price: $88.80
The Campus Store offers the book, though they unfortunately sometimes run short on copies.
This course is designed to familiarize you with the broad scope of American intellectual thought.
Part of the goal here is academic. In particular, as with all philosophy courses, this course will challenge you to think critically, to connect the present to the past, and to attempt to understand the diversity of human thought. More generally, you will hone your reading, communication, and writing skills.
Part of the goal is also personal. The issues that American philosophy raises are important to understanding what kind of nation America is, how we are influenced to think and act as Americans, and how our present is profoundly shaped by our past. Through an examination of key texts, we can better understand ourselves and the world around us.
This class will only be a genuine learning experience, by which you are challenged and grow, if you contribute substantially. This requires your attention to several areas:
Attendance: You need to come to class regularly and on time. While I’m more concerned about ongoing patterns of attendance, any absence is significant. Failure to attend or regular lateness will affect your grade negatively, including of possibility of receiving a "0" for Attendance/Participation. Arrange excused absences beforehand if possible. You are responsible to find out about and make up all missed work.
Participation: I expect everyone to contribute through active class discussion, raising questions, involvement in any group activities, and completion of all assigned readings and coursework. Participation is an important part of your grade. Sleeping, texting during class, distracting conversations, and so forth all constitute a failure to participate and will reduce your grade.
Readings: There will be about 25 pages per week of reading assigned, depending upon content and difficulty. You are responsible to read carefully and understand the material to the best of your ability prior to the class in which we will discuss it. See the timetable of readings below.
Study Questions: At the end of each section of the text, there is a set of Study Questions. You do not have to answer those questions as homework. You will, however, be responsible for being able to answer any questions pertaining to the assigned readings, as they will form the basis for Quizzes.
Quizzes: I will be giving you a short quiz at least once a week, unannounced, using a random question from the Study Questions relevant to the readings for that week. The quiz should take about 5-10 minutes and will consist in about a single page of a blue book. You will use the same blue book throughout the semester, which I will hand out and collect. While you will know what readings you are required to read for any particular class, you will not know which reading or which study question you'll be required to answer for a quiz. This should keep you engaged with the texts and make class discussion more profitable.
These quizzes will take the place of a mid-term exam and a final exam. Your lowest quiz grade will be dropped. Quizzes will be graded on the basis of whether or not they convince me you did the reading and how carefully and thoughtfully you read. Assessment will take the following form:
0 ✓- ✓ ✓+
No evidence of reading
Evidence of reading, but with little understanding
Evidence of reading and understanding
Evidence of reading, understanding, and insight
Group Discussion Papers: The class will break into five smaller groups of about 7 students each. Once a week, typically Fridays, you will break into these groups to discuss a reading during the first 20-30 minutes of class.
Each week a different member of the discussion group will be responsible for leading the discussion, using prepared, printed notes (approximately 2 pages) that will be turned in at the end of the session. The discussion prompt should achieve at least some the following:
Summarize a text or relevant part of a text
Provide a bit of context for the text
Raise some questions about the text:
Asking for clarification or interpretation
Questioning the purpose or intent
Inquiring about connections with other texts
Encourage connections with other events or issues
Every member of the discussion group will have the opportunity to provide a discussion prompt twice during the semester. We will set up groups and a schedule during the first week of class.
I will rotate among these groups to observe and contribute. Participation in group discussion will count toward your participation grade.
Final Essay: You will be completing one longer essay for this class, building upon the lectures and recitation discussions. This paper should be approximately 7-8 pages. I will provide a description, requirements, and topics for this essay in a separate document.
Office hours: I am available during my office hours around eight hours each week and by appointment. I am always more than happy to talk to you about any aspect of your experience here at La Salle and in connection with this class. I will readily discuss readings, work on topics, help with presentations, go over drafts, and so on. Please make use of this opportunity, as it will benefit us both greatly.
Plagiarism is unacceptable. All information, paraphrases, and quotations from sources must be documented using some accepted system of citation (MLA, APA, etc.), whether that source is in print or online. Failure to do so results in at least a zero for that assignment and possibly failing the course. Plagiarism on the final paper results in the failing the course. Please review La Salle's Academic Integrity Policy for further details.
The following is a breakdown of how your various grades will be weighed:
Schedule of Readings:
Monday, 14 January – Introduction (syllabus, schedule, the notion of “intellectual history”)
Wednesday, 16 January – Puritan Origins (Puritan settlement of New England, First Great Awakening)
Friday, 18 January – Jonathan Edwards (“A Divine and Supernatural Light”, 2-8)
Monday, 21 January – No Class – MLK Holiday
Wednesday, 23 January – Jonathan Edwards (“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, 9-14)
Friday, 25 January – Jonathan Edwards (“Freedom of the Will”, 14-27)
Monday, 28 January – Cotton Mather (excerpts from Bonifacius, electronic document)
Wednesday, 30 January – Benjamin Franklin (“The Autobiography”, 32-38)
Friday, 1 February – Thomas Paine (“The Age of Reason, Part I”, 39-48)
Monday, 4 February – Thomas Paine (“Common Sense”, 219-222; “The Rights of Man”, 256-263)
Wednesday, 6 February – Resistance to Government & Mixed Constitutions
Friday, 8 February – “Declaration of Independence” (222-225)
Monday, 11 February – “US Constitution” (225-246)
Wednesday, 13 February – Federalist Papers (246-255)
Friday, 15 February – John Adams (“A Defence of the Constitutions…”, 263-268)
Monday, 18 February – Thomas Jefferson (“Notes on the State of Virginia”, 269-270, 276-279)
Wednesday, 20 February – The Second Great Awakening
Friday, 22 February – Unitarianism & Transcendentalism
Monday, 25 February – Ralph Waldo Emerson (“The American Scholar”, 54-59)
Wednesday, 27 February – Ralph Waldo Emerson (“Divinity School Address”, 60-64)
Friday, 1 March – Ralph Waldo Emerson (“Politics”, 339-345)