Philosophy 160: Philosophy of Human Nature

Section 9, MWF, 10:00-10:50, STR 249

Section 11, MWF, 11:00-11:50, STR 249

Section 16, MWF, 1:00-1:50, STR 357

Section 19, MWF, 2:00-2:50, STR 357

The instructor reserves the right to alter this syllabus to best suit the educational needs and aims of the course.

Instructor: Dr. Shannon Nason

Office: UNH 3614

Office Hours: MWF: 8:30-9:50, 12:00-12:50; TR: I can be available to Skype/FaceTime by appointment only (Skype username: shannonnason; FaceTime username:


Phone: 424-568-8372


Course Description

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) famously argued that human reason is naturally inclined to think about three important ideas. These are (1) “God,” (2) “the soul,” and (3) “the world-whole.”  However, because these ideas are not genuine objects of human experience, Kant concludes (for reasons too complicated to rehearse here) that we cannot have knowledge of their existence, but he also insists, for practical reasons (those that have to do with human happiness and flourishing), that human beings must nevertheless posit their existence. So, for Kant, while we cannot have theoretical knowledge about the existence of God, the soul, and the world-whole, it is necessary for human flourishing that we posit their existence. This class will explore through critical reading, writing, and discussion four philosophical theories about the possibility of achieving something that can count as knowledge or reasoned belief about these ideas and how and why they are intimately tied to human flourishing (what philosophers have traditionally called “the good life”). 

Student Learning Outcomes  

The aim of this course is for students to become

Good Critical Readers: reading well requires that one dig deeper than the surface-level meaning of a text or philosophical argument and achieve an understanding of its significance. First, then, students must read texts charitably. If you find yourself mumbling “that’s insane,” then chances are good you have not understood the significance of what you are reading. Go back, re-read it (twice, thrice), and piece together the text’s larger meaning. Once you have garnered an understanding of it, then critically ask: “Is this philosopher right? Does the philosopher provide good reasons for his views?”  

Clear Writers: writing well requires clearly articulating what one thinks. Chances are good that if what you write isn’t clear, then your thoughts aren’t clear either. Clear philosophical writing displays clear philosophical thinking. This means that your writing should be, minimally, grammatically correct, and, most importantly, be logically valid and persuasive (the goal isn’t to successfully persuade me—if you do, then good job!—but to write your papers in a way that when I read them I can reasonably say: “Ah, yes! I can see clearly how that might persuade a rational human being who shares similar assumptions as the author”).

Thoughtful and Informed Participants in Discussion: Through careful and critical reading, students will engage in informed in-class discussion, evincing they have read and thought deeply about assigned readings.

Acquainted with Philosophical Problems and their Connection to Issues of Utmost Human Concern: students will appreciate the kinds of questions philosophy poses concerning the nature of the soul, God, and the world, understand the numerous answers philosophers have given to them, and be able to see how these questions and answers serve the goal of the uniquely human quest for living a good life. 

Personally Inspired and Enriched by Philosophical Inquiry: students will have the opportunity to participate in the uniquely human activity of living a philosophical life. Philosophy is not merely confined to the walls of the academy, but can be practiced by all.

Required Texts (available at LMU Bookstore) Students MUST use these editions

Plato, Phaedo, 2nd edition, trans. G.M.A. Grube (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1980)

Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, trans. Joel Relihan (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 2001)

David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 2nd edition (Indianapolis: Hackett PublishingCo., 1998)

Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death, trans. Hong and Hong (Princeton: PrincetonUniversity Press, 1980)

Course Requirements

Attendance: 0%

Paper (stage one) 20%

Paper (stage two) 25%

Midterm Exam 20%

Final Exam 20%

In-Class Participation 15%

(a) Note on Attendance: Attendance is mandatory to succeed in this class, but I will not offer points for it. However, merely attending every class is neither necessary nor sufficient for getting an A or even a B in the class (since one can attend and be completely unprepared for the day), while poor attendance is necessary but not sufficient for receiving a low grade (since not showing up will certainly hurt your participation points, and greatly affect your ability to do well on exams). Attentive, informed, and prepared in-class discussion is necessary for receiving full participation points. Thus, while merely attending is neither necessary nor sufficient for a good grade, those who regularly come prepared, show signs of desiring to be actively engaged in the material, and participate in discussion are on course to earning all or mostly all points for participation.

(b) Paper Assignment: The paper in our class is broken into two stages. The topic of the paper is your philosophy of the good life. The grading standards for the paper include, but are not limited to, good grammar and syntax, good logical reasoning, persuasive force, and successfully satisfying the assigned requirements for both stages. Stage one is due October 3 and stage two is due November 21. I will not accept emailed papers. Your papers should have 1” margins, be typed using Times New Roman font, with 12-point type.

Stage One (3-5 pages): It will become apparent to you over the course of the semester that a “philosophy” is not just whatever random beliefs about something someone happens to have. A “philosophy” is a reasoned set or system of beliefs about ultimate issues like the nature of reality, the existence of God, and the nature of morality. The paper in our course will consist, minimally, of a reasoned argument in support of your belief about what is the good life. Like every good “philosophy,” however, reasons offered in support of one’s belief are always open to objections. And every good philosopher takes the time to consider what kinds of objections may be adequately issued against whatever reasons do the work to support a given belief. The first stage of the paper is meant for you to engage in the activity of stating your belief about the good life, offering reasons for your belief, and considering possible objections. Thus, stage one of the paper should satisfy, in the order presented here, the following requirements:

1.Clearly state what the good life is;

2.Clearly explain what assumptions you have that support your position about the good life (for example: If you believe that the good life consists solely in the acquisition of material wealth, power, and fame, then some possible assumptions that may serve as the basis for your belief are that there is no immortality, that what society deems important is truly important, that there is no God, to name just a few); 

3.Clearly offer three reasons to support your belief about the good life;

4.Clearly bring up two possible objections to your argument;

5.Clearly respond to these objections

Stage Two (6-10 pages): While good philosophical writing minimally follows the above steps, it doesn’t end there. With every good reasoned account of one’s beliefs comes further reflection. Sometimes philosophers wonder about about what kind of impact one’s beliefs might have for one’s life and for others. Other times, philosophers, after serious thought, are compelled to revise their beliefs or ditch them altogether. In other words, philosophy is not static, it is a living activity of thinking hard about whether one’s beliefs are any good. The value of one’s beliefs can be tested by moving beyond what I like to call one’s “first-person perspective” and entering into an objective, “third-person perspective.” One can make this movement by simply asking some hypothetical questions: “What if everyone shared my belief?” “What would the world look like if everyone believed and practiced my view about the good life?” “If my view of the good life is correct, then what would society be like? Would it be better than it is now, or worse? If worse, then to what degree is my vision of the good life any good?” Stage two of your paper will expand the first stage by reflecting more on the implications of your view. It will raise and attempt to answer the following questions:

1.What if everyone shared my vision of the good life? What would the world look like?

2.If I honestly practiced what I believe is the good life, what kind of life would I be living ten years from now? 

3.What values are essential to my position about the good life? [For example, are charity, faith, and love, values in your position; or, by contrast, are selfishness, despair, and hatred values in your position?]

4.How strong is my argument as a whole? Are there any holes or weaknesses in my argument?

Note about Academic Integrity: Penalties for academic dishonesty and plagiarism are severe. Plagiarized papers will receive a zero and, depending on the severity, may lead to a failing grade for the course as well as disciplinary action from the Dean. Students are responsible for reading and understanding the University policy on academic dishonesty set forth in Loyola Marymount University’s “Honor Code and Process” on pages 59-60 of the 2010-2011 LMU Bulletin and at If you desire more information about plagiarism and how to avoid it, I recommend looking at Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab on the matter here

(c) The Exams: the two exams in our course will be in-class essay exams on assigned readings, lectures, and discussion. All students are required to take these exams on the scheduled date and time. The midterm exam is scheduled for October 24. Refer to the course calendar for your final exam date and time.

(d) In-Class Participation: Part of a liberal arts education involves the practice of engaging in informed, thoughtful, and civil discussion about issues of ultimate human concern. Coming to class prepared to discuss the readings for the day, including a willingness to offer insightful comments, to raise questions, and to orally provide summaries of arguments, is crucial for earning participation points.

In addition, the prepared student will come to class with the assigned reading. You are responsible for obtaining, keeping, and bringing to class the texts we are reading on any given day. Please don’t come to me and tell me that you can’t afford these books, or that you’d rather find versions of them online. First, these books are very cheap. If you rent them, they’ll cost you a total of $27.19 plus taxes. Compare this sum to the latest edition of Raven’s Biology textbook, which costs a whopping $235.00. Second, last time I checked, computer screens are not optimized for permanent ink. You can’t underline, write in the margins, etc. on a computer screen. So, please buy, jot down notes, underline, and bring your books to class. 

Also, don’t text or surf the internet in class. Turn off/silence your cell phones when you enter class. Such behavior will affect your participation grade. I handle this kind of behavior by merely making a note of whose doing it. I will not confront you or call you out about it, although you may get a dirty look. Don’t underestimate the point of view I have from the front of class. Believe me, I can see just about everything. If you do it, and you know who you are, you will lose points for participation. That said, loss of points for participation by texting, surfing the internet, etc. is the least of your worries. The primary punishment for that kind of behavior is the behavior itself. Being immature is self-inflicted punishment.

Lastly, 50 minutes isn’t a long time. I can think of just one or two good reasons why a student must leave in the middle of class. Unless you are very sick, do not interrupt lecture and discussion by getting up and leaving. If you do, then take your stuff with you, because it would be a shame if you doubly interrupted class by coming back in. We are all adults here; please take care of whatever business you have prior to entering the classroom.

Course Calendar

Week One (Aug. 29/31/Sep. 2)

Preliminary Remarks, Logical Reasoning, The Good Life

Week Two (Sep. 5/7/9)

Sep. 5: No Class—Labor Day

Read Plato, Phaedo, 57a-84b

Week Three (Sep. 12/14/16)

Read Plato, Phaedo, 57a-84b

Week Four (Sep. 19/21/23)

Read Plato, Phaedo, 84c-118a

Week Five (Sep. 26/28/30)

Read Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Books I-III

Week Six (Oct. 3/5/7)

Oct. 3: Stage one of paper due

Read Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Book IV

Week Seven (Oct. 10/12/14)

Oct. 14: No Class-Autumn Break

Read Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Book V

Week Eight (Oct. 17/19/21)

Oct. 17: No Class

Catch-up/Midterm Exam Review

Week Nine (Oct. 24/26/28)

Oct. 24: Midterm Exam

Read David Hume, Dialogues, pp. 1-38

Week Ten (Oct. 31/Nov. 2/4)

Read David Hume, Dialogues, pp. 1-38; 39-57

Week Eleven (Nov. 7/9/11)

Read David Hume, Dialogues, pp. 58-76

Week Twelve (Nov. 14/16/18)

Read Kierkegaard, SUD, pp. 5-42

Week Thirteen (Nov. 21/23/25)

Nov. 21: Stage two of paper due

Nov. 23/25: No Classes—Thanksgiving Break

Week Fourteen (Nov. 28/30/Dec. 2)

Read Kierkegaard, SUD, pp. 42-74

Week Fifteen (Dec. 5/7/9)

Read Kierkegaard, SUD, pp. 77-104

Catch-up/Review for Final Exam

Week Sixteen (Dec. 12-16)


Section 9: Friday, Dec. 16, 8:00am

Section 11: Monday, Dec. 12, 11:00am

Section 16: Thursday, Dec. 15, 2:00pm

Section 19: Monday, Dec. 12, 2:00pm