Senior Seminar in Philosophy: Death

Phil 4900/4990, CRNs 85691 / 85731
Fall 2011
1:00 pm - 2:15 pm TR Classroom South 506

Instructor: Tim O'Keefe
Office: 1105 34 Peachtree
Phone: (404) 413-6108 e-mail: tokeefe AT gsu DOT edu
Office Hours: 11:00 am-12:00 pm and 4:00-4:30 pm TR, and by appointment

Course description and objectives

We will examine various philosophical issues surrounding death. The semester will start off with an extended consideration of personal identity. Then we will explore questions such as:

Class format

This class will be seminar format, and class discussion of the readings will play a major role. In each class we'll have some members of the class contribute a short reading response paper. I will rotate the schedule of reading response papers, so that every class two students (typically) will submit a paper. These papers will usually involve setting out and evaluating one of the arguments in the reading for that class day. You will post this paper to the class bulletin board. Everybody will be responsible for reading the reading response papers before the class meeting and posting a reply to one of the papers, or even a reply to one of the replies.

You can post several types of replies:

  1. Clarification request. You claim p, but I don't know what you mean by saying p. Please clarify. Do you mean by this p', p''...?
  2. Argument request. You claim p. I think I know what you mean by p. But why do you claim p? I don't see any argument for p, and I think you need to give an argument for it.
  3. Objection. You claim p (and maybe you argue for it). However, I think that p, (or your argument for p), is problematic. Here's my objection to p (or to your argument for p): q. What do you say in response to q?
  4. Assistance. You claim p. I agree with you that p, but I think the following additional reason (which you do not mention) can be given in support of p: q.
  5. Competing interpretation. You say that the reading claims that p. However, I don't think that this is exactly what it says. Instead, I think it says p' (and here's why I think this).
  6. Suggestion of parallels. You claim p. P (or your argument for p) reminds me of so-and-so's claim that q (or his argument for q). Are the two really similar? Does comparing p to q help illuminate p, or is it just misleading?
Sometimes, the bulletin board may be down. If so, please e-mail me your paper or question before class.

Typically, I will explain the material in the first part of the class, and the latter part of the class will be devoted to discussing the material, using the reading response papers and replies as a way to start the discussion. But this division is not meant to be hard and fast: discussions and evaluation will often break out during the first part of the class, and during the course of discussing the material in the second part, sometimes I may go back to clarify some points in the material.

The bulletin board also has a forum for posting questions about the material. If anything in the reading is unclear to you, or you have any other questions about the material, please post them in this forum. I will look over it before class.

The bulletin board, announcements, copies of this syllabus, regularly updated reading assignments, and a trove of other information is available from the course web site,

Texts:All reading for the semester will be available for free. They will either be posted on the class uLearn bulletin board, or links to them will be posted there..

Reading response papers and participation 20%
First two paper (4-7 pages each) 30%
Final paper (15-20 pages) 50%
Important Dates (subject to change):

Tuesday Sept. 20 First paper due
Tuesday Oct. 25. Second paper due
Tuesday Dec 6: Final paper due

I will require that drafts of the final paper be turned in during the last few weeks of class on a rotating basis. We will use the last several class periods to engage in workshopping and peer review of final papers.

If you will be unable to turn in a paper when it's due, please let me know beforehand and let me know why you'll be unable to turn in the assignment on time. We can arrange for an extension (although your grade may be reduced). I'm usually much more understanding of people who come to me before an assignment is due and say they'll have difficulty completing it on time than I am of those who tell me afterwards that they were unable to do it. However, if you miss the deadline for an assignment, please contact me as soon as possible to arrange to make it up. Unless there is some compelling excuse (e.g., you had to be rushed to the hospital the night before a paper was due), there will be a penalty for tardiness, and there is no guarantee that you will be allowed to make up the assignment.

You're also responsible for attending class regularly. If you know beforehand that you'll be unable to attend a class, let me know so that we can arrange for you to receive notes, discuss the material, or do anything else necessary so that you do not fall behind. If you miss a class without notification, you will still be responsible for knowing course content discussed in the class that day, learning about any announcements made in class, etc. Please turn off your cellphone before attending class

Please also see the Philosophy department's general syllabus statement for more important information on matters such as withdrawal dates, academic honesty, etc.

IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT THIS COURSE: Students should take lower-level philosophy courses before upper-level philosophy courses. For example, before taking their first 4000-level philosophy course, students should take both Phil 2010 (Intro to Philosophy) and at least one 3000-level philosophy course. Grades of W, D, or F are common for students who take a 4000-level course before taking both Phil 2010 and a 3000-level course. Most 4000-level courses are offered every year. If you have not yet taken both Phil 2010 and a 3000-level course, we recommend that you drop this course now, replace it with 3000-level course, and take this course in a later semester. If you are a philosophy major, you should take Phil 3000 (and if possible, Phil 3010 and/or 3020) before [or at least concurrently with] 4000-level courses.

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