Syllabus Philosophy 192N: Naturalism

Fall 2012


  • G. Randolph Mayes
  • Mendocino 3028
  • Office Hours:  T,Th  8-10 or by appointment
  • e-mail:  <> 

Catalog Description

Examines the significance of naturalism for the history of philosophy and at least four of the following subject areas: aesthetics,  ethics, epistemology,  philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, philosophy of law, philosophy of history, social and  political philosophy, metaphysics, and logic.

Course Goals

Naturalism may be understood briefly as the philosophical dogma that a human being, and therefore a human mind, is a part of the natural world, the world we know through empirical inquiry. According to naturalism, philosophy must refrain from attributing any supernatural powers of perception or cognition to human beings, and must reject all theorizing that makes essential reference to objects or processes that are necessarily inscrutable to human beings so conceived.  Naturalism has ancient roots and it affects every area of philosophy. It modern times it has gathered strength from the development of evolutionary theory and a growing understanding of the biological basis of thought.  It remains highly controversial, however, because it appears to challenge widely held concepts and theories about the nature of morality, religion, and human reason.  Our goal in this course will be to develop an understanding of naturalism as a view about the nature of human knowledge and also as a way of engaging in philosophical inquiry.  

By the end of this course you should be able to:

  • 1. Characterize the main varieties of philosophical naturalism.
  • 2. Summarize the historical development of naturalism.
  • 3. Summarize and criticize  arguments in favor of naturalized philosophy.
  • 4. Summarize and criticize arguments against naturalized philosophy.
  • 5. Competently identify, engage and assess research that proposes naturalistic solutions to philosophical problems.

Course Requirements

Analytical Essays

In this course you will submit 5 essays, the best four of which will count toward your final grade. These essays will be roughly 3-4 single-spaced pages long. In each essay you will critically analyze an assigned article.  The article will not have been covered in class, but it will be relevant to the material we have studied.  Instructions for writing analytical essays are available on the schedule page.  Essays that do not follow the instructions will receive no credit.


You will keep a daily online journal in which you respond to questions asked about the reading.  You will create an online document using Google and share it with me according to instructions provided in the What's Up link on the course homepage. Before every class meting I will post a series of questions concerning the upcoming reading. You will copy and paste these questions into your journal and then answer them. I will occasionally read and comment on your answers online, but your journal grade will not be assigned until the end of the semester. The journals are graded primarily on the basis of the care with which they are done. This entails consistent entries, college-level writing without typos or grammatical mistakes, and evidence that you are making a serious attempt to understand the reading. It is ok to make late entries but you will get less credit for them and you must identify them as late by typing them in a blue font. It is extremely important to make regular and timely entries in your journal. Google Docs tracks and dates all revisions to your document,and I will review your document by examining its revision history. Also, it is very important that you do not answer journal questions by simply copying from the book or filling it with direct quotes from internet media. Students who do this will receive no credit for their journal and blatant plagiarism will result in failing the class.

Oral participation:

You will be called on more or less randomly to present your answers to journal questions orally. Your oral participation is graded as follows. 
  • If you answer the question competently you will receive 0 points!
  • If your answer is particularly interesting (as judged by me) then you will receive 1 pt.  
  • If you are present but unprepared, you will lose 1 pt.
  • If you are not present in class when you are called, you will lose 2 pts.
  • There is no defined upper or lower limit to the number of points you can gain or lose through oral participation.  But your aim should be to receive at least 0 total points.  Points in excess of 0 are extra credit.
Occasionally you may be stymied by a question and be unable to answer it. In such cases, you should explain what it is that prevents you from answering the question.  Answers of this sort will still be graded as competent if they show real engagement with the text. 


Attendances is monitored through the participation policy described above.


 QuantityValue Total 
Essays 4 20 80
Journal 1 020
Total Possible*  100

*But see oral participation points (above) and extra credit points (below).i

In calculating your final grade fractional point totals are to the nearest whole point, with point totals ending in .5 being rounded up.  Grades are assigned on a standard scale with minuses (-) added to scores less than 100 ending in 0 and 1 and plusses (+) added to scores less than 98 ending in 8 or 9.  Hence, after rounding: :  A= 92-100,  A- =  90-91,  B+ = 88-89,  B= 82-88,  B- = 80-81, etc..

Collaboration and Academic Honesty Policy

You are free and in fact encouraged to work together on essays outside of class. Be advised, however, that if multiple essays exhibit striking similarities (e.g., identical sentence structure, even in places) they will all be summarily failed. Use each other as a source of ideas, but do your writing by yourself.

Late Assignment Policy

Late essays are downgraded .1 (i.e., 1/10th)  points for every hour late.  (This means that you will lose .1 points if it is 1 second late. If it is 24 hours late, it will be downgraded 2.4 points.) Late journal entries are accepted (as described above), but late entries will receive approximately half the credit as those that are submitted prior to class.

Extra Credit

The Philosophy Department sponsors several lectures each semester. Students who attend these lectures may submit a roughly one-page summary by e-mail. Thoughtful, well-composed, summaries free of typos will be awarded 1 point or participation credit.   A maximum of 3 credits can be accrued in this way.  See the Attendance Credit link in the sidebar for specific instructions.

Course Materials 

We will be using the following 3 texts. All are available at the Hornet bookstore or online at Amazon and other fine retailers.  All are available as e-books.

  • Second Philosophy, by Penelope Maddy
  • The Philosophical Baby, by Alison Gopnik
  • The Ego Tunnel, by Thomas Metzinger

Students with Special Needs

Students who have special learning or testing needs must notify the instructor by the end of the second week of the semester. Students who fall into this category should visit SSWD Lassen Hall 1008 (916) 278-6955 with appropriate documentation.


Dates, times and the schedule of readings are subject to minor revisions at the discretion of the instructor.