Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1 hour / session

Recitations: 1 session / week, 1 hour / session



Course Overview

This course will introduce you to the Western philosophical tradition through the study of thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Cavendish, Hume, and Kant. You'll grapple with questions that have been significant to philosophy from its beginnings: Questions about the nature of the mind, the existence of God, the foundations of knowledge, and the good life. You'll also observe changes of intellectual outlook over time, and the effect of scientific, religious, and political concerns on the development of philosophical ideas.

One of the aims of this course is to introduce you to some of the thinkers and themes from the history of Western philosophy. But another important aim of this course is to develop your skill at the kind of reading, writing, thinking, and speaking called for when working on the history of philosophy. There is a historical component to this latter aim: You'll learn to read historical texts closely and carefully. And there is a philosophical component to it: You'll learn to thoughtfully but critically assess the arguments we find in those texts. The readings, assignments, and class sessions will all contribute toward realizing these aims.


Criteria for HASS CI-H subjects: "The CI-H subjects provide you with a foundation in effective expository writing and oral communication. CI-H subjects are writing classes or classes in the HASS curriculum in which you plan, organize, draft, and revise a series of sequenced assignments based on course material. These subjects require at least 20 pages of writing, typically divided among three to five assignments. At least one essay must be revised and resubmitted. CI-H subjects also offer students substantial opportunity for oral expression through presentations, student-led discussion, or class participation."

MIT students will satisfy the HASS CI-H criteria and the course objectives through the following course components (each of which are described in more detail, below):


Recitation + 2 exercises 30%

3 Papers

  • Paper 1: 10% of final grade
  • Paper 2 + rewrite: 30% of final grade
  • Paper 3: 30% of final grade

Note: MIT students had to pass each component of the course in order to pass the course.


Recitation grades will be based on attendance (in both lecture and recitation), preparation, contributions to discussion, and any other written or oral assignments the teaching assistants arranged for each section. MIT students were required to attend recitations and to be prepared to discuss the readings from class. There were also two short writing exercises that counted towards the recitation grade:

  • Exercise 1: Exegesis—a short (1–2 page) paper interpreting and explaining a bit of text.
  • Exercise 2: Analysis—a short (1–2 page) paper critically assessing an argument.

Note: The two exercises together must total at least 3 pages.