Tuesday, August 22, 2006

In the Begining....

Rob Skiff
Group 6
Comparative Philosophical Systems
Vermont Commons School
Course Guide

“We are what we think, all that we are arises with our thoughts, with our thoughts we make the world.” This phrase attributed to the Buddha emphasis the idea that our systems of knowledge form our understanding of the world around us and in turn create the world that we live in. Action arises out of thought. Thus, the study of thought is a key component to understanding the how human beings have interacted with the world throughout history.

Today we live in an age where science and mathematics have fundamentally altered our understanding of the world and the individual’s place within it. In fact, science and mathematics are tools that allow humanity to manipulate the most basic components of matter and even alter the genetic code of any creature we choose. Clearly our thoughts are now creating the world around us in ways that could only be described as all-powerful. With all of this knowledge and power at our disposal, it is more important than ever to look into the past and study the belief systems that have been passed down generation upon generation. These systems of thought are guides that tell us about the place of humanity and are explorations of the most important questions that can be asked.

· What does it mean to be human?
· What are a human beings responsibilities to others and to the universe?
· How does the world work, what are the fundamental rules that governs its existence?
· What is the proper relationship between human beings and the environment?
· How is the proper balance obtained between individual rights and the rights of the polis?
· Do the ends sometimes justify the means?
· What are the guidelines of an ethics of irreconcilability?

All systems of thought have answers to these questions, and all the answers are equally important in that they try to address the issues that face each human community as its attempt to live, thrive and survive. Some of the answers to these questions are very old and have survived because of their strength and utility. They are some of the most important treasures of mankind.

There are two responsibilities that students have in this class:
1. All reading assignments are to be completed before the first class of the week. This will allow students to participate in the discussions in class. Students may be quizzed on the reading at anytime.
2. Reflection Papers are due on Monday by the end of the day. A copy of the reflection paper needs to be posted on http:// vcscompphil3.blogspot.com/. Students are required to read the posts on this sight and should comment on their classmates work by Thursday morning. The grade that you earn on the reflection paper will not be posted on the web. However, some of my comments on your paper will be.
3. Students should come to class on time and prepared to learn. They need to come to class with the reading assignment, a notebook, their reflection paper, and a copy of their comments to other student work.

Grading System
Quarter grades will be determined by the quality of the student’s reflection papers (40%), their comments on other student’s work (20%), tests and quizzes (20%), a five page research paper (10%), and a in class participation grade. If a student does not pass in an assignment on time, they will lose a full letter grade per day that it is late. Students can look at my grade book after school if they have any questions about their level of achievement or their current standing in the class.

Semester Grades are determined by the two quarter grades (40% each) and a Semester exam that is equal to 20% of the final semester grade. The final exam in June is a cumulative exam on anything studied during the year, but it only affects the 2ed Semester grade. The final grade is determined by averaging the two semester grades.

Some helpful hints
If you want to do well in the class make sure that you do the reading. If you are having trouble with the reading make sure to come to class with specific questions about what you didn’t understand. Do not come to class and say, “I just don’t understand the reading…it is just to hard…I didn’t have time…” Instead, take a look online, find a synopsis of the reading or ask one of your classmates for some help. If you are still having difficulty see me before class. During the first eleven weeks of the class we will be reading the Republic of Plato. So start reading early and read ahead. There is an excellent interpretative essay by Allen Bloom that starts on page 307. Take advantage of his wisdom and read this essay if you have a question. I would also recommend that if you are having trouble get a copy of Cliffnotes. Do not use the interpretative essay as a substitute for reading the assignment, I can tell quite easily who has read the assignment and who is relying on the outside sources.

Reflection papers are also an important part of the class. On your two week schedule I will ask a provocative question that will be based on something in the reading. It is up to you to create an interesting answer that incorporates quotations from the reading along with contemporary references. Philosophy should not be boring-- it should be enlightening. One of the most philosophical works of the late 20th Century is the “Simpsons.” The issues that Plato discusses occur throughout the series, so if your point can be made with a quotation from Homer…just do it.

Posting your work to the Blog is required in this class. It allows people from the outside world to view and comment on your written work. The world is watching, so make sure that what you write is actually what you believe and make sure that you backup your ideas with quotations and references.