Phil 101: Introduction to Philosophy


Course Number Phil 101.001 (spring 2024)
Title Introduction to Philosophy: Central Problems, Great Minds, Big Ideas
Credit Hours 3 credits
Course Description See below
Prerequisites None
Target Audience Undergrads with no prior experience with philosophical texts or reasoning
Class Times and Location Mon Wed 9:05–9:55 am in Hanes Art Center (AR) 121 Coker Hall (CO) 201, plus Fri recitation sections
Instructional Format In-person, structured lecture with some discussion on Mon and Wed, and group discussion, student presentations and collaboration during Fri sections
Instructor Professor Jim Pryor (he/him), email
Teaching Assistants Raye Ploeger, Felix Benzant, and Kyle Cessna
Course Website
Instructor’s Office Hours Mon 3–4:30 and Wed 1:30–3 in Caldwell 108A, or by appointment
Course Texts 3 required textbooks and additional readings provided by web links

Canvas Site, Zoom, and Regular Updates

UNC students enrolled in the course can access the Canvas site.

Those pages include the Zoom links for any course meetings you need to attend remotely, and for our office hours. These can also be retrieved from this restricted page.

Most of the information for the lecture part of the course will be published here, outside of the Canvas system, and can also be viewed by people not enrolled in the course. Your Fri sections may work more closely with Canvas.

This front web page won’t be updated frequently. Regular announcements, readings, and lecture notes will be posted at this page instead.

Here will be a sparser evolving index of all the handouts, webnotes and readings we’ve used during the course (together with some upcoming ones).

Table of Contents

Course Description

This course will be an introduction to philosophy in the analytic tradition, by focusing on a few representative issues:

  1. How can we tell whether animals and future computers have “minds” — that is, their own thoughts, experiences, ambitions, self-awareness, and so on — or whether they’re instead just mindless automata?

  2. Relations between minds, brains, and machines: Are your mind and body made of different stuffs? If a machine duplicates the neural structure of your brain, would it have the same thoughts and other mental states that you have?

  3. What does it take to have free will? Is this incompatible with one’s choices being programmed or physically determined?

The course will place a strong emphasis on learning how to read philosophical texts and how to evaluate and produce philosophically compelling arguments. The format will vary between lectures and in-class group discussion.


The course is led by Professor Jim Pryor (he/him). Undergrads generally address me as “Professor Pryor.”

Professor Pryor’s office is Caldwell 108A. He can best be reached by email, at

Professor Pryor’s office hours are on Mondays from 3–4:30 and Wednesdays from 1:30–3. (On both days, I can sometimes go later. If you have a quick question, you can also ask just after class.) If you’re unable to meet in person or at these times, we can also arrange to meet by Zoom. The Zoom link for office hours can be found on this restricted page.

Feel free to drop into office hours to discuss anything you like about our course. I’m happy to talk about paper ideas, continue discussion, and so on. If you do come to my office and I’m already speaking with someone, make sure that we know that you’re waiting for us to finish.

Recitation Sections

All recitation sections meet on Fridays (starting the first week of classes) for 50 minutes. They’ll meet in person as circumstances allow.

Sorting the section meetings by times: there is one at 9:05 (led by Raye), one at 10:10 (led by Felix), two at 11:15 (led by Raye and Kyle), one at 12:20 (led by Felix), and one at 1:25 (led by Kyle).

The TAs’ emails are linked above. Here are their office hours and locations. (Your TAs may sometimes or regularly hold office hours by Zoom; they’ll let you know.)

Raye (any pronouns)
Hours Mon 10:10-11:10 and Thu 11:50-12:50, Office Caldwell 210C
Hours Mon 10:30-11:30 and Wed 11-12, Office Caldwell 105D
Kyle (he/him)
Hours Tue 12-1 and Thu 10-12, Office Caldwell 206C

Target Audience and Course Goals

This course does not presuppose any prior background or coursework in philosophy.

It aims to introduce you to a range of philosophical topics and writing, and give you experience analyzing and discussing arguments and writing philosophical papers.

Our lecture meetings will sometimes include group discussion and Q&A. Your Fri sections will focus on those activities. Over the term, we will also consult closely about your writing, which will be submitted in several stages.

In addition to group discussions, you’ll also be learning how to give each other constructive feedback on your writing-in-progress.

You’ll be learning how to engage respectfully and charitably with the arguments of others: both your peers and the philosophers we study. This includes identifying what the arguments and their underlying assumptions are; learning how to clearly explain an argument; formulating counter-examples and other reasonable objections; and recognizing how a view can best be defended (whether you endorse it or not).

You’ll also be learning how to develop your own independent arguments, objections, proposals, and responses.

Philosophy Courses

All our philosophy courses aim at the acquisition and nurturing of basic philosophic skills. One of the main goals of our philosophy curriculum is to instill and enable the development of skills that are distinct to philosophy, but which are foundational to all forms of knowledge.

These basic philosophical skills involve being able to:

IDEAs in Action General Education Curriculum

This course satisfies the Ways of Knowing Focus Capacity (FC-KNOWING). These courses help students develop intellectual humility; learn to question assumptions, categories, and norms that structure their worldviews; and understand the sources and effects of biases. They’ll learn, use, and distinguish strengths and weaknesses of one or more approach(es) to knowledge of the unfamiliar, such as: aesthetically, philosophically, linguistically, historically, or culturally remote forms of knowledge and worldmaking, or formal logic, scientific practice, and similar formalized approaches to countering bias and creating knowledge.

These courses address questions like these:

As an FC-KNOWING course, we will aim at the following learning outcomes:

Alternatively, you may use this course to satisfy the Ethical and Civic Values Focus Capacity (FC-VALUES). These courses help develop your capacity to think carefully and critically about how to make and justify private and public decisions, and address questions like these:

As an FC-VALUES course, we will aim at the following learning outcomes:

Every Focus Capacity course includes the following activities:

These elements — referred to as “recurring capacities” — will help you repeatedly practice crucial skills for future study, life, and career success.


These should be available in the bookstore. You can also buy or rent them online.

Total expected cost: approximately $35.

Additional readings will be provided by web links. Some of these are in a restricted section of the course website. The username and password for these will be emailed to you, and also announced in class.

In addition to philosophy articles and textbooks/dialogues, we’ll also read some science fiction stories that deal with issues that we’re examining in the course. We’ll discuss these in class, and (especially) in Fri sections.

Course Requirements and Expectations

How hard will this course be? Somewhere in the middle: definitely not easy, but not killer either.

Grades will be explained more below. But as a quick benchmark, if you work pretty hard over the semester, keep up with the readings, complete all your work on time, participate regularly in discussion sections, but still end up only “sort-of getting it” with respect to the positions and arguments we discuss, that corresponds to a final grade of B+. A-level grades should be within anyone’s reach, but will require you to achieve more than “sort-of getting it.” If that’s your ambition, you’ll have to find ways over whatever hurdles in your thinking or understanding you encounter during the course.

In terms of workload, the University says that a 3 credit course should be expected to demand 9–12 hours of work per week on average, including the time for classroom meetings. This course should be in the middle of that range. That means in a standard week (when no writing assignment is due) you should still expect to be devoting 4-5 hours to this course outside of our in-class meetings. This includes reading (and re-reading, analyzing, and taking notes on) the assigned texts, reviewing any lecture notes from the past few classes, coming to our office hours, discussing the issues with other students, and so on. When you’re reviewing for an exam or working on a paper you should expect to need more time.

In past semesters, students who wrote B+ and A- papers mostly reported taking 12-16 hours on each graded submission (each of the first and second versions of the midterm paper, and the final paper). Mortgaging the total across the whole semester, that’s about 3 hours/week.

So the expected workload for our course is about 3 hours/week average for writing (though you’ll need this time in irregular chunks), 4-5 hours regularly each week for reading and review, and 3 hours/week in the classroom.

It is essential that you attend sections and lectures consistently. Material not in the readings will often be presented in lectures, and useful background and framing for many of the readings will also be provided.

The University’s Class Attendance Policy can be found here. In brief, they authorize absences only for some University activities, religious observances, disabilities, significant health conditions including pregnancy, and personal or family emergencies. If these include your situation, then consult these links:

  1. The University Approved Absence Office (UAAO) provides information and FAQs for students related to University Approved Absences.

  2. Students can be excused because of disability, pregnancy, or religious observance, as required by law and approved by Accessibility Resources and Service (ARS) and/or the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office (EOC).

  3. Students can be excused for significant health conditions (generally, these will require you to miss classes for five or more days) and/or personal/family emergencies, as approved by the Office of the Dean of Students (ODOS), Gender Violence Service Coordinators, and/or the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office (EOC).

If you need to miss class because of a more temporary illness, just email to let us know. If you need to miss class for other kinds of reasons (like a job interview or to attend a wedding), ask us about it well in advance. If you do miss a class, you will be responsible for catching up with missed content; and permission to miss a class doesn’t excuse you from deadlines for work due before or after the class.

If you need to stay home during any of our class meetings, try to attend the meeting by Zoom instead.

We aim to provide online summaries of lectures, and will post any handouts we distribute in class to the website. These resources are mainly intended to help you review materials and discussions that you already experienced in the classroom. But they should also be of some use in helping you keep up if you have to miss some class or section meeting. Note that you can not rely on everything discussed in class also being summarized online. And you should not expect that the online materials fully make up for attending class meetings, nor for reading the assigned texts. Every year some students clearly do try to skip some classes and/or readings (and acknowledge this in the course feedback), thinking that they’re getting all they need from the webnotes. These students usually end up passing the class, but performing far less well than they expect, and being disappointed in their grades. So be warned in advance that although the online materials can help you, there’s limits to what you’ll get out of relying solely on them.

See the Policies section below about using laptops or other devices in class.

When you join our class meetings, you are expected to have read any material assigned for that day, and to be ready to discuss it (especially in Fri sections) and/or ask questions about it (in sections or lecture).

It is essential that you ask questions when things in the readings or lectures or our group discussions are unclear, and be ready to participate in discussions. We’ll expect you to actively engage with each other in Fri sections, and encourage you to do it outside of class too.

Talking about philosophy is one of the best ways of learning how to do it. Your overall participation will make up 10% of your grade for the course. See this page on classroom expectations for more details. If you don’t plan to earnestly participate and engage with the course, you should not take this course.

Some people find group discussion more challenging than others. We’re aware of this and aim to accommodate it to some extent. You should strive to participate in our discussions where you can. But there are also other ways to be involved: sometimes we’ll have discussion in small groups of 2-5 instead of as a whole class; or you can ask more questions; or you can pursue matters further in office hours.

Your participation grade will reflect your regular contributions to group discussion, and also these other aspects of how you’re engaging with the course.

The course also has a presentation component (another 5% of your grade). These won’t be prepared in advance; instead they will consist of you giving summaries of your small-group discussions, and/or of material presented in recent lectures. Each student will be expected to do this at least twice, and will be given opportunities to do it more.

The course also has a collaboration component (another 5% of your grade). This involves you giving each other feedback on your final papers-in-progess.

These two components are required for IDEAs in Action courses.

There will be reading assignments for most class meetings. These readings are often pretty short, but they all require close study. You should read them carefully before we discuss them in class, and you’ll need to read them more than once. For most of the readings, you won’t understand the material sufficiently with just a single reading. A good strategy would be to read the assignment once before we discuss it, and then go back and read it again after we’ve discussed it. If you don’t plan to do this, you should not take this course.

I’ll often post summaries of material I presented in class. You should read these materials carefully as soon as they’re available, and expect that you’ll have to read many of them more than once.

Here is a detailed explanation of how you’ll be expected to read philosophy papers. We’ll look at this again a few weeks into the semester.

As we said above, the online webnotes can not be relied on to fully make up for reading the assigned texts — reading them carefully, usually several times, taking notes while you do so, and thinking about them. Nor can the class meetings be relied on to make up for these efforts.

One student in a course from previous semester complained I learned more doing my own studying than in lecture! They may or may not have had legitimate dissatisfaction with the lectures they’re referring to. But the particular complaint they’re expressing here shows a misunderstanding of the course’s design. Of course you should learn more from your own studying; that’s how this course — indeed most philosophy courses, and not only them — are meant to work. Lectures (and group discussions and webnotes and the rest) are there to help you in doing that. If you rely on others to do the intellectual work for you, and parcel it out to you in a few hours of classroom meetings each week, or a few pages of online lecture summaries, you’re going to get only a small trickle of the value this course aims to deliver.

When I asked students in a previous semester What do you think are the most important things you learned?, the most satisfying response was:

That is the primary teaching aim of this course. You can’t learn these things just by absorbing instruction. You have to exercise your minds. Most of that will happen in the reading, thinking, studying, and writing you do outside the classroom. If you want the course to be engaging and rewarding, you’ll need to put the effort in to do this.

When students were polled in a previous semester about steps they could take to improve their learning in the course, here’s a sampling of their responses:

We will have two exams at roughly 1/3 and 2/3 of the way through the course, tentatively scheduled for Wed Feb 28 and Wed Apr 3. These will consist of multiple choice and short answer questions, and will be administered in hardcopy during the second half of a lecture meeting. Though the exams will be brief, they will require you to have done the course reading, and have a good understanding of the questions, positions, and arguments explored so far.

Note that the dates the exams are offered may change; any such changes will be announced beforehand. See below about missing an exam, and writing an additional brief essay as a substitute.

You will have to submit a brief writing exercise (half-page to one-page) for the course, due on Mon Feb 19. These will be graded, to introduce you to our rubric for evaluating written work, but the grades won’t count towards your final course grade. Instead the papers are a practice exercise.

You will submit a more substantial (4-5 page) midterm paper on Thu Mar 7. This will receive a normal grade and written feedback. You will then have to rewrite, expand, and resubmit that paper, improving it in light of the feedback. The rewrites will be due on Thu Mar 28, and will also be graded.

Instead of a final exam, you will write a final paper (approx 6 pages) for the course. This will again be in several stages but with a different process. You will submit developed drafts of these papers to be shared with other students in the class by Wed Apr 17 Fri Apr 19 and give each other feedback on those drafts by Mon Apr 22 Tue Apr 23. The drafts will only be graded (for 5% of your final grade) based on being sufficiently developed and turned in on time. The feedback you give your peers will be graded based on how constructive and conscientious it is; this will be your “collaboration” requirement for the course (as noted above, this counts for another 5% of your final grade). Your revised most polished versions of these papers are due before our scheduled final exam session on Thu May 2 at noon.

In total, this will all exceed the University requirement of ten pages of writing.

There is no separate final exam for the course. The process of collaborating to give each other feedback on your final papers, and revising the papers in light of that feedback, takes over its pedagogical function. Class will still meet (probably online) during the scheduled exam session, for a review of the semester, discussion of ideas you had while developing your papers, and a final wrap-up discussion.

See below about missing or rescheduling paper deadlines.

We will arrange that grading of most of your work is done without us knowing whose work is whose.

Here is a detailed explanation of how we’ll understand different grades.

All students are expected to follow the University Honor Code, which applies to all course assignments, exams, and petitions for absences or rescheduling. In brief, this means students are expected to refrain from “lying, cheating, or stealing” in the academic context. For more information or to clarify which actions violate the honor code, consult with your instructors,, and/or The Instrument of Student Judicial Governance.

What constitutes “lying, cheating, or stealing” depends on the academic activity.

Your grades for the different components of the course will be weighted as follows:

10% for overall participation/engagement with the course  5% for presentation component (in Fri sections)  5% for collaborative feedback on each other’s final papers 10% for first exam (on Feb 28) 10% for second exam (on Apr 3) 10% for first version of midterm papers (due Mar 7) 25% for second version of midterm papers (due Mar 28)  5% for shared drafts of final papers (due Apr 17 Apr 19, whether developed enough and on-time) 20% for revised versions of final paper (due before our scheduled final exam session on May 2)

Should it be necessary to convert between numeric and letter grades, we assume the following correspondences:

F 0 or 50, explained below D 63.3 and higher D+ 66.7 and higher C- 70.0 and higher C 73.3 and higher C+ 76.7 and higher B- 80.0 and higher B 83.3 and higher B+ 86.7 and higher A- 90.0 and higher A 93.3 and higher

Your papers and other components of your grade will be evaluated using a finer-grained scale that (for example) distinguishes between different levels of B+. This is detailed here.

Grade Appeals: If you feel you have been given an incorrect grade for any part of the course, we can review together how we applied the announced standards. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, you have the right to discuss with our department’s Director of Undergraduate Studies (currently Professor Markus Kohl), or to appeal through a formal University process. You’ll be expected to make a case that the grade reflects an arithmetic/clerical error, arbitrariness, discrimination, harassment, or personal malice. To learn more, consult the Academic Advising Program website, or this summary of University policies.

Most requests that I and other professors hear for changing grades are based on how good/bad it would be for a student to get a given grade; but it would be unfair and inappropriate for justifications like that to succeed.


This schedule lists due dates for assignments and the rough order of our topics. See this other page for course announcements, context for the main readings, links to optional further reading, lecture notes, and any minor tweaks to the schedule. Check that page frequently.

Meeting 1 / Wed Jan 10
Introducing philosophical methods
Sections / Fri Jan 12
Mon Jan 15
MLK Day, No classes
Meeting 2 / Wed Jan 17
Read for this session: Pojman on Identifying Arguments; Philosophical Terms & Methods
Begin unit on Animal minds
Varieties of Mental States
Sections / Fri Jan 19
Meeting 3 / Mon Jan 22
Read for this session: selections from Dr Dolittle’s Delusion
Meeting 4 / Wed Jan 24
More on animal mentality
Sections / Fri Jan 26
Read before sections: Leiber Chapter 1, also bot p. 34-top p. 39; Colin Allen, “Star Witness”
Meeting 5 / Mon Jan 29
More on animal mentality
Meeting 6 / Wed Jan 31
Begin unit on Souls
Introducing ontology and substances
Read for this session: Gennaro p. 5–mid p. 21; Notes on Ontology and Substances
Sections / Fri Feb 2
Meeting 7 / Mon Feb 5
Read for this session: Reading Philosophy
Meeting 8 / Wed Feb 7
Read for this session: Gennaro pp. 21-28; Notes Introducing Leibniz’s Law; start reading van Inwagen
Sections / Fri Feb 9
Mon Feb 12
Wellness Day, No classes
Meeting 9 / Wed Feb 14
More on Leibniz’s Law
Continue reading for this session: van Inwagen
Sections / Fri Feb 16
Meeting 10 / Mon Feb 19
Read for this session: Huxley
Expository papers due
Meeting 11 / Wed Feb 21
Causal arguments against dualism
Read for this session: Gennaro pp. 29-44; Princess Elisabeth and Descartes; review van Inwagen pp. 226-29 and 260-62
Sections / Fri Feb 23
Meeting 12 / Mon Feb 26
More on causal arguments
Meeting 13 / Wed Feb 28
Begin unit on Free will
Introduce free will, fatalism, determinism
Read for this session: Lemos Chapter 1, Rachels
Exam on Animal minds and Souls units
Sections / Fri Mar 1
Meeting 14 / Mon Mar 4
Read for this session: Feinberg
Meeting 15 / Wed Mar 6
Hard determinism, Consequence argument, Reformers vs Reconcilers
Read for this session: van Inwagen, Lemos pp. 21–25
Midterm papers v1 due on Thursday Mar 7
Optional Sections / Fri Mar 8
Spring Break
Meeting 16 / Mon Mar 18
Read for this session: Lemos Chapter 2
Meeting 17 / Wed Mar 20
Read for this session: Beebee
Sections / Fri Mar 22
Meeting 18 / Mon Mar 25
Read for this session: Lemos Chapter 3
Meeting 19 / Wed Mar 27
Read for this session: Taylor; parts of van Inwagen skipped earlier
Revisions of midterm papers due on Thu Mar 28
Fri Mar 29
University Holiday, No sections
Meeting 20 / Mon Apr 1
Begin unit on Machine minds
Intro to AI
Read for this session: Truncat; Chiang
Meeting 21 / Wed Apr 3
More on AI
Read for this session: Gennaro pp. 60-86; Leiber Chapter 2; Lycan
Exam on Free will unit
Sections / Fri Apr 5
Meeting 22 / Mon Apr 8
Turing Test
Read for this session: Mind’s I Chapter 5
Meeting 23 / Wed Apr 10
More on AI and Turing Test
Read for this session: Turing
Sections / Fri Apr 12
Meeting 24 / Mon Apr 15
More on AI and Turing Test
Meeting 25 / Wed Apr 17
More on AI and Turing Test
Drafts of final papers due by Friday
Sections / Fri Apr 19
Meeting 26 / Mon Apr 22
Read for this session: Searle; Einstein’s Brain
Peer feedback due by Tuesday
Meeting 27 / Wed Apr 24
Read for this session: Leiber Chapter 3; Learning to Be Me
Sections / Fri Apr 26
More on AI
Meeting 28 / Mon Apr 29
Read for this session: Schwitzgebel and Garza
Thu May 2
Final papers due before Final Exam Session at noon

More Information

Comparing to other Philosophy courses

Here are some other philosophy courses taught this semester that are open to introductory audiences and have some overlap with the issues explored in this course:

Here are two more such courses in the Philosophy catalog, but not being offered in spring 2024:

Note that these courses have different formats (some are large classes with separate discussion sections, some are smaller classes mixing discussion with lecture).

Each of these courses will address some topics our class doesn’t, and vice versa. Generally, these courses are related like this: one of them will cover issues X and Y, perhaps spending 1-2 weeks on issue Y. Another one will spend more weeks on issue Y, but won’t cover issue X, and will cover some further issues Z. How can you decide which course will suit you best? That can be hard to do, especially being in the position of newcomers to the topics. You might reasonably just defer to which course best fits your schedule.

If you wish to be in this course, but aren’t yet enrolled

(These recommendations apply whether or not you’re officially waitlisted.) Come to the first week of classes and be in touch with us asap about your interest in the course, how it fits into your larger educational plans, and what your background in other philosophy courses might be. We’ll accommodate you if we can; but you should also figure out a backup plan.

If you want to change what recitation section you’re enrolled in

If you have issues about which of the Fri recitation sections you’re signed up for, be patient about this. To take this course, it’s required that your schedule allows you to attend at least one of our scheduled sections. But if you can’t immediately sign up for the one that suits you best, we’ll try to sort that out eventually. Make sure you go to some section the first week or two anyway, even if it’s not the section you ultimately hope to be in. We ask you to email the TAs rather than Professor Pryor about any recitation-scheduling matters. (All our emails are listed above.) The registrar needs to have you assigned to some section; but at the start of term it’s not essential that they assign you to the same section we understand you to be in.

Missing/rescheduling exams or deadlines

The deadline for the final paper is when our course’s final exam would have taken place, and can be extended only in the special circumstances that you could be excused from an exam. These must be documented and approved by an academic dean. See the final exam regulations and spring schedule for more details.

If you know in advance you’ll have good reason for being unable to submit another assignment for a deadline, or missing an exam during term:

What if it turns out that you can’t turn in an assignment, but now it’s only days or hours before (or even after 😮) the deadline?

Devices in the classroom

Other Policies and Resources

The following is information that the University mandates we include on every syllabus. (So you will see a lot of overlap with your syllabi for other courses.)

Syllabus Updates

I reserve the right to make changes to the syllabus, including assignment due dates and dates of exams. These changes will be announced as early as possible so that students can adjust their schedules.


We welcome your input about the course at any time. You are welcome to approach me and the TAs directly. We’ll also provide opportunities for anonymous evaluation and feedback during the term.