Course Syllabus


PHIL 89 Philosophical Methods


Hybrid: we are in the classroom Mondays 10-10:50am, Mendocino 1022. The scheduled Wednesday meetings will be replaced by "Philosophy in the Wild."


Kyle Swan | Department of Philosophy | California State University, Sacramento | Mendocino Hall 3030 | 6000 J Street | Sacramento, CA 95819-6033 |  Primary contact: Canvas messaging app

Office hours

I will be available for office hours on Mondays and Wednesdays 11:30am-1pm in Mendocino 3030

Reasonable Accommodation

If your circumstances require accommodation or assistance in meeting the expectations of this course, please let me know as soon as possible. You may need to provide documentation to the University office of SSWD (in accordance with the University policy outlined here:

Course Description

An introduction to philosophical methods and basic concepts to prepare students for coursework in the major. The survey of topics will emphasize developing skills in reading philosophical texts, writing philosophical analyses and having philosophical discussions. (2 units) 

Objectives and outcomes

The purpose of this 2 unit seminar is to help transition students new to philosophy into the major and introduce them to the skills and concepts they will need for higher-level coursework in philosophy. Students completing this seminar will be able to: 

  1. Identify basic concepts and distinctions. Students will learn the difference between normative issues and empirical ones, between epistemological questions and metaphysical ones, between a definition and an analysis, between an argument and an explanation, between truth and validity, etc.
  2. Identify basic disciplinary boundaries. Students will learn what makes a question or topic philosophical. They will become familiar with the contours of the different sub-disciplines in philosophy and the historical context for these divisions. They will become familiar with resources relevant for investigating philosophical topics and questions.
  3. Analyze a philosophical essay. Students will be able to reconstruct and summarize the reasoning in a philosophical piece of writing. They will be able to develop and explain relevant objections and defenses. They will be able to reach a plausible conclusion regarding the merits of the target piece. They will be able to present their analysis in clear, grammatical, college-level English.

Course Requirements


Your final grade is determined by how many total points you earn, with these grade thresholds: 93 points=A, 90 points=A-, 88 points=B+, 83 points=B, 80 points=B-, 78 points=C+, 73 points=C, 70 points=C-, 68 points=D+, 63 points=D, 60 points=D-, and F = all scores less than 60 points.

There are these ways of earning points:

1. Be an active and thoughtful participant (25 possible points)

Someone who earns all these points would:

  • Prepare for class discussions;
  • Demonstrate understanding of the readings;
  • Offer original and thoughtful ideas and perspectives;
  • Pose good questions

I will assess this in a variety of ways in class and in the wild throughout the semester. I may ask for a summary and/or response related to the assigned reading or some other activity or “thought question” that requires you to engage with the assigned material. These aren’t always announced ahead of time. You’re either in class to earn the points, or you aren’t; however, some of these assignments are done "in the wild." Write your answers to these prompts in a Google doc designated for this course.

2. Argument analyses (4x10 points = 40 possible points)

These are relatively short analyses of assigned readings. Aim for about 1000 words. These papers must be written by your hand in your Google doc designated for this course. Two of the four assignments should be based on readings in Part 2 of the course (see Modules section). The other two should be based on readings in Part 3 of the course. Papers are due in your Google doc during the week we discuss the assigned reading in class.

The structure should follow that described here: to an external site.

Present and elaborate the argument, explaining how it is supposed to work in the “Summary” section. Evaluate its success, developing an argument that undermines or defends it, in the “Critique” section. Try to think of the summary section as setting out the key argument you are targeting in your thesis. It’s the argument you will analyze or evaluate in the “Critique” section of the essay. The summary should be focused on only that which is relevant to your analysis and evaluation.

You should avoid writing poor, surface-level, generic summaries. The most common way of writing a poor summary is to simply restate a number of things in the assigned reading. But I don’t want a listing of things in the reading; rather, I want you to identify the key idea in it and explain the argument(s) for that idea. Focus. Go for depth of explanation, rather than breadth of coverage. I recommend the method of successive elaboration (described here).

3. Colloquium critiques (2x10 points = 20 possible points)

These are relatively short analyses of campus colloquium presentations. Aim for about 1000 words. These papers must written by your hand in your Google doc designated for this course. They must be written in the department's analytical essay format (above). All critiques are due within one week after the colloquium for which it is written. Students are responsible for monitoring philosophy department  announcements of colloquiums. 

4. Exit exam (15 possible points)

This is a set of short essay questions you will answer in the University scheduled final exam period for this class.


There is no text to purchase. All required readings are pieces available as links or .pdf documents in Canvas. See the Modules section.

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty as adumbrated in the academic honesty policy statement (link below) will be dealt with by immediate failure in the course and referral to the Office of Student Affairs for disciplinary action. Familiarize yourselves with the University's Academic Honesty Policy & Procedures.

Students with Special Needs

Sacramento State is committed to ensuring an accessible learning environment where course or instructional content are usable by all students and faculty. If you believe that you require disability-related academic adjustments for this class (including pregnancy-related disabilities), please immediately contact Services for Students with Disabilities (SSWD) to discuss eligibility. A current accommodation letter from SSWD is required before any modifications, above and beyond what is otherwise available for all other students in this class will be provided. Please be advised that disability-related academic adjustments are not retroactive. SSWD is located on the first floor of Lassen Hall 1008. Phone is 916-278-6955 and e-mail is For a complete listing of services and current business hours visit programs/services-students-disabilities/

Students who have special learning or testing needs must notify the instructor with the appropriate documentation by the end of the second week of the semester. 

Student resources

Do not hesitate to contact either of the following resources if you are experiencing serious distress.


Course Summary:

Date Details Due