Professor James DyePhilosophy 471
Office: Zulauf 916,
TTh 10:50-11:50
Fall Semester, 1998
Telephone: 753-6410 (office)Founders 354
Telephone: 756-4370 (home)T 6:00-8:45
E-mail: jdye@niu.edu Web: sun.soci.niu.edu/˜phildept/Dye/Phil471.html

Philosophy 471
Classical Philosophy of Religion
Syllabus

Course Content. Several important texts, representing different approaches to the nature and significance of religion, will be read and critically assessed. Hume's Dialogues concerning Natural Religion and "On Miracles" comprise the most famous philosophical critique of religion based on reasoning.* His The Natural History of Religion is an ingenious attempt to explain how religion arises and persists, given that it cannot be justified rationally. In a similar vein, Feuerbach attempts to demonstrate that theological claims are fictions modeled on human abilities--that humanity has empoverished itself in order to enrich an imaginary God. Rather than contest such attacks on philosophical theology, Kierkegaard suggests that the objects of religious belief may be real, even if unintelligible to us, and that one may believe, even if what one believes is paradoxical or absurd. Otto focuses on religious experience rather than religious belief. He seeks to identify the psychological states underlying religious commitment and to show how some characteristic religious doctrines and practices arise from those special feelings. Finally, Whitehead's lectures propound a conception of religion in harmony with the twentieth-century scientific worldview.

Required Texts:

Hume, Writings on Religion , ed. Flew
Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion
Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity
Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments
Otto, The Idea of the Holy
Whitehead, Religion in the Making
Recommended Text:
Cicero, De Natura deorum. (Harvard U. Press ISBN: 0674992962).
This ancient work was clearly the model for Hume's Dialogues concerning Natural Religion and is exceptionally interesting in its own right.
Text orders have been placed (only) with the Junction Book Store, 822 W. Lincoln Highway.

 Class Procedure. Attendance is expected. Advance notice must be given of any unavoidable absence. In preparation for each meeting,   everyone is to have read the assigned text and at least one commentary or article concentrating on that text.   Every student should arrive in class with some prepared comments or questions about something in the reading assignment.   These will be collected, as described below. Treatment of each topic will commence with the presentation of a paper dealing with some problem raised by the text. The idea is that someone should have explored some important aspect of the text in greater depth than the other participants can be expected to do. The remainder of the period will be devoted, first, to discussing the paper(s), and thereafter to considering relevant issues not treated in them.

 Written Assignments. These will consist of reaction papers, seminar papers, and a term paper.

 Reaction Papers & E-mail. As noted in the preceding section, students are to arrive in class prepared for informed discussion of the assignment. Part of this preparation will be to have written out some query or argument prompted by their reading. These reactions should be approximately one page long. Although you must be prepared to share your ideas orally in class, the written version of these papers   must be submitted by e-mail. They are to be submitted  prior to the relevant class meeting so that other class members may have some time to consider, or even to respond to, the issues raised (after all, classes are a week apart). A reaction paper may be a "meta-reaction" taking issue with someone else's posting. All of these papers together will represent about 15% of your grade. To be acceptable they must be relevant and informed. They will neither be individually graded nor returned with comments. The grade will depend on their collective originality and philosophical or historical merit. They are to be submitted simply by mailing them to   jdye@niu.edu. All e-mail sent to the professor with ' Phil471' on the subject line will be distributed  automatically to every student in the class. (Note that this keyword contains no spaces.) The remainder of the subject line should indicate your topic. Mail to the professor will remain private only if 'Phil471' is nowhere in the subject line.   In sending your first post, be sure (1) to identify yourself as a student in this course and (2) to send the message from the e-mail address at which you wish to receive mail (or specify that address in the body of your message) .

 Seminar Papers. Each student will present two (2) seminar papers, as mentioned under Class Procedure. Papers may be primarily historical and exegetical (if the problem is a matter of textual obscurity or ambiguity) or primarily philosophical (if the problem is a matter of the cogency of an argument or the adequacy of a theory). They need not be so original as to be provocative (although that would be nice), but they should always provide a fruitful focus for class discussion.   They must never be mere summaries of the text. They should cite and comment on the critical literature relevant to their topic, using   at least 3 high-quality commentaries or articles. They should be of such a length that they can be read in 30 minutes, reading at a moderate pace. A good paper illuminates some obscure argument, develops the implicit consequences of some doctrine, criticizes some published interpretation of the text, or proposes and defends some innovative way to understand an important part of the text.   Copies of the paper, meeting all the requirements for papers (see below), are to be provided for everyone at the time of presentation. However, a revised version may be submitted the following week should class discussion convince you that changes are desirable.

 Term Paper. In addition, there will be a  Final Paper treating some view(s) or argument(s) of some historically signigicant philosopher(s) of religion, or tackling an important issue in the philosophy of religion. This paper should be more extensively researched, more carefully argued, and may be longer than the seminar papers. As with the seminar papers, this paper may emphasize either historical or philosophical interpretation. In either case, you should carefully state the problem you intend to treat, explain its significance, assess its possible solutions, propose an hypothesis, argue convincingly for that hypothesis, and eliminate the major (published or imagined) competing hypotheses. Your treatment should make use of a half-dozen or more high-quality commentaries or articles.

 A formal prospectus of this paper, (1) indicating the topic, (2) fully describing the problem or issue to be treated, (3) outlining your anticipated procedure and probable conclusion, and (4) including an annotated bibliography of works to be consulted (a minimum of 6 books or articles, with at least a paragraph discussing the relevance of each work to your project), shall be submitted by 3 November 1998. The paper is due 1 December 1998 at 18:00 CST.

 Paper Requirements. All papers must conform to the standards expected of submissions to professional journals in philosophy. The document entitled "Requirements for Writing Assignments," available from the course web page, contains a detailed statement of the obligatory style and structure.

 Consultation. Anyone requiring guidance with the assignments or assistance in interpreting the text is encouraged to contact the professor.


* Well, Hume's work shares that status with Kant's treatment of the traditional arguments for the existence of God in the Critique of Pure Reason; but I taught that text last year. return