The History of Human Thought

The History of Human Thought

Mr. Nelson (                                                       2016 – 2017


From the earliest times humans questioned the nature of life and existence.  Through the developments of civilization, a variety of perspectives emerged attempting to answer these questions.  This non-AP course will trace some of the many threads of human thought from pre-civilization to modern times through the integration of history, philosophy, religion, literature, art, music, and language. This course aims to demonstrate the way that human beings historically create and share meaning as individuals, as communities, and as cultures through what they document and produce. Can be taken as Regular or Honors with corresponding expectations in work quality and workload. This course aims to help students achieve the following:

  • Appreciate the centrality of questions and problems in the development of human understanding.
  • Practice using multiple modes of critical analysis and theoretical perspectives to illuminate and explore fundamental understandings of life and existence.

You will leave this course with:

  • An understanding of the main branches of philosophy;
  • An understanding of several important philosophical movements;
  • An understanding of how the framing of questions guides the nature of inquiry;
  • The ability to apply these perspectives and theories to contemporary life;
  • Insight into the reciprocal link between ideas and society.


Course Expectations:

Students should be punctual to class and be prepared to discuss the assigned readings.* Written assignments, essays, etc. should be completed and submitted in a timely fashion.  At all times students should exhibit respect and courtesy towards classmates. A positive learning environment is one in which information is respectfully shared and appreciated regardless of one’s personal opinions. It is expected that this supportive, respectful environment will be the norm.

Since there is no textbook, we will use many supplementary materials and resources including, but not limited to the following: primary source materials, journal articles, essays, and excerpts from other related texts.  It is each student’s responsibility to come to class prepared with the necessary materials, and I will do my best to keep you informed regarding what you will need. 

Course Topics Outline:

1st Trimester:

-          Mythology: Early Explanations of Phenomena

-          Birth of Philosophy: The Early Schools of Thought

-          Plato and Aristotle: The Search for Truth and Morality Through Reason

-          Hellenistic Traditions: Roman Stoicism and Epicureanism

2nd Trimester:

-          Intro to Eastern Traditions: Relationships of Harmony

-          Middle Eastern Mystical Thought: Neoplatonism and Sufism

-          Faith and Reason: Pre-Enlightenment Philosophy

3rd Trimester:

-          Science and Enlightenment: Reason in the Newtonian Age

-          The Longest Century: 19th Century Thought

-          20th Century Philosophy: Existentialism to Post-Modernism


Homework and Grading:

Homework Philosophy

Assigned readings of course texts and other work are critical to a complete appreciation of course content.  Accordingly, readings will be assigned regularly, to be discussed in the following class period. Essays/research papers will be required for major topic headings.  Students will have independent projects to present throughout the trimester, as well as a final essay. Concise, careful academic writing will be stressed at all times.


Grading Philosophy

Grades will be determined in part by class participation, homework completion, projects, and essays. There will be a Midterm Exam. Grades will be proportionately based on the above criteria and the successful completion of each student’s final project.




Trimester grades:

Essays/research papers: 40%

Projects: 40%

Class participation: 20%




Final grade:

1st Trimester: 25%

2nd Trimester: 25%

Midterm Exam: 10%

3rd Trimester: 25%

Final: 15%


In addition to the above criteria, students taking The History of Human Thought as an honors course will be expected to complete the following:

-          additional readings

-          longer writing assignments

-          honors projects each trimester

-          higher standards for graded work

More detailed criteria will be specified as particular assignments are presented.




*Since this is a course with a focus on philosophy, there will be a lot of vocabulary you may not be familiar with. To get the most out of the course and the ideas we are studying, please look up or ask about all relevant terms I use or that you come across in readings.