NEW YORK UNIVERSITY PHILOSOPHY
SPRING 2005 GRADUATE COURSES
Life and Death
Moral and metaphysical issues in defining and evaluating various kinds of life and death, human and non-human. Topics include: borderline cases (viruses, zygotes, brain dead and "vegetative" patients, the Biosphere); "flourishing" and grades of life; reductive and narrative conceptions of human life and death; "good' and "bad" deaths; rights to live and die; reproductive liberties and environmental constraints; anthropocentric environmentalism; conceptions of an After-life.
Open to senior Philosophy majors with the permission of the instructor.
Plato's Ethics and Epistemology
Our goal will be to understand and evaluate Plato's best arguments for a wide variety of controversial views about how we can and should think, act, and feel. Topics will include, but not be limited to: the link between moral knowledge and moral motivation; the normativity of belief, desire, and emotion; the scope and status of reasons-explanation; the structure of deliberative irrationality; and the possibility of perceptual knowledge.
Mind and Language Seminar
Monday 6-7, Tuesday 4-7
Ned Block/Thomas Nagel
For a list of speakers, see http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/courses/consciousness05/.
History of Philosophy: Kant
An examination of Kant's theoretical philosophy as expounded in his Critique of Pure Reason supplemented by related texts, especially the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. The course will be a combination of lecture and discussion of primary texts as well as selected secondary works. The grade will be based on performance in discussion and an article-length final paper.
Monday 4-6, Thursday 7-9
Hartry Field/Crispin Wright
[MEETS THE LAST SIX WEEKS OF THE TERM]
The seminar will be on revision of classical logic. We will discuss several pressures toward weakening classical logic (for instance, to deal with indefinitely extensible concepts, or more ordinary sorts of vagueness, or paradoxes such as the Liar); and we will discuss which sorts of modification of classical logic they might suggest and how compelling a case for such modifications can be made.
One of the issues we will focus on is whether proposals to revise logic in certain ways are incoherent. This charge is often made against 'dialetheic' logics that lift the ban on acceptance of (certain) contradictions; it is less often made against logics that keep that ban but give up the law of excluded middle. We will be interested in whether there is any sound basis for treating these two proposed revisions of logic differently; and if not, whether both proposed revisions are incoherent or neither is.
There are a variety of motives for dropping excluded middle; for instance, there are motives based on agnosticism about bivalence (this is the motivation of the intuitionists, though whether it leads inevitably to intuitionist logic is something we'll discuss), and there are also motives based on alleged gaps and 'third possibilities'. We will discuss their differences, respective force, and technical implications
Another issue we will discuss is what it would be like to use a weakened logic in everyday life. How, for instance, would our practice in accepting negated sentences be affected if we were to give up the law of excluded middle or the ban on accepting contradictions?
Another possible topic is the connection between issues about logic and more broadly metaphysical issues. For instance, Dummett has urged that there is a close connection between issues about 'realism' and the law of excluded middle (or the closely related principle of bivalence); his discussion presupposes that the relevant alternative to keeping excluded middle is to adopt intuitionist logic or something closely akin to that, but it would be interesting to know if his discussion generalised to other ways of giving up excluded middle, or applied to logics that instead of giving up excluded middle gave up the ban on accepting contradictions.
We expect also to discuss the more general methodology of conducting debates over logic, and to address the worry that debates over logic are in some way merely verbal.
The seminar will be about physical realization - primarily, although not exclusively, the physical realization (implementation) of mental properties. We will examine both the realization of "higher order" (e.g., functional) properties by first-order physical properties, and the realization of instantiations of properties of macroscopic things in microphysical states of affairs. Issues to be considered include whether mental properties are "multiple realized," and if they are whether this supports nonreductive physicalism, and whether the physical realizers of mental states "preempt" their causal efficacy. But the main focus will be on the nature of realization. We will read work by, among others, Jaegwon Kim, Ned Block, Louise Antony and Joe Levine, Steve Yablo, Karen Bennett, Lenny Clapp, and Sydney Shoemaker.
Philosophy of Science: The Direction of Time
We will discuss the following problem: how can we explain the various temporal asymmetries we experience at the macroscopic level-the asymmetry of thermodynamics, radiation, causation, knowledge, others-if the underlying physical laws are temporally symmetric? In addition to trying to account for these asymmetries, we will spend a portion of the class focusing in on the probabilistic claims required by some of the explanations. How should we understand these probabilities metaphysically, in particular if the dynamics are deterministic? Are they a basic feature of the world, or do they arise from something more fundamental? Time permitting, we may end with a look at how both the account of probability and the explanation of the temporal asymmetries do, or do not, change when we take the fundamental dynamics to be quantum mechanical.
Advanced Introduction to Philosophy of Science
Philosophical applications of probability theory. The first half of the class will be very similar to that of my Spring 2001 seminar: a survey of basic issues without assuming any background in the area. Topics will include: the standard probability calculus, the various interpretations of probability, and common epistemological applications. In the second half we will branch out into some more specialized topics. Here there will be only minimal overlap with the previous seminar. Some questions to be addressed: How tight are the rational constraints on credence (or "degrees of belief") beyond conformity to the probability calculus, and what are these constraints? What role should symmetry play in probability judgments? What is the epistemic relevance of the credence of other subjects, or of my own future credence, to my current credence? Why should we follow the rule of conditionalization, and when is it appropriate to violate it? What is the epistemic significance of learning that my current credence in P was influenced by factors that are irrelevant to the truth of P?
Advanced Seminar Philosophy of Mind
The nature of concepts as they are understood in representational, computational theories of mind. Methodological and metaphysical constraints on such theories. Models of concepts in current cognitive science. Issues about 'preconceptual' mental representation. Theories about the semantics of mental representation (in particular, prospects for an atomistic account.) The approach will be philosophical, but with occasional references to (and readings in) relevant empirical literature.
Continuing from Fall 2004 (second six weeks of Spring term):
Ethics: Selected Topics, G83.2285-001, Harman/Parfit, Monday 7-9
Ethics: Selected Topics, G83.2285-002, Parfit, TBA