Philosophy Department
Undergraduate Courses Fall 1999

Each of the following descriptions was provided by the faculty member teaching the course. Where no description is offered, or for additional information, please consult the NYU College of Arts & Sciences Bulletin.


Introductory Courses

Intro to Philosophy
Monday/Wednesday/8:30am — 9:45am
Professor Barbara Montero

The most basic questions about human life and its place in the universe. Topics may include free will, the relation of the mind to the body, and immortality; skepticism, self-knowledge, causality, and a priori knowledge; religious and secular ethical codes and theories; and intuition, rationality, and faith. Includes classic and current philosophers (e.g., Plato, Descartes, Hume, Russell, Sartre). The course page is available here.

Ethics and Society
Monday/Wednesday/9:55am — 11:10am

Examines grounds for moral judgment and action in various social contexts. Typical topics: public versus private good and duties; individualism and cooperation; inequalities and justice; utilitarianism and rights; regulation of sexual conduct, abortion and family life; poverty and wealth; racism and sexism; and war and capital punishment.


Intensive Introductory Courses

Central Problems in Philosophy
Monday/Wednesday/11:55am — 1:10pm
Professor Unger

*Only CAS Students

Most of the problems we'll discuss will be problems in metaphysics and epistemology as, through almost all its history, those have been the most central for philosophy. Most of the rest will be either problems in ethics, as they have also been very central, or else those classical paradoxes that are still deeply perplexing problems, as they're a lot of fun to discuss.

Most of the readings will be from the most recent century, since most highly accessible pieces are relatively recent, though we may look at some classical sources.

The emphasis will be on having the student become heavily engaged with, and strangely disturbed about, at least a few central problems, so that she'll have an accurate feel for what's distinctive about philosophy at its best.

Each student will write a couple of short papers; there will be no examination.


Group 1: History of Philosophy

History of Ancient Philosophy
Monday/Wednesday/9:55am — 11:10am

Examination of the major figures and movements in Greek philosophy, especially Plato and Aristotle.

American Philosophy
Tuesday/Thursday/11:55am — 1:10pm
Professor Gurland

* Prerequisite: one course in philosophy

This course will attempt a historical development of American philosophy, commencing with its colonial beginnings and culminating with an analysis of Pragmatism, the philosophy most deeply embedded in the American grain. Although the main focus of the course will be trained on the Pragmatists, namely C. S. Pierce, William James, and John Dewey, this process philosophy will be shown as the fourth stage in the development of American philosophical thought, where each stage is vitally connected to a distinct stage in American historical and cultural growth. The se ties will be explored while presenting American philosophical development in holistic fashion, as integrated with, and the product of, the evolution of a distinctively American consciousness. Other thinkers to be treated in the course include Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Jefferson, Henry Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Topics in the History of Philosophy
Tuesday/Thursday/9:55am — 11:10am
Professor Richardson

* Prerequisite: two courses in philosophy, at least one in the history of philosophy

The course will mainly be devoted to a careful reading of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. It will also pay some, much briefer attention to Kant's ethics. Requirements: two mid-sized paper, and perhaps a final exam.


Group 2: Ethics, Value, and Society

Monday/Wednesday/11:55am — 1:10pm

*Only CAS Students

Examines fundamental questions of moral philosophy: What are our most basic values and which of them are specifically moral values? What are the ethical principles, if any, by which we should judge our actions, ourselves, and our lives? Can such judgments ever be true or objective? If so, how? If not, why not?

Philosophy of Law
Tuesday/Thursday/9:55am — 11:10am
Professor Gurland

* Prerequisite: one course in philosophy

This course will address the classical problems associated with the philosophy of law. It will initially examine the role and function of law, and offer the standards which identify and define a society under law. The debate between the natural law theorists and the legal positivis ts will be explored, a debate which confronts the problems central to the determination of which criteria legitimately establish a law as valid or

morally binding upon those it seeks to direct. Questions concerned with the enforcement of morals, and a society's right to employ its legal machinery in order to regulate individual behavior will be entertained. The nature of justice, the idea of responsibility, and the various theories of punishment, retributive, deterrence, rehabilitative, and restitutional, will be studied. Finally, matters of legal ethics, for example the ethics of lawyer-client relations, and the problems arising from lawyer-client confidentiality, will be treated.


Tuesday/Thursday/11:55am — 1:10pm
Professor Ruddick

Examines aesthetic sensibility and judgment, and their basis, scope, and relation to pleasure, morality, religion, and commerce. Focus will be on visual arts, architecture, and landscape. Frequent written commentaries on philosophic readings and relevant local artworks and buildings, as well as two longer essays.

No specific course prerequisites, but Philosophy majors and minors will be given priority in enrollment. Other students will be wait-listed with the Philosophy Department Administrative Aide, 998-8320.


Group 3: Metaphysics, Epistemology, Mind, Language, and Logic

Monday/Wednesday/1:20pm — 2:35pm

Introduces the techniques, results, and philosophical import of 20th-century formal logic. Principal concepts include those of sentence, set, interpretation, validity, consistency, consequence, tautology, and derivation. Philosophical problems discussed include the nature of natural language, the nature of mathematics and the importance of logical paradoxes, and the contrast between human minds and computers.

Monday/Wednesday/2:50pm — 4:05pm
Professor Unger

*Prerequisite: One course in Philosophy

When engaged with questions concerning the nature of whatever may be true reality, we are engaged in metaphysical questions. Here are some of the most general questions that we'll be discussing: What is the relationship between a thing, like a round copper coin, and the properties of the thing, like being round, and being copper, and being a coin? Might things have all their properties be relational properties; or, must at least one of a thing's properties be a non-relational feature, perhaps even being a purely qualitative property of the thing? Is there really only one thing, the whole universe throughout its entire existence, or are there many different things; indeed, what's the difference between the first suggestion - just one thing, and the second - many different things. As well as such terribly general questions, we'll also be engaged in slightly less general questions, a few of which are these: Is all of reality ultimately physical; or are there other realms, such as a purely mental realm, that are just as basic as, or maybe even more basic than, anything that's physical? What is our own true basic nature; are we purely physical beings, quite completely exhausted by what's in the physical realm, or do we transcend - somehow or other - everything that's physical? And, if we don't transcend what's just purely physical, how can any of us be anything but a mere part of a thoroughly physical reality, as with a snail that, though it might suffer some pain, hasn't any real will at all? But, then, what is it for an entity, whether a coin, or a snail, or one of us, to be physical? In trying to make progress with these questions, we'll experience much uncomfortable confusion, and very little intellectual satisfaction; then, will we be feel ing painful indications of how very limited is our human understanding? At least for the most part, readings will be from twentieth century sources. Students will write two short papers, generally submitting two drafts of each of the papers. There'll be no examinations.

Philosophy of Mind
Tuesday/Thursday/2:50pm — 4:05pm
Professor Woodbridge

*Prerequisite: One course in Philosophy

This is a course in the philosophy of mind. Philosophy of mind is not psychology, but the disciplines are connected. Roughly, we can think of psychology as the study of how the mind operates (especially in the production of behavior) and how its operation can be influenced. Philosophy of mind seeks a different sort of understanding of the mind; it investigates what the mind is and how its nature lets it operate as psychology says it does. What minds and mental phenomena are, and how they fit into a world that science tells us is composed of unthinking matter, is one of the greatest mysteries there is--one that has not yet been unraveled. Furthermore, it is a very personal mystery, for, insofar as you conceive of yourself as a person, you conceive of yourself as an intelligent creature capable of rational action, that is, as a thing with a mind capable of thinking and feeling. Our understanding of the nature of mind is central to our understanding of ourselves, of what it is to be human being or a person.

In this course we will study the nature of mind. We will learn what positions on the subject are available, and we will examine their problems and prospects. Throughout, we will consider what issues the philosopher of mind must face in his or her attempt to understand the mind.

You may visit the course's website here.



Topics in Metaphysics & Epistemology
Tuesday/Thursday/1:20pm — 2:35pm
Professor Belot

* Prerequisite: two courses in philosophy, including either V83.0076 or V83.0078

We will read a recent philosophical classic: Hilary Putnam's Reason, Truth, and History. We will look at how Putnam hopes to solve or dismiss a number of central problems in metaphysics and epistemology with his brand of neo-Kantian pragmatism. Then we will look at a number of influential responses to Putnam's work.


Honors Seminar
To Be Arranged
Professor Field

*Requires Departmental permission

Seminar for majors in philosophy who have been approved by the Department on the basis of merit. See description of Honors Program.


Independent Study
To Be Arranged

*Prerequisite: permission of the Department.

General Department Information


The Philosophy Major

The De partment is in the process of changing its requirements for the major. Different requirements are applicable, depending on when the student entered NYU.

For students beginning at NYU before September 1998, the following requirements apply:

A major in philosophy requires eight 4-point V-level (or G-level) courses. These must include: (1) Logic V83.0070; (2) History of Ancient Philosophy V83.0020; (3) History of Modern Philosophy V83.0021; (4) either Ethics V83.0040, The Nature of Values V83.0041, or Political Philosophy V83.0045; (5) either Minds and Machines V83.0015, Belief, Truth and Knowledge V83.0076, Metaphysics V83.0078, Philosophy of Mind V83.0080 or Philosophy of Language V83.0085, and (6) either Topics in the History of Philosophy V83.0101, Topics in Ethics and Political Philosophy V83.0102, Topics in Metaphysics and Epistemology V83.0103, Topics in Language and Mind V83.0104.

For students beginning at NYU in September 1998 or after, the following new requirements apply:

A major in Philosophy requires nine 4-point V-level or G-level courses in the department. These must include (1) Logic V83.0070; (2) History of Ancient Philosophy V83.0020; or Advanced Greek Philosophy V83.0023, (3) History of Modern Philosophy V83.0021; (4) Ethics V83.0040, Nature of Values V83.0041, or Political Philosophy V83.0045; (5) Belief, Truth and Knowledge V83.0076, or Metaphysics V83.0078; (6) Minds and Machines V83.0015, Philosophy of Mind V83.0080 or Philosophy of Mind V83.0085 and (7) Topics in the History of Philosophy V83.0101, Topics in Ethics and Political Philosophy V83.0102, Topics in Metaphysics and Epistemology V83.0103, or Topics in Language and Mind V83.0104.

Prospective majors are also encouraged to consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor John Richardson, Room 503C.


The Philosophy Minor

The Department is in the process of changing its requirements for the minor. Different requirements are applicable, depending on when the student entered NYU.

For students beginning at NYU before September 1998, the following requirements apply:

A minor in philosophy requires four courses in the department; at least one must be either History of Ancient Philosophy V83.0013 or History of Modern Philosophy V83.0014.

For students beginning at NYU in September 1998 or after, the following new requirements apply:

A minor in Philosophy requires four 4-point courses, at least three beyond the A-level Introductory courses. One course must be either History of Ancient Philosophy, V83.0020, or History of Modern Philosophy, V83.0021; one course must come from Group 2 (Ethics, Value, and Society) and Group 3 (Metaphysics, Epistemology, Mind, Language, and Logic). No credit is awarded for a course with a grade lower than a C.


Honors Program

For eligible majors in their senior year. Eligibility requires that the student has completed at least 5 courses in philosophy, with an average in those courses of at least a 3.5, and an overall average of at least 3.0.

This is a year-long program intended to provide an intensive and rewarding culmination of the philosophy major. Honors students attend a small weekly seminar led by a member of the department, involving discussion of a wide range of philosophical topics. In addition, each participant in the program writes a senior thesis, under the individual guidance of a faculty advisor, on a topic of personal interest.

The seminar is taken for 2 credits in each of the student’s last two semesters. Majors interested in taking part in the program are encouraged to consult Professor Richardson.


Philosophy Department Office — Main Building, Room 503i

The Department's Administrative Coordinator is Deborah Bula an d the Department's Administrative Aide is Dan Nester. They will be able to answer many of the questions you may have. Professor’s mailboxes are located within the Department office. There are three bulletin boards on which Departmental information is posted and updated. The Philosophy Department phone number is 212-998-8320.


Philosophy Faculty

Paul Boghossian, Chair

Stephen Schiffer, Associate Chair

Ned Block, Director of Graduate Studies

John Richardson, Director of Undergraduate Studies

Gordon Belot Room TBA
Ned Block Room 502A (On leave for Fall 1999)
Paul Boghossian Room 503B (On leave for Fall 1999)
Hartry Field Room 502E
Kit Fine Room 502B
John Gibbons Room 513A
Robert Gurland Room 513B
Frances Kamm Room 503K
Thomas Nagel Room 503O
John Richardson Room 503C
William Ruddick Room 503G
Stephen Schiffer Room 502C
Sigrún Svavarsdóttir Room 503F
Peter Unger Room 503D


Why Study Philosophy?

Philosophy has a reputation for being otherworldly and impractical–"philosophy butters no bread," some say. But philosophy doesn’t really deserve this label. The purpose of philosophy is controversial, but at least one thing it involves is the construction and evaluation of arguments. The study of philosophy is a training of expressing thoughts clearly and precisely, in defending one’s ideas and evaluating the positions of others. Quite simply, philosophy gives a training in thinking. And this is a skill valuable in any professional field.

Philosophy has a special affinity with the legal profession in which arguments, and the application of general rul es to cases, play central roles. Many law schools recognize this connection, and are especially receptive to philosophy majors. But philosophical skills are also valuable elsewhere. In business, you must be able to formulate and clarify problems, to analyze potential solutions, and to defend your approach in a clear and rational way. All of these abilities are improved by exercising in philosophical argument. And finally, medical schools and professionals are placing more importance on the ability to reflect in the ethical issues that arise in their practice–and these are problems treated in moral philosophy.

Some of these practical beliefs seem reflected in the exceptional performance by philosophy majors on graduate admissions exams. They show that philosophy majors have scored higher than any other group on the verbal section of the GRE, and much higher than any other humanities majors on the quantitative section. Philosophy majors are second only to math majors on the GMAT, and third only to math and economics majors on the LSAT. Of course, majors training in philosophy may not be wholly responsible for these results — it might also be that brighter students are entering the field to begin with. But in either case, the report suggests you’re not stupid if you join them.

But this still doesn’t touch on what surely remains the most reasons for studying philosophy. College years shouldn’t just be a professional training. They are the best chance to think about basic human questions–about personal and social values, about the nature of reality and yourselves. Studying philosophy can bring into view questions of lifelong relevance and interest. It can acquaint you with the issues in debates that will always recur, and can help you towards argued positions on such issues. In a very rare case, it might even help determine your direction through life.