Philosophy Department

Undergraduate Courses Fall 2002



Non-Major Introductory Courses



Introduction to Philosophy

TR 9:30-10:45 AM



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).




Ethics and Society

TR 3:30-4:45 PM



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.




Group I: History of Philosophy



History of Ancient Philosophy

MW 9:30-10:45 AM



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




Group II: Ethics, Value, and Society




TR 3:30-4:45 PM

Sharon Street


An examination of some central topics in moral philosophy.  We will consider questions such as:  What reason is there to be moral?  Is pleasure the only ultimate good?  What does a person’s well-being consist in?  What makes an action right or wrong, and to what extent is this a matter of the action’s consequences?  What role should the concepts of virtue and character play in moral theorizing?  Are there such things as moral facts, and if so, how should we understand them?  Are moral theories subject to empirical testing?  Is there a single true morality, or is moral truth relative to culture or the individual?  When we use moral language, are we making claims capable of being true or false, or are we merely expressing feelings or issuing commands?  Readings will be drawn from both historical and contemporary sources.




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




MW 2:00-3:15 PM



Introduces the techniques, results, and philosophical import of 20th century formal logic. Principal concepts include those of sentence, set, interpretation, validity, consistency, consequence, tautology, derivation, and completeness.





MW 11:00-12:15 AM

Cian Dorr


This course will survey a range of questions about the existence and nature of various things.  The questions discussed will include some or all of the following:  Is there a God?  Is there a mind-independent material world?  Are there immaterial souls?  Are there ordinary material objects like statues and lumps of clay?  Are there any composite objects at all?  Is there such a thing as empty space?  Are there abstract entities, like the number one, the letter A, and the property redness? 

Are there fictional things, like Sherlock Holmes?




Philosophy of Mind

TR 2:00-3:15 PM

Peter Kung    


The focus of this course will be an examination of the place of mind in the physical world. Views to be discussed will include substance dualism, behaviorism, functionalism, psychophysical identity and supervenience, and eliminativism. In the course of this we will assess the prospects for laws linking psychology to physics, and examine the extent to which the mind has causal powers. We will discuss the meaning of the terms "physical" and "mental", and such questions as whether we can have knowledge of other people’s mental states, and whether we ever have certain knowledge of our own mental states. Finally we will examine the special problems arising in understanding consciousness and how it fits into the physical world.




Topics in Ethics and Political Philosophy

TR 11:00-12:15 AM

Peter Unger

The course will revolve around two central questions in basic ethics, with related discussion of several topics in applied ethics.  The first central question is, what is it that determines the moral status of a particular being?  If we can save one human baby or else two elephants, in a world with plenty of each, what is it about the human baby that determines it's she alone that we should save, rather than both elephants, each (suppose)

mentally more advanced than she?  And, here's the second central question: Is there a morally significant distinction, even anywhere in the neighborhood of the (probably insignificant) distinction between causing and letting happen - between killing and letting die, for instance, and, for another instance, between inflicting pain and letting pain happen?        

On the second question, I'll unconfidently argue that there really isn't any important distinction.  And, so, it's terribly wrong to for us to allow distant little children, in the poorest regions, to suffer and die young. But, now turning back to the first question, there's this:  If we can't find good reason to accord the human babies enormously higher moral status than almost all other mammals, will we then be required, on pain of behaving very badly, to provide them also, all over the world, with whatever aid they need to flourish?   For many centuries, that may be enormously costly.  So, there'll be important interplay between our two central questions.

        Our discussion of these questions will have implications for issues of discrimination, abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, and other "hot topics" in applied ethics.

        Far from being a series of lectures, the course should consist mainly of lively discussion with, and among, its students, where the students think hard about ethical  issues. Since there won't be an attempt to impart a "body of ethical knowledge," there won't be any exams.  But, students must write two lucid short papers, or possibly three, each on a different issue discussed in class.




Topics in Mind and Language

MW 4:55-6:10

Stephen Schiffer


Issues in the Theory of Reference


Reference is that relation between words and things whereby we’re able to use words to talk about things.  In the seminar we will read such classics in the theory of reference as Gottlob Frege’s “Sense and Reference,” Bertrand Russell’s “On Denoting,” and Saul Kripke’s Naming and Necessity, and among the issues we’ll explore are:

·         What’s the nature of the reference relation, that relation an expression must bear to a thing in order for the expression to refer to the thing?

·         What’s the relation between the meaning of an expression and its reference?  Is the meaning the same as the reference, or is it some other thing that determines the reference?

·         What is it for a speaker to refer to a thing by using an expression?  How is speaker reference related to expression reference?

·         What’s the relation between talk about things and thought about things?  Should we explain the first in terms of the second, or vice versa, or neither?

·         What principles govern the way the truth-value of a sentence depends on the references of its parts?

·         So-called “singular terms,” such as proper names and simple demonstratives, are especially important in the theory of reference.  What expressions are singular terms?  E.g., are “definite descriptions” (e.g. ‘the present Queen of England’) and complex demonstratives (e.g. ‘that woman’) singular terms?  If they’re not, what kind of semantic status do they have.


There will be a short paper and take-home mid-term and final questions that will be answered in class.




Honors Seminar


Hartry Field





Philosophy Department – New York University



MAIN BUILDING, 100 WASHINGTON SQUARE EAST, ROOM 503, NEW YORK, NY 10003-6688. (212) 998-8320. FAX: (212) 995-4179.


CHAIR OF THE DEPARTMENT: Professor Boghossian






ADMINISTRATIVE STAFF: Debbie Bula, Anupum Mehrotra, Michael Balla



Philosophy poses general questions about reality, knowledge, reasoning, language, and conduct. The four main branches are metaphysics (What is the ultimate nature of reality? What really exists and what is mere appearance?); epistemology (What, if anything, can be known and how?); logic (What are the principles of correct reasoning?); and ethics (What is moral value? And what moral values should we adopt?). Other, more specific, branches of philosophy address questions concerning the nature of art, law, medicine, politics, religion, and the sciences.


Everyone tends to have or assume answers to these questions. The aim of the department is to enable students to identify, clarify, and assess these answers, both ancient and modern. Philosophy prepares students for a more reflective life, for advanced studies in the subject, as well as for professions that emphasize analytic thinking and argumentation, such as law, business, and programming.






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; or 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; or Philosophy of Mind, V83.0080; or Philosophy of Language, V83.0085; and (7) Topics in the History of Philosophy, V83.0101; or Topics in Ethics and Political Philosophy, V83.0102; or Topics in Metaphysics and Epistemology, V83.0103; or Topics in Language and Mind, V83.0104. No credit toward the major is awarded for a course with a grade lower than C.


Students considering a major in philosophy are encouraged to begin with one of the Intensive Introductory Courses, or with one of the following: History of Ancient Philosophy, V83.0020; History of Modern Philosophy, V83.0021; Ethics, V83.0040; or Belief, Truth, and Knowledge, V83.0076. Logic, V83.0070, should be taken as soon as possible.




JOINT MAJOR in Language and Mind


This major, intended as an introduction to cognitive science, is administered by the Departments of Linguistics, Philosophy, and Psychology. Eleven courses are required (four in linguistics, one in philosophy, five in psychology, and one additional course) to be constituted as follows. The linguistics component consists of Language, V61.0001; Grammatical Analysis, V61.0013; Introduction to Cognitive Science, V61.0028; and one more course chosen from Computational Models of Sentence Construction, V61.0024; Phonological Analysis, V61.0012; and Introduction to Semantics, V61.0004. The philosophy component consists of one course, chosen from Minds and Machines, V83.0015; Philosophy of Language, V83.0085; and Logic, V83.0070. The psychology component consists of four required courses: Introduction to Psychology, A89.0001; Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences, V89.0010; The Psychology of Language, V89.0056; and Cognition, V89.0029; in addition, one course, chosen from Seminar in Thinking, V89.0026; Language Acquisition and Cognitive Development, V89.0300; and Laboratory in Human Cognition, V89.0028. The eleventh course will be one of the above-listed courses that has not already been chosen to satisfy the departmental components.




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




A student may sign up for an independent study course if he or she obtains the consent of a faculty member who approves the study project and agrees to serve as adviser. The student must also obtain the approval of either the department chair or the director of undergraduate studies. The student may take no more than one such course in any given semester and no more than two such courses in total, unless granted special permission by either the department chair or the director of undergraduate studies.




Honors in philosophy will be awarded to majors who (1) have an overall grade point average of 3.5 and an average in V- and G-level philosophy courses of 3.5, and (2) successfully complete the honors program. This program, which is taken for 2 points in each of the student's last two semesters, is intended to provide an intensive and rewarding culmination to the philosophy major. It involves participation in an honors seminar and the writing of a senior thesis under the supervision of a faculty adviser. Entry to the honors program requires a 3.0 average overall and a 3.5 average in at least five V- or G-level philosophy courses (at least one in each of the three Groups, plus one Topics course). The thesis must be approved by the adviser and by a second faculty reader for honors to be awarded.


Majors interested in admission to the program should consult the director of undergraduate studies toward the end of their junior year.





The department treats its course prerequisites seriously. Students not satisfying a course's prerequisites are strongly advised to seek the permission of the instructor beforehand.




Philosophy has a reputation for being otherworldly and impractical – some say, “philosophy butters no bread”, but it 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 trains one to express thoughts clearly and precisely, to defend one’s ideas, and to evaluate the positions of others.  Quite simply, philosophy provides training in thinking.  And this is a valuable skill in any professional field.


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


Some of these claims are supported by the exceptional performance of philosophy majors on graduate admissions exams.  Philosophy majors score 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, training in philosophy may not be wholly responsible for these results – it may also be that brighter students are entering the field to begin with.  But in either case, you’re not stupid if you join them.


But this still doesn’t touch on what remains the most important reason for studying philosophy.  College years shouldn’t just be devoted to professional training.  They provide the best chance to think about basic human questions – about personal and social values, about the nature of reality, and about yourself.  Studying philosophy can bring into view questions of lifelong relevance and interest, and can help you form argued positions on such issues.  In some cases, it might even help determine your direction through life.