Philosophy Department
Undergraduate Courses Fall 2003

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). This course does not count toward the major requirement.

Central Problems in Philosophy
MW 12:30-1:45

An intensive introduction to central problems in philosophy. Topics may include free will, the existence of God, skepticism and knowledge, and the mind-body problem.

Group I: History of Philosophy

History of Ancient Philosophy
MW 3:30-4:45 TBA

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

Group II: Ethics, Value, and Society

MW 11-12:15
Elizabeth Harman

An examination of some central topics in moral philosophy. We will consider several particular moral issues, such as: Is abortion morally permissible? Is there a moral difference between killing someone and letting her die? How is it permissible to treat animals? We will also consider several general issues about morality, such as: Why be moral? What makes an action right or wrong, and to what extent is this a matter of the action's consequences? What role should the concept of virtue play in moral theorizing? Is there a single true morality, or is moral truth relative to cultures or individuals?

Nature of Value
TR 2-3:15
Sharon Street

This course will provide an intensive introduction to metaethics, which is the branch of moral philosophy that centers around questions such as the following: When we use moral language, are we making claims that are capable of being true or false, or are we merely expressing our feelings or giving voice to some other state of mind? Should truth in morals be understood by analogy with truth in the sciences, or must it be understood according to an entirely different model? Are there objective moral truths that hold across all times and cultures, or is some version of moral relativism correct? Readings will be drawn primarily from contemporary sources.

Prerequisite: at least one course in philosophy or consent of the instructor.

Medical Ethics
TR 11-12:15
William Ruddick

In the first part of the course, we will consider a number of ethical issues that arise in the practice of medicine. We will discuss confidentiality, truthfulness, informed consent, competence, refusal of treatment, assisted suicide, decisions for children, and professional obligations. In the second part of the course, we will consider ethical issues that are related to health care systems, public policies, and social institutions. We will discuss the allocation of scarce resources, social justice, international obligations, environmental responsibility, and civic engagement. Throughout the course, we will reflect on different philosophical approaches to issues in medical ethics.

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
Peter Unger

What is the ultimate nature of the universe, the nature of all concrete reality? Is it physical, or mental, or both, or neither? And, what is our nature: are we physical, or mental, or both, or neither? We'll be concerned to use our inquiry into these questions to help us with traditionally central philosophical problems, including the problem of free will, the problem of personal identity, and the mind-body problem. While much of the course will treat these topics, some will treat some other topics.

Philosophy of Mind
MW 4:55-6:10

What is involved in seeing an object, hearing and understanding a friend’s utterance, or appreciating a piece of music? This course will be concerned with the philosophical issues involved in addressing these questions. Topics to be covered will, as time permits, be drawn from the following: perception, sensation and representation; the emotions; action; the self; action, awareness, and joint awareness; thought about the objective world and thought about the mental world of other people; reasons and psychological explanation; mental representation. Particular attention will be devoted to issues of interdisciplinary interest; issues overlapping with the concerns of psychology and the other cognitive sciences will be emphasized throughout.

Prerequisites: introductory logic; some background in the philosophy of language is highly desirable.

Philosophy of Science
TR 4:55-6:10
Gordon Belot

We will consider a range of question about the nature and objectivity of scientific knowledge. What is the difference between scientific explanations and other ones? What is the role of observation and experiment in scientific knowledge? How and why does scientific knowledge change over time? Can we have knowledge of what is in principle unobservable? Is scientific knowledge more objective than other forms of knowledge? We will read some classic contributions to the philosophy of science from the last fifty years.

Topics in Metaphysics and Epistemology
MW 9:30-10:45
Roger White

Our focus will be on the relation between theory and evidence. What is it for something to provide good evidence for a theory? How should we go about evaluating the strength of our evidence? How should we adjust our beliefs in the light of our evidence? Some of the approaches that we will consider include enumerative induction, the hypothetico-deductive method, Mill’s methods, Bayesian probability theory, and inference to the best explanation. We will consider a number of paradoxes of rational belief, so be prepared to puzzle over some confusing topics. Some very simple logic and math will occasionally be used—extreme mathaphobes should consult with me before taking the course.

Topics in Mind and Language
TR 2:00-3:15
Christopher Peacocke

What is involved in seeing an object, understanding another person’s actions and point of view on the world, and understanding such diverse objects of perception as language and music? This course will be concerned with the philosophical issues raised in addressing these questions. Topics to be covered, as time permits, will be drawn from the following: perception, sensation, and representation; the ability to think about the non-mental world, and about the mental world of other people; how intentional contents of mental states are individuated, and the consequences of a correct account of this individuation; the emotions, other forms of awareness, and joint awareness; reasons and psychological explanation; tacit knowledge. Particular attention will be devoted to issues of interdisciplinary interest, especially to connections with the cognitive sciences. The significance of positions in the philosophy of mind for problems in aesthetics will also be discussed. Prerequisites: a course in elementary logic; some background in the philosophy of language will also be extremely helpful.

Honors Seminar
Stephen Schiffer

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.

Professor William Ruddick
503G Main Building

Debbie Bula:; 998-8325
Anupum Mehrotra:; 998-8320
Michael Balla:; 998-8320


A major in philosophy requires nine 4-point courses in the department, with numbers higher than V83.0009 (so that Introduction to Philosophy and Ethics & Society do not count). These nine courses must include (1) Logic, V83.0070; (2) History of Ancient Philosophy, V83.0020; (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.


A minor in philosophy requires four 4-point courses, at least three beyond the 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.


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 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.