Central Problems in Philosophy
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.
History of Ancient Philosophy
Western philosophy owes its birth to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, the three most dominant intellectuals in the history of ancient Greece. In their care many of the foundational questions in ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, and philosophy of mind were raised for the first time and developed in striking and sophisticated ways. We will try to determine which questions they asked, what their answers were, and whether we should accept their answers as correct even now.
An introduction to the theoretical philosophy of Immanuel Kant, often considered the greatest philosopher of the modern epoch. We shall concentrate on his Critique of Pure Reason, particularly the Transcendental Analytic, with supplemental readings in A Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Some background in early modern philosophy preferred, esp. Descartes and Hume.
20th Century Analytic Philosophy
Investigation of the primary works of central analytic philosophers of the 20th century, including Frege, Russell, the positivists, Wittgenstein, Quine and Kripke.
Topics in History of Philosophy
Prerequisites: two course in philosophy, at least one in history of philosophy
Our topic will be Plato, the most influential of philosophy's founding fathers. We will begin with his early "Socratic" dialogues, in which he defends three interrelated and paradoxical claims: (1) that it is always better for us to suffer injustice than to do injustice, (2) that one always does what one thinks is best, and (3) that moral excellence is a kind of knowledge. After grappling with Plato’s arguments for these claims, we will examine his later attempts to support these arguments with full-blooded theories about what we can know (the theory of forms), how knowledge is possible (the theory of recollection), and how this knowledge can make us moral (the theory of justice). We will conclude by exploring some of Plato's final, self-critical reflections on the possibility of mind-independent value, false belief, perceptual knowledge, and weakness of will. Our goal will be not only to appreciate the extraordinary depth and sophistication of Plato's achievement, but also to evaluate this achievement from a 21st century standpoint.
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?
In this course, we will investigate contemporary feminism, both as a political movement and as a collection of theoretical perspectives, through the exploration of a number of pertinent topics. These topics will likely include reproductive rights, pornography, violence against women, motherhood, transgender and transsexual identities, and the relationship between sexism and racism. We will examine the theoretical perspectives as found in academic writing on these issues, as well as their application to images of women in popular culture: in novels (such as Kate Chopin's “The Awakening”), in film (such as “Boys Don't Cry”) and television (such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”). Thus, we will examine both explicitly philosophical perspectives--that is, the perspectives of writers who are identified as philosophers--as well as perspectives that, though not obviously identifiable as philosophical perspectives, nonetheless express or presuppose theoretical positions, and thus are usefully illuminated by philosophical analysis. No background knowledge of philosophy or feminist theory is required for this course.
Topics in Ethics and Political Philosophy
Prerequisite: two courses in philosophy, including either V83.0040, V83.0041, V83.0045, or V83.0052.
The course will focus on current analyses of autonomy, trust, and deception in personal, medical, and political contexts. Ancillary topics include: authenticity, liberty, paternalism, and self-deception. There will be short commentaries on assigned readings, as well as a term paper.
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.
Prerequisites: one course in philosophy
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
The course will be primarily about the mind-body problem, but with some discussion of the problem of other minds, personal identity, and theory of action.
Conceptual and empirical issues about consciousness. Issues covered may include: The explanatory gap, the hard and harder problems of consciousness, concepts of consciousness, the nature of phenomenal concepts, the function of consciousness, consciousness and the mind-body problem, what a neural correlate of consciousness is, higher order thought theories of consciousness, the inverted spectrum, the relation between consciousness and representation.
Philosophy of Science
We will study some central questions about the nature of scientific theory and practice. Some of the issues we will consider are: What makes a discipline a science? Does science have a special claim to be getting at the truth about the world? Does physics have a special status compared to the other sciences? What makes for a good scientific explanation? What are laws of nature?
See description of Honor’s Program later in brochure.
Graduate courses open to undergraduates with instructor’s permission:
The course will be organized around Professor Unger's attempt to articulate a metaphysics of concrete reality that's analytically adequate for, but that's also speculatively bold enough to, make some progress with the problems that get most first drawn into philosophy, and that always comprise the subject's heart: problems of appearance and reality, problems of personal identity, problems of mind and body, problems of free will, and more. Over the last seven years, this metaphysical attempt has been receiving improving formulations in a book-in-progress, All the Power in the World, that will still be progressing throughout the course. The developing metaphysical system draws heavily on, and it’s a response to, several central figures of Modern Philosophy: Descartes, Locke, Berkeley and Hume. Several 20th century figures also influence the work, notably Bertrand Russell, David Lewis, C.B. Martin, Roderick Chisholm, Peter van Inwagen, and David Armstrong. As well as reading the nine chapters of All the Power, we'll read collateral selections from several of these influential thinkers, and from several other thinkers.
So that this course serves well as an Advanced Introduction to Metaphysics, we’ll also address some issues that are only tangential to the book’s many main concerns. Readings for this will be drawn from sources Unger uses for his basic undergraduate metaphysics course: Metaphysics: The Big Questions, edited by van Inwagen and Zimmerman, and a small course-pack provided gratis. Students will be required to write just one paper, preferably at least 12 standard pages, but not more than 20. And, students will make a class presentation, each on a different Advanced topic covered in the course. To avoid the issuing of Incompletes, the all students will make there presentations well before the last class session, and each all will submit her paper a full week before the course's last scheduled meeting.
History of Philosophy: Selected Topics: Aristotle
The course will focus on Aristotle’s teleology. Since this is basic and pervasive in his thinking, the course will cover a wide range of his works and positions. It will begin with an overview of his ontology (his account of what there is: substances) and etiology (his account of the ‘causes’ by which substances are explained). Both accounts show the crucial role of teleology: substances are essentially ‘for (the sake of)’ ends, and need to be explained as such. We will try to make precise the logic of this teleology, and to judge it in the light of familiar objections to explaining by ends. We will also compare Aristotle’s teleology with the variety advocated by some neo-Darwinists (in recent analyses of natural selection and biological function). The bulk of the course will then go on to pursue this teleology into several other sectors of Aristotle’s thought, including his biology (how he uses organisms’ ends to explain their structure and behavior), psychology (his account of the intentionality involved in directedness), ethics (his attempt to identify the human end and to construct his ethics around it), and theology (what role god plays in establishing all of these ends).
Ethics: Selected Topics: Topics in Ethics and Meta-ethics.
Derek Parfit/Liz Harman
Course meets for the first six weeks of the fall semester and the last six weeks of the spring semester
Topics will include most of the following: self-defeating normative theories, egoism, consequentialism, common sense morality, rationality and reasons, the rationality of attitudes to time, obligations to future generations, distributive justice, naturalism, non-cognitivism, normativity, irreducibly normative truths, different senses of ‘wrong’ and kinds of wrongness, and the role of intuitions in moral arguments.
Ethics: Selected Topics: Kant’s Ethics, Contractualism, and Practical Reasons.
Course meets for the first six weeks of the fall semester and the last six weeks of the spring semester
Anticipated Spring 2005 Courses:
(please note that this list is tentative)
V83.0015. Minds & Machines
V83.0021. History/Modern: Waxman
V83.0039. Recent Continental: Richardson
V83.0040. Ethics: Street
V83.0050. Medical Ethics: Ruddick
V83.0102. Top/Ethics & Political Philosophy: Unger
Metaphysics, Epistemology, Mind, Language
V83.0070. Logic: Graham
V83.0072. Advanced Logic: Schechter
V83.0076. Belief, Truth, Knowledge: White
V83.0078. Metaphysics: Silins
V83.0085. Phil/Language: Buchanon
V83.0103 Top/Met & Epistemology: Fine
SILVER CENTER, 100 WASHINGTON SQUARE EAST, ROOM 503, NEW YORK, NY 10003-6688. (212) 998-8320. FAX: (212) 995-4179.
DIRECTOR OF UNDERGRADUATE STUDIES:
Professor John Richardson Spring Office Hours: M 10-11; TH 12:30-1:30
503c Main Building
Debbie Bula: firstname.lastname@example.org ; 998-8325
Anupum Mehrotra: email@example.com ; 998-8320
Michael Balla: firstname.lastname@example.org ; 998-8320
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE MAJOR:
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.
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE MINOR:
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.
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 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 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 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.
WHY STUDY PHILOSOPHY?
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 that 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 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 exercising in philosophical argument. And finally, medical schools and professionals place increasing importance on the ability to reflect on the ethical issues that arise in their practice – and these are of course 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 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, training in philosophy majors 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, the report suggests you’re not stupid if you join them.
But this still doesn’t touch on what surely remain the most important reasons for studying philosophy. College years shouldn’t just be a professional training. They are a 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 toward argued positions on such issues. In a very rare case, it might even help determine your direction through life.