NYU Philosophy Department
Undergraduate Courses:


Intro to Philosophy
Sec. 001 M/W 9:55 - 11:10am Prof. Arkway
Sec. 002 T/R 8:30 - 9:45am Prof. Danisi


Ethics & Society
Prof. Piacente
T/R 1:20 - 2:35pm


Prof. Unger
T/R 1:20 - 2:35pm

This course proceeds in three Parts, with some overlapping of the Parts.

In the First Part, we'll focus mainly on questions about the morality of our conduct toward people in dire need, with special reference to many millions of children who live in the poorest places on the planet. For this Part, most of the reading will be from my latest book, Living High and Letting Die, some from Peter Singer's Practical Ethics, and some from photo-copied material made available on Reserves.

In the Second Part, we'll focus on the moral status of different sorts of beings: human zygotes, embryos and fetuses; various non-human animals; and a variety of people - from completely innocent to terribly guilty people, from severely retarded (actual) human people to supremely sensitive, intelligent (at least possible) non-human people, and more. In this Part, we'll discuss questions about abortion, infanticide, euthanasia and our conduct toward many Billions of non-human animals that (we cause to) live on our planet. Here, much of the reading will be from Practical Ethics, and some from material available on Reserves.

Making use of our previous work, in the Third Part we'll explore (most of) the most famous philosophical moral theories. Here, most reading will be from (the second half of) James Rachels' The Elements of Moral Philosophy, and some from Practical Ethics.

For the course, you will write short papers on (at least) three assigned topics. Generally, on each topic you'll write two papers; after receiving a grade for, and comments on, your first paper on a topic, you'll write a second version, endeavoring to improve substantially. Typed double space, with an uncrowded font and format, each paper should be only about 3 pages. In the standard case, the grade for the course will be determined, almost entirely, by the grades on these papers.


Prof. Walden
M/W 9:55 - 11:10am


History of Modern Philosophy
Prof. Gibbons
M/W 11:55 - 1:10pm

This is a survey of 17th and 18th century European metaphysics and epistemology. We
will read Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume and Kant. Requirements include two medium length papers and five short papers over the course of the semester.


V83. 0018-001
Political Philosophy
Prof. Svavarsdottir
M/W 1:20 - 2:35pm

Prerequisite: One course in Philosophy.

What is the scope and source of the legitimate authority of a government over its subjects? What principles ought to guide or constrain the structuring of our political and social institutions? What makes law just? What is the basis of human rights, e.g., the right to free speech? How do we justly adjudicate between conflicting rights, e.g., someone's right to free speech and someone's right not to be harmed? These are the kind of questions that will be addressed in this course. We will closely examine how contractarians, utilitarians, and natural rights theorists address these questions. Our approach will be historical. We will critically read and discuss classical texts such as Hobbes' Leviathan, Locke's Second Treatise , Rousseau's Social Contract, Mills On Liberty. -- There will be two papers and a final exam.


Life & Death
Prof. Ruddick
T/R 11:55 - 1:10pm

Prerequisite: One course in Philosophy.

Note: This is now an "intensive introduction" course offered by the Philosophy department, and part of the university-wide Hewlett Sophomore Colloquia.

Examples of general topics: the definition, meaning, and worth of human life; standard justifications for creating, preserving, and taking human and animal life; conceptions of and attitudes towards death. Typical specific topics: abortion, euthanasia, and quality of life; reproductive technologies; distribution of scarce life-saving resources.

Limited in enrollment (with priority given to sophomores), the course will divide into smaller groups for weekly discussion, and for research projects. The reading will include various philosophical writings - dialogues, broad surveys, analytic essays on specific topics - as well as fiction and autobiographies of philosophical interest. The assigned writing include short commentary on the readings and on presentations by other students, as well as two drafts of a longer paper on a particular paper topic.


Philosophy of Law
Prof. Gurland
T/R 9:55 - 11:10pm

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 standards which identify a society under law. The debate between the natural law theorists and the legal positivists 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 restitution-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.


Belief, Truth & Knowledge
Prof. Gibbons
M/W 2:50 - 4:05PM

Prerequisite: One course in philosophy.

This course will focus on various questions concerning the nature of knowledge. What is the difference between knowing something and merely believing it? Is it possible for you to know anything about the world outside your mind? Most of the readings will be from fairly recent sources rather than historical sources. Requirements include two five to seven page papers and several short papers over the course of the term.


Topics in Metaphysics & Epistemology
Prof. Fine
T/R 2:50 - 4:05pm

Prerequisite: One course in theory of knowledge or metaphysics.
An introduction to some basic problems of metaphysics. Topics to be covered include:
the nature of truth; the existence of abstract objects; and the identity of material things. The set text is: Contemporary Metaphysics by M. Jubien (Blackwell, 1997).


Topics in Ethics & Political Philosophy
Prof. Svavarsdottir
M/W 4:20 - 5:35pm

Prerequisite: One course in ethics, philosophy of law, or political philosophy.

We will closely examine two notions which play a crucial role in ethics and political philosophy: the notion of individual's well-being and the notion of impartiality in evaluation. The semester will be equally divided between these two topics. Well-being: Whether we accept a moral standard which requires that we help others or a moral standard which requires that we avoid harming others, we rely on a notion of something being better or worse for an individual: something improving or detracting from the quality of his or her life. What sort of concept are we working with here? What are we really talking about? Is there a truth in the matter? If so, what is it?
Impartiality: Ethicists have traditionally drawn a distinction between prudence and morality, and many have thought that the crucial distinction between these two areas of evaluation is that the former requires partiality to oneself, while the latter requires impartiality. Is that right? And how exactly is the relevant distinction between partiality and impartiality to be understood? Is there a relation between impartiality
(properly understood) and objectivity in morals (properly understood)? Is any important insight about moral thought and discourse to be gleaned from such a discussion of impartiality?

Prerequisites for this course will be strictly enforced. Students are expected to have some basic background in ethics or political philosophy and, more importantly, to have enough training in philosophy to study these issues in a rigorous and analytic manner.
The course will be run as a undergraduate seminar: students are expected to keep up with the readings and contribute to class discussions. There will be a number of very short writing assignments and a term paper. The aim will be to improve students' ability to write clear, concise, and well thought-out philosophy papers.


Honors Seminar
Prof. Field
To Be Arranged

updated 2/3/98