Philosophy Department

Undergraduate Courses Spring 2000


Each of the following descriptions was provided by the faculty member teaching the course.  Otherwise, what is given is the course description from the NYU College of Arts & Sciences Bulletin.


Introductory Courses


Ethics and Society

V83.0005-001 /Torchtone #73972

Monday/Wednesday/11:00am – 12:15pm

Instructor to be announced

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

V83.0010-001 /Torchtone #72763

Monday/Wednesday/11:00am – 12:15pm


*Only CAS Students

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


Group 1: History of Philosophy


History of Modern Philosophy

V83.0021-001 /Torchtone #72765

Monday/Wednesday/12:30pm – 1:45pm


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.


Cross-listed from Classics:

The Greek  Thinkers

V83.0122-001 /Torchtone #72775

Monday/Wednesday/2:00pm – 3:15pm


The origins of nonmythical speculation among the Greeks and the main patterns of philosophical thought, from Thales and other early speculators about the physical nature of the world, through Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, Epicurians, and Neo-Platonists.


Cross-listed from Medieval and Rennaisance Studies:

Introduction to Medieval Philosophy

V83.0125-001 /Torchtone #74536

Tuesday/Thursday/11:00am – 12:15pm


Course description to come.

Group 2: Ethics, Value, and Society



V83.0040-001 /Torchtone #72768

Monday/Wednesday/9:30am – 10:45am

Instructor to be announced

*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?


Political Philosophy

V83.0045-001 /Torchtone #73329

Monday/Wednesday/6:20pm – 7:35pm


In this course we will consider and evaluate some of the most important merits, criticisms, and failings of liberal political philosophy.  We will discuss how liberal theorists view the purpose of government, the rights of individuals, the scope of equality, the demands of social justice, the meaning of civic responsibility, and the nature of community.  Readings will include works from Locke, Jefferson, Tocqueville, Dewey, Rawls, and Rorty.  Course requirements will include a midterm exam, a paper, and a final exam.


Medical Ethics

V83.0050-001 /Torchtone #72770

Tuesday/Thursday/6:20pm – 7:35pm


Limited to seniors and second-term juniors

Examines moral and related philosophical issues in medical practice and research. Topics include: patient and physician autonomy; doctor patient family relations; deception, hope, and paternalism; pain, euthanasia, and assisted suicide;  prenatal genetic testing and abortion; concepts of life and death in medical practice; animal, fetal, and clinical research;  moral dilemmas in medical training; justice in medical access and care.  


Philosophy and Literature

V83.0062-001 /Torchtone #73330

Tuesday/Thursday/9:30am – 10:45am


This course will employ fictional works, the novel and the play, as a vehicle for exploring philosophical themes and issues.  Great works of literature endure on the strength of their ability to address the human condition, and the course's intention is to exploit the power of selected writings to place significant philosophical issues within vibrant concrete contexts.  The traditional philosophical dualisms of mind and body, appearance and reality, along with issues concerned with truth, personal identity, and values, both moral and aesthetic, will provide the central concerns of the course.  Camus, Kafka, Faulkner, Hemingway, Styron, Kesey, and Kundera will be among the authors whose works will be read and analyzed from a perspective which will employ philosophical rather than literary criteria and techniques.


Topics in Ethics and Political Philosophy

V83.0102-001 /Torchtone #72774

Tuesday/Thursday/2:00pm – 3:15pm


Prerequisite: two courses in philosophy, including either V83.0040, V83.0041, V83.0045, or V83.0052

Thorough study of certain concepts and issues in current theory and debate. Examples: moral and political rights, virtues and vices, equality, moral objectivity, the development of moral character, the variety of ethical obligations, and ethics and public policy.



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



V83.0070-001 /Torchtone #72771

Tuesday/Thursday/3:30pm – 4:45pm


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.


Belief, Truth, and Knowledge

V83.0076-001 /Torchtone #73331

Tuesday/Thursday/2:00pm – 3:15pm

Instructor to be announced

Considers questions such as the following: Can I have knowledge of anything outside my own mind-for example, physical

objects or other minds? Or is the skeptic's attack on my commonplace claims to know unanswerable? What is knowledge, and

how does it differ from belief?


Philosophy of Language

V83.0085-001 /Torchtone #73332

Monday/Wednesday/3:30pm – 4:45pm


Prerequisite: one course in philosophy

We will examine various philosophical approaches to language and meaning, and their consequences for traditional philosophical problems in metaphysics, epistemology, and the philosophy of mind.  The authors discussed are primarily 20th century figures, including Russell, Wittgenstein, and Quine.  Some familiarity with first-order logic is strongly recommended.  Requirements include two five- to seven-page papers and short response papers over the course of the semester.


Topics in Language and Mind

V83.0104-001 /Torchtone #73333

Tuesday/Thursday/11:00am – 12:15pm

Instructor to be announced

Prerequisite: two courses in philosophy, including either V83.0015, V83.0080, or V83.0085

Careful study of a few current issues in language and mind. Examples: theory of reference, analyticity, intentionality, theory of mental content and attitudes, emergence and supervenience of mental states.


Honors Seminar


To Be Arranged


*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


*Requires Departmental permission

General Department Information



The Philosophy Major

The Department 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 and 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 (on leave)

Stephen Schiffer, Acting Chair

William Ruddick, Acting Director of Graduate Studies

John Richardson, Director of Undergraduate Studies


Gordon Belot                             Room 503DD

Ned Block                                 Room 502A

Paul Boghossian                        Room 503B (On leave for 1999-2000)

Hartry Field                               Room 502E

Kit Fine                                      Room 502B (On leave for 1999-2000)

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 (On leave for Spring 2000)

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 rules 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.