Philosophy Department

Undergraduate Courses Spring 2001



Non-Major Introductory Courses



Ethics and Society

TR 8:00-9:15 AM



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

TR 9:30-10:45 AM

Prof. White


An intensive introduction to the central problems of philosophy. We will consider such questions as, Are we purely physical beings? Do we have free will and are we responsible for our actions? Is there a God? How can we have knowledge of the world around us? What is it for a belief to be justified? Are there objective moral standards? How should we act? What is a just society?



Group I: History of Philosophy



History of Modern Philosophy

TR 11:00-12:15 PM



This is a survey of 17th and 18th century European metaphysics and epistemology.  We will read Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. 





TR 6:20-7:35 PM

Prof. Kamm


Focuses on Kant's ethics only. Detailed examination of The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, parts of the Critique of Practical Reason, along with modern commentaries on these. Possibly also, discussion of Perpetual Peace. Midterm and final essay examinations and a ten page final paper.



Group II: Ethics, Value, and Society




MW 12:30-1:45 PM



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?




Medical Ethics

MW 6:20-7:35 PM

Prof. Dwyer

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.  We will discuss

ethical theories, moral principles, case-based reasoning, moral virtues, and pragmatism.  Course work will include two midterm exams, a term paper, and a final exam.





TR 2:00-3:15 PM

Prof. Ruddick


How similar are aesthetic judgments of works of art (e.g. painting and sculpture) to those of constituents of daily life (e.g. buildings, interiors, people and clothes, food and meals, cars and trains, advertisements and photographs)?   How do aesthetic experiences and

theories relate to other human interests (moral, scientific, commercial, erotic, political, spiritual)?  Readings in Plato, Hume, Kant, Dewey, Okakura, Wittgenstein, Tanizaki, and contemporary writers. 




Philosophy & Literature

TR 9:30-10:45 AM

Prof. Gurland


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.



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




MW 3:30-4:45 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.




Advanced Logic

TR 11:00-12:15 PM

Prof. Fine


We shall cover the basics of classical metalogic.  The focus will be on providing a rigorous account of the syntax and semantics for first-order logic and of proving completeness.  Some attention will also be given to issues of philosophical interest


[May be taken by graduate students as an independent study to satisfy logic requirement]





MW 11:00-12:15 PM

Prof. Dorr


Our starting point in this course will be the paradoxes of material constitution.  For example, suppose that I have just taken some clay and shape it into a statue of Elvis.  Surely there is just one material object occupying the clay-filled space: a statue which is also a lump of clay.  But surely the statue is something that only just came into existence, whereas the lump of clay has been in existence for a long time.  So the statue and the lump of clay must be two different things, even though they occupy exactly the same space.


As we think about the various ways in which one might resolve paradoxes like this one, many other metaphysical questions will come up.  We will embrace these opportunities for digression.  As a result, by the end of the course, we will have considered a fair sampling of the traditional topics of metaphysics.  These topics might include: questions about the existence and mind-independence of material objects; the nature of space and time; the possibility of time travel; the meaning of claims about possibility, necessity, and essence; the theory of composition; the existence and nature of properties and relations; the meaning of claims about causation and physical law; the freedom of the will; the criteria for, and significance of, personal identity.




Philosophy of Language

MW 9:30-10:45 PM



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.




Philosophy of Science

MW 2:00-3:15 PM

Prof. 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 Ethics and Political Philosophy

TR 2:00-3:15 PM

Prof. Kamm


Examination of various topics in ethical theory, such as the nature of reasons, contractualism, aggregation, and responsibility, by way of a close reading of What We Owe to Each Other by Thomas Scanlon, along with sections of Morality, Mortality, vol. 1 by F.M. Kamm and selected articles. Requirements: short class presentation, final essay examination, ten page final paper.




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, Monica Murphy



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 this 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, to analyze potential solutions, and to 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 in 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 the exceptional performance by philosophy majors on graduate admissions exams.  They show that philosophy majors scored higer 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 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 remains the most 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.