Philosophy Department

Undergraduate Courses Spring 2003



Non-Major Introductory Course



Ethics and Society

TR 3:30-4:45 PM

Albert Piacente


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 Course



Central Problems in Philosophy

MW 12:30-1:45

Mark DeBellis


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 Modern Philosophy

MW 11:00-12:15 AM

Peter Kung


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


V83.0025-001 (same as V65.0060)

Philosophy in the Middle Ages

TR 11:00-12:15

Alfred Ivry


Study of major medieval philosophers, their issues, schools, and current philosophic interests. Includes, among others, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham.



Group II: Ethics, Value, and Society




TR 2:00-3:15

Sharon Street


An examination of some central topics in moral philosophy.  Among the questions we will consider are:  What reason is there to be moral?  Is pleasure the only ultimate good?  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?  Are there such things as moral facts, and if so, how should we understand them? Is there a single true morality, or is moral truth relative to culture or the individual? 


Readings will be drawn from both contemporary and historical sources.



Medical Ethics

TR 11:00-12:15

William Ruddick


The course will examine current topics and principles in medical practice and research.  Included are: autonomy,  paternalism, and professionalism; hope, trust, and deception;  reproductive aid and abortion; clinical definitions of quality of life, harm, and death; assisted suicide and euthanasia;  clinical drug testing and peer review.    No prerequisite.




TR 3:30-4:45

Scott Walden


This course will be devoted to philosophical issues relevant to the visual arts, with special emphasis placed on those raised by photography. We will examine various theories of depiction and various theories of art, and then explore the ways in which these theories intersect with issues such as photographic realism, photographic objectivity, and photographic meaning.  We will also keep an eye on the larger issue of what limits there may be to philosophical investigation in these areas. 


Readings will include works by Clive Bell, Gregory Currie, Arthur Danto, Jerry Fodor, Nelson Goodman, Paul Grice, Dominic Lopes, Patrick Maynard, Linda Nochlin, Barbara Savedoff, Roger Scruton, and Kendall Walton.



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




MW 3:30-4:45 PM

Scott Walden


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 9:30-10:45

Rohit Parikh


This course continues the development of Propositional and First Order logic. This will include syntax, semantics, proof theory and the Completeness result of Goedel. We will also try to give a less formal and more intuitive view of some other developments including the Goedel Incompleteness results, Craig’s interpolation theorem and the issue of Truth in formal theories.



Belief, Truth & Knowledge

MW 9:30-10:45 AM

Roger White


This course is an inquiry into the nature of inquiry. We often seek answers to questions—e.g., Who was responsible for the Sept 11 attacks? Will the Knicks win tonight? 837+655=?—and take ourselves to know the answers, or have rational opinions, or to have good evidence for our views. Rather than answer these questions, we will step back and ask, What is the nature of evidence? and, What it is to know something or to be rational? In answering these questions, we will examine versions of, and responses to Skepticism: that there is very little we can know or have reason to believe.



Philosophy of Mind

TR 9:30-10:45

Christopher Peacocke


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 Language

MW 4:55-6:10

Gary Ostertag


Examines various philosophical and psychological approaches to language and meaning and their consequences for traditional philosophical problems in metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.  Discusses primarily 20th Century authors including Russell, Wittgenstein, and Quine.




Topics in Metaphysics and Epistemology

MW 2:00-3:15

Peter Unger

Prerequisite: Two course in Philosophy, including either V83.0076 or V83.0078.


What are basic concrete entities and, in concrete reality, what other entities might there also be?  Considering various answers to that question, we’ll explore several longstanding issues in metaphysics, including the nature of physical entities, the nature of mental entities, the main relations between the mental and the physical, the similarities and differences between the spatial and the temporal, the question of real choice, and problems of personal identity.

Far from being a series of lectures, the course is to consist largely of discussions, initiated by the professor but heavily involving the students.  Since there won’t be any attempt to impart a “body of metaphysical knowledge,” the won’t be any exams.  Instead, students must write a couple of lucid short papers, each on a different issue discussed extensively in class meetings.



Topics in Ethics and Political Philosophy

MW 12:30-1:45 PM

William Ruddick
Prerequisite: Two course in Philosophy, including either V83.0040, V83.0041, V83.0045, or V83.0052.


The course will focus on autonomy, paternalism, deception, self-deception and trust in various spheres (personal, institutional, professional, and political).    Readings from past and current philosophers.  Two essays.  



V83.0426-001 (same as V78.0425)

Jewish Philosophy in the Medieval World
TR 3:30-4:45

Readings in translation and analysis of representative selections from the writings of the major Jewish philosophers of the Middle Ages; emphasis on Halevi’s Kuzari and Moses Maimonides’s Guide of the Perplexed. Special attention to the cultural context in which these works were produced.



Students may count the following  course as an elective course toward a Philosophy major.



Undergraduate Linguistics Seminar

Prof. Paul Elbourne

Prerequisite: permission of instructor                      


This seminar will investigate the nature of the semantic values of sentences through an examination of sentences that report beliefs and other psychological attitudes, such as `Galileo believed that the Earth moves' . Such examples have arguably proven to be problematic for all the traditional theories of the denotation of sentences, and have prompted the emergence of new theories designed specifically with them in mind, such as the relatively recent theory that the semantic value of a sentence is its Interpreted Logical Form, a syntactic representation with each node labeled with an interpretation.


We will discuss classic and contemporary papers by philosophers and linguists. Each registered student will be required to write a research paper and to make a presentation on the topic of their paper towards the end of the semester. No final examination.



The following graduate courses are open to senior major with the instructor’s permission:


G83.2223, Epistemology (Boghossian), M 2-4

G83.2295, Mind and Language Seminar (Field/Schiffer), M 5-6, T 4-7, 30882

G83.3004, Topics in Metaphysics (Wright), TR 11-1, 31406

G83.2280, Political Philosophy (Nagel), W 1-3, 31268

G83.1004, Advanced Introduction to Ethics (Street), F 11-1, 31407

G83.2285, Ethics: Selected Topics (Kamm) TBA, 31214






















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, Michael Balla



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.