Philosophy Department
Undergraduate Courses Spring 2004

Non-Major Introductory Course

Ethics and Society
MW 3:30-4:45 PM

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

Minds and Machines
TR 3:30-4:45
Ned Block

This course examines the difference between computational and biological approaches to the mind. Topics covered include whether a machine could think, whether we are machines, whether thinking could be symbol manipulation, the Turing Test, Searle's "Chinese Room" argument, mental representation, whether mental imagery is incompatible with the computer model of mind, the reduction of the mind to the brain, neural nets, and whether consciousness can be explained materialistically.

Life and Death
TR 11-12:15
William Ruddick

An intensive introduction to main areas, traditions, and genres of Philosophy, by way of various questions about life, mortality, and death. Topics include: biological and metaphysical definitions of life and death; the goods of life and evils of death; the shapes and meanings of lives; arguments and alleged evidence for personal post-mortem survival; abortion, suicide, and euthanasia; capital punishment and wars; biography and memorials. 

Readings from canonical and contemporary philosophers. Frequent writing assignments.

Only sophomores beginning or considering a Philosophy major

Group I: History of Philosophy

History of Modern Philosophy
MW 11:00-12:15 AM
Don Garrett

In seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe, revolutionary developments in science and culture led to the generation of new philosophical questions, methods, and theories--and to the transformation of old ones--in such a way as to produce a remarkable share of the most general philosophical questions, methods, and theories that still quite recognizably dominate philosophy today. This course will examine the most important contributions of such influential and systematic early modern philosophers as Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume to the fields of epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, and ethics.

Group II: Ethics, Value, and Society

Existentialism and Phenomenology
TR 11-12:15
John Richardson

The course will study major works by the major philosophers in the existential and phenomenological movements. After some attention to Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, we will look more closely at the difficult work of Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, and of Heidegger, who revises that method to handle existential themes. Finally, we will look at Sartre’s related system, and (if time permits) at work by Merleau-Ponty. Requirements: 2 papers and a final exam.

TR 2:00-3:15
Sharon Street

In this course, we will examine 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.

Political Philosophy
TR 11-12:15
Liam Murphy

Critical discussion of classic issues and texts in political philosophy from the 17th to the 20th century. Questions include: What are the conditions that a system of government must satisfy before its use of coercive power can be considered legitimate? What are the conditions that a society must satisfy before it can be considered just? What role do the ideas of consent, contract, democracy, individual rights, social welfare, liberty, and equality (including racial, sexual, and economic equality), play in our answers to these questions? Readings include works by Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Wollstonecraft, Marx, Mill, Schmitt, Rawls, and Nozick.

TR 2-3:15
Dale Jamieson

This course will center on questions about aesthetic appreciation, beginning with whether or not there is any such thing, and what it might consist in if there is. We will also ask about what sorts of things can be aesthetically appreciated, paying particular attention to various aspects of nature and everyday life. Finally, we will discuss some questions about artworks, including their relations to aesthetic appreciation. Readings will range from Kant to Cage.

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

Scott Walden
MW 2-3:15 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.

Belief, Truth & Knowledge
MW 9:30-10:45 AM

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 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 Ethics and Political Philosophy
MW 12:30-1:45 PM
Elizabeth Harman
Prerequisite: Two course in Philosophy, including either V83.0040, V83.0041, V83.0045, or V83.0052.
Every day each of us fails to save a starving child somewhere in the world. It seems that this is much less bad than pulling a trigger of a gun and killing someone; but is it? In exploring this question, we will ask: Is there a morally significant difference between making something happen and allowing it to happen? Do a person's intentions affect the permissibility of her actions? Is it worse to intend a bad outcome as a means than to merely foresee that it will occur? Does a person have stronger ethical obligations to those who are near to her than to those who are on the other side of the world?

Topics in Metaphysics and Epistemology
TR 11-12:15
Peter Unger
Prerequisite: Two course in Philosophy, including either V83.0076 or V83.0078.

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 six 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 short selections from several of these influential thinkers, and from several other thinkers. Students will be required to write two short papers, each on a different topic discussed in class. One will be due a bit before the middle of the term and, to avoid the issuing of Incompletes, the second will be due about a week before the course's last scheduled meeting.

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 Paul 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 thing it involves is the construction and evaluation of arguments. The study of philosophy trains one to express thoughts clearly and precisely, to defend one’s ideas, and to evaluate the positions of others. Quite simply, philosophy provides training in thinking. And this is a valuable skill 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 practice in philosophical argument. And finally, medical and professional schools place increasing importance on the ability to reflect on the ethical issues that arise in their practice – these are the problems treated in moral philosophy.

Some of these claims are supported by the exceptional performance of philosophy majors on graduate admissions exams. Philosophy majors score 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 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, you’re not stupid if you join them.

But this still doesn’t touch on what remains the most important reason for studying philosophy. College years shouldn’t just be devoted to professional training. They provide the best chance to think about basic human questions – about personal and social values, about the nature of reality, and about yourself. Studying philosophy can bring into view questions of lifelong relevance and interest, and can help you form argued positions on such issues. In some cases, it might even help determine your direction through life.