Philosophy Department

Undergraduate Courses Spring 2005

Intensive Introductory Course



Minds and Machines

TR 3:30-4:45

Elizabeth Vlahos


An intensive introduction to the discipline of philosophy, by way of study of conceptual issues in cognitive science, focusing on the conflict between computational and biological approaches to the mind. Topics covered include whether a machine could think, the reduction of the mind to the brain, connectionism and neural nets, mental representation, and whether consciousness can be explained materialistically.




Group I: History of Philosophy


History of Ancient Philosophy


TR 2-3:15

Masahiro Yamada


Examination of the major figures and movements in Greek philosophy, especially Plato and Aristotle.




History of Modern Philosophy

MW 11:00-12:15 AM

Wayne Waxman


In this course, we will read excerpts from the key metaphysical and epistemological texts of the greatest thinkers of what is often called philosophy’s Golden Age: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant.




Recent Continental Philosophy

TR 9:30-10:45

John Richardson


The course will survey and assess the works of some of the major German and French philosophers in the second half of the 20th Century.  These will include:  Heidegger (after Being and Time), Gadamer, Habermas, Foucault, Derrida, and Deleuze.  (We may give lesser attention to one or two others.)




Group II: Ethics, Value, and Society




MW 3:30-4:45
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.




Medical Ethics

TR 11-12:15

William Ruddick


Examines moral issues in medical practice and research. Topics include euthanasia and quality of life; deception, hope, and paternalism; malpractice and unpredictability; patient rights, virtues, and vices; animal, fetal, and clinical research; criteria for rationing medical care; ethical principles, professional codes, and case analysis.


No prerequisites, but preference is given to juniors and seniors.




Topics in Ethics and Political Philosophy

TR 11-12:15

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


The course will revolve around two central questions in basic ethics, with related discussion of several topics in applied ethics.  The first central question is, what is it that determines the moral status of a particular being?  If we can save one human baby or else two elephants, in a world with plenty of each, what is it about the human baby that determines it's she alone that we should save, rather than both elephants, each (suppose) mentally more advanced than she?  And, here's the second central question: Is there a morally significant distinction, even anywhere in the neighborhood of the (probably insignificant) distinction between causing and letting happen - between killing and letting die, for instance, and, for another instance, between inflicting pain and letting pain happen?        


On the second question, I'll unconfidently argue that there really isn't any important distinction.  And, so, it's terribly wrong to for us to allow distant little children, in the poorest regions, to suffer and die young. But, now turning back to the first question, there's this:  If we can't find good reason to accord the human babies enormously higher moral status than almost all other mammals, will we then be required, on pain of behaving very badly, to provide them also, all over the world, with whatever aid they need to flourish?   For many centuries, that may be enormously costly.  So, there'll be important interplay between our two central questions. Our discussion of these questions will have implications for issues of discrimination, abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, and other "hot topics" in applied ethics.


Far from being a series of lectures, the course should consist mainly of lively discussion with, and among, its students, where the students think hard about ethical  issues. Since there won't be an attempt to impart a "body of ethical knowledge," there won't be any exams.  But, students must write two lucid short papers, or possibly three, each on a different issue discussed in class.




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




MW 2-3:15 PM

Peter Graham


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.




Modal Logic

TR 2-3:15

Kit Fine


Modal logic is the logic of necessity and possibility and other such notions. In recent times, the framework of possible worlds has provided a valuable tool for investigating the formal properties of these notions. This course provides an introduction to the basic concepts, methods, and results of modal logic, with an emphasis on its application to such other fields as philosophy, linguistics, and computer science.




Belief, Truth & Knowledge

MW 9:30-10:45

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 Language

MW 12:30-1:45

Ray Buchanan


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.




Philosophy of Mathematics

MW 2-3:15

Joshua Schechter


This seminar will provide an introduction to central topics in the philosophy of mathematics. We will discuss the nature of mathematical objects: Are they mental constructions, do they inhabit some Platonic realm, or are there no mathematical objects at all? We will also discuss the status of our knowledge of mathematics. The course will have two parts. In the first part, we will consider several historically influential views of mathematics, such as Formalism, Intuitionism, and Logicism. In the second part of the course, we will consider contemporary views of mathematics. This part of the course will be structured around the question of how our knowledge of mathematics ought to be explained. Views to be explored include Fictionalism, Neo-logicism, Plenitudinous Platonism, and Structuralism. Readings for the course will be taken from an introductory book as well as from a collection of primary sources. Students will be evaluated based on class participation, two short papers, and a longer final paper.





Topics in Metaphysics and Epistemology

MW 4:55-6:10

Nico Silins

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


This course will focus on the metaphysics of human persons.  The human organism where you are could continue to live as a human vegetable, without any psychology.  But could you outlive any changes in your psychology, however extreme?   If not, what is the relation between you and the human organism where you are?   We will address these and other questions about human persons in connection with much more general questions about the metaphysics of objects which exist in space and time.







Cross listed as: V83.0127

Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise and Its Aftermath

MW 11-12:15

Dr. Yitzhak Melamed


The course is an in-depth study of Spinoza's main political work, the Theological-Political Treatise. Among the topics to be discussed are: prophecy and prophets, miracles and laws of nature, Spinoza and biblical criticism, Spinoza's view of the Jewish Law, Spinoza's Political Theory, and the influence of the book on the Enlightenment.



Cross listed as: V83.0123

MW 12:30-1:45

This course introduces undergraduate students to the thought of seven major philosophers, beginning with an intensive study of the Confucian Analects.  Following this, we read the works of Confucius' followers (Mo Tzu, Mencius, and Hsun Tzu) and their Daoist and Legalist adversaries (Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, and Han Fei Tzu.  These thinkers from the pre-imperial period (ca. 500BC to the unification of China in 221BC) form the foundation upon which much of the subsequent culture rests. The course concludes with one dynastic history and one historical novel, both concerning the first imperial era, the Han.



Cross listed as: V83.0122

Greek Thinkers

Philip Mitsis

MW 11-12:15





Philosophy Department – New York University



SILVER CENTER, 100 WASHINGTON SQUARE EAST, ROOM 503, NEW YORK, NY 10003-6688. (212) 998-8320. FAX: (212) 995-4179.




Professor John Richardson                    Spring Office Hours: M 10-11; TH 12:30-1:30

            503c Main Building




Debbie Bula: ; 998-8325

Anupum Mehrotra: ; 998-8320

Michael Balla: ; 998-8320





A major in philosophy requires nine 4-point courses in the department, with numbers higher than V83.0009 (so that Introduction to Philosophy and Ethics & Society do not count).  These nine courses must include (1) Logic, V83.0070; (2) History of Ancient Philosophy, V83.0020; (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.





A minor in philosophy requires four 4-point courses, at least three beyond the 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.






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 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 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 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 that 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, analyze potential solutions, and 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 on 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 in the exceptional performance by philosophy majors on graduate admissions exams.  They show that philosophy majors 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, training in philosophy majors 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 remain the most important 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.