Problems of Philosophy Philosophy 1, Fall 2009

Course Description

This course covers the best that philosophy has to offer: ethics, knowledge, religion, the self, and the value of life. If you don’t find something to like here, you probably just don’t like philosophy.

It can be profitably taken as an introduction to the field or as an elective for those majoring in another field. No background is presumed. But since the line between introductory and advanced is quite narrow in philosophy even those who have taken some courses may enjoy it too.

The syllabus is very much like the one I used several years ago. The web site for that class should give you a good idea of what the course will be like.


Students taking this course will become familiar with problems of philosophy that meet the following criteria. First, studying them gives insight into questions about how to live and our place in the universe. Second, the written material is exceptionally good. Third, the materials and questions are representative of the discipline of philosophy. This last point means that this course serves as an introduction to the discipline of academic philosophy. The first two points mean that the course should be valuable even to those who will pursue other academic interests.

The course emphasizes arguments and writing. Students who successfully complete this course will learn how to construct arguments, how to interpret analytical writing, how to raise objections to arguments, and how to write extended analytical essays of their own.

Class notes

  1. Wednesday, September 2. Singer’s argument; outline; class handout.
  2. Monday, September 7. Singer’s principle.
  3. Wednesday, September 9. Cohen on responsibility; outline; class handout.
  4. September 14–16. Thomson on abortion; outline.
  5. Monday, September 21. Plato’s moral realism.
  6. Wednesday, September 23. Harman’s moral relativism.
  7. Monday, September 28. The Anthropologists’ relativism.
  8. Wednesday, September 30. Moral relativism and tolerance.
  9. Monday, October 5. Descartes on knowledge (posted October 19).
  10. Wednesday, October 7. Descartes’s answer to skepticism (posted October 19); class handout.
  11. Monday, October 12. Hume’s problem of induction (posted October 19); class handout.
  12. Wednesday, October 14. Defenses of induction (posted October 19, updated October 20).
  13. Wednesday, October 21. Cause and correlation; background on Hume’s psychological theory; class handout on necessary connections.
  14. Monday, October 26. Hume on miracles, part 1; class handout.
  15. Wednesday, October 28. Hume on miracles, part 2; class handout.
  16. Monday, November 2. Lewis on miracles; class handout.
  17. Wednesday, November 4. Natural religion; class handout.
  18. Monday, November 9. Locke on identity; class handout.
  19. Wednesday, November 11. Locke’s cases.
  20. Monday, November 15. Williams on Locke’s cases; class handout.
  21. Wednesday, November 18. Are people special?
  22. Monday, November 23. The branch line case; handout on Locke and intransitivity, handout on criteria for personal identity, without the misplaced “not”.
  23. Monday, November 30. The combined spectrum.
  24. Wednesday, December 2. Why is death bad?
  25. Monday, December 7. What about immortality? Updated December 8. Class handout: Unamuno.
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Problems of Philosophy