Fall 2011 Schedule of Courses


SECTION 4, 2:00 - 3:15 P.M.


N.C. Rauhut, Ultimate Questions: Thinking about Philosophy, Pearson, Third edition (2011)
Additional readings will be either posted on Blackboard or on reserve at the Library.

The first goal of the course is to gain an acquaintance with the tradition of Western Philosophy, an understanding of the central problems that philosophers have considered and some of the solutions they have proposed. We'll discuss several of the key questions that Western intellectuals have thought about. We'll read some of the key historical articles, and examine the reasons for thinking that various proposed answers to these questions are right or wrong. We will learn to analyze and criticize arguments and learn to construct arguments defending your own views, and to explain them clearly both orally & in writing. In addition, this is a course in critical thinking. Very often, people think that, outside of science, there is no such thing as proof; they further think that, if there is no proof, then any answer is as good as any other answer, one chooses one's beliefs simply as a matter of faith, and nothing can be said to persuade someone of a different opinion that their opinion is probably not correct. If one believes this 'faith vs. proof' picture, it gives a good excuse not to bother thinking, since it entails that every issue is either cut-and-dried or completely irresolvable; but the picture is far too simplistic. We'll see that reasons, often very persuasive reasons, can be given even for religious (or a-religious!) beliefs, or beliefs about what is morally right and wrong. The key tool in philosophy is the argument - roughly, one tries to persuade others (or oneself!) that a certain statement (for example, “Capital punishment is morally wrong”) is true, by finding reasons for believing that statement, and explaining how the reasons support the conclusion you want to draw from them. Throughout the course, we'll learn more about what philosophers mean by the term 'argument', and how 'arguments' in this sense can be used to clarify and advance debates. Here are the topics that we will be discussing:
* God and Religious Belief: Can it be proved that there is a God? (Philosophy of Religion)
* The External World: What is it like? (= Metaphysics). And how can we know? (= Epistemology)
* Who Are You and What Are You Like?
* Personal Identity: What is required for you to continue to exist through time? Is it possible for you to exist after you die?
* Free Will: Do you really have free will? Or is it just an illusion?
* What is Your Mind? How is it related to your brain? How do you know that other people have minds? Could animals or computers have minds too? (Philosophy of Mind)
* Morality: Are there correct and incorrect answers to ethical questions, like “Capital punishment is wrong”? If so, how can we find them? If not, is morality an illusion? What is really valuable? How should we behave? (Meta and Normative Ethics)

lecture, discussion, quizzes, exams, paper.