This subject is designed to prepare students for an engagement with clear critical thinking and discourse by introducing them to some important areas of philosophy. The first main section focuses on epistemology, which deals with various questions about the nature of human knowledge. Our discussion of these questions leads naturally into the second main section: an examination of various competing theories of the nature of truth and objectivity. The third and final main section of the course introduces students to the study of logic, familiarising them with conceptual tools indispensable for the critical analysis of arguments. Throughout the course, the aim is to develop the students’ understanding of these ideas as not being remote and merely technical, but as being implicit in questions and issues at the heart of human self-understanding.
Metaphysics is the philosophical study of ultimate reality. It explores the nature of our world and the arguments which attempt to explain why reality has the features it has. A central strand within Western philosophy has traditionally explored these questions with reference to God and the role God plays in explaining how the world came to exist and why it is as it is. This subject will provide students with a broad grounding in the reponses of philosophers to these questions, with some sustained reference to the work of Aquinas. Particular questions addressed include questions such as: What is it for something to exist? What is it that makes something the same entity over time? Are you something that can exist even if your body is destroyed? What is it for a person to act freely? If determinism were true, would that rule out human freedom?
This subject deals with some of the key themes and debates within medieval philosophy from Porphyry to William of Ockham. It begins by introducing students to the Aristotelian hylomorphism of St Thomas Aquinas, with specific attention to Aquinas’ hylomorphic theory of the human person. It continues by introducing students to the medieval debate over universals, looking at such figures as Porphyry, Boethius, Duns Scotus and William of Ockham. It then explores the philosophical and theological controversies surrounding Latin Averroism. The course concludes with a brief examination of the natural theology of St Anselm and Aquinas. A background theme throughout the course will be different conceptions of the relationship between reason and faith. While the course will be chiefly devoted to philosophy in medieval Christendom, we will also touch on the work of some of the major philosophers in the medieval Islamic world, such as Avicenna and Averroes.
This subject deals with the various approaches that have been developed in the effort to come to philosophical grips with the ethical and moral realm – an effort that has always been central to the discipline. A wide variety of approaches will be studied, including theories that fall under the rubrics of ‘natural law ethics’, ‘virtue ethics’, ‘Kantian deontology’, and ‘utilitarianism’. Both normative and meta-ethical issues will be addressed. Figures discussed will include Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Kant, Hume, and Mill, as well as such contemporary or near-contemporary philosophers as Alasdair MacIntyre, Bernard Williams and John Finnis. The subject also addresses meta-ethical questions (in relation to, e.g., Ayer and Geach).
This subject will focus on various threads in the development of philosophy since the 17th century, near the beginning of what we call the Modern Era. By tracing these particular lines of development, we’ll come to see what makes the philosophy of the Modern Era distinctive. One element of this distinctiveness, for example, is a certain sort of emphasis on the human subject or self, and on what is truly knowable by it, as opposed to what might transcend it. Starting with the rationalist Descartes, the father of Modern philosophy, we’ll follow the development of a foundationalist world-picture, predicated on the ‘idea’-idea, through the empiricisms of Locke, Berkeley and Hume. The first half of the course will end with a discussion of the transcendental idealism of Kant and its philosophical legacy.
This unit introduces students to some of the fundamental concepts, approaches and debates in political philosophy. Topics to be covered include social contract theory, human rights, majoritarianism, natural law, the different kinds of political regime, economic justice, the nature of authority and the role of religion in politics. We will read selections from ancient, medieval and modern authors. An overarching theme of the unit will be the striking contrast between the individualist, rights-oriented approach to politics characteristic of modern political philosophers from Hobbes onwards and the virtue-oriented approach characteristic of premodern political philosophy.
This subject deals with the nature and consequences of the so-called ‘linguistic turn’ of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, via which philosophy moved, roughly speaking, from an emphasis on the mind to an emphasis on language. Key concepts and distinctions to be addressed may include: the analytic/synthetic distinction, logical atomism, verificationism, language games, meaning holism, performativity, intensionality, descriptivism, the New Theory of Reference, and the pragmatics/semantics distinction. Philosophers discussed may include: Frege, Russell, and early Wittgenstein; Carnap, Ayer, and the Vienna Circle; late Wittgenstein, Quine; Austin and other speech act theorists; Kripke, Putnam and other proponents of the New Theory of Reference.
This subject is intended to develop in the student an understanding of certain key concepts and distinctions in (a) twentieth-century analytic philosophy of science and (b) philosophy of mind, which may include: the problem of induction, Goodman’s new riddle of induction, the hypothetico-deductive model of confirmation, the deductive-nomological model of explanation, the theory/observation distinction, logical empiricism, falsificationism, theory-ladenness, the Quine-Duhem hypothesis, scientific paradigms and normal vs. revolutionary science, the mind-body problem, behaviourism, central-state materialism, functionalism, realizer vs. role, supervenience, naturalization, qualia and the hard problem of consciousness. Philosophers discussed may include: Hempel, Goodman, Popper, Quine, Kuhn, Wittgenstein, Ryle, Smart, Armstrong, Putnam, Lewis, Dennett, Davidson, Kim, and Chalmers.
Completion of eight Philosophy units constitutes a major.