What will I study?
The majority of Arts Majors require 100 points of study for attainment. This means out of the 300 point program, you have the opportunity to achieve two Majors in your course. Along with this, the Faculty of Arts offers a variety of Breadth Subjects designed to enhance your learning with options from a variety of fields.
Students completing a Major in Philosophy must complete:
- One Level 1 subject
- One Arts Foundation subject (MULT10016 recommended)
- Three Level 2 Elective subjects
- Two Level 3 Elective subjects
- One Level 3 Capstone subject
Students completing a Minor in Philosophy must complete:
- One Level 1 subject
- One Arts Foundation subject (MULT10016 recommended)
- Two Level 2 Elective subjects
- Two Level 3 Elective subjects
Explore this major
Explore the subjects you could choose as part of this major.
- Philosophy: The Big Questions12.5
Philosophy: The Big Questions
Philosophy, literally "the love of wisdom", has long been associated with the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Philosophical questions tend to be foundational and abstract in nature. In this course, we'll aim to connect those questions to practical issues. One theme will be skepticism, about knowledge and about science. What is knowledge, and do we actually know what we take ourselves to know? Do we know that there is an external world, or might it be merely an illusion? How is it possible for scientific knowledge of laws of nature to be based on limited observation of empirical facts? Other themes include ethics, and identity. What makes you you, and how do you know? What moral obligations do we have to potential sexual partners, to ourselves, to animals, and to people in poor countries? Are some actions wrong even if they lead to desirable consequences, like killing the few to save the many? In Big Questions, we'll examine (mostly) 20th and 21st century works of philosophy with an eye towards understanding how such philosophical questions connect to our lives today.
- Philosophy: The Great Thinkers12.5
Philosophy: The Great Thinkers
Philosophy has been called ‘the Queen of the Sciences’ and to this day the questions it poses are fundamental to disciplines across the university. In ‘Big Questions,’ you are introduced to the state-of-the-art problems in contemporary philosophy. But philosophy has a history, which invites us to consider how a discipline that attempts to arrive at fundamental truths can have so much difficulty finding agreement on issues of perennial concern: What am I essentially? What is truth? What is good? This course introduces students to fundamental debates in philosophy by revisiting the texts of great thinkers across history and cultures. The course begins by considering classical Greek thinkers from Plato to Aristotle before turning to the metaphysical issues raised in the Buddhist tradition. The second half of the course looks at two pillars of modern philosophy, Descartes and Kant, and will consider such issues as the nature of the self, the notion of beauty, and the place – or not – of divinity in nature. Since philosophy has a history, it remains an unfinished business. In this course students will learn how to evaluate philosophical arguments by reckoning with some of the greatest minds and most provocative claims in the history of the field.
Who we are and what we do is all tangled up in our identity. This subject considers how identities are constructed and maintained through mediated processes of self and other. The subject investigates the myriad demands and devices that figure in constructing our senses of self and other (including language, leisure, beliefs and embodied practices). By exploring identity in diverse contexts, across time and place, the subject maps varying conceptions of self and other and how these conceptions are constructed and maintained. A key focus is on how these mediated conceptions of self and other are translated into material practices of inclusion, exclusion, discrimination, violence and criminalisation.
Language plays a central role in the central disciplinary areas in the humanities and social sciences. This subject gives students tools for thinking about language in a range of disciplines, including linguistics, history, sociology, politics, literary studies, anthropology, language studies, psychology and psychoanalytic theory. It shows how language can be analysed as a system, but also how language features centrally in politcal and social contexts: for example, in the processing of the claims of asylum seekers, in developing views of ethnicity, race and nation, and in colonialism; and in the construction of gendered and sexual identity. The role of language in the psyche, and the process of acquisition of languages in children and in adults, are also important topics. Knowing how to think about language, and familiarity with the main thinkers who have discussed language in a range of humanities and social science disciplines, provide an indispensable basis for study in any area of the Arts degree.
The idea of power is a way to grasp the character of social relations. Investigating power can tell us about who is in control and who may benefit from such arrangements. Power can be a zero-sum game of domination. It can also be about people acting together to enact freedom. This subject examines the diverse and subtle ways power may be exercised. It considers how power operates in different domains such as markets, political systems and other social contexts. It also examines how power may be moderated by such things as regulation and human rights. A key aim is to explore how differing perspectives portray power relations and how issues of power distribution may be characterised and addressed.
Reason, many believe, is what makes us human. Until recently, most scientists and philosophers agreed that the ability to use the mind to analyse and interpret the world is something intrinsic to the nature of our species. Reason has a long and extraordinary history. We will explore a number of inter-related themes: the nature of reason from Ancient Greece to our contemporary world; the ever shifting relationship between reason and faith; reason's place in the development of scientific experimentation and thinking; shifting perspectives about the uses of Reason and, finally, how reason relates to theories of the mind, exploring the tensions between reason, the passions and the will.
Reason will take you on a journey from Plato's cave to the neuro-scientists' lab. We will visit revolutions in science, thinking and politics. We will explore the impact of some of the great philosophers of history, including Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Bentham, Coleridge, Marx, Nietzsche, Foucault and many more besides. By the end of this subject you will have a deep understanding of the importance of the idea of reason to human history and philosophy. You might, even, be able to answer the question: 'does reason exist?'
Reason is an Arts Foundation Subject and we will argue that understanding the history and philosophy of reason provides great insights into many aspects of the humanities from political philosophy to understanding history. We will, of course, be paying particular attention to the foundational skills that will help you successfully complete your Arts major: particularly critical thinking and argument development.
- First Peoples in a Global Context12.5
First Peoples in a Global Context
This subject will provide students with an introduction to the complexity, challenges and richness of Australian Indigenous life and cultures. Drawing on a wide range of diverse and dynamic guest lecturers, this subject gives students an opportunity to encounter Australian Indigenous knowledges, histories and experiences through interdisciplinary perspectives. Across three thematic blocks - Indigenous Knowledges, Social and Political Contexts and Representation/Self-Representation - this subject engages contemporary cultural and intellectual debate. Social and political contexts will be considered through engagement with specific issues and a focus on Indigenous cultural forms, which may include literature, music, fine arts, museum exhibitions and performance, will allow students to consider self-representation as a means by which to disrupt and expand perceptions of Aboriginality.
Humans grapple with representations of themselves and their contexts. They also like to imagine other possible worlds. We use words, language, images, sounds and movement to construct narratives and stories, large and small, about the trivial and the profound, the past and the future. These representations can help us to understand worlds but they can also create worlds for us. This subject explores how different genres such as speech, writing, translation, film, theatre and art generate representations of social life, imagination and the human condition. A key aim of the subject is to develop a critical appreciation of how language, images and embodied gestures are used to construct empowering and disempowering discourses.
- The Philosophy of Mind12.5
The Philosophy of Mind
Neuroscience, cognitive science, and computer science are making huge strides in modeling the human brain’s information processing systems, from visual discrimination of faces to the neural circuitry and hormones that control our emotional reactions. But can these disciplines fully explain all aspects of our minds? Can scientific theories explain what it’s like to smell the sea or to taste durian? Can they capture your appreciation of the meaning of a Shakespeare sonnet or the emotional significance of your favorite hip hop song? These questions continue to be hotly contested by both philosophers and scientists. Everyone agrees that human brain states are reliably correlated with our mental states – but are these mental states strictly identical to brain states or just causally produced by them? And just which aspects of our brains are correlated with states like beliefs, desires, emotions or sensations?
In this subject, we examine the most influential philosophical answers to these questions. We start with Descartes’ argument for dualism, which he claims provides indubitable grounds for thinking one’s mind is not identical to any physical object. We then consider why scientifically minded philosophers resisted this picture and their attempts to say exactly which aspects of the physical world constitute a mental state. Is a mind just a disposition to behave in intelligent ways? Is it a functioning human brain? Is it like a computer program? Should our ordinary conception of mental states be rejected as scientifically ill-founded? Is it immune to scientific refutation? In the second half of the semester, we’ll look in more detail at three particular problem cases: (i) the ‘what it’s like’ aspect of our sensory experiences, (ii) our understanding of the contents of our words and thoughts, and (iii) the unity of our own conscious mental lives.
- The Nature of Reality12.5
The Nature of Reality
Our central question in this subject will be the extent to which our everyday experiences are determined by the nature of the world itself versus the extent to which they're determined by the structure of our own minds. Our approach to this question will be multi-faceted, drawing on philosophical texts, films and literary works, as well as our personal experiences. In topic 1, the nature of the world, we'll discuss Realism, Idealism, and Skepticism. Is the world really as it seems intuitively to be to us (Realism) or is it just a projection of our minds (Idealism). In topic 2, the nature of the self, we'll examine (i) what changes you can undergo and still remain yourself, (ii) the extent to which your personality and mind are constructed by you vs. being given to you by nature or upbringing, and (iii) whether genuine relationships exist between you and others or whether it's mostly a projection on your part. In topic 3, the nature of time, we'll examine time. Does only the present moment exist or does reality consist of many moments of time - some past, some present, and some future? Is there really any such thing as time or is it, as Kant says, just a feature of our minds? Does contemporary physics show there's no such thing as time, or is there a way to reconcile the findings of physics with our intuitive view that time exists?
- The Ethics of Capitalism12.5
The Ethics of Capitalism
Like most people in today's world, you live in a capitalist system: You participate in the labour market, you exercise economic freedoms like property and contract, and you respect other peoples freedoms. Capitalist systems have proven good at producing goods and services. But do they give us justice? More specifically, are you paid a fair wage for the work that you do? Should you even have to work when many jobs are lousy, and could soon be done by machines? Should you be allowed to inherit wealth, if others do not? What taxes should you pay, and what should the money be spent on? We will approach these questions (and many others) by asking why philosophers thought that market society might have sound moral foundations in the first place, and how capitalist systems might be compared with alternatives like feudalism and socialism. And we'll ask whether these moral foundations support the way things have turned out in contemporary market societies, and what reforms might be necessary to take us close towards a more just system for all.
- Science, Reason and Reality12.5
Science, Reason and Reality
Does science provide a true integrated representation of the world, or simply a plurality of incommensurable frameworks for investigating it? What’s distinctive of the scientific method, and what’s the rational justification for taking its results at face value? This subject will address these central questions by exploring some of the major theoretical developments in the philosophy of science over the last seventy years.
In part one of the subject we will explore competing theories about the nature and justification of the scientific method. We will consider the traditional view that the method is inductive, as well as Karl Popper’s suggestion that the method of science is to test and falsify theories. We will also consider problems with the empirical basis of science, such as the theory-dependence of observation and the underdetermination of theory by data.
In part two we will consider the more recent historical turn in the philosophy of science which proposes models of scientific theory change rather than a theory of scientific method. Thomas S. Kuhn’s theory that science is characterized by a series of revolutionary transitions between paradigms will be critically examined. In addition, we will consider Paul Feyerabend’s epistemological anarchist theory that the only universal rule of method for science is “anything goes”. We will also explore Imre Lakatos’s attempt to respond to Kuhn and Feyerabend by proposing that scientists are able to rationally choose between progressive and non-progressive research programmes.
In part three we will ask whether the historical approach to the philosophy of science yields an adequate account of scientific progress. Do the historical approaches have the resources to show that science makes continuous progress toward the objective truth about the natural world? This question leads into the debate between scientific realist and anti-realist interpretations of scientific knowledge. Here we will ask whether scientific theories provide a true representation of the way the world is at both the observable and the unobservable level? Or should we instead think of science as providing us with theories that are merely empirically adequate, in the sense that they can account for experimental data?
- Ethical Theory12.5
How should one live? What makes an action right or wrong and how can we tell which actions are which? Can critically engaging with what philosophers say about these questions make you a better person, or a moral expert?
This subject is divided into three parts, with a part devoted to each of the three main families of ethical theories. We start by looking at John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism, or the view that actions are “right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” and go on to consider the views of contemporary heirs to this tradition. Some object that utilitarianism delivers counter-intuitive verdicts and can, if the calculations turn out right, support seemingly repugnant actions. This worry leads naturally to an investigation of Kantian ethics, which puts good will rather than good consequences at the heart of its analysis of right action, and argues that reason is key to moral judgment and action. Some object that Kantianism does not acknowledge the centrality of emotion in our moral lives. The virtue ethics tradition, a tradition with roots in both Ancient Greece and China, seems well equipped to address these concerns. But can it provide sufficient guidance about what to do when we are in moral quandaries? As we examine each of these main approaches, we ask ourselves what we want from an ethical theory. Are we hoping to find a decision procedure that would simplify moral choice, a framework for identifying considerations that matter in making moral decisions, or do we want something more ambitious but more elusive, such as a conception of what it is to live a good life?
- Logical Methods12.5
Meaning is central to many issues in philosophy. The idea that the meaning of complex representation depends on the meanings of its parts is fundamental to the way we understand the mind, language, and logic. In this subject, we look at the different ways that this idea has been understood and applied throughout the 20th Century and into the present day.
In the first part of the subject, our focus is on the concepts of necessity and possibility, and the way that ‘possible worlds semantics’ has been used in theories of meaning. We will focus on the logic of necessity and possibility (modal logic), times (temporal logic), conditionality and dependence (counterfactuals), and the notions of analyticity and a priority, which are central to much philosophy.
In the second part of the subject, we will examine closely the assumption that every statement we make is either true or false but not both. We will examine the paradoxes of truth (like the so-called ‘liar paradox’) and vagueness (the ‘sorites paradox’), and we will investigate different ways attempts at resolving these paradoxes by going beyond our traditional views of truth (using ‘many valued logics’) or by defending the traditional perspective.
The subject serves as an introduction to ways that logic is applied in the study of language, epistemology and metaphysics, so it is useful to those who already know some philosophy and would like to see how logic relates to those issues. It is also useful to those who already know some logic and would like to learn new logical techniques and see how these techniques can be applied.
- Greek Philosophy12.5
The world seems to be in constant flux—but does it really change, or are we merely deluded by appearances? Can humans overcome their basest instincts, or are we condemned to have our rational mind always defeated by the power of our irrational impulses? What does justice demand of us? Or is talk of justice itself just a ruse developed by the powerful to keep us in line?
In this course, we will examine how these topics were tackled as, in fact, interconnected problems within the philosophical systems of ancient Greece; we will chiefly focus on Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics. We will proceed chronologically, starting with the tour de force that is Parmenides’ argument for monism, and then continuing with four of Plato’s dialogues (Laches, Protagoras, Symposium, and Republic). The second half of the course will focus on Aristotle’s innovative and influential logic, natural philosophy, and ethics. We will conclude with an examination of the radical ethical theory of the Stoics, which held that virtue alone was sufficient for happiness: a shocking thesis that implies that the truly wise man would be equally happy whether he was a debased and tortured slave or an admired Roman emperor.
- Phenomenology and Existentialism12.5
Phenomenology and Existentialism
This subject is a study of classic texts and major themes in phenomenology and existentialism, a tradition that shaped continental European philosophy throughout much of the 20th century. This subject focuses on central figures in that tradition, such as Sartre, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Husserl. Themes to be discussed include the aims and methods of phenomenology, consciousness and perception, being-in-the world, our relation to others, authenticity, freedom and embodiment. On completion of the subject students should be able to engage in detailed exegesis of philosophical texts and to examine critically the philosophical arguments and views they contain.
- Nietzsche and Critics12.5
Nietzsche and Critics
Nietzsche’s bold and original challenges to traditional morality and the primacy of reason have made him one of the best known and most influential of modern thinkers. This course provides a broad introduction to Nietzsche as a philosopher by addressing his views on a range of themes such as tragedy, history, morality, knowledge, the eternal recurrence and the will to power. We also consider some of Nietzsche’s more prominent critics and the wide range of interpretations to which his rich but controversial work have given rise.
- History of Early Modern Philosophy12.5
History of Early Modern Philosophy
This course will cover the major authors in the rationalist and empiricist traditions of the early modern period in Europe: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. These thinkers were the first to articulate problems in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, and moral philosophy that continue to shape the nature of philosophical inquiry today. For example, is free will compatible with the world described by modern science? Spinoza thought no; Kant thought yes. What of the reality of the external world? Here we will confront Berkeley’s argument for radical idealism – the notion that the world we perceive is a manifestation of our minds – and see that the case is not easy to dismiss. Causation is the most mundane thing in the world, but can you actually prove that one event causes another? You will think twice after we reckon with Hume.
The course will provide students with a solid grounding in the canonical texts of modern philosophy and introduce them to the issues raised by studying philosophy in its historical context. Beyond devoting attention to their arguments, the course will consider the self-understanding of these foundational figures in their efforts to accommodate the Scientific Revolution and to articulate a philosophical alternative to the religious concept of ‘truth’ that had dominated European thought throughout the medieval period. In short, we will address how and in what ways the contested relationship to science and religion is what makes modern philosophy ‘modern’ from its foundations.
- Freedom and Equality Across Borders12.5
Freedom and Equality Across Borders
Comedian Doug Stanhope once commented that “Nationalism does nothing but teach you how to hate people that you never met, and ... take pride in accomplishments you had no part in whatsoever”. In this course we'll examine the philosophical issues underpinning the ethics and politics of nationalism and cosmopolitanism, and their impact on individuals' freedom of movement and association across borders. We'll look at the case for a state's right to control its borders and immigration policy, including the value of preserving a national culture, language, and way of life, and citizens' rights to associate (or refuse to associate) with whoever they choose. We'll look at the case for outsiders being granted entry, including the value of assisting desperate refugees and asylum-seekers, and the importance of states' fairly sharing in the global resettlement of future climate refugees. We'll also consider the ‘right of necessity’: whether those denied resettlement would be morally permitted to claim it by force, were we to persist in denying them entry.
- Knowledge and Reality12.5
Knowledge and Reality
We think that we know a great many things about the real, objective, material world. That Melbourne is in Victoria, that the Swans play out of Sydney, that water is H20, that the earth revolves around the sun, that other people exist, that we exist, are all common place beliefs that we take to be something that we know. But what, precisely does such knowledge consist in, or what is it to know something? If we lack clarity on what it is to know something, can we ever really be sure that what we think we know, we actually know…?
Philosophers since the very inception of the discipline, with Plato (4th C BCE), have been really worried about whether or not we know anything at all, or if we do, how much we know. Sceptics claim that we do not have any, or much, knowledge at all, while other philosophers claim that while we do have knowledge, this knowledge cannot be knowledge of a real, objective, material world, which exists independently of our thoughts.
This class will have a two-fold structure, with the first part involving us in a dive into some of the central historical writings regarding the problem of our knowledge of the external world. Besides providing some historical grounding, this will afford us an opportunity to open a discussion of some of the central concepts and issues at play in philosophical discussions of knowledge (e.g., the concept of knowledge itself, justification, doubt, certainty and scepticism). In the second part of the class, we turn to more contemporary (20th & 21st C) efforts to offer a systematic theory of what these concepts – notably knowledge and justification – involve, as well as efforts to reply to some of the sceptical challenges to our everyday beliefs about an independently real, objective, material world.
- The Foundations of Interpretation12.5
The Foundations of Interpretation
We naturally try to make sense of what other people write, say, and think. But what are the principles governing this activity of interpretation? Is the correct interpretation of an article from the New York Times, of a fictional text like Madame Bovary, or of Shakespeare’s sonnets determined by their respective author’s intentions? Does the reader play an active role in constituting the meaning of these texts? Can conflicting interpretations of the same text be equally valid? Can interpretation ever be gender neutral or free of power dynamics?
We’ll explore answers to these questions proposed by influential theories of meaning and interpretation developed for the most part in 20th century Europe. Our starting point will be Schleiermacher’s suggestion that interpretation is a form of “mental tourism” aimed at the simulation of the author’s original mental states. All the approaches we’ll then consider will be increasingly radical departures from this simple idea. We’ll first look at German Hermeneutics (Heidegger, Gadamer, Habermas) and its emphasis on the key role of individual consciousness for questions of meaning and interpretation. We’ll then examine the French deconstructivist tradition (Saussure, Barthes, Derrida, Butler) and its rejection of the idea that we are the masters of the meaning of our words. Finally, we’ll take a look at seminal contributions to the understanding of interpretation in the Anglo-American analytic tradition. We’ll consider whether radical interpretation – the interpretation of the language of a totally foreign culture – is possible, and if so by which methods (Quine, Davidson), and whether there is a robust distinction between fiction and non-fiction (Walton).
- The Power and Limits of Logic12.5
The Power and Limits of Logic
This subject deals with the power and limits of logic. We will cover some of the great conceptual advances in logic in the 20th Century, which have revolutionised our understanding of logic and language, of models and meaning, and of concepts and computation. We will examine the conceptual foundations of logic and the way it can be applied, not only to develop theories in other domains, but how we can learn the limits of logic when we attempt to apply its power to logic itself. In the course we will examine fundamental results such as (1) the soundness and completeness of different proof systems of first-order predicate logic, (2) the boundary between the countably infinite and the uncountably infinite (3) the boundary between the computable and the uncomputable, and (4) Gödel's incompleteness theorem and its consequences. Concepts and results will be approached via both practical exposure to formal techniques and proofs and theoretical and philosophical reflection on those techniques. Students will be able to appreciate the philosophical importance of the major logical results and equipping them for further work in logic in philosophy, mathematics, linguistics, computer science and related fields.
- Objectivity and Value12.5
Objectivity and Value
This subject explores the nature of value in human life. The kinds of value explored may include all or some of moral and ethical value, aesthetic value, religious value, political value, and epistemic value. Are such values capable of being objectively true or real, or are they essentially 'subjective', having no ground or warrant outside the individual, or perhaps the society or culture, who affirms them? And just how helpful, anyway, is the objective/subjective contrast for thinking about the nature of value? In this subject we will explore some of the main attempts, across philosophical history and up until the present, to answer these questions. The focus in 2020 will be on moral/ethical value, and aesthetic value.
- Justice, Freedom and Equality12.5
Justice, Freedom and Equality
This subject investigates central topics in political philosophy. These can be divided into two areas of focus - political legitimacy and distributive justice. The study of legitimacy aims to establish the moral authority of the coercive state. This involves finding ways to answer the anarchist contention that no state can be justified, by developing a moral foundation for the state's authority. The study of distributive justice aims to answer questions about how the state should actually use its coercive powers to regulate the way in which its citizens interact. The focus here is on interpreting various (often competing) political values, such as equality, individual freedom and community.
This subject will make extensive use of historical and contemporary writings. Authors who feature predominantly in this subject include Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, and John Rawls. This will be followed by time spent on contemporary authors.
- Race and Gender: Philosophical Issues12.5
Race and Gender: Philosophical Issues
This subject surveys recent developments in our philosophical understanding and critiques of the social categories of race and gender. The subject will first explore issues in metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of language that arise for biological vs social constructivist accounts of race and gender. Special attention will be paid to the similarities and differences between race and gender and the ways in which they interact. If race and gender are biological categories, they may involve erroneous assumptions. If they are socially constructed categories, it follows that our current categories can be reshaped. This raises a number of moral and political questions regarding the best means to bring about change, including whether limiting freedom of speech can be justified. Philosophers studied include Anthony Appiah, Elizabeth Anderson, Sally Haslanger, Tommie Shelby, and Rae Langton.
- Philosophy of Language12.5
Philosophy of Language
Philosophers have been interested in language for two key reasons. On the one hand, language helps to focus our thoughts on particular features of the world (like Donald J. Trump or collusion). On the other hand, language plays an essential role in coordinating with others (like pointing things out or telling tall tales) and building complex shared social institutions (marriage, democracy). This subject examines these two key roles of language and how they interact.
The first weeks will focus on language as a representational medium. Throughout the 20th century, philosophers took the philosophy of language to be crucial to any systematic understanding of the world. If you want to understand colors, or moral properties, or individual persons, or numbers, or the various properties discovered by science, you should first make sure you understand how we represent these things in language. Otherwise we're likely to end up talking at cross-purposes or to be seduced by incoherent ideas. We’ll look at central figures in the development of this representationalist tradition, including Locke, Mill, Frege, Russell, Strawson, Chomsky and Kripke. Next, we consider how we use language as a practical tool in our messy real-world environment. We use language to make requests, tell jokes, and get married – not just to represent facts. Often our use of language involves rough and ready improvisations, which rely on our knowledge of each other and of what’s going on around us to get the point across. Key figures in this pragmatic tradition include Wittgenstein, Grice, Austin, Searle, Sperber and Wilson, and Lewis. In the final weeks, we’ll bring these theoretical tools to bear on two contemporary debates in the philosophy of language – metaphors and slurs. A metaphor, like ‘rivers of blood’, can pack an emotional punch and suggest factual claims that are not literally expressed. Theorists disagree about what explains this distinctive evocative power. Unlike metaphors, slurs like ‘bitch’ or ‘wog’ don’t leave room for interpretation: they’re standardly used to single out specific social groups as the target of contempt. But it’s not clear how slurs do this dirty work. Getting clear about metaphors and slurs can help understand how language is intimately tied to both human cognition, social institutions, and social subordination.
- The Metaphysics of Ethics12.5
The Metaphysics of Ethics
Our central question in this subject will be the extent to which our ethical views and theories are related to, or underpinned by, our metaphysical views and theories. In Topic 1, Objects, Events, Persistence & The Ethical Views Influenced by Them, we'll discuss what metaphysics tells us about the nature of objects, events, and persistence over time, and how this impacts various ethical theories we might endorse. In Topic 2, Mereology & Its Influence on Ethics, we'll discuss metaphysical theories of mereology (i.e. part/whole relations) such as how is a corporation (whole) related to its employees (parts), how is a university (whole) related to the students, instructors, buildings, etc. (parts) that compose it? We'll then look at how mereology impacts how we should think about various ethical and political cases. In Topic 3, Causation & Ethics, we'll look at various metaphysical views of causation and how this impacts ethics, particular with regard to moral responsibility.
- God and the Natural Sciences12.5
God and the Natural Sciences
Recent popular debates over the relationship between science and religion have too often denegrated into shouted polemics between religious fundamentalists and new atheists. Yet many of the really important historical, philosophical and theological questions call for more careful scholarly attention. This subject examines the complex relationship between religion and the natural sciences. Historically, religious concerns guided the science of Kepler, Newton and many other pioneers of the Scientific Revolution. For them, studying the universe demonstrated the attributes of God. This view was eventually replaced by radically different ones: to some science and religion are necessarily antagonistic, to others they belong to separate realms, while others still see a mutually illuminating consonance between the two. We examine this shift, the reasoning (good and bad) behind it and its residues, and the way these views have shaped contemporary debates over God and the natural sciences. In the second half of the subject, we explore some of the metaphysical, theological and existential questions arising from Darwinian evolutionary and modern cosmology, before offering some final reflections on the relationship between the 'personal God' of religious experience and the 'philosophers God' posited to explain facts about the natural world.
- Ethical Traditions in Islam12.5
Ethical Traditions in Islam
This subject introduces students to the rich heritage of ethical traditions in Islamic thought. Students will study and critically evaluate the key features and contributions of Muslim theologians, philosophers and Sufis, who attempted to deal with revelation and rationalistic discourse in exploring the meaning of ethical life for Muslims and discussing whether philosophy and religious wisdoms were equals and allies in the pursuit of happiness. The origin and development of these traditions will be introduced with an emphasis on the relevance and application of some ethical issues, such as free will, predestination, human responsibility, and bioethics, to contemporary Muslim societies.
- The Philosophy of Philosophy12.5
The Philosophy of Philosophy
This subject examines the nature of philosophy itself. Students will read what many great philosophers have said about the methods, aims, and ambitions of philosophy. And they will examine how these views are grounded in, or intertwined with commitments about metaphysics, epistemology, or ethics. The subject provides the opportunity to reflect on different strands in the philosophical tradition, which inspire conflicting projects in contemporary philosophy. It should also encourage students to reflect on the nature and methods of the philosophy they have studied to date. The subject is intended for students nearing completion of a philosophy major, but may also be taken by others.