Pathways to Philosophy
choose from six pathways
A. Introduction to Philosophy
B. Philosophy of Mind
C. Ancient Philosophy
D. Philosophy of Language
E. Moral Philosophy
The six Pathways programs A–F are designed to stimulate original inquiry. You will be participating in an investigation into the fundamental questions of philosophy.
Each program consists of fifteen study units together with five sets of essay questions. ISFP members are invited to submit essays of 800–1500 words for comment.
The easiest of the six Pathways is Possible World Machine. This is the Pathway we generally recommend to students who have had no prior exposure to philosophy.
The most difficult is Metaphysics which was originally developed as a 28 week lecture course for final year undergraduates at Sheffield University. The difficulty rating gives a rough guide to relative ease or difficulty.
= Difficulty rating (14).
How different might the world have been from the way it actually is? Thinking about possible worlds is an important tool of philosophy. Such 'thought experiments' challenge our intuitions concerning the limits of logic and meaning. The program is based on a series of original short stories each raising a different philosophical problem or theme. Topics covered include the idea of philosophical knowledge, freedom of the will, the existence of the soul, knowledge and scepticism, our knowledge of other minds, the objectivity of moral values, the criteria for personal identity, our fear of death, appearance and reality, space and time, the reality of the past, the definition of truth, fatalism and the future, the existence of possible worlds.
Possible worlds and philosophy 'the possible world machine', free will 'the black box', mind and body 'walkabout', knowledge and scepticism 'a case of doubt', other minds 'a lesson in biology', personal identity 'the insurance policy', why be moral? 'a moral tale', reality of the past 'the good witness', future and fatalism 'the fatalists', perception and illusion 'the ministry of perception', idealism 'Dr Johnson's boots', space and physics 'space hopper', time and temporality 'the window of consciousness', solipsism 'message from a lonely planet', is it rational to fear death? 'Morgan's farewell'.
What is the relationship between mind and body? We shall be investigating the background to Descartes' argument in the Meditations for a dualism of mental and material substances, based on the impossibility of doubting the existence of the 'I' that says, 'I think.' After subjecting Descartes' argument to close scrutiny, we shall examine specific questions arising from the dualist theory, such as the interaction between soul and body, and the idea of disembodied souls. We shall then look at alternatives to mind-body dualism, including the theory that the mind is identical with the brain, and follow up the consequences of the competing views for our conception of ourselves and our place in the world.
Philosophy and the soul, sources of belief in the soul, inside and outside, the I and the theatre of consciousness, can mind and body be separated? bodies without minds and minds without bodies, Descartes' argument for mind-body dualism, defending Descartes' argument, dualism and the concept of identity, self is not a substance or entity, self as a collection of mental items, duplicating the self – a thought experiment, identity of the self over time, is identity necessary? interactionism versus epiphenomenalism, refutations of epiphenomenalism and interactionism, self as source of the will, impossibility of identifying acts of will, an argument against freedom of the will, dualist's attempt to escape the argument, the notion of qualia, qualia and the inverted spectrum hypothesis, do qualia exist? impossibility of a private language, the theory of solipsism, the theory of idealism, the meaning of I, dualism of subjective and objective worlds, myself and others, my fear of death.
How did philosophy begin? Some time around 600 BC in ancient Greece a radically new idea took root. Beliefs about a world derived from religious dogma and often lurid myths handed down from generation to generation gave way to the idea of logos, the notion of a universe structured on rational principles, a structure which human beings could uncover with the aid of reason and logic. Exactly how the idea arose remains a mystery. But it was the seed of all that has subsequently come under the name of 'Philosophy' right up to the present time. By delving into the fragments that have been preserved of the theories and writings of these first, 'pre-Socratic' philosophers, such as Thales, Anaximander, Zeno and Parmenides, we shall encounter problems and paradoxes that remain unsolved to this day, as well as getting a feel for what the enterprise of philosophy is about.
Thales and the beginnings of philosophy, Anaximander and the theory of the apeiron, Anaximander versus Anaximenes, Xenophanes on god and the limits of human knowledge, Heraclitus 'you never step twice into the same river', Pythagoras and the Pythagorean school, Parmenides' way of truth, Parmenides versus Melissus, Zeno's paradoxes, Empedocles' cosmic cycle, Anaxagoras 'a portion of everything in everything', The atomism of Leucippus and Democritus, Philosophical consequences of atomism, Protagoras 'man is the measure of all things', Gorgias 'on what is not'.
How does thought relate to reality? One answer is, 'Through the medium of language.' That answer, a major outcome of developments in philosophy in the 20th century, implies a necessary priority of language over thought. The nature of thought, and of truth as the mark of what thought attains when it succeeds in representing how things are can only be approached or so it is claimed via the analysis of the workings of language. In this course, we shall take a detached and moderately sceptical view of these developments, focusing on the ambitious claim of the philosophy of language to provide the basis for resolving many of the central problems of philosophy.
Private language and the normativity of meaning, what keeps our use of language on track? the difference between names and propositions, Wittgenstein's picture theory of propositions, how vague concepts pose a problem for meaning, vagueness and the picture theory, the egocentricity of the picture theory, transcending the world of the solitary subject, Wittgenstein's later view that meaning is use, nominalism platonism and mentalism, does thought entail the possession of language? the explanation of animal behaviour, truth conditions and the analysis of sentence structure, the distinction between concept and object, the relativism of language, the distinction between sense and reference, accounting for the sense of proper names, proper names have a point, accounting for the sense of a concept, the point of concepts, truth conditions and verification conditions, refining the idea of verification conditions, do we aim at truth or at verification? general statements and statements about the past, truth as an imaginary target, the truth conditions of vague statements, truth conditions and the theory of fictions, truth and the ideal of convergence, how can meanings be objective? normativity of meaning and the asymmetry of self and other.
Why should I be moral? The view that it is in my self-interest to consider the possible harm my actions might do to others encounters the objection that sometimes it can appear very much against our own interests to act morally. The question that raises is whether a rational basis can be found for acting morally in cases where doing so does not coincide with self-interest. Many attempts have been made, but most have foundered on a persistent logical gap between facts and values, or between what is the case and what one ought to do. We shall examine whether this gap can be bridged, and the consequences either way for our ethical beliefs.
Our knowledge of right and wrong, the challenge of amoralism and the problem of relativity, prudential reasoning and weakness of will, weakness of will and moral reasoning, prudential and moral dilemmas, moral dilemmas and the limits of reason, moral judgements as universal – Kant's categorical imperative, principle of sufficient reason and the disinterested standpoint, objectivity of morals – a three-part argument, solipsist theory that the world is my world, refutation of solipsism, anti-solipsism and the principle of utility, between solipsism and anti-solipsism, two-world theory and the primacy of action, agency and the theory of values, the objectivity of my values, why must others count in my deliberations? moral conduct and the world of the other, the ethics of dialogue, moral dialogue in the real world, what is truth? how can moral judgements be true? self-assertion and self-sacrifice, a defence of partiality, the moral status of animals, animal rights and the ethics of dialogue, the paradox of liberalism, dialogue and the limits of tolerance, the limits of ethics, supererogation – politics – idea of a theory.
Is there more to existence than the familiar objects of sense perception, or the underlying structures that science describes? Are there things that lie beyond the mundane world of empirical inquiry, things whose nature can only be approached through pure reasoning? While some philosophers today remain sceptical about such a possibility, others continue to hold theories that are unashamedly 'metaphysical'. One theory formulated over two centuries ago that still finds adherents today is Berkeley's 'immaterialism' – the view that our familiar material world of objects in space is ultimately composed of mental entities, such as perceptions in the mind of God. We shall be looking at this and other similar theories and examining their claims to credibility.
Metaphysics and the problem of beginnings, defining reality, the reality principle, truth and existence, ontology and thing-hood, the this and the given, subjectivism, refining the subjectivist theory, the refutation of subjectivism, searching for an alternative theory, the impossibility of a private language, the concept of truth, realism versus anti-realism, anti-realism and the reality principle, anti-realism and the philosophy of language, the idea of an anti-realist theory of meaning, can the past be erased? an attempted refutation of realism, the reality of possible worlds, the existence of God, the attack on the idea of matter, the dialectic of immaterialism, defining matter, Berkeley's immaterialist theory, Leibniz's theory of monads, objective idealism, combining immaterialism and anti-realism, realist facts and Kantian noumena, agency and physical objects, judging as a physical action.