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Pathways to Philosophy

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pathways (programs)

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
F. Metaphysics

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 800–1000 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 (1—4).

A. Introduction to Philosophy — The Possible World Machine
The Possible World Machine

A lively and accessible survey of the central questions of philosophy, using dialogues and original science fiction stories.

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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.


B. Philosophy of Mind — Searching for the Soul
Searching for the Soul

A look at the mind-body problem, raising the question of the physical basis of consciousness, and our knowledge of ourselves and others.

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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.


C. Ancient Philosophy — The First Philosophers
The First Philosophers

How did philosophy begin? We examine the ground breaking ideas and arguments of the inventors of philosophy, up to the time of Socrates.

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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.


D. Philosophy of Language — Language and the World
Language and the World

What is language? How do words enable us to have thoughts about a world outside us? Exploring the notions of reference and meaning.

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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.


E. Moral Philosophy — Reason, Values and Conduct
Reason, Values and Conduct

What is the basis of moral and value judgements? Do they reflect an objective reality of moral facts, or are they merely subjective?

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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.


F. Metaphysics — The Ultimate Nature of Things
The Ultimate Nature of Things

Defining the nature of truth and the nature of existence. Can the gap be bridged between the world as we experience it and objective reality?

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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.


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