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Term 2 course materials 2015/16

New Reading List Software – Talis Aspire

The Philosophy department is trialling the use of a new reading list software for 15/16. While we aim to make sure this list is up to date, it is a transitional year, and so the traditional static reading list on these pages may be more accurate. However, the reading list is also available at:

PH133/134/135 Introduction to Philosophy
Module Outline (Term 2)

In weeks 1-8 lectures will be given by Dr Kirk Surgener, and will cover topics in Epistemology, Metaphysics and Philosophy of Mind. In weeks 9-10 lectures will be given by Dr Karen Simecek, and will cover topics in Aesthetics.

In weeks 1-3 we will be examining the nature of knowledge by looking primarily at Rene Descartes' sceptical concerns in his Meditations on First Philosophy. For this part of the course it would be a very good idea to get access to a copy of this text - in particular the edition edited by John Cottingham for Cambridge University press.

In weeks 4-8 we will shift gears and start to examine questions about the metaphysics of mental states and the nature of personal identity over time.

Lecture Schedule and Handouts (weeks 1-8)

Week 1: What is epistemology?; Descartes sceptical arguments. Lecture One Handout Lecture Two Handout
Week 2: Descartes’ response to his sceptical worries. Lecture Three Handout Lecture Four Handout
Week 3: Moore’s response to scepticism; the Gettier problem. Lecture Five Handout  Lecture Six Handout
Week 4: What is philosophy of mind?; Substance dualism. Lecture Seven Handout Lecture Eight Handout
Week 5: Behaviourism; Identity theory. Lecture Nine Handout  Lecture Ten Handout
Week 7: Functionalism; Psychological accounts of identity 1. Lecture Eleven Handout  Lecture Twelve Handout
Week 8: Psychological accounts of identity 2; Animalism. Lecture Thirteen Handout Lecture Fourteen Handout

Core readings and study questions

Doing the readings below and writing short answers to the study questions will help you prepare for the lecture material. In addition, it will give you something to base your tutorial written work on.

Week 1: Descartes, R. Meditations: 1st Meditation

Study questions:
1. What will Descartes’ project be? How will he proceed? Does this project make sense?
2. What is his first reason to doubt his senses? Why isn’t this enough for him?
3. On page 13, Descartes writes ‘I see plainly that there are never any sure signs by means of which being awake can be distinguished from being asleep’. Is this true? Suppose he is right – are there any beliefs that are left unaffected by this problem?
4. On page 15, Descartes gives his best reason to doubt all his beliefs. What is the argument? Does it give you a reason to doubt all your beliefs?
5. In the very end of page 14, Descartes writes ‘I have no answer to these arguments, but am finally compelled to admit that there is not one of my former beliefs about which a doubt may not properly be raised.’ What is the argument on that page that leads him to come to this conclusion?

Week 2: Descartes, R. Meditations: 2nd Meditation paragraphs 1–5, the Objections and Responses on ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’ (pages 68–69 in the Cottingham edition).
And 3rd Meditation.

Study questions:
Mediation 2:
1. What method will Descartes use when he begins to investigate what this ‘I’ is that is established by the Cogito?
2. What was the traditional view of the self? Why can’t he think that he is anything like that?
3. What does he discover about his nature and essence? How plausible is the conclusion?
Mediation 3:
1. What is the situation of the meditator now? Why is Descartes trying to establish the existence of God?
2. What kind of ideas are there? What examples does Descartes give of them?
3. What is the idea of God like? How does it differ from other ideas?
4. What principle does Descartes then introduce? Is it plausible in the light of Descartes’ examples?
5. What is the argument for the existence of God (31-32)?

Week 3: Gettier, E. (1963) “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” available here: Gettier's paper
Study questions:
1. Explain in your own words what it is for a mental state to be a belief.
2. Why is knowledge not simply true belief?
3. What is wrong with the thought that knowledge is justified true belief, according to Gettier?
4. Explain each of Gettier’s cases in your own words.
5. Construct your own example where a person has a justified true belief which isn’t knowledge.
6. Can the justified true belief account of knowledge be fixed to solve Gettier’s problem?

Week 4: Descartes, R. Meditations: Meditation 2, from paragraph 5 to end of the Meditation.
Study questions:

1. What method will Descartes use when he begins to investigate what this ‘I’ is that is established by the Cogito?
2. What was the traditional view of the self? Why can’t he think that he is anything like that?
3. What does he discover about his nature and essence? How plausible is the conclusion?
4. On what grounds does Descartes come to this conclusion?
5. What worry is the ‘wax example’ supposed to address? N.B. this is a tough and contentious question, but give it a go.

Week 5: Smart, JJC. (1959) “Sensations and Brain Processes” available here: Smart's paper
Study questions:
1. What is Smart attempting to show in this paper?
2. What is Occam’s razor, and how does Smart apply it here?
3. Describe what Smart calls “the ‘expressive’ account of sensations statements”.
4. What is wrong with this account, according to Smart?
5. Explain objection 1 and how Smart responds.
6. Overall, how convincing is Smart’s argument?

Week 7: Locke, J. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Book II, Chapter 27 “Of Identity and Diversity”.

Study questions:

1. What is a person, according to Locke?
2. In what does personal identity consist, for Locke?
3. What if I wholly lose all my memories? What does Locke say about this sort of case? Is his view plausible?
4. Is it just to punish someone for something they cannot remember?
5. Explain how and why Locke distinguishes between the identity of humans (‘man’ in his terms) and persons.
6. Is it possible for a person to move from one body to another according to Locke? Is this right?

Week 8: Olson, E. (2003) “An Argument for Animalism” available here: Olson's paper
1. What does an animalist claim? How does this differ from constitutionalism and materialism?
2. Explain in your own words the alternative views of what a human person is, offered in section 2.
3. Why have philosophers thought that we are not animals?
4. Explain Olson’s argument for animalism.
5. How should an anti-animalist respond?

Further Reading: please consult the talis list here: (scroll down for term 2)

Suggested Essay Questions

If you are looking for a title to look at for your tutorial essays, here are some suggested questions (your tutorial leader will be able to provide you with further advice on how to do your essay):

Week 1:
What is Descartes purpose in raising his sceptical worries?
What is the strongest reason Descartes gives for doubting your beliefs?
Week 2:
Explore one objection to the cogito argument.
Explain and assess the trademark argument for the existence of God.
Week 3:
Why would someone think that knowledge is justified true belief?
Is Moore’s response to sceptical worries more effective than Descartes?
Week 4:
How does the causal closure of the physical world threaten substance dualism?
Explain the problem of interaction and how the dualist might avoid the worry.
Week 5:
How do the dualist and behaviourist differ on the nature of introspection?
Explain the best reason to be an identity theorist.
Week 7:
Evaluate one argument against functionalism.
Why does Locke offer a psychological theory of personal identity?
Week 8:
Discuss one argument against the Lockean account of personal identity.
Are there any good reasons to be an animalist about human persons?

AESTHETICS (Weeks 9-10)

The focus of the Week 9 lectures will be the philosophical significance of art, with particular attention to imitation, tragedy and ethical understanding, and the focus of the Week 10 lectures will be judgement of beauty and the possibility of avoiding relativism in aesthetic matters.

Week 9 core reading:

Plato, The Republic (books 2,3 and 10) and Aristotle, Poetics (Oxford World's Classics) trans. Anthony Kenny

Reading questions:

  1. According to Plato, what is wrong with mimetic art?
  2. Why does Plato banish the poets from his Republic?
  3. Aristotle observes that "even when things are painful to look upon ... we take pleasure in viewing highly realistic images of them". How does Aristotle explain such a pleasure?
  4. How does Aristotle first define tragedy? What are the tragic emotions by means of which purification [catharsis] is achieved, and what effect does tragedy have upon those emotions?
  5. Tragedy, according to Aristotle, is essentially a representation of action. What characteristics should this action have?
  6. What are the main components of a tragedy and why are they important on Aristotle's view?
  7. What enables tragedy to achieve its effects?
  8. What does Aristotle claim is the main difference between poetry and history?
  9. How does Aristotle's view of mimetic art differ from Plato's?

Suggested essay questions for Week 9:

  • What are Plato's reasons for disapproving of mimetic art? Do you find them convincing?
  • What, according to Aristotle, is the primary purpose of tragedy? What problems might there be with this point of view?

Lecture Slides

Week 9 Lecture 1: Plato and Handout

Week 9 Lecture 2: Aristotle and Handout

Week 9 further reading

G. R. F. Ferrari, 'Plato and Poetry,' The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, ed. G. A. Kennedy, CUP, 1989.
Charles Griswold, 'Plato on Rhetoric and Poetry,' The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Christopher Janaway, 'Plato', The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics, eds Berys Gaut & Dominic Lopes, 2001.
Sir Philip Sidney, 'An Apology for Poetry', in Aristotle, Poetics (Oxford World's Classics) trans. Anthony Kenny

Nikolas Pappas, 'Aristotle,' The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics, eds Berys Gaut & Dominic Lopes, 2001.
Leon Golden, 'The Purgation Theory of Catharsis,' Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 31 (1973) 473–9.
Stephen Halliwell, 'Aristotelian Mimesis Reevaluated,' Journal of the History of Philosophy 28 (1990) 487–510.
Mark Packer, 'The Conditions of Aesthetic Feeling in Aristotle’s Poetics,' British Journal of Aesthetics 24 (1984) 138–48.
Amélie Oksenberg Rorty, ed., Essays on Aristotle's Poetics. Princeton University Press, 1992.

Week 10 Core Reading:

David Hume, 'Of the Standard of Taste'

This essay is widely available. Here are links to two online full-text versions: the Fordham site is better for printing from, and the site is better for reading online (search for the essay in the Four Dissertations table of contents).

Reading questions:

Why does an appeal to sentiment seem to preclude having a standard of taste?

How does ‘common sense’ lead us into apparently irreconcilable views of taste?

Do rules of beauty have authority, on Hume’s view?

Can ‘the test of time’ provide a standard of taste?

How do the models of taste in food and drink, and of bodily health, help to coordinate matters of fact and of sentiment?

What is Hume’s ‘true standard of taste and beauty’?

What are the five characteristics of the ‘true judge’?

Which sources of variation in taste does Hume count as ‘blameless’?

How does Hume contrast our handling of ‘speculative opinions’ and ‘moral principles’ in art?

Lecture slides

Week 10 lecture 1 and handout

Week 10 lecture 2 and handout

Suggested essay questions for Week 10
  • Has Hume shown that ‘the taste of all individuals is not upon an equal footing’? Is that sufficient to establish a standard of taste?
  • Is Hume’s account of the standard of taste circular?
  • Do you have reason to defer to, or to try to emulate, the judgements of Hume’s ideal critics?
Week 10 further reading

Noël Carroll, ‘Hume’s Standard of Taste’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 43 (1984), 181-94

Ted Cohen, ‘The Philosophy of Taste: Thoughts on the Idea’, Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics, ed. P. Kivy, 2004

Eva Dadlez, ‘The Vicious Habits of Entirely Fictive People: Hume on the Moral Evaluation of Art’, Philosophy and Literature 26 (2002), 143-56

Ted Gracyk, ‘Re-thinking Hume’s Standard of Taste’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 52 (1994), 168-82

Peter Kivy, ‘Hume’s Standard of Taste: Breaking the Circle’, British Journal of Aesthetics 7 (1967), 57-66

Jerrold Levinson, ‘Hume's Standard of Taste: The Real Problem’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 60 (2002), 227-238.

James Shelley, ‘Hume and the Nature of Taste’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 56(1998), 29-38