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University of Aberdeen

 

Undergraduate Philosophy 2014-2015

PH1026: HOW SHOULD ONE LIVE?

15 credits

Level 1

First Sub Session

Why do the morally right thing when you have so much more to gain by doing evil and know you could get away with it? Should you save five lives even if this requires you to kill someone in exchange for them? Would you lie on the witness stand to protect your guilty mother from a life in prison? We will read and discuss responses to these questions that have been presented in both historical and contemporary texts, including those by Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Kant, John Stuart Mill, Bernard Williams, Judith Thomson, Shelly Kagan, and T.M. Scanlon. 

PH1027: CONTROVERSIAL QUESTIONS

15 credits

Level 1

First Sub Session

We will examine questions such as: Do animals have rights? Is eating animals immoral? Is being a good or a bad person a matter of luck? If so, are we justified in punishing bad people? Should anyone be able to set limits on what you can do with your own body, even if it’s ‘for your own good’? Should everyone be allowed to state their mind, even if their views are harmful or offensive? Is censorship ever justifiable? Do you have a moral obligation to help those who are worse-off than you? Are you unknowingly biased against underprivileged groups?

PH1523: EXPERIENCE, KNOWLEDGE AND REALITY

15 credits

Level 1

Second Sub Session

How “real” is reality? Where does knowledge come from? How does the mind relate to the world? This course introduces two approaches to answering these questions: rationalism and empiricism. Through reading Rene Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, we learn about Descartes’ rationalist approach to knowledge, reality, mind-body dualism, and God’s necessary existence. Through David Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding we see how Hume grounds knowledge in experience. We read Hume on impressions and ideas, induction, causality, and miracles. We critically compare and examine Descartes’ and Hume’s arguments by drawing on their readers and critics. 

PH1525: SCIENCE AND PHILOSOPHY I

15 credits

Level 1

Second Sub Session

Scientific research appears to be a particularly effective and reliable way of gaining empirical knowledge. Science is often portrayed as an essentially rational enterprise in which as yet unproven hypotheses are put to rigorous tests by means of systematic observations and sophisticated experiments. But are the sciences really accumulating knowledge about natural processes according to a uniform scientific method? Or are scientists inevitably bound by paradigms, ways of thinking and doing that constrain what they research and how they interpret the data? These are two of the question we will explore in this course. 

PH201A: METAPHYSICS: THE PILLARS OF REALITY

15 credits

Level 2

First Sub Session

We will consider what philosophers have to say on two topics. First, is consciousness reducible to some kind of brain state, or some other physical state of cognitive beings? (We will focus on some recent arguments in metaphysics that suggest the answer is ‘no’.) Second, what is the relation between a person and their body? In particular, we will consider whether a person could survive the destruction of their body; whether two people could inhabit the same body; and whether we two distinct things, if we are both human beings and persons? 

PH2029: LIFE, DEATH AND MEANING

15 credits

Level 2

First Sub Session

Living a life is a full-time occupation. Our lives matter to us. But each of us will eventually die (possibly today), just as those we leave behind will eventually die. Sooner or later, after our death, we will be forgotten and the traces of our lives will disappear. Death will cut short the plans, projects, relationships and commitments we care most about. Should we therefore conclude that human life is meaningless or absurd? And if so, how should we respond to that? On this course we will consider these and related questions. All students are welcome! 

PH2531: THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE

15 credits

Level 2

Second Sub Session

This foundational course in epistemology (or philosophy of knowledge) provides a critical survey of theses, problems and issues currently discussed in the field. We will start with analyzing conceptions of the nature of knowledge and epistemic justification. We will then focus on theories of the architecture of epistemic rationality (i.e. theories about how all justified beliefs link with one another). We will consider advantages and disadvantages of general perspectives from which to do epistemology (e.g. the traditional "armchair" perspective and the novel naturalized perspective). We will conclude with a presentation and appraisal of popular sceptical arguments. 

PH2533: SCIENCE AND PHILOSOPHY 2

15 credits

Level 2

Second Sub Session

This course introduces students to selected topics in general philosophy of science and in the philosophy of the special sciences. Here are some of the questions we will consider: Do we have reasons to believe that our best confirmed scientific theories are true? Do theoretical entities like electrons exist or are they conceptual tools for research? Are scientific explanations in some sense 'objective' or do they merely provide us with a warm feeling of understanding? What makes a scientific explanation good or bad? Among the special sciences, we will explore topics in physics, chemistry, the life sciences, and psychology. 

PH301E: PHILOSOPHY OF PHYSICS

30 credits

Level 3

First Sub Session

The course will focus on the main topics in contemporary philosophy of physics, namely philosophy of quantum mechanics, philosophy of space-time and philosophy of statistical mechanics (in varying proportions - or alternation - from year to year). In 2014-15 the main topic will be quantum mechanics. Previous familiarity with these physical theories will not be assumed.

PH302N: ONTOLOGY

15 credits

Level 3

First Sub Session

Ontology is the branch of metaphysics that studies questions of existence. Are there numbers? Are there properties? Are there tables and chairs? If there are numbers, do they exist in the same way as tables and chairs? And what is existence, anyway? The course has three parts. We start off with a historical overview of the topic, and then we investigate some of its central notions. Finally, we undertake a case study of one of the classic questions of ontology.

PH303P: PHILOSOPHICAL TEXTS 1

15 credits

Level 3

First Sub Session

The aim of ‘Philosophical Texts’ courses is to spend a semester engaged in a close reading of an influential and accessible philosophical text. This course focuses on David Hume’s Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding (1748/1777). This important text continues to exert a strong influence in contemporary metaphysics, epistemology and philosophy of mind. Topics covered will include: the mind-world relation and the nature of thought; the nature of causation and causal explanation; the nature of objectivity; the self and personal identity. Classroom sessions will take the form of student led seminars, with supporting material from the lecture delivered via MyAberdeen. 

PH303Y: PHILOSOPHY OF BIOLOGY

30 credits

Level 3

First Sub Session

Over the last decades philosophy of biology has matured into a dynamic field of philosophical inquiry. Apart from reflecting on specific findings and controversies within the life sciences, such inquiry can shed light on debates in general philosophy of science and philosophy of mind. This course examines both classical topics and more recent developments. It will address questions such as: Do genes really carry information or is this just a metaphor? What does it mean to say that the function of the heart is to pump blood? Are biological species natural kinds? Do animals have beliefs and desires? 

PH3054: KANTS CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON

30 credits

Level 3

First Sub Session

Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781) is one of the most important works of Western philosophy. Kant focuses on what we can and cannot know, transforming concepts of freedom, God, self, and nature along the way. In resolving the impasse between rationalism and empiricism, Kant set out a new approach to epistemology and metaphysics called transcendental idealism. This fundamental turning-point in philosophy also generated some enduring problems. This course focuses on reading and understanding the Critique alongside selected critical works. Working closely with the text, we will understand Kant's arguments, their significance, and the problems that they generated. 

PH352F: INDEPENDENT STUDY

30 credits

Level 3

Second Sub Session

Each student will choose a specific topic of interest to them. (These choices will be confirmed by / negotiated with the department). With supervision and direction from elected supervisors, the student will produce an extended essay of 5,000 words.

PH352G: GLOBAL JUSTICE

15 credits

Level 3

Second Sub Session

Do citizens in developed countries, like the UK, have a demanding moral duty to help needy people in developing countries? Is there anything wrong with showing a bias towards our own less needy family and fellow citizens? How much should be done to limit climate change and how should the burdens of this effort be divided among different countries? What responsibilities, if any, do we have to future generations? When, if ever, is war justified and what conduct in war is morally acceptable? In responding to these questions, we will attempt to develop an account of what international justice requires

PH352U: PHILOSOPHICAL TEXTS 2

15 credits

Level 3

Second Sub Session

The aim of ‘Philosophical Texts’ courses is to spend a semester engaged in close reading of an influential and accessible philosophical text. This course focuses on David Hume’s Enquiries Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751/1777). Hume’s work exerts a strong influence in contemporary ethics and related disciplines (eg. philosophy of action, the free will debate, etc) Topics covered will include: how moral reasoning works; the possibility of free will and its relation to moral responsibility; subjectivism and relativism about morality. Classroom sessions take the form of student led seminars, with supporting material from the lecture delivered via MyAberdeen

PH354D: RESEARCH RELATED SUBJECT 1

30 credits

Level 3

Second Sub Session

Research Related Subject 1 - The Metaphysics of Possible Worlds. In almost any area of contemporary philosophy, eventually you'll encounter talk of possible worlds. Physicalism, counterfactuals, necessity and possibility, propositions, mental content are often analyzed in terms of possible worlds. What should we make of this possible worlds talk? Should we take it as literal truth? Is there really a possible world in which I'm a concert violist? If so, what sorts of things are possible worlds? Are they concrete spacetimes or abstract representations? Or is possible worlds talk a useful fiction? We’ll consider this and more.

PH35ZR: ADVANCED LOGIC

30 credits

Level 3

Second Sub Session

In Reason & Argument, you learnt about logic with the aim of building skills to enhance your reasoning by applying logical techniques to language and argument. This course has a very different goal. Rather than applying reason and logic to problems in general, we are going to make reason itself the object of our investigation. The course is mainly concerned with one problem: how powerful is reason? What can we expect from it and what are its limitations? This leads us to two of the most important results in twentieth century logic: completeness theorem and Gödel’s incompleteness theorem

PH4015: PHILOSOPHY OF PHYSICS

30 credits

Level 4

First Sub Session

The course will focus on the main topics in contemporary philosophy of physics, namely philosophy of quantum mechanics, philosophy of space-time and philosophy of statistical mechanics (in varying proportions - or alternation - from year to year). In 2014-15 the main topic will be quantum mechanics. Previous familiarity with these physical theories will not be assumed.

PH402D: PHILOSOPHY DISSERTATION

30 credits

Level 4

Both Sessions

The dissertation is on a topic in philosophy. The specific topic will be chosen by the student with the approval of the supervisor. The choice of topics is restricted insofar as it must fall within the teaching competence of the supervisor.

PH403Y: PHILOSOPHY OF BIOLOGY

30 credits

Level 4

First Sub Session

Over the last decades philosophy of biology has matured into a dynamic field of philosophical inquiry. Apart from reflecting on specific findings and controversies within the life sciences, such inquiry can shed light on debates in general philosophy of science and philosophy of mind. This course examines both classical topics and more recent developments. It will address questions such as: Do genes really carry information or is this just a metaphor? What does it mean to say that the function of the heart is to pump blood? Are biological species natural kinds? Do animals have beliefs and desires? 

PH404B: SCEPTICISM

15 credits

Level 4

First Sub Session

The advanced course in epistemology focuses on the recent philosophical debate on scepticism. We will single out prominent forms of scepticism and explore attempts to respond to them. The emphasis will be on external world scepticism and responses to it, including rejection of epistemic closure, perceptual dogmatism, infallibilism, contextualism and appeal to modal considerations. The course doesn't aim to reject scepticism. Its function is, rather, that of illuminating and critically discussing problems affecting our most basic theses, notions and intuitions in epistemology through the analysis of sceptical arguments. 

PH4054: KANTS CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON

30 credits

Level 4

First Sub Session

Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781) is one of the most important works of Western philosophy. Kant focuses on what we can and cannot know, transforming concepts of freedom, God, self, and nature along the way. In resolving the impasse between rationalism and empiricism, Kant set out a new approach to epistemology and metaphysics called transcendental idealism. This fundamental turning-point in philosophy also generated some enduring problems. This course focuses on reading and understanding the Critique alongside selected critical works. Working closely with the text, we will understand Kant's arguments, their significance, and the problems that they generated. 

PH4057: CURRENT ISSUES IN EPISTEMOLOGY

15 credits

Level 4

First Sub Session

This advanced course in epistemology offers a critical overview of hot issues currently debated. We will first investigate the apparently intractable problems of bootstrapping and easy knowledge. We will then focus on phenomenal conservatism (possibly the most general conception of epistemic justification nowadays). We will assess its advantages and disadvantages. In the second part of the course we will consider topics in social epistemology, such as testimony and disagreement. We will also critically survey current explanations of how we attain modal knowledge (i.e. knowledge of what is possible and impossible).

PH452F: RESEARCH RELATED SPECIAL SUBJECT 2

15 credits

Level 4

Second Sub Session

Research Related Special Subject 2 (Kripke's Naming & Necessity). Close study of Saul Kripke’s Naming and Necessity (1972) serves as an ideal introduction to many contemporary debates in analytic philosophy. We will concentrate in particular on Kripke’s work in philosophy of language and metaphysics. Kripke’s work sets the agenda for a variety of debates in these areas. In philosophy of language, we will focus on what he has to say about the nature of reference, meaning and truth. In metaphysics, we will focus on what he has to say about the nature of possible but non-actual states of affairs. 

PH454D: RESEARCH RELATED SUBJECT 1

30 credits

Level 4

Second Sub Session

Research Related Subject 1 - The Metaphysics of Possible Worlds. In almost any area of contemporary philosophy, eventually you'll encounter talk of possible worlds. Physicalism, counterfactuals, necessity and possibility, propositions,mental content are often analyzed in terms of possible worlds. What should we make of this possible worlds talk? Should we take it as literal truth? Is there really a possible world in which I'm a concert violist? If so, what sorts of things are possible worlds? Are they concrete spacetimes or abstract representations? Or is possible worlds talk a useful fiction? We’ll consider this and more.

PH45AV: ANCIENT ETHICS

15 credits

Level 4

Second Sub Session

Do we always have an overriding reason to be moral? Would we have such a reason if we were guaranteed that we could get away with doing evil? What is the difference between a good and a bad person? What is the difference between a good and a bad life? How important is pleasure to happiness? To what extent is our happiness up to us? What is the relationship between virtue and happiness? Can virtue be taught? This course will attempt to address these questions through close-reading and discussion of responses offered by three philosophical giants: Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato

PH45ZR: ADVANCED LOGIC

30 credits

Level 4

Second Sub Session

In Reason & Argument, you learnt about logic with the aim of building skills to enhance your reasoning by applying logical techniques to language and argument. This course has a very different goal. Rather than applying reason and logic to problems in general, we are going to make reason itself the object of our investigation. The course is mainly concerned with one problem: how powerful is reason? What can we expect from it and what are its limitations? This leads us to two of the most important results in twentieth century logic: completeness theorem and Gödel’s incompleteness theorem

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