Introduction to Philosophy

This course introduces you to philosophy through sound and stories. The podcast Hi-Phi Nation looks into the world of everyday life, law, science, and the arts to find stories with a philosophical conflict. Our task in this course is to examine those conflicts in depth and to learn about how to think and write about them. (Companion readings are in progress.)

Metaphysics,  Mind, and Language

  • The Name of God*-One woman claims that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, so we examine what it means for that to be true or false. (Companion texts, Frege’s On Sense and Reference, Lecture 1 of Kripke’s Naming and Necessity)
  • Drowned at Sea*-According to legend, a man was drowned at sea for proving the existence of irrational numbers. We examine the cult he was a part of, and figure out whether mathematical objects really can be proven to exist. (Companion text, Plato’s The Meno and The Phaedo)
  • The Illusionist*-Deep into one of his symphonies, Tchaikovsky scored a passage to contain a musical illusion. Why he put it there, and what sound illusions say about the human mind. (Companion text: Norwood Russell Hanson’s “Seeing and Seeing-As”, Chapter 1 of Russell’s Problems of Philosophy, “Appearance and Reality”)
  • The Self and Survival-A woman remembers a past life, and a psychiatrist decides to study children who report past lives, opening up the question of whether anyone can survive the death of the body. (Companion text; Perry’s A Dialogue Concerning Personal Identity and Immortality. Bernard William’s “The Self and The Future.”)

Belief and Science

  • Creed and Credences-Dave travels the world looking for prehistoric creatures to prove young-earth Creationism, and we examine whether there is a difference between scientific and religious belief. (Companion Readings: Popper on falsificationism, Eric Schwitzgebel’s “A Phenomenal, Dispositional Account of Belief,” Excerpts from Duhem’s The Aim and Structure of Scientific Theory and Quine’s “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” for the Quine-Duhem thesis).
  • Hackademics Part 1*-We follow researchers studying psychic and telepathic phenomena to try and draw the boundaries between science and pseudoscience. (Companion Readings: Bem’s “Feeling the Future,” Popper on falsificationism, Hempel on deductive-nomological theory of hypothesis testing.)
  • Hackademics Part 2*-We examine the use of statistics and “statistical significance” in the human sciences to figure out just what to believe. (Companion Readings: “Ionnidis’ “Why Most Published Research Findings are False”, Michael Strevens, What is Bayesianism in Philosophy of Science”)
  • The Ashes of Truth-Errol Morris had an astray thrown at him for challenging Thomas Kuhn, so we look at that dispute and Kuhn’s contributions to the philosophy of science. (Companion Readings: Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolution)
  • The Chamber of Facts*-Do people of different political parties live in alternative realities? We look at the research, and the theory of belief, that suggest the answer to be complicated. (Companion Readings:  Tom Kelly’s “Disagreement, Dogmatism, and Belief Polarization,” Emily C. McWilliams’ “Evidentialism and Belief Polarization, Eric Schwitzgebel’s “A Phenomenal, Dispositional Account of Belief”)

Life, Death, and Meaning

  • Redemption in the DDU-The story of a man sent to solitary confinement in Massachusetts, and the existentialist questions about humanity and dehumanization. (excerpts from de Beauvoir and Levinas.)
  • The Wishes of the Dead*-The story of the Hershey chocolate fortune, and why the state enforces the wishes of the dead contrary to those of the living. (Companion readings: excerpts from Scheffler’s Death and the Afterlife.)
  • A Better Love– The philosophy of love by looking at motherly love at every stage, the new mom, the mother of teenagers, to the mother preparing her child for her own death. (Companion readings: Susan Wolf’s “The Meaning of Life”, and “The Importance of Love”)
  • Bottom of the Curve-Happiness takes an inevitable dip during mid-life, requiring us to consider the value and shape of our lives when facing the importance and inevitability of death. (excerpts from Kieran Setiya’s Midlife, a Philosophical Guide)
  • Yolo Apologetics-Two college buddies enter the Malaysian jungle looking to find the true meaning of YOLO, and one philosopher examines what “you only live once” actually requires.

Music and Aesthetics

  • The Cops of Pop-The invention and proliferation of the mash-up meets Theodor Adorno on popular music. (Companion text: Adorno’s “On Popular Music” and Horkheimer and Adorno’s “The Culture Industry”)
  • Cover Me Softly*-The curious history of “Killing Me Softly” and what the cover song says about the developing metaphysics of musical artwork. (Accompanying readings: Andrew Kania’s “Works, Recordings, Performances,” in addition to the article mentioned in the podcast.)

The Theory of Gender

  • Be a Man*-How much are gender-norms derivable from social demands for violence and reproduction? We look at the case of warrior masculinity and women in the military.
  • For Women Only Part 1-Our first part on gender ontology by looking at the origins of radical feminist critiques of transgenderism and the founding of transgender studies.
  • For Women Only Part 2-The second part on gender ontology, focusing on the gender-identity certificates in the UK and the many definitions of “woman” over the various waves of feminism.
  • Companion Readings for this unit: Gender and militarism reading on show page for “Be a Man.” Asta Sveinsdottir, “The Metaphysics of Sex and Gender”, Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (introduction and Part 2), Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (excerpts), Iris Marion Young’s “Throwing like a Girl,” Martha Nussbaum, “The Professor of Parody,” Talia Mae Bettcher’s, “Trans Women and the Meaning of “Woman””, C.L. Moore, “No Woman Born” (short story), Charlotte Witt’s, The Metaphysics of Gender (excerpts), Sally Haslanger, “Race and Gender: (What) Are they? (What) Do we Want Them to be?”

Social and Political Philosophy

  • No Offense-A man sues another for calling him a racial slur, and the tricky balance between harm and freedom of speech in two political societies. (Companion Readings: Nigel Warburton’s “Free Speech: A Very Short Introduction,”, other readings on show page.)
  • Freedom and Hostile Design*-A theory of awesomeness and suckiness, and how it manifest in urban design against homelessness (Jeremy Waldron’s Homelessness and the Issue of Freedom.)
  • The Demons of Democracy*-We go into democratic schools, and look at American voters, to see whether decision-making in the hands of the ignorant is good or bad. (Companion Readings: Annabelle Lever’s “Compulsory Voting: A Critical Perspective”, Piero Moraro’s “Against Epistocracy”)
  • Uncivil Disobedience-Vegan activism in Australia is getting disruptive and uncivil. Do causes ever justify the means? (Companion Readings: excerpts from Kimberly Brownlee’s Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience, and excerpts from Candace Delmas’ The Duty to Resist: When Disobedience Should be Uncivil.)
  • Willful Acts*-Two cases of litigation on whether addiction should be an excuse in the law, and the disease/choice distinction in the theory of action. (Companion Readings: Hanna Picard’s “The Puzzle of Addiction,” Harold Kincaid and Jacqueline Anne Sullivan’s “Medical Models of Addiction,” Michael S. Moore “Addiction and Responsibility.”)
  • Punishment without End-The story of a girl picked up for cocaine trafficking, and whether collateral consequences after prison should count as part of official punishment. (Zachary Hoskins’ “Criminalization and the Collateral Consequences of Conviction.“)
  • Justice and Retribution-Prison abolitionism and its philosophical basis; the case for and against retributive justice. (Companion readings: Michael S. Moore, “The Moral Worth of Retribution,” Heidi Hurd, ‘The Morality of Mercy’)