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Course Description

PHIL 0002 - A

In this course, we will focus on four issues: the mind-body problem; the nature and existence of God; knowledge and skepticism; and freewill and determinism.  Other issues will arise along the way.  The aims are fourfold.  First, to develop a sense of how puzzling, fascinating, and problematic some of these traditional issues in philosophy really are.  Second, to gain some acquaintance with, and understanding of, the various positions taken and methods employed by some of the greatest philosophers on these issues.  Third, to develop the ability to think rigorously and critically both in philosophy and beyond.  Finally—something that is often thought to be impossible in introductory courses—really to do some philosophy ourselves.

The readings come from ancient, modern, and contemporary sources.  We will read Plato’s Apology and Meno in full, and most of Descartes’ Meditations.  We will also read selections from Sextus Empiricus, Anselm, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Ryle, Ayer, Chisholm, and Armstrong.  Although we will look at these in their approximate chronological order, the approach in this course will be problem-centered rather than historical: we will concentrate on live philosophical problems rather than studying intellectual history.

PHIL 0002 - B

The major types of philosophical thought and the central problems of philosophy are presented through study of some classic texts of the great philosophers.

This introduction to philosophy will focus on topics about freedom and free will. We’ll begin with debates about determinism and indeterminism. Namely, if we are living in a deterministic world, is this still compatible with us having free will? The answers we give to these theoretical questions will influence our view about moral responsibility and agency. Some of the questions we will ask will include: What is the significance of free will for our moral actions? Is free action necessarily the most rational action? Why is freedom worth having? Is freedom something we necessarily want? What role does “moral luck” play in mitigating our freedom and responsibility? If love and personal attachments are in some sense not entirely up to us, are they compatible with having free will? How do uncontrollable addictions and compulsions compromise our freedom?

Finally, we’ll explore what notion of personal identity is necessary for free action. Does personal identity reside in memories (consciousness) or the body? This will lead us to a discussion of how the very concept of a person evolves. Who/what counts as a person? Does the concept of human identity require a sharp contrast with animal and machine identity? Consider, in times of slavery, some humans counted as human persons, others did not. We’ll end of the course with a look at the impact of evolutionary biological concepts and biological determinism on so-called “Enlightenment” philosophers’ views on abolition of slavery and Social Darwinism.

To gauge the strengths/weaknesses of philosophical theories, we will use case study method: that is, we will apply our concepts to problems as they arise in the society we actually live in. Can abstract theories of freedom resolve real life conflict situations that impact of freedom (or the lack of it). For example, freedom of speech and censorship; abolition of slavery; modern forms of slavery, and punishment and the prison system.

The way to learn how to write good philosophy is just to do it. For this reason, this course is writing intensive. The ability to think clearly and critically is central to philosophy, and thinking is inextricably bound up with writing clearly and critically. This skill is learnable and perfectly general: It will serve you well in any field of endeavor that demands a rigorous way of thinking and writing that is guided by human values.

Basic Enrollment Requirements: 

Academic Year (Fall/Spring): Unofficial Transcript – High School Diploma or current high school transcript (for high school students only in applicable classes), Bachelor’s Degree, or progress towards a Bachelor’s Degree + 3.0 GPA.

Summer: None

Refund Policy: The refund policy for Courses at Tufts offerings is dependent on the offering type: whether the offering is a course, workshop or short course, or in-demand offering. Please refer to the section details to confirm the type of offering as well as any exceptions to the standard refund policy. The refund policies for each offering type are viewable here:

Remission Eligible: Yes; first day of term; all university policies apply.

Affiliated With:

  • School of Arts & Sciences