317 courses ePortfolio Forums Blog FAQ

Introduction to Philosophy

Purpose of Course  showclose

This course will introduce you to the major topics, problems, and methods of philosophy and surveys the writings of a number of major historical figures in the field. Philosophy can be – and has been – defined in many different ways by many different thinkers. In a scholarly sense, philosophy is the study of the history of human thought. It requires familiarity with great ideas understood through the various major thinkers in world history. In its most general sense, philosophy is simply the investigation of life’s “big questions.” We will explore such fundamental questions in several of the core areas of philosophy, including metaphysics, epistemology, political philosophy, ethics, and the philosophy of religion. With the help of commentaries and discussions from a number of contemporary philosophers, we will read and reflect on texts by major Western and non-Western thinkers including Lao Tzu, Buddha, Confucius, Plato, Aristotle, Saint Anselm, René Descartes, Blaise Pascal, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Hobbes, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, and Bertrand Russell.

This course aims to not only familiarize  you with philosophers and problems but to also improve your ability to think critically about the issues, develop your own ideas about them, and express these ideas clearly and persuasively in writing. Unit 1 introduces philosophy as a discipline and provides a sense of its subject matter and methodology. Unit 2 addresses topics in metaphysics and epistemology – traditionally the “core” areas of philosophy. Units 2, 3, and 4 cover moral, political, and religious philosophy, respectively. Each unit presents selections from a set of philosophers whose works are traditionally compared on the same themes in order to set up contrasting approaches and opinions.

Course Information  showclose

Welcome to Philosophy 101.  Below, please find general information on this course and its requirements.
 
Course Designers: Nikolaus Fogle, Ph.D., Renmin University of China and Chad Redwing, Ph.D., University of Chicago

Primary Resources: This course is composed of a wide range of free online materials. However, the following course content relies heavily on the following sources: Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all its assigned materials. This includes assessments within each unit as well as at the end of this course. You will also need to complete:
  • The Final Exam 
Note that you will only receive an official grade on your Final Exam. However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to work through all the course readings, lectures, web media, and assessments in each unit.
 
In order to “pass” this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the Final Exam. Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.
 
Time Commitment: This course should take you approximately 141 hours to complete. Each unit includes a “Time Advisory” that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit. These should help you plan your time accordingly. It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories and to determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit, and then to set goals for yourself. For example, Unit 1 should take you 11.25 hours to complete. Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete Subunit 1.1.1 and Subunit 1.1.2 (a total of 4.75 hours) on Monday night; Subunit 1.1.3 and Subunit 1.1.4 (a total of 2 hours) on Tuesday night; Subunit 1.2 and the Assessment (a total of 4.5 hours) on Wednesday night; and so forth.
 
Tips/SuggestionsTry to take comprehensive notes as you work through the resources in this course. These notes will serve as a useful review as you study and prepare for your Final Exam. Finally, you will find it useful to use the following “Philosophy: Glossary of Technical Terms” throughout this course.
 
Reading: University of Aberdeen’s “Philosophy: Glossary of Technical Terms”
 
Link: University of Aberdeen’s “Philosophy: Glossary of Technical Terms (HTML)
 
Instructions: You may choose to peruse this glossary, but you do not need to read this entire glossary straight through.  Instead, save it as a bookmark in your web browser for consultation throughout this course.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

 
A version of this course is also available in iTunes U.
Preview the course
 in your browser or view our entire suite of iTunes U courses.

Learning Outcomes  showclose

Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to:
  • Identify and describe the major areas of philosophical inquiry, explain how those areas differ from and relate to one another, and place the views and arguments of major philosophical figures within those thematic categories;
  • Use philosophical terminology correctly and consistently;
  • Identify and describe the views of a number of major philosophers and articulate how these views are created in response to general philosophical problems or to the views of other philosophers;
  • Explain the broad outlines of the history of philosophy as a framework that can be applied in more advanced courses;
  • Identify strengths and weaknesses in the arguments philosophers have put forward for their views and formulate objections and counterarguments of your own invention; and
  • Apply critical thinking and reasoning skills in a wide range of career paths and courses of study.

Course Requirements  showclose

In order to take this course, you must:

√    Have access to a computer.

√    Have continuous broadband Internet access.

√    Have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g., Adobe Reader or Flash).

√    Have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer.

√    Have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.).

√    Have competency in the English language.

√    Have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

√    Have completed ENGL001 and ENGL002.

Unit Outline show close


Expand All Resources Collapse All Resources
  • Unit 1: What Is Philosophy?  

    What is philosophy all about, and why should we study it? The second question is easier to answer than the first. Studying philosophy gives us insight into the world and our place within it and thus provides us with a guide for conducting our lives. Understood as the history of human thought, philosophy relates to the beginning of nearly every other major academic discipline - from physics to psychology, from religious studies to biology, and so on. Not only does philosophy force us to think hard about difficult and fundamental questions, it also teaches us how to think - providing us with analytical skills we can use in many other areas. As for the question of what philosophy is about, it is helpful to begin, as many great philosophers have, with the idea that the nature of philosophy is itself a matter for philosophical debate. Phrasing it this way gives us a sense of what to expect throughout this course, because whatever particular topics philosophers are concerned with, their practice is always one of questioning. Philosophers from many different time periods and cultures have asked questions and tried to answer these questions in ways that can be compared and contrasted. For example, some philosophers believed that true knowledge came from contemplation and understanding of the human mind, while others felt that reliable knowledge came from sensory experiences and testing ideas against the physical world. The following are some questions philosophers might consider: How do I know that what I believe is true? What is the difference between right and wrong? What makes an action just? What makes a painting beautiful? Does God exist? Are ideas and concepts more “real,” or is physical matter more “real?” What happens to us after we die? What kind of government is justified? In this unit, we will look at the question “What does it mean to study philosophy?”

    Unit 1 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 1 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 1.1 The Value of Philosophy  
  • 1.1.1 Why Study Philosophy?  
    • Lecture: Wayne State University: Dr. John Corvino's “Why Study Philosophy?”

      Link: Wayne State University: Dr. John Corvino's: “Why Study Philosophy?” (Flash)
       
      Instructions: Watch this brief video for an introduction to philosophical inquiry. The anecdote that Dr. Corvino uses in this video demonstrates that we hold a lot of beliefs out of habit and circumstance, not necessarily because we have good reasons to believe it. Philosophy is essential in order to question the validity of our beliefs and provide better explanations for them.

      Watchig this video and taking notes should take approximately 10 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the video source page at Wayne State University's website.

    • Lecture: BigThink.com: Rutgers University: Dr. Tim Maudlin’s: “The Value of Philosophy in Our Daily Lives”

      Link: BigThink.com: Rutgers University: Dr. Tim Maudlin’s: “The Value of Philosophy in Our Daily Lives (Adobe Flash)
       
      Instructions: Watch this video, approximately 3 minutes, for Dr. Maudlin’s take on the importance of philosophy in our lives. His comments are reminiscent of G. K. Chesterton, who once said that “the most practical and important thing” about someone is his or her “view of the universe.” We are all mortal, and until each and every one of us grapples with the largest of existential questions - “Who are we?” “Where did we come from?” and “Where are we going?” - we have not lived, we are not prepared to die, and we surely are not well educated. 

      Watching this video and taking notes should take approximately 10 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Lecture: BigThink.com: Princeton University: Dr. Kwame Anthony Appiah’s: “What Does a Philosopher Do?”

      Link: BigThink.com: Princeton University: Dr. Kwame Anthony Appiah’s: “What Does a Philosopher Do? (Adobe Flash)
       
      Instructions: Watch this video, approximately 10 minutes, for Dr. Appiah’s comments on the work of philosophy.

      Watching this video and pausing to take notes should take approximately 20 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 1.1.2 The Intrinsic Value of Philosophical Investigation for Aristotle  
    • Web Media: YouTube: AudibleSuperfan: Will Durant’s “Aristotle’s Ethics, the Nature of Happiness and the Golden Mean”

      Link: YouTube: AudibleSuperfan: Will Durant’s “Aristotle’s Ethics, the Nature of Happiness and the Golden Mean” (YouTube)
       
      Instructions: Watch this video, approximately 6 minutes, on Aristotle’s argument for the pursuit of happiness via philosophical engagement with the world and the practice of “the golden mean.” 
       
      Watching this video and taking notes should take approximately 15 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: Aristotle’s Metaphysics: Book I

      Link: Aristotle’s Metaphysics: Book I (HTML)
       
      Instruction: Read Book I from Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Note that Aristotle both describes philosophy as a way of gaining knowledge and advises us on the best type of life or the happiest type of life. He finds that philosophy gives each individual a chance to cultivate their best possible self. In practicing philosophy, one learns to act with certain intellectual virtues and moral virtues, and being virtuous leads to a happy, flourishing life.
       
      Studying and reading this text should take approximately 4 hours.
       
      Terms of Use: This material is in the public domain.

  • 1.1.3 The Intrinsic Value of Philosophical Investigation for Descartes  
    • Lecture: BBC Radio: Melvyn Bragg’s: “Cogito Ergo Sum”

      Link: BBC Radio: Melvyn Bragg’s “Cogito Ergo Sum” (Adobe Flash)
       
      Instructions: Click on the link above and select the “Listen Now” icon. Listen to this discussion about one of the most famous statements in philosophy: Descartes’s “Cogito ergo sum.”
       
      Listening to this broadcast should take approximately 1 hour.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 1.1.4 The Intrinsic Value of Philosophical Investigation for Bertrand Russell  
    • Reading: Bertrand Russell’s: The Problems of Philosophy: “Chapter XV: The Value of Philosophy”

      Link: Bertrand Russell’s The Problems of Philosophy: “Chapter XV: The Value of Philosophy (PDF)
       

      Instructions: Click on the link above to access the PDF file. Read the text (4 pages) for an argument that philosophical investigation is intrinsically valuable. This essay is drawn from a work by the famous twentieth century British philosopher Bertrand Russell. While the traditional view of philosophy is that it should be valued for the truths it reveals, Russell makes a case that its real value lies in the pursuit of truth and the critical attitude it helps its practitioners to develop.

      Studying this text should take approximately 1 hour.
       
      Terms of Use: This material is in the public domain.

  • 1.2 The Philosophical Landscape  
  • 1.2.1 The Main Areas of Philosophy  
  • 1.2.2 What Is an Argument?  
    • Reading: University of Tennessee at Martin’s Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Argument”

      Link: University of Tennessee at Martin’s Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Argument (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read this webpage for a better understanding of the features of a philosophical argument. An argument is the principal method that enables a philosopher to develop his or her views. Arguments may take a wide variety of forms; they may be linked with or dependent on other arguments, but they always proceed from a set of assumptions and attempt to establish a conclusion. 
       
      Reading this text should take approximately 30 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 1.2.3 Guidelines for Writing Philosophy Papers  
  • 1.2.4 Review the Glossary of Technical Terms in Philosophy  
    • Reading: Jim Pryor’s “Philosophical Terms and Methods”

      Link: Jim Pryor’s “Philosophical Terms and Methods” (HTML)

      Instructions: Before you begin your first assessment for this course, you may wish to make certain you are familiar with this resource. Remember to save it as a bookmark in your web browser for consultation throughout this course, especially prior to each assessment.

      Here is a special tip about what you should look for in the terms: philosophers often use terms in different ways, and especially in ways that do not quite match common usage. For example, while in common speech “a logical reason” means something like “a reason that makes sense” or “a reason that sounds reasonable,” in philosophy “a logical reason” typically means “a reason related to a technical result in the theory of logic.” Pay special attention to other terms that have specialized meanings in philosophy, and be sure to refer back to this resource throughout the course. 

      Reviewing this resource should take approximately 30 minutes. 

      Terms of Use: This resource is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license. It is attributed to Jim Pryor.

  • Unit 1: Assessment  
    • Assessment: The Saylor Foundation’s: “Assessment #1”

      Link: The Saylor Foundation’s: “Assessment #1” (PDF)
       
      Instructions: This assessment will ask you to interact with a variety of philosophical arguments as to the importance and value of philosophy.  Check your responses here.

      Completing this assessment should take approximately 1 hour.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages above.

  • Unit 2: Metaphysics and Epistemology  

    One of the traditional philosophical questions, “What, if anything, really exists?” has been addressed in a variety of different time periods in history. Philosophy can perhaps be understood as a great conversation, with different philosophers sharing ideas and trying to answer each other’s skeptical doubts across time periods and cultures. In seeking answers to the ultimate questions of existence and knowledge, philosophers looked for their answers in different ways. Some philosophers believed that the method we use to gain knowledge is most important; that method might involve reason and thinking (rationalism) or sensory interaction with the world around us (empiricism). Philosophers also developed theories of what is truly “real” or what we have knowledge of; some philosophers found that ideas and concepts are known (idealism) and others found that matter, substance, or atoms are what we know (idealism). What is there that we can be sure is not just an appearance, an illusion, or a useful fiction? Do atoms really exist? What about such abstract entities as beauty and justice? Most of us are fairly certain that the objects we see and touch - such ordinary things as tables and chairs, pieces of cake, and other people - really exist. But what if even these familiar features of our world are mere phantoms? What if the only entity that truly exists is one’s own mind? Metaphysics is the area of philosophy that tries to specify the conditions for something being real. Once you begin to consider the question of what really exists, you will notice that a second question immediately presents itself: “How do you know?” This is the central question of epistemology. Epistemology is the area of philosophy devoted to finding out what knowledge itself is and how it works. How do we know when we obtain actual knowledge and not something else - something considered “weaker,” such as belief, opinion, or, worse, just plain ignorance? What characteristics do our thoughts require in order to qualify as genuine knowledge? Most of the time, questions in metaphysics and epistemology go hand in hand, and they have to be tackled together.
     
    In this unit, we will examine some of the most influential metaphysical and epistemological theories in the history of philosophy. One of the major issues that philosophers in both the East and West discussed was the difference between what we see around us and what is real, eternal, unchanging, and true. The philosopher, Lao Tzu, discussed the apparent impermanence and imperfection of the world and addressed issues of insincerity in interpersonal relationships in the Tao Te Ching. Just a few hundred years later, the Greek philosopher Plato wrote of the cave allegory in The Republic - the cave is a thought experiment that neatly demonstrates the distinction between appearance and reality as well as the difficulty of discerning which is which. It is a fascinating point of continuity and comparison that philosophers in both the Eastern and Western traditions were concerned with impermanence and the idea that appearances can deceive us. We will then examine the problem of where our knowledge comes from - whether it comes from within us or from outside sources. Our guides in this debate will be René Descartes and John Locke, the principal advocates of rationalism and empiricism, respectively. We will also see that the rationalism and empiricism of Descartes and Locke was met with a skeptical response by David Hume. Next, we will look at the writings of Immanuel Kant, the thinker credited with introducing the most sweeping revolution in how we conceptualize knowledge and reality. Finally, we will investigate George Berkeley, whose immaterialism compares to the ancient Chinese tradition of Daoist metaphysics and epistemology that we began our unit with, as seen in Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching.

    Unit 2 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 2 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 2.1 Overview of Metaphysics and Epistemology  
    • Lecture: iTunes U: University of Oxford: Dr. Marianne Talbot’s: “Metaphysics and Epistemology”

      Link: iTunes U: University of Oxford: Dr. Marianne Talbot’s “Metaphysics and Epistemology” (iTunes U)
       
      Instructions: Click on the link above and select “View in iTunes” for the lecture titled “Metaphysics and Epistemology.” Ensure to take notes on the terms introduced. This lecture provides an overview of metaphysics and epistemology in a conversational style. It also discusses Descartes’s skeptical arguments, which we shall return to later in this unit.
       
      Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 2.2 Daoist (or Taoist) Metaphysics and Epistemology  
  • 2.2.1 Outline of the Daoist Philosophical Tradition  
    • Reading: University of Evansville: Dr. Mike Carson’s “Reflections on the Tao Te Ching

      Link: University of Evansville: Dr. Mike Carson’s “Reflections on the Tao Te Ching” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read this webpage for a sense of Daoism’s distinctive approach to philosophical practice. Notice that Daoism is averse to the type of rational discourse characteristic of Western metaphysics and epistemology. The Daoists would likely regard the precise rationality of Plato and Kant as a sign that they were far from “the way.”
       
      Studying this reading should take approximately 30 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: University of Tennessee at Martin’s Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. Ronnie Littlejohn’s “Daoist Philosophy”

      Link: University of Tennessee at Martin’s Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. Ronnie Littlejohn’s “Daoist Philosophy” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read sections 1 - 8 about Daoist philosophy. Dr. Littlejohn provides an account of the historical and intellectual origins of Daoism as well as a summary of its basic concepts. Pay special attention to the ideas presented about the limitations of human knowledge. This notion echoes Kant’s Copernican revolution but leads to a starkly different outlook on life.
       
      Studying this resource should take approximately 1 hour.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 2.2.2 The Tao Te Ching: A Metaphysics beyond Words  
    • Lecture: iTunes U: Dr. Nigel Warburton: Philosophy: The Classics: “Plato - The Republic”

      Link: iTunes U: Dr. Nigel Warburton: Philosophy: The Classics: “Plato - The Republic (iTunes U)
       
      Instructions: Scroll down to Lecture #18 (approximately 26 minutes). Listen to this lecture about Plato’s dialogue The Republic. Dr. Warburton provides historical background for Plato’s text and explains how the famous cave allegory leads him to articulate his theory of the forms. According to Plato, the world of forms really exists, while the world of appearances - the ordinary world we all inhabit - is merely a copy.

      Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 2.2.3 The Zhuangzi: Epistemology Is a Matter of Perspective  
  • 2.2.4 The Zhuangzi: Epistemology Is a Matter of Perspective  
    • Reading: Patricia Ebrey: Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook: “Selection from The Zhuangzi

      Link: Patricia Ebrey: Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook: “Selection from The Zhuangzi (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read this webpage. These selections are from the second major work of Daoism. Pay close attention to the second and third selections. Here, knowledge is presented as uncertain and dependent on one’s perspective. Notice that Zhuangzi seems to accept this conclusion. It does not pose a major problem as it did for Descartes. The Zhuangzi is simply titled after its originator: Zhuangzi, who lived during the fourth century B.C.

      Reading this webpage should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 2.3 Metaphysics and Epistemology in Plato  
  • 2.3.1 Plato’s Historical and Intellectual Context  
  • 2.3.2 Introducing Plato's The Republic  
    • Lecture: iTunes U: Dr. Nigel Warburton’s Philosophy: The Classics: “Plato - The Republic”

      Link: iTunes U: Dr. Nigel Warburton’s Philosophy: The Classics: “Plato - The Republic” (iTunes U)
       
      Instructions: Click on the link above and select “View in iTunes” for the lecture titled “Plato - The Republic.” Listen to this entire lecture about Plato’s dialogue The Republic.

      Dr. Warburton provides historical background for Plato’s text and explains how the famous cave allegory leads him to articulate his theory of the forms. Plato uses the story of the cave to illustrate how appearances can be deceiving: imagine people who have been imprisoned and raised their whole life in a cave, only seeing images and shadows on the wall of the cave, never experiencing the full richness of life outside the cave. The average person lives this way, with their senses as their only means of gaining knowledge. Real knowledge, of higher ideals, ethical concepts, and perfect truth is in the realm of the forms outside the cave. If the philosopher dares to break free from the cave, sees the forms outside, and tries to explain what they are like to the others in the cave, then he will understandably be skeptical and resist this new understanding of the “real” world.  According to Plato, the world of forms really exists, while the world of appearances - the ordinary world we all inhabit - is merely a copy. The philosopher plays a special role, calling our attention to the “more real” and more significant concepts that exist in the realm of the forms (concepts like truth, beauty, good, and justice).
       
      Listening to this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 45 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 2.3.3 Understanding Plato’s Aesthetics and Theory of Forms  
  • 2.3.4 Spinoza’s Response to Descartes  
  • 2.4 René Descartes and Rationalism  
  • 2.4.1 Descartes’s Historical and Intellectual Context  
  • 2.4.2 Descartes’s Rationalist Method of Doubt  
    • Reading: René Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy: “Meditation I.” and “Meditation II.”

      Links: René Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy: “Meditation I (PDF) and “Meditation II (PDF)
       
      Also available in:
      HTML (Meditation I)
      HTML (Meditation II)
       
      Instructions: Read these documents. Descartes wrote in such a way as to guide his readers carefully through his process of thought. He begins with questions many of us may have asked ourselves at one point or another: “How do I know I am not dreaming?” and “How do I know the world outside of me really exists?” As you read these webpages, take note of when you agree with Descartes and when you disagree with him. Descartes composed his Meditations in 1641 - a time when the traditional, religious, and scholastic worldviews were being replaced by modern, scientific ones. His writing is thus motivated by the desire to provide reasons for the phenomena he encounters in everyday life rather than accept them on the basis of faith or the authority of others.

      Reading these documents should take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: This material is in the public domain

  • 2.4.3 Understanding Descartes’s Meditations  
  • 2.5 John Locke and Empiricism  
  • 2.5.1 Rationalism vs. Empiricism  
    • Reading: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. Peter Markie: “Rationalism vs. Empiricism”

      Link: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. Peter Markie: “Rationalism vs. Empiricism (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read sections 1 - 3, which describe the rationalist and empiricist approaches to epistemology. This reading gives a sense of the epistemological issues at stake between Descartes and Locke. As a rationalist, Descartes believed that we can arrive at certain knowledge by reasoning from ideas we hold innately.  Locke, as an empiricist, held the contrary view that we do not possess any innate knowledge but acquire everything we know through experience.

      Reading this text and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 2.5.2 Locke against Innate Ideas  
    • Reading: John Locke: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding: “Book I, Chapter II”

      Link: John Locke: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding: “Book I, Chapter II (PDF)
       
      Also available in:
      HTML
       
      Instructions: Read this chapter from Locke’s major work on epistemology. This excerpt is taken from a vast work, published in 1689, in which Locke attempts to demonstrate how human beings build up elaborate systems of knowledge beginning from sense experience. He compares the mind of a child to a “yet empty cabinet,” which is then filled with all kinds of ideas originating from outside him. In order to get started, Locke has to debunk the popular notion - associated with Descartes and his followers - that some of our very first ideas are innate. 
       
      Reading this chapter and taking notes should take approximately 2 hours.

      Terms of Use: This material is in the public domain.

  • 2.5.3 Understanding Locke’s Essay  
    • Lecture: iTunes U: Dr. Nigel Warburton: Philosophy: The Classics: “Locke - Essay”

      Link: iTunes U: Dr. Nigel Warburton: Philosophy: The Classics: “Locke - Essay” (iTunes U)
       
      Instructions: Scroll down to #11 and then listen to the lecture about Locke’s Essay. Pay close attention to the contrasts Dr. Warburton sets up between Locke’s project and the rationalist philosophy he was reacting against. Locke’s theory of the origin of our ideas is a forerunner of “cultural relativism” - the view that people from different cultural backgrounds hold different and often incompatible beliefs. However, for Locke, the central importance of this observation is that because different cultures hold radically different ideas, human knowledge cannot rest on a basis of innate, universally held beliefs.

      Watching this lecture should take approximately 20 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Assessment: The Saylor Foundation’s: “Assessment #2”

      Link: The Saylor Foundation’s: “Assessment #2” (PDF)
       
      Instructions: This assessment will evaluate your understanding of Plato’s metaphysics and what is at stake between Descartes and Locke. Check your responses against the Answer Key.
       
      Completing this assessment should take approximately 1 hour.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages above.

  • 2.6 David Hume, Skepticism, and the Problem of Induction  
  • 2.6.1 Introduction to David Hume  
    • Reading: YouTube: University of Oxford: Peter Millian’s “Lecture 3.1 Introduction to David Hume”

      Link: YouTube: University of Oxford: Peter Millian’s “Lecture 3.1 Introduction to David Hume” (YouTube)
       
      Instructions: Click on the link above and view the lecture by Professor Millian on David Hume. Be sure to notice the way that Hume addresses skepticism about sensory experience as well as skepticism about ideas. Hume is famous for having described the problem of induction, in which relationships of cause and effect are frequently taken as given. Arguments based on cause and effect relationships are known in logic as “causal inferences,” and such cause and effect understanding of the world is considered necessary for science.
       
      Watching the lecture and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 2.6.2 Summary of David Hume's Major Arguments  
    • Reading: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. William Edward Morris’s “David Hume”

      Link: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. William Edward Morris’s “David Hume” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Click on the link above and read the sections 1 - 4 and 10 - 12 of these entries: “Life and Works,” “Some Interpretive Questions,” “The Treatise and the Enquiries,” “A Third Species of Philosophy,” “Causation and Inductive Inference: The Negative Phase,” “Causation and Inductive Inference: The Positive Phase,” and “Necessary Connection and the Definition of Cause.”  This will provide historical and biographical context for Hume’s philosophy and sets the stage for Hume’s skepticism as a motivation for the next philosopher’s response to skepticism, Immanuel Kant.
       
      Studying this reading should take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 2.6.4 Understanding The Zhuangzi  
  • 2.6.5 Western Philosophical Parallels to Eastern Philosophy  
  • 2.7 Immanuel Kant and the Copernican Revolution in Philosophy  
  • 2.7.1 Kant’s Historical Context and Preview of His Contribution  
    • Reading: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. Matt McCormick: “Kant: Metaphysics”

      Link: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. Matt McCormick: “Kant: Metaphysics” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read sections 1 - 3, which outline Kant’s revolutionary metaphysical theory. If the debate between the rationalists and empiricists boiled down to the question as to whether our ideas originate from within our minds or from outside of them, Kant rendered their dispute obsolete by posing a more radical question: “What makes it possible for us to have knowledge and experience at all?” Instead of our knowledge being the result of experience (as in Locke) or of reasoning from innate ideas (as in Descartes), knowledge and experience are the result of our possessing a single set of formal capacities, which Kant describes in technical language as the “synthetic a priori.” This reading offers a clear explanation of Kant’s so-called “Copernican revolution in philosophy.”

      Reading this text should take approximately 1 hour.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 2.7.2 Kant’s Copernican Revolution: Why Almost All Metaphysics Is Impossible  
    • Reading: Immanuel Kant: Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics: “Preamble on the Peculiarities of All Metaphysical Cognition”

      Link: Immanuel Kant: Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics: “Preamble on the Peculiarities of All Metaphysical Cognition” (PDF)
       
      Also available in:
      HTML
       
      Instructions: Read this webpage. Refer to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy reading in Subunit 2.5.1 for help with the distinctions Kant draws between synthetic and analytic judgments and a priori and a posteriori judgments. This preamble is the first section of Kant’s 1783 Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics - a book he conceived as a more accessible introduction to his major work: The Critique of Pure Reason. Kant’s general argument is that whatever is synthetic and a priori (including judgments about mathematics and natural science) lies within the boundaries of possible knowledge, while everything else (including judgments about whether there are limits to space and time, whether we have free will, and whether God exists) does not.
       
      Reading this text should take approximately 2 hours.

      Terms of Use: This material is in the public domain.

  • 2.7.3 Understanding Kant’s Copernican Revolution  
    • Lecture: iTunes U: Dr. Nigel Warburton: Philosophy: The Classics: “Kant - Critique of Pure Reason”

      Link: iTunes U: Dr. Nigel Warburton: Philosophy: The Classics: “Kant - Critique of Pure Reason” (iTunes U)
       
      Instructions: Scroll down to #6 and then listen to this lecture about Kant’s Copernican revolution in philosophy. Dr. Warburton focuses on Kant’s status as an idealist, meaning that he believes the world we know and experience is in fact actively produced by us by virtue of our possessing the right cognitive faculties.

      Listening to this lecture should take approximately 15 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 2.7.4 Kant as Enlightenment Thinker  
  • 2.7.5 Western Philosophical Parallels to Eastern Philosophy  
    • Reading: BBC: Andrew Robinson’s “George Berkeley, Empiricist Philosopher and Bishop”

      Link: BBC: Andrew Robinson’s “George Berkeley, Empiricist Philosopher and Bishop” (HTML)

      Instructions: Read the entire webpage. George Berkeley’s immaterialism - the belief in the ultimate unimportance of the material world - has some interesting parallels with Daoism and Eastern philosophy. Berkeley holds that what is real are “ideas,” understood specifically that perceptions held in the mind. His famous saying is “to be is to be perceived.” God guarantees the existence of everything and perceives everything, even when the individual person does not. Daoism also focuses on perception and the limitations of human understanding.  Read this webpage while pondering the similarities among Berkeley and The Zhuangzi andTao Te Ching. 

      Studying this article should take approximately 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyrights and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Unit 2: Assessment  
    • Assessment: The Saylor Foundation’s “Assessment #3”

      Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Assessment #3” (PDF)
       
      Instructions: Click on the link above and follow the instructions to complete the assessment. This assessment will evaluate your understanding of Kant’s Copernican revolution as well as the similarities and differences between Plato’s philosophy and Daoism. Check your responses here.
       
      Completing this assessment should take approximately 2 hours.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages above.

  • Unit 3: Political Philosophy  

    Political philosophy deals with questions about how human societies ought to be governed or how they ought to govern themselves. In this unit, we will read selections from one major political thinker from the East - Confucius, as well as five major political philosophers from the West - Plato, Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, and John Rawls. Despite vast differences between them, each of these thinkers bases his political philosophy on some understanding of human nature. How one should govern or how the state ought to be organized depends on the basic characteristics of its members and also on the characteristics of its rulers. For Confucius, the leader is a virtuous human being, an idea that resonates with the previous Unit 3 material on ethics (especially the theory of Aristotle.) For Plato, it is philosophers’ natural inclination to become intimately acquainted with truth that makes them the perfect rulers. For Machiavelli, it is the intrinsic tendency for human beings to be immoral and self-interested that demands a strategic and sometimes brutal ruler. For Hobbes, it is an even more primal animosity of human beings toward one another that leads people to band together for mutual survival. John Stuart Mill, in the work On Liberty, holds that the individual freedom of expression and thought must be maintained and that a “tyranny of the majority” must be avoided in life under government rule. Marx’s political philosophy stems from his conviction that human beings are alienated from their basic nature by capitalist societies, while John Rawls describes a distribution of justice, goods, and liberties among the various members of society.

    Unit 3 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 3 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 3.1 Confucius and Virtuous Leadership  
  • 3.1.1 Outline of Confucius’s Political Philosophy  
    • Reading: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. Jeffrey Riegel’s “Confucius”

      Link: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. Jeffrey Riegel’s “Confucius” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Click on the link above and read the webpage about Confucius’s political philosophy. Despite the fact that we have categorized Confucius as a political philosopher, much of his doctrine also concerns ethics. Confucius provides a general description of the qualities of the “superior man,” which serves as a model for all persons, not just rulers.  As you read about Aristotle’s ethics in the next unit, keep Confucius’s emphasis on humanity and virtue in mind.
       
      Studying this reading should take approximately 45 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.1.2 A Sampling of Confucius’s Doctrines  
    • Reading: CUNY Brooklyn: Confucius’s “The Analects, Excerpts”

      Link: CUNY Brooklyn: Confucius’s “The Analects, Excerpts” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Click on the link above and read this webpage. Confucius’s sayings are designed for use in everyday practice. To that end, they are concise and memorable. With respect to the aphorisms on government, reflect on how Confucius’s instructions differ in intent from those of Machiavelli. The Analects were compiled by Confucius’s disciples during the fifth century B.C. and were adopted as the official philosophy of imperial China during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to 220 A.D.).
       
      Studying this resource should take approximately 1 hour.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.1.3 Understanding Confucius’s Political Philosophy  
    • Lecture: iTunes U: University of Utah: Dr. Eric Hutton: “The Way of Confucius”

      Link: iTunes U: University of Utah: Dr. Eric Hutton: “The Way of Confucius” (iTunes U)
       
      Instructions: Scroll down to #3 and then listen to this lecture (approximately 61 minutes), which places Confucius’s political philosophy in historical context and outlines its basic principles.
       
      Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.1.4 Discussion of Confucius’s Philosophy and The Analects  
    • Reading: Penn State University: Gregory Smits’ “Early Confucianism”

      Link: Penn State University: Gregory Smits’ “Early Confucianism” (PDF)
       
      Instructions: Read this chapter. Pay particular attention to the notions of dao (way), xiao (filial piety), li (social customs), and junzi (superior person). Also be sure to read excerpts from the Analects toward the bottom of the page, especially those pertaining to the superior person and to government. 

      Reading this chapter and the excerpts from the Analects should take approximately 2 hours.
       
      Terms of Use: This resource has been reposted for educational purposes as described here, and the original version can be found here. Please note that this material may not be used for other purposes without the consent of the copyright holder.

  • 3.2 Plato and the Ideal State  
  • 3.2.1 Outline of Plato’s Political Philosophy  
    • Reading: University of Tennessee at Martin’s Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. W. J. Korab-Karpowicz’s “Plato’s Political Philosophy”

      Link: University of Tennessee at Martin’s Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. W. J. Korab-Karpowicz’s “Plato’s Political Philosophy” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read this webpage about Plato’s political philosophy. One of the remarkable features of Plato’s philosophy is the degree to which all its components are integrated. This reading demonstrates how his views on how an ideal state ought to be governed follow directly from his views on the nature of reality. It is also important to note that scholars disagree on whether Plato may be using his theory of the ideal state as an ironic commentary on political arrangements in his time; in other words, scholars debate whether he was sincere or ironic in recommending certain rules in the ideal Republic.

      Studying this reading should take approximately 2 hours.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.2.2 Rule by Philosopher Kings  
    • Reading: Plato: The Republic, “Book VI” and “Book VII”

      Links: Plato: The Republic, “Book VI” (PDF) and “Book VII” (PDF)
       
      Also available in:
      HTML (Book VI)
      HTML (Book VII)

      Instructions: Read both articles. This set of readings returns us to Plato’s The Republic. It takes the form of a dialogue between Plato’s teacher (Socrates) and a number of interlocutors. These two books present the most famous statements of Plato’s metaphysics - usually called “the theory of forms.” Book VI focuses on his “analogies of the sun” and the “divided line” which set up his famous “allegory of the cave” in Book VII. Plato argues that it is philosophers who have the best access to the forms (i.e., to reality) and are therefore best suited to govern the state.
       
      Terms of Use: This material is in the public domain.

  • 3.2.3 Understanding Plato’s Theory of Philosopher Kings  
    • Reading: CliffsNotes: Republic by Plato - Summary and Analysis: “Book VI” and “Book VII”

      Links: CliffsNotes: Republic by Plato - Summary and Analysis: “Book VI” (HTML) and “Book VII” (HTML)

      Instructions: Read these webpages, ensuring to click the “Next Page” link to read the summary and analysis modules for all sections of Books VI and VII of The Republic (6 pages total). After reading these modules, you should be able to explain why Plato believes philosophers should govern the state. Notice that Plato’s arguments implicitly criticize the prevailing form of government in fifth century Athens: democracy. 
       
      Studying these readings should take approximately 2 hours.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages above.

  • 3.2.4 Plato as Totalitarian? The Criticisms of Karl Popper  
  • 3.3 Niccolò Machiavelli and Political Power  
  • 3.3.1 Outline of Machiavelli’s Political Philosophy  
    • Reading: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. Cary Nederman: “Niccolò Machiavelli”

      Link: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. Cary Nederman: “Niccolò Machiavelli” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read sections 1 - 5 for an understanding of the basic concepts of Machiavelli’s The Prince. Machiavelli’s approach to political philosophy differs markedly from Plato’s in that instead of asking “How would the ideal state be governed?” he asks “How does a political leader gain and keep control of the state?” This pragmatic approach undercuts abstract deliberation by focusing on the realities political leaders faced during the Renaissance.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.3.2 Machiavelli’s Pragmatic View of Political Power  
  • 3.3.3 Understanding Machiavelli’s Political Philosophy  
  • 3.3.4 Machiavelli’s Relation to His Predecessors  
  • 3.4 The Social Contract  
  • 3.4.1 Outline of Hobbes’s Political Philosophy of the Social Contract  
  • 3.4.2 The State of Nature and the Social Contract  
    • Reading: Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan: “Chapter XIII” and “Chapter XIV”

      Links: Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan: “Chapter XIII” (PDF) and “Chapter XIV” (PDF)
       
      Also available in:
      HTML (Chapter XIII)
      HTML (Chapter XIV)
       
      Instructions: Read these chapters from Hobbes’s Leviathan. In spite of his archaic prose, try to keep track of his progression from the idea of the state of nature to the idea of the contract. In this text from 1651, Hobbes argues that political societies are the result of an agreement that human beings enter into in order to ensure their mutual survival. His article proceeds from the premise that without such a “contract,” human beings would destroy one another in a war of all against all.
       
      Terms of Use: This resource is in the public domain.

  • 3.4.3 Hobbes in Historical and Intellectual Context  
    • Lecture: iTunes U: Open University: Dr. Jon Pike and Dr. Quentin Skinner: “Hobbes”

      Link: iTunes U: Open University: Dr. Jon Pike and Dr. Quentin Skinner: “Hobbes” (iTunes U)
       
      Instructions: Scroll down to #5 and then listen to the conversation (approximately 53 minutes) between two eminent philosophers on the “contextual approach” to Hobbes’s theory of the social contract. Notice how Hobbes’s conception of the social contract relies on his conceptions of “natural persons” (agents capable of representing themselves) and “artificial persons” (agents of the state).
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.4.4 Locke and the Social Contract  
  • 3.4.5 Rousseau and the Social Contract  
  • 3.5 John Stuart Mill and the Tyranny of the Majority  
  • 3.5.1 John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty"  
    • Lecture: Yale University: Dr. Iván Szelényi’s “Mill: Utilitarianism and Liberty”

      Link: Yale University: Dr. Iván Szelényi’s “Mill: Utilitarianism and Liberty” (Adobe Flash) (QuickTime) (MP3)

      Instructions: Click on the link above and then view the lecture beginning at 27:00 minutes for the section on Mill. The video gives a summary of John Stuart Mill’s political theory and the concept of the Harm Principle. The Harm Principle holds that the government should not intervene and stop unusual or unpopular activities unless they harm others. Mill’s theory introduces many important concepts that we still mention in political debates today, like the “tyranny of the majority,” the “free market of ideas,” and the concept of informed “consent.”
       
      Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.5.2 John Stuart Mill and Utilitarianism in Political Context  
  • 3.6 Karl Marx and the Alienation of Labor  
  • 3.6.1 Historical Background for Karl Marx  
  • 3.6.2 Marx’s Theory of Alienated Labor  
    • Reading: Karl Marx: The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844: “Estranged Labour”

      Link: Karl Marx: The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844: “Estranged Labour” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read this webpage. Although Marx can be difficult to read, the key to this text is simple: It hinges on Marx’s particular conception of human nature. Marx diagnoses the political situation of his day as intolerable because working conditions had estranged the people from their nature - or, as Marx says, their “species being.”

      Studying this reading should take approximately 2 hours.
       
      Terms of Use: This material is in the public domain.

  • 3.6.3 Understanding Marx’s Theory of Alienated Labor  
    • Lecture: Yale University: Dr. Iván Szelényi: “Marx’s Theory of Alienation”

      Link: Yale University: Dr. Iván Szelényi: “Marx’s Theory of Alienation” (Adobe Flash) (QuickTime) (MP3)

      Also available in:
      PDF
       
      Instructions: Click the Flash link and then listen to the lecture (approximately 48 minutes). It gives an overview of Marx’s analysis of the phenomenon by which laborers become physically and psychologically “separated” or “alienated” from the products that they make. This theory, by which laborers no longer identify with that which they spend their lives making, is a cornerstone of Marx’s theory of human nature when inserted into a capitalist mode of production.
       
      Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: The Library of Economics and Liberty: Dr. David Prychitko: “Marxism”

      Link: The Library of Economics and Liberty: Dr. David Prychitko: “Marxism” (HTML)

      Instructions: Read the webpage. It gives a nice overview of Marxist principles and explains why Marx conceived of industrial labor as fundamentally opposed to human nature.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.6.4 Understanding Rawls’s Theory of Justice  
    • Lecture: Yale University: Dr. Ian Shapiro’s The Moral Foundations of Politics: “Lecture 16: The Rawlsian Social Contract”

      Link: Yale University: Dr. Ian Shapiro’s The Moral Foundations of Politics: “Lecture 16: The Rawlsian Social Contract” (JWPlayer)
       
      Instructions: Click on the link above and watch this lecture. It gives an overview of Rawls’s theory of distributive justice. Rawls believes that people would, given basic rationality, agree to specific moral principles, including maximizing individual liberty until one’s liberty encroaches on someone else’s liberty, and the possibility of social mobility in the context of economic difference.
       
      Watcing this video and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Assessment: The Saylor Foundation’s “Assessment #5”

      Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Assessment #5” (PDF)

      Instructions: Click on the link above and follow the instructions to complete the assessment. It will require you to demonstrate your understanding of Marx’s political philosophy and interpret the meaning of Confucius’s aphorisms. Check your responses against the Saylor Foundation’s “Answer Key.”
       
      Completing this assessment should take approximately 2 hours.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages above.

  • Unit 4: Ethics and Moral Philosophy  

    Similarly to political philosophy, ethics also deals with questions of how things ought to be rather than how they are. Ethics tends to treat these questions at the level of the individual human being rather than at the level of the community or the state. At various points in the history of ethical theory, the value of ethical actions and the measure we can use to determine if an action is good or bad have been located in different parts of the action. Is it in the virtue, character, or moral development of the person doing the action (this view is associated with Aristotle and ancient Greece)? Is it located in the intentions or the motivations that inspire the action in the first place (this view would be associated with the early Modern period and Immanuel Kant’s ethics)? Or, is the value of the action based in the results or the consequences that the action brings about in the end (this would be the view of modern utilitarian philosophers like John Stuart Mill)? Specific ethical questions come in many forms and varieties: Is it always wrong to commit murder? What about if it would save the lives of others or if it would end someone’s suffering? Do people still have basic rights even if they do something despicable? Are close family members entitled to better treatment than strangers off of the street? Philosophers have tended to answer ethical questions by creating general theories of how to live and of what actions are right and wrong. In this unit, we will investigate the three most influential ethical theories - namely, those of Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, and John Stuart Mill. Each of these theorists identifies a different basis for the ethical life. Ethics is grounded in either virtue (Aristotle), duty (Kant), or the consequences of our actions (Mill). The tricky part is figuring out which of these views is the right one, because they each seem to resonate with different aspects of our moral sensibilities.

    Unit 4 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 4 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 4.1 Plato and the Ideal State  
  • 4.1.1 Outline of Plato’s Political Philosophy  
  • 4.1.2 Understanding Plato’s Theory of Philosopher Kings  
    • Reading: CliffsNotes: The Republic by Plato - Summary and Analysis: “Book VI” and “Book VII”

      Links: CliffsNotes: The Republic by Plato - Summary and Analysis: “Book VI” (HTML) and “Book VII” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read these webpages. Click the “Next Page” link to read the summary and analysis modules for all sections of Books VI and VII of The Republic. After reading these modules, you should be able to explain why Plato believes philosophers should govern the state. Notice that Plato’s arguments implicitly criticize the prevailing form of government in fifth century Athens: democracy. 
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages above.

  • 4.2 Aristotle and Virtue Ethics  
  • 4.2.1 Outline of Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics  
    • Reading: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. Christopher Shields’ “Aristotle’s Life”

      Link: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. Christopher Shields’ “Aristotle’s Life” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read the first three sections of this entry: “Aristotle’s Life,” “The Aristotelian Corpus: Character and Primary Divisions,” and “Phainomena and the Endoxic Method.” This will provide historical and biographical context for Aristotle’s philosophy and relates him to his intellectual predecessor: Plato.
       
      Studying this reading should take approximately 1 hour.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. Richard Kraut’s “Aristotle’s Ethics”

      Link: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. Richard Kraut’s “Aristotle’s Ethics” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read sections 1 - 5. Take note of how Dr. Kraut defines the terms “human good,” “eudaimonia,” and “doctrine of the mean.” This reading provides historical context for Aristotle’s ethics and introduces the key terminology necessary for understanding it.
       
      Studying this reading should take approximately 1 hour.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 4.2.2 Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics  
    • Reading: Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics: “Book I” and “Book II”

      Links: Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics: “Book I” (PDF) and “Book II” (PDF)
       
      Also available in:
      HTML (Book 1)
      HTML (Book 2)
       
      Instructions: Read the two readings. The Nicomachean Ethics is based on a set of lectures Aristotle gave around 350 B.C. Book I argues that “the good” for human beings is happiness and that happiness is achieved by acting in accordance with virtue. Book II explains how virtue is achieved through habit and by avoiding extremes in thought and action.
       
      Studying these readings should take approximately 5 hours.
       
      Terms of Use: This material is in the public domain.

  • 4.2.3 Understanding Aristotle's Virtue Ethics  
    • Lecture: iTunes U: Dr. Nigel Warburton’s Philosophy: The Classics: “Aristotle - Nicomachean Ethics”

      Link: iTunes U: Dr. Nigel Warburton’s Philosophy: The Classics: “Aristotle - Nicomachean Ethics” (iTunes U)
       
      Instructions: Click on the link above and select “View in iTunes” for the lecture titled “Aristotle - Nicomachean Ethics.” Dr. Warburton explains how Aristotle’s answer to the question “How should one live one’s life?” follows from his view that the human good is happiness - living in accordance with virtue. Notice that all of Aristotle’s virtues refer to the self and not to other people. This will be important when we compare his theory to those of Kant and Mill.
       
      Watchign this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 45 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 4.2.4 Some Objections to Virtue Ethics  
  • 4.3 Immanuel Kant and Duty-Based Ethics  
  • 4.3.1 Outline of Kant’s Duty-Based Ethics  
  • 4.3.2 Kant's Categorical Imperative  
  • 4.3.3 Understanding Kant’s Duty-Based Ethics  
  • 4.4 John Stuart Mill and Utilitarian Ethics  
  • 4.4.1 Outline of Mill’s Utilitarian Ethics  
  • 4.4.2 Mill’s Utilitarian Ethics  
    • Reading: John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism: “Chapter II: What Utilitarianism Is”

      Link: John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism: “Chapter II: What Utilitarianism Is” (PDF)
       

      Instructions: Read this chapter from Mill’s major ethical work. This selection from Mill’s treatise Utilitarianism presents the fundamentals of his ethical theory. Like Kant, Mill wants to answer this basic question: “What is the right thing to do?” However, in stark contrast to Kant, Mill asserts that it is the consequences of our actions that ultimately determine whether our actions are right or wrong, not the intentions or principles behind them. For this reason, views such as Mill’s theory are also referred to as a version of “consequentialism.”
       
      Studying this reading should take approximately 2 hours.
       
      Terms of Use: This material is in the public domain.

  • 4.4.3 Understanding Mill’s Utilitarian Ethics  
  • 4.4.4 Comparing Ethical Theories  
    • Lecture: Yale University: Dr. Tamar Szabó Gendler’s Philosophy and the Science of Human Nature: “Utilitarianism and Its Critiques”

      Link: Yale University: Dr. Tamar Szabó Gendler’s Philosophy and the Science of Human Nature: “Utilitarianism and Its Critiques” (Adobe Flash) (QuickTime) (MP3)
       
      Instructions: Click on the link above and watch this lecture. It gives a background for the three major ethical theories (Aristotle, Kant, and Mill) and then compares Mill’s ethical theory to those of Kant and Aristotle. The lecture addresses the overall purpose of ethical theory and covers the major distinctions between the classic Western approaches to ethics. In comparing Kant and Mill, one major difference is whether our actions should be guided by principles (Kant) or by the consequences we expect them to have (Mill), while Aristotle emphasized that ethics is really not about action at all but rather about cultivating a virtuous character.
       
      Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 4.5 Applied Philosophical Ethics in Today’s Society  
  • 4.5.1 Applied Ethics and Democratic Justice  
    • Lecture: Yale University: Dr. Ian Shapiro’s “Democratic Justice: Applications”

      Link: Yale University: Dr. Ian Shapiro’s “Democratic Justice: Applications” (Adobe Flash) (QuickTime) (MP3)
       
      Also available in:
      PDF
       
      Instructions: Click on the link above and then listen to this lecture. Dr. Shapiro examines the nexus of philosophical ideas about power and hierarchies and today’s democratic society. Notions of parent/child and employer/employee relationships, among other basic social hierarchies, are explored.
       
      Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 4.5.2 Applied Ethics Today: Life and Death, Moral Status, and Designer Babies  
    • Lecture: Oxford Centre for Neuroethics: University of Oxford: Peter Singer’s “Life and Death,” Jeff McMahan’s “Moral Status,” and Julian Savulescu’s “Designer Babies”

      Links: Oxford Centre for Neuroethics: University of Oxford: Peter Singer’s “Life and Death” (iTunes U), Jeff McMahan’s “Moral Status” (iTunes U), and Julian Savulescu’s “Designer Babies” (iTunes U)
       
      Instructions: Click on the links above to locate the lecture titles, select “View in iTunes” for each title to launch the lecture in iTunes. Listen to each lecture. The Oxford Centre for Neuroethics has sponsored this podcast series by David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton. It will ultimately include 10 interviews with leading influential thinkers on bioethics and is titled “Bio-Ethics Bites.”  The series consists of philosophical perspectives that engage today’s ethical dilemmas that arise out of scientific advances.
       
      Listening to these lectures and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages above.

    • Assessment: The Saylor Foundation’s “Assessment #6”

      Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Assessment #6” (PDF)

      Instructions: Click on the link above and follow the instructions to complete the assessment. This assessment will test your comprehension of the principles behind each of the three major ethical theories. You should also be able to identify which one would be best applied in a given example case. Check your responses against the Saylor Foundation’s “Answer Key”.
       
      Completing this assessment should take approximately 2 hours.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages above.

  • Unit 5: Philosophy of Religion  

    Some of the most fascinating philosophical questions fall under the rubric of the philosophy of religion. In many different time periods, cultures, and religious traditions people have asked questions that we now associate with the sub-field of philosophy known as philosophy of religion. This area of philosophy tackles such topics as: What happens to us after we die? Do we possess an immortal soul? Does God exist? If God exists, how does He affect human life and the rest of the world? Nearly always, the issue is the question of the respective roles of faith and reason - whether they are fundamentally complimentary or opposed. Although many philosophers of religion are themselves believers in one faith or another, being religious is not a prerequisite for engaging in philosophical inquiry about religion. Many westerners raised in the Judeo-Christian context have particular ideas about the soul and about God. In eastern religions, there may be no concept of an immortal soul, and the notion of God may be multifaceted or may refer to consciousness acting as one with all being, all existence. 
     
    In this unit, we will be surveying a number of influential approaches to religious topics. We will begin with a look at Plato’s arguments for the immortality of the soul. We will then address the question of God’s existence, considering arguments from Saint Anselm, René Descartes, and Blaise Pascal. We will also confront Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous and provocative assertion that “God is dead.” Finally, we will introduce an Eastern point of comparison by looking at some Buddhist teachings about the self and the possibility of achieving enlightenment. 

    Unit 5 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 5 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 5.1 Plato and the Immortality of the Soul  
  • 5.1.2 Plato’s Phaedo  
    • Reading: Plato: “Phaedo”

      Link: Plato’s “Phaedo” (PDF)
       
      Instructions: Read the passage. Phaedo was written as an account of Socrates’s last moments before his execution, as related by his friends. Socrates’s impending death lends drama to his arguments for the immortality of the soul. Take note of how these arguments depend on the metaphysics (the theory of forms) Plato develops in The Republic.
       
      Studying this resource should take approximately 8 hours.
       
      Terms of Use: This material is in the public domain.

  • 5.1.3 Understanding Plato’s Phaedo  
  • 5.2 Medieval and Enlightenment Arguments for the Existence of God  
  • 5.2.1 Saint Anselm of Canterbury and the Ontological Argument  
    • Reading: Virginia Tech: Dr. David Burr’s Saint Anselm: “Proslogion

      Link: Virginia Tech: Dr. David Burr’s Saint Anselm: “Proslogion” (PDF)
       
      Also available in:
      HTML
       
      Instructions: Click on the link above to download the PDF file and read Dr. Burr’s introductory comments and then read Saint Anselm’s Proslogion. Anselm devised the first version of the widely influential ontological argument for the existence of God. Take note of the translator’s commentary, especially in regard to Saint Anselm’s belief that it is possible to provide rational demonstrations of articles of faith.
       
      Studying this reading should take approximately 2 hours.
       
      Terms of Use: This material is in the public domain.

  • 5.2.2 Understanding and Evaluating Anselm’s Ontological Argument  
  • 5.2.3 Descartes’s Causal Argument  
    • Reading: René Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy: “Meditation III”

      Link: René Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy: “Meditation III” (PDF)

      Also available in:
      HTML

      Instructions: Read this text. This meditation picks up where we left off with Descartes in Unit 1. You may wish to review the first two meditations before moving forward. Recall that in the first two meditations, Descartes established that he knows one thing for certain: that he is thinking, and because he is thinking, he must exist. In this meditation, he proceeds from this single idea to his proof that God exists. For Descartes, demonstrating God’s existence is important not only because it justifies Christian religion but also because if he can show that God exists and that God is not by nature deceptive, then he can place the basic premises of his rational philosophy on a firm foundation.
       
      Studying this reading should take approximately 2 hours.
       
      Terms of Use: This material is in the public domain.

  • 5.2.4 Understanding Descartes’s Causal Argument  
  • 5.2.5 Pascal’s Wager: Believing in God for Pragmatic Reasons  
    • Reading: Blaise Pascal: “A Selection from Pensées

      Link: Blaise Pascal’s “A Selection from Pensées (PDF)
       
      Also available in:
      HTML
       
      Instructions: Click on the link above to download the PDF and read it. Pascal was a French polymath who lived during the mid-17th century. His posthumously published Pensées (or Thoughts) depicts a thinker opposed to the rigid rationalism of Descartes and his followers, who insisted that faith and reason were wholly incommensurable. The famous “wager” argument he presents for the existence of God is intended as an alternative to the deductive arguments popular at the time. Some scholars believe that Pascal made the suggestion facetiously in order to ridicule the rationalists.
       
      Studying this reading should take approximately 30 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: This material is in the public domain.

  • 5.2.6 Understanding Pascal’s Wager  
    • Reading: Dr. Peter Kreeft: “The Argument from Pascal’s Wager”

      Link: Dr. Peter Kreeft’s “The Argument from Pascal’s Wager” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read this webpage about Pascal’s wager argument. Dr. Kreeft provides essential historical context and presents a largely sympathetic reading of the argument.
       
      Studying this reading should take approximately 30 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Reading: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. Alan Hájek’s “Pascal’s Wager

      Link: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. Alan Hájek’s “Pascal’s Wager (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read this webpage. Dr. Hájek presents a critical analysis of Pascal’s argument and presents some of the standard objections raised against it.
       
      Studying this reading should take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Assessment: The Saylor Foundation’s “Assessment #7"

      Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Assessment #7” (PDF)
       
      Instructions: Click on the link above to download the PDF. Follow the instructions to complete the assessment. This assessment will test your comprehension of the three arguments for God’s existence presented in this section and will ask you to evaluate them. Check your responses against the Saylor Foundation’s “Answer Key.”
       
      Completing this assessment should take approximately 2 hours.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 5.3 Friedrich Nietzsche’s Philosophy of Religion  
  • 5.3.1 Nietzsche’s Revaluation of Traditional Scientific and Religious Values  
  • 5.3.2 Nietzsche’s Parable of the Madman (and Other Aphorisms)  
    • Reading: Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Joyful Wisdom

      Link: Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Joyful Wisdom (PDF)
       
      Also available in:
      HTML
       
      Instructions: Click on the link above to download the PDF. Read sections 115 through 125.  Nietzsche’s style is designed to frustrate the casual reader. The full meaning of any of his assertions does not give itself up on a single reading but requires a great deal of interpretation. His take on the question of God’s existence is found in Section 125.
       
      Studying this reading should take approximately 45 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: This material is in the public domain.

  • 5.3.3 Understanding Nietzsche’s “Philosophy of the Future”  
  • 5.4 Buddha’s Philosophy of Religion  
  • 5.4.1 Outline of Buddhism  
    • Reading: Stanford University: Waka Takahashi Brown: “Introduction to Buddhism”

      Link: Stanford University: Waka Takahashi Brown: “Introduction to Buddhism” (HTML) (PDF)
       
      Instructions: Read this webpage for a concise outline of the historical background and intellectual tenets of Buddhist philosophy. Buddhism is presented here as a religious doctrine. Like most religions, Buddhism is based on a foundation of philosophical principles, among which the “four noble truths” are the most important because they frame the problem of human life that Buddhist thought sets out to solve. 
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 5.4.2 Buddhist Principles in the Dhammapada  
    • Reading: University of Evansville: John Richards: “The Dhammapada-Gautama Buddha”

      Link: University of Evansville: John Richards: “The Dhammapada-Gautama Buddha” (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read this webpage, including the selected verses from the Dhammapada on the themes of the self, thought, Buddha, and enlightenment. The Dhammapada forms part of a large body of texts passed down orally by Buddha’s disciples, who committed to writing these in print sometime after Buddha’s death around the fifth century B.C. Two major contrasts are important here. First, unlike the Enlightenment era of European philosophers’ questions about God, the existence of God or of deities is never in question. The important question is “How does one attain enlightenment?” Second, notice that the question of the soul is vastly different than in Plato. In fact, for Buddha, the illusion of the “self” presents the most difficult challenge in achieving freedom from suffering.

      Studying this reading should take approximately 2 hours.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 5.4.3 Buddha’s Epistemology and Metaphysics  
    • Reading: University of Tennessee at Martin’s Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. Abraham Velez’s “Buddha (c.480 BCE - c.400 BCE)”

      Link: University of Tennessee at Martin’s Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dr. Abraham Velez’s “Buddha (c.480 BCE - c.400 BCE) (HTML)
       
      Instructions: Read the introduction as well as Section 2 and Section 3. They relate Buddha’s epistemology and metaphysics to the task of making progress on the path to enlightenment. The key to this reading is the idea that, for Buddha, human beings must tread with caution when deciding which “reality” they believe in. Unenlightened persons tend to generate “mental constructions,” which they take to be real but which prevent them from more genuine realizations. The principles Buddha outlines, along with the practice of meditation, are aimed at helping people avoid such epistemic pitfalls.
       
      Studying this reading should take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 5.5 The Teachings of Buddha Compared with the Ideas of Arthur Schopenhauer  
  • 5.5.1 The Teachings of Buddha  
    • Lecture: PBS Video: David Grubin: “The Buddha”

      Link: PBS Video: David Grubin’s “The Buddha” (Flash)
       
      Instructions: Click on the link above and watch this entire video on the life and teachings of Buddha.
       
      Watching this video should take approximately 2 hours.
       
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 5.5.2 The Pessimism of Arthur Schopenhauer  
    • Lecture: YouTube: Arthur Schopenhauer: “On the Suffering of the World”

      Link: YouTube: Arthur Schopenhauer: “On the Suffering of the World” (YouTube)

      Instructions: Click on the link above and watch the video. It is narrated by Nathaniel Paluga (president of the Truth and Beauty Institute, which promotes expressions of the intellect and the arts). This video provides a unique reading of Schopenhauer’s work on pessimism and suffering and compareshis ideas to the teachings of Buddha. Schopenhauer, who often focuses on the notion of suffering as key to understanding existence, has some interesting parallels with the teachings of Buddha.

      Watching the video and taking notes should take approximately 45 minutes.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyrights and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

    • Assessment: The Saylor Foundation's: “Assessment #8”

      Link: The Saylor Foundation's: “Assessment #8” (PDF)

      Instructions: This assessment will ask you to explain how Plato and Buddha differ in their views of what the soul is and, given that, what the death of the body would entail for a human being.  Check your essays against the “Answer Key.”

      Completing this assessment should take approximately 2 hours.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Final Exam  

« Previous Unit Next Unit » Back to Top