PHIL 107 – Introduction to Philosophy

107-escherCan any of us be held morally responsible for being the way we are? Do we act freely? Are psychopaths responsible for their actions? How are minds and bodies related? Does one’s body shape one’s sense of self? Does gender matter to who we are and how we perceive the world? Do animals feel pain and anxiety? If so, how should we treat them? Does science deliver truths? Does it have all the answers? This subject will prepare you to think deeply about various answers to these and other persistent questions. You will learn how to philosophise in tutorials by actively engaging in thought experiments and evaluating philosophical arguments. You will also discover why philosophical reflection on these questions matters when it comes to dealing with practical problems of significance outside of academia – such as dealing with everyday moral dilemmas as well as larger issues of global justice, animal welfare, the law and psychopathology. Through this subject, you will gain an initial understanding of what philosophy is, how do it and why it matters.


Topics include:

What is philosophy and what is it for?

Philosophy, like any intellectual inquiry is fundamentally an activity. It’s something you do. This subject introduces you to the activity of philosophising, and what is distinctive about the way that philosophers approach intellectual problems.

Does science explain at all?

What makes an explanation scientific? Is scientific explanation superior to other forms of explanation? What is a scientific theory? Can a scientific theory be true? Do scientific theories need to be true or do they just need to be useful?

Free will and responsibility?

Do we have free will or are our decisions and actions predetermined by circumstance or fate? Consider people who have pathologies of the will (such as addiction or compulsion) or people who are psychologically abnormal, such as psychopaths. Are such people morally responsible for their actions?

Introduction to epistemology

Can you be sure, beyond any doubt, that a belief you hold is true? Is absolute certainty ever possible for humans? Does it matter if our most basic beliefs are ultimately unprovable?

What are minds?

What exactly is it to have a mind? Are humans the creatures with minds or do some animals also have minds? Is your mind entirely inside your head, or does it extend beyond your brain?