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Recorded HS
Great Questions in Philosophy

In this upper-level course, learn the historically-prominent philosophical problems from different angles to bring understanding. At the end of the semester you will be equipped to address many of the great questions in philosophy today.

Total classes: 12

Prerequisite: None. However, some experience in reading and discussing philosophical works is highly recommended.

Suggested grade level: 12th

Suggested credit: One full semester Philosophy


Aristotle once observed that philosophical problems are like knots: they are more easily untied once one has had the opportunity to look at them from a number of angles. Philosophical problems take the grammatical form of questions— some answerable by ‘yes’ or ‘no’, others requiring more complex answers than these. Still, if Aristotle is right—and he is—one could conceivably stumble upon a solution to a problem without having really seen what the problem was in the first place—not a solution at all. This is why it is helpful to study arguments for different, and even incompatible, answers to basic philosophical issues. In this class, we will consider a number of historically prominent philosophical problems (Great Questions) in the light of equally famous attempts to resolve them (Great Books). Our expectation is that, having looked at these knots from different angles, we’ll be in a better position to understand at least what a successful attempt to untie them would have to look like.


SESSION 1: Why So Many Acorns?

Aristotle, Physics II 8; Aristotle, On the Soul II 4; Aristotle, Politics I 8; Lucretius, On the Nature of Things V

SESSION 2: Why So Many Acorns?

David Hume, Dialogues; Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species V; Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin | Religious Belief; Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Ia 2 3

SESSION 3: So, Which Did Come First?

Aristotle, Metaphysics V, IX; Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles I 28

SESSION 4: What Am I? — Do I Even Exist?

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics IX 9; Augustine of Hippo, City of God XI; René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy | Meditation II

SESSION 5: What Am I? — Do I Even Exist?

George Berkeley, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge; Sam Harris, “The Self is an Illusion”; Daniel Dennett, “Consciousness Explained”

SESSION 6: Could I Be Wrong About… Everything?

Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism; Aristotle, Posterior Analytics I; Thomas Aquinas, De Veritate 9; Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Ia

SESSION 7: Are We Free?

Democritus, Fragments; Aristotle, Metaphysics VI, IX; Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus; Lucretius, On the Nature of Things II

SESSION 8: Are We Free?

David Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding VIII

SESSION, Principal Doctrines; Epictetus, Enchiridion; Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Ia-IIae

SESSION 10: Did the Universe Begin?

Aristotle, Physics VIII; Aristotle, On Generation and Corruption I, II; Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Ia 46

SESSION 11: Did the Universe Begin?

Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time; Sean Carroll, TED Talk (January 2011)

SESSION 12: Is Aristotle in Love?

Plato, Symposium; Aristotle, Ethics X; Aristotle, De Partibus Animalium I; Aristotle, Metaphysics XII

SESSION 13: No class meeting. Final Examination

Materials and Homework

Course materials: The readings for the class are supplied FREE by the instructor in the form of a downloadable PDF file.

Homework: Homework consists, first, of carefully reading philosophical texts that are well above the average difficulty. Set aside enough time to read the texts twice: one for a general sense of the issues and a division of the reading (where arguments occur, what conclusions are given, what objections are dealt with), a second for detail. A good ‘rule of thumb’ for college-level study is two hours for each one-hour in-class session. In this case, it would be advisable to plan for somewhat more. Secondly, there will be written homework assignments following each session, in the form of one or more essay questions on the content of the reading and our consideration of it in class. Each assignment is due by the start of the next session. Finally, there will be a final examination following the last class meeting, which will replace the written assignment for that week.

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