Philosophy 305 Contemporary Philosophy

The Contemporary Philosophy course will focus on 20th century advances in the philosophy of language, metaphysics, perception, and epistemology. Listed below are some of the topics that will hopefully be covered. Student interest will determine some of the topics covered.

Philosophy of Language

  • Issues in meaning and reference. How do words refer to their putative objects?
  • Naming and necessity. What are names? How do they function? How can we pick out the same thing again and again (or do we)?
  • Explanation and positivism. What constitutes an explanation?
  • Early American pragmatism.
  • Early and late Wittgensteinian philosophy of language. Must be read to be believed!

Metaphysics (the study of topics required to do physics):

  • Why is there something rather than nothing? What is 'existence?'
  • Realism and anti-realism. What is the world really like? Are there such things as electrons?
  • The nature of truth. When we say that a claim is true, what does it mean to say that it is true? This turns out to be more interesting than you might expect!
  • Universals and particulars. Are there such things as numbers? What would they be? Is there such a thing as 'beauty'? What would that be like?
  • What exactly is a hole? A nothing or a something?
  • Four-dimensionalism and theories of time. Is time travel possible?
  • Identity and material constitution. If I am just my body and my body changes, I have an easy way for you to make a lot of money...
  • Vagueness. How many leaves constitute a pile of leaves? If one leaf leaves, with what are we left?

Philosophy of Perception

  • What is color? Is it 'in us' or 'out there' in the external world?
  • Do we perceive brown? Black? (What is the wavelength of brown? Where is it in the rainbow?)
  • What are shadows, absences, and dark things? How do we perceive them?
  • Philosophy upshots from an analysis of the objects of sensation and perception.

Epistemology (the study of knowledge and belief):

  • What does it mean to know something, as opposed to believing it, or doubting it, or wondering about it?
  • Do we really know anything at all? Are we all just like Neo, living in a computer generate matrix? And does this possibility matter at all?
  • How do we justify the claims we make about the world? What separates a good justification from a bad one?
  • Does our gender or ethnicity determine what we know and how we know it?
  • Is knowledge 'natural' - just a feature of how our brains work?
  • Is memory knowledge?
  • Can we 'know' things about religion and God?

Intrigued? You should be! These are deep and difficult and EXCITING issues. This course will be a discussion-oriented seminar where together we explore issues. Most of the time I won't have the answers either, so be prepared to think your way to positions (because you will not have them fed to you) and defend them.

Prior experience in at least one philosophy course is strongly recommended. Any questions should be directed to Prof. Hight.