Course Description

This course is an introduction to the methods of contemporary philosophy, concentrating on the following questions:
  1. The Problem of Other Minds: How can we tell whether animals and future computers have minds, or whether they're instead just mindless automata? How can we tell that other people have minds?  
  2. The Mind/Body Problem: What is the relation between your mind and your body? Are they made up of different stuffs? If a computer duplicates the neural structure of your brain, will it have the same thoughts and self-awareness that you have?  
  3. Life and Death: What does it mean to die? Why is death bad? Do you have an immortal soul which is able to survive the death of your body?
  4. Personal Identity: What makes you the person you are? Why would a clone of you have to be a different person than you are yourself? If we perfectly recorded all the neural patterns in your brain right now, could we use that recording to "bring you back" after a fatal accident?  


The texts for this course will consist of a number of philosophy articles (mostly written during the past 50 years). We will also read a number of science fiction articles, and watch some movies that deal with issues that we're examining in this class. We'll discuss these stories and movies in class and (especially) in sections.

You need to buy three books, and also read a bunch of articles that we'll make available online.

The texts will be available at the NYU Bookstore. Or you can purchase them online: I've put links to and Barnes& on the web version of this syllabus.

The books are:


Requirements of the Course

It is essential that you attend the lectures. Much material not in the readings will be presented in lecture. If you don't plan to attend the lectures, you should not take this course.

There is a reading assignment for most class meetings. These readings are often pretty short, but they all require close study. You should read them carefully before we discuss them in class, and you'll need to read them more than once. You won't understand the material unless you read it several times. A good strategy would be to read it at least once before we discuss it, and then go back and read it again after we've discussed it. If you don't plan to do this, you should not take this course.

You will also be required to attend a discussion section once a week. You are all expected to speak up and actively engage with each other in these sections. Talking about philosophy is one of the best ways of learning how to do it. Your participation in these sections will make up a substantial part of your grade for the course. There may be short writing exercises due in section.

Again, if you don't plan to earnestly participate in sections, you should not take this course.

We will be showing some movies for the class. Any movies we show will be important for our discussion in class and in section. So far, we're planning to show movies on these evenings:

Sometime around Nov 13
The Prestige
Sometime around Nov 28
Make every effort to keep these evenings free. Even if you've already seen these movies, you should try to see them again this term, in order to have them fresh in your mind. If you're not able to see one when we screen it, you can borrow a copy from Bobst Library or your favorite video store, and watch it on your own time. We will expect you to be able to write about the movie after we screen it for the class.

In addition to any short writing exercises due in section, you will also write several papers for the course:

There will be a final exam, tentatively scheduled for Monday Dec 18, at 8 am.
Check the registrar's exam list for more information about the date and location.


Policy for Late Papers

What the Different Grades Mean