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Course Descriptions

Philosophy Papers available in the Final Honour Schools of PPE; Literae Humaniores (Classics); Philosophy and Modern Languages; Philosophy and Theology; Physics and Philosophy; Mathematics and Philosophy; Psychology, Philosophy and Linguistics; Computer Science and Philosophy.

Each Final Honour School has regulations about which subjects are required. Certain combinations of subjects are not permitted. This information and the official syllabuses for subjects may be found in the ‘Grey Book’ (Examination Regulations), and it is these which form the framework within which exam questions on a paper must be set.

To help your choices, below are brief, informal descriptions of the papers, followed in some cases by suggested introductory reading. You should always consult your tutor about your choice of options, noting also the advice in the next paragraph.

You should note that the published Examination Regulations remain the ultimate authority on what options may be offered within your degree.  Students are both strongly advised to check the Regulations before making a decision on what to study.

Normal Prerequisites (indicated by NP)

In what follows, you will find that some subjects are named as ‘normal prerequisites’ for the study of others. For instance: 112 The Philosophy of Kant (NP 101) means that those studying 112, Kant, would either normally be expected to have studied 101 (Early Modern Philosophy), or to have undertaken relevant background reading in the history of philosophy, as suggested by their tutor. In some cases alternatives are given as the prerequisite, e.g. 107 Philosophy of Religion (NP 101 or 102) means that those studying 107, Philosophy of Religion, would normally be expected either to have studied 101 (Early Modern Philosophy) or 102 (Knowledge and Reality), or to have undertaken relevant preparatory work in one or other of those areas, as suggested by their tutor. In cases of doubt students are encouraged to consult their tutors and establish with them, in their individual circumstances, what the best options are.

101. Early Modern Philosophy : The purpose of this subject is to enable you to gain a critical understanding of some of the metaphysical and epistemological ideas of some of the most important philosophers of the early modern period, between the 1630s to the 1780s.

This period saw a great flowering of philosophy in Europe. Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz, often collectively referred to as "the rationalists", placed the new "corpuscularian" science within grand metaphysical systems which certified our God-given capacity to reason our way to the laws of nature (as well as to many other, often astonishing conclusions about the world). Locke wrote in a different, empiricist tradition. He argued that, since our concepts all ultimately derive from experience, our knowledge is necessarily limited. Berkeley and Hume developed this empiricism in the direction of a kind of idealism, according to which the world studied by science is in some sense mind-dependent and mind-constructed.

The examination paper is divided into two sections and students are required to answer at least one question from Section A (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz) and at least one from Section B (Locke, Berkeley, Hume).

R.S.Woolhouse, The Empiricists

J.Cottingham, The Rationalists (both O.U.P. Opus series).

102. Knowledge and Reality : The purpose of this subject is to enable you to examine some central questions about the nature of the world and the extent to which we can have knowledge of it.

In considering knowledge you will examine whether it is possible to attain knowledge of what the world is really like. Is our knowledge of the world necessarily limited to what we can observe to be the case? Indeed, are even our observational beliefs about the world around us justified? Can we have knowledge of what will happen based on what has happened? Is our understanding of the world necessarily limited to what we can prove to be the case? Or can we understand claims about the remote past or distant future which we cannot in principle prove to be true?

In considering reality you will focus on questions such as the following. Does the world really contain the three-dimensional objects and their properties - such as red buses or black horses - which we appear to encounter in everyday life? Or is it made up rather of the somewhat different entities studied by science, such as colourless atoms or four-dimensional space-time worms? What is the relation between the common sense picture of the world and that provided by contemporary science? Is it correct to think of the objects and their properties that make up the world as being what they are independently of our preferred ways of dividing up reality? These issues are discussed with reference to a variety of specific questions such as 'What is time?', 'What is the nature of causation?', and 'What are substances?' There is an opportunity in this subject to study such topics as reference, truth and definition, but candidates taking 102 and 108 should avoid repetition of material across examinations, though it is safe to assume that good answers to questions would not involve repetition for which you might be penalised.

Jonathan Dancy, Introduction to Contemporary Epistemology ( Oxford), chs. 1-3; Michael J. Loux, Metaphysics (Routledge)

103. Ethics : The purpose of this subject is to enable you to come to grips with some questions which exercise many people, philosophers and non-philosophers alike. How should we decide what is best to do, and how best to lead our lives? Are our value judgments on these and other matters objective or do they merely reflect our subjective preferences and viewpoints? Are we in fact free to make these choices, or have our decisions already been determined by antecedent features of our environment and genetic endowment? In considering these issues you will examine a variety of ethical concepts, such as those of justice, rights, equality, virtue, and happiness, which are widely used in moral and political argument. There is also opportunity to discuss some applied ethical issues. Knowledge of major historical thinkers, e.g. Aristotle and Hume and Kant, will be encouraged, but not required in the examination.

John Mackie, Ethics (Penguin), chs. 1-2.

104. Philosophy of Mind (NP 101 or 102) : The purpose of this subject is to enable you to examine a variety of questions about the nature of persons and their psychological states, including such general questions as: what is the relation between persons and their minds? Could robots or automata be persons? What is the relation between our minds and our brains? If we understood everything about the brain, would we understand everything about consciousness and rational thought? If not, why not? Several of these issues focus on the relation between our common sense understanding of ourselves and others, and the view of the mind developed in scientific psychology and neuroscience. Are the two accounts compatible? Should one be regarded as better than the other? Should our common sense understanding of the mind be jettisoned in favour of the scientific picture? Or does the latter leave out something essential to a proper understanding of ourselves and others? Other more specific questions concern memory, thought, belief, emotion, perception, and action.

Paul Churchland, Matter and Consciousness ( Cambridge) chs. 1-3.

106. Philosophy of Science and Social Science (NP 101 or 102) : The purpose of this subject is to enable you to study topics in the philosophy of science in general, and topics in the philosophy of social science in particular. Please note: from Finals in 2014, it is intended to allow candidates on this paper to specialise in philosophy of social science; that is, they need not answer in the examination on the philosophy of science if they do not wish to do so.

In the broadest sense the philosophy of science is concerned with the theory of knowledge and with associated questions in metaphysics. What is distinctive about the field is the focus on "scientific" knowledge, and metaphysical questions - concerning space, time, causation, probability, possibility, necessity, realism and idealism - that follow in their train. As such it is concerned with distinctive traits of science: testability, objectivity, scientific explanation, and the nature of scientific theories. Whether economics, sociology, and political science are "really" sciences is a question that lay people as well as philosophers have often asked. The technology spawned by the physical sciences is more impressive than that based on the social sciences: bridges do not collapse and aeroplanes do not fall from the sky, but no government can reliably control crime, divorce, or unemployment, or make its citizens happy at will. Human behaviour often seems less predictable, and less explicable than that of inanimate nature and non-human animals, even though most of us believe that we know what we are doing and why. So philosophers of social science have asked whether human action is to be explained causally or non-causally, whether predictions are self-refuting, whether we can only explain behaviour that is in some sense rational - and if so, what that sense is. Other central issues include social relativism, the role of ideology, value-neutrality, and the relationship between the particular social sciences, in particular whether economics provides a model for other social science. Finally, some critics have asked whether a technological view of 'social control' does not threaten democratic politics as usually understood.

Martin Hollis, The Philosophy of Social Science ( Cambridge); Alexander Rosenberg, Philosophy of Social Science (Westview).

107. Philosophy of Religion (NP 101 or 102) : The purpose of this subject is to enable you to examine claims about the existence of God and God's relationship to the world. What, if anything, is meant by them? Could they be true? What justification, if any, can or needs to be provided for them? The paper is concerned primarily with the claims of Western religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam), and with the central claim of those religions, that there is a God. God is said to be omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, a source of moral obligation and so on. But what does it mean to say that God has these properties, and are they consistent with each other? Could God change the past, or choose to do evil? Does it make sense to say that God is outside time? You will have the opportunity to study arguments for the existence of God - for example, the teleological argument from the fact that the Universe is governed by scientific laws, and the argument from people's religious experiences. Other issues are whether the fact of pain and suffering counts strongly, or even conclusively, against the existence of God, whether there could be evidence for miracles, whether it could be shown that prayer "works", whether there could be life after death, and what philosophical problems are raised by the existence of different religions. There may also be an optional question in the exam paper about some specifically Christian doctrine - does it make sense to say that the life and death of Jesus atoned for the sins of the world, and could one know this? There is abundant scope for deploying all the knowledge and techniques which you have acquired in other areas of philosophy. Among the major philosophers whose contributions to the philosophy of religion you will need to study are Aquinas, Hume and Kant.

M. Peterson and other authors, Reason and Religious Belief, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (Oxford University Press)

108. The Philosophy of Logic and Language (NP Prelims/Mods Logic) : The purpose of this subject is to enable you to examine some fundamental questions relating to reasoning and language. The philosophy of logic is not itself a symbolic or mathematical subject, but examines concepts of interest to the logician. If you want to know the answer to the question 'What is truth?', this is a subject for you. Central also are questions about the status of basic logical laws and the nature of logical necessity. What, if anything, makes it true that nothing can be at the same time both green and not green all over? Is that necessity the result of our conventions or stipulations, or the reflection of how things have to be independently of us? Philosophy of language is closely related. It covers the very general question how language can describe reality at all: what makes our sentences meaningful and, on occasion, true? How do parts of our language refer to objects in the world? What is involved in understanding speech (or the written word)? You may also investigate more specific issues concerning the correct analysis of particular linguistic expressions such as names, descriptions, pronouns, or adverbs, and aspects of linguistics and grammatical theory. Candidates taking 102 as well as 108 should avoid repetition of material across examinations, though it is safe to assume that good answers to questions would not involve repetition for which you might be penalised.

Mark Sainsbury, 'Philosophical Logic', in Philosophy, a Guide through the Subject, edited by A. C. Grayling ( Oxford).

109. Aesthetics (NP 101 or 102 or 103 or 104 or 115) : The purpose of this subject is to enable you to study a number of questions about the nature and value of beauty and of the arts. For example, do we enjoy sights and sounds because they are beautiful, or are they beautiful because we enjoy them? Does the enjoyment of beauty involve a particular sort of experience, and if so, how should we define it and what psychological capacities does it presuppose? Is a work of art a physical object, an abstract object, or what? Does the value of a work of art depend only upon its long- or short-term effects on our minds or characters? If not, what sorts of reasons can we give for admiring a work of art? Do reasons for admiring paintings, pieces of music and poems have enough in common with one another, and little enough in common with reasons for admiring other kinds of things, to support the idea that there is a distinctive sort of value which good art of every sort, and only art, possesses? As well as general questions such as these ones, the subject also addresses questions raised by particular art forms. For example, what is the difference between a picture and a description in words? Can fiction embody truths about its subject-matter? How does music express emotions? All of these questions, and others, are addressed directly, and also by examining classic texts, including Plato's Republic, Aristotle's Poetics, Hume's Essay on the Standard of Taste and Kant's Critique of Aesthetic Judgement.

Malcolm Budd, Values of Art (Penguin)

110. Medieval Philosophy:Aquinas: The purpose of this subject is to introduce you to many of Aquinas’s central ideas and arguments on a wide variety of theological and philosophical topics. These include the proofs of the existence of God (the famous “five ways”), the concept of the simplicity of God (including the controversial issue of the identity of being and essence in God), the concept of the soul in general and of the human soul in particular, the proof of the immortality of the human soul, the nature of perception and of intellectual knowledge, the notion of free will and of happiness, the theory of human actions. These are studied in translation rather than in the Latin original, though a glance at Aquinas's remarkably readable Latin can often be useful. Candidates are encouraged to carefully read and analyze Aquinas’s texts and to focus on the philosophical questions they raise. Papers 134 Aristotle, Physics, and 133 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics are a good background for this option.

Text: Summa Theologiae, Ia, 2-11, 75-89; Ia IIae, 1-21.

Anthony Kenny, Aquinas; F.C. Copleston, Aquinas; B. Davies, The Thought of Thomas Aquinas (O.U.P.)

The subject will be studied in one of two sets of texts (The fathers of the English Dominican Province edition, 1911, rev. 1920):

Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Ia, 2-11, 75-89, which will cover the following topics: arguments for the existence of God; God’s essence and existence; God and goodness; God and time; the soul in relation to the body; individual intellects; perception and knowledge; free will; the soul and knowledge.

Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Ia IIae 1-10, 90-97, which will cover the following topics: natural and supernatural happiness; voluntary action; the will; natural and universal law; human law.

This paper will include an optional question containing passages for comment. This subject may not be combined with subject 111]

111. Medieval Philosophy: Duns Scotus and Ockham (NP 101 or 108) : Duns Scotus and Ockham are, together with Aquinas, the most significant and influential thinkers of the Middle Ages. The purpose of this subject is to make you familiar with some fundamental aspects of their theological and philosophical thought. As to Scotus, these include the proof of the existence and of the unicity of God (the most sophisticated one in the Middle Ages) and the issues about causality that it raises, the theory of the existence of concepts common to God and creatures (the univocity theory of religious language), the discussion about the immateriality and the immortality of the human soul, and the reply to scepticism. As to Ockham, they include nominalism about universals and the refutation of realism (including the realism of Duns Scotus), some issues in logic and especially the theory of “suppositio” and its application in the debate about universals, the theory of intellectual knowledge of singulars and the question of whether we can have evidence about contingent properties of singulars, the nature of efficient causality and the problem of whether we can prove the existence of a first efficient cause. These are studied in translation rather than in the Latin original, though a glance at the Latin can often be useful. Candidates are encouraged to carefully read and analyze Scotus’s and Ockham’s texts and to focus on the philosophical questions they raise. Paper 134 Aristotle, Physics is a good background for this option.

Texts: Duns Scotus, Philosophical Writings (transl. A. Wolter); Ockham, Philosophical Writings (transl. P. Boehner).

R. Cross, Duns Scotus; M. McCord Adams, William Ockham, vol. 1.

The subject will be studied in the following sets of texts :

Scotus: Philosophical Writings, tr. Wolter (Hackett), chapters II-IV, pp. 13-95 (man’s natural knowledge of God; the existence of God; the unicity of God); Five texts on the Mediaeval Problem of Universals, tr. Spade (Hackett), pp. 57-113 (universals, individuation).

Ockham: Philosophical Writings, tr. Boehner (Hackett), pp. 18-27 (intuitive and abstractive cognition); pp. 97-126 (the possibility of natural theology, the existence of God); Five texts on the Mediaeval Problem of Universals, tr. Spade (Hackett), pp. 114-231 (universals).

The texts are studied in translation rather than the Latin original. T his paper will include an optional question containing passages for comment. This subject may not be combined with subject 110.

112. The Philosophy of Kant (NP 101) : The purpose of this paper is to enable you to make a critical study of some of the ideas of one of the greatest of all philosophers.

Immanuel Kant lived from 1724 to 1804. He published the Critique of Pure Reason in 1781, and the Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals in 1785. The 'Critique' is his greatest work and, without question, the most influential work of modern philosophy. It is a difficult but enormously rewarding work. This is largely because Kant, perhaps uniquely, combines in the highest measure the cautious qualities of care, rigour and tenacity with the bolder quality of philosophical imagination. Its concern is to give an account of human knowledge that will steer a path between the dogmatism of traditional metaphysics and the scepticism that, Kant believes, is the inevitable result of the empiricist criticism of metaphysics. Kant's approach, he claims in a famous metaphor, amounts to a "Copernican revolution" in philosophy. Instead of looking at human knowledge by starting from what is known, we should start from ourselves as knowing subjects and ask how the world must be for us to have the kind of knowledge and experience that we have. Kant thinks that his Copernican revolution also enables him to reconcile traditional Christian morality and modern science, in the face of their apparently irreconcilable demands (in the one case, that we should be free agents, and in the other case, that the world should be governed by inexorable mechanical laws). In the ‘Groundwork’ Kant develops his very distinctive and highly influential moral philosophy. He argues that morality is grounded in reason. What we ought to do is what we would do if we acted in a way that was purely rational. To act in a way that is purely rational is to act in accordance with the famous ‘categorical imperative’, which Kant expresses as follows: ‘Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law’.

Critique of Pure Reason , trans. Norman Kemp Smith (Macmillan);

Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals , trans, H.J. Paton ( Hutchinson).

Roger Scruton, Kant.

113. Post-Kantian Philosophy (NP 101 or 102 or 103 or 112) : Many of the questions raised by German and French philosophers of the 19th and early 20th centuries were thought to arise directly out of Kant's metaphysics, epistemology and ethics: Hence the title of this subject, the purpose of which is to enable you to explore some of the developments of (and departures from) Kantian themes in the work of Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. Students typically focus their study on only two chosen authors.

Hegel and Schopenhauer delineate global, metaphysical systems out of which each develops his own distinctive vision of ethical and (especially in the case of Hegel) political life. Nietzsche's writings less obviously constitute a ‘system’, but they too develop certain ethical and existential implications of our epistemological and metaphysical commitments. Husserl will interest those pupils attracted to problems in ontology and epistemology such as feature in the Cartesian tradition; his work also serves to introduce one to phenomenology, the philosophical method later developed and refined by Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty.

In Heidegger and Sartre, that method is brought to bear on such fundamental aspects of human existence as authenticity, social understanding, bad faith, art and freedom. Merleau-Ponty (who trained as a psychologist) presents a novel and important account of the genesis of perception, cognition and feeling, and relates these to themes in aesthetics and political philosophy. While this is very much a text-based paper, many of the questions addressed are directly relevant to contemporary treatments of problems in epistemology and metaphysics, in aesthetics, political theory and the philosophy of mind.

Robert C. Solomon, Continental Philosophy since 1750: The Rise and Fall of the Self (O.U.P.).

114. Theory of Politics (NP 103) : In order to understand the world of politics, we also need to know which views of politics and society people have when they make political decisions, and why we recommend certain courses of action rather than others. This purpose of this subject is to enable you to look at the main ideas we use when we think about politics: why do we have competing views of social justice and what makes a particular view persuasive, possibly even right? What happens when a concept such as freedom has different meanings, so that those who argue that we must maximise freedom of choice are confronted with those who claim that some choices will actually restrict your freedom? Is power desirable or harmful? Would feminists or nationalists give a different answer to that question? Political theory is concerned with developing good responses to problems such as: when should we obey, and when should we disobey, the state? But it is also concerned with mapping the ways in which we approach questions such as: how does one argue in favour of human rights? In addition, you will explore the main ideologies, such as liberalism, conservatism and socialism, in order to understand their main arguments and why each of them will direct us to different political solutions and arrangements.

Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction (O.U.P.)

115. Plato, Republic : Plato’s influence on the history of philosophy is enormous. The purpose of this subject is to enable you to make a critical study of The Republic, which is perhaps his most important and most influential work. Written as a dialogue between Socrates and others including the outspoken immoralist Thrasymachus, it is primarily concerned with questions of the nature of justice and of what is the best kind of life to lead. These questions prompt discussions of the ideal city -which Karl Popper criticised as totalitarian -, of education and art, of the nature of knowledge, the Theory of Forms and the immortality of the soul. In studying it you will encounter a work of philosophy of unusual literary merit, one in which philosophy is presented through debates, through analogies and images, including the famous simile of the Cave, as well as rigorous argument, and you will encounter some of Plato’s important contributions to ethics, political theory, metaphysics, philosophy of mind and aesthetics.

You are expected to study the work in detail; the examination contains a question requiring comments on chosen passages, as well as a choice of essay questions.

Julia Annas, An Introduction to Plato's Republic, Introduction and ch. 1.

Set translation: Plato: Republic, tr Grube, revised Reeve (Hackett).

116. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics : The purpose of this subject is to give you the opportunity to make a critical study of one of the most important works in the history of philosophy. Like Plato in the Republic, Aristotle is concerned with the question, what is the best possible sort of life? Whereas this leads Plato to pose grand questions in metaphysics and political theory, it leads Aristotle to offer close analyses of the structure of human action, responsibility, the virtues, the nature of moral knowledge, weakness of will, pleasure, friendship, and other related issues. Much of what Aristotle has to say on these is ground-breaking, highly perceptive, and still of importance in contemporary debate in ethics and moral psychology.

You are expected to study the work in detail; the examination contains a question requiring comments on chosen passages, as well as a choice of essay questions.

J. L. Ackrill, Aristotle the Philosopher, ch. 10.

Set translation: Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics translated and with notes by T.H. Irwin (Hackett).

117. Frege, Russell, and Wittgenstein (NP Prelims/Mods Logic) : The purpose of this subject is to enable you to study some classic texts from which emerged modern logic and philosophy of language. Frege invented and explained the logic of multiple generality (quantification theory) and applied this apparatus to the analysis of arithmetic. Russell continued this programme, adding some refinements (the theory of types, the theory of descriptions), and he applied logic to many traditional problems in epistemology. Wittgenstein's Tractatus outlined an ambitious project for giving a logical account of truths of logic (as tautologies).

The texts are dense and sophisticated, but they are elegant and full of challenging ideas. Ability to understand logical symbolism is important, and previous work in philosophical logic would be advantageous.

Anthony Kenny, Frege (Penguin) and Wittgenstein (Penguin); J. O. Urmson, Philosophical Analysis.

118. The Later Philosophy of Wittgenstein (NP 101 or 102 or 108 or 117) : The purpose of this subject is to enable you to study some of the most influential ideas of the 20th century. The main texts are Wittgenstein’s posthumously-published Philosophical Investigations and The Blue and Brown Books. These writings are famous not just for their content but also for their distinctive style and conception of philosophy. There is much critical discussion about the relation between those aspects of Wittgenstein's work.

Wittgenstein covers a great range of issues, principally in philosophy of language and philosophy of mind. In philosophy of language, one key topic is the nature of rules and rule-following. What is involved in grasping a rule; and how can I tell, in a new case, what I have to do to apply the rule correctly? Indeed, what makes it the case that a particular move at this stage is the correct way of applying the rule; is there any standard of correctness other than the agreement of our fellows? Other topics include: whether language is systematic; the relation between linguistic meaning and non-linguistic activities; whether concepts can be illuminatingly analysed. In the philosophy of mind, Wittgenstein is especially famous for the so-called ‘private language argument’, which tries to show that words for sensations cannot get their meanings by being attached to purely internal, introspective, ‘private objects’. Other, equally important, topics include the nature of the self, of introspection and of visual experience, and the intentionality (the representative quality) of mental states. Most generally, can we (as Wittgenstein thought) avoid Cartesianism without lapsing into behaviourism?

The texts: try Philosophical Investigations paras 1-80; Blue Book pp. 1-17; Saul Kripke: Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language (Blackwell); Marie McGinn: Wittgenstein and the Philosophical Investigations (Routledge, 1997, in the Routledge Philosophy Guidebooks series)

119. Formal Logic (NP Prelims/Mods Logic) : This subject is precisely what its name suggests, an extension of the symbolic logic covered in the Prelims/Mods logic course. Only in highly exceptional circumstances would it be appropriate to do this subject without first having done Prelims/Mods logic, indeed without first having done it very well, and for feedback about this, it would be advisable to consult your Prelims/Mods logic tutor.. Formal Logic is an extremely demanding and rigorous subject, even for those who have Mathematics A Level. If you lose your way in it, there is liable to be no way of avoiding disaster. But granted these caveats, the subject is a delight to those who enjoy formal work and who are good at it. Its purpose is to introduce you to some of the deepest and most beautiful results in logic, many of which have fascinating implications for other areas of philosophy. There are three sections. The first, Propositional and Predicate Logic, is the most closely related to the material covered in the Prelims/Mods course. The other two sections are: Set Theory, which includes the rudimentary arithmetic of infinite numbers; and Metamathematics, which includes some computability theory and various results concerning the limitations of formalization, such as Gödel's theorem. Candidates will be permitted to select questions from any of the three sections, and will be required to answer three questions in all.

George S. Boolos and Richard C. Jeffrey, Computability and Logic ( Cambridge, 3rd edn.)

Please note that this option will not be offered at Finals after Trinity 2014.

120. Intermediate Philosophy of Physics : The purpose of this subject is to enable you to come to grips with conceptual problems in special relativity and quantum mechanics. Only those with a substantial knowledge of physics should offer this subject, which is normally available only to candidates reading Physics and Philosophy.

121/123. Advanced Philosophy of Physics I (NP 120)

This subject is only available in the Final Honour School of Physics and Philosophy. As the name suggests, this subject is effectively a continuation of subject 120, building on it in breadth as well as depth. Topics in space-time physics and quantum mechanics are pursued with a new focus on some central questions in philosophy, in metaphysics, philosophical logic, and in the philosophy of probability. Also, you will be studying for the first time foundational questions in thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. The two are linked: in both cases the fundamental questions concern the existence and significance of certain symmetries; in the case of thermodynamics, they concern the emergence of a directedness to time from a formal framework which is manifestly time symmetric .

D. Albert, Time and Chance ( Harvard University Press)

G. Nerlich, The Shape of Space ( Cambridge, 2 nd Ed.)

L. Sklar, Physics and Chance

122. Philosophy of Mathematics (NP 101 or 102 or 108 or 117 or 119 or 120) : What is the relation of mathematical knowledge to other kinds of knowledge? Is it of a special kind, concerning objects of a special kind? If so, what is the nature of those objects and how do we come to know anything about them? If not, how do we explain the seeming difference between proving a theorem in mathematics and establishing something about the physical world? The purpose of this subject is to enable you to examine questions such as these. Understanding the nature of mathematics has been important to many philosophers, including Plato, Aristotle, and Kant, as a test or as an exemplar of their overall position, and has also played a role in the development of mathematics at certain points. While no specific knowledge of mathematics is required for study of this subject, it will be helpful to have studied mathematics at A-level, or similar, and to have done Logic in Prelims/ Mods.

Stephen F. Barker, Philosophy of Mathematics (Prentice-Hall).

124. Philosophy of Science (NP 101 or 102): Philosophy of science is applied epistemology and applied metaphysics. It is theory of scientific knowledge and scientific method, including elements in philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics, and metaphysics. It deals with metaphysical questions – about space, time, causation, ontology, necessity, truth – as they arise across the board in the special sciences, not just in physics. Questions of method include questions of the theory-observation distinction, testability, induction, theory confirmation, and scientific explanation. They also include theory-change, whether inter-theoretic reduction, unification, or revolutionary change. They are at once questions about scientific rationality, and connect in turn with decision theory and the foundations of probability. They connect also with metaphysics, particularly realism: theory-change, scepticism, fictionalism, naturalism, the under-determination of theory by data, functionalism, structuralism, are all critiques of realism. The subject also includes the study of major historical schools in philosophy of science. The most important of these is logical positivism (later logical empiricism), that dominated the second and third quarters of the last century. In fact, some of the most important current schools in philosophy of science are broadly continuous with it, notably constructive empiricism and structural realism. The syllabus for this subject contains that for Part A of 105 and 106.

Don Gillies, Philosophy of Science in the Twentieth Century (Blackwells)
James Ladyman, Understanding Philosophy of Science (Routledge)

125. Philosophy of Cognitive Science

This paper covers some of key questions about the nature of the mind dealt with by a variety of cognitive scientific disciplines: experimental psychology, cognitive neuroscience, linguistics and computational modelling of the mind. Studying this paper will provide insight into the ways that contemporary scientific advances have improved our understanding of aspects of the mind that have long been the focus of philosophical reflection. It will also introduce you to a range of theoretical issues generated by current research in the behavioural and brain sciences.

The core topics are:

  • Levels of description and explanation (e.g. personal vs. subpersonal, functional vs. mechanistic, mind vs. brain)
  • Cognitive architecture, modularity, homuncular functionalism
  • Conceptual foundations of information processing: rules and algorithms, tacit knowledge (e.g. of grammar), competence vs. performance
  • Nature and format of representations: representationalism vs. behaviourism, the computational theory of mind and language of thought, connectionist alternatives
  • The scientific study of consciousness, including the role of subjects’ reports, non-verbal and direct measures; neural and computational correlates of consciousness; and the problem of distinguishing phenomenal and access consciousness empirically

The lectures will also cover philosophical issues raised by some areas of cutting-edge research, such as: agency and its phenomenology; attention and neglect; cognitive neuropsychology; concepts; delusions; dual-process theories; dynamical systems, embodied and embedded cognition; evolutionary psychology and massive modularity; forward models and predictive coding; imagery; implicit processing (e.g. blindsight, prosopagnosia); innateness (e.g. concept nativism); language processing and knowledge of language; perception and action (e.g. dorsal vs. ventral visual systems); spatial representation; theory of mind / mindreading; unity of consciousness. Lectures may also cover some historical background (e.g. the cognitive revolution).

For those studying psychology, neuroscience, linguistics or computation, the paper is a crucial bridge to philosophy. But you do not need to be studying a scientific subject to take this paper, as long as you enjoy reading about scientific discoveries about the mind and brain. The paper will be of great interest to philosophers without a scientific background who want to understand the benefits and limitations of bringing scientific data to bear on deep issues in the philosophy of mind.

Recommended pathways: Although there are no absolute prerequisites, it would be beneficial to study FHS 102 Knowledge and Reality and/or FHS 104 Philosophy of Mind in conjunction with this paper. For those doing so it would be useful to have begun work on one or both of those papers first.

In the transitional year 2010/11 eight lectures will be provided that are suitable for both the 105b (philosophy of psychology and neuroscience) half of the old FHS 105 paper and for the first half of the new FHS 125 course.

Since this is a new course, the Faculty is ready to advise and assist college tutors in ensuring adequate provision of tutorials for the paper. Such requests, and queries about the changeover from FHS 105 to FHS 125, can be addressed by tutors to Dr. Tim Bayne, St. Catherine’s College or to the Undergraduate Studies Administrator.

Background reading:

Bermúdez, J. L. 2010. Cognitive Science: An Introduction to the Science of the Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Davies, M. ‘An approach to philosophy of cognitive science’, in F. Jackson & M. Smith (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy (Oxford: O.U.P., 2005). (Also available on Weblearn.)

Clark, A. (2001), Mindware: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Cognitive Science (Oxford, OUP).

126. The Philosophy and Economics of the Environment

The aims of this paper are to provide students with (i) an understanding of the philosophy and economics of the environment, and (ii) the ability to analyse critically key conceptual and applied issues in this field using both a philosophical approach and the theoretical and empirical tools of economics. At the end of the course, students should have a knowledge of the philosophy and economics of the environment, including justice and goodness, theories of value, decision-making under uncertainty, market failures, international environmental agreements and the politics of the environment, intergenerational ethics and discounting, the choice of instruments, how human life and how nature may be val-ued, and the foundations of cost-benefit analysis (including methods for valuing non-market goods). The paper will cover, as appropriate, applications to environmental prob-lems such as climate change, acid rain, and local water and air pollution. The course will be taught and examined in an interdisciplinary way. This paper is available to all PPE students taking economics in the second and third year.

130. Plato, Republic (in Greek) [only available in Literae Humaniores and associated schools]

This is one of Plato’s most famous, and most influential, works. It is primarily concerned with the questions of the nature of justice and of the best possible kind of life we can live. These questions prompt discussions of the ideal city (including Plato’s most famous discussions of art), the nature of knowledge, the Theory of Forms, and the immortality of the soul. The study of the Republic will thus introduce you to many of Plato’s central ideas and argument. His thought on all these issues may have developed over time, and the Republic may represent one stage in a continuous process of reflection and self-criticism rather than a definitive and self-contained statement of his philosophy. For this reason you will wish to look at some of the ideas and arguments to be found in other Platonic dialogues as well (e.g., Gorgias, Meno, and Phaedo). The examination includes a compulsory question with passages for translation and critical comment, as well as essay questions. You will be expected to have read books I, IV-VII, X in Greek, and the rest in translation.

Text: Slings (OCT, 2003).

Translation: Grube, rev. Reeve (Hackett)
Julia Annas, An Introduction to Plato’s Republic (Oxford), introduction and ch. 1.

131. Plato, Theaetetus and Sophist (in Greek) [only available in Literae Humaniores and associated schools]

The Theaetetus is a searching analysis of the nature of knowledge - ‘rich, inventive, and profound’, as Bernard Williams says. Socrates and Theaetetus discuss the idea that knowledge might be no more than perception; Socrates argues that this would require a radical relativism of the sort developed by the sophist Protagoras, and a view of the world as constituted by fleeting perceptions rather than by enduring physical objects. They go on to discuss and reject the idea that knowledge is true judgment, turn aside from this to discuss how certain sorts of false judgment might be possible, and finally examine what sort of theory might underpin the claim that knowledge is true judgment together with a ‘logos’. Plato’s treatment of these questions laid much of the foundation of subsequent philosophical enquiry into knowledge. As well as being packed with philosophical argument of great subtlety, the Theaetetus is also a literary masterpiece, thought by many to be Plato’s finest dialogue.

The Sophist’s enquiry is a much more abstract but no less challenging one. Ostensibly a search for the definition of a sophist, its philosophical focus is the discussion of a group of problems - including those of falsehood (encountered also in Theaetetus) - arising from the notion of not-being, or what is not. The philosopher Parmenides had argued that we cannot think at all about what is not - perhaps on the basis that it is not there to be grasped or thought about - and that, since any change would involve the coming to be of something from what is not, there cannot in fact be any change: reality is a single unchanging thing. Clearly Parmenides must be wrong: Plato attempts to show precisely why, and in the process significantly modifies (some think he actually rejects) his own Theory of Forms.

The examination includes a compulsory question with passages for translation and critical comment, as well as essay questions. You will be expected to have read both dialogues in Greek.

Text: Duke et al. (OCT).

Translations: Theaetetus: McDowell (Clarendon Plato Series; also contains an excellent commentary), Levett revised Burnyeat (Hackett); Sophist: White (Hackett).

Bernard Williams, introduction to the Levett/Burnyeat translation of the Theaetetus (there are two editions of this translation: one with a short introduction by Williams, and one with a lengthy introduction by Burnyeat which you would wish to read while studying the text in detail).

132. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (in Greek) [only available in Literae Humaniores and associated schools]

The Nicomachean Ethics is one of the four treatises in the Aristotelian Corpus (the others are the Eudemian Ethics, the Magna Moralia and the Politics) that examine the moral and political questions discussed in Plato’s Republic and Laws. Like Plato in the Republic, Aristotle is concerned with the question, what is the best possible sort of life? In the Ethics he answers this question by examining the structure of human action, responsibility, the virtues, the nature of moral knowledge, weakness of will, pleasure, friendship, and other related issues. Much of what Aristotle has to say on these is ground-breaking, highly perceptive, and still important in contemporary debate in ethics and moral psychology. The examination includes a compulsory question requiring comments on passages in English translation, as well as essay questions. You will be expected to have read books I-III, VI-VII, X in Greek, and the rest in translation.

There will be a compulsory question containing passages for translation and comment from the books read in Greek; any passages for comments from the remaining books will be accompanied by a translation. There will also be essay questions.

Text: Bywater (OCT).
Translation: Irwin (Hackett), 2nd edn).
J. L. Ackrill, Aristotle the Philosopher (Oxford), ch. 10.

133. Aristotle, Physics (in Greek) [only available in Literae Humaniores and associated schools]

Aristotle is not concerned in this work to do physics in the modern sense, , but to examine a number of important philosophical issues relating to the study of the natural world in general. These include the concept of nature itself; the types of explanation required in natural science (including the issue of the legitimacy of teleological explanation in biology); chance; the nature of change; time; infinity; a critique of the various atomistic theories; and an extended argument designed to show that the changes in the natural world must depend in some way on an unchanging first principle. The Physics is an excellent introduction to Aristotle’s philosophy in general; his distinctive approach to philosophical method is evident throughout, and central Aristotelian concepts such as substance, form, matter, and cause play a central role.

The examination includes a compulsory question with passages for translation and critical comment, as well as essay questions. You will be expected to have read books I-IV and VIII in Greek and the rest in translation. There will be a compulsory question containing passages for translation and comment from the books read in Greek; any passages for comments from the remaining books will be accompanied by a translation.

Text: Ross (OCT),
Translation in J. Barnes, ed., The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation (Princeton), vol. 1.

134. Sextus Empiricus: Outlines of Pyrrhonism (in Greek) [only available in Literae Humaniores and associated schools]

In Outlines of Pyrrhonism Sextus enthusiastically expounds and argues for a thorough-going scepticism. He thinks that we should suspend judgment about absolutely everything – in other words, on having weighed up whether P, we should neither believe that P nor believe that not P (whatever P may be). Most modern sceptics, with their denial of the impossibility of knowledge in this or that domain, look pale by comparison. Book I of the Outlines explains the nature of Sextus’ scepticism, including a discussion: many of Sextus’s arguments are taken over from earlier sceptical philosophers, in a tradition going back to Pyrrho of Elis (c. 360- c. 270 B.C.). Scepticism was a major force in Hellenistic philosophy, in particular in the Academy from the 3rd century B.C. It took various forms, some more sceptical than others. One of the more extreme (he would have said: more consistent) sceptics was Aenesidemus (1st century B.C.), one of Sextus’s principal sources. Sextus also preserves a great deal of how the Sceptic can actually lead a life given this widespread suspension of judgment, and a discussion of the tools by which the sceptic can come to suspension to judgment (the ‘Modes of Scepticism’). Books II and III contain his sceptical attacks on all areas of information about the non-sceptical, ‘Dogmatic’ philosophies of the period, Stoicism and Epicureanism in particular. The diffusion of Sextus’ text in the sixteenth century was crucial in the revolution in philosophy that produced Descartes’ Meditations, and that set much of the agenda for modern philosophy. The examination includes a compulsory question with passages for translation and critical comment, as well as essay questions. You will be expected to have read the work in Greek.

Text: Bury (Loeb).
Translation: Julia Annas and Jonathan Barnes in Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Scepticism (Cambridge).
Julia Annas and Jonathan Barnes, The Modes of Scepticism (Cambridge), sections 1 and 2.

135. Latin Philosophy (in Latin) [only available in Literae Humaniores and associated schools]

These texts provide an introduction to Stoic ethics, in particular in the form it took in Roman times. The Stoics claim to defend the central elements of Socrates’ ethical outlook. Their sophisticated and influential theory combines moral theory with moral psychology (especially an account of the emotions), and an account of responsibility within a deterministic world view. They offer an important alternative to the ethical outlook of Plato and Aristotle on (e.g.) the relation of virtue to happiness, the place of knowledge in virtue, and the connections between the virtues.

Cicero’s De Finibus offers a critical discussion of Epicurean, Stoic, and Aristotelian ethics. Book III presents the best extant ancient survey of Stoic moral theory. De Officiis I is based on an important treatise by the Stoic Panaetius on what it is appropriate to do, covering many questions in practical ethics, including some moral dilemmas. The texts by Seneca offer a more detailed treatment of some of the questions raised by Cicero. . The examination includes a compulsory question with passages for translation and critical comment, as well as essay questions.

Cicero, De Finibus III. Text: Reynolds (OCT). Translation: Cicero on Stoic Good and Evil, edited by M. R. Wright (Aris and Phillips). De Officiis I (studied in translation; Cicero on Duties, edited by M. T. Griffin and E. M. Atkins (Cambridge)). 57

Seneca, Epistulae Morales 92, 95, 121. Text: Reynolds (OCT). Translation: Gummere (Loeb), Epistulae Morales, vol. 3. De Constantia and De Vita Beata. Text: Reynolds (OCT). Translation: Basore (Loeb), Moral Essays, vols. 1 & 2.

150. Jurisprudence: This subject is only available in the Final Honour School of PPE. The subject can be taken either as one of the PPE candidate’s (three to five) Philosophy papers, or as the one Philosophy subject which Politics/Economics students can elect to take. Candidates offering the Jurisprudence subject will be prohibited from combining it in any way with Theory of Politics (i.e., with either subject 114 or 203). Tutorial provision will be subject to the availability of Law tutors and will be organised on the normal college basis; tutorials will be given at the same time as they are normally given to Law students (in either Hilary or Trinity terms); and PPE students will normally be included in tutorial groups of 2 or 3 with Law students.

198. Special subjects :As specified in the regulations for Philosophy in All Honour Schools including Philosophy in the Grey Book.

199. Thesis :As specified in the regulations for Philosophy in All Honour Schools including Philosophy in the Grey Book.

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