Teach Philosophy 101
Free resources for, philosophy teachers.
"One of the most comprehensive, well-researched, and accessible guides for teachers that I have ever seen." James Lang, Chronicle of Higher Education (read full review of TΦ101)
TΦ101 believes that for many of our students, it is not enough just to say, "Read pages 23-46." If we are assigning a difficult text, we probably need to include both some guidance to make it clear to the students what they are expected to get from that text and some means of accountability. Here are a number of examples, but if you have other suggestions, please send them to us for consideration:
The simplest method of giving active reading assignments is to ask students specific questions about the text (with some way of determining if they have actually done these questions). E.g., Why does Descartes think he might be wrong in believing that is is certain that he is "sitting by the fire, wearing a winter dressing-gown"? Answers should be turned in to instructor before class.
"What does it say, what does it do?" One technique is to ask students to reflect on a particular passage and to summarize the passage, then to reflect on the function or purpose of the passage (Bean 45).
Double Entry Note Taking . Another form of active reading is to ask students to fill out a "double entry" matrix, which is a Classroom Assessment Technique. Students take notes in two columns; on the one side they list summaries of the reading, and on the other side they list a reaction, question, or connection of their own (Erickson, Peters, Strommer 124).
Daily Question Assignment . Students are asked to come to class with "the most interesting or important unanswered question from recent readings or lectures." The question must not have an easy or obvious answer, and students should be able to explain why it is interesting or important. Questions can be used as discussion starters or can be posted on-line on discussion board. Submitted by Dan Werner, SUNY-New Paltz.
Pictures and Diagramming . Some reading assignments lend themselves to diagrams, so students can be assigned to produce a diagram of Plato's cave, Locke's theory of perception, etc. Submitted by Jenny McEarlean, Sienna College. See also Cassidy 2007, who makes use of stick figures.
Pick a passage . A very simple reading assignment is to ask students to choose a passage from the text (or several passages) that they are prepared to read in class and say what they found interesting about it. This also helps the instructor understand how students responded to the reading.
Paraphrasing . Students often have trouble reading classic texts. This exercise asks them to paraphrase portions of texts to improve reading skills. (See Braver, 2005 .)
Preparing for debates and journaling . Robert Boyd Skipper uses these two techniques to get his students to read difficult primary source materials. He describes this in detail in Aliteracy in the Philosophy Classroom .
Contract Grading . Joel Marks (University of New Haven) uses " contract grading " based on student's own reports of how many hours they spend doing the assignments and does not grade the quality of their work. Simultaneously Marks makes cheating an intellectual issue in the class: he argues that students learn more and cheat less than in other classes.
National Institute of Learning Outcomes Assessment
The National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) was founded in 2008 as an organization devoted to research and resource-development on using assessment to increase students learning. NILOA has compiled an assessment library of activities that have gone through an extensive peer review process. While they do not have a Philosophy-specific category, there are many resources that should be of interest to philosophy teacher including:
Arts and Humanities
Applied and Collaborative Learning
Bean, John. Engaging Ideas: The Professors Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San
Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 1996.
Braver, Lee. " Paraphrasing ," in APA Newsletter on Teaching Philosophy , 4:2 (2005): 6-8.
Cassidy, Lisa. "Appealing to Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom: Using Stick Figures to Teach Philosophy." Teaching Philosophy 30:3 (2007) 293-308.
Erickson, Bette LaSere, Calvin B. Peters, Diane Weltner Strommer. Teaching First-Year College Students. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006.
Marks, Joel. Cheating 101. Ethics as a Lab Course , Teaching Philosophy . 26.2 (2003):131-145.
Skipper, Robert Boyd. "Aliteracy in the Philosophy Classroom." Teaching Philosophy . 28.3 (2005): 261-276.
Author: John Immerwahr
Update: 15 November, 2015 (E. Tarver); June 2020 (E. Esch)
- Teaching Elementary School Philosophy
- Teaching Middle School Philosophy
Teaching High School Philosophy
- Starting a Philosophy Club
- Forming an Ethics Bowl Team
- Creating a University Outreach Program
- Courses and Degree Programs
- Electronic Texts
- Guidelines for Dialogue, Writing and Debates
- Guides To Philosophy
- Pre-College Course Material
- Sample College Syllabi
- Associations & Societies
- Centers & Institutes
- Ethics Centers
- UNESCO Report on Philosophy
- APA Meetings
Why do philosophy in high school?
The better question would ask why not? Philosophy is routinely taught in Europe as a standard feature of the secondary school curriculum. Rigorous summer institutes, such as Johns Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth and Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development, have long enjoyed great success in exciting students about the discipline. In recent years, a growing number of high schools, public as well as private, have developed highly successful philosophy electives, as well as philosophy clubs and ethics bowl teams.
Philosophy can and should be taught in high school because this is the ideal time for students to engage its questions, arguments, and methods of thinking. High school students have not yet fully formed their habits of mind. They remain open, inquisitive, and intellectually playful. For many adolescents, the perennial questions posed by philosophy have urgency and personal significance. At the same time, high school students have developed the skills that enable them to begin serious work in reading philosophical texts, identifying and evaluating arguments, and constructing arguments of their own. They learn how to pose a good question, how to inspect and scrutinize their deeply held beliefs, and how to work out their own ideas with care and rigor.
From a school-wide perspective, philosophy can be invaluable because the skills it imparts are transferable to every part of the curriculum that emphasizes clear thinking, reading, and writing. Philosophy also supplies connective tissue, since its fundamental questions apply to all disciplines and address the full range of human experience. For example, questions about ethics and free will deepen students’ appreciation for great literature, and analysis of the mind-body problem and free will afford students a critical perspective when they study the brain in psychology.
What are the objectives of high school philosophy?
The chief objective of a high philosophy course is to engage students in the activity of doing philosophy. In keeping with this description of philosophy as an activity rather than a subject matter, the class should encourage critical inquiry, debate, and reflection upon the discipline’s fundamental questions. Because philosophers work with one eye fixed on their own traditions, students also should become familiar with important historical figures and texts that contribute to our intellectual heritage. A further, important objective is to sharpen students’ critical thinking and ability both to analyze and write arguments with clarity and precision. Finally, the course should encourage shared inquiry through good will, careful listening, and thoughtful conversation.
Courses vary in scope and emphasis, but the fundamental questions or central themes tend to include most, if not all, of the following:
- Political Philosophy
- Free Will and Determinism
- Philosophy of Mind
- Philosophy of Religion
How should the course be taught?
Although philosophy can be taught as an historical survey or structured around a set of texts, these approaches are less appropriate or effective for high school students than a topical course organized around a set of key questions that invite conversation, analysis, and debate. Each teacher must find his or her own way of motivating the philosophical question at hand. A carefully chosen thought experiment, case, story, or film clip can work effectively and excite students’ interest in demanding readings or arguments. Some teachers also assign journal entries that enable students to explore philosophical questions independently before they test their ideas in class or in a formal paper.
Assessment of student performance is typically based on the quality of written work and class participation. Teachers vary in the kinds of writing expected from students. Here are a few other examples: a thesis-driven, formal essay that uses multiple sources in response to a question; a dialogue that uses multiple sources but investigates alternative points of view without defending a particular thesis; and an in-class assignment in which the student explicates a short primary source excerpt and explains its role in the philosopher’s larger argument.
What practical considerations need to be addressed?
One obstacle to the introduction of philosophy in high school is the perception that it is either frivolous or better suited to college. Teachers should be prepared to defend the importance and rigor of the course as well as its appropriateness for high school. Examples of effective programs and evidence of excellent student work should strengthen the case.
A second concern is whether the class should be tracked and, if so, for what student population. Although some teachers have enjoyed success teaching the course to a wide range of students, they find themselves limited in the depth of inquiry and use of primary sources so essential for philosophical argumentation. If teachers can make the course available for honors credit, they may wish to investigate the possibility of college credit through their local community college.
Teachers also should consider the question of age. Philosophy, though generally appropriate for seniors, is accessible to mature, capable sophomores and juniors.
What texts are appropriate for a high school philosophy course?
Teachers new to teaching a philosophy course are fortunate in that they can draw from a wide range of philosophy texts and readers. What follows are representative titles from each major type.
Primary source readers
Louis Pojman, Philosophy: The Quest for Truth (Oxford, 2008).
G Lee Bowie et al, Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy (Thomson 2004).
Annotated primary source reader
Laurence Bonjour, Philosophical Problems: An Annotated Anthology (Pearson Longman 2006).
Two-volume set of primary source reader and secondary source on the topics
Nils Ch. Rauhut, Ultimate Questions: Thinking about Philosophy (Penguin, 2004).
Nils Ch. Rauhut, Readings on the Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy, 2 nd edition (Penguin, 2007).
(Note: both texts are available in paper.)
Secondary source with short primary source readings
William Lawhead, The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach (McGraw Hill, 2006). (Note: includes excellent questionnaires on philosophical questions.)
Theodore Schick and Lewis Vaughn, Doing Philosophy: An Introduction Through Thought Experiments , third edition (McGraw Hill, 2006).
Pedagogical approach to introducing philosophy
Adam Morton, Philosophy in Practice: An Introduction to the Main Questions, 2 nd edition (Blackwell 2004).
Collections of thought experiments
Stephen Law, The Philosophy Gym: 25 Short Adventures in Thinking (Headline, 2004).
Peg Tittle, What If…Collected Thought Experiments in Philosophy (Pearson Longman, 2005).
Julian Baggini, The Pig that Wants to Be Eaten: One Hundred Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher (Plume, 2006).
References for teachers: handbooks and texts for philosophical methods and structure of arguments
Julian Baggini and Peter Fosl, The Philosopher’s Toolkit: A Compendium of Philosophical Concepts and Methods ( Wiley-Blackwell, 2002).
Jay Rosenberg, The Practice of Philosophy: A Handbook for Beginners (Prentice Hall, 1996).
Elliott Sober, Core Questions in Philosophy: A Text with Readings (Prentice Hall, 2005).
Committee on Pre-College Instruction in Philosophy
The committee of the American Philosophical Association devoted to enhancing and developing pre-college philosophy in the United States.
American Philosophical Association
The American Philosophical Association was founded in 1900 to “encourage creative and scholarly activity in philosophy.” It is one of the largest philosophical associations in the world with over 11,000 members to whom it offers an array of services.
Squire Family Foundation
Working with philosophers and educators to ensure that all students in American secondary schools have an opportunity to study philosophy.
Copyright © 2009 PLATO: Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization
Contact us at
Nick Byrd, Ph.D.
Using science and technology to understand and improve how we think.
Introduction to Philosophy: A Free Course
Below are the syllabus and materials for my Introduction to Philosophy course. You are welcome to use any of the material as a student or as an instructor. The usual creative commons license applies to my portion of this—i.e., only the stuff to which I would have a copyright. (If you are my student, remember that you can be quizzed on the contents of the syllabus.)
I. Introduction to Philosophy
Did you know that people who study philosophy make significantly fewer reasoning errors than others? (See Livengood et al 2010 and Byrd 2014 ). And did you know that philosophy majors outperform basically everyone else on the GRE ? And did you know that the median mid-career salary for people who major in philosophy is $81,000 ? And did you know that philosophy majors were projected to be the top-paid humanities major in 2016 ? Find out more about philosophy majors here . And if you’ve never taken a philosophy class, you might want to read this 3-4 page intro .
II. Course Overview
We tend to think and worry about issues that are important to us, such as:
Career/Vocation : What should (and shouldn’t) I do for money? What should I do with my time? My skills? Finances : How much does a good life cost? What should (and shouldn’t) I buy? Sell? What’s a fair wage? Facts : When can we trust people, institutions, test results, evidence, etc.? How? And why? What can’t we trust? Lifestyle : What should (or shouldn’t) I do with my body? What should (or shouldn’t) I eat? When is it ok to…? Politics : What institutions/policies/candidates should have power (if any)? How should we decide? Who cares? Relationships : What makes a relationship/friend/partner good? What makes them bad? Who gets to decide?
Philosophers’ tools. This class will introduce us to new (and hopefully better) tools for answering these questions. So, by learning these tools in class (and outside of class), then we could think (and hopefully live) better. Specifically, we could improve our ability to analyze and evaluate real-world problems, arguments, evidence, and/or principles. That is both good news and bad news—ask me about this in class some time.
Practice: Learning the tools of philosophical analysis and evaluation is not very difficult. However, applying these rules to new material without a philosopher’s guidance can be surprisingly hard. The best medicine seems to be practice. So, practice. And practice again (not just in the classroom). And make sure that at least some of your practice conditions mimic assignment and test conditions—e.g., write your answers with some kind of time constraint and without immediate access to the answers.
III. Course Materials:
- iClicker Student Remote . To receive credit for daily attendance, quizzes, and/or participation, you must have an iClicker. You will probably need an iClicker on the first day of class.
- (Short) Introduction(s) to (Some) Philosophy. (Available in the online course, but links to each reading are below, wherever possible.)
- An email address. Check it before every class.
- (Optional) Harrell, M. (2016). What Is the Argument?: An Introduction to Philosophical Argument and Analysis . Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
- (Optional and free ) The Originals: Classic Readings In Western Philosophy
IV. Course Grading
Your final grade is determined by various aspects of the course. Early assignments count less than later assignments so that someone can make common mistakes early in the course and still get an A in the course—assuming they learn from mistakes, of course. (You’re welcome.)
Final grade percentages will be rounded up/down as appropriate. (For instance, 89.5% will be rounded up to 90% and 89.4% will be rounded down to 89%.)
Final grades for the course will be assigned on the following scale:
I will comment on your papers using shorthand. The key to understanding that shorthand can be found in “ Grading Shorthand: Quick, Consistent, and Constructive Feedback “.
V. Course Schedule
The average reading is less than 10 pages! (You’re welcome). So, you have no (good) excuse for not reading the assigned reading (at least once) before every class. (And yes: there is assigned reading before the first day of class.) If you are looking for ways to read faster, see “ Text-to-speech for speed reading and more “.
Part 1: The Basics
Section 1 : Read the Syllabus before class. During class, complete a Pre-test , do some myth-busting, and review the syllabus. Section 2 : Read Self-taught Logic , Unit 1 (to the end of Section 2) before class. During class, review the basics a class and then complete the in-class assignment in groups. Section 3: Finish reading Self-taught Logic , Unit 1 (to the end of the unit) before class. During class, go over the new material as a class and then complete the in-class assignment in groups. Section 4 : Read “ A Right To Believe? ” before class. During class, go over one part of the reading and then complete the in-class assignment in groups.
Part 2: The Method
Section 5 : Read “ Appealing to Intuition ” before class. During class, discuss appeals to intuition as a class and then complete the in-class assignment in groups. Section 6 : Read “ Armchair Science ” before class. During class, discuss thought experiments as a class, and then complete the in-class assignment in groups. Section 7 : Read “ An Experimental Philosophy Manifesto ” before class. During class, discuss skepticism as a class and then complete the in-class assignment in groups. ** Paper 1 due (online and hardcopy). **
Part 3: The Facts
Section 8 : Read pages 3-10 (“The Problem of Induction”) of The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Sect. 1, 3) before class. During class, discuss some history of science as a class and then complete the in-class assignment in groups. Section 9 : Read “Scientific Inquiry: Invention and Test” before class (available upon request). During class, discuss the logic of hypothesis testing and then complete the in-class assignment in groups. Section 10 : Read “An Experiment In Physics Can Never…” (a.k.a. “ Physical Theory and Experiment “) before class. During class, discuss everyday cases of hypothesis testing and then complete the in-class assignment in groups.
** Test 1 : Study your notes, in-class assignments, and ask about what is still confusing to you during class and/or office hours. **
Section 11 : Read chapter 4 of Beyond Positivism : “A Problem-Solving Approach to Science…” (available upon request) before class. During class, discuss realism and non-realism about science as a class and then complete the in-class assignment in groups. Section 12: Read “ Historical Science, Experimental Science… ” before class. During class, discuss smoking guns in historical science as a class and then complete the in-class assignment in groups. Section 13: Read “ Pure Science and the Problem of Progress ” (Sect. 1, 3) or “ Values and Objectivity in the IPCC ” before class. During class, discuss the pure-applied science distinction as a class and then complete the in-class assignment in groups. Section 14: Read “ Du Bois’ Democratic Defence of the Value Free Ideal ” before class. During class, discuss trust in science as well as science in policy-making and then complete the in-class assignment in groups.
Part 4: The Good
Section 15: Read “ Morality Is A Culturally Conditioned… ” before class. During class, discuss arguments for moral relativism as a class and then complete the in-class assignment in groups. Section 16: Read “ Trying on One’s New Sword ” before class. During class, discuss whether moral isolationism follows from moral relativism as a class and then complete the in-class assignment in groups. Section 17: Read Part III, Chapter 4 of What Ever Happened To Good and Evil? : “Does Ethical Objectivity Require God?” before class. During class, discuss the Euthyphro Dilemma as a class and then complete the in-class assignment in groups. Section 18: Read “ Famine, Affluence, and Morality ” before class. During class, hear Peter Singer explain what you should do with your affluence and then complete the in-class assignment in groups.
** Paper 2 due (online and hardcopy) **
Part 5: The Future
Section 19: Read “ Why Novel Prediction Matters ” (Sect. 0, 3, 4) before class. During class, discuss predictivism and accomodationism as a class and then complete the in-class assignment in groups. Section 20: Read “ Conservation and Animal Welfare ” before class. During class, discuss deer culling, human culling, intrinsic value, and instrumental value as a class and then complete the in-class assignment in groups. Section 21: Read “ Raising Good Robots ” before class. During class, discuss Platonic, Aristotelian, and Parental models of robot morality as a class and then complete the in-class assignment in groups.
** Test 2: Study your notes, in-class assignments, and ask about what is still confusing to you during class and/or office hours. **
VI. Philosophy Guidelines
Discussion is crucial to your success in this class. First, a discussion is the closest thing to a review session that you will get in this class. So, if you can’t confidently answer something on an in-class assignment, then we should probably discuss it in class. (In case it wasn’t obvious; in-class assignments are the backbone of your class notes.)
Also, we will be covering some controversial and sensitive issues about which different people have different opinions. You will very likely disagree with other people in the class—including me—at some point in the semester. No need to be alarmed. Disagreement is common in philosophy. And discussing disagreements can be productive. Why?
In philosophy, what we believe matters less than why we believe it. Discussing our disagreement(s) often reveals why we believe what we believe. Of course, we can imagine a disagreement and corresponding discussion. That is, we can argue for positions that we do not actually hold and argue against positions that we do hold. (It’s pretty fun. You should try it.) In class, we have the benefit of discussing disagreements with real people! For instance, we can express disagreement with and ask questions about the reading, in-class assignments, or lecture material. Good things to mention in class discussions include:
- Arguments for and against what we discuss;
- Objections to those arguments;
- Counter-objections to those objections;
- Examples to accompany those arguments, objections, and counter-objections;
- Questions about the meanings of terms/phrases from those arguments, objections, and counter-objections.
When you float a claim or view in class, I will probably ask you for a reason—e.g., an argument or some evidence. So, when you find yourself wanting to make a claim or disagree with someone else’s claim, feel free to think of some reason that our class would probably accept. More importantly, try to be courageous enough to admit when you cannot think of good reasons for your claim or your disagreement—it is perfectly acceptable to find ourselves in that situation so long as we admit it.
In general, you should write in a way that a smart person who is not in our class will understand. More specifically, you should write clearly, cogently, concisely, and (if possible) creatively. Not sure how to do that? Find my advice in “ How To Write A Philosophy Paper: 4 Criteria, 9 Tips “.
VII. Course Policies
Aside from iClickers, electronics must be turned off and put away. You may use a computer/tablet/etc. for team-based assignments—e.g. so that you can search within each reading. But unless you have written permission from me, these devices must be put away during lectures and tests. Those who have permission to use such devices can lose permission if I find the laptops or cell phones distracting.
Make Up Policy for iClicker Problems
iClicker assignments that are missed or entered incorrectly because
- you have not purchased your iClicker yet (or you have, but you have not received it yet)
- you have not registered your iClicker
- your iClicker is not working (or you clicked the wrong button)
- you lost your iClicker (or you forgot to bring your iClicker to class)
are not excused. It is your responsibility to overcome these problems. My responsibility is to point you to the website, phone number, and email address for iClicker support: http://support.iclicker.com , 866.209.5698 (M-F 9am-9pm EST), [email protected]
The “I just need to pass!” Policy
Anyone who satisfies all the following criteria will be guaranteed at least a C in this class: (a) you hand in both papers on time; (b) you miss no more than one in-class assignment; (c) you put forth a reasonable effort on all work; (d) you score (on average) at least 55% on the tests; and (e) you don’t commit academic dishonesty.
We will be covering some controversial and sensitive issues. We will probably disagree about some of these. Our goal is to express our disagreements in a way that respects the people with whom we disagree. Here are a few ways to do that.
- Listen to whoever is talking. Only one person should talk at a time, except during team-based classwork.
- Talk , one at a time, only after you raise your hand and you are called on (except during team-based classwork). (I will call on as many people as time permits. You can also talk to me in office hours.)
- Disagree not by presuming that the person/view with whom you disagree with is silly, foolish, but by summarizing the “steel person” version of the view, the part with which you disagree, and your reason(s).
- Silence your electronics in class . Electronic noises are distracting and can cause unnecessary stress during quizzes and tests. Let’s be kind to each other by silencing electronics during class.
- Use electronics only for class-related activity : I’ve seen some weird stuff on smartphones, tablets, and computers during class—so distracting! Let’s be kind to each other by putting electronics under our seat, unless we are doing team-based assignments. And let’s use electronics only for class-related purposes.
Academic Integrity Policies
I take academic dishonesty very seriously, and I expect all students to abide by these ground rules:
- Team-based assignments . You can work with classmates on in-class, team-based assignments. (Note: you should feel no obligation to work with anyone. Working alone is totally acceptable.)
- Papers . You can work with classmates on your papers if you note who you worked with on the line below your name (e.g., “I worked with Marques Jones” …and Marques should write that they worked with you).
- Tests . You can study with classmates, but do not work with classmates on tests and quizzes.
- Anyone found guilty of engaging in academic dishonesty will be sanctioned in accordance with the university policy and will result in automatic Fail for the course.
Important Note #1 : Failing to cite correctly and/or submitting your own work from other classes constitutes plagiarism according to the University’s Academic Honor Policy—even if accidental or unwitting.
Important Note #2 : It is common for postgraduate schools (e.g., med schools, law schools, software boot camps, etc.) and employers to ask your alma mater if you committed academic dishonesty. So, plagiarism and cheating can haunt you long after you graduate.
The “Can you tell me what I missed?” Policy
If you miss some or all of a class, do not ask me to review what you missed. Simply read what was assigned (at least once) and complete the corresponding in-class assignment. Classmates can tell you about class discussion(s). We can discuss your questions about the reading and/or the in-class assignments in office hours.
Office Hours Policy
If you plan to attend office hours to get help understanding the material, then bring the relevant reading, your notes/flashcards (e.g., your completed in-class assignments), etc. If you have not completed the reading, taken notes, studied your notes, and practiced the material, then you do not yet need my help. You simply need to start reading, taking notes, studying, and/or practicing. Once you do that, I can (and am truly happy to) help.
The Pre-Grading Policy
The purpose of homework is to test how well you understand the material. So, no, I cannot read your paper before it is due and tell you what to change. That is what grading is for. (If you want to know the reason, re-read the first sentence of this policy again.) Of course, we can discuss the course material more generally.
The Cool-Down Policy
We can talk about a grade on any assignment or test a couple days after it is returned to you.
Late Policy for Homework Assignments
You can submit late homework assignments for full credit if you can provide a reasonable, documented excuse, such as a doctor’s note, for missing the deadline. If you lack a reasonable, documented excuse, then you can still submit a homework assignment for half credit as late as seven calendar days after the deadline. You will receive no credit for homework assignments submitted more than seven calendar days after the deadline without a reasonable, documented excuse.
Last Day Late to Submit Late Work
With no exceptions, the last day to submit late work is the Monday of the final week of class by 5 pm.
The “But I am an A student!” Policy
If you argue or imply that your grade in this class is somehow determined by your grades in other classes, then you can expect only one thing from me: an incredulous stare.
The “Is there anything I can do to bring up my grade?” Policy
The assignments on the syllabus are easier than extra-credit and/or make-up assignments. For example, an extra credit assignment might be to explain a short book or a long book chapter (that I select) in your own words. On any extra-credit/make-up assignment, you write (at the top) which already-graded assignment’s grade will be replaced by the extra-credit/make-up assignment’s forthcoming grade. By submitting the extra-credit/make-up assignment, you are agreeing to the replacement grade, even if it ends up lower than the original grade.
The “Will you write me a recommendation letter?” Policy
I will write letters of recommendation for students that receive an A or A- in the course. I will consider arguments for making exceptions to this policy. Without exception, a letter must be requested ≥ two weeks before it is due.
Nick is a cognitive scientist at Florida State University studying reasoning, wellbeing, and willpower. Check out his blog at byrdnick.com/blog View all posts by Nick Byrd
- 1.1 What Is Philosophy?
- 1.2 How Do Philosophers Arrive at Truth?
- 1.3 Socrates as a Paradigmatic Historical Philosopher
- 1.4 An Overview of Contemporary Philosophy
- Review Questions
- Further Reading
- 2.1 The Brain Is an Inference Machine
- 2.2 Overcoming Cognitive Biases and Engaging in Critical Reflection
- 2.3 Developing Good Habits of Mind
- 2.4 Gathering Information, Evaluating Sources, and Understanding Evidence
- 2.5 Reading Philosophy
- 2.6 Writing Philosophy Papers
- 3.1 Indigenous Philosophy
- 3.2 Classical Indian Philosophy
- 3.3 Classical Chinese Philosophy
- 4.1 Historiography and the History of Philosophy
- 4.2 Classical Philosophy
- 4.3 Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Philosophy
- 5.1 Philosophical Methods for Discovering Truth
- 5.2 Logical Statements
- 5.3 Arguments
- 5.4 Types of Inferences
- 5.5 Informal Fallacies
- 6.1 Substance
- 6.2 Self and Identity
- 6.3 Cosmology and the Existence of God
- 6.4 Free Will
- 7.1 What Epistemology Studies
- 7.2 Knowledge
- 7.3 Justification
- 7.4 Skepticism
- 7.5 Applied Epistemology
- 8.1 The Fact-Value Distinction
- 8.2 Basic Questions about Values
- 8.3 Metaethics
- 8.4 Well-Being
- 8.5 Aesthetics
- 9.1 Requirements of a Normative Moral Theory
- 9.2 Consequentialism
- 9.3 Deontology
- 9.4 Virtue Ethics
- 9.6 Feminist Theories of Ethics
- 10.1 The Challenge of Bioethics
- 10.2 Environmental Ethics
- 10.3 Business Ethics and Emerging Technology
- 11.1 Historical Perspectives on Government
- 11.2 Forms of Government
- 11.3 Political Legitimacy and Duty
- 11.4 Political Ideologies
- 12.1 Enlightenment Social Theory
- 12.2 The Marxist Solution
- 12.3 Continental Philosophy’s Challenge to Enlightenment Theories
- 12.4 The Frankfurt School
- 12.5 Postmodernism
For most college students, an Introduction to Philosophy course is their first encounter with the study of philosophy . Unlike most of your other courses, philosophy is not something usually covered in high school. Yet you are probably familiar with the term philosophy and may have some preconceived notion about what philosophy is and what philosophers do. Perhaps you have stayed up late at night talking with friends or family about topics like free will or the existence of God. Maybe you have a friend who always talks about big ideas or asks tough questions that sound like riddles. Perhaps you think of them as “philosophical”; you might be right.
In this chapter, we will provide a brief introduction to the field of philosophy as a historical and academic discipline. This first chapter should prepare you for your philosophy course and give you a better idea of what it means to be a philosopher. As with all introductions, this one is just a start. Your job is to explore more, think more, read more, and write more like a philosopher. Soon you may even find that you are doing philosophy.
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- Authors: Nathan Smith
- Publisher/website: OpenStax
- Book title: Introduction to Philosophy
- Publication date: Jun 15, 2022
- Location: Houston, Texas
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A FINAL WRITING ASSIGNMENT IN PHILOSOPHY 101
PROFESSOR STEVEN NADLER (PHILOSOPHY 101, INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY)
We have covered many philosophical topics this semester, in metaphysics (the nature of reality, the mind-body problem), ethics (What is [the] good? What is happiness? What is the relationship between being good/virtuous and being happy?), political philosophy (Are you obliged to obey the state? Why?), epistemology (What is knowledge? How does it differ from mere belief or opinion?), philosophy of religion (Can the existence of God be rationally demonstrated? What is the difference between knowing something by reason and believing it on faith?), and the meaning of life (What does it mean to say that life/a life is meaningful? Does death render life meaningless? Or, in fact, is it immortality that would make life meaningless?).
We have also read a number of philosophers, both classic and contemporary (Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Epictetus, St. Anselm, Descartes, Kant, Mill, Sartre, Susan Wolf, Bernard Williams, Thomas Nagel, Elizabeth Anscombe, etc.)
For your final paper, you are to write a philosophical dialogue (much like the dialogues of Plato that you read). Chose ONE of the philosophical topics we discussed, and TWO or THREE of the philosophers we studied, and put them in dialogue with each other. How would each philosopher explain his/her position and criticize the views of the other(s)? How would each philosopher respond to the other’s criticisms? You may insert yourself into the dialogue as one of the interlocutors, explain whom you would agree with.
5-7 pages, double-spaced.
Browse Course Material
- Prof. Miriam Schoenfield
- Linguistics and Philosophy
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Learning Resource Types
Problems of philosophy, assignments.
In this class you will write three 1,000-to-1,200 word papers, and one 2,000-to-2,400 word final paper, for a minimum of 5,000 words. You will revise and resubmit your first paper after meeting with your recitation instructor.
For details on the papers, click on the links below.
Things that make for a good paper are: clear and accurate reconstructions of arguments we have seen in readings and lecture, a clearly articulated position, your reasons for taking that position, answers to likely criticisms, and evidence of your thinking the issues through for yourself.
As you know, all your writing must be your own. This means that anything quoted verbatim must appear within quotation marks and be accompanied by a footnote 1 that identifies its source. You’re welcome to quote a handout, but we expect the bulk of the paper to be your own wording. Whenever the insights or ideas of another person (including friends of yours and anonymous authors of material on the internet) appear in your paper you must credit that person in a footnote. If you are in any doubt about whether something you are writing amounts to plagiarism, talk about it with your TA before you hand in your paper. You can also review “Academic Integrity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: A Handbook for Students.” (PDF - 1.4MB)
1 Name of author, name of piece, place of publication, date of publication
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Teachers Assemble: Sample Lesson Plan for Philosophy in High School English
In a recent article on this blog, I outlined both the dearth of online resources to help middle and high school educators bring philosophy into their classrooms given the lack of curricular opportunities and, in turn, the absolute necessity for teachers of English to find places to bring philosophical pedagogy to their students within the framework of their current discipline and the demands of both state guidelines and district practices.
In doing so, I stated that the objective of our plans should be threefold: one, for teachers to not simply lecture, but to allow students an opportunity for self-discovery. Two, to give students an invitation for what former director of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Ernest Morrell calls “an opportunity to become” by giving them practical, real-world applications for philosophy and, three, to allow students the opportunity to share.
While pedagogically sound as a method of instructing students, we must also note, however, that our objectives are incomplete without a further unspoken opportunity for teachers to pair these lessons with a wide variety of texts, giving them an “excuse” to teach these philosophical concepts through the backdoor in order to stay compliant with district and state mandates.
This last opportunity, it turns out, is the most vital. It is generally well-known that students deepen their understanding of difficult concepts by making connections to other readings, to shared cultural experiences, and to their own lives. The study of philosophy, and more particularly moral virtue, is broad enough that many of the texts educators already teach as part of their regular curriculum will find natural pairings in one or more of the general categories of thought discussed in the mini-lessons, providing them with a natural connection to discuss philosophical themes and questions, and giving them maximum flexibility to bring these lessons into whatever curricular sequence they’ve already designed.
For the sake of demonstration, let’s go through what that might look like with one of the several domains and an associated paired text. Below, you will find all listed resources attached for use in your own classroom.
Stoicism, Batman and Hamlet
Our hypothetical high school class is reading William Shakespeare’s Hamlet . As opposed to reading a text in full and then discussing (as one might do for, say, summer reading) our hypothetical class, like most high school classes, is close-reading the text in sequence, deciphering the lines, themes, and references together. Perhaps our teacher is reading aloud with them. Perhaps she is showing a video. Perhaps the students themselves are acting it out. In any case, our class gets to Act II, scene ii where Hamlet says the following:
“Why, then, ’tis none to you; for there is nothing
either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me
it is a prison.”
It is here that are hypothetical educator might pause and say that Hamlet’s line is an example of a philosophy known as stoicism. But what is stoicism, and how does it relate to our pensive Dane?
The next day our class arrives in English to find a Free Write on the board, projected onto a smart board or available on their Google Classrooms using the below template. Free writes are a do now that charges students with writing whatever comes to their heads, and allows for them to write without fear of being wrong or even grammatically correct. “What things in life are actually under your control,” they are asked to contemplate. “How often do you let things you can’t control affect you?” Maybe they write their responses in journals, in their computers, or on a Free Write Response Template . Each of the philosophical domains in the curricular unit contain such a domain-specific free write.
If time allows (perhaps our school uses a block schedule and meets for longer than the typical forty minutes), our teacher might ask students to share, either peer to peer, in groups, or as part of a full-class “campfire.” In any event, our educator next pulls up the Mini-Lesson on Stoicism. Like all of the created mini-lessons, the stoicism presentation uses a superhero to allow students the opportunity for an instant connection based on hitting them “where they live.” In order to ensure our students are following along and taking good notes, our teacher hands out Philosophy Vocabulary Worksheet , which she can collect as either an in-class formative assessment or as homework.
It is at this point that discussion should center on what will be obvious to students, and that is the relationship between the philosophy of stoicism and our mentor text. Indeed, Hamlet (the character) is, at times, somehow either too stoic or not stoic enough – his central tragedy and conflict, it seems, being a war between his reason and his emotion, to quietly bear “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune/or to take arms against a sea of troubles.”
At this point, an educator might choose to go back to reading Hamlet and put aside our philosophical teaching. By simply introducing the concept and giving students an opportunity for discovery, the topic of stoicism can be assumed taught, and reintroduced in an eventual summative assessment or essay. Each of the domains in our self-created unit, however, also contain an opportunity for students to become more familiar with the philosophy through an Activity which invites them to use the ethical domain in practice. For stoicism, students are invited to prove the theorem that “the obstacle is the way” through a guided and hands on application of negative visualization and denial.
Finally, students are invited to test their understanding of the concept, and its relationship to the paired text, through the creation of a One-Pager . One-pagers are unique ways for teachers to assess student comprehension in creative and fun ways, combining understanding with freedom for color, drawing, and scaffolded learning. Teachers may consider modeling a response for their students or making a template of their own. These assessments can be used as exit-tickets, or in the place of quizzes, to test student comprehension. Teachers may also follow-up the creation of these one-pagers with gallery walks or other opportunities for their students to share.
If done with some minor expediency, all of the above can be completed in a single forty-minute class or, with no structural changes, in a seventy minute block with an opportunity for more student sharing and discussion. Students, of course, are invited to use their new understanding as an additional lens through which to read the rest of the text, and to recall their learning in a summative essay or project-based assignment. In future lessons, a teacher might provide further information on stoicism, for instance an excerpt from a secondary paired text ( Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, perhaps, or How to Be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci).
Embedded in this sequence are some 5 or 6 common core standards including, but not limited to: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.2 (Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.) and CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.1 (Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.) Most importantly, perhaps, the adaptability of the sequence works just as well if the mentor text isn’t Hamlet but instead some three score books and poems commonly taught in middle and high school, including everything from The Odyssey to A Farewell to Arms.
In all, I have created similar lesson sequences and resources for seven additional philosophical domains aside from stoicism. Together, this unit itself comes with philosophy specific final assessments, including essays and projects. They can be taught in sequence or as individual lessons across many months or simply as the opportunity presents itself.
For downloadable and shareable versions of all the lesson resources mentioned in this article, please visit my personal website .
- Shawn Adler
Shawn Adler is a high school English and Psychology teacher at Cliffside Park High School in New Jersey. A former professional journalist and occasional college professor of composition, he is deeply invested in creating opportunities for middle and high school students to “become.” For more information or resources, or with opportunities to collaborate, you can reach him through email at email@example.com
- Sabrina D. MisirHiralall
- Superhero Philosophy
The transformative power of philosophy, undergraduate philosophy club: university of alabama at birmingham, syllabus showcase: ethical issues in health care, megan dean, syllabus showcase: introduction to philosophy, samuel a. taylor, effective online teaching, undergraduate philosophy club: the university of north carolina, leave a reply cancel reply.
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Introduction to Philosophy
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There are 14 modules in this course
This course will introduce you to some of the main areas of research in contemporary philosophy. Each module a different philosopher will talk you through some of the most important questions and issues in their area of expertise. We’ll begin by trying to understand what philosophy is – what are its characteristic aims and methods, and how does it differ from other subjects? Then we’ll spend the rest of the course gaining an introductory overview of several different areas of philosophy.
Topics you’ll learn about will include: Epistemology, where we’ll consider what our knowledge of the world and ourselves consists in, and how we come to have it; Philosophy of science, where we’ll investigate foundational conceptual issues in scientific research and practice; Philosophy of Mind, where we’ll ask questions about what it means for something to have a mind, and how minds should be understood and explained; Political Philosophy, where we'll investigate whether we have an obligation to obey the law; Moral Philosophy, where we’ll attempt to understand the nature of our moral judgements and reactions – whether they aim at some objective moral truth, or are mere personal or cultural preferences, and; Metaphysics, where we’ll think through some fundamental conceptual questions about free will and the nature of reality. The development of this MOOC has been led by the University of Edinburgh's Eidyn research centre. To accompany 'Introduction to Philosophy', we are pleased to announce a tie-in book from Routledge entitled 'Philosophy for Everyone'. This course companion to the 'Introduction to Philosophy' course was written by the Edinburgh Philosophy team expressly with the needs of MOOC students in mind. 'Philosophy for Everyone' contains clear and user-friendly chapters, chapter summaries, glossary, study questions, suggestions for further reading and guides to online resources. Please click "Start Here" and navigate to the "Optional Reading" page for more information.
What is Philosophy?
(Dr. Dave Ward) We’ll start the course by thinking about what Philosophy actually is: what makes it different from other subjects? What are its distinctive aims and methods? We'll also think about why the questions that philosophers attempt to answer are often thought to be both fundamental and important, and have a look at how philosophy is actually practiced. Finally, we'll briefly touch upon two very influential philosophers' answers to the question of how we can know whether, in any given case, there really is a right way of thinking about things.
4 videos 3 readings 2 quizzes
4 videos • Total 47 minutes
- Introduction: What is Philosophy? • 12 minutes • Preview module
- Philosophy: Difficult, Important and Everywhere • 11 minutes
- Philosophy: How Do We Do It? • 17 minutes
- Is There A 'Right Way' To Think About Things? • 6 minutes
3 readings • Total 30 minutes
- About this Course • 10 minutes
- Module: What is Philosophy? • 10 minutes
- Optional Reading • 10 minutes
2 quizzes • Total 60 minutes
- Practice: What is Philosophy? • 30 minutes
- What is Philosophy? • 30 minutes
Morality: Objective, Relative or Emotive?
(Dr. Matthew Chrisman) We all live with some sense of what is good or bad, some feelings about which ways of conducting ourselves are better or worse. But what is the status of these moral beliefs, senses, or feelings? Should we think of them as reflecting hard, objective facts about our world, of the sort that scientists could uncover and study? Or should we think of moral judgements as mere expressions of personal or cultural preferences? In this module we’ll survey some of the different options that are available when we’re thinking about these issues, and the problems and prospects for each.
4 videos 2 readings 1 quiz
4 videos • Total 43 minutes
- The Status of Morality • 11 minutes • Preview module
- Objectivism, Relativism and Emotivism • 13 minutes
- Objections to Objectivism, Relativism and Emotivism • 11 minutes
- Further Discussion • 7 minutes
2 readings • Total 20 minutes
- Module: Morality: Objective, Emotive or Relative? • 10 minutes
- Related work by Philosophy staff at the University of Edinburgh • 10 minutes
1 quiz • Total 30 minutes
- Practice: Morality: Objective, Relative or Emotive? • 30 minutes
What is Knowledge? And Do We Have Any?
(Professor Duncan Pritchard) We know a lot of things – or, at least, we think we do. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies knowledge; what it is, and the ways we can come to have it. In this module, we’ll take a tour through some of the issues that arise in this branch of philosophy. In particular, we’ll think about what radical scepticism means for our claims to knowledge. How can we know something is the case if we’re unable to rule out possibilities that are clearly incompatible with it?
5 videos 2 readings 1 quiz
5 videos • Total 56 minutes
- The Basic Constituents of Knowledge • 13 minutes • Preview module
- The Classical Account of Knowledge and the Gettier Problem • 18 minutes
- Do We Have Any Knowledge? • 10 minutes
- Further Discussion 1 • 10 minutes
- Further Discussion 2 • 3 minutes
- Module: What is Knowledge? And Do We Have Any? • 10 minutes
- Practice: What is Knowledge? And Do We Have Any? • 30 minutes
Week 2 review: Lesson Choices
Do we have an obligation to obey the law.
(Dr. Guy Fletcher) The laws of a state govern what we can and cannot do within that state. But do we have an obligation to obey those laws? In this module, we'll discuss this question, together with some of the main positions that philosophers have developed in response to it. We'll start off by examining what obeying the law means exactly. Then we'll look at three factors that might form the basis of an obligation to follow the law. Finally, we'll discuss what the consequences might be if the problem can't be solved.
7 videos 2 readings 1 quiz
7 videos • Total 27 minutes
- Do You Have an Obligation to Obey the Law? • 4 minutes • Preview module
- The Grounds of Political Obligation • 2 minutes
- Gratitude and Benefit • 4 minutes
- Consent • 8 minutes
- Fairness • 3 minutes
- What if the Problem Can't Be Solved? • 1 minute
- Summary • 1 minute
- Module: Do We Have an Obligation to Obey the Law? • 10 minutes
- Practice: Do We Have an Obligation to Obey the Law? • 30 minutes
Should You Believe What You Hear?
(Dr. Allan Hazlett) Much of what we think about the world we believe on the basis of what other people say. But is this trust in other people's testimony justified? In this module, we’ll investigate how this question was addressed by two great philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment, David Hume (1711 - 1776) and Thomas Reid (1710 - 1796). Hume and Reid's dispute about testimony represents a clash between two worldviews that would continue to clash for centuries: a skeptical and often secular worldview, eager to question everything (represented by Hume), and a conservative and often religious worldview, keen to defend common sense (represented by Reid).
5 videos • Total 24 minutes
- Introduction: Hume on Testimony and Miracles • 8 minutes • Preview module
- Reid's Challenge to Hume • 2 minutes
- Reid's Argument • 5 minutes
- Kant, the Enlightenment and Intellectual Autonomy • 4 minutes
- The Value of Intellectual Autonomy • 3 minutes
- Module: Should You Believe What You Hear? • 10 minutes
- Practice: Should You Believe What You Hear? • 30 minutes
Week 3 review: Lesson Choices
Minds, brains and computers.
(Dr. Suilin Lavelle) If you’re reading this, then you’ve got a mind. But what is a mind, and what does it take to have one? Should we understand minds as sets of dispositions to behave in certain ways, as patterns of neural activation, or as akin to programmes that are run on the computational hardware of our brains? In this module, we’ll look at how and why recent philosophy of mind and psychology has embraced each of these options in turn, and think about the problems and prospects for each.
7 videos • Total 57 minutes
- Descartes' Substance Dualism Theory of the Mind • 11 minutes • Preview module
- Physicalism: Identity Theory and Functionalism • 13 minutes
- Functionalism and What Mental States Do • 8 minutes
- Functionalism and Functional Complexity • 4 minutes
- Minds vs. Machines: The Turing Test and the Chinese Room • 11 minutes
- Minds vs. Machines: Problems for the Computational View of the Mind • 4 minutes
- Further Discussion • 4 minutes
- Module: Mind, Brains and Computers • 10 minutes
- Practice: Minds, Brains and Computers • 30 minutes
Are Scientific Theories True?
(Professor Michela Massimi) In this module we will explore a central and ongoing debate in contemporary philosophy of science: whether or not scientific theories are true. Or better, whether a scientific theory needs to be 'true' to be good at all. The answer to this question comes in two main varieties. Scientific realists believe that theories ought to be true in order to be good. We will analyse their main argument for this claim (which goes under the name of 'no miracles argument'), and some prominent objections to it. Scientific antirealists, on the other hand, defend the view that there is nothing special about 'truth' and that scientific theories and scientific progress can be understood without appeal to it. The aim of this session is to present both views, their main arguments, and prospects.
7 videos • Total 28 minutes
- The Aim of Science: Saving the Phenomena vs. Truth • 2 minutes • Preview module
- Saving the Phenomena? Ptolemeic Astronomy • 5 minutes
- Truth? Galileo and Copernican Astronomy • 2 minutes
- Scientific Realism and the No Miracles Argument • 3 minutes
- Scientific Anti-Realism: Constructive Empiricism • 7 minutes
- Realist Rejoinders: Inference to the Best Explanation • 5 minutes
- Concluding Summary • 2 minutes
- Module: Are Scientific Theories True? • 10 minutes
- Practice: Are Scientific Theories True? • 30 minutes
Week 4 review: Lesson Choices
Do we have free will and does it matter.
(Dr. Elinor Mason) We typically feel that the actions that we make are the result of our own free choices. But what if those actions are simply the end result of a long chain of cause and effect? What does this mean for free will? In this module, we'll look at the concept of determinism. In particular, we'll consider the implications that determinism might have for the notion of free will.
5 videos • Total 34 minutes
- What is Determinism? • 10 minutes • Preview module
- Libertarianism • 10 minutes
- Compatibilism • 7 minutes
- Hard Determinism • 3 minutes
- Summary • 2 minutes
- Module: Do We Have Free Will? Does it Matter? • 10 minutes
- Practice: Do We Have Free Will and Does It Matter? • 30 minutes
Time Travel and Philosophy
(Dr. Alasdair Richmond) In this module we'll think about some issues in metaphysics, a branch of philosophy that investigates the ways that reality could intelligibly be. Our case study will be the possibility, or otherwise, of time-travel. Some have thought that the apparent possibility of creating a machine that we could use to transport a person backwards in time can be ruled out just by thinking about it. But is time-travel really logically impossible? What would the universe have to be like for it to be possible? And can we know whether our universe fits the bill?
6 videos 2 readings 1 quiz
6 videos • Total 49 minutes
- What Might Time Travel Be Anyway? • 7 minutes • Preview module
- Grandfather Paradoxes • 9 minutes
- Two Senses of Change • 7 minutes
- Causal Loops • 7 minutes
- Where Next? • 8 minutes
- Further Discussions • 8 minutes
- Module: Time Travel and Philosophy • 10 minutes
- Practice: Time Travel and Philosophy • 30 minutes
Week 5 review: Lesson Choices
Edinburgh. Extraordinary futures await. Ranked in the top 50 universities in the world, the University of Edinburgh has been a leader in digital education since the earliest days of online learning. Embracing the technological and pedagogical opportunities of our digital age, the University provides an outstanding online distance learning experience as part of our commitment to making learning accessible to all. Whatever excites you, whatever your ambition, whatever makes you ‘you’, we know one thing; nothing ordinary comes from this extraordinary place.
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Reviewed on Oct 7, 2019
This is an excellent course for those who wish to perform the first dive in philosophy. The content is wonderful and the teachers are very didactic. I really enjoy my "Introduction to Philosophy"!
Reviewed on Apr 11, 2021
Great explanations that is broken down with examples for understanding. Quizzes test for your understanding of the topic rather than just the textbook explanations. Challenging and thought revoking.
Reviewed on Oct 18, 2021
Give all my thanks to the professors in Univerity of Edinburgh. I didn't realize I like Philosophy this much until I got into this course. I will continue learning and reading about Philosophy.
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- What is Philosophy Class Like?
Not like other classes
Philosophy students often say that philosophy class is not like other classes they have taken. What do they mean by that?
In philosophy class you explore interesting and difficult questions about being human—you read, write, and take part in exciting conversations. You learn some history, but it’s not a history class. The core of philosophy class is careful, critical thinking. You practic e the skills that help you develop and explore your own views about life.
There is no answer sheet. Each person needs to build, test, and justify their own understanding.
Think about interesting questions
How do you know what is real? Does the soul exist? How can you tell when you really know something and when it just feels like you know? What is justice? Is equality the same as fairness? Do you really have any control over your own actions? What is the measure of right and wrong? What makes something art?
Sort things out with critical thinking
You learn to think critically by reading, considering, writing, and having conversations.
In philosophy class, you develop the skills of close reading, clear writing, and logical analysis. Critical thinking is about sorting things out—breaking a big question down into smaller questions. You decide which questions need to be answered first. You consider other perspectives. You look for the answer with the best justification.
Take your reading skills up a notch
You read difficult stuff. Your vocabulary expands. You learn to read closely and carefully, so that you have the confidence to understand and evaluate what you are reading. You learn how to ask the kinds of questions that improve your understanding.
Speak your mind
In philosophy class, you are encouraged to have your own opinion. You examine your own opinion. This may feel awkward, and scary, and empowering.
Develop the ability and confidence to justify your ideas to others.
What this handout is about
This handout discusses common types of philosophy assignments and strategies and resources that will help you write your philosophy papers.
What is philosophy, and why do we study it?
Philosophy is the practice of making and assessing arguments. An argument is a set of statements (called premises) that work together to support another statement (the conclusion).
Making and assessing arguments can help us get closer to understanding the truth. At the very least, the process helps make us aware of our reasons for believing what we believe, and it enables us to use reason when we discuss our beliefs with other people. Your philosophy teacher wants to help you learn to make strong arguments and to assess the arguments other people make.
Elements of philosophy papers
A philosophy paper may require several kinds of tasks, including:
- Argument reconstruction
Objections and replies
- Original argument
Let’s examine these elements one at a time.
To reconstruct an argument, you’ll need to present it in a way that someone unfamiliar with the material will understand. Often, this requires you to say a lot more than the philosopher whose work you are writing about did!
There are two main ways to reconstruct an argument: in regular prose or as a formal series of numbered steps. Unless your professor or TA has told you otherwise, you should probably use regular prose. In either case, keep these points in mind:
- Keep your ideas separate from the author’s. Your purpose is to make the author’s argument clear, not to tell what you think of it.
- Be charitable. Give the best version of the argument you can, even if you don’t agree with the conclusion.
- Define important terms.
- Organize your ideas so that the reader can proceed logically from premises to conclusion, step by step.
- Explain each premise.
Let’s walk through an argument reconstruction. Here is a passage by 18th-century British philosopher David Hume:
Take any action allowed to be vicious: Willful murder, for instance. Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice. In whichever way you take it, you find only certain passions, motives, volitions and thoughts. There is no other matter of fact in the case. The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You never can find it, till you turn your reflection into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards this action. Here is a matter of fact, but it is the object of feeling, not of reason. It lies in yourself, not in the object. So that when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it. (David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature).
Step 1: Reread the passage a few times, stopping to look up any unfamiliar words—”disapprobation,” maybe. Be sure you understand the important terms, like “vicious.” (By “vicious,” Hume seems to mean “wicked, depraved, or immoral,” which probably isn’t the way you use the word in everyday speech.)
Step 2: Identify the conclusion. Sometimes your teacher will identify it for you, but even if she didn’t, you can find it. (Caution: It won’t always be the first or the last sentence in the passage; it may not even be explicitly stated.) In this case, Hume’s conclusion is something like this: The viciousness of an action is a feeling of disapprobation in the person who considers it, not a property of the action itself.
Step 3: Identify the premises. Consider the conclusion and ask yourself what the author needs to do to prove it. Hume’s conclusion here seems to have two parts: When we call an action vicious, we mean that our “nature” causes us to feel blame when we contemplate that action. There is nothing else that we could mean when we call an action “vicious.”
Step 4: Identify the evidence. Hume considers an example, murder, and points out that when we consider why we say that murder is vicious, two things happen:
- We realize that when we contemplate murder, we feel “a sentiment of disapprobation” in ourselves.
- No matter how hard we look, we don’t see any other “matter of fact” that could be called “vice”—all we see “in the object” (the murder) are “certain passions, motives, volitions, and thoughts.”
Step 5: Identify unspoken assumptions. Hume assumes that murder is a representative case of “viciousness.” He also assumes that if there were “viciousness” in the “object” (the murder), we would be able to “see” it—it isn’t somehow hidden from us. Depending on how important you think these assumptions are, you may want to make them explicit in your reconstruction.
Step 6: Sketch out a formal reconstruction of the argument as a series of steps.
- If we examine a vicious action like murder, we see passions, motives, volitions, and thoughts.
- We don’t see anything else.
- So we don’t see any property or “matter of fact” called “viciousness.”
- Assumption: What we don’t see is not there.
- When we examine our feelings about murder, we see a “sentiment of disapprobation.”
- Unstated premise: This feeling of disapprobation is the only thing all the acts we think are vicious have in common, and we feel it whenever we confront a vicious act—that is, all and only vicious acts produce the feeling of disapprobation.
- Conclusion: So the viciousness of a bad action is a feeling of disapprobation in the person who considers it, not a factual property of the action itself.
Step 7: Summarize the argument, explaining the premises and how they work together. Here’s how such a prose reconstruction might go: To understand what we mean when we call an action “vicious,” by which he means “wrong,” Hume examines the case of murder. He finds that whenever we consider a murder itself, all we see are the “passions, motives, volitions, and thoughts” of the people involved. For example, we might see that the murderer feels the passion of anger and is motivated by a desire to make his victim suffer, and that the victim feels the passion of fear and is thinking about how to escape. But no matter how hard we look, we don’t see “viciousness” or wrongness—we see an action taking place, and people with motives and feelings are involved in that action, but none of these things seem to be what we mean by “viciousness” or wrongness. Hume next turns his inquiry inward, and considers what is happening inside a person who calls a murder “vicious.” The person who thinks or says that murder is wrong always seems to be feeling a certain “sentiment of disapprobation.” That is, the person disapproves of the action and blames the murderer. When we say “murder is wrong,” we usually think that we are saying something about murder itself, that we are describing a property (wrongness) that the action of murder has. But Hume thinks what we are in fact describing is a feeling in us, not a property of murder—the “viciousness” of a vicious action is just an emotion in the person who is thinking about or observing that action, rather than a property of the action itself.
Often, after you reconstruct an argument, you’ll be asked to tell whether it is a good or a bad argument and whether you agree or disagree with it.
Thinking of objections and examining their consequences is a way that philosophers check to see if an argument is a good one. When you consider an objection, you test the argument to see if it can overcome the objection. To object to an argument, you must give reasons why it is flawed:
- The premises don’t support the conclusion.
- One or more of the premises is false.
- The argument articulates a principle that makes sense in this case but would have undesirable consequences in other cases.
- The argument slides from one meaning of a term to another.
- The argument makes a comparison that doesn’t really hold.
Here are some questions you can ask to make sure your objections are strong:
- Have I made clear what part of the argument I object to?
- Have I explained why I object to that part of the argument?
- Have I assessed the severity of my objection? (Do I simply point out where the philosopher needs to do more work, or is it something more devastating, something that the philosopher cannot answer?)
- Have I thought about and discussed how the philosopher might respond to my objection?
- Have I focused on the argument itself, rather than just talking about the general issues the conclusion raises?
- Have I discussed at least one objection thoroughly rather than many objections superficially?
Let’s look at our example again. What objections might you make to Hume’s argument about murder? Here are some possible arguments:
- You might object to premises 2 and 3, and argue that wrong actions do have a property that makes us call them wrong. For example, maybe we call actions wrong because of their motives—because the actions are motivated by cruelty, for example. So perhaps Hume is right that we don’t see a property called “viciousness,” but wrong that “viciousness” is thus only a feeling in us. Maybe the viciousness is one of the motives or passions.
- You might also object to premise 5, and say that we sometimes judge actions to be wrong even though we don’t feel any “sentiment” of disapproval for them. For example, if vigilantes killed a serial murderer, we might say that what they did was wrong, even if we shared their anger at the murderer and were pleased that they had killed him.
Often you’ll be asked to consider how a philosopher might reply to objections. After all, not every objection is a good objection; the author might be able to come up with a very convincing reply! Use what you know about the author’s general position to construct a reply that is consistent with other things the author has said, as well as with the author’s original argument.
So how might Hume, or someone defending Hume, reply to the objections above? Here are some possible objections:
- To the first, Hume might reply that there is no one motive that all “vicious” actions have in common. Are all wrong actions motivated by cruelty? No—theft, for example, might be motivated by hunger. So the only thing all “vicious” actions have in common is that we disapprove of them.
- To the second, Hume might reply that when we call the actions of vigilantes wrong, even though we are pleased by them, we must still be feeling at least some disapproval.
Sometimes you will be asked to summarize an author’s argument and apply that position to a new case. Considering how the author would think about a different case helps you understand the author’s reasoning and see how the argument is relevant. Imagine that your instructor has given you this prompt:
“Apply Hume’s views on the nature of vice to the following case: Mr. Smith has an advanced form of cancer. He asks Dr. Jones what she thinks his prognosis is. Dr. Jones is certain Mr. Smith will die within the month, but she tells him he may survive for a year or longer, that his cancer may not be fatal. Dr. Jones wants to give Mr. Smith hope and spare him the painful truth. How should we think about whether what Dr. Jones did is wrong?”
Consider what you know about Hume’s views. Hume has not given a list of actions that are right or wrong, nor has he said how we should judge whether an action is right or wrong. All he has told us is that if an action is wrong, the wrongness is a sentiment in the people considering the action rather than a property of the action itself. So Hume would probably say that what matters is how we feel about Dr. Jones’s action—do we feel disapproval? If we feel disapproval, then we are likely to call the action “wrong.”
This test case probably raises all kinds of questions for you about Hume’s views. You might be thinking, “Who cares whether we call the action wrong—I want to know whether it actually is wrong!” Or you might say to yourself, “Some people will feel disapproval of the doctor’s action, but others will approve, so how should we decide whether the action is wrong or not?” These are exactly the kinds of questions your instructor wants to get you thinking about.
When you go back to read and discuss Hume, you will begin to see how he might answer such questions, and you will have a deeper understanding of his position. In your paper, though, you should probably focus on one or two main points and reserve the rest of your speculation for your conclusion.
Original argument/taking a position
Sometimes an assignment will ask you to stake out a position (i.e., to take sides in a philosophical debate) or to make an original argument. These assignments are basically persuasive essays, a kind of writing you are probably familiar with. If you need help, see our handouts on argument and thesis statements, among others.
Remember: Think about your audience, and use arguments that are likely to convince people who aren’t like you. For example, you might think the death penalty is wrong because your parents taught you so. But other people have no special reason to care what your parents think. Try to give reasons that will be interesting and compelling to most people.
If scientists want to test a theory or principle, they design an experiment.
In philosophy, we often test our ideas by conducting thought experiments. We construct imaginary cases that allow us to focus on the issue or principle we are most interested in. Often the cases aren’t especially realistic, just as the conditions in a scientific laboratory are different from those in the outside world.
When you are asked to write about a thought experiment, don’t worry about whether it is something that is ever likely to happen; instead, focus on the principle being tested. Suppose that your bioethics teacher has given you this thought experiment to consider:
An elderly, unconscious patient needs a heart transplant. It is very unlikely that a donor heart will become available before the patient dies. The doctor’s other option is to try a new and risky procedure that involves transplanting the heart of a genetically engineered chimpanzee into the patient. This will require killing the chimp. What should the doctor recommend?
This scenario may be unrealistic, but your instructor has created it to get you to think about what considerations matter morally (not just medically) when making a life-or-death decision. Who should make such decisions—doctors, families, or patients? Is it acceptable to kill another intelligent primate in order to provide a heart for a human? Does it matter that the patient is elderly? Unconscious? So instead of focusing on whether or not the scenario is likely to happen, you should make an argument about these issues. Again, see our handouts on argument and thesis statements for help in crafting your position.
Other things to keep in mind
- Be consistent. For example, if I begin my paper by arguing that Marquis is right about abortion, I shouldn’t say later that Thomson’s argument (which contradicts Marquis’s) is also correct.
- Avoid overstatement. Watch out for words like “all,” “every,” “always,” “no,” “none,” and “never”; supporting a claim that uses these words could be difficult. For example, it would be much harder to prove that lying is always wrong than to prove that lying is usually or sometimes wrong.
- Avoid the pitfalls of “seeing both sides.” Suppose you think Kant’s argument is pretty strong, but you still disagree with his conclusion. You might be tempted to say “Kant’s argument is a good one. I disagree with it.” This appears contradictory. If an argument really is good and you can’t find any weaknesses in it, it seems rational to think that you should agree with the argument. If you disagree with it, there must be something wrong with it, and your job is to figure out what that is and point it out.
- Avoid personal attacks and excessive praise. Neither “Mill was obviously a bad person who didn’t care about morality at all” nor “Kant is the greatest philosopher of all time” adds to our understanding of Mill’s or Kant’s arguments.
- Avoid grandiose introductions and conclusions. Your instructor is not likely to appreciate introductions that start with sentences like “Since the dawn of time, human beings have wondered about morality.” Your introduction can place your issue in context, explain why it’s philosophically important, and perhaps preview the structure of your paper or argument. Ask your instructor for further guidance about introductions and conclusions.
- Stay focused. You may be asked to concentrate closely on a small piece of text or a very particular question; if so, stick to it, rather than writing a general report on a “topic.”
- Be careful about appealing to faith, authority, or tradition. While you may believe something because it is a part of your religion, because someone you trust told you about it, or because it is the way things have always been done, be careful about basing your arguments or objections on these sorts of foundations. Remember that your reader may not share your assumptions and beliefs, and try to construct your argument so that it will be persuasive even to someone who is quite different from you.
- Be careful about definitions. Rather than breaking out Webster’s Dictionary, concentrate on the definitions the philosophers you are reading have carefully constructed for the terms they are using. Defining terms is an important part of all philosophical work, and part of your job in writing a philosophy paper will often be thinking about how different people have defined a term.
- Consider reading the Writing Center’s handout on fallacies. Fallacies are common errors in arguments; knowing about them may help you critique philosophers’ arguments and make stronger arguments yourself.
We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.
Feinberg, Joel. 2008. Doing Philosophy: A Guide to the Writing of Philosophy Papers , 4th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.
Holowchak, Mark. 2011. Critical Reasoning and Philosophy: A Concise Guide to Reading, Evaluating, and Writing Philosophical Works , 2nd ed. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
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James Davis: Logic in the Classroom, Four Activities
In many pre-college curricula, informal and formal logic does not exist as its own course, even though thinking logically is crucial to much academic work. As students progress through their primary and secondary educations, they will be expected more and more to support their opinions with well-supported arguments. While schools may find it difficult to fit a logic course into their curriculum, they might find it easier to devote small portions of their existing courses to learning specific logical tools. Through the years, I have frequently taken time in my own history classes, as well as working with my mathematics colleagues, to teach logical thinking. I have often done so, however, by using interactive demonstrations to help students grasp the tools I am teaching. In this blog, I will share four activities that teachers can easily adopt should they wish to add a logic component to their courses.
Human Venn Diagrams
Students are likely to encounter Venn diagrams in their math classes. Since a fair number of students struggle with Venn diagrams, it sometimes helps to show them how to visualize what is happening when they are constructing diagrams for syllogisms, especially when it comes to working out the diagrams for the two premises. An interactive way to do this is to have them play “human Venn diagrams.”
Begin by drawing the Venn diagram for a syllogism on the floor of your classroom or in the playground. One can use a variety of methods to represent the circles: from taping or stapling colored strings to chalk to large poster board. To represent shaded out regions in the diagram, use black construction paper that students can put in the appropriate regions. Next, create three categories that apply to your students. For example, “students wearing glasses,” “students wearing watches,” and “students possessing cell phones.” Next, working in groups, students should construct several syllogisms using the categories. For example, one group might formulate the following argument:
(1) All students wearing watches are students who have cell phones.
(2) Some students who have cell phones are students who do not wear glasses.
(3) Therefore, no students who wear glasses are students who wear watches.
Assign each student a premise. Students then must stand in the correct place on the diagram and shade regions using the construction paper when necessary. Any student standing in a region means that there exist members of that particular category. Students should act out one premise at a time, making adjustments to their positions on the diagram when new information comes to light because of the second premise. Lastly, a student should stand in the region that represents the conclusion on the diagram. Students should conclude the exercise by explaining how their human Venn diagram has established the validity or invalidity of the syllogism.
I have used this method successfully with middle school and first and second year high school students. Students find that this exercise, while fun, helps them better picture what is going on in the diagrams. I recommend that teachers also access their students’ understanding by having them explain what is going on in their diagram as they act it out. One way to do this is to have each participant be responsible for saying why she is standing where she is, why she was forced to move to a new region, or why she used the black construction paper.
Fallacy of the Day
Many of my students get excited to learn about the informal fallacies, if the cries of “ ad hominem! ” or “ straw man! ” in the halls and classrooms of my school are any indication. Indeed, learning the fallacies is invaluable for developing our students’ ability to evaluate and critique arguments and positions.
I have often introduced my own students to the informal fallacies by devoting about ten minutes of class time once a week to explaining and discussing a specific fallacy. Over the course of a typical thirty-three week school year, students will learn a fair number of common mistakes in reasoning. I have found that the time spent is often well worth it, as students feel empowered by recognizing these fallacies and will often actively look for them in their readings. Some will, naturally, go to the “dark side,” by using their newfound knowledge intentionally sophistically, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, they find it harder to get away with manipulating other students because their peers have also learned the fallacies. Needless to say, this quite clearly demonstrates to my students the value of knowing the fallacies.
It helps to reinforce the fallacy of the day by having an example of it in the reading assigned for that same class. For example, consider Pope Urban II’s call for the First Crusade:
Let the deeds of your ancestors encourage you and incite your minds to manly achievements :- the greatness of King Charlemagne, and of his son Louis, and of your other monarchs, who have destroyed the kingdoms of the Turks and have extended the sway of Church over lands previously possessed by the pagan. Let the holy sepulcher of our Lord and Saviour, which is possessed by unclean nations, especially arouse you, and the holy places which are now treated, with ignominy and irreverently polluted with the filth of the unclean. 1
If the fallacy of the day was argumentum ad popular, one could use this text not only to illustrate the fallacy, but also to discuss why it was so effective.
“ What the Tortoise Said to Achilles”
Teachers wishing to add some logic into their classes might find Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass useful. My own students find the stories fun to read and also enjoy discussing their playful use of logic. One approach for using Carroll is to break students into small acting troupes whose job is to perform a scene from the text that illustrates a logic puzzle. After they present the scene, the troupe can then either explain its logical significance or lead the rest of the class in a discussion about it.
Carroll can also be used to teach students about logical paradoxes. Students often feel personally challenged to resolve the paradoxes of Zeno or Russell, and having a section on them can help students understand the difference between contradiction and paradox. I often try to show my students that a logical contradiction can be resolved by simply giving up on one of the propositions causing the problem. With a paradox, however, I want my students to see that giving up either contradicting proposition is ultimately unsatisfactory. The paradoxes of the “Dichotomy” and “Achilles and the Tortoise” are particularly troubling for students as they “know” that moving is possible, yet Zeno’s reasoning seems correct.
Students can also formulate a paradox for homework. They can either be asked to mimic Zeno’s argument forms, or – even better – try to develop their own paradoxes. Students will find the latter difficult, but their efforts can be used to have instructive discussions on how contradiction and paradox differ from each other.
“ Duck; Duck; Refute!”
One exercise that helps students practice both public speaking and thinking on their feet is a variant of the old “Duck, Duck, Goose” game. Students stand in a circle with the student speaking first holding a tennis ball. Based on the previous night’s reading, the instructor should have some controversial point about the assignment to start. The first student makes an argument about the point, usually by arguing for or against it. Once finished, she throws or passes the tennis ball to another student who must try to refute the first student’s position. The third student attempts to defend the first student by refuting the second, and so on.
Take, for example, the famous trolley problem where a person needs to decide either to allow five people standing in the path of a runaway trolley to be killed or to pull a switch that changes the trolley to another track where it will kill only one person. For this exercise, the first student would begin by offering an argument, such as “the person must divert the trolley because five lives are worth more than one.” The student would then throw the tennis ball to another student who would have to raise an objection to the initial argument: for instance, “But, killing one to save five violates the rights of the one.” This student would then throw to a third student, and so on.
I find this exercise works well for brainstorming about the material, but I have also used it to train students in public speaking and arguing for Model United Nations conferences.Depending on class size, the rest of the students can serve as a jury that can debate and decide which side of the argument has the better position.
To conclude, for schools where informal and formal logic courses are absent, these activities and others like them can help students learn some logical thinking in a fun and minimally intrusive way within an established curriculum. Students will benefit from thinking more clearly and rigorously in many of their courses, especially those where formulating and defending an argued position are central.
1 Urban II: Speech at Clermont 1095 (Robert the Monk Version) available at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/urban2a.html
I am beginning a new school year teaching 11th grade Literature. There is a high stakes test in my state, and the written portion of that testis persuasion. I have decided to confront this issue with Philosophy Phriday, and dedicate Fridays to debate, argument, philosophical history, etc. -everything we love about philosophy. This article has convinced me that I need to join PLATO.Thank you so much, I will be using everything here.
This Open Access pdf LOGIC GALLERY is a good resource for teaching logici. The book is a century by century panorama of a fundamental concept, with a separate full page for 175 figures since Aristole.
The free download is at http://humbox.ac.uk/5497/ It takes about 2 minutes, so be patient.
I welcome your comments. And do pass/post the link as fitting, but please use just the link so that others will download the file, as that is of some benefit to our department.
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450 Philosophy Topics & Questions for Your Essay
When you start studying philosophy, you may think it’s boring and has nothing to do with the real world. It couldn’t be further from the truth! The study of philosophy deals with the most exciting and mysterious aspects of reality. It is closely connected with science, psychology, art, and politics. Philosophy is an integral part of universal knowledge, as well as our everyday lives. Everyone who had ever asked the question “who am I?” engaged in philosophy.
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- What is metaphilosophy?
- Compare 2 schools of thought
- Ancient vs. modern philosophy
- Philosophical concepts of space
- Applied aesthetics in fashion design
- The concepts of the philosophy of self
- Ancient traditions of political philosophy
- How philosophical traditions vary by region
- Modern problems of the philosophy of religion
- Contemporary issues of environmental philosophy
As you can see, philosophy studies a lot of things, and can be divided into the following branches:
- Metaphysics studies reality: what it is, what its properties are, where does it come from, and so on. It is also concerned with the problems of personal identity, free will, and religion.
- Epistemology , which is the study of knowledge and thinking. For example, it asks such philosophical questions as “what is knowledge?” “can knowledge ever be sufficient?” “how can a certain belief be justified?” “how does perception work?” and so on.
- Logic , which studies arguments and reasoning. It includes such types of thinking as induction, abduction, and deduction.
- Ethics , which is concerned with the concepts of right and wrong behavior. It studies ethical principles, their origin, and ways by which they can be improved. Ethics also covers controversial subjects, such as abortion, animal rights, and capital punishment.
- Aesthetics , which is the study of beauty. It includes the study of artworks, perception of beauty, aesthetic experience, and other related concepts.
All these different types of philosophies are equally valid and exciting! Choose any of them and have a philosophical discussion about life, justice, happiness, time, or beauty.
- What is action theory?
- Definition of anarchism
- Philosophy of business ethics
- What is the soul made of?
- Why you should study logic
- Are beauty standards objective?
- Is religion relevant in the modern world?
- Can happiness be scientifically measured?
- Does higher intelligence make you less happy?
- Does personality consist of memories?
✍️ Philosophy Topics
Here you will find a list of philosophy topics for essays, discussions, or presentations. It can be used by high school as well as university students.
Ancient Greece can be regarded as a cradle of Western philosophy. Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and many others were the first who started questioning the world around us. Initially, Ancient Greek philosophy was interested in the essence of the universe, but then it also became oriented at the problems of consciousness, politics, and existence.
- Materialism and naturalism of the pre-Socratic period. Pre-Socratic philosophers believed that only matter was real, rejecting the ideas of spirituality. You can compare and contrast it with Platonic idealism .
- Democritus and pre-Socratic atomism. The concept that all matter is made of small particles dates back to ancient times. You can compare the idea of atomism with what we know today.
- Pre-Socratic view on knowledge and perception . This topic refers to the idea that we get all information by perceiving images of everything that surrounds us.
- Diogenes and the Sophists. Sophists believed that the universe is ruled by intelligence. They also popularized ethics and politics as philosophical aspects.
- What are the key elements of Socrates’ philosophy? Socrates was an enigmatic figure with a unique philosophical outlook. His ideas influenced everything from politics to pop culture.
- Heraclitus of Ephesus and his school. Philosophers of the Ephesian school believed that everything in the world is connected by a logical structure called Logos. This idea parallels several other concepts, such as the Tao.
- Plato’s Republic: what is democracy? In the Republic, Plato describes his views on an ideal society . It includes the concepts of what later became communism and totalitarianism.
- The Eleatic school’s doctrines. It’s a fascinating philosophy paper topic that includes the concept of one omnipotent God as opposed to many gods, as well as new standards of logical reasoning .
- Philosophy of Empedocles. Empedocles was a pre-Socratic philosopher who introduced the idea of cosmogony and fundamental forces. You can write an excellent essay about how Empedocles’ views are reflected in science.
- Plato’s ethics. Here you can discuss Plato’s ideas about virtues, happiness, harmony, and other concepts.
- Plato and idealism. Plato’s central doctrine included the notion of perfect “ideas,” which manifest itself in our material world as all objects. You can write an excellent paper on this subject!
- Plato: allegory of the cave. In this essay, you may talk about Plato’s concept of reality, definitions of microcosm and microcosm, and the “unifying idea.”
- Aristotle : logic and dialectic. Aristotle was the first philosopher who formulated the rules of logical reasoning. They were crucial in the development of exact sciences.
- Aristotle’s Metaphysics and its legacy . You can write an essay about Aristotle’s major work and how it influenced philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas .
- Hellenistic philosophy and Stoicism . The ideas of Stoics originated in Greece but were especially popular in Rome. One of the most prominent stoics, Marcus Aurelius, was also a Roman emperor.
- Stoicism and Buddhism: a comparison. This exciting philosophy essay topic allows you to compare the common concepts in these very similar philosophies : from self-discipline to eternal recurrence.
- What are the key characteristics of Skepticism? Ancient skepticism was rooted in the desire to find truth by continually questioning it. See what other ideas made the Skeptics so influential.
- The concepts of the soul in Ancient Greece. You can include Plato’s Aristotle’s , and the Stoic theory of the soul into this essay.
- Psychology in Aristotle’s De Anima. Aristotle’s writings often include ideas concerning psychology. In De Anima, he attempts to describe the human mind in connection to psychology, as well as biology.
- What were Plato’s ideas about aesthetics ? This stunning philosophy paper topic covers Plato’s concept of beauty, art, and inspiration in his dialogues Hippias Major, Republic, and Phaedrus .
- How did other philosophers influence Plato’s ideas?
- The Lyceum: Aristotle’s school and its impact.
- Mathematics and philosophy of Pythagoreanism.
- What were the concepts of principal substances in Greek philosophy ?
- Heraclitus: universal flux and the unity of opposites.
- Cosmological ideas in Ancient Greece: Plato, Aristotle , Heraclitus, Empedocles.
- Seneca’s views on anger arguments by Aristotle .
- Explanation of natural phenomena: mythology vs. philosophy .
- Xenophanes and monotheism .
- Melissus of Samos: the concept of “what-is.”
- Zeno of Elea: the impact of paradoxes on philosophy and science.
- The philosophy of Democritus: anthropology .
- Diogenes: the founder of cynicism.
- Plato’s and Aristotle’s thoughts on knowledge: a comparison .
- Philosophy of Protagoras: ethics, language, argument.
- Plato’s concept of reality.
- Ancient Greek types of love: eros, agape, and philia .
- Moral Philosophical Views: From Plato to Nussbaum .
- Theophrastus: ideas on psychology, logic, and metaphysics .
- What is “the Socratic method?”
- What is Plato’s theory of recollection?
- What was Plutarch’s idea of God and daemons?
- Anaximander’s philosophy: substantial opposites and the origins of things.
- What was the concept of “logos” in different philosophies ?
- Diairesis: the Platonic method.
- Aristotle’s concept of catharsis.
- The ever-changing nature of reality in ancient philosophy .
- The concept of pneuma in works of Aristotle and Stoics.
- What was Homer’s influence on Greek philosophy?
- The study of ontology in Plato, Aristotle, and Avicenna.
- Natural philosophy as the prototype of natural science.
- Moral intention concept in philosophy .
- Apeiron and other concepts in Anaximander’s cosmological theory.
- What were Hesiod’s theogony and cosmogony?
- What is the concept of “becoming” in atomism?
- What are the definitions of monad and dyad in Pythagoreanism?
- Eudemonia in works of Socrates, Plato , Aristotle, and Stoics.
- What is the definition of arete in Plato ?
- What are the forms of the good in Plato’s Republic ?
- Aristotle’s virtue ethics .
- Aristotle’s idea of hyle vs. Plato’s eidos.
- Hylozoism in pre-Socratic philosophies .
- What is tabula rasa ?
- Metempsychosis as the concept of reincarnation.
- Ousia: the feminine principle in Ancient Greek philosophies .
- What are physis and nomos in pre-Socratic philosophies ?
- What are Aristotle’s “four causes”?
- The concept of predication in Ancient Greek philosophy .
- What is the Euthyphro dilemma ?
- What Plato meant by “philosopher-king”?
- The lost city of Atlantis .
- What was the problem of universals in Ancient Greek philosophy?
- Golden mean as a virtue and an attribute of beauty.
- Pyrrhonism and its philosophy.
- The concepts of episteme and doxa.
- The problem of the criterion in Pyrrhonism.
- Acatalepsy vs. katalepsis in Stoicism.
- What are the main features of Homeric worldview?
- Aporia in rhetorics.
- What is Platonic realism ?
- Ionian school and its philosophies.
- Trivium: the three arts of discourse .
- Pathos in Aristotle and other philosophers.
- Aristotle’s views on euthanasia .
- Isocrates: rhetoric and influence.
- What is the place of hedone in Aristotle’s ethics ?
- Tetrapharmakos and other Ancient Greek views on happiness .
- Epicureanism vs. Stoicism.
- The philosophy of Epicureanism .
- Logic and ethics in works of Antisthenes.
Medieval philosophy was mostly focused on studying nature and religion. The most popular school of thought at that time was Scholasticism. It refers to a particular way of teaching and education. The Classical ideas mostly lost their influence, though some philosophers tried to incorporate the ideas of Ancient Greeks into their doctrines.
- Roger Bacon’s re-interpretation of Aristotle . In this philosophy essay, you can write about Bacon’s views on soul-body dualism , matter, universals, and knowledge
- Robert Grosseteste as the founder of the modern scientific tradition. This philosopher was one of the most remarkable figures in Medieval England. His ideas in theology and natural sciences helped to make Oxford the center of intellectual life.
- Aquinas’ five proofs of God’s existence vs. Aristotle’s four causes: a comparison. Aquinas’ Five Ways are exciting from a logical point of view. You can discuss each of them and find parallels with Aristotle’s causes of being.
- Augustine of Hippo’s idea of illumination vs. Plato’s conception of recollection: a comparison. Similarly, you can compare the theory of illumination with Plato’s “prior knowledge.”
- Aquinas : logic and debate. Aquinas famously came up with a very effective model of debate. It is based on Ancient Greek ideas and is based on including both thesis and antithesis.
- Avicenna: metaphysics . Avicenna’s study of metaphysics was aimed at understanding the connections between all things in the world. It includes his “cause chains” and the concept of intelligence .
- Augustine’s philosophy of language. Write an essay about the connections between Augustine’s thoughts and Stoic theories of grammar. Mention his original ideas, too.
- John Duns Scotus’ natural theology . Here you can discuss Scotus’ elaborate arguments for the existence of God as the first cause of everything.
- Rucelinus as the founder of nominalism. Nominalism is based on the rejection of everything abstract, as well as the absence of universals.
- What makes the Ockham’s razor principle so widely applicable? William of Ockham was a nominalist, too, and preferred simple explanations to miracles. His “razor” method is still considered very effective.
- What did Averroes contribute to philosophy and law?
- Aquinas : knowledge and perception.
- The medieval conception of motion: Aristotle vs. Avicenna.
- Avicenna’s views on natural science and atomism.
- Cosmological argument as a philosophical concept .
- Augustine’s ethics: eudaimonism in the context of Christianity.
- Augustine’s understanding of memory .
- What was St. Anselm’s conception of divine attributes?
- What were the ways of integrating sacred doctrine with secular learning in medieval philosophy?
- In what ways does faith relate to reason in medieval philosophies?
- Medieval theology as philosophy of religion .
- Scholasticism: principal characteristics.
- How did Averroes re-interpret Aristotle’s idea of time ?
- The Scholastics attitude towards Aristotle .
- Religious concepts in Eastern philosophy .
- What characterized the problem of universals in medieval philosophy?
- Peter Abelard: dialectics and conceptualism.
- Guillaume de Champeaux: the founder of moderate realism.
- What was Peter Lombard’s concept of marriage ?
- What was Albert the Great’s interpretation of Aristotelian metaphysics?
- Christian teaching of St Augustine .
- The discourse of the Apologetics : Islam, Hinduism, Judaism.
- Philosophical apologetics : main categories of arguments.
- What characterized the idea of a human soul in Aquinas and Augustine ?
- The doctrines of John Wycliffe.
- Plato’s role in medieval concept of soul-body dualism.
- Theological approaches comparison: Thomas of Aquinas and Saint Augustine .
- What was the philosophy of the Dominican order ?
- The problem of free will : theological point of view.
- What are the concepts of sin and divine providence?
- What was Bonaventure’s conception of creation?
- John Duns Scotus’ contribution to Aristotelian study of matter.
- East and West teachings’ concepts differences .
- What characterized Albert of Saxony’s logic and metaphysics ?
- Nicholas of Autrecourt’s concepts of experience and perception.
- Insolubilia, or the “liar paradox”, in medieval philosophy.
- Richard Kilvington’s theology: influences and legacy.
- What was the problem of theodicy in medieval philosophy?
- William of Ockham: the notion of mental language.
- The concept and discourse of the divine freedom .
The fundamental concept of the Renaissance philosophy is humanism. It appeared as an alternative to strict religious doctrines of the Medieval period. The main inspiration for the Renaissance philosophy came from Ancient Greek and Roman sources, that’s why it is called Renaissance: a “rebirth” of classical philosophy.
- The concept of “renaissance man”. “Renaissance man” is defined as someone who embraced all available knowledge and used their full potential. See what outstanding Renaissance personalities fit this description!
- Roger Bacon’s contribution to philosophy and sciences. This philosophy paper topic includes Bacon’s ideas about logic, semiotics , optics, and other subjects. Bacon is a prime example of a “renaissance man” who excelled in many areas.
- Why is Petrarch called the “father of humanism “? Discuss Petrarch’s attitude towards ancient authors, and how his writings gave rise to a humanist philosophy that defined Renaissance .
- Tommaso Campanella’s The City of the Sun as a utopia . This book was inspired by Plato’s Republic and Atlantis, and it describes a perfect world united by a theocratic monarchy.
- Plato’s influence in the Renaissance era vs. Aristotelianism in the Middle Age. It’s an interesting philosophical topic that can show you why during the Renaissance humanism became so popular.
- Humanists vs. Calvinists: a comparison. Here you can write about the Calvinist concept of predestination and Humanist idea of freedom.
- François Rabelais as a humanist. Discuss Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel books and point out humanist ideas in them!
- The Renaissance critique of scholasticism. With the rise of humanism , scholasticism lost its popularity. It was now considered formalistic and too rigid. Find out why!
- In what ways does Calvinism parallel capitalism? The way Calvinist influenced capitalism and the American Dream can be an excellent topic for an essay or a research paper.
- How did Machiavelli bring humanism into politics? Niccolo Machiavelli revolutionized the concept of politics. He promoted the idea of ambition and innovation as opposed to virtue.
- The critique of Pelagianism by Jerome and Augustine .
- Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam’s “Christian humanism.”
- Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples’s role in Protestant reformation .
- Thomas More’s Utopia .
- Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s “manifesto of the Renaissance”.
- How did Martin Luther’s theology change Europe ?
- John Calvin and his philosophy .
- Mona Lisa and Renaissance humanism .
- Who were the heretics?
- Nominalism: impact on doubting faith.
- What philosophical, intellectual, and political conditions led to the Reformation ?
- Skepticism during the Renaissance period.
- How did Paul of Venice expand on Averroes’ ideas?
- The question of the immortality of the soul in Renaissance-era philosophy.
- What characterized Nicoletto Vernia’s gnoseology and logic?
- Pietro Pomponazzi’s discussion of the supernatural .
- Jacopo Zabarella’s new method of scientific inquiry .
- What was Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s Pyrrhonic skepticism ?
- What were Lorenzo Valla’s methods of textual analysis and criticism?
- How did Rudolph Agricola revolutionize rhetorical studies?
- Why is Juan Luis Vives considered “the father of modern psychology ?”
- Political influence of William Shakespeare .
- The evolution of psychology during the Renaissance period : spiritual and biological aspects.
- What characterized Platonism and Neoplatonism in the Renaissance era?
- How did Marsilio Ficino merge ideas of both Plato and Aristotle ?
- The history of European alchemy .
- John Dee’s philosophy, alchemy, and divination.
- Magic and science in Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino.
- What were Nicholas of Cusa’s political and philosophical contributions?
- What was the influence of Kabbalah in Renaissance-era Italy?
- What were the key differences between medieval and Renaissance notions of probability?
- What characterized Bessarion’s Neoplatonic views on science?
- The concept of Platonic love in Ficino, Bembo, and Leone Ebreo.
- Michel de Montaigne’s skepticism and its legacy.
- René Descartes’ philosophy and influence .
- Francisco Sanches: empirical skepticism .
- Pierre Gassendi and atomism of the Renaissance era.
- Bernardino Telesio’s critique of metaphysics and the importance of empiricism .
- The legacy of Giordano Bruno .
- Franciscus Patricius’ theory of the universe .
Classical German philosophy is synonymous with Idealism. The most influential philosopher of that period, Immanuel Kant, paved the way for the exploration of human will, consciousness, and ego. Later the ideas of idealists inspired psychoanalysis.
- How did Johann Gottlieb Fichte transform Kant’s critical idealism into absolute idealism? It includes the elimination of the “thing-in-itself” concept and proclaiming the self as the ultimate reality .
- Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling’s absolute idealism . According to von Schelling, everything we see are the works of imagination, and nature itself is spiritual. These ideas influenced German Romanticism.
- How did Kant differentiate modes of thinking? In this essay, you can discuss analytic and synthetic propositions, their definitions, and applicability.
- Kant’s ethical ideas . See how they’re connected to his belief in everyone’s fundamental freedom.
- How did Immanuel Kant influence other philosophers? Kant was hugely influential: in particular, he provided the basis for what later became Marxism .
- Leibniz’s concept of knowledge . You can include Leibniz’s idea that it’s possible to understand everything in the world with the help of logic and analysis.
- How did Indian philosophy influence Schopenhauer ? For example, you can study the influence of Buddhism in Schopenhauer’s idea that the world is full of suffering , which can be overcome by way of renunciation.
- What did Nietzsche mean by saying that “God is dead”? This quote is often misunderstood. In fact, it is hinting at the fact that traditional values have lost their power.
- What were Immanuel Kant’s antinomies? Antinomies are contradictions that can both be justified. They create logical paradoxes.
- What are the main points of Kant’s transcendentalism ? In short, transcendental idealism focuses on the self as the center of reality. People get information about the outer world, but it will never be able to know the world as it is.
- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and his philosophy.
- The problem of subjectivity and consciousness in German Idealism .
- What are paralogisms?
- Ends-in-themselves and means-to-ends: definition and comparison.
- What is Hegel’s absolute spirit?
- Schopenhauer ‘s philosophy of pessimism.
- How did Nietzsche influence the ideas of the National Socialists?
- Kierkegaard’s angst and “fear and trembling.”
- What are Leibniz’s contributions to metaphysics and epistemology ?
- Benedict de Spinoza and his doctrines.
- F.W.J. Schelling’s understanding of nature.
- Ethics and moral philosophy in Kant, Nietzsche, and others .
- Schelling’s identity philosophy .
- Ludwig Feuerbach anthropological materialism .
- Kierkegaard’s conception of irony.
- What were Christian Thomasius’ views on reason and prejudice ?
- What was Christian Wolff’s role in German philosophical thought?
- What are the main features of Pietism?
- Who were the Thomasians?
- How did Sturm und Drang movement influence philosophy?
- Baumgarten’s Aesthetica and the concept of art.
- What characterized Elisabeth of the Palatinate’s critique of Descartes ?
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s impact on German philosophy .
- What did Johann Gottfried Herder mean by “the great chain of being”?
- What was Richard Warner’s influence on Nietzsche’s philosophy ?
- What was Johanna Charlotte Unzer’s contribution to feminism ?
- Friedrich Hölderlin as an Idealist.
- Epistemology and metaphysics: philosophers views .
- What are Karl Marx’s concepts of labor, class, and capital ?
- What were Schleiermacher’s thoughts on psychology and knowledge?
- What was Schleiermacher’s influence on Gadamer and Heidegger?
- What were Nietzsche’s main “positive values?”
- What was Nietzsche’s interpretation of nihilism?
- Nietzsche’s doctrine of “will to power.”
- What impact had Eastern philosophy on Nietzsche’s work ?
- Nietzsche’s concept of Apollonian vs. Dionysian and its impact on culture.
- What was the role of Plato and Aristotle in classical German philosophy?
- Leibniz’s vs. Pythagorean theory of monads: a comparison.
- What is Leibniz’s “fundamental question of metaphysics ?”
- Gottfried Leibniz’s contribution to logic.
In the 20th century, philosophy was developing just as rapidly as technology. New standards of living, change of values, wars, and conflicts led to increased disappointment and alienation among people. Philosophers of that era tried to reflect on these changes and come up with new outlooks on life and the world around us.
- Karl Popper’s concept of three worlds. This philosophy topic includes the analysis of three categories of reality (physical objects, mental works, and objective knowledge ) and their interactions.
- How did the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics influence idealism in the 20th century? It’s a terrific philosophy question that shows the complexity of our reality.
- The philosophy of modernism as a reflection of societal changes. It includes the massive influence of art on modernism . See what led to the rejection of realism and increased focus on personal experience.
- Lyotard’s Postmodern Condition: technology, communication, and mass media . Lyotard’s book offers a surprisingly accurate glimpse into the 21st century’s spread of communication technologies . It can be an exciting paper topic.
- Marxism-Leninism : key concepts and legacy. In this essay, you can discuss world revolutions , vanguardism, and other concepts that led to the popularity and eventual demise of Marxist-Leninist philosophy.
- Marxism vs. Freudism differences . Freudism was based on psychoanalysis; later, Freud’s ideas about the human psyche were expanded into a philosophy concerned with society as a whole.
- Slavoj Zizek’s concept of The Real. Inspired by Lacan’s psychoanalysis , Zizek formulated a classification of different types of The Real. He provided examples from pop culture, such as The Matrix .
- Feminist philosophers: Rosa Luxemburg , Sandra Bartky, Julia Kristeva . While the philosophy of the 20th century was dominated by men, there were also many outstanding women. You can choose to write about them!
- Foucault’s theories of power, knowledge, and subjectivity. Foucault’s philosophy was very influential in society, as well as in the arts. In many ways, he shaped postmodernism as we know it.
- Deconstruction as a critique of Platonism. Deconstructivism concerned everything from architecture to queer studies. It was influenced by Nietzsche and critiqued Plato’s idea of forms .
- Walter Benjamin ‘s “angel of history.” This is a wonderful topic that covers Benjamin’s concept of history and the importance of remembering the past exactly as it was.
- Jacque Derrida’s key concepts: an overview. Here you can discuss the ideas Derrida introduced to philosophy as well as literature studies and politics.
- Karl Marx views on history . Karl Marx’s historical materialism was tremendously influential in early socialist societies. Explore it in your essay!
- Theodore Herzl and Zionism . This philosophy topic is closely connected with 20th-century history. You can also discuss arguments for and against Zionism .
- Jacques Lacan’s impact on philosophy , linguistics, and film theory . Discuss Lacan’s concepts such as the “mirror stage” and” the Other” in your philosophy essay!
- International development, colonialism, social inequality and class stratification . This topic is centered on the influence of the colonial past on today’s politics. You’d be surprised to see how much colonial worldview affected almost every facet of life in all countries.
- Behaviorism and philosophy of mind. It’s a very interesting branch of philosophy that has elements of natural science, linguistics, and psychology . See what different approaches to behavior were proposed by philosophers, and describe them in an argumentative essay!
- Being-in-itself in Heidegger and Sartre . This topic is closely connected with several other concepts, such as Dasein and bad faith, and it can be an excellent theme for an extended research paper.
- John Searle’s “Chinese room.” It is an exciting topic about the philosophical aspects of artificial intelligence . “Chinese room” is a thought experiment that led to many curious replies.
- Existentialism in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea: an analysis . Here you can study one of the most brilliant books of the 20th century from the philosophical point of view! Discuss what made Sartre’s Nausea so famous and influential.
- Anarchism in the 20th century: the classical era.
- Communism: theory and reality .
- The fundamental concepts of existentialism: angst, despair, the absurd .
- Existentialism in France after WWII: key figures.
- Karl Popper’s critique of historicism.
- Determinism : mathematical models and the quantum realm.
- Post-modernism vs. modernism: a comparison.
- Foucault’s conceptions of biopower and biopolitics.
- Structuralism concept in philosophy .
- What was Karl Marx’s idea of a higher-stage communist society?
- Friedrich Engels ‘ socialism vs. the Soviet economic model.
- How Aristotle and other Greeks influenced Heidegger?
- Heidegger’s concepts of “present-at-hand” and “ready-to-hand.”
- Bertrand Russell and analytical philosophy .
- What was Frankfurt school’s dialectical method of investigation?
- Freudian perspective on dreams .
- Jaques Maritain and neo-Thomism.
- What were the breakthroughs of 20th-century feminism ?
- What was the influence of war and globalization on the late 20th-century anarchism ?
- Queer theory and philosophy of gender.
- The concept of the Other in philosophy, psychology, and film.
- The power of ideas: from ancient to modern philosophies .
- Hans-Georg Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics .
- What are the key ideas of Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy ?
- Simone de Beauvoir’s existentialist philosophy .
- What is the concept of Dasein in Heidegger’s Being and Time ?
- The Decline of the West: what caused Oswald Spengler’s bleak outlook on the future?
- Philosophical views of Albert Camus : absurdism, existentialism, anarcho-syndicalism.
- Absurdism: parallels with nihilism and existentialism .
- Nihilism in the 20th century: Deleuze , Derrida, Heidegger, Lyotard.
- Jean Baudrillard: the concept of simulacra .
- Camus’s The Stranger and Rousseau’s Natural Man .
- How do Derrida’s concepts of différance and trace correspond to ideas of Plato and Aristotle ?
- What was Edmund Husserl’s contribution to phenomenology?
- Roland Barthes’ semiotics and structuralism .
- “Death of the Author”: Bartes vs. Foucault .
- Hannah Arendt : the origins of Nazism and Stalinism.
- Julius Evola’s critique of fascism and national-socialism.
- Iris Murdoch’s philosophy and influences.
- Feminist philosophers: Rosa Luxemburg, Sandra Bartky, Julia Kristeva.
- How did Russian cosmism influence space exploration?
- What was Heidegger’s influence on Sartre’s Being and Nothingness?
- Of Grammatology: Derrida’s critique of structuralism .
- Henry Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience .
- Berlin and Vienna circles of logical positivism and their characteristics.
- Marxist feminism as opposed to the exploitation of women in capitalism.
- The Communist Manifesto and its legacy .
- The concept of social privilege from Du Bois to the late 20th century.
- Richard Taylor’s view of cruelty and compassion .
- The development of the “collective conscious” concept.
- Emile Zola’s positivism.
- Activity theory and its field of usage.
- The philosophy of Maoism.
- What is “Moore’s paradox,” and how can it be used?
- Philosophy of artificial intelligence .
- Umberto Eco’s philosophical works.
- What are the characteristics of empiricism?
- The “cultural turn” of the ’70s.
- Claude Lévi-Strauss: philosophical and anthropological ideas.
- Social character and social psychology .
- Georg Simmel’s philosophy of money .
- What is the role of classical pragmatism in the development of feminist theories ?
- Jane Addams and her ethical principles .
- Holism in philosophy: an overview.
- Can the concept of noosphere be considered real?
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: controversies and influence on the New Age movement.
- Bertrand Russell’s Problems of Philosophy .
- Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology of temporality.
- Intentism: authorial intent vs. death of the author.
- The concept of aboutness in philosophy of mind .
The basic definition of ethics is “moral philosophy.” It is concerned with the problems of good and evil, right and wrong, and everything in-between. The first ethical teachings appeared in ancient times, but they’ve always been changing throughout history, and they vary among different nations.
- What are the three main theories of ethics ? In this essay, you can talk about utilitarian, deontological , and virtue ethics as the basis for ethical reasoning.
- What are the main principles of utilitarian ethics ? The main appeal of utilitarianism is its promise to produce greater good for a greater number of people. However, it also has a number of dubious aspects.
- What is Internet ethics? Write about the ethical problems of the information age and discuss their role in globalization.
- Virtue ethics and its main concepts . This topic includes the definitions of virtues and vices given from different points of view. You can also trace these concepts throughout the history of philosophy and show how they have changed.
- What are the main challenges of deontological ethics ? Here you can discuss problems that arise out of the principle “people should be treated with respect according to their rights.”
- The problem of free will . The discussion of moral responsibility and control can serve as an excellent basis for a research paper!
- What are the peculiarities of Chinese ethics? Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism , and globalization – see what influenced the ethics of Chinese people over the course of history.
- The ethics of religious belief: Christianity, Judaism , Islam, Buddhism. Different religions have their ethical peculiarities. Some people argue that without religious belief , a person can’t be moral. Discuss it in your paper!
- Personal information, privacy , and other ethical issues of Internet search engines. You can mention both the positive and negative aspects of private data collection via search engines.
- The ethics of cultural appropriation . It is a controversial topic that should include the definition of what can and can’t be qualified as offensive. Discuss past events, such as colonialism, that contributed to the problem of cultural appropriation .
- What are the specifics of feminist ethics?
- Gender binarism as an ethical issue.
- Emotions: definition of love .
- The ethics of the US voting system .
- What are the distinctive features of morality ?
- The concepts of freedom and responsibility in relation to metaethics.
- The benefits of “human-values approach” to computer ethics .
- Ethics of working environment .
- What are the main views on public health ethics?
- What are the ethical problems of human tests in clinical research ?
- The milestones of animal rights activism.
- What is beneficence and benevolence in ethical theory?
- The ethical problems of social justice .
- Business ethics: from Ancient Greece to modern era.
- Confronting physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia .
- Environmental ethics and deep ecology.
- What are the ethical issues of Manifest Destiny ?
- Bioethics and its main disciplines.
- Axiology: the relations between ethics and aesthetics.
- What are the issues of organ donation ?
- Neutrality vs. moral agency in ethics of technology.
- What are the central moral issues of human enhancement?
- The “is-ought problem” of evolutionary ethics.
- The issues of human/non-human chimera creation.
- Should animals have the same rights as humans?
- What is the definition and issues of informed consent ?
- The moral challenges of parent-child relationships .
- The ethics of war: the “just war” theory .
- What’s the difference between utilitarianism and hedonism?
- Ethics in psychotherapy : principles and issues.
- Conscience and its main characteristics.
- What are the moral issues of stem cell research?
- Disability ethics: promotion and optimization.
- What is the role of ethics in education?
- The principles of global justice.
- Gender issues in public ethics.
- What is the difference between ethical and unethical marketing ?
- Abolition of capital punishment .
- What are the possible ethical questions of postmortem autopsies?
- Should abortions be legal?
🧐 Top 50 Philosophical Questions
- Is there such a thing as free will?
- What are the constituents of a good life ?
- Can mathematical concepts be considered real?
- Does chaos always triumph over order?
- What is the role of religion in modern society?
- Can a lie be justified ?
- Should we strive for immortality ?
- What makes us human?
- Is evil a necessary part of life?
- Is it possible to find answers to all questions about the Universe ?
- What’s the point of art?
- Is there such a thing as destiny ?
- Does knowledge make up happier?
- Can we separate art from the artist ?
- Do our small actions affect the world?
- Is it possible to know a person completely?
- Does power corrupt?
- Is religion necessary for morality?
- Is hedonism a right way of life?
- What does it mean to be conscious ?
- What makes a genius ?
- Can thoughts exist without language?
- Why do people need poetry and fiction?
- Can a murder be justified?
- Is there inherent order in nature?
- What are the limits of free speech ?
- Is media censorship necessary?
- Why is beauty associated with morality?
- How can we eliminate prejudice ?
- How will the spread of AI change the world ?
- Should genetic engineering be allowed?
- Is it possible to bridge the gap between the wealthy and the poor?
- Is democracy an effective way of government?
- Why have women been oppressed throughout history?
- Can perfect laws ever be created?
- Why do many people like conspiracy theories ?
- Is a formal education important ?
- Will there be an end to technological progress ?
- Is it possible to be completely free?
- How much do genetics influence human personality?
- Is there such a thing as synchronicity?
- Should animals be used in medical experiments?
- Why is it important to preserve cultural heritage ?
- Should coma patients be kept on life support?
- What is the true nature of time?
- Is it possible to free ourselves from all material thoughts?
- Why is success so important to people?
- Why are people afraid of death ?
- Is there such a thing as soulmates?
- How much freedom should children have?
Throughout history, philosophers have developed many schools of thought. Their ideas vary, but they’re also interconnected. Here is the list of philosophies from Philosophy 101 book that will help you prepare for exam or test:
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- Aristotelianism is a school of thought inspired by Aristotle and his followers. Aristotle rejected Plato’s concept of “ideas” and placed more emphasis on practical wisdom. He also developed what we know as the deductive method of reasoning, as well as a highly influential idea that everything has a purpose. Aristotelianism served as a basis for Scholasticism.
- Atomism is an ancient idea that everything in the world is made out of tiny “atoms.” It proved to be very accurate in the Modern era. The conception of atoms was used not only in natural sciences but also as a way to answer philosophical questions, such as “ why does everything change? “
- Cynicism can be considered a way of life. The Cynics opposed conventions and lived in harmony with nature. They were also famously straightforward and advocated free speech. The most prominent Cynic was Diogenes.
- Stoicism was partially inspired by cynics. Stoics such as Seneca and Epictetus thought that a true sage should be impassionate and calm. They taught people not to worry about things beyond one’s control and that “virtue is sufficient for happiness.”
- Platonism was founded by Plato. According to him, there exists another realm beyond our material world. It is filled with abstract objects (“ideas” or “forms”) which manifest themselves in our world as concrete objects of different kinds. Platonism was popular during the Renaissance, and it served as a basis for Idealism and Humanism.
- Zen Buddhist philosophy originates from Japan. It aims at attaining perfection by way of achieving enlightenment. According to Zen Buddhists, all things in life are equally important. A person should always live “here and now,” and free themselves from all unnecessary thoughts and feelings.
- Scholasticism can be characterized as a method of learning. Initially, it was meant to combine the ideas of Christianity with Aristotelian philosophy. Later it encompassed logic, science, psychology, linguistics, and many other elements. Scholasticism introduced many essential aspects of logical reasoning, such as thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. It was especially popular during the Middle Ages.
- Humanism was the leading philosophical school during the Renaissance. It was influenced by the Italian poet Petrarch, who popularized classical Greek writings. It lead to the re-discovery of Ancient Greek philosophers, such as Plato, as well as classical arts and literature. Humanism was characterized by the increased importance of human life as opposed to God, striving for perfection, and reliance on scientific methods.
- Existentialism is a significant philosophical school of the 19th-20th centuries. In the center of existentialism was a person with their unique subjective experience. Some of the leading Existentialists, such as Sartre, were novelists and influenced literature with their writings. It also influenced psychology by introducing concepts of anxiety and dread.
- Absurdism is closely related to Existentialism. Its main idea is that searching for the meaning of life is meaningless, as it does more harm than good. We must come to terms with the absurdity of the universe and learn to accept it as it is, without resorting to religion.
- Idealism is another influential school of philosophy which is based on Platonism. It emphasizes the mind and human perception. Some Idealists postulate that the world is an illusion, and only what’s inside our minds is real. Immanuel Kant is considered the most influential Idealist. He argued that the brain perceives reality in a distorted way, and we can never see things as they really are.
- Postmodernism is one of the most prominent philosophical schools of the 20th century. It re-contextualized the notions of identity, reality, difference, and meaning while introducing new concepts. Postmodernism can be described as playful, skeptical, and ambiguous.
- Marxism is a philosophical school that played a massive role in the history of the 20th century. It is mostly concerned with economics and sociology. It introduced the ideas of the proletariat, class struggle, and socialism. These concepts became crucial in the development of Socialist and Communist societies, such as the USSR and China. The most prominent Marxist thinkers are Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
- Feminist philosophy is focused on justice for women, as well as marginalized groups. It fights prejudice and tackles many controversial topics, such as racism and disability. Besides, feminists rethink existing philosophical ideas and make their original contributions to philosophy and science.
Writing a philosophy essay can be a great experience! It teaches you to see the problem from different angles, analyze it, and improve your critical thinking. Besides, studying a philosophy topic allows you to learn new things about the world and even about yourself!
First of all, you need to choose a good paper topic . It can be a classic philosophy topic concerning different schools of thought, or it can be a more abstract existential question. If the problem is too broad, try to narrow it down as much as possible. Also, if you’re only starting to study philosophy, find an easy topic that you can work with. Choose something that will be interesting for you to research!
When you come up with a theme, think of something you can discuss from different sides . Philosophy is all about questioning, debating, and a deeper understanding of things, both real and hypothetical. If you choose to write about the works of a famous philosopher, go ahead and add your own thoughts on the topic!
e.g., Plato’s Republic has many outstanding ideas, but I disagree with his concept of selecting the wisest people to be rulers.
The second step is the thesis statement . Express the main point of your essay or paper in one sentence. It is possible to write it at a later stage. However, if you start with a thesis statement, it would help you stay on topic. It should present the aim of your paper and convince the readers that your work is important. It will also be beneficial if you write an outline!
Just 13.00 10.40/page , and you can get an custom-written academic paper according to your instructions
e.g., Socratic dialogue helped to advance the way of thinking.
Then you come up with arguments for and against your thesis statement . This way, you’ll see the subject from multiple points of view, and you’ll be able to discuss it more fully.
You can present your arguments in different ways:
The arguments can be positive or negative – that is, they can either support or refute the thesis statement. You can use evidence from life or quote the ideas of other philosophers. If you’ve chosen a big philosophical question, e.g., “ what is the meaning of life? ” you can select arguments for related problems, such as “should everything always have meaning?” or “why is meaning important?” Don’t forget to show how all these questions are related to your main topic!
e.g., the Socratic method can be very beneficial in education and psychotherapy; at the same time, it may be used for manipulating people.
When coming up with arguments, choose only the strongest ones . The same thing goes for examples. They can be empirical or hypothetical, but most important of all, credible. As philosophy is interconnected with all kinds of arts and sciences, you can find your evidence everywhere: in fiction, physics, or psychology. The choice is yours!
We are sure that these tips will help you to write a perfect philosophy paper. Now it’s time to choose your topic and get started! Good luck!
The most interesting topics in philosophy are usually concerned with politics, the human mind, and ethics. They can also be inspired by modern-day problems. E.g. how does philosophy apply to an AI, or can AI become better than humans.
Philosophy covers a vast number of topics. They can be related to everything from politics to quantum physics. There are classical questions, such as the purpose of life, but also new topics about the modern world, like computer ethics.
The Greek philosopher Socrates is often called the father of western philosophy. He taught his disciples the importance of asking questions, showing that philosophy is the art of searching for the truth.
There are five major areas of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics, and aesthetics. They study reality, knowledge, debate, morality, and beauty.
- Scholasticism: Philosophy Basics
- Renaissance Philosophy: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- History of Philosophy | Ancient Philosophy: Illinois State University
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Main Page
- Ethics: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Virtue Ethics: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Ethical Theories: The Arthur W. Page Center
- Atomism: Encyclopedia Britannica
- A Brief Guide to Writing a Philosophy Paper: Harvard University
- Feminist Philosophy: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- What is Marxism: All About Philosophy
- Idealism: CUNY
- Postmodernism Philosophy: Encyclopedia Britannica
- Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy: Encyclopedia Britannica
- What is Philosophy?: Florida State University
- Karl Marx | Biography, Philosophy and Facts: Famous Philosophers
- Kant and the Foundations of Analytic Philosophy: Academia
- Immanuel Kant: International Bureau of Education
- Friedrich Nietzsche Philosophy: The Quintessential Mind
- German Idealism: New World Encyclopedia
- Greek Philosophy: Ancient History Encyclopedia
- Medieval Philosophy: Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Medieval Philosophy: The University of Tennessee Martin
- Renaissance Philosophy Review: Birkbeck University of London
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