Intro to Philosophy

This course is designed to introduce undergraduates to some basic problems in philosophy including the existence of God, epistemology, philosophies of mind, body, consciousness, and will, as well as prominent traditions in ethics and political theory. Unlike other courses of its kind, we will not limit ourselves to the Western canon but will instead read broadly across cultural traditions: Plato alongside Zhuangzhi, Aquinas alongside Avicenna, Descartes alongside Amo, Marx alongside DuBois, etc. Approaching philosophy in this way will allow us two advantages. First, it will raise critical questions about the historical development of the discipline of philosophy itself, challenging the assumption of impartiality and universality. Second, it will provide students with an overview of how very different thinkers from around the globe have, in different historical epochs, sought answers to the biggest questions of the human experience.

As there is no textbook on the market that suits this particular approach, all readings will be provided.

Course Plan

Why Study Philosophy?

  • Bertrand Russell, “The Value of Philosophy,” from The Problems of Philosophy
  • Scott Samuelson, “Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers,” The Atlantic, April 29, 2014

Decolonizing Philosophy

  • Samir Amin, “The Construction of Eurocentric Culture,” from Eurocentrism
  • Bryan Van Norden, Taking Back Philosophy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), excerpts.

Does God Exist?

  • Anselm of Canterbury, “The Ontological Argument,” from Proslogion
  • Thomas Aquinas, “The Five Ways,” from the Summa Theologica
  • Avicenna, from On the Nature of God
  • Blaise Pascal,The Wager,” from Pensées

Is it Reasonable to Believe Without Evidence?

  • William Paley, from Natural Theology
  • David Hume, from Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

What is Knowledge?

  • Plato, from Meno
  • Plato, from Theaetetus
  • Edmund Gettier, “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?”

Can We Really Know Anything?

  • From Zhuangzi
  • Nagarjuna, from Averting the Arguments
  • Philo of Alexandria, from On Drunkenness

How Can We Know About the External World?

  • René Descartes, from Meditations on First Philosophy
  • David Hume, from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

Can We Know Ourselves?

  • Sigmund Freud, “The Unconscious,” from The Freud Reader
  • W.E.B. Du Bois, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings,” from The Souls of Black Folk
  • Karl Marx, “Estranged Labour,” from The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844

Is Mind Material?

  • René Descartes, from Meditations on First Philosophy
  • Princess Elizabeth, Letters to Descartes
  • Anton Wilhelm Amo, from The Apatheia of the Human Mind

Is There a Self?

  • From Questions to King Milinda
  • Xuanzang, from The Treatise on the Establishment of the Doctrine of Consciousness-Only
  • Yeshe Tsogyal, from Autobiography
  • From The Recorded Conversations of Zen Master Yixuan

What is Personal Identity?

  • Leke Adeofe, from “Personal Identity in African Metaphysics”
  • John Locke, “Of Identity and Diversity,” from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

What is Consciousness?

  • Thomas Nagel, “What is it Like to Be a Bat?”
  • David Chalmers, “The Hard Problem of Consciousness”

What is Intelligence?

  • John Searle, Can Computers Think?, from Minds, Brains, and Science
  • Nick Bostrum, “Past Developments and Present Capabilities,” from Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies

Contemporary Theories of Identity

  • Derek Parfit, “Personal Identity,” from Reasons and Persons
  • Bernard Williams, “The Self and the Future”

Are We Free?

  • Epictetus, from The Discourses
  • Lucretius, from On the Nature of Things
  • St. Augustine, from Confessions

What is Free Will?

  • Harry Frankfurt, “Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility”
  • Roderick Chisholm, “Human Freedom and the Self”

Radicals and Rabble-Rousers

  • Karl Marx, from Capital
  • Emma Goldman, “Anarchism: What it Really Stands For,” from Anarchism and Other Essays

Anti-Colonialism and Race

  • Franz Fanon, from The Wretched of the Earth


  • Andrea Nye, “The Virtues of Misogyny,” from Feminism and Modern Philosophy
  • Iris Marion Young, from Justice and the Politics of Difference

Queer Theory

  • Siobhan B. Somerville, “Queer,” from Keywords for American Cultural Studies
  • Judith Butler, from Undoing Gender

Why Be Good?

  • The Buddha, from The First Sermon
  • Plato, from The Republic
  • Judith Jarvis Thomson, “Why Ought We Do What is Right?”

Is Morality Universal?

  • Friedrich Nietzsche, from On the Genealogy of Morals
  • Philippa Foot, “Moral Relativism”


  • Immanuel Kant, from Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals


  • From the Acaranga Sutra
  • John Stuart Mill, from Utilitarianism
  • Kwame Gyeke, An Essay in African Philosophy: The Akan Conceptual Scheme


  • From the Lankavatra Sutra
  • Confucius, from The Analects
  • Laozi, from Dao de Jing
  • Aristotle, from The Nichomachean Ethics

Politics & Virtue

  • Aristotle, from The Politics
  • Al-Farabi, from The Virtuous City
  • Maimonides, from Guide of the Perplexed

What is the Modern State?

  • Thomas Hobbes, from Leviathan
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau, from The Social Contract

Authority & Autonomy

  • Mikhail Bakunin, from God and the State
  • Robert Paul Wolff, “The Conflict Between Authority and Autonomy,” from In Defense of Anarchism


  • John Locke, “A Letter Concerning Toleration”
  • John Stuart Mill, from On Liberty
  • Mary Wollstonecraft, from A Vindication of the Rights of Woman


  • John Rawls, “Two Principles of Justice”
  • Martha Nussbaum, “Political Equality”