2017 – 2018 Semester 1 Courses

Contemporary Egalitarianism, 2000: Prof. Field
Is it unjust for a society to be unequal? If equality is desirable, what kind of equality? Equality of opportunity? or equal welfare? or equal capabilities? Contemporary political philosophy offers rich materials to answer these questions; we will read authors such as Rawls, Nozick, Cohen, Sen, and Anderson.
Skills: Problem Solving; Historical: New

Democratic Theory, 3000: Prof. Field
Why is democracy valuable? What does it even mean to call a political order a democracy? How can democracy represent a ‘will of the people’ if the people disagree with one other? Does democracy conflict other important values and goals? In this course we answer these questions by first establishing a conceptual framework from the history of political thought, and then plunging into contemporary democratic theory. We will use theory to analyse contemporary local and international examples, and we will also be open to real examples posing challenges to theory.
Skills, Problem Solving; Historical, New

Doing Things with Words, 4000: Prof. Keating
With a system of sounds and marks, we human beings are able to share knowledge, coordinate actions, prompt emotional responses, and make things like marriages and names come into existence. This course will consider what both Sanskrit and Anglophone philosophers have to say about speech acts. We will start with Mīmāṃsā, known as the “science of sentences”, and think about how commands and exhortations work. We will then turn to J.L. Austin’s seminal How to Do Things with Words, which introduced speech act theory to Anglophone philosophy. The course will close with some contemporary attempts to integrate Mīmāṃsā and speech act theory.
Skills: Problem Solving; Traditions: Indian

Descartes & the Perfection of Human Knowledge, 3000: Prof. Liu
This seminar will survey the Cartesian system—showing how the issues of the reformation, the religious climate, social issues (such as the earliest standardization of a curriculum by the Jesuits) and revolutionary developments in science and mathematics informed Descartes’ methodology, philosophy and publication-strategy.  Starting with Descartes’ conception of human reason and methodology, we will consider the influences that shaped the construction of the Cartesian system from metaphysics and epistemology, mathematics and physics, to medicine and morals.
Skills: Textual Analysis; Traditions: European; Historical: Old

Ethics and Politics of Sex, 2000: Prof. Zheng
In this course we consider the moral and political dimensions of sex understood as individual and social practice. Are sexual preferences, fantasies, behaviors, and traditions morally criticisable, and if so, how? What about sexual industries and institutions? In what ways do our sexual practices impede or advance present-day struggles for social equality?
Skills, Applications; Historical, New

Philosophy of Religion, 3000: Prof. Bailey
In this course, we will examine some central philosophical issues concerning religious belief and practice. Topics may include the problem of evil, petitionary prayer, and religious experience; readings will be contemporary but not exclusively Anglophone.
Skills: Applications, Problem Solving; Historical: New

2017 – 2018 Semester 2 Courses 

Can consciousness be explained?, 2000: Prof. Mehta
To have a conscious experience is to enjoy a technicolor, surround-sound blast that seems to resist full scientific explanation. In this course we consider whether it is possible to explain consciousness at all, and if so, how.
Skills: Problem Solving; Historical: New

Mathematical Logic, 2000: Prof. Liu
Formal logic has had a tremendous success and influence since it was developed in its present form.  It is the inspiration for many artificial languages, including programming languages, and it has been successfully used in mathematics.  Formal logic is also very important in the study of natural languages and in the analysis of valid or invalid forms of argument and reasoning.  We will cover a fairly substantial introduction to these issues.  In particular, we will cover “propositional” and “quantificational” logic, and time and interest permitting, an introduction to other topics like set theory or metalogic.
Skills: Formal Analysis, Problem Solving

Fundamental reality, 3000: Prof. Mehta
This course begins with the following question: What exists, fundamentally speaking? We will consider how to frame the question, how to answer it, and how to appreciate its significance, using formal methods as appropriate.
Skills: Logical Analysis, Problem Solving; Historical: New

Oppression and Injustice, 2000: Prof. Zheng
How should we recognize, understand, and overcome injustices in the world? Philosophers and activists across many times and places have contemplated and confronted this question with respect to such issues as slavery, colonialism, imperialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, ableism, and economic exploitation. This course focuses on the moral and political thought of and in solidarity with oppressed groups, that is, on philosophy born of struggle and aimed at emancipation.
Skills, Applications; Traditions, Africana, Latin American (partial); Historical, New

Neo-Confucianism and Chinese Buddhism, 3000: Prof. Van Norden
This course is an introduction to Neo-Confucianism, one of the most influential intellectual movements in East Asia. Neo-Confucianism combines a profound metaphysics with a subtle theory of ethical cultivation. There is also discussion of Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, whose views of the self and ethics are the primary targets of the Neo-Confucian critique.
Skills: Textual Analysis; Traditions, Chinese; Historical, Old.

Philosophy as a Way of Life, 2000: Prof. Walker
In the contemporary world, philosophy is one academic discipline among many. But throughout its history, philosophy has also been conceived as a way of life. We will explore this alternative conception of philosophy by exploring pre-modern Greco-Roman and Chinese models, and contemporary reflections on the philosophical life. Topics include the relation between theoretical discourse and one’s lived life; philosophy and living well; philosophy as a way of life and “religion”; protreptic arguments for pursuing philosophy; therapeutic arguments; spiritual exercises; and the extent to which this conception of philosophy remains viable today.
Skills: Applications; Traditions: European (partial), Chinese (partial); Historical: Old

Plato on Knowing and Being Good, 4000: Prof. Carpenter
Knowing makes you a good person, and seeking to know is morally improving. Plato apparently commits himself to these crazy claims. We will investigate why. What is knowledge such that seeking it is good for us? What effect does inquiry have on character? How must we conceive of the good if knowing is not to be merely instrumentally good? Does it matter, morally, which conception of knowledge we have? To address this latter question, we will consider the much different epistemology of the Indian Buddhists, who also consider knowledge to be indispensible to the ultimate good.
Skills: Problem Solving; Traditions: European, Indian (partial); Historical: Old

Cross-listed courses

Chinese Political Philosophy, Confucianism and its rivals, 2000: [Sem. 1] Prof. Chan
This is an advanced course for students who have an interest in political philosophy. It aims to introduce the Chinese traditional political thoughts that date back to the period before Qin Dynasty, i.e. up to 221 B.C. In particular, it aims to demonstrate what and how the major ancient Chinese political thinkers understand and discuss the important philosophical questions in the field of politics that are (more than often) still relevant nowadays. To this end, this course takes a thematic rather than a chronological approach.
Skills: Problem Solving; Traditions: Chinese

Emotions and Politics, 3000: [Sem. 2] Prof. Tarnopolsky
This course examines the role of emotions in liberal democratic practices and institutions and in contemporary democratic theory.  The course will examine three different theoretical frameworks that have recently been used to understand the place of emotions in politics: 1) neuroscientific;  2) neo-Aristotelian;  and 3) Freudian/psychoanalytic.  The course will focus on the different conceptions of the emotions put forth by each of these frameworks and the different constellations of emotions that are analysed and/or advocated by these theories. Questions to be addressed include: What role (motivation/justification?) should the emotions play in democratic deliberations?  Are there “negative” emotions and what criteria do we use to decide whether an emotion ought to be excluded from democratic practices?
Skills: Application; Historical: New

Contemporary Continental Political Thought, 4000: [Sem. 2] Prof. Schuppmann
This module analyses the works of some of the most significant 20th and 21st century political and legal thinkers of the “continental” tradition. It traces the dialogue that emerges among them, in the process demonstrating arguments and counterarguments for their different positions and why their ideas matter for constitutional democratic states today. In the process, this module also provides students with a glimpse into how great academic debates unfold in writing.
Skills, Applications; Traditions, European

2016 – 2017 Semester 1 Courses

The Metaphysics of Human Nature:
Metaphysics concerns what things there are, what they are like, and how they are related. In this course, we will investigate such questions with respect to a special class of objects: us. In particular, we will consider question of what we are. This course will focus exclusively on recent philosophical research within the ‘analytic’ tradition.
Skills: Applications, Problems; Historical: New

Classical Indian Philosophy of Language:
Among the major topics in linguistic analysis within the traditions of India, this course focuses on two questions: What is linguistic meaning? How do we understand what is meant? As the former question is embedded within the latter for Indian thinkers, we turn first to the epistemology of testimony in Nyāya and Mīmāṃsā; then to the question of what meaning(s) are primary, both in terms of words and sentences; finally, we address meanings beyond primary: metaphor, bi-textuality (punning), and suggested meaning.
Skills, Textual analysis; Traditions: Indian; Historical, Old

Ancient Greek Philosophy:
An overview of how philosophy—as both a mode of inquiry and a way of life—developed in Western antiquity. We will begin with the pre-Socratics, focus on Plato and Aristotle, and conclude with a brief look at later schools (such as the Epicureans, Stoics, and Sceptics). Topics include the nature of being, knowledge, the soul, virtue and happiness, and the city.
Skills, textual analysis skill; Traditions: European; Historical: Old

The Political Philosophy of Spinoza:
Benedict de Spinoza has been hailed variously as the originator of an enlightenment more radical than that of the philosophes or as a conservative thinker; as an early champion of liberalism, or as a proto-Marxist materialist; as an atheist hostile to religion or as a defender of religious forms; as an arch-rationalist, or a champion of the imagination. In this course, our primary task will be to read the original texts on their own terms; on this foundation, we will be able to navigate the contemporary debates over those texts’ significance.
Skills: Textual Analysis, Applications; Traditions: European; Historical: Old

Chinese Political Philosophy:
This is an advanced course for students who have an interest in political philosophy. It aims to introduce the Chinese traditional political thoughts that date back to the period before Qin Dynasty, i.e. up to 221 B.C. In particular, it aims to demonstrate what and how the major ancient Chinese political thinkers understand and discuss the important philosophical questions in the field of politics that are (more than often) still relevant nowadays. To this end, this course takes a thematic rather than a chronological approach.
Skills: Problems; Traditions: Chinese

2016 – 2017 Semester 2 Courses:

If you have money, you probably think about it a fair bit. And if you don’t have money, you might think about it even more. In this course, we will think about money a lot. In particular, we will examine some central philosophical issues surrounding money and its place in a well-lived life, including its relation to happiness, freedom, and virtue.
Skills: Applications, Problems; Historical: New

Analogical Reasoning and Metaphor:
Einstein imagines a beam of light as a train which he rides. Mengzi thinks of human virtues as growing sprouts. Why is this kind of reasoning so pervasive, and what does it mean to think with metaphor and analogy? Looking at Indian philosophy, Chinese philosophy, and contemporary Anglophone analytic philosophy, we will consider what metaphor and analogy are, their role in our thought, their relationship to culture and language and their importance in two philosophical questions: what is the nature of reality? and how should we live?
Skills: Textual analysis, Problems; Traditions: Indian (partial), Chinese (partial)

Late 20th Century French Philosophy:
This course introduces students to the work of Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze. It will involve close and systematic readings of a selection of their main texts, which are widely regarded as some of the most influential works to emerge from France. It will also seek to locate the distinctive approach of both Derrida and Deleuze respectively with respect to the way that their work has been taken up and used more broadly, and to address disputes about the meaning and adequacy of their views.
Skills: Textual Analysis; Traditions: European; Historical: New

This course surveys key topics in the thought of Aristotle (384-322 BCE), a major figure in the European philosophical tradition. Main themes include Aristotle logic and theory of knowledge; Aristotle’s philosophy of nature (including his physics, cosmology, and biology); Aristotle’s psychology, metaphysics, and theology; and Aristotle’s practical philosophy—including his ethics, politics, and literary theory.
Skills: Textual Analysis; Traditions: European; Historical: Old

NUS Courses:
There are also many philosophy courses at NUS available to all Yale-NUS College students; the modules can be found here: