Programme

Philosophy investigates the nature of the good life and of reality, knowledge, truth and beauty. It does not just teach us about ideas; most importantly, it teaches us to do philosophy, and hence to lead rewarding and productive lives informed by philosophical reflection. The skills and habits of mind developed in the Philosophy major prepare graduates for a wide range of careers in fields including law, government, business, medicine, academia and journalism.

Structure

The Philosophy major guides students in their development as philosophers on three dimensions:

  1. An understanding of philosophy pursued in the past and in the present (Something Old/New)
  2. An appreciation for philosophy in multiple traditions
  3. Fundamental philosophical skills:
    (a) Textual Analysis (c) Formal Analysis (b) Problem Solving (d) Applications

I.   Something old, something new:
Each student is expected to complete at least one course focused on significant works in the history of philosophy, and at least one course focused on contemporary texts.

II.  The traditions dimension:
A major’s philosophy courses must address texts and ideas drawn from at least two of the world’s philosophical traditions. This may be done either by taking two courses, each focusing predominantly on a distinct philosophical tradition; or by taking several courses treating multiple traditions together.

III. The skills dimension:
Each student must take at least one distinct course in each of three areas; you are strongly advised to take courses addressing all four – particularly if aspiring to graduate work in philosophy:

(a) Textual analysis: focuses on reading challenging philosophical texts and understanding these texts in the context of their composition and in the context of their commentarial traditions.

(b) Formal analysis: uses the tools of formal logic, decision theory and related techniques to develop and analyse philosophical arguments, or focuses on topics in the philosophy of logic and mathematics.

(c) Philosophical problem solving: tackles important philosophical problems, in abstraction from the traditions or texts in which they arise, and develops arguments to defend solutions to these problems.

(d) Application: applies philosophical ideas outside the discipline of Philosophy, for instance to medicine, science, religion, environmental issues, social or political problems, or to shaping one’s life.

* While one must take 3 distinct courses for each of 3 skills, a single course may serve to satisfy requirements in two or three dimensions.

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Major

Any set of eight courses in Philosophy collectively satisfying the three dimensions detailed above, together with a capstone project, suffices to fulfil the requirements of the major.

No particular course is required of all majors, except the Capstone seminar.

Capstone: The Philosophy Capstone may be a single sustained essay investigating a philosophical topic, or it can be a linked set of shorter essays on more specific topics; even more daring formats may be explored, designed in consultation with the student’s advisor. The philosophy Capstone Seminar meets in Sem. 1 of the final year. There will be a Capstone Symposium at the end of Sem. 1, and public oral examinations in the form of a conference after submission of the final written work in Sem. 2.

For more information on the Capstone, see http://philosophy.yale-nus.edu.sg/programme/capstone-details/.

Minor

The Philosophy minor comprises five courses and does not require a capstone project.

Courses must be selected so as to include at least one distinct course representing two of the four skill areas; and so as to satisfy the traditions dimension, as described above.

 

What courses count towards the major/minor?

Any course cross-listed with philosophy automatically counts towards the philosophy major/minor – whether that is a course offered at Yale-NUS, NUS or at a university abroad.

Up to two non-philosophy courses may count towards the major, where a case is made on the basis of the proposed course’s content, or of its fit with the particular philosophy interests and courses constituting a student’s way through the major. Such decisions are made in consultation with the student’s advisor, and may not be determinable in advance.

Note: Only courses listed as philosophy courses can satisfy the ‘traditions’ or ‘old/new’ dimensions of the major’s requirements.

Description of Courses

For an updated list, see http://philosophy.yale-nus.edu.sg/courses/. The following courses were offered in 2015–2016:

Kant [Sem. 1]: This course examines some of the key innovations, themes and arguments in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. It introduces students to Kant’s critical philosophy, focusing on his critique of traditional metaphysics in the Critique of Pure Reason. It will also seek to locate Kant’s distinctive approach with respect to earlier and later metaphysical and epistemological positions, and to address disputes about the meaning and adequacy of his views.

Skills Dimension: Textual Analysis; Traditions: European; Historical: Old

Love and Friendship [Sem. 1]: What is a friend, what are the different kinds of friendship, and why are friends valuable? What is erotic love, and what are its benefits and dangers? Is it possible to love someone for his or her own sake, or is all love and friendship essentially instrumental? What is the nature of familial love and what are one’s obligations, if any, toward one’s parents? Do love and friendship require one to take an objectionably partial stance toward one’s loved ones? How should we face the prospect of losing our friends and loved ones? Readings from classic and contemporary sources.

Skills: Textual Analysis, Problem Solving; Traditions: European (partial), Chinese (partial); Historical: Old

Ancient Greek Political Philosophy [Sem. 2]: This course introduces central themes and debates in Ancient Greek Political Philosophy through a careful reading of Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics.  Questions and themes include: How should I/we live? What is justice, freedom, and equality? What are the virtues of citizens and rulers? What is the relationship between the individual and the state? How should we envision the relationship between morality and politics? While understanding the works of Plato and Aristotle within their historical context, we will also be interested in understanding how they can help us to think about politics in contemporary societies.

Satisfies Skills Dimension: Textual Analysis; Traditions: European; Historical: Old

Democratic Theory [Sem. 2]: This course engages with the normative theory of democracy, which seeks to answer why and to what extent is democracy valuable? And how does it relate to other goods in the political domain? Normative democratic theory is distinct from but closely linked to the empirical study of politics: we will examine how well actual societies that are called democratic measure up to normative standards, and we will consider how real-world political developments influence our normative model.

Skills Dimension: Problem Solving, Applications; Historical: New

Indian Buddhist Philosophy [Sem. 2]: When the Buddha declared there was no self (if he did indeed declare this), he did not specify what this meant – but he did insist that understanding it correctly was essential to removing the suffering endemic to life. This opened space for centuries of philosophical debate between Buddhists about the nature of ultimate reality (metaphysics), the explanation of our experiences (epistemology), the human condition and our task within it (ethics), and it spurred non-Buddhist opponents to articulate their competing views of all of these. This course looks at the first thousand years of this debate.

Skills Dimension: Textual Analysis; Traditions: Indo-Tibetan; Historical: Old

Introduction to Mathematical Logic [Sem. 2]: 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 Dimension: Formal Analysis, Problem Solving

Nietzsche [Sem. 2]:

In the 1880s, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God and called for a new life-affirming philosophy to combat the rise of nihilism. Nietzsche, one of the most provocative thinkers of the nineteenth century, lived in an age of cultural tumult and intellectual transformation. This course provides a window into this period through a close engagement with Nietzsche’s writings, including his philosophical works, his personal correspondence, and his autobiography. Attention will also be paid to his friendship and subsequent disillusionment with the composer Richard Wagner.

Science and Technology vs. Nature [Sem. 2]: The idea that science and technology are not only separate from Nature, but at war with it, is one that echoes in every weekly gazette, where we can read that consequences of “progress” and scientific knowledge itself are putting the world at risk.  In this Course, we will mainly examine the conceptual evolution of one scientific notion (energy) in its own conceptual history, from classical mechanics to the quantum revolution and the thermodynamic definition of energy. We will consider its technical/technological applications, in order to get back to the roots of scientific thought, and to evaluate whether this philosophical mistrust of scientific thinking should be endorsed.

Skills Dimension: Textual Analysis, Problem Solving; Traditions: European; Historical: Old

The Scientific Revolution [Sem. 2]: This seminar deals with a pivotal period in the history of science: the scientific revolution (ca. 1500-1700).  This era witnessed the development of sciences such as astronomy, mechanics and anatomy into something recognizably modern, and the institutionalization of science in forms that are still existent. During this time scientific thought and activity moved from a culturally marginal to a central position.  In addition to examining the historical and philosophical significance of these changes, we will devote some time to the pseudo-sciences, and consider their relationship to the orthodox sciences.

Skills Dimension: Textual Analysis, Formal Analysis; Traditions: European; Historical: Old

The Self in Comparative Perspective [Sem. 2]: This course examines the notion of the self, what it is to be an ‘I’, in different religions and philosophies, drawing on key textual sources in translation and comparing them to modern representations of the self. The course will focus on the relation between ideas about the self and the good life in Hindu and Christian philosophies and pre-philosophical literature, with reference to contemporary concerns about the self and what it is to lead a good life.

Skills Dimension: Textual Analysis, Problem Solving; Traditions: Indic, European (partial); Historical: Old.

Warring States China Intellectual and Political History [Sem. 2]: Known as the time of the “hundred schools of thought,” the Warring States (Zhanguo) period was the formative period of Chinese philosophy and undoubtedly the era of greatest intellectual diversity in all of China’s history.  However, the intellectual developments of this period were inseparable from major social, political, economic, and technological changes that the Chinese world was undergoing at the time.  This course will examine the political and social changes of the Warring States and preceding Springs and Autumns (Chunqiu) period and explore how all these various historical forces may have shaped the ideologies and debates of the era.

Skills Dimension: Textual Analysis; Traditions: Chinese; Historical: Old

Why Be Moral? [Sem. 2]: It is often thought that we ought to be just, kind, generous and more; in short, that we ought to be moral. But why be moral rather than simply heeding our unjust, callous, and selfish urges? In this course, we examine this question systematically, both from the perspective of philosophers who attempt to answer it (like Plato, Immanuel Kant, and David Hume) and from the perspective of philosophers who deny that it has any satisfactory answer (like John Mackie).

Skills Dimension: Problem Solving; Traditions: European; Historical: Old

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The following courses give a sense of the sort of courses that are also likely to arise in future years:

Art and the Mind: This course is a survey of topics in the philosophy of art, with emphasis on issues that tell us something about the mind. Topics include horror, emotional expression, pictorial representation, and evaluation. This course may also take in the treatment of these in the European, Indian and Japanese traditions.

Skills Dimension: Problem Solving, Application; Historical: New

Convention, Knowledge and Existence: Scepticism East and West: This is a cross-cultural introduction to the sceptical tradition, running from Sextus through Hume and Wittgenstein in the West and the Madhyamaka Buddhist tradition. The course addresses the relationship between convention and our knowledge of the world, including our knowledge of our own minds.

Skills: Textual Analysis, Problem Solving; Traditions: European (partial), Indo-Tibetan (partial); Historical: Old

Death and the Meaning of Life: In this course, we will examine the central philosophical issues surrounding life and death, including the questions of what death is, whether it is to be feared, whether immortality is possible or desirable, and whether life is meaningful.

This course satisfies the Skills Dimension: Problem Solving, Application; Historical: New

Early Modern European Philosophy: This course provides an introduction to the relationship between philosophy and science in the 16th–18th centuries in Europe. The course will address debates about the nature of the self, knowledge, our access to the external world, and the role of science in understanding the world and human nature.

Skills Dimension: Textual Analysis, Problem Solving; Traditions: European; Historical: Old

Hermeneutics, Translation and Cross-Cultural Interpretation: This is a cross-cultural hermeneutics course that juxtaposes European, Indian, Tibetan and Chinese texts on hermeneutics, and uses translation as the focus of hermeneutical activity, exploring the role of interpretation in translation and the way the act of interpretation is conceived in different philosophical traditions.

Skills Dimension: Textual Analysis, Application; Traditions: European OR Indo-Tibetan OR Chinese; Historical: Old

Philosophy of Law: An examination of some key themes and issues in the philosophy of law, including the nature of law; rule of/by law; the functions and reach of law; the enforcement of morality; punishment; justice; and (the universality of) rights.

Skills: Textual Analysis, Problem Solving; Traditions: European (partial), Chinese (partial); Historical: Old