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.
The Philosophy major guides students in their development as philosophers on three dimensions:
- An understanding of philosophy pursued in the past and in the present (Something Old/New)
- An appreciation for philosophy in multiple traditions
- 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 (Old), and at least one course focused on contemporary texts (New).
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, including (but not limited to) Africana (Afr), Chinese (Ch), European (Eu), Indo-Tibetan (In), Latin-American (Lat), or Indigenous Peoples (IP). 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 (Text): 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 (Form): 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 (Prob): 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 (App): 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.
Any set of nine courses in Philosophy (45 MC) collectively satisfying the three dimensions detailed above, together with a capstone project (10 MC, which includes the Capstone Seminar), suffices to fulfil the requirements of the major (55 MC total).
No particular course is required of all majors, except the Capstone Seminar. However, at least five of the Philosophy courses (25 MC) completed for the major (other than the Capstone Seminar) must be taken at Yale-NUS.
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. (More daring formats may be explored, designed in consultation with the student’s advisor. Students requesting permission to write a Capstone in a non-standard format, such as a dialogue, should consult with their advisor as soon as possible, and must obtain explicit permission by the end of Sem 1 of their senior year.) The philosophy Capstone Seminar meets in Sem. 1 of the final year and is required of all majors. There will be a Capstone Symposium at the end of Sem. 1, and public oral examinations in the form of a Capstone Defense 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/.
The Philosophy minor comprises five courses (25 MC) and does not require a capstone project. At least three Philosophy courses (15 MC) completed for the minor must be taken at Yale-NUS.
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 toward the philosophy major/minor, whether is is offered at Yale-NUS or NUS. Courses not cross-listed in philosophy may count toward the major if they normally would be cross-listed as philosophy. (For example, a course on Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy taught by a philosopher in the School of Theology at another university might be counted toward our major as a philosophy course even if that course were not cross-listed in philosophy at the university in question.) However, such decisions are made on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the student’s advisor, and are not determinable in advance.
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 philosophical focus of the student. (For example, a student with a particular focus on ancient Western philosophy might be permitted to count one or two courses on Classical Greek toward the Philosophy major.) However, such decisions are made on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the student’s advisor, and are not determinable in advance. Moreover, these courses cannot be used to satisfy the ‘traditions,’ ‘old/new,’ or ‘skills’ dimensions of the major requirements.
Description of Courses
The following are all the courses approved for the major. Courses in double brackets and italics [[like this]] are not currently on the schedule but may be offered in future years. For an up-to-date list of courses offered by semester, see http://philosophy.yale-nus.edu.sg/courses/.
The Aesthetics of Fear: Horror and the Philosophy of Art A philosophical examination of the horror genre. How can audiences be scared of monsters they know to be fictional? How can we take positive pleasure in emotions like dread, fear, and disgust, which we usually avoid in ordinary life? Is horror an immoral genre that cultivates vices in its audiences? Or can horror fictions be ethically salutary and provide a space for philosophical clarification? Prof. Walker (App/New) 2000-level
Analogical Reasoning and Metaphor Looking at Indian philosophy, Chinese philosophy, and contemporary Anglophone analytic philosophy, we will consider what metaphor and analogy are, their role in our thought, and their relationship to culture and language. Prof. Keating (Text, Prob/0.5 In, 0.5 Ch) 3000-level
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). Prof Walker (Text/Old/Eu) 2000-level
Ancient Greek Political Philosophy (PPE) 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. Prof. Tarnopolsky (Text/Old/Eu); 2000-level
[[ Aristotle Main themes include Aristotle’s logic and theory of knowledge; his philosophy of nature (including his physics, cosmology, and biology), and of psychology; Aristotle’s metaphysics, theology, and practical philosophy. Prof Walker (Text/Old/Eu) 3000-level (Last offered in Sem 2 of 2016-2017.) ]]
Can Consciousness Be Explained? In this course we consider whether it is possible to explain consciousness at all, and if so, how. Prof. Mehta (Prob/New) 2000-level
Capstone Seminar (Sem 1): This course is open only to, and is required of, senior majors in philosophy. (PPE majors may be admitted with the permission of the instructor and in consultation with the Head of Studies of PPE.) This course helps students develop advanced skills in philosophy, particularly those needed to complete one’s Capstone Project. Topics vary, but often include issues of diversity in the profession, forms of argument, non-standard logics, relativism, skepticism, egoism, and the analytic-continental divide in Anglo-European philosophy. Instructor varies. 4000-level
Chinese Political Philosophy: Confucianism and Its Rivals (PPE) 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. Prof. Chan (Prob/Old/Ch) 2000-level
Classical Chinese Philosophy This course covers some seminal ancient thinkers not discussed in PPT 1, including Kongzi (Confucius), Laozi, Han Feizi, and the School of Names. We also discuss in a bit more depth Mengzi (Mencius) and Zhuangzi. Prof Van Norden (Text/Old/Ch) 2000-level
[[ Classical Indian Philosophy. A cheerful jaunt through one thousand years of Indian philosophy (200 – 1300 C.E.), taking in framing concepts and central debates along the way. What is reality, and how do we fit into it? Is the world we experience an illusion? Are there other minds, and can I know them? Can I even know my own mind? Is there a divine being or beings? How can we know the answer to these questions? And above all: How should our answers to these questions guide our lives? Prof. Carpenter (Text/Old/In) 2000-level (Not yet offered.) ]]
Classical Indian Philosophy of Language: What do we mean when we speak and how do we understand those meanings? Explore these questions along with Indian thinkers who were concerned with understanding language in sacred texts, poetry, and everyday speech. Prof Keating (Text, Prob/Old/In) 3000-level
Contemporary Egalitarianism 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. Prof Field (App, Prob/New) 2000-level
[[ Death and the Meaning of Life In this course, we will examine some central philosophical issues surrounding life and death, including what death is, whether it is to be feared, whether immortality is possible or desirable, and whether life is meaningful. Prof. Bailey (App, Prob/New) 2000-level (Last offered Sem 2 of 2014-2015.) ]]
Debate and Reasoning in Indian Philosophy Nyāya, a tradition within Brahminical Indian philosophy, put forward sophisticated methods of reasoning and norms for debate. In this course, not only will we consider these methods and norms, but we will put them into practice on topics such as the existence of God. Prof Keating (Text, Prob/Old/In) 3000-level
Democratic Theory 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. Prof. Field (Prob, App/New) 3000-level
Descartes and the Perfection of Human Knowledge (HI) This Historical Immersion seminar tracks the construction of the Cartesian system by examining Descartes’ drive to perfect all of human knowledge through its methodical rehabituation and training, along with the influence of the scientific, political, and religious climate of his time. Prof. Liu (Text/Old/Eu) 3000-level
Doing Things with Words Classical Indian and contemporary analytic philosophical approaches to speech acts: the ability of human beings to make things like marriages and names come into existence with a system of sounds and marks. Prof. Keating (Prob/In) 4000-level
[[ Early Modern European Philosophy This course is a survey of the major figures of 17th and 18th century European philosophy, including the central metaphysical, epistemological, and sometimes ethical debates in Spinoza, Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Berkeley, Hume and Kant. Prof. Carpenter (Text/Old/Eu) 2000-level. (Not yet offered.] ]]
Emotions and Politics (PPE) This course examines the role of emotions in morality and politics. What role do emotions play in moral and political deliberations? What is the difference between reason and the emotions? Are there “negative” emotions and what role if any should these emotions play in moral and political deliberations? Prof. Tarnopolsky (Prob, App/Eu) 3000-level
Ethics and Politics of Sex This course examines the moral and political dimensions of sex, understood as individual and social practice, and the ways in which those sexual practices impede or advance present-day struggles for social equality. Prof Zheng (App, Prob/New) 2000-level
Fundamental Reality 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. Prof. Mehta (Form, Prob/New) 3000-level
Indian Buddhist Philosophy: 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. Prof. Carpenter (Text/Old/In) 3000-level
Introduction to Mathematical Logic 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. Prof. Liu (Form, Prob); 2000-level
[[ Kant An introduction to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, with special focus on the Critique of Pure Reason. Prof. Duffy or Prof. Carpenter (Text/Old/Eur) 3000-level (Not offered in the last three academic years.) ]]
[[ Late 20th Century French Philosophy Close and systematic readings of the work of Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze, widely regarded as some of the most influential philosophy to emerge from France. We assess their views by locating their distinctive approaches with respect to the way that their work has been taken up and used more broadly. Prof. Duffy (Text/New/Eu) 2000-level (Last offered Sem 2 of 2016-2017.) ]]
[[ Love and Friendship A philosophical examination of some key questions concerning love and friendship. Readings will include classical and contemporary sources, and works from multiple intellectual traditions Prof. Walker (Prob, App/0.5 Chin, 0.5 Eu) 2000-level (Not taught in the previous three academic years.) ]]
[[ 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. Prof. Bailey (App, Prob/New) 3000-level (Most recently offered Sem 1 of 2016-2017.) ]]
Money (PPE) 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. Prof. Bailey (App, Prob/New) 2000-level
Neo-Confucianism and Chinese Buddhism Introduction to Neo-Confucianism, one of the most influential intellectual movements in China and all of East Asia, which combines a profound metaphysics with a subtle theory of ethical cultivation. There will also be some discussion of Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, whose views of the self and ethics are the primary targets of the Neo-Confucian critique. Prof. Van Norden (Text/Old/Ch) 2000-level
Nietzsche: An Untimely Figure and His Times (History and HI) 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 Historical Immersion 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. Prof. Kang (Text, Prob/New); 3000-level
Oppression and Injustice How should we recognize, understand, and overcome injustices in the world? This course focuses on Black feminist thought and Latin American philosophy produced by and in solidarity with oppressed groups, that is, on philosophy born of struggle and aimed at emancipation. Prof Zheng (App, Prob/New/Af, LA) 2000-level
Perception Perception is as important as it is puzzling: it is one of our most fundamental ways of knowing about the world, it is prior to thought in some important sense, it is a form of consciousness, and it is a basic source of knowledge. In this course, we ask what perception is and why it behaves in these ways. Prof Mehta (Prob/New) 4000-level
Philosophy as a Way of Life Throughout its history, philosophy has also been conceived as a way of life. Exploring pre-modern Greco-Roman and Chinese models, we consider the relation between theoretical discourse and one’s lived life; philosophy as a way of life and “religion”; therapeutic arguments; spiritual exercises; and the contemporary viability of philosophy as a way of life. Prof. Walker (App/Old/0.5 Eu, 0.5 Ch) 2000-level
[[ Philosophy of Law A survey of some of the major theories and figures in the philosophy of law. Prof Walker (App, Prob/New) 2000-level (Last offered Sem 2 of 2014-2015.) ]]
Philosophy of Religion This course examines some central philosophical issues concerning religious belief and practice. Prof. Bailey (App, Prob/New) 3000-level
Plato on Knowing and Being Good Examine Plato’s claim that seeking knowledge makes us better people. Consider the ethical implications of ambitious conceptions of knowledge; the value of truth, and the particularist implications of Platonic realism. Prof. Carpenter (Text, Prob/Old/Eu) 4000-level
[[ The Political Philosophy of Spinoza There has been a recent surge of interest in the political philosophy of Benedict de Spinoza (1632-1677). He 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. Our task will be to read the original texts on their own terms and navigate the contemporary debates over those texts’ significance. Prof. Field (Text/Old/Eu) 4000-level (Last offered Sem 1 of 2016-2017.) ]]
The Problem of Evil from the Enlightenment to Auschwitz (History) This course examines changing discourses on evil from the eighteenth century to the aftermath of World War II; it explores shifts and developments in literary portrayals of the devil, varieties of theodicy, theories about the nature of human destructiveness, criminality, and the psychology of perpetrators of evil. Through a close reading of major works in philosophy and literature, we will pay particular attention to how understandings of evil have changed over time in response to both large scale socio-cultural transformations and traumatic historical events, such as the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 and the Holocaust. (Prob, App/Eu) Prof. Kang 4000-level
[[ Rhetoric, Power and Pleasure: Plato’s Gorgias and Protagoras (2-MC Course) See Socrates tackle the sophists head-on, as Plato unpicks the difference between rhetoric and philosophy, between a proper skill and a mere knack, a calculating ethos and a principled one. Read in their context the classic metaphors, distinctions, and arguments that inform thinking on these matters today. Prof. Carpenter (0.5 Text/0.5 Old/0.5 Eu) 2000-level (Not offered yet.) ]]
The Self in Comparative Perspective: 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. Prof. Flood (Text, Prob/Old/0.5 In, 0.5 Eu) 3000-level
[[ Slurs, Insults, and Hate Speech: Pragmatics of Pejoratives Some words are insulting and considered unacceptable to utter, and others words are derogatory yet acceptable at least in some contexts. Some words even seem to be able to cause material harm to individuals or groups. How can we account for these phenomena and what should we, as language-users do about it? This course will focus on the pragmatics of pejoratives, the philosophical study of disparaging speech. We will focus especially on disparaging racial and gendered speech, known as “slurs” or, broadly “hate speech.” Prof. Keating (Prob, App/New) 3000-level (Not offered yet.) ]]
Socrates on Trial (HI) In 399 B.C.E., an Athenian jury tried and condemned the philosopher Socrates. Why? This course offers an historically immersive examination of this pivotal event, with a focus on its philosophical, political, religious, and legal dimensions. Prof Walker (Text, Prob/Old/Eur) 3000-level
Vasubandhu: A sustained examination of a pivotal figure in the development of Indian Buddhist thought. Vasubandhu offers our best consolidation of classic Abhidharma minimalist metaphysics and epistemology Prof Carpenter (Text, Prob/Old/In) 3000-level
[[ Warring States China Intellectual and Political History (History) 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. Prof Cook (Text/Old/Ch) 3000-level (Not offered in the previous three academic years.) ]]
Why Be Moral? 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). Prof. Mehta (Prob/Old/Eu) 2000-level