The Big Questions of Philosophy

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36 episodes in this series

Episode 1 How Do We Do Philosophy?
The first four lectures of the course pose the big question: What is philosophy? Start by exploring the kinds of problems that philosophy addresses, the way philosophy works, and the…
Episode 2 Why Should We Trust Reason?
Hone your philosophical thinking by identifying the categories of fallacious reasoning that ensnare us all. Investigate examples of gut-thinking, confirmation bias, appealing to ignorance, the correlation fallacy, begging the question,…
Episode 3 How Do We Reason Carefully?
Avoiding fallacious reasoning is just the beginning of philosophical thinking. Go deeper by studying the rules of deduction and induction. In the process, learn Aristotle's three axioms of logic, the…
Episode 4 How Do We Find the Best Explanation?
Explore the power of abduction, a form of induction also known as inference to the best explanation, that is used not only by philosophers, but also by doctors to make…
Episode 5 What Is Truth?
Now begin a section of the course devoted to the big question: What is knowledge? Start with the problem of defining truth. Investigate three philosophical theories that attempt to pin…
Episode 6 Is Knowledge Possible?
Having covered ways of gaining evidence and justifying belief in pursuit of knowledge, now ask: Is knowledge really possible? See what Plato had to say. Then delve into Rene Descartes'…
Episode 7 What Is the Best Way to Gain Knowledge?
Put empiricism to the test as the best way to acquire knowledge. Study the ideas of John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume, together with the response of Immanuel Kant,…
Episode 8 Do We Know What Knowledge Is?
Address a famous problem concerning the nature of knowledge, posed by contemporary philosopher Edmund Gettier. Use different thought experiments to test the traditional definition of knowledge. Discover firsthand the bafflement…
Episode 9 When Can We Trust Testimony?
In this section, put what you've learned to work by asking the big question: Can religious belief be justified? Start with Hume's argument that testimony can never justify a belief…
Episode 10 Can Mystical Experience Justify Belief?
Look at the phenomenon of religious experiences, pondering whether such events justify belief. Find that practically all religions have religious experiences, but the beliefs they lead to can be radically…
Episode 11 Is Faith Ever Rational?
Given that faith by its nature makes no claim to being logical, can it ever be considered rational? Learn that all of us unconsciously behave as if it is. What…
Episode 12 Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?
Begin a series of lectures addressing the next big question: Does God exist? The most popular proofs appeal to God's existence as the best explanation for the universe's existence and…
Episode 13 What Is God Like?
Traditionally, if God exists, God is perfect--God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent. See how these three attributes are likely inconsistent with each another. Focus in particular on the difficulties with…
Episode 14 How Could God Allow Moral Evil?
Now consider arguments against God's existence, the most common being the problem of evil. Explore various theological solutions that account for why God allows certain evils, like the holocaust. Does…
Episode 15 Why Would God Cause Natural Evil?
It is one thing for God to grant humans the freedom to do evil, but it's harder to understand the existence of natural evils such as earthquakes and plagues. Evaluate…
Episode 16 Are Freedom and Foreknowledge Compatible?
Do we have free will? This is your next big question. Begin with a close study of omnitemporalism--the idea that the future already exists and that God necessarily has foreknowledge…
Episode 17 Do Our Souls Make Us Free?
Look at the problem of free will from the point of view of the soul, the conjectured seat of mentality that exists apart from the body. Discover that neuroscience suggests…
Episode 18 What Does It Mean to Be Free?
Some philosophers, called compatibilists, argue that if we understand free will correctly, the idea that humans are free becomes defensible, leaving room for moral responsibility. Evaluate this stance, and close…
Episode 19 What Preserves Personal Identity?
Spend the next four lectures on the big question: Could there be an afterlife? First, ask what defines a person and how personal identity is preserved over time. Discover that…
Episode 20 Are Persons Mere Minds?
Explore the possibility that personal identity is preserved by memory, as Locke contended, or by psychological continuity. Test these ideas in thought experiments involving the transporter from Star Trek and…
Episode 21 Are Persons Just Bodies?
Could it be that you are the same person over time because you have the same body over time? Explore the implications of this view, which traces to the Judeo-Christian…
Episode 22 Are You Really You?
Close your inquiry into the afterlife by looking at new ways of defining personhood. According to perdurantism, a person is the sum total of an individual's life experiences and cannot…
Episode 23 How Does the Brain Produce the Mind?
The next three lectures address the big question: What is the nature of the mind? Start with the celebrated "hard problem" of consciousness: How does the brain produce the mind?…
Episode 24 What Do Minds Do, If Anything?
Examine three more theories of the mind--property dualism, epiphenomenalism, and eliminative materialism--discovering that each has shortcomings. All of us feel that we have minds, so why is it so difficult…
Episode 25 Could Machines Think?
Push your exploration of the mind even further by looking at functionalism, which suggests that anything that functions like our brain has mentality. The implication is that, in principle, machines…
Episode 26 Does God Define the Good?
Turn to the next big question: What is morally right and wrong? Your first step is to inquire what establishes the truth of ethical statements. Look briefly at emotivism, which…
Episode 27 Does Happiness Define the Good?
Could the happiness or absence of pain that results from an action define whether it is good? The Greek philosopher Epicurus held this view, which was fine-tuned by utilitarian philosophers…
Episode 28 Does Reason Define the Good?
Kant suggested that reason determines what is moral or immoral. Analyze his famous categorical imperative, which is a set of obligatory moral rules guided by reason. See how Kant's rules…
Episode 29 How Ought We to Live?
Take up virtue ethics, which suggests that we should concentrate less on resolving which actions are moral or immoral, and instead focus on cultivating virtue. Explore the complexities of this…
Episode 30 Why Bother Being Good?
Wickedness has its rewards, which raises the question: Why bother being good? Explore this issue with Plato, whose dialogue The Republic is a detailed description of a highly regulated, virtuous…
Episode 31 Should Government Exist?
This section of the course considers the big question: How should society be organized? Here, perform a thought experiment that casts into doubt the moral justification of government. Then probe…
Episode 32 What Justifies a Government?
Does government arise naturally from a state of anarchy? Does this fact morally justify it? Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean Jacques Rousseau thought so. However, each of these philosophers…
Episode 33 How Big Should Government Be?
Explore three theories on the proper size of government, focusing on economic regulation and delivery of services. Adam Smith saw a minimal role, Karl Marx envisioned total control, and John…
Episode 34 What Are the Limits of Liberty?
Deepen your study of the role of government by examining Mill's arguments in his famous 1859 treatise, On Liberty. Apply his reasoning to three of today's hot-button issues: To what…
Episode 35 What Makes a Society Fair or Just?
Enter the fray with philosophers John Rawls and Robert Nozick, who reached different conclusions about what would constitute a just society. Begin with a thought experiment based on Christopher Nolan's…
Episode 36 What Is the Meaning of Life?
Professor Johnson poses the last big question of the course: Can we answer the ultimate question? Draw on the many insights you've gained from these lectures, together with your experience…

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