PHIL 343
What Philosophy Is: It's Methods, Aims and Values
Last Offered Spring 2022
Division II Writing Skills
This course is not offered in the current catalog

Class Details

Put simply, metaphilosophy is reflection on the nature of philosophy: Can it be defined? How is it different from science? What are its distinct methods? Does philosophy yield knowledge? What role does the history of philosophy play in the discipline? Why read the history of philosophy? Unsurprisingly, philosophers have proffered a variety of answers to these questions, prompting one philosopher to remark, half-jokingly, that “there are as many definitions of philosophy as there are philosophers.” Thus, Plato described the philosopher as “the one who beholds all Time and all Being.” Wilfrid Sellars regarded as uncontroversial the view that it is “an attempt to see how things, in the broadest possible sense of the term, hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term.” Critical theorists regard philosophy as social and ideology critique. Some understand its aim to be to answer normative questions about the nature of truth, justice, goodness and rationality. Finally, there are those who do not think philosophy can contribute much at all to answering such questions and others who question its claims to universality given its associations with colonialism, racism, sexism, etc. In this tutorial we will read philosophical texts from a range of approaches in professional philosophy since the early 20th Century (Analytic, Pragmatist, Continental or European, and Public). Some of them explicitly engage meta-philosophical debates; others exemplify particular philosophical styles and methods. Our aim is to enrich our understanding of the discipline in order to evaluate its value and limitations.
The Class: Format: tutorial
Limit: 10
Expected: 10
Class#: 3916
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Evaluation will be based on the written work as well as the level of preparation and intellectual engagement in tutorial meetings. The professor will provide detailed comments on the first two papers, and all students have the option meeting with the professor after midterms to discuss strengths and areas they plan to work on in their final two papers.
Prerequisites: Two or three philosophy courses, or permission of instructor.
Enrollment Preferences: Preference will be given to majors and students who have had at least two, ideally three courses in philosophy.
Distributions: Division II Writing Skills
WS Notes: This is a tutorial. Students will write five 6-page papers and 2-3 page commentaries on alternate weeks. The instructor and the tutorial partner will comment extensively on each paper both orally and in writing. The aim of each tutorial meeting is enable the writer to imagine possible revisions.
Attributes: PHIL History Courses

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