Selected Philosophy Course Syllabi
PL 101: Introduction to Philosophy
Course Description: This course provides an introduction to central philosophical problems (including epistemological questions, the mind-body problem, free-will vs. determinism, issues concerning the existence of God and moral/political theory) through a reading of selected texts which highlight contrasting views on a variety of philosophical issues.
Course Objectives: The student should (a) develop a familiarity with the relationship between different thinkers within the history of Western philosophy and the problems they address as well as (b) refine his/her critical thinking skills.
- Philosophy: The Quest for Truth" Eighth Edition, (eds. Louis Pojman and Lewis Vaughn) Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012.
Download the full syllabus: PL-101-Intro-to-Philosophy.pdf
PL 103: Life, Death & Meaning
Course Description: The course is designed as an introduction to philosophy course through exploring the meaning of death as it figures in human life in terms of contributing the meaningfulness of such a life. Ask yourself this: “if one is not able to die, is he really able to live?” (Paul Tillich) In other words, could you live an authentic life without knowing the meaning of your life? Could you know the meaning and value of your life without understanding the very end of your life journey, i.e., your impending death? If you want to find out what many great philosophers and thinkers think about or want to figure out your own answers to those most fundamental existential issues of your life, come to ponder, think, debate, and argue with us. This course will give you a deeper philosophical understanding of the meaning of death and consequently how to live your life in the face of death, which will ultimately bring you into true being and authentic existence.
Download the full syllabus: PL-103-Life-Death-Meaning.pdf
PL 208: Symbolic Logic
Course Description: Welcome to the World of LFOL. Early in the twentieth century an artificial language was invented, which is simple, unambiguous, and precise. The language also allows the computer to perform logical deductions for us. That language is the Language of First-Order Logic (LFOL). This course is designed to introduce the basics of LFOL: the concept of artificial language, techniques for symbolizing ordinary English sentences and arguments, and formal inference systems. The emphasis will be on the use of LFOL (a) as a means for the clarification of thought and (b) as a tool for the construction of good reasoning/argument in both your academic study and your everyday life.
No specific mathematical knowledge is presupposed to study symbolic logic. However, you should be prepared to think in a rigorous and often abstract way. Studying logic has roughly the same relation to thinking logically as studying ethics has to behaving ethically, or studying music theory has to playing, conducting, or composing music. However, this is not a skill course; its goal is primarily for understanding. You will end up with improved skills of logical reasoning and the ability to think abstractly, but that will owe less to the subject matter than to our treatment of it and the efforts you put into mastering it.
Download the full syllabus: PL-208-Symbolic-Logic.pdf
PL 241: Philosophy of (Erotic) Love
Course Description: Welcome, Erotic Lovers! It has become such a cliché to claim that “there is no greater human need than love; it is our ultimate source of meaning and happiness”, “love makes everything go around”, “love is everything”, “God is love”, even “love is God”. However, what is love? Especially what is so-called erotic or romantic love that all of us dream about and some of us will even die for? Let us put it bluntly from the very beginning: there is no such thing as the true or the ideal love as it is for us to discover; all we have are a series of metaphors, images, or conceptions of love created by different cultures, many of which are so entrenched in our psyche of love that we glorify selectively. In fact, much of what we believe about romantic love in the Western society is mere mythology and pious illusions. Love is simply socially structured human emotion (not just a feeling or desire, but structured mode of judgments, or ways of shaping and attuned to the world). Historically, the love emotion was either inflated or idealized by Platonic eros tradition that bloats Eros and demeans sex, which was in turn enhanced by Christianity and blindly followed by most humanists (for them, “love is everything”; “love is the answer”; “love lasts forever”; “love is divine”; “love is unconditional”; “love is selfless”) or on the other extreme, has been deflated or materialized by cynicism, such as embittered feminists, jaded Freudians, sneering Marxists. To them, “love is nothing but lust or sublimated sex”; “love is merely transiting feeling”; “love is capitalist conspiracy or even a form of prostitution”; “love is a political plot to maintain male superiority”. Alternatively, love has recently been neutralized or sensitized by reductionist scientific studies of love: “love as an evolution tool”; “love as natural instinct programmed through human evolution”; “love as psychological attachment”; “love is produced by specific chemicals (i.e., elevated levels of dopamine or/and norepinephrine, as well as decreased levels of serotonin) and brain circuitry”, so “love is sort of chemical addiction”.
Based on the above conviction, the course is designed as a philosophical reconstruction of our dominant conceptions of erotic/romantic love with an attempt to help us understand romantic love, maybe the most cherished human experience and emotion. To do so, we will trace the historical development of the conceptions of love within the Western intellectual heritage and subject them to philosophical analysis and scrutiny with the intention to demythologize and de-deify love in the contemporary Western world.
Download the full syllabus: PL-241-Philosophy-of-Erotic-Love.pdf
PL 250: Science and Human Values
Course Description: This course examines the relationship between science and ethics. We will explore the normative foundations of science, as well as the ends towards which scientific investigation is oriented. We will also discuss the ethical obligations of scientists to society. In addition, a significant part of the course is devoted to discussions about the increasingly important role which technology as a form of applied science plays in our lives, as well the ethical quandaries raised by the hegemony of technology in contemporary societies. We will also look at specific issues in which science and ethics intersect in particularly acute ways, such as genetic engineering.
Course Objectives: Students should develop an understanding of the normative foundations of scientific research. In addition, they should refine their ability to think critically about the role of technology in contemporary societies.
- Aldous Huxley. "Brave New World." New York: HarperCollins, 2005.
- Bernard Rollin. "Science and Ethics." Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006.
Download the full syllabus: PL-250-Science-and-Values.pdf
PL 304: Existentialism
Course Description: The essential messages of existentialism is about as simple as can be: every one of us, as an unique individual, is responsible—responsible for what you do, responsible for who you are, responsible for the way you face and deal with the world, and responsible, ultimately, for the way the world is. Life may be difficult; circumstances may be impossible; obstacles you face seem originated from your own personality, character, emotions, limited means, or intelligence. Nevertheless, you are responsible. You cannot shift that burden onto God, onto nature, or onto the ways of the world. “Nature is what we are put on this earth to rise above.” That is what existentialism is all about. You are responsible for yourself. Consequently, your life and your fate are completely in your own hands. You determine the meaning of your life. There are no excuses!!!
The course is suitable for any serious thinkers who are wondering about the meaning of life, about their true identity, or about the relation between God and their personal lives, and who want to live an authentic life. In our course, we will study the most important existentialist thinkers, both theistic and non-theistic, such as Albert Camus, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Soren Kierkegaard, Fredrick Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre's writings.
Download the full syllabus: PL-304-Existentialism.pdf
PL 308: From Hegel to Nietzche
Course Description: This course provides an introduction to important philosophical figures in Nineteenth-Century Continental Philosophy. We begin the semester with a review of Kant and German Idealism. We then turn to Hegel, followed by a brief discussion of the Young Hegelians generally, and Feuerbach in particular. Next, we will examine the social and political thought of Marx, after which we will work through Kierkegaard’s "Fear and Trembling". We will finish the semester with a brief discussion of Schopenhauer, and the remainder of the term is dedicated to the work of Nietzsche.
Course Objectives: Students should obtain both (a) a working knowledge of the historical relationship between important nineteenth-century thinkers such as Hegel, Marx, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, as well as (b) an awareness of the important philosophical issues they address.
- Hegel, G.W.F. "The Hegel Reader" (ed. Stephen Houlgate) Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.
- Kierkegaard, Søren. "Fear and Trembling" (trans. Alastair Hannay) London: Penguin, 1986.
- Marx, Karl. "Karl Marx: Selected Writings" (ed. Lawrence H. Simon) Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 1994.
- Nietzsche, Friedrich. "The Nietzsche Reader" (eds. Keith Ansell Pearson and Duncan Large) Indianapolis: Malden, MA: Blackwell Pubs, 2006.
Download the full syllabus: PL-308-From-Hegel-to-Nietzsche.pdf
PL 318: Knowledge, Truth and Skepticism
Course Description: The theory of knowledge or epistemology is the study of the nature of knowledge and justification of beliefs. Educated people agree that knowledge is valuable, but philosophers disagree on almost all major issues concerning knowledge that are at the heart of epistemology, such as:
- The possibility of knowledge: “Is knowledge possible?” “Can we or do we know anything at all?” “What, if anything, can we or do we really know?”
- The nature of knowledge: “What is knowledge?” “What counts as to know that p?” “What, if any, are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge?”
- The nature of epistemic justification: “What counts as a justified belief?” “How do we justify a belief?”
- The sources of knowledge: “What are primary sources of knowledge?” “How do we obtain knowledge; through our sense or our reason, or both?”
- The forms of knowledge: If we can know something about the external world through perception, what exactly do we know and how do we know it? Can knowledge of the unobserved be rationally justified on the basis of the observed? Can we justify the existence of other minds?
- The nature of truth: what is truth? How can we know a belief is true?
In this course, we investigate many contemporary treatments of these central issues of knowledge with focus on three conceptually related topics:
- the nature and value of knowledge and the nature and structure of epistemic justification;
- the nature of truth through discussing a few classical and contemporary theories of truth;
- the challenges from skepticism and influential responses to it
Whenever possible, our class will proceed in the format of seminar. This means that class time will be devoted to lecture/discussion, with emphasis on class discussion. So it is essential for you to do the assigned readings faithfully and thoroughly before coming to each class (I will check from time to time). Your active participation in class discussion is an indispensable part of the success of our class.
Download the full syllabus: PL-318-Knowledge-Truth-Skepticism.pdf
PL 321: Philosophy of Language & Communication
Course Description: The course is designed to help the students study two closely related language-related areas of philosophical studies, that is, the well-established philosophy of language and the emerging philosophy of (linguistic) communication. Humans are essentially linguistic beings. We live – perceive, feel, think, reason, will, act, and interact – in and through human languages; we are linguistically and communicatively situated in the world. Ordinarily, we would believe that the speakers of a natural language understand, or know the meanings, of the expressions of that language and are able to communicate effectively with others speaking the same language. However, we all experience that, in real life, misunderstandings and communication breakdowns are rampant. Understanding the members of one’s own language community, even the members of one’s own family, can be taxing; understanding and communication across different language communities can seem all but impossible. To solve many difficult issues involved in language use, the philosophers of language have been attempting to provide a systematic account of the most essential aspect of language-use, namely, the linguistic meaning. In fact, philosophy of language is motivated in large part by a desire to give a systematic account of our intuitive notion of linguistic meaning and related aspects of language-use, especially linguistic understanding and communication. Traditionally, it includes, but is far from exhausted by, the following meaning-related questions:
- What is linguistic meaning? Are there so-called meaning at all? Are there facts about meaning?
- Suppose that certain linguistic expressions do have meanings. What is it for a linguistic expression to have the distinctive meaning it does? How does a linguistic expression mean what it does? What is the meaning of such a linguistic expression? How do we know its meaning? What kinds of meaning a linguistic expression have? How are different kinds of meanings related? How does a person manage to use linguistic expressions with pre-established conventional meanings to convey unconventional intentions?
- How is linguistic understanding possible? What is it for a speaker to understand an expression or grasp its meaning? What counts as effective linguistic understanding? Given the diversity of languages embedded with different worldviews and ways of thinking, how is cross-language understanding possible?
- How is linguistic communication possible? How is linguistic understanding and communication related?
- What is the relationship between language, thought, and reality? How is language related to the world (metaphysics)? Does language create or shape reality, or does language reflects reality? How is language related to our thought (philosophy of mind)? Whether language is merely a means for expressing thoughts or is something that enables us to have thoughts and shapes the way we think?
- What is the nature of language? What kind of phenomena languages are? What is the primary role or function of language?
In this one-semester long seminar, for the part on the philosophy of language, we can only focus on four central issues: the theories of reference, the theories of meaning, pragmatics and speech acts, and cross-language understanding. Since our overall concern is with the question of how effective linguistic understanding and communication is possible, accordingly, the part on the philosophy of communication will examines a few well-known philosophical discourses or models of communication, including Locke’s transmission discourse, Gadamer’s hermeneutic discourse, and Habermas’ communicative-action discourse.
Download the full syllabus: PL-321-Philosophy-of-Language-Communication.pdf
PL 312: Twentieth Century Philosophy
Course Description: This course provides an overview of important movements (and their representative thinkers) within twentieth century philosophy. We begin the semester with an examination of logical atomism/positivism, moving on to speech act theory, pragmatism and philosophy of mind. We then turn to philosophical movements in the Continental tradition, including phenomenology, existentialism, hermeneutics and postmodernism.
Course Objectives: The student should develop a familiarity both with (a) the relationship between different thinkers within twentieth century thought as well as (b) the kinds of philosophical problems which have featured prominently in twentieth century philosophy.
- E. D. Klemke. "Contemporary Analytic and Linguistic Philosophies, 2nd Ed., " Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2000.
- Jürgen Habermas. "Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action" (trans. Christian Lehnhardt and Shierry Weber Nicholson) Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991.
- Martin Heidegger. "Contemporary Analytic and Linguistic Philosophies, 2nd Ed.,Basic Writings, " (ed. David F. Krell) London: Harper Perennial Modern Thought, 1993.
Download the full syllabus: PL-312-Twentieth-Century-Philosophy.pdf
NOTE: to view more course syllabi from Professor Wang, please check his website: Teaching Section