In *PHLA10 - Reason and Truth* I aim to introduce students to both the methods of philosophy and some of its most central problems. The method of philosophy is reasoned argumentation, so the course begins with a quick overview of modes of reasoning. Logic is a powerful tool, but it also has pitfalls we must learn to avoid. The course then turns to the problems of philosophy, considering for example the question of whether we can prove that God exists, or maybe does not exist. Other central problems include understanding the nature of the mind and its relation to material reality, the basic question of how or whether we can be certain of any knowledge, and the ancient worry that our freedom to choose our own actions is merely an illusion because everything we do is actually predetermined.
What is morally acceptable and what isn’t? For example, is stealing always morally wrong, or is it sometimes permissible to steal? What about torture: is it ever permissible to torture someone? What if the only way to save hundreds of people is to torture one innocent person? How should I live my daily life? Is it okay, for instance, to spend my money on whatever I want? What if money that I would like to spend on a new computer, new clothes or a trip to Europe could be used to aid people living in conditions of extreme poverty? In the first part of the course, Moral Theories, we will discuss two influential theories that attempt to provide systematic answers to questions of this sort: Utilitarianism and Kantianism. These theories are each trying to explain the difference between right and wrong action. We will examine both theories and discuss whether either succeeds. In the second part of the course, Challenges to Morality, we will consider a range of skeptical challenges to morality. We will discuss questions like: are there objective answers to moral questions, or is morality relative to one’s culture, or a matter of personal opinion? Given a scientific picture of the world, how could there be room for moral truths at all? Can there be morality without God? In the final part of the course, Moral Issues, we will turn to concrete moral issues that arise in contemporary life. We will investigate three such topics: global poverty, abortion, and the treatment of animals.
PHLA10H3 and PHLA11H3 are recommended as an intro to the PHL Specialist and Major programs, but if you miss taking them in your 1st year our B-level courses can also serve as a gateway into the study of Philosophy.