The academic discipline of Philosophy is concerned with fundamental questions concerning the nature of reality, the basis for the possibility of human knowledge, and how we make judgments of value, especially regarding human conduct. Studying philosophy involves understanding the work of philosophers and examining it critically. Philosophy encourages logical, reflective, and careful thinking skills that are helpful in many corners of life.
Three main areas of philosophy correspond to the fundamental concerns mentioned above:
- Metaphysics: What is the nature of reality?
- Epistemology: How and what can we know?
- Ethics: What is right or wrong, good or bad?
In addition to being branches of philosophy in their own right, these three main areas of philosophy are at the core of other more specialized branches of philosophy.
This course covers eight branches of philosophy at an introductory level. There are numerous connections among branches of philosophy, and there is no single, prescribed right/correct order in which to the address these eight branches of philosophy. The sequence of this course is designed to flow in a manner that encourages application of knowledge gained from one area in pursuing the next, and to use questions or issues considered in a particular branch of philosophy as a bridge to another branch that adds perspective to that topic.
Each of the eight branches of philosophy will be treated in its own module, or unit, in the following sequence:
- Logic is about the principles of good arguments. Throughout this course, the basics of logic serve as a template for examining arguments of philosophers and for making good, critical arguments against them. Logic is related to epistemology in that it models acquisition of knowledge through reason.
- Epistemology How do we know? What can we know? What justifies believing the truth of knowledge? Asking epistemological questions is difficult to separate from those of Metaphysics. How can we understand what we can know without understanding what exists to be known? Epistemology is also akin to Philosophy of Science in that both seek to understand how we can know the natural world. The principle of cause and effect is interesting to all three branches, Epistemology, Metaphysics, and Philosophy of Science. This course places Metaphysics on hold briefly and considers Philosophy of Science immediately after Epistemology.
- Philosophy of Science concerns the concepts and methods of science, including principles such as causality that are fundamental to science. Our work in Philosophy of Science continues with inquiries from Epistemology on how we know the natural world and on the nature of causality, and then moves to methods used by science and the characterization of scientific progress. Although we do not delve deeply into this aspect, Philosophy of Science asks questions connected to Ethics (moral philosophy); for example, what should science pursue, or not pursue?
- Metaphysics is concerned with the nature and existence of reality Metaphysics is an expansive discipline with subbranches of its own, and explores the nature of realities including minds, physical bodies, space, time, the universe, causality, and more. We will focus on the nature of a person’s reality, as a physical body with a mental life. Picking up on the notion of causality from Epistemology and Philosophy of Science, we will examine the possibility that humans can act freely, which in turn invites questions about moral responsibility, or Ethics.
- Ethics or moral philosophy, is concerned with evaluation of human actions as right and wrong. Studying Ethics involves understanding and comparing theories that describe and justify right and wrong actions and ethical claims. Ethics is part of a general philosophical area of study called “axiology,” which is concerned with judgments about values. Ethics involves judgments about right and wrong actions of the individual. An individual’s actions do not occur in isolation but within a social context. Thus there is a fuzzy boundary between Ethics and Social and Political Philosophy, and a natural transition to the latter.
- Social and Political Philosophy is interested in values related to groups of individuals; from small communities to larger nations. What makes a society good, what makes a government legitimate, what is the relationship between the individual and society/government? Topics addressed in this course include fairness, justice, human rights, and the responsibilities of government.
- Philosophy of Religion examines a wide array of topics related to the meaning and nature of religion. Some historical arguments and contemporary theories make arguments involving morality to justify theories about God ‘s existence or the nature of religion, but Philosophy of Religion is not centered around the study of Ethics and moral values. Philosophy of Religion has a connection to Ethics, and also to Metaphysics through questions about the existence of God and nature of the universe, and to Epistemology by exploring how we know and understand spiritual matters and beliefs.
- Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy that examines the nature of art and beauty and the character of our experience of them. Aesthetics involves judgments about “beauty,” an ideal, or value, on the same level with “truth” or “goodness.” So aesthetics, like Ethics, is an axiological pursuit. Aesthetics has a connection to Metaphysics in its deliberation of the questions such as “where” beauty lies/exists, and to Epistemology in considering how we know and recognize beauty.
Structure and Conventions
Purchased textbooks (physical or digital) are not used in this course. All materials are available online. Assigned materials include:
- Text within in the module itself, which may include excerpts from the works of classic philosophers
- Reading at other online locations, accessible from within this course
- Videos accessible from with this course
In addition to assigned materials, some modules may include “supplemental” course resources, for both reading and viewing. Any subject matter in supplemental resources that is not also covered in assigned materials will not be addressed in course assessments. In other words, the assigned materials are sufficient for succeeding in this course. The supplemental materials may enrich your appreciation and/or understanding of certain philosophical ideas.
The actual text/content for every module is the primary assigned reading. All other materials with link are clearly identified as either “assigned” or “supplemental,” with links to the supplemental resources located at the end of a content page.
Within the course content for each branch philosophy, key terms appear in bold typethe first time they are used. These terms are also available for lookup in the course glossary and are listed in the overview section for each module.
This course introduces numerous notable philosophers. The philosophers you will meet in connection with each branch of philosophy are listed in the overview section for the module with a link that takes you to brief biographical material. The first mention of a philosopher’s name within the text will also link to the biographical information. The links are provided to lend historical context and enrich the learning experience. Only the philosopher’s ideas as presented in course content are addressed in assessments (no details on lives and times.) For more information, visit the Philosophy Pages website.
Course assessments include:
- Discussion questions
- Responses to other students’ discussion-question submissions
- Short written assignments
- Unit tests (one for each module/branch of philosophy)
The number and types of assessments vary from module-to-module. Each coursework item appears in the course content as well as in the course table of contents with a link to the location for submitting the work.