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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Spring 2004

T C PHL • PHL 610QB: Problems of Knowledge and Valuation

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
38940 to 38955 Multiple Sections gar 311

Course Description

Second semester: Descartes, Hume and Free Will The aim of this semester is to introduce topics in epistemology and metaphysics, initially through the works of two major philosophers, René Descartes (f. 1670) and David Hume (f. 1750). In the second part of the semester, we concentrate on the problem of free will and moral responsibility, a topic to which Hume made an important contribution. Descartes is responsible for two highly influential ideas. His skepticism arises from his reflection that we might be deceived by an “evil demon” who makes it seem as if our ordinary world exists whereas in reality there is nothing. Although Descartes hoped to defuse skepticism, it has lived on, inspiring generations of philosophers, and leaving its mark in such movies as Matrix and Solaris. Descartes’ dualism is his view that mind and body are entirely distinct. This view has been supported by religious thinkers, by many philosophers impressed by the distinctive character of consciousness, and by some defenders of free will. Hume’s Enquiry is famous for supposedly arguing for a form of skepticism that Descartes did not explicitly consider: skepticism about whether the future will resemble the past. His discussion of this issue is closely intertwined with a remarkable theory of the nature of causation, a theory which led him to hold that an action can be free, and so can merit praise or blame, even though it is causally determined.

About the Professor: Mark Sainsbury taught at the University of Essex, Bedford College London, and King's College London before coming to the University of Austin. He has written four books (Russell, Paradoxes, Logical Forms, Departing from Frege) and is currently working on a fifth entitled Reference without Referents.

Grading Policy

Four 500-750 word essays (8% each, 32% in all). One in-class test (25%). Participation: 10% Term paper of 2,500-5,000 words on a topic agreed by lecturer or TA (33%)


Descartes, René: Meditations on First Philosophy Hume, David: Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding Kane, Robert: The Significance of Free Will DeRose, Keith and Ted A. Warfield (ed) Skepticism: A Contemporary Reader Chalmers, David J. (ed.) Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings Millikan, Peter Reading Hume on Human Understanding Dennett, Daniel Freedom Evolves Watson, Gary (ed) Free Will


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