T C PHL610 • Problems of Knowledge and Valuation
Second semester: Descartes and Hume; knowledge and mind. 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). They will serve to introduce two main themes: the nature of knowledge and skepticism, and the nature of the human mind and action. Descartes is known 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 not only generations of philosophers, but also leaving its mark in such movies as The 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. Humes 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 causation, one that 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 Texas at Austin. He has written four books (Russell, Paradoxes, Logical Forms, Departing from Frege) and has a fifth, entitled Reference without Referents, forthcoming with Oxford University Press.
There will be eight 15-minute in-class tests. Each test generates 5% of the total marks. Two short essays, maximum 1000 words each (10% each), and a term paper, maximum 4000 words (40%) are also required. Deadlines for these assessed pieces of written work will be announced on the first day of classes.
René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy David Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding A course packet with supplementary material.