Philosophy 1K: Knowledge and the World

Philosophy 1K: Knowledge and the World

This course offers an introduction to philosophical theories of the mind its relation to reality, along with a section on critical thinking.

The first component of the course involves a study of the Meditations on First Philosophy by Rene Descartes, which in many ways set the agenda for philosophy since it was published in 1641. This short and lively book introduces you to dominant themes of modern philosophical thinking. Descartes raises important questions and argues for substantial theses concerning the foundations of knowledge, the nature of perceptual experience, the existence of God, and the nature of our minds. By reading and critically engaging with the Meditations, you will be considering (and attempting to answer for yourself!) the following sorts of questions: How do we know that reality isn’t radically different from the way it appears to be? What role does sense perception play in grounding our knowledge of the world? Does God exist? Are our minds and bodies (including our brains) distinct entities?

Alongside the Meditations, you will undertake a component on Critical Thinking. Put simply, this involves gaining the concepts and skills required to identify and evaluate arguments, and to get good at constructing your own. We will do this by engaging with some philosophical arguments but mainly those which appear in popular media, e.g., newspapers. Being able to thinking critically is crucial for doing Philosophy. As you will discover, Philosophy is full of attempts to provide good arguments (good reasons) to believe conclusions about the nature of reality and our place in it. But being a critical thinker is also extremely important for a host of other things: assessing arguments in politics, advertising, other academic disciplines, and living an autonomous life!

The third component of the course will build on the material that you have been introduced to through the study of the Meditations, by considering contemporary perspectives on three philosophical topics: Knowledge, Philosophy of Perception, and Philosophy of Mind. In doing so, you will get a sense of how philosophy has developed since Descartes, and will hopefully be in a better position to begin forming your own reasoned conclusions about some of these issues.

A picture of Rene DescartesCourse convener:  Dr Robert Cowan
Semester: 1
Lecture hour: 10-11 and 2-3
Lecture venue: See MyCampus

Recommended texts for 2016-17: The main books you need for 1K are:

  • René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy. The recommended edition is Meditations and Other Metaphysical Writings, translated by Desmond M. Clarke, (Penguin, 2000)
  • Tracy Bowell & Gary Kemp, Critical Thinking: A Concise Guide (2nd or 3rd ed., Routledge 2009)

Teaching resources for this course, including lecture notes and exercises, will be made available on the Philosophy Moodle site.