Introduction to Philosophy: Great Works (PHIL 110)

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Instructor: Alan Nelson. This course meets Monday – Friday from 1:15 PM – 2:45 PM in Caldwell 105.

An introduction to philosophy through three of its greatest classics. Although these are very short books, they are long and deep in meaning and historical significance. We begin with Rene Descartes’ Meditationswhich counters an all-embracing scepticism with the iconic, “I think, therefore I am”. From this starting point, Descartes attempts to ground both science and a rational belief in God. The second text is George Berkeley’sThree Dialogues. Berkeley begins much as Descartes did, but ends up trying to counter scepticism with the startling, paradoxical conclusion that what we take to be material, physical objects are nothing but ideas. This puts into a special perspective the question: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?”. The text is Ludwig Wittgenstein’sBlue and Brown Books. Writing in the 20th century, Wittgenstein develops a searching critique of both Descartes and Berkeley arguing that their problems are to be dissolved rather than solved. None of these three books is a traditional textbook or treatise; each is written in a distinctive, engaging style.

Alan Nelson’s webpage