Choices in Philosophy - Courses

List of courses 2009-2010

First Level

  • PHIL1001 Knowledge of the world: an introduction to philosophy (semester 1)
  • PHIL1002 The human mind: an introduction to philosophy (semester 2)
  • PHIL1003 Ethics and society: an introduction to philosophy (semester 1)
  • PHIL1004 Chinese and Western thought: an introduction to philosophy (semester 2)

All Levels

(students to consult regulations of their own faculty)

  • PHIL1005 Critical thinking and logic (semester 2)
  • PHIL1006 Elementary Logic (3 credits) (semester 2)
  • PHIL1008 Elementary Logic II (3 credits) (semester 2)

Second/Third Levels

Courses listed under Group I to Group IV below are also offered to second and third year non-BA students for inter-Faculty broadening purposes. Unless otherwise indicated, all second- and third-level courses require a 6-credit first-year course and are assessed by 100% coursework, which may include in-class tests. Each second/third-level course carries 6 credits, except for PHIL3910 SENIOR THESIS which earns 12 credits.

Group I : Knowledge and Reality

  • PHIL2110 Knowledge (semester 2)

Group II : Mind and Language

  • PHIL2075 The semantics/pragmatics distinction (semester 1)
  • PHIL2230 Philosophy and cognitive science (semester 1)
  • PHIL2410 Mind & Language in Chinese thought (semester 1)

Group III : Moral and Political Philosophy

  • PHIL2310 Theories of morality (semester 1)
  • PHIL2340 Moral problems (semester 2)
  • PHIL2360 Political philosophy (semester 1)
  • PHIL2369 Philosophy of nature (semester 2)
  • PHIL2375 Philosophy of art (semester 1)
  • PHIL2480 Confucianism and the modern world (semester 1)

Group IV : History of Philosophy

  • PHIL2010 Plato (semester 1)
  • PHIL2011 Aristotle (semester 2)
  • PHIL2030 Kant's critical philosophy (semester 2)
  • PHIL2077 Habermas (semester 2)
  • PHIL2450 Zhuangzi (semester 2)

Broadening courses

  • YEDU0001 Ethical dilemmas in the modern world (summer semester) (3 credit units)
  • YPHI0007 Morality, Metaphysics and the Meaning of Life: Philosophy through Film (semester 1) (3 credit units)

Other courses

  • PHIL3810/PHIL6810 Senior seminar (semester 2)
  • PHIL3910 Senior thesis (double course, 12 credit units)
    (only students majoring in philosophy may offer a thesis)
  • PHIL6820 Graduate seminar (semester 1)

First level courses

There are four general introductory courses in philosophy with different themes, each earning six credits :

  • PHIL1001 Knowledge of the world: an introduction to philosophy
  • PHIL1002 The human mind: an introduction to philosophy
  • PHIL1003 Ethics and society: an introduction to philosophy
  • PHIL1004 Chinese and Western thought: an introduction to philosophy

All these courses are available to Arts, Science, and Social Sciences students, and students of any other Faculties whose regulations allow them to enroll. There are no prerequisites. Method of assessment for all four courses will be 100% coursework, which may include in-class tests.

All first year students are encouraged to learn some logic, for example by taking the three-unit ELEMENTARY LOGIC course.

PHIL1001 Knowledge of the world: an introduction to philosophy (first semester)

Lecturer : Dr Michael Martin

Human beings have always attempted to understand and control the world they live in by asking questions, and seeking effective answers, about that world. These attempts have taken many forms, but philosophy has always been a central part of this process of explanation and the progress of knowledge. The questions of what we can know, how we can know, and how we can use what we know, are prime examples of philosophical questions that have come down to us in a long history of inquiry - philosophy is a part of the natural and practical curiosity of mankind.

PHIL1002 The human mind: an introduction to philosophy (second semester)

Lecturer : Dr Max Deutsch

This course is an introduction to philosophical issues about the mind. These include metaphysical questions about what minds are, whether the mind is something non-physical or whether it is some kind of a computer. Then there are the epistemological questions about the limitation of human knowledge, such as whether we can really know what other people's experiences are like, or whether there is a God.

PHIL1003 Ethics and society: an introduction to philosophy (first semester)

Lecturer : Dr Alexandra Cook

One of the founders of Western philosophy, Socrates, claimed that the most important philosophical question is "How is one to live?" How are we to live in our relations with others as individuals? And how are we to live together as communities and societies? This course will introduce some of the ways that key philosophers in the Western tradition have answered these questions. Reading texts by Plato and Aristotle in ancient Greece, and modern and contemporary writings by Locke, Kant, Mill, Rawls and contemporary theorists of democracy, we will explore questions about the way we relate to other people.

PHIL1004 Chinese and Western thought: an introduction to philosophy (second semester)

Lecturer : Dr Chris Fraser

The course compares central themes in the philosophical dialogues of the Chinese and Western traditions. Topics may include Confucian intuition, Daoist paradox, Greek rationalism, British Empiricism, Existentialism, Pragmatism, Maoism, Zen Buddhism, and positivism.

Introductory Logic courses

These courses are available to first year Arts Faculty students, and to first, second and third year students from all other faculties.

PHIL1005 Critical thinking and logic (second semester)

Lecturer : Dr Joe Lau (provisional)
2009 Nov update - Dr Lau will be on sabbatical in 2010 and this course will be taught by Dr Kelly Inglis.

Critical thinking is a matter of thinking clearly and rationally. It is important for solving problems, effective planning, and expressing ideas clearly and systematically. We shall study the basic principles of critical thinking, and see show how they can be applied in everyday life.

Note: Not available to students who have taken YEDU0001 CRITICAL THINKING FOR EVERYDAY LIFE. Assessment: 60% coursework, 40% final exam

PHIL1006 Elementary Logic (second semester)

Course co-ordinator : Dr Patrick Hawley

This is a web-based self-study course on elementary formal logic. Formal logic uses special symbolic notations to study reasoning and arguments systematically. In this course we shall look at some basic concepts in logic, and learn how to use special logical symbols to construct and evaluate arguments. There are no lectures in this course, and all teaching material is available online for self-study. There are, however, optional tutorials for students to ask questions. Registered students should visit the philosophy department web site at the beginning of the semester to find out how they can obtain access to the learning material. Credit units: 3 Assessment: 60% coursework, 40% final exam Not available to students who have taken PHIL2510 Logic.

PHIL1008 Elementary logic II (second semester)

Lecturer : Dr Patrick Hawley

This web-based self-study course about formal logic is a sequel to PHIL1006 Elementary logic. Topics will include first order predicate logic, deduction systems for propositional and first order predicate logic, elementary soundness and completeness results. Other topics may include applications to computer science, linguistics, and other areas. Credit units: 3 Assessment: 60% coursework, 40% final exam Prerequisite: PHIL1006 or permission of the instructor. Not available to students who have taken PHIL2510 Logic.

Second and third level courses for 2009/2010

First semester

PHIL2010 Plato (semester 1)

Lecturer : Dr O'Leary

This course offers a general introduction to the central concerns of Plato’s philosophy. It focuses on Plato’s early and middle dialogues in which the enigmatic character of Socrates is central. It addresses Plato’s teachings on the role of philosophy in the life of the individual, the relation between knowledge and virtue, and his contribution to questions about the nature of love and desire. There is no prerequisite for this course.

PHIL2075 The semantics/pragmatics distinction (semester 1)

Lecturer : Dr Deutsch

One of the central issues in contemporary philosophy of language and linguistics concerns whether and where one should draw the line between semantic meaning and pragmatic meaning, or the meanings had by the words and sentences a speaker uses, and what a speaker means in using those words and sentences. One reason the issue is central is that there are debates over the semantic meanings of certain expressions, e.g. names and definite descriptions. Without a general account of the difference between semantic and pragmatic meaning, these debates cannot be settled. Another reason the issue is central is that there are some who, in a roughly Wittgensteinian manner, deny that there is any real sense to be made of the notion of semantic, or literal, meaning. According to them, there is, therefore, no line between pragmatic and semantic meaning at all. In this course we will try to determine whether the distinction can be drawn, and, if so, where.

PHIL2230 Philosophy and cognitive science (semester 1)

Lecturer : Dr Lau (provisional)

We shall look at some of the philosophical issues involved in studying minds and behaviour scientifically. We might discuss questions such as: Can we explain all mental phenomena in computational terms? What is consciousness? What is the role of language in thinking? How useful are neural networks in understanding the mind?

PHIL2310 Theories of morality (semester 1)

Lecturer : Dr Martin

This course covers some of the main highlights of 20th century moral philosophy, with passing attention to some of the earlier, historical background as needed. Questions covered include: Is morality relative or absolute? Can a moral practice be right in one culture but wrong in another? Is morality basically a form of personal or social opinion, or is there any way it can be made objective or even scientific? If morality is not science, is there any rational way of resolving moral disputes? Perspectives considered include religious and nature-based theories, performative theories, rational intuitionism, utilitarianism and modern theories of justice.

PHIL2360 Political philosophy (semester 1)

PHIL2375 Philosophy of art (semester 1)

PHIL2410 Mind & Language in Chinese thought (semester 1)

Lecturer : Dr Fraser

Issues pertaining to the philosophy of mind and language played a crucial role in the philosophical dialectic of classical China. This course will guide students in reconstructing this role and exploring its philosophical significance by interpreting and critically evaluating selected early Chinese philosophical texts that treat mind, language, and interrelated aspects of psychology.

Topics to be discussed include the nature and functions of the heart-mind (xīn), its relation to other organs, the nature of perception and knowledge, semantic theories, the role of language in knowledge and action, and the ontological grounds of linguistic distinctions. Texts may include the Analects, Mozi, Mencius, Daodejing, Xunzi, Zhuangzi, and Lushi Chunqiu. Class time will be divided approximately equally between lecture and discussion. Students will be asked to read primary source texts and participate actively in discussions. They will be encouraged to read the original sources in Chinese, but translations will be made available for those without reading knowledge of classical Chinese.

PHIL2480 Confucianism and the modern world (semester 1)

Second semester

PHIL2011 Aristotle (semester 2)

Lecturer : Dr Cook

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE) researched virtually every aspect of human knowledge, producing works that influence philosophy and many other fields down to the present. This course looks at his political and social philosophy; we will read his Parts of Animals, Politics and Constitution of Athens, examining his concepts of nature, human nature, slavery, property, citizenship, democracy, education and the ideal city.

PHIL2030 Kant's critical philosophy (semester 2)

Lecturer : Gray Kochhar-Lindgren (Fulbright General Education Fellow)

This course will serve as an introduction to the work of Immanuel Kant, focusing on familiarizing ourselves with the contours of his thought concerning objective knowledge; the limits of reason; the Ideas of God, freedom, and the self; the imperatives of morality; the experience of beauty and the sublime; the question of the purposes of nature; and the meaning of "Enlightenment." We will also briefly contextualize his importance for 19th and 20th century philosophy. Kant is an extremely difficult writer; we will enjoy reading him together.

PHIL2077 Habermas (semester 2)

Lecturer : Professor Jiwei Ci

The important German philosopher Habermas, combining strengths of the Continental and Anglo-American philosophical traditions, has developed a highly influential theory on a wide range of moral, political and historical issues. This course is designed to provide a general introduction to Habermas's interdisciplinary, comprehensive, and politically engaged way of doing philosophy. Topics covered include discourse ethics, the public sphere, social action and rationality, technology and science as ideology, the nature of modernity, and legitimation problems in late capitalism.

PHIL2340 Moral problems (semester 2)

Many practical problems give rise to moral controversies. Among the questions to be considered in this course are 'Should one person treat all others equally?'; 'Is abortion a type of killing, and is it acceptable?', 'Should certain types of pornography be banned?’; 'Can capital punishment be justified?'; 'Is it right to take affirmative action in favour of groups who have been discriminated against in the past?'; 'Should old people be helped to die, if that is what they wish?'. These are all 'large-scale' questions, but we shall also be discussing less grand, but no less important moral dilemmas that we each confront from time to time.

PHIL2369 Philosophy of nature (semester 2)

Lecturer : Dr Cook

In this course we will develop an understanding of historically and philosophically significant approaches to the environment such as anthropocentrism (mainstream environmentalism) and biocentrism (deep ecology). We will read authors both from the history of philosophy (Bacon, Descartes and Locke) as well as modern philosophers. We will look at the implications of these philosophies in recent environmental controversies in Hong Kong. There is no prerequisite for this course.

PHIL2450 Zhuangzi (semester 2)

Lecturer : Dr Fraser

This course will guide students in interpreting and discussing the philosophy of the Daoist anthology Zhuangzi. Besides reconstructing the place of the Zhuangzi in classical Chinese thought, we will examine the relationship between the philosophy of the Zhuangzi and contemporary epistemology, ethics, and political philosophy. Classes will include lectures on the background to Zhuangist thought, joint discussion of competing interpretations of key textual passages, and student discussion of exercises assigned by the instructor. Readings will include selections from the Zhuangzi and a series of secondary source materials. Discussion will focus on the original Chinese text, but materials in translation will be made available for students who do not read Chinese.

Broadening courses

YPHI???? Ethical dilemmas in the modern world (summer semester) (3 credit units)

Lecturer: Dr Inglis

YPHI0007 Morality, Metaphysics and the Meaning of Life: Philosophy through Film (semester 1) (3 credit units)

Lecturer: Dr Inglis

Other courses

PHIL3810 Senior seminar (second semester)

Lecturers : Dr Hawley (co-ordinator), Dr Ci, Dr Martin, Dr Deutsch, Dr Cook

This course will focus each year on a different key philosophical text. Presentations will be made by students and discussed according to a schedule worked out in advance between students and the course co-ordinator. Selected third-year students will be included. Assessment: 100% coursework.

This is a third-year course, and is normally offered every year. Permission to attend it will be given to those students with good second year grades.

PHIL3910 Senior thesis (12 credits)

A thesis may be prepared under supervision for submission not later than March 31 of the final year. Students have to decide a topic on which they would like to write, then select a teacher in the relevant field and discuss the project with him/her, before the end of their second year. If the teacher deems the project viable, then a thesis title must be agreed by the closing date of June 15. The student will then have to work on the thesis over the summer, and be able to demonstrate progress made. If the progress is adequate, work on the thesis may continue; if not, the student will have to take two courses instead.

There are no word limits prescribed, but theses tend to be between 15,000 and 25,000 words in length. Assessment will be based entirely on the completed thesis. This course is only available to students majoring in Philosophy.