Course Offerings in Philosophy 2010-2011 - Introduction

Why do philosophy?

  • Philosophy is fun and challenging.
  • It helps you reflect on the deeper issues in life.
  • It helps you improve your critical thinking skills.
  • Philosophy provides a solid background for those who intend to go on for further studies in philosophy and many other areas.
  • Studying philosophy is good for your career prospects:
    • You acquire skills valued by most employers, like the ability to analyse and solve problems, to communicate, to organize ideas and issues, to assess pros and cons. These skills are important not just in philosophy but also in the modern job market.
    • Many employers prefer students with broad intellectual experience and skills. This is particularly true of students who study philosophy in combination with other subjects. You can take a social science subject (e.g. politics or psychology) as one of your double majors.
    • The study of philosophy is useful for at least the following careers: business, management, public administration, journalism, law, communication, public relations, teaching and publishing.

Types of courses

Our courses are divided into three levels and four groups. The three levels correspond to the three years of study for an undergraduate degree. But it is open to students outside the Arts Faculty to take, for instance, a first level philosophy course in any year of study (provided that the regulations of their own degree programme permit it). The four groups are rough indications of courses related to each other in subject-matter, though not necessarily in approach. The four general first-level courses correspond to the four groupings of higher-level courses.

Students wishing to take the second/third level courses should normally have taken at least one first-level course, except where otherwise indicated, or with prior approval. Apart from PHIL3810 SENIOR SEMINAR and PHIL3910 SENIOR THESIS, they are all second or third level courses. Some of these courses are also available to students of other faculties as "broadening courses".

Most of these courses consist of 24 lecture hours in one semester.

Majoring in philosophy

To major in philosophy, students who enter the university as first-year students in 2010–2011 must take PHIL1001, PHIL1002, PHIL1003, or PHIL1004 and not less than 54 credits worth of second- and third-year courses in philosophy (that is, nine 6-credit courses). (Different rules apply to students who entered in 2009–2010 or earlier. See the syllabus for 2009–2010.) Students are recommended to take at least one course from each of the four groups specified below.

  • Group I: Knowledge and Reality
  • Group II: Mind and Language
  • Group III: Moral and Political Philosophy
  • Group IV: History of Philosophy

Third-year majors who qualify are recommended to take PHIL3810 “Senior Seminar” in their final year, especially if they are considering further study in philosophy.

Students may also take a double major, combining philosophy with another Arts or Social Science discipline. (BA students taking a double major with a Social Science discipline must conform to the requirements determined by the Faculty of Social Sciences for majors in a Social Science discipline.)

Minoring in philosophy

To minor in philosophy, students who enter the university as first-year students in 2010–2011 must take PHIL1001, PHIL1002, PHIL1003, or PHIL1004 and not less than 30 credits worth of second- and third-year courses in philosophy (that is, five 6-credit courses). (Different rules apply to students who entered in 2009–2010 or earlier. See the syllabus for 2009–2010.)

Choices in Philosophy - Courses

List of courses 2010–2011

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)
  • PHIL1068 Elementary Logic (6 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 as prerequisite 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

  • PHIL2006 Logic for philosophers 1 (3 credits) (semester 2)
  • PHIL2008 Logic for philosophers 2 (3 credits) (semester 2)
  • PHIL2110 Knowledge (semester 1)
  • PHIL2120 Topics in analytic philosophy (semester 2)

Group II : Mind and Language

  • PHIL2610 Philosophy of Language (semester 2)

Group III : Moral and Political Philosophy

  • PHIL2310 Theories of morality (semester 1)
  • PHIL2320 Happiness (semester 1)
  • PHIL2355 Theories of justice (semester 1)
  • PHIL2362 Liberal democracy (semester 1)
  • PHIL2390 Philosophy of religion (semester 2)
  • PHIL2430 Chinese philosophy: Ethics (semester 2)
  • PHIL2345 Social Contract Theories (semester 2)

Group IV : History of Philosophy

  • PHIL2001 The beginnings of philosophy (semester 1)
  • PHIL2470 Moral psychology in the Chinese tradition (semester 1)
  • PHIL2085 Contemporary European Philosophy (semester 2)
  • PHIL2027 Rousseau (semester 2)

Broadening courses

  • YPHI0006 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 Timothy O'Leary

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

This survey course is a comparative introduction to philosophy focusing primarily on topics in ethics and politics. Lectures and readings will draw equally on the Chinese and Western philosophical traditions and indicate various respects in which the two can be put into dialogue. Readings include Confucius 孔子, Mòzǐ 墨子, Mencius 孟子, Dàodéjīng 道德經, Xúnzi 荀子, Zhuangzi 莊子, and Hán Fēi 韓非, on the Chinese side, along with Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Bentham, Mill, Marx, Nietzsche, Bakunin, Russell, Berlin, Hart, Wolff, Rawls, Nozick, Taylor, and Scanlon, on the Western side.

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 : TBA

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

PHIL1068 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: 6 Assessment: 60% coursework, 40% final exam Not available to students who have taken PHIL2510 Logic.

Second and third level courses for 2010–2011

First semester

PHIL2001 The beginnings of philosophy (Group IV)

Lecturer: Dr La Nave

The contents of this course will vary from year to year, but it is likely to include important early thinkers like Plato and Aristotle in the West, and/or Confucius and Lao Tze in China.

PHIL2320 Happiness (Group III)

Lecturer: Dr O’Leary

Happiness is something we all strive for, despite the fact that we have only hazy and inconsistent notions of what it would involve. Is it a psychological state or the condition of living a good life? Is it to be gained by withdrawing from the world, or engaging in it? Are we, in some sense, designed to be happy, or is it always an impossibility? This course will lead students through some of the most influential conceptualisations of happiness in the Western tradition. We will consider, in detail, the work of Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics), J.S.Mill (Utlitarianism) and Freud (Civilisation and Its Discontents). This focus will allow us to explore a range of ideas about the nature of happiness and the possibility (or impossibility) of our achieving it. Particular emphasis will be placed on the ongoing influence of these conflicting ideas in our contemporary world.

PHIL2110 Knowledge (Group I)

Lecturer: Dr Deutsch

Theory of knowledge deals with the nature and possibility of knowledge and its limits. We shall address questions that include: Is Scepticism possible? Are some kinds of knowledge more basic than others? Are our views of the world really true or just elaborate stories that serve our purposes? Can philosophers learn about knowledge from psychology and physiology? What could philosophers add to their stories? Is there one concept of justification (reason) or many (social and cultural differences)? Is truth an important goal of knowledge?

PHIL2310 Theories of morality (Group III)

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.

PHIL2355 Theories of justice (Group III)

Lecturer: Dr Han

All of us care about justice but perhaps you seldom pause to reflect on the nature of justice and the many difficult issues which justice raises. This course introduces you to these issues and systematic ways of thinking about them. In a nutshell, justice is concerned with the question, How should the benefits and burdens of social cooperation be distributed among members of society under conditions of scarcity and conflicting values? Or, as Serge-Christophe Kolm puts it, “What should be done when different people’s desires or interests oppose one another and cannot all be fully satisfied? Justice is the justified answer to this question and its science is the theory of justice.” We will think about this question at two levels: the distribution of fundamental rights and duties in the basic structure of society; and the distribution of goods in particular domains, such as health care. Since controversy abounds at both levels, we will discuss and compare a variety of positions, including those of John Rawls, Brian Barry, Amartya Sen, Ronald Dworkin, Robert Nozick, Serge-Christophe Kolm, Norman Daniels, and Francis Kamm. We will also consider whether, and to what degree, Western theories of justice such as these are useful for thinking about issues of justice in Hong Kong and the PRC at large.

PHIL2362 Liberal democracy (Group III)

Lecturer: Dr Han

Liberal democracy is the dominant political value and form of government in terms of power and influence in the world today. It is supposed to be a coherent combination of liberalism and democracy, and yet there are deep tensions between these two components. It is by identifying these tensions that we can best understand the workings of liberal democracy as a form of government and assess its plausibility and appeal as a political value. Within this context, such familiar topics as political agency, freedom, rights, and private life will be seen in a fresh light.

PHIL2470 Moral psychology in the Chinese tradition (Group IV)

Lecturer: Dr Fraser

Issues pertaining to moral psychology played a central role in the philosophical discourse of ancient 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 related to motivation, moral education, moral cultivation, moral reasoning, and action. Class time will be divided between lecture and discussion. Students will be asked to read primary source texts and participate actively in class discussion. They will be encouraged to read the original sources in Chinese, but translations will be available for those without knowledge of classical Chinese.

Second semester

PHIL2006 Logic for philosophers 1 (3 credits) (Group I)

Lecturer: Dr Hawley

This is the first part of a two web-based self-study course on elementary formal logic for philosophy majors. The courses may also be taken by non-majors with permission of their home department. 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. Note: Students who have completed PHIL1006, PHIL1068, or PHIL2510 may not take this course.

PHIL2008 Logic for philosophers 2 (3 credits) (Group I)

Lecturer: Dr Hawley

This is the second part of a two web-based self-study course on elementary formal logic for philosophy majors. The courses may also be taken by non-majors with permission of their home department. 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.Note: Students who have completed PHIL1008, PHIL1068, or PHIL2510 may not take this course.

PHIL2085 Contemporary European Philosophy (Group IV)

Lecturer: TBA

The contents of this course will vary from year to year, but it is likely to cover various important twentieth century thinkers (these may include Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Foucault, Derrida) and/or major movements in twentieth century European thought (such as phenomenology, existentialism, structuralism and poststructuralism).

PHIL2027 Rousseau (Group IV)

Lecturer: Dr Cook

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was one of the most important philosophers of the French eighteenth century. He was critical of the Enlightenment’s fascination with science, arguing that virtue, community and a kind of freedom, not technological ‘progress’, should be the goal of human striving. In this course we seek to understand Rousseau’s thought in its historical context; we consider how he can be considered a philosopher for our own time, who respected the rights of nature as well as those of humanity. We read selections from his Confessions, and the entire texts of his Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts, and his Discourse on the Origins of Inequality among Men.

PHIL2120 Topics in analytic philosophy (Group I)

Lecturer: Dr Marshall

Metaphysics is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality. It attempts to determine what sorts of things exist and what those things are like. Topics that will be covered in this course include: things and their properties, possibility, time, causation and laws of nature.

PHIL2390 Philosophy of religion (Group III)

Lecturer: Dr La Nave

Topics discussed will include: the nature of religious experience, the existence of God, life after death, religion and morality, religion and reason.

PHIL2430 Chinese philosophy: Ethics (Group III)

Lecturer: Dr Martin

An introduction to comparative moral philosophy, with readings drawn from the classical Chinese tradition as well as from modern, analytical sources. Figures likely to be taken up include Confucius, Mencius, Mo Tzu and Han Fei Tzu. Attention will be given to the historical development of Chinese moral thinking through these key representatives. Questions to be taken up include the question of whether traditional Chinese thought can have relevance to us in the modern world, and how our beliefs about our nature may shape our beliefs about what is moral or immoral.

PHIL2345 Social Contract Theories (Group III)

Lecturer: Dr Cook

In this course we study the major modern theories of social contract, starting with the seventeenth-century Leviathan of Thomas Hobbes, which places the state above its subjects. Later in the same century John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government argued that the contracting parties to the state would seek protection of their property above all, and that they could dismiss a non-performing government, an inspiration for the American Revolution. Jean-Jacques Rousseau rejected the positions of Hobbes and Locke, basing his social contract on the will of all jointly to secure the common good, or ‘general will’. John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice in the twentieth century bases the democratic system on a conception of social justice grounded in equality of basic rights and regard for the least advantaged members of society.

PHIL2610 Philosophy of Language (Group II)

Lecturer: Dr Deutsch

What is a language, and what is involved in knowing or understanding a language? In this course we will see how philosophers and linguists answer such questions as the following: What can logic tell us about the grammar of natural languages? Are human beings born with a universal grammar? What makes a word meaningful? What is the difference between what we mean and what we convey when we say something? How does a metaphor work? Can we learn something from slips of the tongue about the nature of language?

Broadening courses

YPHI0006 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)

Coordinator: Dr Deutsch

This course will focus each year on several 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, normally offered every year. Permission to enroll will be given to students with outstanding 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.

Plagiarism

Plagiarism, especially from the internet, is an increasing problem in this department and at this University; it is a serious offence against both the rules and the spirit of the University. Plagiarism is defined as the use of other people's ideas without correct and full acknowledgement. Your coursework should be your own; you will learn nothing by copying, either from peers or from websites. Furthermore, copying others' work is unfair to your fellow students. We certainly encourage discussion of ideas among students, but any ideas not your own that you introduce into your written work must be properly referenced. Please see this web page for further details: http://www3.hku.hk/philodep/wiki/pmwiki.php?n=Main.Citation

Postgraduate study

The department offers two higher degrees by research, the MPhil and the PhD, and can arrange for supervision over a wide range of philosophical topics. If you are interested in pursuing postgraduate studies, please contact Dr Deutsch.

Staff-student consultative committee (SSCC)

This committee meets regularly to discuss any matters of concern, and to consider ways of improving the work of the department. All students are welcome to make suggestions, and to attend the meetings. To attend meetings, contact Dr. Fraser.

Department of Philosophy

  • General Office: Room 312, Main Building
  • Office staff: MS Loletta Li

School of Humanities

  • General Office: Room 256, Main Building

Further information

To find out more about the department, please visit the department web site at http://www3.hku.hk/philodep. There you will find study guides and links to other philosophy resources on the web.