Course Offerings in Philosophy 2011-2012


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.

Our syllabus enables you to take a small amount of philosophy (in any year of study, without prerequisites), to major in philosophy, to take a double major, combining philosophy with another Arts or Social Sciences discipline, or to take a minor in philosophy. We recommend that students complete PHIL1012 or PHIL1034 before enrolling in upper-level courses, but students who have not done so may enroll with the permission of the instructor. Philosophy majors and minors are required to take one of these courses as a prerequisite for the major and minor.

Courses are generally organized as lectures or seminars and typically include tutorials. Particular importance is attached to tutorial participation.

A distinctive part of a university education is developing the ability to formulate and defend one’s own ideas. The philosophy syllabus and our approach to teaching is guided by this principle.

The HKU Philosophy Department is known around the world for its pioneering role over the last two decades in exploiting the advantages of information technology as a new instrument in learning. Though not a substitute for thought or for more traditional forms of learning, properly used, I.T. facilitates our teaching and helps students develop skills that can be useful more generally.

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 students in any Faculty may take, for instance, a first-year philosophy course in any year of study (provided that the regulations of their own degree programme permit it). The four groups are of courses related by subject. The two first-year courses correspond roughly to the first two and the second two of these groups.

First Year

The department offers two general introductory courses in philosophy and one introductory course in logic. There are no prerequisites. These courses will normally be offered every year.

Students who intend to declare the major or minor in Philosophy are required to take PHIL1012 or PHIL1034. These courses are usually taken in the first year of study but may also be taken in other years. These two courses are also strongly recommended for students interested in taking individual second- and third-year courses without majoring or minoring in philosophy.

All students, whether prospective philosophy majors or not, are encouraged to acquire a basic knowledge of logic by taking PHIL1068, an online, self-study logic course.

Second and Third Year

Students wishing to take second- and third-year courses are strongly recommended to have taken PHIL1012 or PHIL1034. However, students who have not done so may enroll with the instructor's permission. Some of these courses are also available to students of other faculties as "broadening courses".

With the exception of PHIL3810 and PHIL3910, all second- and third-year courses fall into one of four groups:

  • Knowledge and reality
  • Mind and language
  • Moral and political philosophy
  • History of philosophy

Of the second- and third-year courses, twelve to sixteen will normally be offered each year. Details are indicated below. Most of these courses consist of 24 lecture hours in one semester.

Final-Year “Capstone” Courses

Third-year majors or minors in philosophy who fulfill the enrollment requirements may choose to take an optional "capstone" course giving them the opportunity to apply disciplinary knowledge and methods learned in the first two years of study. The capstone courses available include PHIL3810 Senior Seminar and PHIL3910 Senior Thesis.

Major in Philosophy

Students who major in philosophy must take PHIL1012 or PHIL1034 and not less than 54 credits worth of second- and third-year courses in philosophy (that is, nine 6-credit courses). PHIL1012 or PHIL1034 is usually taken in the first year of study, but students may also take them in other years. Students are recommended to take at least one course from each of the four groups specified below. 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.)

Minor in Philosophy

Students who minor in philosophy must complete PHIL1012 or PHIL1034 and not less than 30 credits worth of second- and third-year courses in philosophy (that is, five 6-credit courses). PHIL1012 or PHIL1034 is usually taken in the first year of study, but students may also take them in other years.

Courses Offered in 2011-2012

First Level

  • PHIL1012 Mind and knowledge: an introduction to philosophy (semester 1)
  • PHIL1034 Ethics and politics, East and West: an introduction to philosophy (semester 2)

All Levels

(Students to consult regulations of their own faculty)

  • PHIL1068 Elementary Logic (6 credits) (semester 2)

Second/Third Levels

Second- and third-year courses offered in 2011–2012 are shown below. These courses 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.

Semester 1

Group I : Knowledge and Reality

  • PHIL2100 Paradoxes of Decision
  • PHIL2130 Philosophy of the Sciences
  • PHIL2420 Chinese Philosophy: Metaphysics

Group II : Mind and Language

  • PHIL2075 The Semantics/Pragmatics Distinction
  • PHIL2230 Philosophy and Cognitive Science

Group IV : History of Philosophy

  • PHIL2011 Aristotle
  • PHIL2040 Nietzsche

Semester 2

Group II : Mind and Language

  • PHIL2008 Logic for philosophers 2 (3 credits)
  • PHIL2260 Seminar in Mind and Language

Group III : Moral and Political Philosophy

  • PHIL2306 Political Philosophy
  • PHIL2350 Philosophy of Law
  • PHIL2365 Philosophical Problems of Modernity

Group IV : History of Philosophy

  • PHIL2002 Early Modern Philosophy
  • PHIL2077 Habermas

Capstone and 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-Year Courses

PHIL1012. Mind and knowledge: an introduction to philosophy (6 credits) (semester 1)

Lecturer: Dr Deutsch

This course is an introduction to philosophical issues about mind and knowledge. These include metaphysical questions about what minds are, such as whether the mind is something non-physical or whether it is some kind of computer, and questions about what knowledge is and how we can obtain it. We also address epistemological questions about the limitations of human knowledge, such as whether we can really know what other people’s experiences are like or whether God exists. Assessment: 100% coursework.

PHIL1034. Ethics and politics, East and West: an introduction to philosophy (6 credits) (semester 2)

Lecturer: Dr 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, Mòzǐ, Mencius, Dàodéjīng, Xúnzǐ, Zhuāngzǐ, and Hán Fēi, 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. Assessment: 100% coursework.

PHIL1068. Elementary logic (6 credits) (semester 2)

Lecturer: Michael Johnson (Rutgers)

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. Assessment: 60% coursework, 40% exam.

Note: Students who have taken PHIL1006, PHIL1008, PHIL2006, PHIL2008, or PHIL2510 may not take this course.

Second- and Third-Year Courses

Group I: Knowledge and Reality

PHIL2008. Logic for philosophers 2 (3 credits) (semester 2)

Lecturer: Dr Johnson

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. Assessment: 60% coursework, 40% exam.

Note: Students who have completed PHIL1008, PHIL1068, or PHIL2510 may not take this course.

PHIL2100. Paradoxes of decision (6 credits) (semester 1)

Lecturer: Dr McCarthy

The aim of the course is to introduce a variety of tools from decision theory. Decision theory is arguably one of the most important topics in philosophy because of its pervasive influence on a wide range of traditional philosophical topics, including ethics and epistemology. The central question is: which actions are rational in the face of risk or uncertainty? Some of the writings on this topic are very technical, but the course will try to skip over technicalities as much as possible and introduce most of the main topics via a series of paradoxes or puzzles. Topics which will be covered include objective and subjective expected utility theory; Newcomb’s problem and causal decision theory; game theory and the Nash equilibrium; and evolutionary game theory and the evolution of the social contract. Assessment: 100% coursework.

PHIL2130. Philosophy of the sciences (6 credits) (semester 1)

Lecturer: Dr Marshall

If we want to find out about the world around us, we look to science to provide the answers to our questions. But why? What justifies our faith in this enterprise? In this course, we shall investigate two related questions. First, what is scientific method? We shall examine answers ranging from the rigid prescriptions of Popper to the anarchism of Feyerabend. Second, what reason do we have to think that the explanations provided by science are true? Here the answers range from optimism based on the success of science, to pessimism based on our repeated rejection of past theories. Along the way, we shall critically consider notions such as progress, objectivity, and the difference between science and non-science. We shall examine how philosophical questions arise in actual scientific practice. What examples are selected for this purpose will, to some extent, be determined by the interests of students. Assessment: 100% coursework.

PHIL2420. Chinese philosophy: metaphysics (6 credits) (semester 1)

Lecturer: Dr Fraser

The course will investigate Chinese views of reality, human nature, language, wisdom and the relation of each to human society. Our main texts will be Daoist texts from the classical period, but we shall also discuss Neo-Daoism, Buddhism and Neo-Confucian metaphysics. Assessment: 100% coursework.

Group II: Mind and Language

PHIL2075. The semantics/pragmatics distinction (6 credits) (semester 1)

Lecturer: Michael Johnson (Rutgers)

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. Assessment: 100% coursework.

PHIL2230. Philosophy and cognitive science (6 credits) (semester 1)

Lecturer: Dr Deutsch

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? Assessment: 100% coursework.

PHIL2260. Seminar in mind and language (6 credits) (semester 2)

Lecturer: Dr Kelly Inglis (replacing Dr Lau)

The philosophy of mind and language occupies a central place within analytic philosophy. This course provides an advanced introduction to selected topics in the area, through intensive reading of recent publications. The course will be conducted mainly as a seminar, and students are required to give presentations and to participate in discussion. This format is intended to help students deepen their understanding of analytical and argumentative skills in philosophy. Topics might include: the semantics of natural language, philosophical foundation of linguistics, consciousness, philosophical issues relating to mental representation. Assessment: 100% coursework.

Group III: Moral and Political Philosophy

PHIL2350. Philosophy of law (6 credits) (semester 2)

Lecturer: Dr Shaw

We shall set the scene by contrasting classical Western and Chinese views of law. Then we shall focus on what moral and political presuppositions are required to justify the rule of law. This will guide our view of how one ought to reason in interpreting the law, and finally see what the implications of theory of law are for our views of punishment, rights, justice, equality, responsibility, insanity, and negligence. This course should help you evaluate the arguments for the importance of the rule of law in Hong Kong. Assessment: 100% coursework.

PHIL2360. Political philosophy (6 credits) (semester 2)

Lecturer: Professor Ci

This survey course addresses fundamental questions in the history of political philosophy. Questions about government, justice, property and rights will be addressed through the work of a range of historical and contemporary thinkers. Philosophers to be studied may include Aristotle, Hobbes, Marx, Rawls, and others. Assessment: 100% coursework.

PHIL2365. Philosophical problems of modernity (6 credits) (semester 2)

Lecturer: Dr Dalle Pezze

This course will focus on responses to one of the key questions that is posed by twentieth century European philosophy: that is, what is the nature of this modernity in which we live? According to Marx, the experience of modernity is one in which ‘all that is solid melts into air’; while according to some contemporary philosophers this is precisely the experience of post-modernity. In this course, we will examine the responses of key 20th century philosophers to the question of modernity and postmodernity (these may include, Benjamin, Adorno & Horkheimer, Habermas, Foucault, Lyotard and Bauman). Particular attention will be paid to the way this questioning has lead to a reconceptualisation of ethics and politics in contemporary societies. Assessment: 100% coursework.

Group IV: History of Philosophy

PHIL2002. Early Modern Philosophy (6 credits) (semester 2)

Lecturer: Dr Johnson

This course examines the works of early modern philosophers, stressing the interconnections between them. Readings may include Bacon, Descartes, Bossuet, Locke, La Mettrie, Diderot, Rousseau, Berkeley, Leibniz, Spinoza, and Hume. Assessment: 100% coursework.

PHIL2011. Aristotle (6 credits) (semester 1)

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. Assessment: 100% coursework.

PHIL2040. Nietzsche (6 credits) (semester 1)

Lecturer: Dr O'Leary

Nietzsche occupies a special place in Western thought, both as a wholesale critic of the philosophical tradition that went before him (e.g. Socrates, Kant), and as a precursor of certain philosophical trends that are important today (e.g. Foucault, Derrida). This course offers an overview of Nietzsche’s philosophy (including the will to power, perspectivism, nihilism, eternal return) and discusses Nietzsche’s influence on contemporary thought. Assessment: 100% coursework.

PHIL2077. Habermas (6 credits) (semester 2)

Lecturer: Professor 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. Assessment: 100% coursework.

Final-Year Capstone Courses

PHIL3810. Senior seminar (6 credits)

This course will focus each year on one or more different key philosophical texts. 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 invited to enroll. This is a third-year course and is normally offered every year. Permission to enroll will be given to students with outstanding second-year grades. Note: by invitation; for third year students only. Assessment: 100% coursework.

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. Note: for third year Philosophy majors only; this is a whole year course. Assessment: 100% coursework.


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:

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 see this page:

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 There you will find study guides and links to other philosophy resources on the web.