Course Offerings in Philosophy 2013-2014

Introduction

What is Philosophy?

“Does God exist?” “How can we know we’re not dreaming?” “What is the best way to live?” “What is justice?” If you’ve ever asked yourself questions like these, you’ve already discovered an interest in philosophy. Philosophy is often described as including four areas of study. It investigates questions about reality that are not addressed by the sciences, such as “What is real?” and “Does God exist?” This area of philosophy is called “metaphysics.” Philosophy also investigates what knowledge is and how we can obtain it. This part of philosophy is called “epistemology.” Another set of philosophical topics concern what is right, good, fair, or beautiful. This third area of philosophy can be called “value theory,” and it covers ethics, politics, and aesthetics. The fourth area investigates reliable and unreliable ways of thinking. It includes logic and other topics in critical thinking.

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' 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 are introductory (first-year), senior, and final-year courses. 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 Through Fourth Years

Students wishing to take senior-level 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".

All senior-level courses (not including the final-year courses) fall into one of four groups:

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

Of the senior-level 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 Courses

Final-year majors or minors in philosophy in the three-year curriculum may choose to take, and final-year majors in the four-year curriculum must take, an optional "capstone" course giving them the opportunity to apply disciplinary knowledge and methods learned in their previous years of study. The capstone courses available include PHIL4910 Senior Essay (6 credits) or PHIL4920/PHIL3910 Senior Thesis (12 credits). In addition, third or fourth-year majors who qualify will be invited to take PHIL3810/PHIL4810 Senior Seminar.

Major in Philosophy

Three-year curriculum: Students who major in philosophy must take PHIL1012 or PHIL1034 and not less than 54 credits worth of senior-level or final-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 above. 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.)

Four-year curriculum: Students who major in philosophy must complete a total of 72 credits, including PHIL1012 or PHIL1034 (6 credits), 12 credits of introductory courses taken from any Arts programme (normally in the first year), and not less than 54 credits worth of senior-level and final-year courses in philosophy (that is, nine 6-credit courses), of which at least 6 credits must be in a “capstone” course (see below). 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 above. Fourth-year majors who qualify are recommended to take PHIL 4810 “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.)

“Capstone” courses: Fourth-year majors in philosophy in the four-year curriculum must complete a senior “capstone” course giving them the opportunity to apply disciplinary knowledge and methods learned in the previous years of study. The capstone courses available are PHIL4910 Senior Essay (6 credits) and PHIL4920 Senior Thesis (12 credits). (These courses will be offered beginning in 2015-16.) Final-year majors in the three-year curriculum may take a capstone course as an option but are not required to do so. PHIL3810 or PHIL3910 may serve as optional capstone courses.

Minor in Philosophy

Students who minor in philosophy must complete PHIL1012 or PHIL1034 and not less than 30 credits worth of senior or final-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 2013-2014

First-year Introductory Courses

  • PHIL1012 Mind and knowledge: an introduction to philosophy (6 cr) (semester 1) (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 cr) (semester 2) (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, Mozi, Mencius, Daodejing, Xunzi, Zhuangzi, and Han Fei, 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.

All Levels

(Students to consult regulations of their own faculty.)

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

Senior Level

Senior-level courses offered in 2012-2013 are shown below. These courses are also offered to second- through fourth-year non-BA students for inter-faculty broadening purposes. Senior courses usually require a 6-credit first-year course as prerequisite and are assessed by 100% coursework, which may include in-class tests. Each senior-level course carries 6 credits (except for the optional final-year Senior Thesis, which earns 12 credits).

Semester 1

Group I : Knowledge and Reality

  • PHIL2120 Topics in Analytic Philosophy (6 cr) (Dr Marshall). This course is an advanced introduction to analytic philosophy. Topics vary in different years. The course will either focus on one or more major analytic philosopher of the twentieth century, such as Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein or Quine, or on a topic of lively current debate. Assessment: 100% coursework.
  • PHIL2216 Philosophy of Physics (6 cr) (Dr Wolff). In this course we will explore the relationship between physics and philosophy at various points in the history of the two disciplines. By using particular physical theories, both classical and contemporary, we will explore issues that emerge at the intersection of physics and metaphysics, and the changes in our understanding of these ideas and concepts. Topics might include the nature of space and time, determinism, causation, laws of nature, the nature of material substance and others. Assessment: 100% coursework.

Group II : Mind and Language

  • PHIL2075 The Semantics/Pragmatics Distinction (6 cr) (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 of 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 of Cognitive Science (6 cr) (Dr Zamuner). 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.
  • PHIL2245 Philosophy and Emotions (6 cr) (Dr Zamuner). What is an emotion? Is it a feeling, like the sensation of butterflies in the stomach that we experience when we are in love, or is it something more complex, something like a thought or a judgement? What is the relationship between emotions and knowledge? Why do we form emotions in response to things that we know are not real, like literature and movies for example? These and other questions will be the focus of this course. Assessment: 100% coursework.
  • PHIL2510 Logic (6 cr) (Dr Marshall). This is an introduction to formal logic. We will review sentential and predicate logic. We will discuss theorems about formal systems of logic, including soundness and completeness. Time permitting, we will discuss advanced topics such as Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, computability, Tarski’s theorem, or modal logic. Students are expected to know some elementary formal logic before enrolling in this course. In preparation, students can take PHIL1005, or PHIL2006, or else students can study the online material on logic produced by the department. For further details, please contact the department. Assessment: 100% coursework.

Group III : Moral and Political Philosophy

  • PHIL2360 Political Philosophy (6 cr) (Prof. 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.

Group IV : History of Philosophy

  • PHIL2443 Xunzi (6 cr) (Dr Fraser). Xunzi was an extremely influential Confucian of the late Warring States period whose writings are among the most elegant and tightly argued in the history of Chinese philosophy. The Xunzi covers a wide range of topics, including ethics, moral psychology, political philosophy, epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and even economics and military affairs. The aim of this course is to guide students in close reading, interpretation, and analysis of the Xunzi, in order to develop students’ ability to interpret and critique primary sources in Chinese philosophy. Class discussion will focus on Xunzi’s epistemology, philosophy of language, ethics, political philosophy, and moral psychology. Class meetings will be devoted to joint interpretation of passages from the Xunzi, reconstruction of their arguments, and small-group discussion of topics assigned by the instructor. We will also call attention to relations between Xunzi’s views and contemporary ethics, epistemology, philosophy of language, and moral psychology. Assessment: 100% coursework.
  • PHIL2451 Philosophers' Views of China in Early Modern Europe (6 cr) (Dr Cook). This course examines the varied views of China, its philosophy and government in the writings of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century (“early-modern”) philosophers ranging from Leibniz to Rousseau. The debates broached at the time (e.g. is China a model for Europe or not?) resonate down to the present day. Assessment: 100% coursework.
  • PHIL2470 Moral Psychology in the Chinese Tradition (6 cr) (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. Assessment: 100% coursework.

Semester 2

Group I : Knowledge and Reality

  • PHIL2217 Issues in Contemporary Metaphysics (6 cr) (Dr Wolff). Metaphysics is a very broad subject area, within which different, more specific debates can be distinguished. This course will focus on one or two specific, longstanding such debates in metaphysics. For the exact topics in a given year, contact the course coordinator. Assessment: 100% coursework.

Group II : Mind and Language

  • PHIL2260 Seminar in Mind and Language (6 cr) (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

  • PHIL2080 Marxist Philosophy (6 cr) (Prof. Ci). The world has changed a great deal since the time of Marx. But Marxism, duly updated and refined, still has a lot to teach us about the nature of human society and historical change, the capitalist organization of society, the foundation and limits of liberal democracy, the constitution of power and the political. These and other issues raised by Marxism are, or ought to be, among the central concerns of political philosophy or philosophy of history. We will examine how Marxism, especially contemporary Marxism, can serve as a useful critique of liberal political philosophy and liberal political institutions. We will also discuss how Marxism itself needs to be transformed or reconceived in order to create an appealing democratic vision of genuine contemporary relevance. Assessment: 100% coursework.
  • PHIL2310 Theories of Morality (6 cr) (Dr Deutsch). 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. Assessment: 100% coursework.
  • PHIL2375 Philosophy of Art (6 cr) (Dr Deutsch). This course focuses on the philosophical issues which arise when we consider the nature of aesthetic appreciation and judgement. These are some of the questions which will be discussed in the course: What is mimesis? Does art simply mirror nature? Is beauty merely ‘in the eye of the beholder’? What differences might there be between aesthetic appreciation of art and aesthetic appreciation of nature? What is the relation between art and society? What is the difference between the sublime and the beautiful? These and other questions will be explored through the work of philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant, Dewey, Heidegger, Foucault, and Lyotard. Assessment: 100% coursework.

Group IV : History of Philosophy

  • PHIL2025 Hume (6 cr) (Dr Chin). David Hume (1711 – 1776) was one of the great founders of modern empiricism. This course will serve not only as an introduction to Hume’s philosophy, but also as an introduction to modern empiricism as developed especially in the analytical tradition of modern philosophy. The course will appeal especially to students interested in the theory of knowledge, metaphysics and philosophy of mind, as well as to students interested primarily in the history of philosophy. The course takes up key topics in Hume, such as: Hume’s theory of ideas; the formation of reason and imagination; knowledge of the external world and skepticism with regard to the senses; induction; causation, probability and the idea of necessary connection; personal identity; freedom and determinism, reasoning in animals; miracles; virtue and vice in the context of Hume’s naturalism. Readings will be drawn primarily from Hume’s A Treatise on Human Nature and An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Assessment: 100% coursework.
  • PHIL2075 Habermas (6 cr) (Prof. 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.
  • PHIL2410 Mind and Language in Chinese Thought (6 cr) (Dr Robins). The philosophy of mind and language plays a crucial role in the philosophical dialectic of classical China. This course will guide students in reconstructing this dialectic and exploring its philosophical significance by interpreting and critically evaluating selected early Chinese philosophical texts that treat mind, language, and interrelated aspects of psychology. Issues 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, and the role of language in knowledge and action. Texts may include the Analects, Mozi, Mencius, Daodejing, Xunzi, Zhuangzi, and Lushi Chunqiu. Students will be encouraged to read the original sources in Chinese, but translations will be made available for those without reading knowledge of classical Chinese. Assessment: 100% coursework.

Final-Year Courses

  • PHIL3810. Senior seminar (6 credits) (semester 1). 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.

Postgraduate Courses

  • PHIL6810 Senior seminar (semester 1) (meets concurrently with PHIL3810)
  • PHIL6820 Graduate seminar (semester 2)

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://philosophy.hku.hk/?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 see this page: http://philosophy.hku.hk/?n=main.postgrad.

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. Robins.

Department of Philosophy

  • General Office: B1013, 10/F., Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus
  • Office staff: Ms Loletta Li

School of Humanities

  • General Office: B0901, 9/F., Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus

Further information

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