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Michaelmas Term 2017
Module Outlines
Junior Sophister Single Honours Philosophy

Each module usually consists of two hours of lecture or seminar per week. Students take three modules each semester. Selection can be made by submitting the module choice form to the philosophy office.

Assessment for the following modules is two essays to be submitted for each module and one three hour examination at the annual examination session (April/May).

PI3002: Political Philosophy (10 ECTS)

Lecturer: Dr. Ben Bramble

Contact Hours: 22 lecture hours

In this course, we will look at recent work in three key topics of political philosophy.

First, intergenerational justice and the ethics of existence. What, if anything, do we owe to future generations? What is the non-identity problem? Our discussion will lead us into a number of topics in the ethics of existence, including abortion, disability, and human extinction.

Second, punishment. What is the nature of punishment? Can there be any adequate justification of it? If not, what should we substitute for it? Our discussion will equip us to weigh into a recent hot topic: the question of whether to intervene in nature to prevent predation.

Third, global justice and immigration. What, if anything, do wealthy countries owe to poorer ones? Suppose our governments choose to allocate very little to foreign aid. Do we as individual citizens have duties to step up and aid citizens of poorer countries? If so, how demanding are these duties? What, in relation to this, are our duties to refugees? Should we have open borders?

Learning Outcomes:

At the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Understand the main positions in three key topics in political philosophy.
  • Engage critically with these positions and assess their relative strengths and weaknesses.
  • Usefully apply what they have learned in order to engage with contemporary political debates in the public sphere.

PI3003: Ancient Philosophy (10 ECTS)

Lecturer: Prof. Vasilis Politis

Contact Hours:  22 lecture hours

Module Description

Plato’s Theory of Forms

The aim of this course is to study, in some depth, Plato’s peculiar theory of essence, the Theory of Forms; and to consider, first, how and why Plato developed this theory, secondly, how he went on to subject it to some serious tests and criticisms, and, thirdly, why he subjected it to these tests and criticisms – whether to clarify and improve it, or, on the contrary, to throw it out.

Plato’s Theory of Forms is generally recognized as one of the greatest contributions to metaphysics. However, it is not always considered in response to what questions this theory was developed by Plato. To consider this will be one of our central tasks. We shall, in particular, consider the question whether Plato thought that his account of philosophical argument and enquiry is sufficient to justify the Theory of Forms. Whereas critics generally answer this question in the negative, I shall argue that it should be answered affirmatively; which means that Plato’s theory of growth is an outgrowth of his account of philosophical argument and enquiry.

We shall consider a number of particular questions about the content of and elements in the theory. More generally, we shall ask whether the theory of Forms is a theory of all things (‘the theory of everything’, to quote Hawkins); and whether it is a theory of what it is for something to be.

PI3007: Moral Philosophy (5 ECTS)

Lecturer: Dr. Ben Bramble

Contact Hours: 11 lecture hours

There has been a bank error in your favour (50,000 euro). What should you do? Should you notify the authorities? Or should you rather stay silent and keep the money? In working out what to do, here are four questions you might consider:

  1. What would it be best for you that you do (i.e., most in your own interests)? (The Well-Being Question.)
  2. What would it be best simpliciter that you do (i.e., best impersonally speaking, or from the point of view of the universe)? (The Value Question.)
  3. What actions available to you (if any) would be morally wrong, permissible, required, or praiseworthy? (And what would your choice, or disposition to choose, say about your moral character?) (The Morality Question.)
  4. Taking into account the answers to the above three questions, what do you have a reason (and most reason) to do? (The Reasons Question.)

In this course, we will examine leading answers given by philosophers to these four kinds of questions. We will consider also how the answers to some of these questions might bear upon the answers to others. Finally, we will look at whether these four questions exhaust the subject matter of moral philosophy.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Understand the terrain of contemporary moral philosophy.
  • Understand the leading answers given by philosophers to the four main questions in contemporary moral philosophy.
  • Engage critically with these answers and assess their relative strengths and weaknesses.

PI3013: Topics in Continental Philosophy (10 ECTS)

Lecturer: Prof. Lilian Alweiss

Contact Hours: 22 lecture hours

Module Outline

This course focuses on the nature of perception by drawing on the writings of Husserl. The aim is to show that the traditional (Cartesian) model of perception is out of tune with the way we actually perceive the world. The course will explore the extent to which phenomenology provides a different account of the nature of perceptual consciousness which has a bearing on how we understand our relation to the world and our knowledge of the world around us.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this course students will be able to:

  • to give students a understanding of the core aspects Husserl’s phenomenology
  • to encourage students to think about the role of perception in cognition
  • to provide students with an understanding of crucial but difficult primary texts in the history of philosophy
  • to demonstrate the nature of key interpretive controversies relating to Husserl’s phenomenology, such as the problem of consciousness, embodiment, psychologism and scepticism
  • to enable students to understand Husserl’s thought in relation to contemporary philosophical problems.

PI3018: Philosphy of Mind (10 ECTS)

Lecturer: Dr. Kenneth Pearce

Contact Hours: 22 lecture hours

Module Outline:

This module will provide a survey of philosophical thinking about the nature of the mind. The focus will be on recent analytic philosophy, but we will also encounter some classical texts from the Western tradition. We will begin with a survey of theories of the metaphysics of mind, then discuss how each of these theories fares as an attempt to explain particular mental phenomena.

Theories in the metaphysics of mind are attempts to explain precisely what minds, mental states, and mental events really are and how they relate to the physical. One familiar theory is substance dualism which holds that the mind (or 'soul') is a separate substance that can exist apart from the body but is somehow joined to the body. Another familiar theory is the psychophysical identity theory which holds that mental events just are physical happenings in the brain. Another theory popular among analytic philosophers is functionalism. Many recent functionalists have summarized their position in the slogan “the mind is the software of the brain.” According to the functionalist, mental processes are ultimately physical processes but just as the very same computer program could run on different hardware, the very same mental process could occur in a very different kind of brain. Other theories to be discussed will include property dualism, idealism, and panpsychism.

The key question for any theory is whether it can explain the relevant data. Accordingly, after we have completed our survey of the options we will go on to assess the ability of these views to explain mental phenomena. We will focus on three:

  1. Representation/Intentionality. Thoughts, beliefs, hopes, fears, and other mental states are about things. What is the nature of this 'aboutness' and how does it arise? How, if at all, could a purely physical system get to be about anything?
  2. Phenomenal Consciousness. There is such a thing as 'what it's like' having a certain mental state. For instance, being in pain is unpleasant. A purely physical system could certainly act the way humans do when in pain, but could it actually feel pain?
  3. Action/Mental Causation. Minds seem to enter into causal interactions with physical objects – most notably, the bodies with which they are associated. Thus my decision (a mental happening) apparently causes my arm to move, and if my arm moves into a sharp object this causes me to experience pain. Further, at least some of the events caused by minds are ordinarily thought to be free actions. Can any of the theories explain these sorts of causal interactions?

Learning Outcomes:

At the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Describe and evaluate competing theories in the metaphysics of mind.
  • Describe some of the main problems of contemporary analytic philosophy of mind and outline the main solutions that have been proposed.
  • Assess arguments in the philosophy of mind.
  • Critically examine theories in the philosophy of mind.
  • Develop and clearly express their own arguments regarding theories and questions about the nature and function of the mind.