Skip to main content

Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin

Menu Search



Michaelmas Term 2017
Module Outlines
Senior Sophister Single Honours Philosophy

The work for this year consists of seminars, a thesis, and a general paper. Students are required to choose TWO seminars at 10 ECTS (one in each term) and FOUR seminars at 5 ECTS (two in each term), for a total of 40 ECTS. The thesis is worth 15 ECTS, and the General Paper is worth 5 ECTS. Thus there are a total of 60 ECTS for the year. Selection of seminars can be made by submitting the module choice form to the philosophy office.

Each seminar takes place once a week over a single term. Students taking a seminar are expected to prepare work in advance and to take an active role in discussion (including, for some seminars, being prepared to read out a discussion-starting paper during the seminar).

Assessment for the following modules is as follows:
5 ECTS module: one seminar paper to be submitted and answer one exam question at the annual examination session
10 ECTS module: two seminar papers to be submitted and answer two exam questions at the annual examination session
Word count: not to exceed 2500 words

PI4024/PI4124: Ancient Philosophy (5/10 ECTS)
Plato’s Theory of Essence

Lecturer: Prof. Vasilis Politis

Contact Hours: 22 lecture hours

Module Outline

I am currently in the process of completing a monograph on Plato’s theory of Forms, where I defend the thesis that Plato’s Forms are, precisely, essences, and that the several characteristics that Plato associates with Forms can all be derived, in one way or another, from a certain conception of essences and the search for answers to ti esti questions (‘What is this thing or quality, F?’). These characteristics of Forms include: that Forms are simple and unitary; they are changeless; they cannot be perceived by the senses; they can be known only by reason; they are the basis of all causation and explanation; they are necessary for thought and speech; and they are separate from physical things and are related to physical things in the way in which an original is related to its image.

We will combine a reading of a selection of central passages from Plato, and especially form the dialogues Phaedo and Republic, with a reading of each of the nine chapters that make up my monograph. We shall also be reading a selection of the secondary literature on Plato’s Forms, especially where I take issue with much of the current literature. For example, while in much of the current literature Plato’s is cast as a rationalist epistemologist who prioritizes a priori knowledge over empirical knowledge, I argue that this is a complete misunderstanding of Plato’s is up to when he considers how we can know essences and Forms. Students will be invited to consider for themselves whether I am right in opposing much current scholarship on Plato and to bid me to stop where they think I am going to far.

Students will especially be invited to consider whether Plato’s theory of essence, if this is what his theory of Forms is, is credible to a modern essentialist, or indeed in general; or whether an Aristotelian essentialism, or indeed the rejection of any essentialism, is preferable.

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module, students will be able to:

  • Students will be introduced to one of the most important metaphysical theories of all time, by one of the greatest philosophers of all time
  • Students will learn to engage critically with different and conflicting accounts of this theory, and to decide for themselves
  • Students will learn to assess the philosophical relevance of this theory
  • Students will learn to study in detail and depth texts from a philosopher generally considered a great writer

PI4028/PI4128  Philosophy of Language
Self–Refutation Arguments:  What are they, and what, if anything, do they show?

Lecturer:  Prof. James Levine

Contact Hours:  22 lecture hours

Module Outline

Throughout the history of philosophy, the charge has often been made that a given position is “self–refuting” or that it cannot be coherently thought or stated.  Such a criticism is often made, for example, against certain forms of relativism; but it is also made by Berkeley against the “realism” he opposes, as well as by critics of Kant, who claim it is “self–refuting” for him to hold that we can know nothing about things “as they are in themselves”.  The purpose of this seminar is to examine such “self–refutation” arguments—in particular, to consider if they have a common structure and to examine what, if anything, they establish.  To do so, we will look at a number of sources, including recent writings of such philosophers as Donald Davidson (“On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme”), Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere. The Last Word), Paul Boghossian (Fear of Knowledge), Barry Stroud (Engagement and Metaphysical Dissatisfaction) and Graham Priest (Beyond the Limits of Thought) as well as earlier writings from Parmenides, Plato, Berkeley, Kant, Russell, Wittgenstein, A. N. Prior, J. L. Mackie, and John Anderson, the influential Australian philosopher.  Some of the readings we will look at will attempt to articulate the structure of self–refutation arguments; others either use such arguments against others or defend themselves against the charge that their own position is self–refuting.

Learning Outcomes

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

  • Identify similarities and differences in different uses of self–refutation arguments.
  • Critically assess whether metaphysical conclusions can be drawn from self–refutation arguments.
  • Describe and assess the role of self–refutation arguments in this history of philosophy

PI4041/PI4141: Post Kantian Philosophy

Lecturer: Prof. Lilian Alweiss

Contact Hours: 22 lecture hours

Module Outline

When we speak or think we cannot avoid making use of the personal pronoun. We say 'I think', 'I am in pain', 'I am hungry' or 'I was born in the last century'. In all these instances reference to a bearer of thought seems inevitable. Yet there are many who wish to convince us that what seems inevitable in everyday speech, is nothing other than a linguistic convention.The words ‘I’ and ‘my’ are mere adornments of speech. There is a ‘necessity of syntax’, which compels us to speak of a positional self, however as soon as we have a closer look we come to realise that the pronoun ‘I’ is not a place-holder for anything in particular. Indeed, without much trouble we can replace  ‘I was thinking’ with ‘there was thinking going on’, and ‘I am in pain’ with ‘there is pain’ since there is no self separable from the thought or the sensation of pain. Proof of this is that we cannot perceive such a self but only objects of thoughts, feelings, sensations or impressions. Versions of such a no-ownership theory of consciousness are presented by (Hume, Anscombe, Wittgenstein, the early Husserl and the early Sartre). Against this view this course wishes to show why we need to hold fast to the claim that there is something distinctive about the use of the first person pronoun. No description, not even one containing indexicals (other than the first person pronouns themselves) can be substituted for 'I'.  We shall do this by focusing, in particular, on the writings of Descartes, Kant and Husserl.

Learning Outcomes

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

  • To encourage students to reflect upon the problem of the self
  • To familiarise students with the problem of self-consciousness, self-reference and the unity of consciousness.
  • To learn how these problems have been addressed by Hume, Descartes, Kant, Anscombe, Wittgenstein, Evans and Husserl
  • To show how these problems are still relevant today.

PI4042/PI4142: Metaphysics

Lecturer: Dr. James Miller

Contact Hours: 22 lecture hours

Module Outline

This module provides an in depth consideration of current issues within the domains of metaontology and metametaphysics. The module focuses on the following questions: What is it to be ‘realist’ about metaphysics? Is language-choice only ever a pragmatic decision, or might it track portions of reality? How did Quine reinvigorate metaphysics (and did he intend to)? Is there a privileged understanding of ‘exists’? Can we make sense of metaphysical primitives such as ‘naturalness’, ‘joint-carving’, and ‘eligibility’?  Do simple language inferences make ontology ‘easy’? How might we do ontology if not through neo-Quinean quantification? What is the correct epistemology of metaphysics? How much should we pay attention to science in our metaphysical theorising? Should metaphysics be ‘naturalised’? In this module we will consider what it is to do metaphysics at all, and how substantive metaphysical debates and questions are.

Learning Outcomes

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

  • Name, discriminate and where possible define the principal concepts surrounding metametaphysical debates
  • Name and elucidate the main theoretical positions on the question of realism, on the substantivity of metaphysical debate, and on the epistemology of metaphysics
  • Present reasons and arguments for and against these positions
  • Relate the theory to historical philosophers who shaped current debates, and, where relevant, other issues within philosophy (especially the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and epistemology) and science

Suggested Preliminary Reading

D Manley (2009), ‘Introduction: A Guided Tour of Metametaphysics’, in, Metametaphysics: New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology, Chalmers, Manley, and Wasserman (eds.), OUP.