PHIL 401 (02) - Introduction to Philosophy

Introduction to Philosophy

Durham   Liberal Arts :: Philosophy
Credits: 4.0
Term: Spring 2021 - Full Term (02/01/2021 - 05/11/2021)
Grade Mode: Letter Grading
Class Size:   35  
CRN: 51259
This course gives a basic grounding in Philosophy. We explore enduring questions that we have all grappled with: Does God exist? Do we have free will? How can we lead fulfilling lives? No background in philosophy is needed, only an open and inquiring mind.
Section Comments: Introduction to Philosophy through Science Fiction
Department Approval Required. Contact Academic Department for permission then register through Webcat.
Equivalent(s): PHIL 401H, PHIL 401W
Only listed campus in section: Durham, Manchester
Attributes: Humanities(Disc)
Instructors: STAFF

Times & Locations

Start Date End Date Days Time Location
2/1/2021 5/11/2021 TR 2:10pm - 3:30pm MCC 240
Additional Course Details: 

These are unusual times.  Here is the plan for the start of the semester, which may be adjusted if the Covid-19 situation changes:

In standard weeks, I’ll upload lecture videos by Monday that must be watched by Thursday at 1:30pm.  There will be quizzes on these lecture videos as well as quizzes on the assigned preparation (reading & viewing) which will be due on Thursdays at 1:30pm.  The reading will be around 2 short works of science fiction and 2 shorter works of academic or popular writing (two classes worth of material).  From time to time, there may be short written assignments as well, with the same due date.  Class will meet as scheduled on Thursday only.

There will be around three nonstandard weeks (including the first week) where we will meet in person on Tuesday as well as Thursday.  Canvas will be updated regularly and you'll receive advanced warning for such weeks so that you can plan accordingly.

You can see two sample weeks below.

Course Description:

This course will introduce students to philosophy through science fiction. Science fiction and philosophy are deeply linked through their common use of thought experiments.  Our main goal will be to motivate and explore philosophical questions by appeal to thought experiments from short stories and film.  We’ll begin by examining questions about human nature and knowledge practices, discuss theories of morality, and then discuss what we owe to each other.

This will be a highly interactive class.  Students will be expected to come to class having done and processed the assigned out-of-class work (readings, assigned videos (including lecture videos, short writing assignments)), so that they are prepared to engage with other students about the material and related questions in class.  Every week will have a question that we’re trying to answer, and activities will be designed around that question.


Two sample weeks:

Week 2: How does evolution work, and can technology play a role?

  • Godfrey-Smith, “Meetings Across the Tree of Life,” Other Minds  [philosophy].
  • Dawkins, “Good Design,” The Blind Watchmaker [philosophy].
  • Bisson, “Bears Discover Fire” (8p) [scifi].
  • Haldeman, “None so Blind” (7p) [scifi].

Week 14: What should we do about serious and persistant injustice?  Is there a right to revolution?

  • Notes on Just War Theory [philosophy].
  • Coates, excerpts from "Legitimate Authority," The Ethics of War [philosophy].
  • Collins, excerpts from Ch1 of The Hunger Games & Ch6 of ­Catching Fire [scifi].  (I might also add a few pages from the prequel out in May 2020.)
  • The Hunger Games (2012) [scifi movie].


• Chiang, Ted. Stories of Your Life and Others (SYL). First Vintage Books edition. New York: Tor, 2016. ISBN: 9781101972120. • A Netflix account that gives you access to required episodes for the class (Black Mirror, The 100, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Enterprise).