Gateway Seminar: The Objective and the Subjective



One encounters appeals to a distinction between the objective and the subjective in virtually every area of philosophy. To name just a conspicuous few: ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, feminism, philosophy of science, political theory, aesthetics—the list goes on and on.  Yet the distinction is variously drawn, sometimes crisply and clearly and at other times rather more obscurely. In this Gateway Seminar we take a hard look at this distinction, considering how best to understand it and then also how best to deploy it in a variety of contexts, with an ultimate goal of equipping ourselves to read widely in philosophy from a position of critical strength  and thereafter to write proficiently about what we read. 

Course Information:

PHIL 30304

  • Professor Shields
  • Seminar Meetings: TR 11.10-12.25 in Malloy Hall 320

Office Hours and Contact Information:

  • Office: Malloy Hall 327
  • Office hours: W 8.30-10.30 and by appointment. Note that I will conduct office hours over Zoom, at least for start of term. Sometime around mid-term I will re-evaluate this situation in hopes of converting to live meetings. 
  • e-mail: 
  • N.b. I prefer e-mail to telephone as a manner of student contact.  I make an effort to answer student e-mails promptly, but please be aware that I measure promptness in this domain in days rather than hours or minutes. 

Required Texts:

  • Both these titles are available in various electronic formats, as well as in paperback. Feel free to use any format you wish, so long as you have access to the text during our seminar meetings.
  • Nagel, Thomas, The View from Nowhere (Oxford: 1986)
  • Nagel, Thomas, Mortal Questions (Cambridge: 1979)

Requirements and Protocol:

Please note that is a Writing Intensive Seminar, which requires consistent writing and revision. We will write three position papers (on which more in seminar), each of about 1,000 words. These will be due at various points in the seminar and will be subjected to peer review and revision. In addition, you will write one seminar paper in the range of 3,000-4,000 words. 

I will suggest topics for the final paper. You are, however, welcome to ignore these suggestions and write on a pertinent topic of your own choosing, but only if that topic is approved by me at least one week in advance of the due date. 

The due dates are:   

  • Position Paper One: Draft 18 February/Revised 25 February 
  • Position Paper Two: Draft 9 March/Revised 16 March
  • Position Paper Three: Draft 5 April/Revised 9 April
  • Seminar Paper: Draft 5 May/Revised 12 May

These papers are to be submitted electronically in a main-stream word-processing format or (if you use something non-standard) as .pdf documents, to me at  Papers will be accepted until 17.00 on their due dates.

Attendance is expected at all seminar meetings.

Please adhere to this reading schedule. 

Lectures Slides

1. The Objective and Subjective: a First Pass

2. Thinking from Nowhere 

3. The Absurd 

4. Mind: a Subject in an Objective World

5. Selves in Search of Objectivity 

6. Panpsychism

7. Objective Knowledge for Subjective Beings

8. Moral Luck

9. Realisms 

10. Freedom

11. Queer Facts

12. Personal and Impersonal Goods

13. Living Well and the Demands of Morality 

14. The Meaning of Life

15. The Meaning of Death

16. Kinds of Kinds

© Christopher Shields 2014