Honors Philosophy Seminar, Autumn 2017

Course Information:

PHIL 13195 

  • Professor Shields
  • Seminar Meetings: TR 9.30-10.45, 200 O’Shaugnessy Hall

Office Hours and Contact Information:

  • Office: Malloy Hall 327
  • Office hours: W 8.30-10.30 and by appointment
  • e-mail: CJIShields@nd.edu 

  • 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. 


  • Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings, 7th ed, edd. J. Perry, M. Bratman, and J. Fischer (Oxford: 2016)

Requirements and Protocol:

Students will sit two examinations, one preliminary and one final, and write four brief essays, of about 1,000-1,500 words each. 

The examinations will be held on:

  • Preliminary Examination: 24 October, 9.30-10.45
  • Final Examination: 7 December, 9.30-10.45

I will suggest topics for each of the essays.. 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 at least one week in advance of the due date. 

The due dates are:   

  • Essay One: 15 September 
  • Essay Two: 13 October
  • Essay Three: 12 November
  • Essay Four: 8 December

These essays 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 this address: cjishields@nd.edu.  Essays will be accepted until 17.00 on their due dates.

Attendance is expected at all seminar meetings.


This course provides an introduction to philosophy and philosophical method.  We will examine inter alia the following main areas and questions:

Rational Theology

  • Do we have any compelling, or even plausible, argument for God’s non-existence? Do we have, that is, any good reason to be (or become) theists?
  • Should we be concerned if we do not?  What is the relation between faith and reason?
  • If God does exist, how should we conceive God’s nature?
  • Do we have, by contrast, a compelling, or even plausible, argument for God’s non-existence? Do we have, that is, any good reason to be (or become) atheists?
  • Is atheism the only rationally acceptable stance in a scientifically informed world?
  • Should we, perhaps, prefer a humble sort of agnosticism?
  • Is theism compatible with evil?  If not, how should we proceed?  


The Mind and its Place in Nature

  • What is the mind-body problem? (Or, rather: what are the mind-body problems?)
  • Are there good theism-independent reasons for accepting mind-body dualism?
  • What are the prospects, if any, for personal post-mortem survival?
  • What does personal identity consist in?  Do we have good reasons for thinking that you are the same person as the two-year old organism with whom you are biologically continuous? (What, precisely, does biological continuity consist in?)
  • Is personal identity necessary for survival?

 Free Will and Human Responsibility 

  • Are human freedom and responsibility compatible with universal causal determinism?
    • Does universal causal determinism in fact obtain?
  • Are human freedom and responsibility compatible with the denial of universal causal determinism?
  • What form of human freedom does moral responsibility require? 

Morality and its Critics

  • Is there any good reason to accept psychological egoism? Is there any good reason to accept ethical egoism?  (What, precisely, is the distinction between psychological and ethical egoism?)
    • What is ‘enlightened’ egoism?  What, by contrast, is the unenlightened sort? 
    • To what extent, if any, is egoism compatible with cosmopolitanism, understood as the view that all human beings belong to the same moral community? 
  • Should we be moral relativists? 
    • If so, of what sort?
    • If not, should we be moral nihilists or moral realists?  Or?
  • Are there mind- and language-independent moral facts? 
    • If so, how might we know them? 
    • If not, what are the consequences for moral decision making?

Reading Schedule:

Please adhere to this reading schedule.  Some readings will be discussed directly, others will merely be assumed as background for lectures and may not be discussed at all.  Still, to understand the lectures you must read the material prior to the meeting for which the piece is assigned; it will behove you to re-read the material after seminar as well.

Lecture Slides:

© Christopher Shields 2014