Honors Philosophy Seminar 2020

Course Information:

PHIL 13195-04

  • Professor Shields
  • Seminar Meetings: TR 9.35-10.50 in O'Shaughnessy Hall 114

Office Hours and Contact Information:

  • Office: Malloy Hall 327
  • Office hours: live meetings R 11.00-12.00 and by appointment; Zoom meetings by appointment on T-R
  • 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. 


  • Reason and Responsibility, 16th ed, ed J. Feinberg and R. Shafer-Landau (Cengage: 2017)
    • This text is available in Hammes Bookstore. An electronic version is also available.  You may use any format you wish, though you should have access to this work during seminar meetings. 

Requirements and Protocol:

Students will sit two examinations, one preliminary and one final, and write three papers, in the neighbourhood of 1,000-1,500 words each. 

The examinations will take place during our regular scheduled class times on:

  • Preliminary Examination: 29 September
  • Final Examination: 12 November

I will offer prompts for each of the papers. 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:   

  • Essay One: 4 September
  • Essay Two: 9 October 
  • Essay Three: 13 November

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 CJIShields@nd.edu. Papers 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 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?


The Mind and its Place in Nature

  • What is the mind-body problem?
  • Are there good theism-independent reasons for accepting mind-body dualism?
  • What are the prospects, if any, for personal post-mortem 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, why so?
    • 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 the following reading schedule.  Note, however: some readings will be discussed directly, while others will merely be assumed as background for lectures; all are, however to be read before the start of the week for which they are assigned.  It is good practice to reread them after the lecture as well. 

(RR = Reason and Responsibility)

Weeks One-Four: Rational Theology

  • Week One (Week of 10 August): Introduction 
    • Plato, Euthyphro, RR, 628
    •  Feinberg, ‘A Logic Lesson,’ RR, 1
  • Week Two (Week of 17 August):
    • Aquinas, ‘The Five Ways,’ RR, 47
    • Anselm, ‘The Ontological Argument from Proslogion,’ RR, 31
    • Gaunilo of Marmoutiers, ‘On Behalf of the Fool,’ RR, 33
    • Rowe, ‘The Ontological Argument,’ RR, 36
  • Week Three (Week of 24 August):
    • Mackie, ‘Evil and Omnipotence,’ RR, 118
    • Van Inwagen, ‘The Argument from Evil,’ RR, 126
  • Week Four (Week of 31 August):
    • Clifford, ‘The Ethics of Belief,’ RR, 151

Weeks Five-Seven: The Mind and its Place in Nature

  • Week Five (Week of 7 September):
    • Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy (Meditations One and Two Only), RR 240
    • Gertler, ‘In Defense of Mind-Body Dualism,’ RR, 359
    • Jackson, ‘The Qualia Problem,’ RR, 372
  • Week Six (Week of 14 September):
    • Papineau, ‘The Case for Materialism’ RR, 376
    • Churchland, ‘Functionalism and Eliminative Materialism,’ RR, 382
  • Week Seven  (Week of 21 September):
    • Turing, ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence,’ RR, 391
    • Searle, ‘Minds, Brains, Programs,’ RR, 400

Weeks Eight-Ten: Free Will and Human Responsibility

  • Week Eight  (Week of 28 September):
  • Week Nine (Week of 5 October):
    • Rachels, ‘The Case Against Free Will,’ RR, 481
    • Pereboom, ‘Why We Have No Free Will and Can Live Without It,’ RR, 491
  • Week Ten  (Week of 12 October):
    • Chisholm, ‘Human Freedom and the Self,’ RR, 459

Weeks Eleven-Fourteen: Morality and its Critics

  • Week Eleven (Week of 19 October):
    • Feinberg, ‘Psychological Egoism,’ RR, 561
    • Plato, ‘The Immoralist’s Challenge,’ RR, 574
    • Joyce, ‘The Evolutionary Debunking of Morality,’ RR, 589
  • Week Twelve (Week of 26 October): 
    • Mill, ‘Utilitarianism,’ RR, 645
  • Week Thirteen (Week of 2 November):
    • Ross, ‘What Makes Right Acts Right?’ RR, 660
    • Kant, ‘The Good Will and the Categorical Imperative,’ RR,  638
  • Week Fourteen (Week of 9 November): Open and Quodlibetal 

Course Lectures Slides

© Christopher Shields 2014