Honurs Philosophy Seminar 2019

Course Information:

PHIL 13195-05 

  • Professor Shields
  • Seminar Meetings: TR 9.30-10.45 in O'Shaughnessy Hall 107

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. 


  • 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 on:

  • Preliminary Examination: 17 October, 9.30-10.45
  • Final Examination: 12 December, 9.30-10.45

I will suggest topics 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: 19 September 
  • Essay Two: 17 October
  • Essay Three: 14 November
  • Essay Four: 12 December

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 the address given by your section leader.  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 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?


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 reading schedule.  Please note: some readings will be discussed directly, while others will merely be assumed as background for lectures; all are, however to be read before the lecture 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: Introduction 
    • Plato, Euthyphro, RR, 628
    •  Feinberg, ‘A Logic Lesson,’ RR, 1
  • Week Two:
    • 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, 34
  • Week Three:
    • Mackie, ‘Evil and Omnipotence,’ RR, 118
    • Van Inwagen, ‘The Argument from Evil,’ RR, 126
    • Johnson, ‘God and the Problem of Evil,’ RR, 147
  • Week Four:
    • Clifford, ‘The Ethics of Belief,’ RR, 151
    • Blackburn, ‘Infini-Rien,’ RR, 180

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

  • Week Five
    • 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:
    • Papineau, ‘The Case for Materialism’ RR, 376
    • Churchland, ‘Functionalism and Eliminative Materialism,’ RR, 382
  • Week Seven:
    • Turing, ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence,’ RR, 391
    • Searle, ‘Minds, Brains, Programs,’ RR, 400
  • Week Eight:
    • Locke, ‘The Prince and the Cobbler,’ RR, 413
    • Reid, ‘Of Mr. Locke’s Account of our Personal Identity,’ RR, 416
    • Perry, ‘A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality,’ RR 382
    • Shields, ‘Personal Identity’ (podcast

Week Nine: Mid-semester Break

Weeks Nine-Twelve: Free Will and Human Responsibility

  • Week Ten: 
  • Week Eleven:
    • Rachels, ‘The Case Against Free Will,’ RR, 481
    • Pereboom, ‘Why We Have No Free Will and Can Live Without It,’ RR, 491
  • Week Twelve:
    • Chisholm, ‘Human Freedom and the Self,’ RR, 459
    • Strawson, ‘Luck Swallows Everything,’ RR, 521

Weeks Thirteen-Sixteen: Morality and its Critics

  • Week Thirteen:
    • Feinberg, ‘Psychological Egoism,’ RR, 561
    • Plato, ‘The Immoralist’s Challenge,’ RR, 574
    • Joyce, ‘The Evolutionary Debunking of Morality,’ RR, 527
  • Week Fourteen: 
    • Shafer-Landau, ‘Ethical Subjectivism,’ RR, 597
    • Mill, ‘Utilitarianism,’ RR, 645
  • Week Fifteen:
    • Ross, ‘What Makes Right Acts Right?’ RR, 660
    • Kant, ‘The Good Will and the Categorical Imperative,’ RR,  638
    • Nietzsche, ‘Master and Slave Morality,’ RR, 580
  • Week Sixteen:
    • Nagel, ‘The Absurd,’ RR, 739

Course Lectures Slides

© Christopher Shields 2014