Honors Philosophy Seminar

Autumn 2021


seminar INformation:

PHIL 13195
Professor Shields
Seminar Meetings: TR 8.00-9.15 in Corbett Family Hall E245

Office Hours and Contact Information:

Office: Malloy Hall 327
Office hours: 13.00-14.30 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 four essays, in the neighbourhood of 1,000-1,500 words each.

Dates for the examinations:

Preliminary Examination: 14 October, 8.00-9.15
Final Examination: 7 December, 8.00-9.15


Due dates for the Essays:

Essay One: 20 September
Essay Two: 15 October
Essay Three: 12 November
Essay Four: 3 December


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 by me at least one week in advance of the due date.


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 the address given above. Papers will be accepted until 17.00 on their due dates.


Attendance is expected at all seminar meetings.


All members of this seminar will be Understood to have read and endorsed Notre Dame’s UnderGraduate Academic Code of Honor.

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
    • 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 Ten-Twelve: Free Will and Human Responsibility
Week Ten:
    • Strawson, ‘The Maze of Free Will’
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-Fifteen: 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



lecture Slides