Philosophical Ideas in Film

Philosophy 264 – Summer Session, 2009

Cook/Douglass Lecture Hall, Room 110

5/26/09 – 7/02/09

M/T/W/TH, 10:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.


Course Instructor:  Angela Harper

Office:  # 140, Davison Hall (between the Douglass Student Center and the Co-op on


Office Phone:  (732) 932-9861 ext. 140

Office Hours:  By Appointment

Email:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



Required Texts: 

Rachels, James.  Problems from Philosophy. Second Edition, McGraw-Hill.


Problems from Philosophy will be available at Rutgers University Bookstore in the Ferren Mall (on French/ Albany St.)  It may also be purchased online.  All other readings will be provided in electronic or hard copies.


I. Course Description

 “Philosophy examines the fundamental assumptions we make about ourselves and the world we inhabit and tries to determine whether those assumptions are rationally defensible.”                         -Elliott Sober The purpose of philosophy is “to substitute articulate hesitation for inarticulate certainty.”      -Bertrand Russell 

In this course we will be discussing the following traditional topics in philosophy:

1)      God and Religious Belief

2)      The External World:  How can we know what it’s like?

3)      Who Are You and What Are You Like?

a)      Personal Identity:  What is required for you to continue to exist through time?

b)      What is your mind?  How is it related to your brain?  How do you know that other people have minds?  Could animals or computers have minds too?

c)      Free Will:  Do you really have free will?  Or is it just an illusion?

4)      Morality:  What is really valuable?  How should we behave?


We hold many commonsense views on the above topics.  Are our views rationally defensible or are they comfortable illusions?


Our goal is to reach answers to these important philosophical questions by reasoning correctly from assumptions that are plausible.


II.  Assignments and Grading

10 Short Answers:  60%

Final Exam:  40%


III.  Policy on Late Assignments

Absolutely no late assignments!  Each short answer is due at the beginning of the class.  If you are more than 15 minutes late to class, you response will not be accepted.   

VI.  Class Participation

You are encouraged to ask any and all questions about the material.  Your participation will make the class more enjoyable for you, so please participate!  You may even ask questions outside of class.  Just direct your questions to me via e-mail, and I will do my best to ensure that they are answered.


VII.  Classroom Behavior

This class meets at a difficult time, namely breakfast time.  I will allow eating in class, but please be courteous to those around you.  Additionally, be on time, turn off your cell phones, don’t interrupt your fellow students (or me), stay awake, and generally be respectful.  Our class session ends at 12:20 p.m. and I will always end the class on time or a few minutes early.  I will not tolerate students loudly putting their books away five minutes before class ends, so don’t do it!  I will stop the lecture and wait for you, and I will be less inclined to let everyone go a few minutes early.


VIII.  Academic Integrity

You are all obligated to abide by the Rutgers Policy on Academic Integrity, which can be found at  This includes, but is not limited to, your obligation not to copy material off the Internet or from other students, and not to collaborate illicitly.  I will not tolerate cheating!  Any student caught cheating will receive an automatic F for the course and be reported to the dean.  No exceptions!


Course Schedule


As this class covers a lot of material, it is essential to do the readings.  Most readings are required, however some will be more important than others.  I will let you know which readings to focus on as the class progresses.  Important:  The readings are listed on the date they will be discussed, so be sure to read them prior to the class meeting.  Any readings that are not in Problems from Philosophy will be listed online or distributed in class.

 As time is an issue, this syllabus is subject to change. 

(R) = Problems from Philosophy  

  Week One: Tuesday, May 26th, How To Evaluate ArgumentsDistribute 1st Short Answer

Discuss Syllabus

What is Philosophy?

Subjectivity vs. Objectivity

Deductive vs. Non-Deductive Arguments

Common Fallacies

Read:  (R) How to Evaluate Arguments, 191-199 Wednesday, May 27th, Philosophy of Religion

God (omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omni-benevolent)

Cosmological Arguments (Aquinas’ First, Second, and Third Way)

Teleological Arguments (Aquinas’ Fifth Way, Paley)

The Role of Conceivability & Darwin

Movie:  Selections from The God’s Must Be Crazy

Hume’s Objections

Read:  Handout:  Aquinas, Paley, Hume

            (R) Ch.2 through section 2.4

 Thursday, May 28th, Philosophy of Religion cont.1st Short Answer Due; Distribute 2nd Short Answer

Ontological Argument (St. Anselm)

Gaunilo’s Objection

The Problem of Evil & Possible Responses

Read:  Handout:  Anselm, Gaunilo

(R) Ch. 2 section 2.5; Ch.3

  Week Two: Monday, June 1st, Philosophy of Religion cont.2nd Short Answer Due; Distribute 3rd Short Answer

Rationality and Theistic Belief

Neurological Underpinnings?

Pascal’s Wager


Read:  Handout:  Pascal & Russell, Why I am not a Christian  Tuesday, June 2nd, Philosophy of Religion cont.

Movie:  Religulous


 Wednesday, June 3rd, Epistemology and the External World

Wrap-up Discussion: Philosophy of Religion

What is knowledge?  When are we justified?

Knowledge as True, Justified, Belief

Rationalism & Empiricism

Global vs. External World Skepticism

Descartes’ project, skepticism, the Veil of Perception


Cartesian Circle

Read:   Handout:  Rationalism & Empiricism

            Descartes, Selections from Meditations on First Philosophy

            (R) Chapter 10

 Thursday, June 4th, Epistemology and the External World cont.3rd Short Answer Due; Distribute 4th Short Answer


Lockean standard of justification vs. Cartesian standard

The Case of the Red Barns

The Natural Theory of Perception (McGurk Effect)


Read:  Locke, Selections from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

            Berkeley, Selections from Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous  

Week Three: Monday, June 8th, Epistemology and the External World cont.4th Short Answer Due; Distribute 5th Short Answer

Movie:  eXistenZ


 Tuesday, June 9th, Epistemology and the External World cont.

Hume and the Problem of Induction

Goodman and the New Riddle of Induction

Read:  Ayer’s explication of Hume’s Problem

            Hume, Selections from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding            Handout:  Goodman, The New Riddle of Induction Wednesday, June 10th, Epistemology and the External World cont.

Analyzing Knowledge

Gettier cases

Externalism (Reliabilism) vs. Internalism

Read:  Gettier, Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?

            Goldman; What Is Justified Belief?

Thursday, June 11th, Philosophy of Mind5th Short Answer Due; Distribute 6th Short Answer

What is it to be conscious?  What is it to recognize consciousness?

The Problem of Other Minds (Heider-Simmel)

Mirror Neurons & Autism

Knowing Other Minds by Analogy (Russell)

Objections (Ryle)

The Mind-Body Problem (How are they related?)

Behaviorism (Logical vs. Methodological)

Read:  (R) Chapter 6

            Handout:  Russell, excerpt from Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits

            Lycan, The Mind-Body Problem

Week Four:  Monday, June 15th, Philosophy of Mind cont.

6th Short Answer Due; Distribute 7th Short Answer

Identity Theory


Dualism vs. Anti-Reductionism (Nagel)

Can Machines Think? (The Turing Test & Searle’s Chinese Room)

Read:  Searle, Minds, Brains, and Programs            Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, The Turing Test            Nagel, What’s it Like to Be a Bat? Tuesday, June 16th, Philosophy of Mind cont.

Movie:  Short Circuit

Discussion Wednesday, June 17th, Personal Identity

Wrap-up Discussion: Philosophy of Mind

            (What more do we want?) 

Our intuitions about our experiences

(Hemifield Neglect; Change Blindness; Inattention Blindness)

Synchronic Vs. Diachronic Identity

Bundle Theory

Soul Continuity

Split Brains

Read:  Dennett, Where Am I?

            (R) Chapter 5

Thursday, June 18th, Personal Identity cont.7th Short Answer Due; Distribute 8th Short Answer

Bodily Continuity

Psychological (Memory) Continuity


Jill Bolte Taylor

Read:  Locke on Identity and Diversity

Week Five: Monday, June 22nd, Personal Identity cont.8th Short Answer Due; Distribute 9th Short Answer

Movie: Total Recall


Tuesday, June 23rd, Free Will

Wrap-up Discussion: Personal Identity


LaPlace’s Demon




Read:  Handout:  Hume, Selections from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

            (R) Chapter 8 & Chapter 9

Wednesday, June 24th, Free Will cont.

Movie: Minority Report (145) or Gattaca

 Thursday, June 25th, Ethics9th Short Answer Due; Distribute 10th Short Answer

Wrap-up Discussion:  Free Will

Utilitarianism (Act vs. Rule)



Moral Luck

Subjectivism (Teddy Bear)

Read:  Mill, Utilitarianism            Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals  Week Six: Monday, June 29th, Ethics cont.10th Short Answer Due

Movie:  The Truman Show or Groundhog Day


Tuesday, June 30th, Philosophical Methodology

Thought Experiments

 Wednesday, July 1st, Review Session Thursday, July 2nd

Final Exam


  • Rutgers Junior Second Beinecke Scholar in School History

    Triple major Nate Serio to pursue PhD in philosophy, linguistics and cognitive science Nate Serio arrived at Rutgers three years ago with lofty goals: publish a paper as an undergrad, graduate summa cum laude and earn a scholarship to help him pursue his PhD. His plan was to shoot for the stars and if he landed on the moon, that wasn’t half bad either. Today Serio’s star is still rising. A triple major in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers-New Brunswick, he is on track to graduate with...

Why Philosophy?

button why philosophy




revised grad student thumbnail IMG 4813


COPY faculty thumbnail IMG 1250