Introduction to Philosophy

Por Jorge Luis Fabra Zamora (

Un curso de introducción a la filosofía, por la Universidad de Edimburgo. El curso es online, abierto a todos los interesados, y gratuito. Vale la pena. Más info aquí:

Introduction to Philosophy

Dave Ward, Duncan Pritchard, Michela Massimi, Suilin Lavelle, Matthew Chrisman, Allan Hazlett, Alasdair Richmond

This course will introduce you to some of the most important areas of research in contemporary philosophy. Each week a different philosopher will talk you through some of the most important questions and issues in their area of expertise.
Watch intro video
Next Session:
Jan 28th 2013 (7 weeks long)
Workload: 1-2 hours/week 

About the Course

This course will introduce you to some of the main areas of research in contemporary philosophy. Each week a different philosopher will talk you through some of the most important questions and issues in their area of expertise. We’ll begin by trying to understand what philosophy is – what are its characteristic aims and methods, and how does it differ from other subjects? Then we’ll spend the rest of the course gaining an introductory overview of several different areas of philosophy. Topics you’ll learn about will include:

  • Epistemology, where we’ll consider what our knowledge of the world and ourselves consists in, and how we come to have it;
  • Philosophy of science, where we’ll investigate foundational conceptual issues in scientific research and practice;
  • Philosophy of Mind, where we’ll ask questions about what it means for something to have a mind, and how minds should be understood and explained;
  • Moral Philosophy, where we’ll attempt to understand the nature of our moral judgements and reactions – whether they aim at some objective moral truth, or are mere personal or cultural preferences, and;
  • Metaphysics, where we’ll think through some fundamental conceptual questions about the nature of reality.

About the Instructor(s)

Dr. Dave Ward is a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. He works mainly on the philosophy of mind and cognition. His main philosophical ambition is to understand the relationship between perception, thought and agency.

Professor Duncan Pritchard joined the Edinburgh department in 2007 as the new Chair in Epistemology. His research is mainly in epistemology, and his most recent book, ‘Epistemic Disjunctivism’ has just been published by Oxford University Press.

Dr. Michela Massimi gained her PhD in philosophy of science at LSE in 2002. She was Junior Research Fellow in Cambridge (2002-2005) and Visiting Professor in the HPS Dept., Pittsburgh (2009). Michela has joined Edinburgh in July 2012, having previously taught for seven years at UCL. Her primary research areas are philosophy of science, Kant, and history and philosophy of modern physics.

Dr. Suilin Lavelle joined the Edinburgh department in Spring 2011, having completed a PhD at the University of Sheffield. Her primary research interest is the field of social cognition, and more specifically, in the various answers given to the question ‘How do we understand other people’s psychological states?’.

Dr. Matthew Chrisman joined the Edinburgh department in August 2006 after finishing his PhD at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research is primarily in ethical theory, philosophy of language, and epistemology. He is currently working on a book on the meaning of ‘ought’.

Dr. Allan Hazlett received a PhD from Brown University in 2006, and taught in Texas and New York City before joining the University of Edinburgh in 2010.  He has worked on the problem of skepticism and studied the way that people talk about knowledge, and more recently has written a book arguing that philosophers usually overestimate the value of truth.

Dr. Alasdair Richmond is a threefold graduate of Aberdeen University and joined Philosophy at Edinburgh in 2003. He has published on constructive empiricism, the Anthropic Principle, Doomsday arguments, Descartes’ conception of immortality, time travel and the topology of time. He is currently working on a book entitled ‘Time Travel for Philosophers’.

Course Syllabus

Week 1: What is Philosophy? (Dr. Dave Ward)
We’ll start the course by thinking about what Philosophy actually is; what makes it different from other subjects? What are its distinctive aims and methods? To help us think about this, we’ll consider a couple of different approaches philosophers have taken to arguably the biggest question of all: what is the Meaning of Life? We’ll then look ahead to some of the different branches of philosophy we’ll be considering on the course.

Week 2: What do you know? (Professor Duncan Pritchard)
We know a lot of things – or, at least, we think we do. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies knowledge; what it is, and the ways we can come to have it. This week, we’ll take a tour through some of the issues that arise in this branch of philosophy. In particular, we’ll think about what radical scepticism means for our claims to knowledge. How can we know something is the case if we’re unable to rule out possibilities that are clearly incompatible with it?

Week 3: Are scientific theories true? (Dr. Michela Massimi)
In this session we will explore a central and ongoing debate in contemporary philosophy of science: whether or not scientific theories are true. Or better, whether a scientific theory needs be 'true' to be good at all. The answer to this question comes in two main varieties. Scientific realists believe that theories ought to be true in order to be good. We will analyse their main argument for this claim (which goes under the name of 'no miracles argument'), and some prominent objections to it. Scientific antirealists, on the other hand, defend the view that there is nothing special about 'truth' and that scientific theories and scientific progress can be understood without appeal to it. The aim of this session is to present both views, their main arguments, and prospects.

Week 4: Minds, Brains and Computers (Dr. Suilin Lavelle)
If you’re reading this, then you’ve got a mind. But what is a mind, and what does it take to have one? Should we understand minds as sets of dispositions to behave in certain ways, as patterns of neural activation, or as akin to programmes that are run on the computational hardware of our brains? This week, we’ll look at how and why recent philosophy of mind and psychology has embraced each of these options in turn, and think about the problems and prospects for each.

Week 5: Morality: Objective, Subjective or Relative? (Dr. Matthew Chrisman)
We all live with some sense of what is good or bad, some feelings about which ways of conducting ourselves are better or worse. But what is the status of these moral beliefs, senses, or feelings? Should we think of them as reflecting hard, objective facts about our world, of the sort that scientists could uncover and study? Or should we think of moral judgements as mere expressions of personal or cultural preferences? This week we’ll survey some of the different options that are available when we’re thinking about these issues, and the problems and prospects for each.

Week 6: Should you believe what you hear? (Dr. Allan Hazlett)
Much of what we think about the world we believe on the basis of what other people say.  But is this trust in other people's testimony justified?  This week, we’ll investigate how this question was addressed by two great philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment, David Hume (1711 - 1776) and Thomas Reid (1710 - 1796).  Hume and Reid's dispute about testimony represents a clash between two worldviews that would continue to clash for centuries: a skeptical and often secular worldview, eager to question everything (represented by Hume), and conservative and often religious worldview, keen to defend common sense (represented by Reid).

Week 7: Philosophy and the Structure of Reality (Dr. Alasdair Richmond)
In our last week we’ll take a brief tour through some of the issues in metaphysics, a branch of philosophy that investigates the ways that reality could intelligibly be. As a case study, we’ll focus on the possibility, or otherwise, of time-travel. Some have thought that the apparent possibility of creating a machine that we could use to transport a person backwards in time can be ruled out just by thinking about it. But is time-travel really logically impossible? What would the universe have to be like for it to be possible? And can we know whether our universe fits the bill?

Recommended Background

No background is required; all are welcome.

Suggested Readings

For some weeks of the course, you’ll be asked to complete some background reading in advance of watching the videos for that week. Look out for details of these once the course begins. Each week the presenter will suggest some further readings that you might wish to consult if you’d like to investigate that week’s topic further.

Course Format

The course will consist of 7 lectures of between 40 minutes and an hour (broken down into videos of between 10 and 15 minutes in length).  During some weeks there will be additional readings provided, which will typically take around an hour to work through. Additionally, in some weeks there will be questions to test your understanding of the material we’ve covered in the lectures, which should only take a few minutes to complete.


  • Will I get a certificate after completing this class?Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a certificate signed by the instructors.
  • Do I earn University of Edinburgh credits upon completion of this class?No. The certificate of completion is not part of a formal qualification from the University of Edinburgh. However, it may be useful to demonstrate prior learning and interest in your subject to a higher education institution or potential employer.
  • What resources will I need for this class?No resources needed.
  • What are the learning outcomes of this course and why should I take it?You’ll learn about the questions that have occupied some of the greatest minds in history, and how to go about answering them!

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