Phil 238: Philosophy in Literature
Offered by Sara Bernstein (email@example.com)
What is time? Can it move backwards? Can one travel backwards through it? If something is conceivable, does that make it possible? Are you the same person through time? What makes you the same person through time? Is reality distinct from reality-as-we-know-it? Are humans good or evil? This course will examine these questions as posed by literature, and as answered by philosophy.
Course Texts: Alan Lightman, Einstein's Dreams
Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Double
Italo Calvino, Cosmicomics
Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling
Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit
John Perry, Dialogue on Good, Evil, and the Existence of God
... and numerous others, available on e-reserve.
One short paper, 3-4 pages, due February 16. 20%
In-class midterm exam, Friday, March 2. 30%
One short paper, 3-4 pages, due April 4. 20%
Cumulative final exam, Friday, May 11. 30%
See bottom for notes on extra credit.
Philosophy and literature: partners-in-crime or ships passing in the night?
Jan 10: Introduction.
What is time?
Lightman: it can bend in a loop! It can repeat endlessly! It can move backwards! It can have holes! It can slow down and speed up!.....
Jan 12: Lightman, Einstein's Dreams, 8-69.
*Jan 15: MLK Day. No class.
Jan 17: Lightman, Einstein's Dreams, 70-111
*Jan 19 Lightman, Einstein's Dreams, 112-179. No class.
Lewis: Fasten your seat belts.
Jan 22 Lightman, continued; Lewis, "The Paradoxes of Time Travel"
Jan 24 Lewis, continued
McTaggart: There is no
Jan 26 McTaggart, "The Unreality of Time"
Jan 29 McTaggart, continued; Time wrap-up. Time Extra Credit Due.
Are you the same person across time?
Kakfa: Sure! ...If by "the same person," you mean "the same-'person'-but-cockroach."
Jan 31 Kafka, "The Metamorphosis"
Feb 2 Kafka, continued; Dostoyevsky, The Double (ch 1-4)
Dostoyevsky: Yes! No! Wait, let me ask my crazy alter-ego.
Feb 5 Dostoyevsky, The Double (continued) (ch 5-9)
Feb 7 Dostoyevsky, The Double (continued) (ch 10-13)
Parfit: Possibly! But the actual "you" might not survive.
Feb 9 Parfit, "Personal Identity" (e-reserve)
Feb 12 Parfit, continued
Shoemaker: Yes, if you have your own memories.
Feb 14 Shoemaker, "Persons and their Pasts" (e-reserve)
Do you have free will?
Borges: you have choices. Does that count?
Feb 19 Borges, "The Garden of Forking Paths"
Chisholm: Yes! If your act was agent-caused and not event-caused.
Feb 21 Chisholm, "Human Freedom and the Self" (e-reserve)
Feb 23 Chisholm, continued
P.K. Dick: Nope.
Feb 26 P.K. Dick, "Minority Report" (e-reserve)
Dennett: Maybe a little.
Mar 2 MIDTERM EXAM.
If something is conceivable, is it possible?
Mar 5 Calvino, Cosmicomics, "The Distance of the Moon" through "A Sign in Space"
Mar 7 Calvino, Cosmicomics, "All at One Point" through "Games Without End"
Mar 9 Calvino, Cosmicomics, "The Aquatic Uncle" through "The Dinosaurs"
Mar 19 Calvino, Cosmicomics, "The Form of Space" through "The Spiral"
Yablo: yes, if "conceivability" is narrowly construed.
Mar 21 Yablo, "Is Conceivability a Guide to Possibility?" (e-reserve)
Mar 23 Yablo, continued Conceivability and Possibility Extra Credit Due.
What is reality?
Plato: it's like shadows on a cave wall.
Mar 26 Plato, The Republic, beginning of Book 7
Borges: it's like an infinite library full of exhaustively descriptive books, or like a map the size of its actual territory.
Mar 28 Borges, "The Library of Babel" and "Of Exactitude in Science"
Mar 30 Borges and Plato, continued
Baudrillard: it's a media-created construct. ("Welcome to the desert of the real...")
What is the human condition?
Nozick: hopefully, the goal is more than pleasure.
Apr 4 Nozick, "The Experience Machine" (e-reserve) PAPER DUE.
Kierkegaard: IT IS EXISTENTIAL DESPAIR AND DARKNESS. BRACE YOURSELF FOR THE PAIN.
Apr 6 Kierkegaard, "Fear and Trembling"
Apr 9 Kierkegaard, continued
Sartre: It's radical freedom. It's also hell. (What is hell? Stay tuned!)
Apr 11 Sartre, No Exit
Apr 13 Sartre, continued
Are humans good or evil?
Nagel: I'm not sure if pure good is possible, but donŐt stop trying.
Apr 18 Nagel, "The Possibility of Altruism" (short excerpt) (e-reserve)
Voltaire: Gee, I wonder what happens when you toss a purely good protagonist into a cruel, evil world. Let's find out!
Apr 20 Voltaire, Candide
Apr 23 Voltaire, Candide (continued)
Apr 25 Voltaire, Candide (continued)
Perry: Many different questions yield many different answers.
Apr 27 Perry, Dialogue on Good, Evil, and the Existence of God.
Apr 30 Perry, Dialogue on Good, Evil, and the Existence of God (continued) Good and Evil Extra Credit Due.
May 2 Review.
Friday, May 11, 2007: Final exam, 8-10 AM.
A few notes concerning:
Plagiarism is representing another person's work as one's own. Outside works must be clearly cited or placed in quotes. Any cheating will be handled according to the university's policy on academic dishonesty. Please see the UA Code of Academic Integrity for more information.
Everyone is permitted one 24-hour paper extension. Extensions must be requested three days in advance.
In each topic, there will be an extra credit assignment involving the following movies:
Time: Back to the Future and Twelve Monkeys
Personal identity: Memento and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Free will: Run Lola Run and Minority Report
Conceivability and possibility: Contact and Solaris (2002)
Reality: Existenz and The Truman Show
The human condition: Groundhog Day and Vanilla Sky
Good and evil: High Noon and Crimes and Misdemeanors
The assignment will ask three questions which involve comparing and contrasting the themes in both movies to the themes in the reading. All questions must be answered; answers should be 400 words each (adding up to approximately 1,200 words, or four to five pages, total.) Up to five percentage points can be earned on each assignment.
It is possible that topics will be added, removed, or changed on the syllabus. If this happens, it will be announced in class and on the website.
Ways to Reach Sara, or her Indistinguishable Robot Clone
Email (by far the best way to reach me): firstname.lastname@example.org
Department phone: (520) 621-3120 (during office hours)
Office Hours: MWF, 10-11, Social Sciences 130.