The Big Questions of Philosophy

Course No. 4130
Professor David Kyle Johnson, Ph.D., University of Oklahoma
King's College
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Course No. 4130
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What Will You Learn?

  • Investigate the concepts of free will, the soul, God, and more using the tools of philosophy.
  • Explore some of the biggest questions in time: Could there be an afterlife? What is the meaning of life?
  • Discuss the virtues of being "good" when wickedness has its rewards.
  • Look at how philosophy influences and is influenced by politics and society.
  • Delve into the relationship between government, and philosophy by investigating how society should be organized.

Course Overview

We have all pondered seemingly unanswerably but significant questions about our existence—the biggest of all being, “Why are we here?” Philosophy has developed over millennia to help us grapple with these essential intangibles. There is no better way to study the big questions in philosophy than to compare how the world’s greatest minds have analyzed these questions, defined the terms, and then reasoned out potential solutions. Once you’ve compared the arguments, the final step is always deciding for yourself whether you find an explanation convincing.

This course gives you the tools to follow and create logical arguments while exploring famous philosophers’ viewpoints on these important questions. Although progress has been made toward answers, brilliant thinkers have continued to wrestle with many big questions that inspire thoughtful people everywhere. These questions include:

  • What is knowledge?
  • Can religious belief be justified?
  • Does God exist?
  • What is the nature of the mind?
  • Do humans have free will?
  • What is morally right and wrong?
  • How should society be organized?

The philosophers who have confronted these mysteries include Plato, St. Anselm, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Mill, Smith, Marx, Rawls, and Nozick, among many others. And while it is easy to think of philosophy as a catalogue of great names such as these, it is really a collection of big questions and the arguments that try to answer them.

The Big Questions of Philosophy is your chance to engage in this intellectually exciting pursuit as you address issues that have preoccupied great minds for millennia. Your guide is philosopher David Kyle Johnson, an award-winning teacher and nationally recognized scholar, author, speaker, and blogger, who is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at King’s College in Pennsylvania.

An ideal entry point into this vital subject, The Big Questions of Philosophy gives you direct contact with classic problems that philosophers have grappled with over the centuries. Along the way, you meet scores of key figures, both ancient and modern. In addition, the course’s broad scope, wealth of examples, and many comparative arguments will appeal to those more experienced in philosophy—including those who already know the difference between abduction and deduction, between Occam’s Razor and Pascal’s Wager.

A Modern-Day Socrates

In 36 mesmerizing half-hour lectures that will challenge your old assumptions and recharge your current thinking, Professor Johnson plays a role much like Socrates in Plato’s dialogues. He is good-natured, lucid, and dogged in his search for the truth. You start each lecture with a question that is often transparently simple, but that grows increasingly subtle and complex as you consider and object to possible solutions. Professor Johnson’s approach is surprisingly entertaining and easy to follow as you wade through philosophical issues such as these:

  • Miracles: Could an eyewitness report ever justify the belief that a miracle had occurred? You learn that the laws of reasoning place miracles outside the bounds of verifiable knowledge. Miracles can never be established as matters of fact and can only be accepted as matters of faith.
  • Free will: Do we really have a choice in what we do? Theologically, free will seems impossible if God knows the future. Philosophically, it’s impossible in both a deterministic and an indeterministic universe. And biologically, free will seems incompatible with our understanding of neuroscience.
  • The self: What makes you the same person today that you were in the past? The challenge of answering this question, which bears on everything from legal culpability to the prospect of an afterlife, inspired Professor Johnson to major in philosophy as an undergraduate.
  • Thinking machines: Can machines think? Philosopher John Searle proposed a thought experiment which suggests that computers can simulate thinking, but without understanding. This “Chinese Room” argument became one of the most heated philosophical discussions of recent times.

Think Like a Philosopher

How are these issues decided? In the first four lectures of The Big Questions of Philosophy, you learn the tools of philosophical analysis. Contrary to popular belief, philosophy is not just “a matter of opinion.” It is the systematic quest to discover truth and reject falsehood, for which a number of powerful principles and techniques have evolved over the centuries, among them:

  • Truth is not relative: A belief is true if it matches the way the world is. If two people disagree, it can’t be that both are right—that what each believes is “true for them.” To prevail in a debate, an opinion must be informed by the relevant facts and based on sound reasoning.
  • Aristotelian logic: The traditional route to sound reasoning is Aristotelian logic, which stresses deduction as the only way to achieve knowledge that is mathematically certain. Less certain but very powerful is inductive reasoning, which is used in fields such as science.
  • Abduction: A form of inductive reasoning, abduction appeals to criteria such as simplicity, testability, and conservatism. In other words, a hypothesis should be preferred if it is simpler than other explanations, can be tested, and doesn’t contradict established knowledge.
  • Fallacious reasoning: To be avoided at all costs, fallacious reasoning comes in many forms and is unfortunately very common. One example is “mystery therefore magic”—when the inability to prove that something has a natural explanation is given as grounds for a supernatural explanation.

Indeed, these guidelines lead to fruitful results not just in philosophy, but also in every sphere of life. Whether you are puzzling over politics, investments, a new purchase, a career move, or any important decision, it is indispensable to think critically and reason from valid principles.

Philosophy Is All Around You

Socrates found grist for his philosophical discussions in the everyday life of Athens in the fifth century B.C. Similarly, Professor Johnson takes many of his examples from the world around us, including popular culture. These situations show that philosophical problems are everywhere and that our intuitions about what seems right can help guide us toward answers to the big questions:

  • Skepticism: Descartes’ struggle with skepticism led him to a single, indubitable truth, “I think, therefore I am.” Movies such as The Matrix and Inception push skepticism even farther, questioning the boundary between dreaming and reality and throwing into doubt the prospect of ever acquiring knowledge.
  • Knowledge: Plato’s definition of knowledge—”justified true belief”—has been tested in innumerable thought experiments that show we can have good evidence for a true belief but still lack knowledge. Johnson considers several such “Gettier problems,” including one involving the U.S. Open Tennis Championship.
  • Personal identity: The teleportation machine in Star Trek is an endless source of thought experiments involving personal identity. Discover intriguing answers to scenarios in which the transporter splits, duplicates, fuses, and otherwise transforms the persons who enter it.
  • Meaning: Philosophy is popularly thought to deal with the meaning of life—and indeed it does. Professor Johnson closes the course by seeking a genuine solution to the famous problem in Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, concerning “the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.”

Illuminate Life’s Greatest Mysteries

Given the longevity of these big questions, it should be no surprise that many controversies are far from settled. In fact, by the end of the course you may be even less sure of the right answers to some of the questions than you were at the beginning. But being a philosopher means constantly testing your views—giving a reasoned defense if you believe you are right and modifying your ideas when you realize you are wrong.

You will experience this cycle many times with The Big Questions of Philosophy. You’ll discover that great thinkers before you have offered convincing answers to hard questions, philosophers after them have made equally persuasive objections, and then still others have refined the debate even further—causing the issue to come into sharper and sharper focus. Professor Johnson offers this illuminating simile: “Thinking philosophically is like having a powerful flashlight that you can shine into the darkness that seems to surround life’s greatest mysteries—a flashlight that can reveal the answers to the big questions, and one you can use to find your way forward.”

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36 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    How Do We Do Philosophy?
    The first four lectures of the course pose the big question: What is philosophy? Start by exploring the kinds of problems that philosophy addresses, the way philosophy works, and the distinction between philosophy and opinion. Discover that philosophy is arguably the most important pursuit there is. x
  • 2
    Why Should We Trust Reason?
    Hone your philosophical thinking by identifying the categories of fallacious reasoning that ensnare us all. Investigate examples of gut-thinking, confirmation bias, appealing to ignorance, the correlation fallacy, begging the question, and equivocation. Learn how to check your reasoning for flaws. x
  • 3
    How Do We Reason Carefully?
    Avoiding fallacious reasoning is just the beginning of philosophical thinking. Go deeper by studying the rules of deduction and induction. In the process, learn Aristotle's three axioms of logic, the difference between truth and validity, common mistakes in logical arguments, and why practically all scientific arguments are inductive. x
  • 4
    How Do We Find the Best Explanation?
    Explore the power of abduction, a form of induction also known as inference to the best explanation, that is used not only by philosophers, but also by doctors to make medical diagnoses and scientists to construct theories. Even Sherlock Holmes - the master of deduction - really practiced abductive inference. x
  • 5
    What Is Truth?
    Now begin a section of the course devoted to the big question: What is knowledge? Start with the problem of defining truth. Investigate three philosophical theories that attempt to pin down this elusive concept: pragmatism, coherentism, and the correspondence theory. x
  • 6
    Is Knowledge Possible?
    Having covered ways of gaining evidence and justifying belief in pursuit of knowledge, now ask: Is knowledge really possible? See what Plato had to say. Then delve into Rene Descartes' celebrated struggle with this problem, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of his position. x
  • 7
    What Is the Best Way to Gain Knowledge?
    Put empiricism to the test as the best way to acquire knowledge. Study the ideas of John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume, together with the response of Immanuel Kant, before settling on the most effective route to understanding the world as it is. x
  • 8
    Do We Know What Knowledge Is?
    Address a famous problem concerning the nature of knowledge, posed by contemporary philosopher Edmund Gettier. Use different thought experiments to test the traditional definition of knowledge. Discover firsthand the bafflement and enlightenment that comes from doing philosophy. x
  • 9
    When Can We Trust Testimony?
    In this section, put what you've learned to work by asking the big question: Can religious belief be justified? Start with Hume's argument that testimony can never justify a belief that a miracle has occurred. Analyze the flaws in Hume's reasoning, and think about whether his conclusion still holds. x
  • 10
    Can Mystical Experience Justify Belief?
    Look at the phenomenon of religious experiences, pondering whether such events justify belief. Find that practically all religions have religious experiences, but the beliefs they lead to can be radically different. Can feeling the touch of God," like Jules in Pulp Fiction, justify religious belief? " x
  • 11
    Is Faith Ever Rational?
    Given that faith by its nature makes no claim to being logical, can it ever be considered rational? Learn that all of us unconsciously behave as if it is. What are our grounds for doing so, and how does this apply to religious faith? Your inquiry introduces you to famous arguments by Blaise Pascal, William Clifford and William James. x
  • 12
    Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?
    Begin a series of lectures addressing the next big question: Does God exist? The most popular proofs appeal to God's existence as the best explanation for the universe's existence and nature. In this lecture, test the cosmological and teleological arguments, using the tools of philosophy and the evidence of physics. x
  • 13
    What Is God Like?
    Traditionally, if God exists, God is perfect - God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent. See how these three attributes are likely inconsistent with each another. Focus in particular on the difficulties with St. Anselm's argument for a perfect God, and look at modern proposals for redefining our conception of God. x
  • 14
    How Could God Allow Moral Evil?
    Now consider arguments against God's existence, the most common being the problem of evil. Explore various theological solutions that account for why God allows certain evils, like the holocaust. Does God have reasons we cannot understand? Examine the flaws in this argument. x
  • 15
    Why Would God Cause Natural Evil?
    It is one thing for God to grant humans the freedom to do evil, but it's harder to understand the existence of natural evils such as earthquakes and plagues. Evaluate different approaches to this problem, including the suggestion that God exists but didn't create our universe. x
  • 16
    Are Freedom and Foreknowledge Compatible?
    Do we have free will? This is your next big question. Begin with a close study of omnitemporalism - the idea that the future already exists and that God necessarily has foreknowledge of it. Taking this view, attempt to make sense of the notion that people have the power to act freely. x
  • 17
    Do Our Souls Make Us Free?
    Look at the problem of free will from the point of view of the soul, the conjectured seat of mentality that exists apart from the body. Discover that neuroscience suggests that the soul does not exist and also casts doubt on the concept of free will. x
  • 18
    What Does It Mean to Be Free?
    Some philosophers, called compatibilists, argue that if we understand free will correctly, the idea that humans are free becomes defensible, leaving room for moral responsibility. Evaluate this stance, and close by considering the consequences of conceding that we don't have free will in the traditional sense. x
  • 19
    What Preserves Personal Identity?
    Spend the next four lectures on the big question: Could there be an afterlife? First, ask what defines a person and how personal identity is preserved over time. Discover that many proposed answers fail, including the notion that personal identity is preserved by the soul. x
  • 20
    Are Persons Mere Minds?
    Explore the possibility that personal identity is preserved by memory, as Locke contended, or by psychological continuity. Test these ideas in thought experiments involving the transporter from Star Trek and other intriguing scenarios. x
  • 21
    Are Persons Just Bodies?
    Could it be that you are the same person over time because you have the same body over time? Explore the implications of this view, which traces to the Judeo-Christian concept of the resurrection of the body in the afterlife. Consider biological objections. x
  • 22
    Are You Really You?
    Close your inquiry into the afterlife by looking at new ways of defining personhood. According to perdurantism, a person is the sum total of an individual's life experiences and cannot be isolated to a particular time and place. Then question the very concept of a person - a move that may rule out the possibility of an afterlife. x
  • 23
    How Does the Brain Produce the Mind?
    The next three lectures address the big question: What is the nature of the mind? Start with the celebrated "hard problem" of consciousness: How does the brain produce the mind? Investigate two possible answers and explore why many philosophers consider both to be problematic. x
  • 24
    What Do Minds Do, If Anything?
    Examine three more theories of the mind - property dualism, epiphenomenalism, and eliminative materialism - discovering that each has shortcomings. All of us feel that we have minds, so why is it so difficult to pin down what the mind is? Could the mind be an illusion? x
  • 25
    Could Machines Think?
    Push your exploration of the mind even further by looking at functionalism, which suggests that anything that functions like our brain has mentality. The implication is that, in principle, machines can think. Study some responses to this theory, including John Searle's thought experiment called the Chinese Room. x
  • 26
    Does God Define the Good?
    Turn to the next big question: What is morally right and wrong? Your first step is to inquire what establishes the truth of ethical statements. Look briefly at emotivism, which holds that our emotions tell us what is right. Then focus on divine command theory, which considers God to be the source of moral truth. x
  • 27
    Does Happiness Define the Good?
    Could the happiness or absence of pain that results from an action define whether it is good? The Greek philosopher Epicurus held this view, which was fine-tuned by utilitarian philosophers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Study objections to this outlook. x
  • 28
    Does Reason Define the Good?
    Kant suggested that reason determines what is moral or immoral. Analyze his famous categorical imperative, which is a set of obligatory moral rules guided by reason. See how Kant's rules go far beyond the Golden Rule. Then uncover the shortcomings of the categorical imperative. x
  • 29
    How Ought We to Live?
    Take up virtue ethics, which suggests that we should concentrate less on resolving which actions are moral or immoral, and instead focus on cultivating virtue. Explore the complexities of this quest, the need to use practical wisdom, and its ultimate goal of eudaimonia, or well-being. x
  • 30
    Why Bother Being Good?
    Wickedness has its rewards, which raises the question: Why bother being good? Explore this issue with Plato, whose dialogue The Republic is a detailed description of a highly regulated, virtuous society. Plato contends that the individual achieves virtue in an analogous way. x
  • 31
    Should Government Exist?
    This section of the course considers the big question: How should society be organized? Here, perform a thought experiment that casts into doubt the moral justification of government. Then probe more deeply into this view, called philosophical anarchism, which has a spectrum of positions from benign to violent. x
  • 32
    What Justifies a Government?
    Does government arise naturally from a state of anarchy? Does this fact morally justify it? Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean Jacques Rousseau thought so. However, each of these philosophers saw different factors driving individuals to enter into the social contract. Compare their views. x
  • 33
    How Big Should Government Be?
    Explore three theories on the proper size of government, focusing on economic regulation and delivery of services. Adam Smith saw a minimal role, Karl Marx envisioned total control, and John Maynard Keynes believed that major government intervention was necessary under certain conditions. x
  • 34
    What Are the Limits of Liberty?
    Deepen your study of the role of government by examining Mill's arguments in his famous 1859 treatise, On Liberty. Apply his reasoning to three of today's hot-button issues: To what extent should marijuana, gay marriage, and offensive and inflammatory speech be legal? x
  • 35
    What Makes a Society Fair or Just?
    Enter the fray with philosophers John Rawls and Robert Nozick, who reached different conclusions about what would constitute a just society. Begin with a thought experiment based on Christopher Nolan's movie Interstellar, pondering how you might start civilization from scratch in the fairest possible way. x
  • 36
    What Is the Meaning of Life?
    Professor Johnson poses the last big question of the course: Can we answer the ultimate question? Draw on the many insights you've gained from these lectures, together with your experience thinking philosophically, to probe the meaning of life from several points of view. x

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Your professor

David Kyle Johnson

About Your Professor

David Kyle Johnson, Ph.D., University of Oklahoma
King's College
Dr. David Kyle Johnson is Associate Professor of Philosophy at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He earned a master’s degree and doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma. At Oklahoma, he won the coveted Kenneth Merrill Graduate Teaching Award. In 2011, the American Philosophical Association’s committee on public philosophy gave him an award for his ability to make philosophy accessible...
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The Big Questions of Philosophy is rated 3.9 out of 5 by 77.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Course I found this course to be very interesting and well presented so I gave it a high ranking. It will certainly make people think. However, I do have some serious issues with some of the content. In particular, the topic on free will was , to say the least, a very shallow coverage of that topic. I have not seen any serious coverage of the topic of free will that is not firmly rooted in the concepts of consciousness and self-awareness, yet he launches into his coverage of this topic before he even discusses the mind and personal identity, and if he covered the topics of subjective awareness versus objective awareness, I have to confess that I must have missed them. That's a bit like trying to describe a car without talking about wheels, an engine and a gear box! Another area of concern was his failure to discuss in any depth, the more recent developments in the field of complexity theory and emergent order which adds a completely new way of bringing order and structure and value into a complex world, and lies mid way between determinism and indeterminism. In this concept a human mind creates limited and emergent order from an infinitely complex world . It also centers this emergent order round the idea of the "self" as a form of singularity which prevents us seeing the world as others see it , at least directly, and no one can see the world as we see it. This view completely rejects the "closest continuer" nonsense that discussed in a lot of detail. He also fails to discuss the view that we see the world in terms of "fact" AND "value" . Both are highly interconnected but are separate things. The value part, which is what allows us to act on the world we see around us, leads to morality and religion etc etc. and is very different from all the concepts he discussed when talking about our religious and moral understanding. But unfortunately he did not even refer to this material, which was very unfortunate. However, to be fair, he did cover the more conventional material very thoroughly , even if he was somewhat opinionated.
Date published: 2016-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Big Questions of Philosophy For someone interested in the topic and just starting off, this is a great introduction. The individual lessons do address major questions asked by philosophers and though it gets complex the presenter does a great job in keeping it as simple as possible. He himself states that some lessons will need to be covered more than once, which helped because I did get lost sometimes and knowing it was not unusual felt better.
Date published: 2016-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Most Marvelous Course What attracted me to this course was the title of Lecture 22: "Are You Really You?" I turned to it first. I found out that not only am I possibly not really me, but I may not even exist--at least not until death! Ha ha. Very entertaining. It may go against so-called common sense, but this course will definitely stretch your mind.
Date published: 2016-07-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very thought provoking, but also very opinionated I like courses that challenge my beliefs, which requires one to be tolerant of others' intolerance. I've listened to Prof. Johnson before and appreciate his ability to point out wrong-headed thinking, but he doesn't always treat differing views with the respect they deserve. For example, in insisting that the brain and mind are entirely identical, he ignores evidence presented by Andrew Newberg in his Teach Co course The Spiritual Brain. In the same lecture, Johnson insists that the notion of souls is silly, but in God Reconsidered: Search for Truth, I present quite convincing evidence that the physical explanations for near-death experiences, death bed visions, and the like aren't scientifically grounded. I've always found philosophical materialists refuse to even look at the evidence, for the same reason they can 't accept the massive number of experiments that show ESP to be something real (it doesn't have to be supernatural, either, for reasons Dr. Dean Radin explains in The Conscious Universe). Regardless of differences, however, I found listening to Prof. Johnson very informative and rewarding and recommended this course to anyone who is open-minded about these issues.
Date published: 2016-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A very stimulating course! I had always thought Prof. Robinson's survey of philosophy ('Great Ideas of Philosophy') was my favorite course and have listened to it several times. But 'The Big Questions of Philosophy' is making me rethink this ranking. Whereas Prof. Robinson touches on the important contributors to the western tradition, Prof. Johnson emphasizes the actual doing of philosophy. 'Great Ideas' presents the great ideas, but 'The Big Questions...' spends time considering how to evaluate these ideas. I'd recommend persons interested in philosophy start with Prof. Johnson's 'The Big Questions...' and then, after digesting the philosophical thought processes move onto Prof. Robinson's survey, applying these thought processes to the ideas and concepts reviewed in 'Great Ideas...'. Both lecture series are excellently presented by two very knowledgeable individuals. The Teaching Company does the right thing by often offering these as a combined package.
Date published: 2016-07-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from straw man in action... very opinionated. the professor seems to take great delight in setting up straw man questions in order to show us how erudite he is in knocking them down...
Date published: 2016-06-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An engaging, fun and challenging ride! I have been a Great Courses customer for years but have had no previous college course in philosophy. Williams is one of the best lecturers I have seen so far. Very engaging and challenging, and he delivers the lectures with a lot of personality. For someone new to philosophy, there is a lot of terminology. He introduces terms associated with different philosophical ideas and schools of thought but always keeps a brisk pace. The early lectures introduce methods of philosophy and rational thinking, but he quickly gets to the big questions. Each lecture is focused around a question, and he will present ideas from as many as 3 different philosophers or schools of thought, examine their arguments, point out potential flaws or shortcomings, and in the process present and summarize what some of the best minds from in human history up to modern times have come up to try to answer these tough questions. He also uses information from the sciences, where relevant, such as neurology, when taking about the brain and the mind. He uses thought experiments to test different philosophical arguments. In these, he quite often uses examples from pop culture sources such as Star Trek, the Matrix, or other popular movies, etc., to great effect. Often, I found this very entertaining. And every idea discussed is subjected to the razor of careful reasoning. No sacred cows here. Don't expect easy answers! This is philosophy after all. But after completing this course, I feel I have a good start on understanding what philosophy is, how it is done, and what great thinkers have come up with while examining these many questions about reality, life, god, afterlife, the soul, morality, how society should be organized. I look forward to exploring philosophy further and will certainly pick up additional courses from this professor.
Date published: 2016-06-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Made me think This is more than an informational course. It challenges your life-long held beliefs. I did not let him take from me my belief in a higher power, a life after death and a judgement day. I do not believe that everything we do is predetermined by genetics and environment. Although they exert an influence. I still believe in personal responsibility. These are principles I have lived my life by and they have served me well. The course guidebook would greatly benefit from a glossary. Keep a dictionary handy to look up words you are not sure of. Don't bother getting the DVD; the graphics are minimal. Unless you want to be impressed by his unusually extensive wardrobe.
Date published: 2016-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Introduction to Philosophy If you have not been exposed to Philosophy before, this course will give you a great introduction to philosophical methodology. The professor introduces topics and then analyzes them. He shows how many common beliefs, held by both lay persons and philosophers in the past, are not logically sound by constructing arguments against them. He also presents his own views on these topics with supporting arguments. This is exactly what philosophy is. It is the construction of arguments that show the flaws in other arguments and, perhaps, the construction of an argument that you hope is not flawed. You may not agree with everything (or perhaps with many things) the professor says. But you will be left with many things to ponder and the challenge to think these things through on your own. I listened to this course on an i-Pod while on my daily walks. The professor held my attention through each lecture and through the entire course. His presentation is pleasantly delivered and clearly stated. I would think he is very popular with his undergraduate students. In short, I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2016-04-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Get Ready to be Uncomfortable! Before watching this course, I heard Professor Johnson interviewed on The Torch podcast. He stated that it was his goal to make people feel uncomfortable and to question their closely held beliefs. He certainly did that! One should go forth with this course and keeping that in mind. Nothing is off-limits. Perhaps I enjoyed this more than many will because I tend not to hold any beliefs dear. I don't identify with any religion, or political party. I usually enjoy when people criticize my opinions because I get a chance to rethink them with new information. It's not always comfortable, but I far prefer it over dogmatic adherence to a set of worldviews. If you feel similarly, you will probably enjoy the thought exercises presented in this course. If you do feel strongly about your religion, your politics, or some other self identifying paradigm, I would even MORE strongly recommend that you give this course a shot. After all, if someone has spent 36 lectures telling you what you already think, did you really get your moneys worth?
Date published: 2016-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Professor - Great Content I have enjoyed many of the philosophical offerings of the Teaching Company and this one ranks right up with the best. I recently encountered one of those decadal milestones and many of these questions have been occurring to me. Sharing these 36 lectures with Professor Johnson has given me additional insight into how they relate to life in general and how they might be applied to my specific existence.
Date published: 2016-02-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Another Liberal Loser If you want to listen to a mine run leftist then get this course. Totally wrong about McCarthy.
Date published: 2016-02-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointed with this course Philosphy as presented in this course seems to me somehow less than a science. I imagine that physicists, biologists and chemists might regard this as simply an exercise in semantics and perhaps more mind games than a serious search for truth.
Date published: 2016-02-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Outstanding Course, (Mostly) Wonderfully Taught This is as fine an overview of many of the 'big' topics of philosophy as I can imagine. The discussions range over metaphysics and epistemology (what exists and how we know it); the philosophy of religion (especially arguments for and against the existence of God); personal identity (are we minds? bodies? both? neither??; and by what criteria do we persist over time?); ethics and the good life; political philosophy; and (drum roll) the meaning of life. This is primarily a course on contemporary philosophy, meaning issues and arguments which have been actively discussed over the last century or so. Of course, many have roots going back millenia, and these are appropriately considered as well. At the same time, the course by no means covers all important areas. For example, a major contemporary area, philosophy of language, is almost entirely left out. (Plus, my two favorite philosophers, Nietzsche and Wittgenstein, are completely ignored! But I tried not to take this personally.) Professor Johnson is excellent in almost all respects. I have rarely heard a philosopher explain his field in both breadth and depth so clearly for a non-specialist audience, avoiding both oversimplification and obfuscation. He is highly knowledgeable, remarkably well-organized, and delivers his lectures in eloquent language which seems spontaneous even though it must have been carefully crafted. His enthusiasm and voice modulation make him a pleasure to listen to. My one significant complaint about our professor is that he often speaks as if he knows the correct answer to the unanswerable questions raised. He does regularly provide information about opposing and controversial views of other philosophers, both contemporary and historical. But these are sometimes given short shrift and dismissed as "not right", and the discussion is too often ended with a confident personal conclusion offered as if it is objectively true. For me the great attraction of philosophy is learning how to think, how to analyze problems and to move among various perspectives to gain insight and hopefully wisdom. There may be more or less attractive, more or less reasonable, more or less compelling responses to the deep questions of contemporary philosophy. There are rarely right answers. One other slight negative: Some topics, I feel, invite far more serious consideration than others. The hotly debated question of "What is knowledge?", for example, seems to me largely a red herring, a matter more of definition, of how we use the word and intuitively understand the concept, than of a search for an objective truth. (If you take the course, do read the three-page paper by Gettier, discussed in Lecture 8, on knowledge as "justified true belief" - google "the Gettier problem" - which apparently had a huge impact in this area. It seems to me to be an issue of word play and equivocation, not of deep truth, though many great minds will clearly disagree.) To be clear - these are relatively small caveats. I found the vast majority of lectures fascinating, insightful and very worthwhile. These included the discussions of faith, God, evil, personal identity, ethics, responsibility and free will, and government and liberty. While I watched the DVD, I think the audio would be almost as satisfactory. The main advantages of the DVD are the written outlines of various arguments and lists of topics mentioned. The Course Guidebook is excellent and quite complete, and includes an annotated bibliography (although, as is now usual, unfortunately no glossary or index) So, this course has my highest recommendation for any with an interest in the areas covered. Yes, you can live a wonderful and meaningful life without the formal study of philosophy. (Socrates' dictum that "the unexamined life is not worth living" and Plato's desire for "philosopher-kings" are just embarrassing arrogance.) But if you enjoy thinking deeply about what is mostly taken for granted, and wish to expand your perspectives and be able to better understand opposing points of view, this is an excellent place to start.
Date published: 2016-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from big question, good explanations Dr. Johnson makes philosophy very approachable, using examples from pop culture to make the subject more understandable. It still can get heavy at time, so it helps to not be distracted when listening to the lectures.
Date published: 2016-02-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Word analysis mainly, but with empirical input too Video download. Dr Johnson's THE BIG QUESTIONS OF PHILOSOPHY applies an ancient Western discipline to a list of "heavy" topics we often discuss in a sloppy, careless manner. More specifically, he seeks to demonstrate that a large number of commonly-used religious and normative ideas — such as God, soul, freedom, mind, the afterlife, identity, justice, and meaning — are either • self-contradictory, as in the expression "married bachelor", or • could be improved through the "abductive reasoning" methods of science whereby hypothesis are inferred from observations until they are replaced by newer theories superior in terms of testability, fruitfulness, scope, simplicity and conservatism. _________________________ If this sounds like work, it is. Still, Johnson is a good speaker and he uses many examples from well-known TV series to clarify his ideas. But first, let me compare BIG to another TGC course — Dr Grim's THE PHILOSOPHER'S TOOLKIT. TOOLKIT is an excellent course on reasoning in general. It introduces philosophy, but only as part of a larger picture where persuasion is used and abused at every level of work life. Logic, in other words, is taught as a tool. Important, but part of a larger "toolkit" of reasoning options. BIG, on the other hand, is a much more narrowly defined product that presupposes a familiarity with TOOLKIT's methods. BIG is about the application of philosophy to value-laden ideas. Granted that philosophy was once the "mother" of all sciences. Is it still useful today? Johnson thinks so. First as a huge quarry of past insights and blind-alley mistakes, it can guide. But beyond history, he believes it can help clarify the ideas that make up the common coin of our religious, ethical and scientific beliefs. He applies his method in a coherent, step-by-step manner. BIG is never vague or evasive about Johnson's results. _____________________ PRESENTATION is good for both courses. Given the dryness and abstract nature of philosophical reasoning, I would recommend TOOLKIT above BIG for younger viewers. With its has 24 lessons compared to BIG's 36, TOOLKIT is shorter and more direct. TOOLKIT's guidebook #249p# also has a useful glossary whereas BIG's #279p# does not. Refer to my review of TOOLKIT for more details. Audio platforms are sufficient for BIG. Altogether, BIG is a valuable course if the central ideas underlying Western religion and morality interest you. Are they tenable or rife with self-contradictions? However, philosophy comes down to word analysis unless empirical discoveries are introduced. If you have a scientific or mathematical bent, word analysis alone may feel like a dog chasing its tail. Fortunately, Johnson makes use of many scientific concepts too. Recommended for those of you with a taste for verbal speculation. "
Date published: 2016-02-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The Big Questions of Philosophy (David K Johnson) What a misnomer. What a wasted opportunity. Professor Johnson presents all the current faddish academic/secularist bromides, and does it in an entirely unconvincing fashion. Beginning with his assertion that philosophy is significant and fruitful, he cites the spawning of natural philosophy (the physical sciences) as an example. Yet I can imagine a scientist leaving one of his lectures and thinking “my god, I’m glad we escaped from these guys”. He violates many of his own rules. After asserting the exactness of philosophical thinking: he, for example, leaves me believing that abductive reasoning, reasoning to the best explanation, is really just a matter of opinion. He warns that we are not allowed sloppy thinking because of the harm our misbeliefs may cause others. Yet, I pity the poor young gullible minds that are subject to his ministrations. He moves on to dismiss arguments for the existence of god. He asserts that the big bang was bound to happen as a characteristic of empty space as though he knows what existed before, and dismisses the whole antrophic principle by destroying a single pathetic strawman example. Tellingly, all (all) of his examples of incorrect belief/reasoning are from the conservative-political/theistic side of the spectrum (McCarthy, the Inquisition – you know the story). He completely ignores massive twentieth century death and destruction at the hands of the secularists and the current thought control enforced at the hands of political correctness in his own sandbox. I can’t comment beyond this point because I had had all I wished to endure. Yet I’m glad that I began this course. It reminded me of why I was happy to escape from the education/academic establishment’s indoctrination, so I could do some real learning. Thanks for the opportunity to express.
Date published: 2016-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Developing practical wisdom I have taken several courses regarding Philosophy and I have found this course to be different and original (i.e, excellent). Most courses of Philosophy are about what great philosophers have said. This course shows that none school of philosophy has provided complete answers to the "big questions of philosophy". I love the concept of developing practical wisdom to reach Eudaimonia (flourishing of my life). I learned from this course that this is a kind of "impossible dream" (recalling Don Quixote), but one that it is really worthwhile.
Date published: 2016-02-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Course but beware ! I am half way through the course and enjoying it very much. However, you have to beware when the professor strays from philosophy into science, particularly when he talks about the brain and free will. He blithely talks about physical laws that imply determinism without understanding the difference between open (our body and brain) and closed systems. I highly recommend the course, but suggest that you be be highly skeptical of some of the professor's conclusions.
Date published: 2016-02-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Solid Logic The solid logic on display throughout these presentations is impressive. The range of complex philosophical issues addressed is also thorough and challenging. Lectures 1 through 10 are displayed, but not 11 through 36 which is disappointing. Seems like the website could use some work.
Date published: 2016-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course This course is one of the best that I have purchased from The Teaching Company, and I have bought quite a few. Dr. Johnson has an obvious mastery of his field and a gift for interesting and thought-provoking presentation. He clearly projects his intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm for philosophy. As a retired university professor (although from a different field of study), I can empathize with the need for both clarity and comprehensiveness in the delivery of a course, especially one that surveys such a broad field of topics under the umbrella of philosophy. He accomplishes these twin goals very well. There is, however, so much information contained within most of the lectures that I plan to revisit many of them in order to understand them better. If Dr. Johnson and I had been at the same university, I'm sure I would have been inviting him for coffee quite frequently to help me improve my novice-level grasp of many of these questions. Selfishly, I would enjoy a q&a sight for course buyers to communicate with the profs who teach the courses much as is done in other online teaching venues.
Date published: 2016-01-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Bad disappointment The first few lectures were more advocacy of a kind of naive realism than an argument for that point of view, with dismissive nods to possible alternatives, but no presentation and evaluation of arguments. His almost exclusive use of pop entertainment as a source of illustrations and examples quickly went from cute to patronizing. I gave up after 6 lectures.
Date published: 2016-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear, Concise, Enjoyable Anyone interested in critical thinking and philosophy will enjoy this course. The professor provides multiple perspectives on each of the Big Questions. The presentation is clear with numerous examples and illustrations. I wish I had a course like this back when I was in college.
Date published: 2016-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Big Quetions of Philosopy Great purchase ... Lots of knowledge packed into 36 lectures..I toughly enjoyed the course and was challenged by the presentation and the content of the course... Thank you very much...
Date published: 2016-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very stimulating presentation. At this point I have completed about half the course and look forward to watching a lecture a day until its over. I will probably go through it again after reading some of the recommended books from the bibliography. I was a philosophy minor as an undergrad in the late '60s, a very exciting time socially and intellectually. This course covers all the major questions in Western philosophy with some additional refinements since then, and makes me wish I had continued with philosophy in grad school instead of psychology. The professor seems to be well-schooled in his subject. He exhibits a fluid, well-organized presentation of the material. Some/many of the concepts can be difficult to readily grasp but he provides illuminating examples to aid clarification. His voice and physical gestures are congruent and help the flow of the presentation. I think the bibliography is very useful and I have ordered a few books to get greater depth into some of the topics, especially epistemology. I have the DVD version because I like to see and hear the lectures although I think the CD version would provide the same learning for those who don't need/want to see the lecturer.
Date published: 2016-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from PHILISOPHICAL CLARITY This course comes closest to some basic philsophical clarity than any of the others I've taken. Very well done.
Date published: 2016-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding! With over 100+ courses under my belt, I've seen a wide variety of professors and content. I completed the Metaphysics course of Dr. Johnson's a few months ago and found his teaching style engaging and his ability to think through and articulate information to the listener unprecedented. About half of this course dives into topics from the Metaphysics course which really helped to solidify the content. The topics are not for the faint of heart as he dives into what I would call the "tough questions" of life. The fact that he gives countless examples and counter examples to each concept is impressive. The man is just amazing and I would personally purchase just about anything he produced, he's that good. If you would like to better understand our world, why we are in it and perhaps and have serious ammo to combat religious and political dogma, buy the course.
Date published: 2016-01-18
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