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?

  • numbers Investigate the concepts of free will, the soul, God, and more using the tools of philosophy.
  • numbers Explore some of the biggest questions in time: Could there be an afterlife? What is the meaning of life?
  • numbers Discuss the virtues of being "good" when wickedness has its rewards.
  • numbers Look at how philosophy influences and is influenced by politics and society.
  • numbers 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 79.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing The professor is enthusiastic and engaging. However, he frequently presents his point of view as accepted fact. A good example is his lecture on the difference between brain and mind. The great thinker, Martin Rees has written that this is one of the great questions of Science to be determined. Dr. Johnson thinks he already has the answers. The most problematic part of the course is an underlying bias which has been pointed out in previous reviews. He tries to use to philosophy to justify his agenda towards high taxation. His argument is undercut by his lack of understanding of the importance of effective tax rates instead of stated tax rates. This is one of the few Teaching Co. courses where I regret the purchase.
Date published: 2018-10-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In The Top Five of 100 Courses I love this course. I have over 100 Great Courses and I liked all but one or two, however this course is so exceptional that I would rate it as one of my top five courses. It is exceptional because the subject matter is so relevant to life and so clearly explained. However let me add some background to what I just wrote. I love courses that are thought provoking. I want courses that cause me to think about what was said long after the course was finished. In fact the courses I love best are the ones that kept me awake at night thinking about something that was said in the course and this course caused some sleepless nights. I also love discovering something new in a subject I thought I had a pretty good handle on. I have other Great Courses in philosophy and science and some of the material in this course was a review, but Professor Johnson managed to throw in a lot of material that was new. In fact what led me to this course was buying and viewing his course on science fiction as philosophy. He covered things that were not in that course. I also like the way the material was presented. Professor Johnson would raise the question and then give one possible answer. Then he would point out the flaws in that answer. Then he would repeat the process with another possible answer and again the flaws. As Professor Johnson likes to say, philosophy questions are hard and remain debatable, that is why they are still in philosophy and not in some other branch of study. And my final caveat. At the end of Professor Johnson's courses he says he hopes some of the material in the course viewers disagreed with. He wants to provoke us and cause us to question our thinking and pat answers. Unfortunately I found nothing in the course I disagreed with. I am a fan of science and history. I like math. I try hard to use reason and logic. I am not religious. So the question I asked myself, if some material in this course had been objectionable for me would have I have given it a five star rating. Well if I learned anything from this course I like to think I would have, even in disagreement.
Date published: 2018-10-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Breadth and Depth! This is the third set of lectures I have purchased with Dr. Johnson. He's organization both within and between lectures facilitates understanding and helps you to see the connections across concepts. He is careful to cover major perspectives without favoring some over others - except to point out which are more sound. I fully enjoyed this series and feel that the overlap between this set of lectures and his others is valuable rather than redundant. I strongly recommend getting this set along with his other collections. Stellar work!
Date published: 2018-10-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wisdom This truly is a great course. It begins by explaining the importance and value of philosophy, and how all other branches of knowledge had their origins from it. It then moves on to reveal its secret weapon and primary tool for finding the truth in whatever field it points its spotlight on. The weapon of choice? Logical reasoning. Teaching not only the rules of validity, but also fallacies, those common mistakes in reasoning--how to spot them and avoid them, to discern truth from error. I have not made it through the whole course yet but so far I am supremely impressed with this professor of philosophy. Well worth the purchase.
Date published: 2018-09-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very interesting - but sometimes overdone Speaker is very interesting and topics are good, but some topics did not seem to be worth 30 minutes, thus there was "filler" material in some causing those lectures to seem somewhat repetitive.
Date published: 2018-04-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Depressing No soul. No free will. No God. No afterlife. Life is meaningless. These are the professor's main points. I don't know if that is right or wrong, but I found it deeply depressing.
Date published: 2018-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Thought Provoking! This course is fascinating, and full of well-resourced lectures. I recommend this highly - but you have to come with an open mind!
Date published: 2018-04-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Did not finish as found it dull I found I wasn't as interested in Philosophy as I thought I would be. Both my husband and myself only watched a few episodes.
Date published: 2018-01-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The Big Questions of Philosophy Normally, I give a class 6 lectures before I decide if I'll keep it. This one lasted one and a half. I've read all the other one star reviews and I agree with all to them. Especially the one about the lecturer seems on his own agenda. If your interested in philosophy I suggest you take "The Philosophers Toolkit" before you take this class. In my opinion its much more to the point.
Date published: 2018-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Changed my outlook on life I started this course about a month ago and listened to a lecture every day on my morning walk to, and from, work. What started out as a basic introduction to philosophy has become an almost life-changing experience from me. I was hoping that the courses would touch on the truly big questions, and it did. Do we have free will? Does God exist? Do I even exist? Nothing is left out of these courses. Although the subjects are no easy matter, everything is presented very clearly. Let me say that the answers we get to the questions are not always the most satisfying. They might not even be the true answers, but they are the best we have at the moment. Every question deserves it's own great course, but professor Johnson does an awesome job comparing different views and theories, while helping to see which ones are more thoroughly constructed. Having arrived at the end of the course my outlook on life had changed significantly. Some views that I held are now gone. This leads to a feeling of loss. However, the last lecture about the meaning of life, gives so much new energy. This course is for everyone who is not afraid of asking the big questions, but also not afraid of getting the most plausible answers.
Date published: 2018-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional! Professor Johnson explains the complex questions of philosophy in an extremely understandable way. He covers many of the major controversies and relates the main arguments in a fair, balanced and comprehensive fashion. I highly recommend this and hope he gives more courses in the future.
Date published: 2018-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting course Professor Johnson presents many challenges to previous beliefs but recognizes that the failure of an absolute proof is not a disproof.
Date published: 2017-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well worth doing I've taken this course twice and found it to be one of the best of the 45 or so courses i have taken here. Prof Johnson is very bright, articulate and logical. the topics were important and the organization was superb. it was also very challenging. I found most of his examples from his personal life and history to be amusing and even charming. But, I have one minor criticism: while i love Star Trek and appreciate the didactic value of thought experiments, I found the use of Star Trek and its transporter, the vulcan mind meld, and transfer of entire persons' intellectual beings to another body to be too far fetched to be terribly useful or convincing adjuncts to his arguments. I am aware that the future can bring what was once science fiction into the realm of reality. But the transporter, for example, seems to me to be virtually a physical impossibility. I'd venture to bet there will be no such thing invented even in the next several millennia because the idea seems to violate the laws of physics. and thus it is more a fantasy than a thought experiment. Maybe it is hubris to speculate what will be impossible in 2000 years, but certainly from my perspective today, these Star Trek technologies are so unreal as to be distracting from the arguments he was making.
Date published: 2017-10-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Subject for the Ages I've been gradually making my way through this course and am half way through it at this point. Combined with the rapid progress of science and the prominence religious/moral issues in today's body politic, these are truly very big questions indeed. Prof Johnson is both engaging and well informed. As I just finished the CD with the lectures on moral and natural evil I am inclined to mention a point that has bothered me concerning the assignment of evil to such things as hurricanes and earthquakes. It seems to me that something should be said to be evil if the perpetrator of the evil gains some selfish benefit or enjoyment from the transgression in question. But I can't see who the evil agent is in these cases of natural disaster. I would even point out that without the moving molten core of the earth's center we would not have a planetary magnetic field to speak of and the tectonic plate movements and associated earthquakes and tsunamis are concomitant with this benefit which certainly seems to help the totality of life on earth. To my mind the working of natural law is as free as moral decisions which had been determined to be preferred to suppression of moral evil in a previous lecture. I like the approach that sees the necessity of a stormy day as prerequisite to the abundant days of calm and propitious. We don't call the night evil even though one day in the distant past we may have thought it so, but understanding and technology has carried us out of the dark just as prediction and control of weather, earthquakes and other natural disasters will some day in an optimistic future. Anyway, I say get this class and give the big questions some big consideration.
Date published: 2017-09-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Philosophy with a conclusion. Unlike a course by say Daniel Robinson, Prof. Johnson does not lecture with impartial presentation. In his view questions such as the rationality of believing in God have been determined. This is going to offend some people. I, however happen to agree with him and follow his arguments most of the time.
Date published: 2017-08-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Largely Dissappointing The professor is excellent at presenting the information in a clear and manageable manner; I must grant him that. However, I was expecting objective overview of some of philosophy's greatest ideas, letting them speak largely for themselves. Unfortunately, this kind of overview largely ceased after the first few lectures, which were quite good. The rest are more of a manifesto about why the professor feels he is right and all other ideas are wrong. I am only a high school senior and I frequently found myself with unaddressed philosophical objections to his arguments. Furthermore, he presented highly debatable evidence in a matter-of-fact manner and directly contradicted other experts I have heard from the Great Courses.
Date published: 2017-07-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing What I expected was an objective critical analysis of the big questions of philosophy. This course falls far short of being objective and critical, nor would I call it an analysis. In attempting to present his material, Mr. Johnson demonstrates an abysmal ignorance of the fundamental principals and the current state of theoretical physics, particle physics, quantum mechanics, general relativity, biology, mathematics and most other sciences from which he includes material, and yet he relies on these subjects in formulating his arguments. He has a merely descriptive knowledge of the subjects he draws from, yet uses this skim-the-surface treatment to draw firm and settled conclusions. This is not the most serious transgression of the course. Mr. Johnson repeatedly reaches settled positions on questions that are far from settled in science and philosophy. And on many occasions he begins with premises assumed as fact, but which are not themselves settled in the sciences. Mr. Johnson cherry-picks presumed facts from those scientific subjects, and then uses this one bowl of cherries to argue himself into his obviously biased conclusions. How was it said--the madman reasons rightly from wrong premises? He alludes to having acquired some knowledge of, and used, mathematics in his studies, which may earn him acclaim in philosophy circles, but I don't think he would recognize a metric tensor if it walked into the room and distorted the spacetime around him. Mind you, I do not claim that philosophical study requires full-depth understanding of all the sciences. But to reach settled conclusions of arguments while feigning the depth of knowledge required to reach them is inexcusable and runs counter to the goals of philosophy as I understand them. My expectation was that a proper philosophical treatment of the chosen issues would be objective and analytical, and my a priori understanding was that the mission of philosophy is to critically analyze (analytically critique?), and not to settle on answers to all the questions. Mr. Johnson states straight away that he declines to offer up that he "does philosophy" when he is in public venues such as dinner parties. However, his numerous attempts at self-promotion tend me away from that belief, and they detract from the success of the course. His approaches and directed conclusions are obviously left-leaning, which smacks of the unfortunate direction the modern university is taking, self-proclaimed as progressive, and politically correct. "Doing philosophy," as Mr. Johnson puts it, correctly, has no room for this bias in its method. I would venture to say that Mr. Johnson will never recognize these biases, any more than a fish will ever discover water. If you are looking for a quick run-through of the issues listed for this course, with only some of the viewpoints and arguments included, if you can sort through for yourself the biases in the premises, analyses and conclusions, and if you can fill in for yourself the needed, missing scientific and mathematical material, then by all means purchase this course. If you are looking for an unbiased critical treatment of the issues, then look elsewhere. Unfortunately, I purchased Exploring Metaphysics before listening to this course. It suffers from many of the same deficiencies. If this is where modern philosophy has arrived in our modern, progressive world, then it is in deep trouble. Help, Daniel Robinson! Come save us! The Great Courses: this course does not belong in your lineup, and indicates a lack of proper vetting on your part. This is the first time, in more than 50 courses I have purchased, that I have not been pleased, refreshed and enlightened by the presentation of a course.
Date published: 2017-07-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Polemical, not educational Time does not permit a lengthy analysis, but still it will be clear to many of those experienced in the field that this course lacks significant features and has definable defects when compared to the typical Teaching Company offering. For example, it misstates relevant factors when dealing with the positions it opposes, e.g., Paul's vision on the Damascus Road was, according to the lecturer, a "private" experience (and thus, perhaps, an occurrence of epilepsy), yet the relevant primary source document (Christian New Testament) indicates at least twice that others also shared in aspects of the event, that is, it was not purely private. And so it goes, with a plethora of inadequate presentations, many of which have their roots in an unexamined devotion to David Hume whose reasoning, and consequent conclusions, are critiqued in many thoughtful presentations (e.g., Hume's Abject Failure, Oxford University Press). Of course, those whose beliefs are confirmed by this course will extol its virtues (a tendency extant, unfortunately, in all of us); still, when dealing with these highly debatable subjects, many would see a superior approach to consist of a more well-rounded presentation that adequately and accurately presents the prevalent schools of thought and then leaves it to the listeners to reach their own conclusions (many listeners can, after-all, think for themselves). Instead, time and again the lecturer simply concludes with an assertion of one position, which is, apparently, his own. As a result, what we really have here is largely polemical not educational.
Date published: 2017-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from First course I bought from the Great course and since then I have bought many more.
Date published: 2017-06-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing Hopelessly bogged down in quotes, terminology and confusing examples. Instructor gives the impression that he has an agenda, other than helping you become wise.
Date published: 2017-06-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Mostly Satisfied; Disappointed about One Thing I am a scientist with broad interests and only a moderate knowledge of philosophy. The lecturer, David Johnson from U. of Oklahoma, is clearly knowledgeable and is a good teacher. He incorporates Star Trek stories and some other antics in his lectures, making them more intriguing for some students. So I learned a lot. A key point to understand is that Dr. Johnson has strong opinions about some of the big questions in philosophy, which might upset some viewers who would prefer a very balanced approach. Johnson's biases about the answers to these big questions did not trouble (me except in one area) because I can look past a bias if enough material is presented on both sides of an issue. Johnson irked me, however, by his lack of more balance in the vital question as to whether the universe has been fine-tuned for life. His arguments about an unreasonable range of heights for a basketball player were very misleading as were his comments about the size of a square. These comments by Johnson were so far off the mark that I wonder if he truly misunderstands the side of the argument about how finely tuned several constants of nature appear to be. I hope that at some time in the future Johnson would consider rethinking that lecture, then creating a more detailed and more balanced presentation citing key contributors and key facts on both sides of this fine-tuning controversy. The importance, of course, is that the conclusion drawn about whether the universe has been fine-tuned for life profoundly may affect one's view about the ultimate meaning of our existence.
Date published: 2017-05-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good Questions, Unsatisfactory Answers At its best, philosophy can help us make our thinking more precise through honest, careful analysis, thus leading to a deeper understanding of life. At its worst, philosophy attempts to persuade us with silly arguments which are logically consistent, but out of touch with reality. Unfortunately, IMO, this course largely falls into the second category. For example, in the section on epistemology, Professor Johnson rightfully argues against blind religious faith, i.e. faith without justification. As a substitute, however, he essentially makes an Appeal to Authority by insisting that we only trust the "experts", thus substituting one type of blind faith for another. In the section on the mind, he claims that free will is an illusion, arguing instead that our genetics and life experiences determine our behavior such that criminals shouldn't be punished for their actions. If this is true, then the later sections of the course regarding ethics and morality are superfluous, since we don't have the capacity to make moral choices. He eventually presents the proper counter-argument to reductionist analysis, i.e. emergent properties, but does so in a trivial fashion. Similarly, Professor Johnson struggles with the fact that everything changes with time, arguing that an adult is the "same" person as they were when they were an eight year old child. In addition to arriving at many unsophisticated conclusions, I found Professor Johnson's method of analysis to be sorely lacking, frequently relying on silly "thought experiments" based upon popular science fiction movies and TV shows such as The Matrix and Star Trek. IMO, there are enough real life examples to draw upon such that talking about people exchanging brains and reconstituting as two separate people is a waste of time. On the positive side, Professor Johnson is an enthusiastic lecturer who is very comfortable in front of the camera. However, I believe that the courses done by Professor Grim which cover many of the same topics provide much better analysis and more realistic answers to the Big Questions of Philosophy.
Date published: 2017-05-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Terrible Course A terrible course in all respects. The teacher is hideously bad. This is not philosophy at all; it is worse than pop psychology.
Date published: 2017-03-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from .I bought the DVD disc for this course. My Imac quit so I had to purchase a new one. Now I find my new Imac has no disc player. I have tried repeatedly to stream the course but have been unable to do so. I am very frustrated. Can I get help?
Date published: 2017-02-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great lectures, but heavily biased It has taken me a long time to decide how to review this series. I guess that means the lectures were challenging and thought-provoking, which is good. I bought the audio download and listened to it in my car. It worked great! Every lecture was well-organized, and the professor has a very pleasant and engaging speaking style. He also presents the questions and supports his conclusions effectively. So far, so good. The first several lectures were especially valuable, as he explained deduction and induction and the importance of careful reasoning when making important decisions. But in many of the subsequent lectures, I felt like he abandoned careful reasoning in order to persuade the listening to agree with his personal conclusions. Thus, the title of the series is misleading; rather than, "Big Questions of Philosophy," a more accurate title would be, "My Answers to the Big Questions of Philosophy, and You're a Fool If You Don't Agree With Me." Having said that, it's a good series. Caveat: beware of making permanent life decisions regarding life and eternity on the basis of a lecture you heard once from a philosophy professor.
Date published: 2017-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good insight Thank You ! Dr. David Johnson for your beautiful thoughts of what is.
Date published: 2017-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific topics, well presented Look forward to each new lecture and the discussions with my husband that follow.
Date published: 2017-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Big Questions of Philosophy I bought this a month ago and have been very happy with it so far. The lecturer is very interesting and sound very capable.
Date published: 2017-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from ....but in a good way. I watched all 36 episodes of this course, and I feel as if David Kyle Johnson threw me off a seven story parking garage and then kicked me in the ribs two or three times....but not in a bad way. I think I needed to be shaken up a bit since I was becoming too dogmatic and stubborn while being totally uninformed at the same time. Now I have to rethink everything from knowledge to souls to God to ethics to government to mind. And I need to watch some Star Trek. Before this course I had never heard of Start Trek, and when DKJ brought it up, I thought, "what is he talking about?" Then he said, "shame on you for not knowing Star Trek" (that's a paraphrase, not a direct quote). So, then I had some shame to deal with. But now I'm going to watch Star Trek. DKJ also does a Leonard Nimoy impression -- I don't remember which episode it was...somewhere in the middle. I've noticed that many recent Great Courses Professor seem a bit stiff walking around the "classroom". DKJ is the exception. He's very natural in front of the camera, and while I think he's reading a teleprompter, he does it very naturally. My point is that he's a good presenter, probably one of the better ones on this website. His course is also exceptionally organized -- one topic moves to the next in a smooth progression. I watched these episodes, but I think audio would be fine. What will you miss if you listen instead of watch? You will miss DKJ's snazzy suits. He has a pretty good fashion sense. His ties match his shirt nicely. I wondered if those were his suits or if The Great Courses simply has some talented wardrobe people on staff. I don't know. You'll also miss the virtual "classroom", which has some unusual features. For example, there is a desk with chair as well as a padded chair. DKJ never uses these items of furniture. I could be wrong, but I thought there was some rule that said if a chair appeared in the first episode, it had to be used by the 36th episode. Also, on the desk is a clock that doesn't work. It said 4:50 for the entire course! Early on, I was using that clock, and as a result was late to an appointment. There are also some unusual decorations that are not germane to this course, so I will omit further reference to them. If you have the audio version of this course, they won't trouble you. So, I recommend this course. DKJ presents the material clearly in a way that makes sense to me. He would explain a particular philosophical position, and I would think to myself, "yeah, that makes a lot of sense." And then he would say "But" and proceed to explain why there might be some problems. Lots of "Buts".
Date published: 2016-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course Loved the course (Audio version). Professor Johnson is a great presenter and has organized a highly challenging course. He follows a solid intro in logic with a deconstruction of spiritual/religious beliefs in God, freewill, the soul, and the afterlife. The immersion in philosophical materialism leaves a picture of a brute deterministic universe, and I can't say that the professor's last lecture on finding meaning in such a universe or his hope in future scientific breakthroughs are any real consolation. But contrast this with his discusssion on ethics and government grounded in old school philosophy and enlightenment values. The phenomenal world of human consciousness, ethics, values, passions, imagination is still so incommensurate with an implacable deterministic universe. This is where a door remains open for me. Two more thoughts. Because of its high degree of difficulty and current dominance, scientific ideology cannot be reenvisioned from an outside critical viewpoint. Hence, its proponents are starting to totalize their scope and overexaggerate their capabilities: for example, the idealized call to extend life through science, technology, and medicine versus the sad reality of what many people are facing as they live longer and longer. Second thought, please professor, does every example have to come from Big-Bang-Theory culture and behavioristic thought experiments? It points to a sad flattening out of culture and humanities. Nevertheless, for the ideas and challenges that Professor Johnson presents, I give him and his course an excellent rating.
Date published: 2016-11-03
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