thinking about stuff

Philosophy 14
Introduction to Philosophy: Nature of Reality

Winter 2018
When: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2-3:20p
Where: CSB 002

Instructor: Jonathan Cohen
email: my last name, followed by the at sign, followed by
Office hours: Thursdays 10-11:30 and by appointment, in H&SS 7010

TAs: Rosalind Chaplin
Office hours: Tuesdays, 11a-1p in H&SS 7055

Jonathan Knutzen
Office hours: Wednesdays, 1:30p-3:30p in in H&SS 7055


As its title suggests, this course will be an introduction to some of the Big Questions about the nature of reality, what kinds of things there are in the world, and how they are related to one another. These are some of the most exciting and enduring issues in the history of thought, and I hope this brief exposure to them will inspire you and whet your intellectual appetite.

Besides exposing you to classic philosophical puzzles, the course will provide you with plenty of opportunities to hone your critical argumentative skills. Because philosophical texts are sometimes difficult for beginning students (and for their professors!), the course will be relatively challenging for an introductory level class. But if you put in the effort, I know you will learn much, and hope you will find it rewarding.

I won't be presupposing prior knowledge of the subject matter or exposure to philosophical reading/writing/arguing. I will be presupposing that you are intellectually curious and eager to delve into these fascinating issues together.

Course requirements and grading

The course requirements include an in-class midterm (normal class time on Thursday 8 February), a final exam (at the registrar assigned time of Thursday 22 March, 3:00-5:59pm), and a final essay which will be due on the last day of class (i.e., beginning of class on Thursday 15 March).

You'll need to bring your own bluebooks for the midterm and final; please mark these in your calendars and plan accordingly.

Prompts for the final essay will be distributed in advance.

Grades will be calculated by the following breakdown:

Lectures and discussion sections

My job in lectures is to explain some of the main issues and stimulate discussion in ways that go beyond what you could learn from the reading alone. Therefore, it will be impossible to do well in the course with anything less than very regular attendance at the lectures.

Discussion sections are your opportunity to get into the nitty gritty of the arguments, and to engage in the philosophical back and forth we typically won't have enough time for in lectures; in short, this is where much of the real learning will happen. Attendance will be taken.


There will be no make-up examinations except in cases of serious illness or emergency (supported by proper documentation).


Use of laptops, tablets, and phones won't be permitted in class, except in special cases. Contact me for permission if you have specific reasons why you will need to use any of these devices.

Academic Integrity

Violations of academic integrity will not be tolerated in this course; violators will receive an F on at least the relevant assignment and possibly the course, and will be subjected to UCSD's disciplinary procedures (which could result in penalties including permanent explusion from the university).

You are responsible for knowing and adhering to the UCSD Policy on Integrity in all respects. In particular, you may not cause or allow your work for this course to resemble that of any other person, and all use of the ideas or words of anyone other than a paper's author must be acknowledged properly. I don't care a huge amount about specific citation formats; I do care a huge amount that sources are acknowledged. As far as collaboration goes, it's fine (it's encouraged) to talk about the philosophical issues with other students or anyone else you like; but when it is time to write up an essay you should do so entirely by yourself. If you have any questions about the Policy on Integrity or how to follow it (e.g., if you are unsure how to cite ideas from other sources) please ask me! I am very happy to help prevent real or apparent violations of academic integrity before they occur, and very unhappy to discover that they have occured. (As you may have noticed, I feel very strongly about this issue.)

To ensure standards of academic integrity are met, I'll ask you, as a condition on taking this course, to run all of your assigned work for the course through, which checks your paper for textual similarity to all of the other papers in its databases. (Your submitted papers will also be included as source documents in the reference database, solely for the purpose of detecting plagiarism.)

To get started with the system, please see the instructions at You'll need the class name (Nature of Reality, Winter 2018), class ID (17062443) and the enrollment key (reality).


I'm making all readings for the course available at the UCSD electronic course reserves. There are no books to buy.

Reserves are available from off-campus; for instructions, see

I'll announce reading assignments for each class in the prior one, adjusting our reading schedule to the pace at which we're moving through the material. It is essential that you keep up; you won't get much out of the class (and won't do well in it) if you don't stay on top of the reading.

Tentative Syllabus

(This schedule is a bit optimistic; I may change things up on the fly depending on how we're progressing through things.)
weeks topic readings
1-2 Does God exist? Anselm, Proslogion, chapters II, III, IV
Gaunilo, A Reply to the Foregoing by a Certain Writer on Behalf of the Fool
Rowe, "The Cosmological Argument", ch II
Reichenbach, "Cosmological Argument", sections 3 and 5
Paley, Natural Theology, chapters I-II
Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, parts 5 and 7
*Sober, "The Design Argument" pp1-12
3-4 Paradoxes of motion Huggett, "Zeno's Paradoxes"
Black, "Achilles and the Tortoise"
*Benacerraf, "Tasks, Super-Tasks, and Modern Eleatics"
5-6 What makes you you? Locke: "Of Identity and Diversity," chapter 27, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
Parfit, "Personal Identity"
Williams, "Personal identity and individuation"
7-8 Minds, bodies, and computers Block,"The Mind as the Software of the Brain"
Turing, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence"
Searle, "Minds, Brains and Programs"
9-10 Thinking (somewhat) precisely about vagueness Russell, "Vagueness"
Keefe and Smith, "Introduction: Theories of Vagueness" p2-26
Fine, "Vagueness, Truth, and Logic"