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Course Categories

To complete the Philosophy Major, the PPE Major, or any of the other degree credentials in Philosophy, students need to take a certain number of courses from various categories. This page contains a specification of the course codes used at the Philosophy Department, the various course categories, and examples or courses that fall into these.

Course Codes

Philosophy courses are numbered in a complicated, but systematic way. If you know the key, the course code reveals exactly what distribution requirement the course serves to meet. You can also find this out for any course that is offered by looking at the Present and Future Courses page and the Past Courses page, so there is no need for you to obsess over this. (But we empathize if you do.)

The Basics

(Afficionados may note the distinction between using numerals and mentioning them observed below.)

  • Unless it is offered for the YIF programme only, a Philosophy course code always starts with the three letters “PHI“, followed by a dash ().
  • The first digit of the course code indicates level, roughly:
    • If the first digit of the code represents the number 1, this indicates that the course is a mandatory course – one that students should take early on.
    • Courses whose code begins with ‘2‘ are courses that introduce students to new areas. They should be taken in semesters 2-4.
    • Courses that are further advanced and sometimes have prerequisites associated with them begin with ‘3‘. Typically, students would take such courses in semesters 4-6 and during the Ashoka Scholars Programme (ASP).
    • If the first digit of a course code stands for a 4, the course offered is for advanced students. These are typically students who do or intend to pursue an Advanced Major during their ASP or students who have a special interest in this particular area and have already taken an introductory course in it.
  • The other three digits code for area of philosophical research and course category (see below). If you have nothing else to do, the following is the system, spelled out for the 2000 level (the assignment of areas at the 3000 and the 4000 level are exactly parallel). The following is the key:
    • CC: Contemporary Core 
    • EO: Elective Only
    • HW: History of Western Philosophy
    • IN: Indian and Non-Western Philosophy
from course #  to course # area of philosophical research requirement met (all can be Electives)
2000 2039 Metaphysics  CC
2040 2059 Metaphysics  EO
2060 2089 Philosophy of Logic EO
2090 2109 Non-Western & Non-Indian IN
2110 2119 Non-Western & Non-Indian EO
2120 2159 Epistemology CC
2160 2179 Epistemology EO
2180 2219 Philosophy of Mind CC
2220 2239 Philosophy of Mind EO
2240 2279 Philosophy of Science CC
2280 2299 Philosophy of Science EO
2300 2339 Philosophy of Language CC
2340 2359 Philosophy of Language EO
2360 2404 Indian Philosophy IN
2405 2419 Indian Philosophy EO
2420 2549 History of Western Philosophy HW
2550 2599 History of Western Philosophy EO
2600 2617 Normative Ethics CC
2618 2629 Normative Ethics EO
2630 2647 Metaethics CC
2648 2659 Metaethics EO
2660 2677 Applied Ethics CC
2678 2689 Applied Ethics EO
2690 2714 Topics in Ethics CC
2715 2729 Topics in Ethics EO
2730 2754 Ethics Misc CC
2755 2769 Ethics Misc EO
2770 2809 Social and Political Philosophy CC
2810 2829 Social and Political Philosophy EO
2830 2869 Aesthetics / Philosophy of Art & Literature CC
2870 2889 Aesthetics / Philosophy of Art & Literature EO
2890 2909 Philosophy of Education EO
2910 2929 Philosophy of Religion EO
2930 2949 Philosophy of Law EO
2950 2999 Various Electives EO


Required Courses

PHI-1000: Introduction to Philosophy

This introductory course is the gateway course for the philosophy major. It provides a problem based introduction to philosophy, drawing on solutions offered in both the Indian and Western traditions. Topics may include personal identity, the nature and limits of knowledge and how we ought to act. The course is offered every semester by various instructors. The following is the description of the course as taught by Prof. Aditi Chaturvedi:

“There are nowadays professors of philosophy but not philosophers…yet philosophy is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live.” In this course, we will take Thoreau’s words seriously and read a range of philosophical texts with an eye not just to mastering the language and methods of philosophy but also seeing why philosophy matters in our everyday lives. You will be introduced to the major branches of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics through texts from various time periods and philosophical traditions. We will look at fundamental philosophical questions not only for the sake of answers but also for the sake of the questions themselves. We will see why even the most abstruse of these questions is significant and merits our serious reflection.

PHI-1060: Symbolic Logic

This course is an introduction to symbolic deductive logic, which is concerned primarily with the study of valid deductive inference. It introduces the student to the formal languages of sentential logic (in which the fundamental units of analysis are sentences) and first-order predicate logic (in which the fundamental units of analysis are terms and predicates). It covers translation of sentences of English into these formal languages. It also introduces the student to a number of important logical concepts, including validity, tautology, contradiction, equivalence, consistency, and identity. Finally, it covers several important tools for showing when these concepts do and do not apply, such as truth tables, truth trees, models, and derivations. The course is offered every semester.

Indian and Non-Western Philosophy

The following are courses that may be offered in this or similar form. Course codes are provided where available.

PHI-2370: Introduction to Indian Philosophy

This course introduces the so-called ‘Six Schools of Classical Indian Philosophy’: Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika, concerned with Logic and Epistemology, Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta, involving exegesis of the ritual and spiritual sections of the Veda, and Sāṃkhya and Yoga, concerned with the theory and practice of meditative absorption. It then looks at Jainism, the materialism and scepticism of the Cārvākas, and the four schools of Indian Buddhist Philosophy.

PHI-2400: Themes in Indian Philosophy

A survey of some key themes in classical Indian philosophy: value, knowledge, reasoning, word, world, self and ultimates. Students will both encounter something of the wide range of classical Indian philosophical concerns, and also learn to address the argumentative details of the Indian debates on these topics.

Indian Metaphysics and Epistemology

This course will look at some of the philosophical positions taken by the realist schools of Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Mīmāṃsā and Jainism, and the arguments used to support them against Buddhist idealism and nominalism. The specialization of Nyāya was logic and epistemology, that of Vaiśeṣika was ontology, and that of Mīmāṃsā was hermeneutics.

Indian Philosophy of Religion

The course will consider Indian arguments for and against the existence of God and the continuation of life after death. It will also examine what the various religio-philosophical traditions of India meant by liberation / enlightenment (mokṣa, nirvāṇa, apavarga, niḥśreyasa). Theistic and non-theistic theories of liberation will be contrasted, and a question that arose for the former – the relation of liberated souls to God – will be engaged with.

PHI-2360 Buddhist Philosophy

This course will look at the four schools of Indian Buddhist Philosophy (Vaibhāṣika, Sautrāntika, Yogācāra and Madhyamaka) and the positions they took on issues such as the self, realism versus idealism, momentariness versus persistence, perception, inference, the existence of universals, the mind-body problem and the philosophy of language.


The course is structured chronologically, from the Classical Advaita Vedānta of Gauḍapāda, Śaṃkara and Mandana Miśra, to Vijñānabhikṣu, to Dharmarāja, to K. C. Bhattacaryya, Vivekānanda and Sri Aurobindo. We will examine Advaita Vedānta’s metaphysics, its theory of value, of self-realization, the role it gave to meditation, and its debates with other schools (including other varieties of Vedānta).

Sāṃkhya and Yoga

Classical Yoga lays out an eightfold psychological path to liberation, and Sāṃkhya offers an ontology and a cosmogony that was inspired by the Yogic practice of meditative absorption. The course will examine these systems and their debates with other schools, such as that between the Sāṃkhya /Yoga view that the world evolves by a top-down process from a primordial subtle matter, and the Nyāya/Vaiśeṣika view that the world is built up out of atoms.

Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava Philosophy

The course will investigate the Metaphysics, Epistemology and Soteriology of Śaivism and Vaiṣṇavism. On the Śaiva side we will concentrate on the non-dualistic tradition of Somānanda, Utpaladeva, Abhinavagupta and Kṣemarāja. On the Vaiṣṇava side, we will concentrate on the two Vedāntic traditions of Viśiṣṭādvaita and Dvaita.

The Self in Indian Philosophy

Perhaps the primary point of contention in the debates between the classical Indian traditions of Philosophy was the question of the self. For the Brahminical schools we have, or rather are, an eternal immaterial soul. For the Buddhists, far from being eternal, we are something different in every single moment. For the Cārvākas we are merely the body. We will look at the debates between the various darśanas on this question of the existence and nature of the self. We will also draw on parallel debates in Western Philosophy.

History of Western Philosophy

PHI-2422: Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy

When we consider that no one actually believes that everything is made out of water or that women have fewer teeth or that slavery is natural or that fava beans contain souls, we might wonder why we’re even bothering with these 2500-year-old beliefs. You will, hopefully, leave this class with an answer to that question. We will consider questions relating to (1) how we should live as individuals and in societies (2) knowledge, belief, and scepticism, (3)causality and nature and, finally, (4) fate and freedom. In considering these questions we will see not only how Plato, Aristotle, and their followers radically shaped the trajectory of later thought but also how the questions they raised and the answers they provided continue to challenge us, guide us, and broaden the problem-space of philosophy.

PHI-2450: Early Modern European Philosophy

Much of the philosophy that emerged during the early modern period (17th and 18th centuries) can be seen as a response to the sceptical challenge to knowledge as well as to the challenge to find a scientific method appropriate to the study of the natural world. In this course we will see how philosophers such as Cavendish, Conway, Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, du Chatelet, Berkeley, Hume and Reid responded to these challenges. We will consider among other questions: what distinguishes knowledge from mere opinion?; what is causation?; what or who is God?; what is the relationship between the mind and the body?; do we have free will?

The British Empiricists
This course surveys the central theoretical works of John Locke (1632-1704), George Berkeley (1685-1753), and David Hume (1711-1776). We will focus on their contributions to epistemology and metaphysics. In particular, we will focus on their empiricism — that all ideas and knowledge must be derived from experience — and on Locke’s denial that there are joints of nature, Berkeley’s denial of a mind-independent world, and Hume’s denial of the self.

The Continental Rationalists
The three most influential proponents of rationalism have been Rene Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and G.W. Leibniz. This course examines the development of their metaphysical and epistemological doctrines, which, in contrast to the British Empiricists, is distinguished by the extent of what they thought we could discern through reason alone. Topics include the distinctively rationalist treatment of philosophical method, skepticism, knowledge, the nature of substance, mind-body relations, and the metaphysical foundations of science.

PHI-2485: Kant

This course is an introduction to Immanuel Kant’s epistemology and metaphysics through an intensive study of his Critique of Pure Reason. Topics to be covered include the relation between experience and concepts, the nature of space and time, the self and the unity of the thinking subject, and the doctrine of transcendental idealism.

PHI-2570: Existentialism and Ethics

The goal of the course is to provide an overview of the work of many of the great philosophers and writers of the existentialist (and some of the phenomenological) tradition: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Kafka, Heidegger, Camus, Sartre, De Beauvoir, Ishiguro, Achebe, and others. We will explore how each of these thinkers investigated the central philosophical problems that stand at the center of human existence: the nature and meaning of truth; the question of human nature, goodness and evil; the nature and meaning of suffering; the possibility, nature and status of ordinary and extraordinary experience; the meaning of love and life; the nature of freedom; the problem and pervasiveness of anxiety; the meaning of death; the nature of responsibility, both to ourselves and others; etc.

Contemporary Core

PHI-2000: Metaphysics

Metaphysics concerns the nature of reality, considered at the most abstract and general level. This course covers classic and contemporary debates concerning existence, universals and particulars, causation, and identity.

PHI-2300: Philosophy of Language

This course covers the key ideas and arguments developed in the philosophy of language concerning meaning and reference since the seminal work of Gottlob Frege. These ideas have been very influential not only for the philosophy of language but for linguistics and the philosophy of mind. Topics include Frege’s puzzle, Russell’s theory of descriptions, the causal theory of reference, indexicals and demonstratives (Kaplan), and key distinctions such as between the analytic/synthetic (Quine, Strawson), referential/attributive (Donnellan, Kripke), and semantic/pragmatic (Grice).

PHI-2120: Epistemology
This course provides an introduction to the theory of knowledge. In particular, we will focus on the nature, sources, structure and limitations of knowledge. Topics include the analysis of knowledge, the problem of induction, a priori knowledge, skepticism about the external world, sensitivity and safety, the regress of reasons, foundational vs. coherence views, and internalism vs. externalism.

PHI-2180: Philosophy of Mind

This course surveys the mind/body problem, the nature of consciousness, and mental content. We start with the mind/body problem and Cartesian dualism. We will then critically explore a range of responses to the problem such as Ryle’s behaviourism, Smart’s identity theory, Davidson’s anomalous monism and Putnam’s functionalism (with special attention to Jackson’s Knowledge Argument against functionalism). We will then consider whether consciousness poses a problem for physicalism by looking at Kripke’s modal arguments and Levine’s explanatory gap. Lastly, we will consider whether intentionality is the mark of the mental and the internalism/externalism debate about mental content.

PHI-3185: Philosophy of Perception

We ordinarily take perception to present the world to us. But illusions and hallucinations seem to show that this cannot be so. In this course, we will frame the problem of perception and critically assess influential responses to it. We will canvass a range of views of the metaphysics of perceptual experience, such as idealism, the sense datum theory, adverbialism, intentionalism, and naive realism. We will also assess the consequences of these views for the epistemology of perception. We will draw on material from Strawson, Moore, Ducasse, Anscombe, Harman, Peacocke, Martin and Travis among others.

PHI-2240: Philosophy of Science

Philosophy of Science is a (comparatively) young sub-discipline of philosophy. Its aim is to reflect on the fundamental concepts and conceptions, aims, methods, and presuppositions of the various sciences and of the scientific enterprise in general. Questions that fall into the purview of Philosophy of Science include: What distinguishes science and scientific knowledge from pseudo-science, ordinary knowledge and, perhaps, from meaningless metaphysics? How are we to characterize scientific progress? Are there in fact atoms, superstrings, or properties like biological fitness and do these items exist in the same way as chairs, tables, human beings, and cars? What speaks in favor of, what against such a view? What is a scientific explanation? Is there a scientific method? Are scientific observations theory-dependent and would this be a problem? What is causation? Can scientific theories be inductively confirmed or falsified?

In this course, we look at various of these questions and then explore philosophical issues that arise in the specific sciences. Possible areas of interest are e.g.: Philosophy of Space-Time, Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics, Philosophy of Evolotionary Biology, Philosophy of Nanoscience, Philosophy of History, and Philosophy of the Cognitive (Neuro-) Sciences.

PHI-2730: Introduction to Ethics

This course is an introduction to the three main fields of ethics: metaethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics. Students will learn about key contemporary debates in ethics and will read select important works in the history of ethics.

PHI-2600: Normative Ethics

Normative ethics is about what is right and wrong, good and bad, and virtuous and vicious. This course will examine the three main theories in normative ethics: deontological, consequentialist, and virtue. We will learn the basics of these three theories, and then investigate topics like whether some are better than others, what sets the theories apart from each other, and whether other sorts of theories might make sense. Readings will be drawn from contemporary authors like Julia Driver, Onora O’Neill, Christine Korsgaard, and J.J.C. Smart.

Contemporary Ethics

This course surveys some of the major currents of contemporary ethical theory, such as anti-realism and non-cognitivism, subjectivism, consequentialism, and neo-Kantian contractualism. Topics include the nature of ethical value, desires and reasons for actions, and moral luck.

PHI-2770: Political Philosophy

This course covers the central concepts of contemporary political philosophy: liberty (Mill, Berlin), equality (Williams, Cohen), justice (Plato, Rawls, Sen), rights (Locke, Hart), democracy (Rousseau) and authority (Hobbes). During the course, we will apply these concepts to debates regarding free-speech, secularism, and quotas/reservations.

PHI-2830: Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art

In this course we will undertake an examination of the key areas of contention in debates within western aesthetics and the philosophy of art. The issues that we will study include the definition of art, the ontology of artworks, aesthetic evaluation, and morality and art. Our class discussions will be supplemented with examples from the fine arts and we will also undertake field trips to museums, galleries, and performances in Delhi in addition to screenings and listening sessions on campus.


In general, a Philosophy Elective is a philosophy course that a student takes which does not fulfill a particular distribution requirement for them. Such a course can be either a course from the Elective Only category or it is a course that would serve to fulfill a distribution requirement, but does not in fact so serve because all the requirements have already been or will be met by other courses taken. Any course other than the required courses can in principle count as an elective. Below is a selection of possible courses that are or would be Electives Only, i.e. courses that cannot count as anything but as an elective.

PHI-3088-1: Modal Logic and Many-Valued Logical Systems

This course provides an introduction to modal logic, with a special emphasis on the model theory of different systems of modal logic. In addition to the logics of necessity and possibility, the course covers the logics of belief and knowledge, of time, and of obligation. Topics include sentential and quantified modal logic, soundness, completeness, and characterization results for alternative systems. Modal logic has important applications in philosophy, theoretical computer science, and linguistics.

Advanced Logic

This course covers the most philosophically significant results of logic. Topics include Turing’s definition of mechanical computability, Gödel’s first and second incompleteness theorems, and Tarski’s theorem for formalised languages.

Philosophy of Film

Selected topics in analytic philosophy of film, including film as art, the nature of film, documentary films, narration and emotion in film, film criticism, and films’ relations to knowledge and morality.

PHI-2870: Bad Music

I can’t stand Coldplay. There’s a good chance it’s one of your favourite bands. This isn’t really surprising: everyone has different tastes when it comes to art. Aesthetic disagreements usually get relegated to the basket of things people ‘agree to disagree’ about. In this course, we’ll take a different approach. We’ll ask ourselves why we disagree about music and we will ask ourselves what this tells us about music, society, and ourselves. Is there such a thing as objectively bad music? Are some people better judges than others? Or is nothing to be disputed when it comes to taste? How are tastes even formed? Can tastes be reduced to class or other identities? What role does education play in all this? The goal of this class is not to get you to hate Coldplay; rather, the goal is to understand what it means to disagree about art, through which you will learn how to respond more intelligently and with greater empathy to such disagreements as you encounter them in your everyday life.

Philosophy of Religion
Selected topics in analytic and continental philosophy of religion, such as personalism, various arguments in favor of the existence of god, atheism, religious epistemology, the nature of religious analogy, etc.

Philosophy of Law

Selected topics in legal philosophy, such as nature and legitimation of laws and obligations, the nature of legal reasoning, etc.

Foundation Courses

Every Ashoka student must take a certain number of Foundation Courses. They ensure that the education of every Ashoka student is sufficiently broad and familiarize them with a wide array of the liberal arts. As such, Foundation Courses generally cannot count toward a student’s Major or Minor, including Philosophy or PPE. This makes sense, for Foundation Courses are not Philosophy courses. But Philosophy faculty members have taught and do still teach a number of these courses frequently. Below, a few of them are listed, along with course descriptions.

Indian Civilizations: Literature, Religion and Philosophy (Watson)

The course is divided into four sections: philosophical ideas (Śāstra), epic (itihāsa), aesthetic literature (kāvya) and religions.  In the last category we will look at Śaivism, Vaiṣṇavism, Vedic religion, Buddhism, Jainism, Indian Islam and Sikhism, followed by indigenous critiques of religion. You will acquaint yourself with both primary sources (i.e. you will read some pre-modern Indian texts in translation) and secondary sources (i.e. you will read contemporary Indological scholarship, getting a sense of how experts in the field think about pre-modern India, its ideas and its practices).

Indian Civilizations: Contrasting World Views in Pre-modern India (Watson)

The course will be structured according to a series of contrasts: (1) Theism versus Atheism, (2) Self versus No-Self, (3) Knowledge (jñāna) v’s Action (karma), (4) Brahmanical Purity v’s Tantric Power, and (5) A series of mutually-related oppositions: this world v’s the next world; life-affirmation v’s life-denial; passion (rāgaśṛṅgāra) v’s dispassion (vairāgya); eroticism v’s asceticism.  We will examine how these contrasting views and values were articulated in the literature, philosophy and religion of Classical India.

Indian Civilizations (Saran)

This is a survey course of the major intellectual and cultural contributions of the Classical and Medieval eras in India. We will explore themes such as the conception of the human being (with a special emphasis on women), a human being’s relation to itself, the social order and the cosmos. We will consider these themes through the lens of both the fundamental nature of reality and how one ought to act. We will also explore the relation between the erotic and the transcendent, primarily through poetry. Course readings consist of textual extracts from Vedic Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Classical Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, and secular and religious poetry by men and women from both Sanskrit and non-Sanskrit traditions.

Mind and Behaviour (Dixon)

This course focuses on the nature of personhood, and the boundary between persons and non-persons. What makes you a person? Is it that you are a rational being? Or that you have a mind? Or that you have free will or the capacity for language? Is it some combination of these things? Is artificial intelligence possible? Could there be non-human persons? These are some of the central questions we will consider in this course. We will scrutinise a number of philosophical theories which provide different answers to them. We will also look at a number of empirical debates relevant to these questions, such as how humans predict the behavior of others, and whether or not certain non-human animals, such as chimpanzees and bonobos, have the capacity for language.

Mind and Behaviour (Saran)

What kind of creature are you? A human being, no doubt. But what kind of creature is that? How ought such a creature live? We will critically explore influential models of human nature in the Indic and Western philosophical traditions and their implications both for how we ought to live and our place in the social world. We will also survey key psychological results that directly have a bearing on those philosophical models.

Mind and Behaviour (Chaturvedi)

In this course, we will look at some different theoretical models of human nature in the history of western philosophy, from antiquity until the present day. The course will be divided into three units: 1) politics, ethics, and human nature; 2) the self; 3) humans and non-humans.

Great Books: Democracy in Ancient Greece (Chaturvedi)

Democracy –  the word as well as the concept –  has its origins in ancient Greece. In this course, we’ll read, in translation, some of the greatest works of Greek tragedy (Euripides, Aeschylus), comedy (Aristophanes), epic and lyric poetry (Homer, Pindar, Solon, Hesiod), mythology, history (Thucydides, Xenophon), and philosophy (Plato, Aristotle) with the goal of better understanding the nature of democracy as well as its advantages and shortcomings. We’ll read some of the harshest critics of democracy as well as its staunchest defenders. We’ll examine the conditions – social, economic, political, and religious – that allowed democracy to flourish in ancient Athens and we’ll also examine the conditions that led to its downfall. We’ll spend some weeks immersing ourselves in Athens during one of the most tumultous periods in its democratic history – 403-4 BCE – by playing a ‘Reacting to the Past’ historical role playing game.* Understanding Greek democracy, in all its complexity, will also shed some light on modern democratic practices and ideals and, while this course will require us to temporarily place ourselves in the world of the ancient Greeks, we’ll never lose sight of the relevance of their debates for twenty-first century politics.

*For more, see : https://reacting.barnard.edu/curriculum/published-games/athens

EVS: Environmental Ethics (Weltman)

This course will examine various topics in environmental ethics, like: conservation, extinction, climate change, ecodefense, pollution, and animal rights. Students will gain an overview of some of the key approaches to environmental ethics, including biocentrism, ecocentrism, ecofeminism, and deep ecology. The latter half of the class will focus on topics chosen by vote.

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