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Philosophy programme

 

Philosophy grapples with fundamental questions about the nature of reality, knowledge, and how we ought to act. Whether in the Indian or Western tradition, answers to these questions have been supported by rigorous arguments. Our courses offer a historically sensitive immersion in these arguments. Nevertheless, the philosophy major at Ashoka University aims to equip students to work beyond the parochialism of either the Indian or Western philosophical tradition to do philosophy without boundaries.

 

The philosophy major will equip students with critical reasoning and problem-solving skills, expressive precision, and the intellectual spaciousness to appreciate arguments and points of view with which they profoundly disagree. The Ashoka Philosophy graduate will be well prepared for higher studies in philosophy or a career in media, the law, or business.

Faculty
Past Faculty
Major requirements

Each student will take a total of 12 courses towards the major. Introduction to Philosophy is the gateway course for the major. Subsequent courses will cover moral and political philosophy, metaphysics and epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language and logic. Philosophy majors will also have a historical grounding in both the Indian and Western traditions through such courses as Vedanta and The British Empiricists, with the option of pursuing their interests in a particular historical tradition. Philosophy majors may choose to write a Senior Thesis, which must be an original contribution to knowledge via sustained philosophical argument.

 

Classes will be led by the Professor and will typically meet twice a week for an hour and a half each or three time a week for an hour each. These classes will be supplemented by a weekly hour-long session with the Teaching Fellow for a total of 4 hours a week of class time per course. Some senior seminars might meet for once a week for a 3-hour session.

Minor Requirements

Students opting for a Minor in Philosophy must take the two Required courses, one course from Indian & Non-Western, one course from Western Historical, one from Contemporary Core, and one elective.

Courses

The Philosophy department has an array of courses, across different and specialized disciplines.

  1. Electives
    An elective is a philosophy course a student takes that does not fulfill a distribution requirement (either because it is from Everything Else or because the requirements have been or will be met with other courses).  Any course other than Intro to Philosophy and Symbolic Logic can in principle count as an elective.

  2. 3-Year Major Requirements
    3-year major must take twelve philosophy courses, including the two Required courses, two courses from Indian & Non-Western, two from Western Historical, three from Contemporary Core, and three electives.

  3. 4-Year Major Requirements
    4-year major must take sixteen philosophy courses, including the two Required courses, two courses from Indian & Non-Western, two from Western Historical, three from Contemporary Core, and seven electives.  During their 4th year, he or she must take at least four courses in philosophy, preferably all at the 300- and 400-level.  A student may elect to write a 4th-year thesis to replace one 4-credit philosophy course during the spring semester of their 4th year.  To do so, he or she must obtain approval from a faculty member that that faculty member will act as their thesis supervisor, and must enroll in the 400-level course 4th-Year Thesis Research for 4 credits during the spring semester during their 4th year.

  4. Minor Requirements
    minor must take six philosophy courses, including the two Required courses, one course from Indian & Non-Western, one course from Western Historical, one from Contemporary Core, and one elective.
     

  5. PPE Major Requirements
    PPE major must take at least four philosophy courses.  Those taking four must take the two Required courses, and two courses in different categories among categories 2, 3, and 4.  Those taking five must take one elective in addition.  The requirements for those taking six or more are the same as those for the philosophy minor.  Note that a student cannot both major in PPE and minor in philosophy.  A student may, however, major in PPE with a specialization in philosophy by taking eight philosophy courses.  See the PPE page for more details about the major.

  6. Critical Thinking Seminars
    Critical Thinking Seminars offered by the philosophy programme do count towards the philosophy major, minor, or PPE major.  Such a course may fit in categories 2, 3 or 4, in which case it can count towards the distribution requirement for that category.  Otherwise it can count as an elective.

  7. Logic Exam
    A student may (depending on the approval of the programme coordinator), pass a logic exam administered by the philosophy department instead of taking Symbolic Logic if that student has taken a college-level course covering the majority of the content covered in Symbolic Logic.  Such a student must take an extra elective.

  8. 4th-Year Thesis
    In order to pass the 4th-Year Thesis Research course, a 4-year philosophy major must defend that thesis orally before the end of the spring semester in front a committee of at least three philosophy faculty, at least two of which must be faculty in Ashoka’s philosophy programme. The student must submit a defense draft of her thesis to that committee at least one week prior to the scheduled defense date, and submit a revised draft (if applicable) no more than one week after the defense occurs.  The student is responsible for forming his or her thesis committee, arranging a defense date that will work for every member of that committee, and adhering to all deadlines related to the 4th-year thesis.

Required Courses

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 include personal identity, the nature and limits of knowledge and how we ought to act. In each case, we examine the application of these ideas to issues currently in the news.

 

Symbolic Logic
This course is an introduction to symbolic deductive logic, which is concerned primarily with the study of valid deductive inference.

 

This course 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, and consistency. Finally, it covers several important tools for showing when these concepts do and do not apply, including truth tables, truth trees, models, and derivations.

Indian & Non-Western

Introduction to Indian Philosophy
This course will start by looking at the metaphysical speculations in the Upanisads and the critical reactions to those in the Pãli sermons of the Buddha. From there we will move to Krishna's dialogue with Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gïtã. Next the so-called 'Six Schools of Classical Indian Philosophy' will be introduced:

Nyãya and Vaisheshika, concerned with Logic and Epistemology, Mimamsa and Vedanta, involving exegesis of the ritual and spiritual sections of the Veda, and Samkhya and Yoga, concerned with the theory and practice of meditative absorption. The course will be rounded out by looking at the four schools of Indian Buddhist Philosophy, Jainism and the materialism and scepticism of the Charvakas.

 

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 Nyãya, Vaisheshika, Mimansa and Jainism, and the arguments used to support them against Buddhist idealism and nominalism. The specialization of Nyãya was logic and epistemology, that of Vaisheshika was ontology, and that of Mimamsa 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 (moksha, nirvana, apavarga, nihshreyasa).

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.

 

Buddhist Philosophy
This course will look at the four schools of Indian Buddhist Philosophy (Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Yogacara 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.

 

Vedanta
The course is structured chronologically, from the Classical Advaita Vedanta of Gaudapada, Shankara and Mandana Mishra, to Vijnanabhiksu, to Dharmaraja, to K. C. Bhattacarya, Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo.  We will examine Advaita Vedanta’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 Vedanta).

 

Samkhya and Yoga
Classical Yoga lays out an eightfold psychological path to liberation, and Samkhya 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 Samkhya/Yoga view that the world evolves by a top-down process from a primordial subtle matter, and the Nyaya-Vaisheshika view that the world is built up out of atoms.

 

Saiva and Vaishnava Philosophy
The course will investigate the Metaphysics, Epistemology and Soteriology of Saivism and Vaishnavism.  On the Saiva side we will concentrate on the non-dualistic tradition of Somananda, Utpaladeva, Abhinavagupta and Kshemaraja. 

 

On the Vaishnava side, we will concentrate on the two Vedantic traditions of Vishishtadvaita and Dvaita.

Western Historical

Introduction to Ancient Western Philosophy

This course surveys ancient western philosophy from the pre-Socratics to Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, to the Hellenistic philosophers.

The course emphasises the major metaphysical, epistemological and ethical doctrines of each; topics include the nature of reality, wisdom and virtue, justice, the good life for human beings, and pleasure.

 

Early Modern Philosophy
The Scientific Revolution profoundly changed how philosophers in the Early Modern period thought of the nature and task of philosophy. This course will survey some of the central topics in the works of John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume, who thought that all ideas and knowledge must be derived from experience.

Opposed to them were Rene Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and G.W. Leibniz who privileged reason over experience.

 

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.

 

Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason
The philosophical significance of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason extends far beyond its role as the centerpiece of Kant’s critical philosophy. We will outline the problems to which Kant’s “transcendental idealism” is supposed to be the solution, and whether that solution succeeds. Topics include Kant’s conception of human knowledge, the mind’s role in the constitution of experience, the nature of space and time, the relation between self-knowledge and knowledge of objects, causation, freedom of the will, the relation between appearance and reality, and the status of metaphysics.

Contemporary Core

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.

 

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).

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

Everything Else

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.

 

Modal Logic
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 analytical 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.

Foundation Courses

Indian Civilizations (Watson)
The course is divided into four sections: philosophical ideas (Saastra), epic (itihaasa), aesthetic literature (kaavya) and religions.  In the last category we will look at Saivism, Vaishnavism, 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).

 

Mind and Behaviour (Dixon)
This course focuses on the nature of personhood, personal identity, and several other topics that are relevant to those issues. What makes you a person? Are you identical to your younger self? If so, what makes you identical to your younger self? These are some of the central questions we will consider in this course.

 

We will scrutinise a number of theories which provide different answers to them.

 

In doing so, we will encounter a number of other topics that run the philosophical gamut. In addition to views directly about the nature of persons and the persistence of person through time, we will discuss views concerning the nature of the mind, the nature of time, rationality, and the question of whether or not we have free will.

 

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.


 

Critical Thinking Seminar

What distinguishes a CT course from other philosophy courses is its objective.  It is not a capacious introduction to a specific subject, but more of a topic-driven line of inquiry based on a question or a problem with which the professor’s research is engaged.  The professor and students will spend the semester thinking about the given topic from a variety of perspectives. Through a series of in-class writing workshops led by the professor and tutors in the Centre for Writing and Communication, students will acquire greater awareness not only of the seminar topic but also of their writing and thinking processes.

Sample Curriculum Structure

 

Semester I Semester II Semester III Semester IV Semester V Semester VI
Introduction to Critical Thinking CTS-I CTS-II Social and Political Formations Literature and the World Buddhist Philosophy
Great Books Mind and Behaviour Principles of Science Plato and Aristotle Early Modern Philosophy Vedanta
Introduction to Mathematical Thinking Indian Civilizations Foundations of Economic Reasoning Social and Political Movements Comparative Politics Democarcy and Authoritarianism in South Asia
Trends in World History Introduction to Philosophy Introduction to Indian Philosophy Logic Ethics Philosophy of Language Mind Epistemology Political Philosophy

 

 


 

Philosophy Programme

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