The Big Questions of Philosophy

Learn to think clearly, shun fallacies, and reach your own conclusions as you confront the questions that have puzzled generations of philosophers.
The Big Questions of Philosophy is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 91.
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Rated 3 out of 5 by from This course is very well put together and the presentation is excellent. However, Dr. Kyle leaves us with his opinion as a conclusion to each section. If you agree with him, you will believe that there is no God, there is no soul, and there is no free will. We are just a product of an unexplained big bang, physics, and the resultant DNA. I would prefer that he present both sides and let us come to a conclusion. It would be great if Great Course / Wondrium had offerings from a religious perspective, if courses like this are offered from an atheist or agnostic perspective.
Date published: 2021-09-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great start for a beginner Before writing this I must explain that I am person who got an engineering college degree in the 1950s at a college that was "all engineering, all the time". There was no liberal arts content period. After that I proceeded with an technical career in IT beginning in 1958. I am now retired (for the third time) and greatly interested the liberal arts that I missed. The professor was knowledgeable and animated in his presentation. The course is divided into sections based on topical points of view covering many of the most important schools of thought in philosophy. One might consider this as a History of thought as it covers the period from the ancient Greeks to well into the twentieth century. The first thing I had to do was to remember is based on opinion and as we all know "opinions vary". There is no absolute right or wrong in philosophy but it sure gives one pause to think about truth versus belief. Just to be able to ponder the thinking process in philosophy outside of the media of today is a Jewel. The course was well organized and I especially appreciate the course guide that gave about as much information as possible without becoming a transcript. The professor's coverage of the existence of God and the powers and responsibilities of government. I would recommend this course as a first immersion into philosophy for those seeking an introduction.
Date published: 2021-09-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The most soulless philosophy imaginable This is what happens when scientism tries to do philosophy. An amazing arrogance and hypocrisy that sings the praise of reason and end up abandoning reason almost immediately. My breaking point was the fifth lesson about theories of truth. He seems to miss that the problem the theories tries to solve is the question of the definition of truth. Instead he goes on and tries to evaluate them according to his own ill-defined definition of truth. That is a hell of a bias. A real philosopher would start questioning themselves and their biases about truth, and ask on what ground it is possible to do that. His whole thinking seems to be dominated by some democratic thinking that define truth as a majority decision. Probably because that is what he thinks the majority thinks. A sort of liberal conservatism that blocks any attempts to new and interesting ideas.
Date published: 2021-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The best philosophy course I’ve ever watched I love this course. Over the last month I referenced the lectures many times both at home as well as with with work colleagues. There are some real nuggets in this course that made me reevaluate many of my beliefs.
Date published: 2021-07-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great teacher Thank you for chosing this great teacher. Keep up the good work.
Date published: 2021-03-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A few factual errors Dr. Johnson errs in stating that neurons in the brain turn over like elsewhere in the body. Neurons normally stay with a person his whole life. More importantly his scientific evidence that we have no free will was founded on a theory of the meaning of the "readiness potential" in the brain that was effectively proven incorrect several years before he published his course. However this was one of the most interesting and expertly delivered courses of the 100+ that I have viewed. I would say that deep familiarity with Star Trek would be an asset, as his thought experiments are drawn heavily from that.
Date published: 2021-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The greatest mind opening course! This is an enlightenment course; it questions everything I know
Date published: 2021-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tough course, but stick with it I’ve found this course tough. It’s taken me a long time to work through it. But I’ve found it absolutely rewarding. The author has created a very comprehensive first course in Philosophy. I love the organization. It is by topic rather than by philosopher or chronology. The professor’s grasp and enthusiasm shines through. I recommend you purchase the transcript to follow along.
Date published: 2021-01-03
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Overview

We have all pondered seemingly unanswerable but significant questions about our existence: Why are we here? What is knowledge? Does God exist? 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 and reasoned out potential solutions. The final step is always deciding for yourself whether you find an explanation convincing.

About

David K. Johnson
David K. Johnson

We can always take comfort in the fact that we can find and do embrace answers to metaphysical questions.

INSTITUTION

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 to the general public.

Professor Johnson regularly teaches classes on metaphysics, philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, and logic, as well as courses on critical thinking and scientific reasoning. He has published papers on human freedom, the problem of natural evil, the multiverse, the existence of souls, and many related topics in such journals as Religious Studies, Sophia, Philo, Philosophy and Literature, and Think. He also maintains two blogs for Psychology Today.

Professor Johnson also publishes prolifically on the intersection of pop culture and philosophy. One of his books, Inception and Philosophy: Because It's Never Just a Dream, inspired an authors@Google talk with more than half-a-million YouTube views. He also has written numerous articles that explore the relationship between philosophical questions and such pop cultural phenomena as The Hobbit, Doctor Who, Batman, South Park, Johnny Cash, Quentin Tarantino, and Christmas.

By This Professor

The Big Questions of Philosophy
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Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy
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The Big Questions of Philosophy

Trailer

How Do We Do Philosophy?

01: 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....

33 min
Why Should We Trust Reason?

02: 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....

31 min
How Do We Reason Carefully?

03: 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....

31 min
How Do We Find the Best Explanation?

04: 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....

33 min
What Is Truth?

05: 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....

30 min
Is Knowledge Possible?

06: 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 René Descartes' celebrated struggle with this problem, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of his position....

31 min
What Is the Best Way to Gain Knowledge?

07: 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....

32 min
Do We Know What Knowledge Is?

08: 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....

32 min
When Can We Trust Testimony?

09: 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....

32 min
Can Mystical Experience Justify Belief?

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? ...

32 min
Is Faith Ever Rational?

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....

33 min
Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

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....

31 min
What Is God Like?

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....

31 min
How Could God Allow Moral Evil?

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....

32 min
Why Would God Cause Natural Evil?

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....

32 min
Are Freedom and Foreknowledge Compatible?

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....

32 min
Do Our Souls Make Us Free?

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....

33 min
What Does It Mean to Be Free?

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....

32 min
What Preserves Personal Identity?

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....

32 min
Are Persons Mere Minds?

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....

32 min
Are Persons Just Bodies?

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....

33 min
Are You Really You?

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....

32 min
How Does the Brain Produce the Mind?

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....

33 min
What Do Minds Do, If Anything?

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?...

32 min
Could Machines Think?

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....

33 min
Does God Define the Good?

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....

31 min
Does Happiness Define the Good?

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....

32 min
Does Reason Define the Good?

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....

32 min
How Ought We to Live?

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....

33 min
Why Bother Being Good?

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....

31 min
Should Government Exist?

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....

32 min
What Justifies a Government?

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....

30 min
How Big Should Government Be?

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....

32 min
What Are the Limits of Liberty?

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?...

32 min
What Makes a Society Fair or Just?

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....

32 min
What Is the Meaning of Life?

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....

35 min