Introducing Philosophy

The first course on the program focuses on questions of epistemology, namely, what is knowledge? What constitutes learning? What characteristics of the mind can be said to be innate, and what learned? How do these characteristics relate to the mind's ability to know the world? And what conditions, if any, inform the limits of what we can know? The great debate between empiricists and rationalists that has animated the subject of philosophy down the ages plays a central role, with each week presenting a development, challenge or complication to what has gone before. One week we may find ourselves convinced by Socrates’s argument for recollection, the next struck by the implications of Hume’s Fork.

The work of perhaps the greatest modern philosopher, Immanuel Kant, takes the centre stage, in particular his achievement of synthesising the two doctrines of empiricism and rationalism in a philosophy that still informs contemporary philosophy of mind and cognitive science more than any other. Through following this debate – one that is so central to the European tradition of academic and cultural theory – the self-esteem and verbal clarity of the inmates has noticeably improved, and many have reported that the course has had a profound effect upon their self-understanding and their reasoning skills.