Introduction to Philosophy

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Course Date: 15 September 2014 to 03 November 2014 (7 weeks)

Price: free

Course Summary

This course will introduce you to some of the most important areas of research in contemporary philosophy. Each week a different philosopher will talk you through some of the most important questions and issues in their area of expertise.

Estimated Workload: 1-2 hours/week

Course Instructors

Dave Ward

Dr. Dave Ward is a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. He works mainly on the philosophy of mind and cognition. His main philosophical ambition is to understand the relationship between perception, thought and agency.

Duncan Pritchard

Professor Duncan Pritchard joined the Edinburgh department in 2007 as the new Chair in Epistemology. His research is mainly in epistemology, and his most recent book, ‘Epistemic Disjunctivism’ has just been published by Oxford University Press.

Michela Massimi

Michela was Junior Research Fellow in Cambridge (2002-2005) and Visiting Professor in the HPS Dept., Pittsburgh (2009). Michela has joined Edinburgh in July 2012, having previously taught for seven years at UCL. Her primary research areas are philosophy of science, Kant, and history and philosophy of modern physics. She is the Co-Editor-in-Chief of The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.

Suilin Lavelle

Dr. Suilin Lavelle joined the Edinburgh department in Spring 2011, having completed a PhD at the University of Sheffield. Her primary research interest is the field of social cognition, and more specifically, in the various answers given to the question ‘How do we understand other people’s psychological states?’.

Matthew Chrisman

Dr. Matthew Chrisman joined the Edinburgh department in August 2006 after finishing his PhD at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research is primarily in ethical theory, philosophy of language, and epistemology. He is currently working on a book on the meaning of ‘ought’. 

Allan Hazlett

Dr. Allan Hazlett received a PhD from Brown University in 2006, and taught in Texas and New York City before joining the University of Edinburgh in 2010.  He has worked on the problem of skepticism and studied the way that people talk about knowledge, and more recently has written a book arguing that philosophers usually overestimate the value of truth. 

Alasdair Richmond

Dr. Alasdair Richmond is a threefold graduate of Aberdeen University and joined Philosophy at Edinburgh in 2003. He has published on constructive empiricism, the Anthropic Principle, Doomsday arguments, Descartes’ conception of immortality, time travel and the topology of time. He is currently working on a book entitled ‘Time Travel for Philosophers’.

Course Description

This course will introduce you to some of the main areas of research in contemporary philosophy. Each week a different philosopher will talk you through some of the most important questions and issues in their area of expertise. We’ll begin by trying to understand what philosophy is – what are its characteristic aims and methods, and how does it differ from other subjects? Then we’ll spend the rest of the course gaining an introductory overview of several different areas of philosophy. Topics you’ll learn about will include:

  • Epistemology, where we’ll consider what our knowledge of the world and ourselves consists in, and how we come to have it;
  • Philosophy of science, where we’ll investigate foundational conceptual issues in scientific research and practice;
  • Philosophy of Mind, where we’ll ask questions about what it means for something to have a mind, and how minds should be understood and explained;
  • Moral Philosophy, where we’ll attempt to understand the nature of our moral judgements and reactions – whether they aim at some objective moral truth, or are mere personal or cultural preferences, and;
  • Metaphysics, where we’ll think through some fundamental conceptual questions about the nature of reality.


  • Will I get a certificate after completing this class?

    Yes. Students who complete the class will be offered a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructors.

  • Do I earn University of Edinburgh credits upon completion of this class?

    No. The Statement of Accomplishment is not part of a formal qualification from the University. However, it may be useful to demonstrate prior learning and interest in your subject to a higher education institution or potential employer.

  • What resources will I need for this class?

    No resources needed.

  • What are the learning outcomes of this course and why should I take it?

    You’ll learn about the questions that have occupied some of the greatest minds in history, and how to go about answering them!


Week 1: What is Philosophy? (Dr. Dave Ward)

Week 2: What do you know? (Professor Duncan Pritchard)

Week 3: Minds, Brains and Computers (Dr. Suilin Lavelle)

Week 4: Morality: Objective, Subjective or Relative? (Dr. Matthew Chrisman)

Week 5: Should you believe what you hear? (Dr. Allan Hazlett)

Week 6: Are scientific theories true? (Dr. Michela Massimi)

Week 7: Philosophy and the Structure of Reality (Dr. Alasdair Richmond)


The course will consist of 7 lectures of between 40 minutes and an hour (broken down into videos of between 10 and 15 minutes in length).  During some weeks there will be additional readings provided, which will typically take around an hour to work through. Additionally, in some weeks there will be questions to test your understanding of the material we’ve covered in the lectures, which should only take a few minutes to complete.

Suggested Reading

For some weeks of the course, you’ll be asked to complete some background reading in advance of watching the videos for that week. Look out for details of these once the course begins. Each week the presenter will suggest some further readings that you might wish to consult if you’d like to investigate that week’s topic further.

Optional reading

To accompany 'Introduction to Philosophy', we are pleased to announce a tie-in book from Routledge entitled 'Philosophy for Everyone'. This course companion to the 'Introduction to Philosophy' course was written by the Edinburgh Philosophy team expressly with the needs of MOOC students in mind. 'Philosophy for Everyone' contains clear and user-friendly chapters, chapter summaries, glossary, study questions, suggestions for further reading and guides to online resources.

Cover of book entitled Philosophy for Everyone, listing authors Matthew Chrisman, Duncan Pritchard, Jane Suilin Lavelle, Michela Massimi, Alasdair Richmond and Dave Ward, and publisher Routledge

More details are available here.

Please note, this companion book is optional - all the resources needed to complete the course are available freely and listed on the course site.

Course Workload

1-2 hours/week

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