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Course Review: Exploring Metaphysics

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Provider: The Great Courses by The Teaching Company [course page]
Lecturers: Professor David K. Johnson Ph.D. (University of Oklahoma)
Subject: Philosophy + [Science / Physics + Neuroscience] + Religion
Delivery: 24 Audio lectures
Recommended Load: N/A
Completion Date: 08/06/2014

English: The first lecture in Experimental Phi...

English: The first lecture in Experimental Philosophy, which took place in London in 1748. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Description: Professor Johnson demonstrates the importance of Philosophical thought using examples in science and religion.

Strengths: This lecture series covers a lot of material in a short time. The speaker delivers it all in a conversational tone, with a hint of humour and pop culture references strewn throughout. He builds upon material over time and often references what he’s discussed in previous lectures. As such, the material is best listened to in order.
Although I’ve spent a bit of time studying the “big three” (a.k.a. Science, Religion and Philosophy), it seems that a lot of students tend to not think beyond the terminology used in textbooks. This series goes beyond the simple stuff in order to discuss how philosophy can help us come to terms with the fact that we know very little about what makes the universe and human beings behave in the manner that they do.
As mentioned above, the material builds upon itself. This is done by explaining the terminology and arguments (both deductive and inductive) used by philosophers in the various fields. The lecturer goes into the pros and cons of each, citing where he falls and why. This all concludes with the “Matrix Argument”, a lecture that has resulted in some rather interesting online discussion on sites such as Goodreads. However, variations of this argument have been introduced as part of philosophical courses for years due to their ability to question our perceptions of the world around us.

Weaknesses: Having some minor knowledge of some of the material will help reduce backtracking and looking for definitions of the terms.

Conclusion: This lecture series is an entertaining, educating and enlightening explanation of the importance of Philosophy across the various fields. Although I have done some study (courses and online free-study) of the big three, this course ties them all together nicely. It doesn’t answer all questions, instead encouraging students to consider that they do not and may never understand the answer to many of their questions. Philosophy in this context is the awareness of our lack of knowledge and understanding of the universe. It is this spark of wisdom that also encourages students to dig deeper and start asking further questions, as questions may lead to answers.
I recommend this lecture series to anyone with an open mind and an innate curiosity. Folks with an appreciation for the weird nature of the universe should also check it out.

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Author: keikomushi

Reader, Writer, New Media Buff, Anime Fangirl, Gnome Hunter, Last Action Femme Fatale, Appreciator of Nature, Jack-of-all-trades.

5 thoughts on “Course Review: Exploring Metaphysics

  1. Yes but philosophy hurts my head. If x is y and y is z then all xs are zeds, unless its the second Tueday of the month. And its all based on whether you fit Aristotle’s requirements of being a reasonable person (ie a bloke). And there is no definition of reasonable…..

    • Yep, Aristotle did have a bit of a reputation for that. Oddly enough, the Human Emotion with June Gruber playlist by YaleCourses mentions Aristotle and several other notable thinkers in the first unit. The series has an accompanying Experts in Emotion playlist. I highly recommend the series for anyone with an interest in psychology and neuroscience. (I am still watching the playlist, hence I haven’t reviewed the course yet.)
      Philosophical thought has changed a lot over the years. We also see a lot of different ideas coming out of Asia during the time when Rome was assimilating those gathered from Greece. Hence the arrival of Confucianism. This wasn’t the focus of Exploring Metaphysics, but the second installment of the ten-part ChinaX MOOC series offered by Harvard over at EdX (currently self-paced) does touch on where some of these philosophical ideas led. It goes to show how powerful and long-lasting some ideas can be.
      As for the definition of reasonable, it seems that folks can have significantly varied idea of what is reasonable. For example, Ken Ham considers the book of Genesis to be scientific while Bill Nye considers proof such as carbon-dating for gathering information about our past. And then there are the folks that believe that the world is flat or that Obama is the anti-Christ. Reason is about how we evaluate inputs, but it can be screwed up by numerous effects and heuristics mentioned in the scientific papers of Kahneman and Tversky during the 1970’s.

  2. I suppose I was being just a tad flippant, because the Aristotelian viewpoint is all based on ‘doing good’ and therefore you have to search your conscience before embarking on taking logic for a ride. But so many people just work from the idea that their viewpoint is the right one, and its amazing how many terrible things can happen when you start assuming that…

    • We can’t know exactly why and how others came to their viewpoint. In my own case, it wasn’t all that long ago that I identified as a Christian. Nowadays, I try to consider how I consider information (true or otherwise) put before me. I endeavor to work on my own reasoning skills to avoid making mistakes. I am aware that I have made some errors in logic in the past, hence my reasons for categorizing myself as a Christian in the first place. If I’d been in a different environment, I doubt that I would have been so inclined. Environment can dramatically affect how we view the world.

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