The Big Questions of Philosophy

Watch The Big Questions of Philosophy

  • 2016
  • 1 Season

The Big Questions of Philosophy is an expansive show of 24 lectures that delves into the key philosophical concepts, questions, and debates that have fascinated humanity for centuries. The show is part of The Great Courses Signature Collection and is presented by Dr. David Kyle Johnson, a professor of philosophy at King's College in Pennsylvania.

The show is designed to provide an accessible and comprehensive overview of some of the most profound and enduring questions that have puzzled philosophers, scientists, and thinkers for generations. The topics covered in the show range from the nature of reality, the existence of God, and the meaning of life to the relationship between mind and body, moral and ethical dilemmas, and the limits of knowledge.

The show is structured around a series of core questions that explore fundamental concepts and ideas in philosophy. For example, in the first lecture, Dr. Johnson poses the question, "What is philosophy?". He then goes on to explore the history and development of philosophy, from the ancient Greeks to the modern era. Subsequent lectures build on this foundation and delve more deeply into specific philosophical themes and concepts.

One of the strengths of The Big Questions of Philosophy is the way that it presents complex philosophical concepts and debates in a way that is accessible and engaging. Dr. Johnson is an engaging and passionate speaker, and he has a talent for explaining difficult philosophical ideas in a way that is clear and easy to understand. He also brings a great deal of enthusiasm and curiosity to the subject matter, which makes the show all the more enjoyable to watch.

Another key feature of the show is the way that it integrates multiple perspectives and viewpoints. Rather than presenting a one-sided view of philosophy, The Big Questions of Philosophy acknowledges and explores the diversity of opinion that exists within the field. Dr. Johnson draws on a wide range of philosophical traditions, from Western philosophy to Eastern philosophy, and he also engages with contemporary thinkers and debates.

Throughout the show, Dr. Johnson also emphasizes the relevance and practical application of philosophy to our everyday lives. He explores how philosophical ideas can help us to think more clearly, make better decisions, and live more fulfilling lives. For example, he discusses how philosophical ideas about the nature of happiness can help us to understand what gives our lives meaning and purpose.

Overall, The Big Questions of Philosophy is an excellent show for anyone who is interested in philosophy or who wants to develop a deeper understanding of the fundamental questions that have shaped human thought and culture. Whether you are a seasoned philosopher or a curious beginner, this show is sure to challenge and inspire you. With its accessible style, engaging presentations, and wide-ranging subject matter, The Big Questions of Philosophy is a must-watch for anyone who loves exploring the big ideas that underpin our world.

The Big Questions of Philosophy is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (36 episodes). The series first aired on January 6, 2016.

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What Is the Meaning of Life?
36. What Is the Meaning of Life?
January 6, 2016
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.
What Makes a Society Fair or Just?
35. What Makes a Society Fair or Just?
January 6, 2016
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.
What Are the Limits of Liberty?
34. What Are the Limits of Liberty?
January 6, 2016
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?
How Big Should Government Be?
33. How Big Should Government Be?
January 6, 2016
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.
What Justifies a Government?
32. What Justifies a Government?
January 6, 2016
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.
Should Government Exist?
31. Should Government Exist?
January 6, 2016
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.
Why Bother Being Good?
30. Why Bother Being Good?
January 6, 2016
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.
How Ought We to Live?
29. How Ought We to Live?
January 6, 2016
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.
Does Reason Define the Good?
28. Does Reason Define the Good?
June 1, 2020
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.
Does Happiness Define the Good?
27. Does Happiness Define the Good?
January 6, 2016
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.
Does God Define the Good?
26. Does God Define the Good?
January 6, 2016
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.
Could Machines Think?
25. Could Machines Think?
January 6, 2016
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.
What Do Minds Do, If Anything?
24. What Do Minds Do, If Anything?
January 6, 2016
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?
How Does the Brain Produce the Mind?
23. How Does the Brain Produce the Mind?
January 6, 2016
The next three lectures address the big question: What is the nature of the mind? Start with the celebrated €œhard problem€ of consciousness: How does the brain produce the mind? Investigate two possible answers and explore why many philosophers consider both to be problematic.
Are You Really You?
22. Are You Really You?
January 6, 2016
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.
Are Persons Just Bodies?
21. Are Persons Just Bodies?
January 6, 2016
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.
Are Persons Mere Minds?
20. Are Persons Mere Minds?
January 6, 2016
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.
What Preserves Personal Identity?
19. What Preserves Personal Identity?
January 6, 2016
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.
What Does It Mean to Be Free?
18. What Does It Mean to Be Free?
January 6, 2016
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.
Do Our Souls Make Us Free?
17. Do Our Souls Make Us Free?
January 6, 2016
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.
Are Freedom and Foreknowledge Compatible?
16. Are Freedom and Foreknowledge Compatible?
January 6, 2016
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.
Why Would God Cause Natural Evil?
15. Why Would God Cause Natural Evil?
January 6, 2016
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.
How Could God Allow Moral Evil?
14. How Could God Allow Moral Evil?
January 6, 2016
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.
What Is God Like?
13. What Is God Like?
January 6, 2016
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.
Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?
12. Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?
January 6, 2016
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.
Is Faith Ever Rational?
11. Is Faith Ever Rational?
January 6, 2016
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.
Can Mystical Experience Justify Belief?
10. Can Mystical Experience Justify Belief?
January 6, 2016
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 €œfeeling the touch of God,€ like Jules in Pulp Fiction, justify religious belief?
When Can We Trust Testimony?
9. When Can We Trust Testimony?
January 6, 2016
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.
Do We Know What Knowledge Is?
8. Do We Know What Knowledge Is?
January 6, 2016
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.
What Is the Best Way to Gain Knowledge?
7. What Is the Best Way to Gain Knowledge?
January 6, 2016
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.
Is Knowledge Possible?
6. Is Knowledge Possible?
January 6, 2016
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 Ren© Descartes€™ celebrated struggle with this problem, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of his position.
What Is Truth?
5. What Is Truth?
January 6, 2016
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.
How Do We Find the Best Explanation?
4. How Do We Find the Best Explanation?
January 6, 2016
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.
How Do We Reason Carefully?
3. How Do We Reason Carefully?
January 6, 2016
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.
Why Should We Trust Reason?
2. Why Should We Trust Reason?
January 6, 2016
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.
How Do We Do Philosophy?
1. How Do We Do Philosophy?
January 6, 2016
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.
Where to Watch The Big Questions of Philosophy
The Big Questions of Philosophy is available for streaming on the The Great Courses Signature Collection website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch The Big Questions of Philosophy on demand at Apple TV Channels, Amazon Prime, Amazon and Kanopy.
  • Premiere Date
    January 6, 2016