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Philosophy

Philosophy is an activity that aims at an understanding of ourselves, our relationships with one another, and our place in the world.  

It is centrally concerned with fundamental questions about such topics, critically investigating what other subjects and other human activities take for granted. 

Undergraduate Courses

Overview

The Philosophy Department at Wits offers a solid programme of courses leading to a Philosophy major and a variety of other courses which may be of particular interest and benefit to non-majors as selective courses in their programmes. 

Majors 

To receive a BA in philosophy a student must: 

  • (a)   Pass both PHIL 1003 and PHIL 1002. 
  • (b)   Pass both PHIL 2002 and one further course numbered PHIL 2xxx except for PHIL 2013 and PHIL 2014. 
  • (c)   Pass any four courses at the PHIL 3xxx level. 
1st Year
Critical Reasoning and Thinking - PHIL1001A (S1) 

This course introduces Engineering students to the elements of Philosophical Critical Reasoning and Thinking. Students are invited to engage on the structure of arguments and other elements related to critical thought. As this course is a service course, it is not available to students from the Humanities as a Philosophy Major.  

Introduction to Philosophy - PHIL1003A(S1) 

This course introduces students to philosophy through a focused selection of topics in epistemology and metaphysics (the theories of knowledge and reality) along with the required background on the identification and evaluation of arguments. 

Introduction to Ethics - PHIL1002A (S2) 

This course introduces students to ethical reasoning and its applications. Examples of topics include theories of right and wrong, the relativity or objectivity of ethics, ethics and religion, equality and justice, selected ethical issues in the contemporary world. 

2nd Year
History of Philosophy - PHIL2002A (S1) 

This course includes a selection of topics in metaphysics and epistemology (and possibly ethics), based on classical and early modern sources in philosophy up to the early 18th century. Topics include 

  • Appearance and reality 
  • The classification of objects into kinds 
  • Problems of identity 
  • The nature and origin of our ideas 
  • The role of experience and reason in the generation of knowledge 
Philosophy of Science - PHIL2007A (S2)  

This course includes the nature of scientific knowledge and scientific theories, the problem of confirmation and explanation, the development of science and related topics (including the role and nature of scientific revolutions and paradigms, and theoretical incommensurability in science), further topics such as the objectivity of science, causation and determinism, the nature of social explanation and topics from the history of science are also covered. 

Social and Political Philosophy - PHIL2009A (S2) 

This course covers a philosophical investigation of a number of concepts and issues in social and political theory, through historical and/or contemporary sources. Topics include 

  • The relationship of the individual to the state 
  • The nature and value of equality 
  • Concepts of freedom and justice, natural rights, and the philosophical underpinnings of democracy 
African Philosophy - PHIL2016A (S1) 

This course covers a philosophical investigation of a number of concepts and issues in social and political theory, through historical and/or contemporary sources. Topics include: 

  • The relationship of the individual to the state 
  • The nature and value of equality 
  • Concepts of freedom and justice 
  • Natural rights 
  • The philosophical underpinnings of democracy 
3rd Year
Symbolic Logic - PHIL3009A (B1) 

This course comprises the following:  

Basic concepts of logic. 

  • Propositional Calculus and Standard First-Order Predicate Calculus with relations and identity: syntax, semantics, decision procedures, proof procedures, symbolic representation and evaluation of arguments, and basic metatheory.  
  • Further select topics such as extensions of and/or alternatives to Standard First-Order Logic, some applications of symbolic logic and topics in the philosophy of logic  
Ethics - PHIL3002A (B2) 

This course discusses a study of various issues in philosophical ethics (understood as covering both normative and metaethical theory).  

Topics include some of the following:  

  • The moral point of view 
  • Kantian ethics 
  • Utilitarianism 
  • Natural rights 
  • Consequentialism and non-consequentialism,  
  • Morality and rationality 
  • Value theory 
  • Moral objectivity and relativity 
  • Feminist ethics 
  • Moral psychology 
  • Issues concerning political philosophy 
Philosophy of Art - PHIL3010A (B2) 

This course introduces students to core issues in the philosophy of art, covering both historical and contemporary sources and material.  

Possible topics include: 

  • The nature of art and our experience of art, beauty, imagination 
  • Taste 
  • Imitation 
  • Representation and expression 
  • Style 
  • Art 
  • The ontological status of works of art 
Epistemology and Metaphysics - PHIL3001A (B3) 

Some of the topics covered include: 

  • The nature of perceptual states, the relation of perceptual states to objects and the relation between perceptual states and beliefs 
  • The nature of beliefs and belief content 
  • The adequacy of the ‘traditional account of knowledge 
  • The role of justification in knowledge 
  • The need for foundations for knowledge 
Philosophy of Social Science - PHIL3004A (B3) 

A critical study of central issues such as:  

  • The nature of evidence, theory, explanation and understanding 
  • The status of the social sciences in relation to the natural sciences 
  • Causation and predictability and the role of freedom and rationality in social explanation  
History of Philosophy - PHIL3003A (B4) 

This course involves the critical study of parts of Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature and Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in relation to topics such as: 

  • Causation 
  • Space and time 
  • Substance 
  • Identity and objectivity 
Select Movements in 20th Century - PHIL3005A (B4) 

This course deals with select topics, periods and movements in 20th-century philosophy. Possible offerings include: 

  • Analytical Philosophy in the 20th century, (focusing for example on the critically important work of Russell, Frege and Wittgenstein) 
  • Pragmatist Philosophy (focusing for example on the work of Peirce, Quine, Goodman and Rorty) or (certain trends in) Continental Philosophy (for example Existentialism, Phenomenology, Hermeneutics and Post-Structuralism). 

Each of these would normally focus on the relation between language, thought and reality. 

 

Applied Ethics for Professionals

Overview

Since 2002, the Wits Philosophy Department has offered an integrated, part-time programme in Applied Ethics for Professionals. As the name suggests, the programme is tailored for experienced and successful people in all walks of professional life, and is affiliated with the Wits Centre for Ethics.  

The programme leads to a Master of Arts degree (MA) and does not presuppose any background in philosophy. 

The programme is divided into two components: coursework and research. The coursework component consists of three-hour seminars on Saturday mornings. Approximately sixteen such Saturdays are involved during the first year, eight per semester and eight further seminars complete the course work during the first half of the second year. The research component is completed in the student’s own time, under the guidance of a supervisor from the Wits Department of Philosophy. 

The next intake in the programme will be in 2020.

Programme Structure

First Year of Study

Term 1 (February – June)

Required core course: Methods of Applied Ethics (8 Saturday seminars)

Term 2 (July – October)

 Two from a set of three electives on offer (4 Saturday seminars each, 8 in total)

Summer Break (November – February)

Work on Research Report proposals, with proposal presentations held in early February of the second year

Second Year of Study

Term 1 (February – June)

Two further electives from a set of three electives on offer (8 Saturday seminars)

Term 2 (June – February of the third year)

Individual supervised work on research reports (MA stream only)

Approved Electives

Six of the following courses will be offered during any two-year cycle, normally in consultation with programme participants:

  • Cultural Pluralism and Ethics
  • Ethical Theory 
  • Ethics and the Environment
  • Ethics and International Affairs 
  • Information and Privacy 
  • Issues in Biomedical Ethics 
  • Morality and the Law
  • Morality and the Marketplace 
  • Social Justice
  • The Value of Life

 

Courses
PHIL 7034: Methods of Applied Ethics

The core course for the AEP Programme, to be taken by all participants in the Programme in the first semester. It serves as an introduction to some basic philosophical concepts and some fundamentals of ethical theory. It also explores basic matters such as moral reasoning and argument, and will typically introduce participants to philosophical approaches to applied ethics through study of some prominent examples of work in the area.

Elective Courses

PHIL 7033: Cultural Pluralism and Ethics

An examination of ethical issues arising from the fact of cultural pluralism. Possible topics may include moral relativism, duties to minorities and rights of majorities in multicultural states, cross-cultural tolerance, the alleged value of cultural pluralism, and liberal and non-liberal approaches to the fact of cultural pluralism.

PHIL 7032: Ethical Theory

An inquiry into some central theoretical questions in ethics with an eye to their bearing on practical issues. Builds upon some of the introductory theory in the ''Methods of Applied Ethics'' course, as well as introducing other theoretical approaches to ethical inquiry. Issues may include consequentialism, deontology, virtue, moral motivation, the codifiability of ethics, and the possibility of moral knowledge.

PHIL 7031: Ethics and the Environment

An examination of a range of ethical issues surrounding the environment and its relationship to human activity. Topics may include such theoretical questions as: Whether wholes such as ecosystems or relationships, and not merely individuals, can have moral status, as well as more specific issues about land and resource use, the ethics of pollution and environmental degradation, and the rights of future generations to environmental integrity.

PHIL 7043: Ethics and International Affairs

An examination of topics such as the following: terrorism and the response to it; war more generally and its justice, as well as the justice of conduct within war; the use of torture as a means of preventing attacks; poverty and the duties of rich countries and their citizens to alleviate it; the ethics of international aid more generally; globalization, colonialism and imperialism; and more abstract issues about the place of ethical considerations in international affairs at all.

PHIL 7030: Information and Privacy

A potentially diverse exploration of moral issues concerning the use of and accessibility of information, and their effects on privacy. Topics may include the nature and value of privacy, issues in media ethics, computer/information ethics, the ethics of professional-client relationships, and the ethics of information accessible to businesses and government agencies.

PHIL 7029: Issues in Biomedical Ethics

An examination of moral issues arising in the contexts of health care and biomedical research. Could cover both micro health-care issues such as informed consent, and the rights of patients (and health care workers), or macro issues such as resource allocation. Other topics could include research issues such as the ethical treatment of human subjects and the social consequences of certain research programmes, such as stem-cell research and genetic engineering.

PHIL 7028: Morality and the Law

An inquiry into the relationship between law and morality and/or moral issues surrounding the use of law as a social instrument. Topics may include the moral underpinnings, if any, of law, the use of law to promote morality, paternalistic legislation, the general ethics of legal coercion, and the moral significance of the Constitution.

PHIL 7027: Morality and the Marketplace

A potentially diverse exploration of ethical issues in business and market-oriented social policy. Could include discussions of micro-issues such as morality vs. profit, the rights (and responsibilities) of share-holders, secrecy and honesty in business contexts, the ethics of whistle-blowing and the rights of, and relationships between, workers and their employers. Could also include such macro-issues as the morality of market-capitalism, and social tinkering with it such as BEE programmes.

PHIL 7026: Social Justice

An inquiry into theories of, and issues concerning, social, and particularly, economic justice. Topics could include prominent theories of distributive justice such as those of Rawls and Nozick, as well as narrower issues such as the role and ethics of affirmative action, compensation for past injustices, progressive taxation, and alleged rights to a basic income.

PHIL 7035: The Value of Life

An exploration of life's alleged value and/or particular issues that bear upon it. Topics may include theories of the wrongness of killing normal, adult human beings, and issues such as abortion, euthanasia, stem-cell research and animal rights.

Research Report

PHIL 7004 & 7005: Applied Ethics Research Report (PT1) and (PT2)

Guidance on research report proposals and individual supervised work on research reports.

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