24.00 | Fall 2019 | Undergraduate

Problems of Philosophy


Course Meeting Times 

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1 hour / session

Recitations: 1 session / week, 1 hour / session


There are no prerequisites for this course.

Course Description

This course has two goals. The first is to introduce you to the things that philosophers think about. We will look at some perennial philosophical problems: Can we prove the existence or nonexistence of a God? What is the place of our consciousness in the physical world? Do we have free will? How do we persist over time, as our bodily and psychological traits change? Are there objective facts about what’s good and bad? What do race and gender consist of? What is the meaning of life? The second goal is to get you thinking philosophically yourself. This will help you develop your critical and argumentative skills more generally.



Carefully read the assigned texts in advance of each class. Some of the texts are dense and difficult. If you do not understand a text first time around, then read it again.

All readings can be found in the table of the Readings section.

Attendance: Lectures

There will be two one-hour lectures each week. You must attend all the lectures. We have a laptops-closed, phones-in-pockets policy in lecture. Many lectures will include a brief quiz to help us assess whether you are absorbing essential material.

Attendance and Participation: Recitation Sections

Communication Intensive (CI-H) subjects offer students substantial opportunity for oral expression. Each of you will be assigned to a weekly one hour discussion session, where you will be expected to participate actively.


Each of you will give a formal presentation on a subject determined in discussion with the instructor leading your recitation section.


CI-H subjects require at least 5,000 words of writing divided among a number of assignments, at least one of which will be revised and resubmitted. In this class you will write three 1,000-to-1,200 word papers, and one 2,000-to-2,400 word final paper, for a minimum of 5,000 words. You will revise and resubmit your first paper after meeting with your recitation instructor.

For more detail, see the Assignments section.


As you surely know, all your writing must be your own. This means that anything quoted verbatim must appear within quotation marks and be accompanied by a footnote that identifies its source. And it means that you may not paraphrase a person’s writing without making it explicit that you are doing so—changing the words does not make it your writing. And it means that whenever the insights or ideas of another person (including friends of yours, including anonymous authors of material on the internet) appear in your paper you must credit that person in a footnote. If you are in any doubt about whether something you are writing amounts to plagiarism, talk about it with your TA before you hand in your paper. You should also review “Academic Integrity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: A Handbook for Students.” (PDF - 1.4MB)

Grading Policy

Participation and oral presentation 10%
Quizzes 10%
Paper 1 10%
Paper 1 rewrite 10%
Paper 2 15%
Paper 3 15%
Final paper 30%

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2019
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Lecture Notes