Good First Courses
The philosophy curriculum is not one in which upper-level courses have large numbers of prerequisites. In fact, the only prerequisite requirements in relation to any of our offerings are these: (1) ENG 122 (College Composition) is a prerequisite for PHIL 101 (Critical Thinking and Writing) because PHIL 101 is a course designed to satisfy the intermediate composition requirement in the Liberal Arts Core, and (2) PHIL 240 (Formal Logic I) is a prerequisite for PHIL 241 (Formal Logic II). Otherwise, it is possible, at least in principle, to take philosophy courses in just about any order at all.
Even so, the only courses it’s really a good idea to take as first courses in philosophy are PHIL 100, 101, 105, 110, 150, 220, and 240. For all our other courses, at least some prior introductory level work is a help, and before taking PHIL 385 and PHIL 390, it’s a good idea to have completed both PHIL 260 and PHIL 261 as well. As for PHIL 300 and PHIL 495, it’s advisable to consult with the instructor before registration, because in these two courses, both content and difficulty can vary a good deal from one section to the next.
Liberal Arts Core Courses
Because of its traditional centrality to the curriculum in higher education, philosophy remains an important part of the general education requirements of most colleges and universities. In UNC’s Liberal Arts Core, courses in philosophy can be used to satisfy a part of the requirement in Arts and Humanities. The Liberal Arts Core courses that are specifically in philosophy are as follows:
- PHIL 100—Introduction to Philosophy
- PHIL 101—Critical Thinking and Writing
- PHIL 110—Figures in Western Philosophy
- PHIL 150—Ethics in Theory and Practice
PHIL 100, PHIL 110, and PHIL 150 can all be taken to satisfy half the Arts and Letters content area requirement, and PHIL 101 can be taken to satisfy the requirement of a course in intermediate composition. PHIL 100 and PHIL 110 are both basic introductory courses, but of rather different sorts: while PHIL 100 is a problems course devoted to an examination of central issues in the areas of ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics, PHIL 110 is a more historically oriented course devoted to a close examination of seminal works in the history of Western philosophy. PHIL 150, on the other hand, is a course that combines a survey of normative ethical theories with an introduction to applied ethics.
Prior work in philosophy is not presupposed in PHIL 150 any more than it is in PHIL 100 or PHIL 110; all the higher number is meant to suggest is that the two or three years additional life experience one has under one’s belt by the time one is a junior or a senior may enable one to profit more from the course then than one might as a freshman or sophomore.
PHIL 101, on the other hand, is a course eminently suitable for freshmen. It combines a survey of a number of topics that belong to logic with an effort to help students refine their understanding of the principles of critical and evaluative writing. As already indicated above, it is designed to satisfy the intermediate composition requirement in the general education program—not the content area requirement in Arts and Letters that the other three courses are designed to satisfy.
All four of these courses are challenging courses. You can expect to be required to engage in a kind of careful, reflective thinking in them that may be quite different from anything you’ve encountered before.
Other Courses of General Interest
Besides our Liberal Arts Core courses, there are a number of philosophy courses to which students who are neither majors nor minors are regularly drawn. In some cases, this is because of the ways in which these courses complement work in other fields. This, we think, is true of all the following courses:
- PHIL 105—Philosophical Perspectives on Current Issues
- PHIL 240—Formal Logic I
- PHIL 241—Formal Logic II
- PHIL 350—Ethics
- PHIL 355—Social and Political Philosophy
- PHIL 370—Philosophy of Religion
After all, there are numerous connections between logic on the one hand and mathematics and computer science on the other, and the other courses on this list all relate in obvious ways to work in the humanities and social sciences.
Rather similar connections doubtless exist in the case of at least some sections of PHIL 300 (Topics in Philosophy). For example, in recent years sections of PHIL 300 have been offered on such topics as Philosophy of Mind and The Philosophy of Employment Law, and those courses certainly have cross-disciplinary connections In the case of other sections of PHIL 300, it may simply be widespread general interest in the subject matter that has drawn students who are neither majors nor minors. Recent offerings in PHIL 300 that may fit this description include Eastern Philosophy, The Mind-Body Problem, Phenomenology and Existentialism, Hegel and Schopenhauer, and the Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.
What about prerequisites? Well, in the cases of PHIL 105 and PHIL 240, no previous work in philosophy is presupposed at all. But for all the other courses mentioned above, at least some previous work in philosophy, while not formally required, is very likely to be extremely useful.
Plunging into a 300-level course in the philosophy of language or the philosophy of psychology, for example, without any idea of what philosophy itself even amounts to can make for serious disorientation. And in one case—that of PHIL 241 (Formal Logic II)—the prerequisite requirement of PHIL 240 (Formal Logic I) is absolutely not to be ignored, else abandon all hope, ye who enter there. But for the rest, “some previous work in philosophy” need mean no more than a course at the introductory level either here or at another school.
The point here is that philosophy is not what it’s sometimes taken to be—a hermetically self-contained, thoroughly esoteric enterprise. Instead it bears within itself innumerable connections to all sorts of other areas of human thought. One needn’t be a philosopher, but only a historian, to come face to face with conceptual issues that belong to the philosophy of history for example, and precisely the same sort of point can be made regarding every other field of inquiry. So even if you’re not a philosopher and have no intention of becoming one, you should give our course offerings more than a casual glance. There’s likely to be something in there for you.