PHIL 420

Practical Reason in Ancient Greek and Contemporary Philosophy

Major Discipline(s):
Spring Semester

This course explores the philosophical question of the nature of practical rationality as it appears in ancient Greek and contemporary philosophy. In particular, in this course you will address the following questions:

  • What is it for an action to be rational and what is it for an action to be irrational? 
  • How does practical rationality relate to the good human life?
  • How does practical rationality relate to one's duties and obligations?
  • How does practical rationality relate to theoretical rationality? 

In the first part, the course examines the Socratic conception of practical rationality in the Protagoras and the Platonic conception of practical rationality and the division of the soul in the Republic, the Aristotelian account of practical rationality as practical knowledge and his account of practical irrationality or akrasia. Thus, you will be reading the Protagoras, the Republic and the Nicomachean Ethics.

In the second part, the course examines modern conceptions of practical reason and in particular Hume's conception of practical reason as the slave of the passions and Kant's conception of pure practical reason. To this purpose you will be reading passages from Hume's Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding and Kant's Critique of Practical Reason.

In the third part, the course focuses on contemporary discussions of practical rationality, such as the internalism-externalism debate, the question of the motivating force of reasons, instrumental rationality, the commensurability of reasons, weakness of will, etc. To this purpose you will be reading the work of Elizabeth Anscombe, Donald Davidson, John McDowell, Bernard Williams, Christine Korsgaard, Joseph Raz, Jay Wallace, John Broome, David Velleman, etc.