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The Big Questions of Philosophy

Learn to think clearly, shun fallacies, and reach your own conclusions as you confront the questions that have puzzled generations of philosophers.
The Big Questions of Philosophy is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 109.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Pop Culture Meets Philosophy I have always had a bit of an approach/avoidance relationship with philosophy. Philosophy explores many of the basic existential questions, but all too often arrives at differing opinions or even no answer onto which to hang your hat. Professor Johnson states this upfront, but goes onto explain that when a branch of philosophy begins to arrive at concrete answers, it spins off a new branch of knowledge. Initially all the various scientific disciplines were lumped together as Natural Philosophy. I did find Professors Johnson’s use of so many pop culture references interesting. He is obviously a big fan of science fiction and had many references to the various Star Treks, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Dr. Who, etc. Being a sci-fi fan myself, I found that an interesting way to make some of his points. I am betting it goes over well with the age group he is teaching at his college. I did find Professor Johnson a bit of paradox, for lack of a better word. I am an Okie myself and know the culture there well, a very conservative, religious culture. He received his undergraduate degree from Bethany Nazarene College where one of my brothers took his undergraduate degree. It is a very religious, private college. Although it is hard to tell from this course, he seems to have moved away from that direction. He received his doctorate from the University of Oklahoma which is a better school academically that it is given credit for as football dominates everything in Norman. In deciding how to rate this course I varied from 5 stars to 4 stars and back again. I am going with 5 stars as he pretty much fulfilled the purpose of the course in an entertaining manner while upping “my game” as far as philosophy is concerned. I was thinking 4 stars as at times Professor Johnson seems to fall in love with his own rhetoric frequently. Glancing at the other reviews I noticed that one person felt he had a political agenda to push. If I were to guess I would say the professor is a bit on the left of the political spectrum. He had, what to my naïve philosophical ears, seemed good arguments for being so. I am still trying to figure a very brief segment on Nicholas Cage being a Nepo Baby. What was up with that? Bottom line is… I enjoyed the course, I learned a lot of philosophy, and it gave me a new way to look at some questions I have been pondering on most of life. Normally I put on a Wondrium course while I am exercising in our little basement gym, generally watching two units at a time. I found myself frequently sitting down when I was done exercising to watch a third.
Date published: 2024-03-18
Rated 2 out of 5 by from House of Strawmen This course was tedious. I think a lot of political orientation colors his view of philosophy. He builds straw men with no apparent validation, i.e. "Oil companies". Which oil company are you talking about?
Date published: 2023-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A course to revisit again and again Hm, I catch myself thinking "this doesn't sound right" a lot of times when listening to this course. Nonetheless, I have now listened to it 6 times. It always sets my thoughts going on very fundamental issues, and the moments reflecting whether I agree just make me like it more. It is on my top 3 of TGC courses. One thing I really do not understand: What is the point in the first place of philosophizing over free will? If there is no free will (should we punish criminals, etc.)? If the criminal was bound to commit the crime, then the legislator was equally bound to adopt the penal code, and the judge was bound to convict and sentence. I want to stop thinking about free will. But I cannot, so there is no point in doing it. See?
Date published: 2023-08-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Mix of good/bad, but decent Positives: - Engaging teaching style. Dr. Johnson uses a lot of interesting thought experiments. Additionally, he makes film and other pop culture references that serve to keep you engaged. - Important philosophers from a variety of views are mentioned and this will greatly benefit people who want to dig deeper after going through this video series - While philosophical jargon is used, it's explained in simple terms. Cons: - Tries to cover too many sub-issues in each lecture and it can begin to feel like the lectures are "all over the place" - Views that Dr. Johnson disagrees with are not given as fair a portrayal as those he holds - Uses lots of quotes but they are not engaged with very deeply, leaving the viewer with a somewhat superficial introduction. My biggest concern with this course is that someone who had never been exposed to philosophy might walk away from this video series under the impression that the biggest questions of philosophy are completely settled. But, this in fact couldn't be further from the truth.
Date published: 2023-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love, love, love it The most engaging lecturer. I don't think I really understood what philosophy was but apparently I'm not the only one who thinks like this! I also love how he uses feminine pronouns in his examples etc. As a GenX female who have always worked in male dominant fields it's avrefreshing change! Thank you Pippa
Date published: 2023-05-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Broad scope, so so coverage The approach to philosophy aiming for a selection of "Big Questions" is bound to bump into opinions of what a "Big Question" is. Opinions may or may not be mainstream; likewise the ensuing discussion. This is to be expected. The instructors embraces his position as the enlightened guide accordingly, but (1) fails to disclose what his opinions are. They become evident quickly to all except to naive classrooms. Perhaps par for the course. The annoying vice of this instructor is, by sheer strength of 'careful reasoning,' that he (2) presents himself as an expert in many area where he, probably, is other than. A couple of highlights about this latter fact. In the beginning there is a dive into debunking homeopathy. I'm not a believer either, but the instructor in his arguments does not consider, let alone justify, for instance, the relevance of any assumption about proportionality of dosage, assuming blindly that lower dosage (at *any* scale) remains bound to the same manner of metabolic activity--could the mechanism of action be different if doses are different by orders of magnitude? This is a hypothetical line of reasoning that should not be dropped gratuitously. Later he becomes entangled in an issue of metric that has entertainment value. He argues that measuring in meters a length of 10^(-35) meters is deceptive because, in his opinion, the tolerance between 10^(-34) m and 10^(-36) m is more deceiving than, say, a tolerance between 10^(-28) μm and 10^(-30) μm. They happen to be identical, but the length the instructor goes on using incorrect points is worthy of a chuckle. That would be funny, if it were innocent. Well, other subjects he covers are interesting as a springboard for some pondering, but be wary of taking some of the presumed certainties uncritically. Recommended only to those endowed with good discernment, else, better not.
Date published: 2023-04-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Presentation but flawed logic The question of God is clearly one of Faith. But what is the difference between that belief and the belief that says: A or B. If not A, then B. Also, the question of natural disasters as proof that God does not exist. In the logical premise, it is stated that God is omnibenevolent. If he is not, then he could exist along with natural disasters. There is no logical reason for god to be omnibenevolent.
Date published: 2023-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great content very clearly and very well exposed. I loved the way that the author presented and shared the multiple big questions around Philosophy and why it is so important. The constant use of concrete examples following the multiple theories and explanations made it a very interesting listen and easy to follow lectures. Awesome!
Date published: 2023-02-27
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We have all pondered seemingly unanswerable but significant questions about our existence: Why are we here? What is knowledge? Does God exist? There is no better way to study the big questions in philosophy than to compare how the world's greatest minds have analyzed these questions and reasoned out potential solutions. The final step is always deciding for yourself whether you find an explanation convincing.


David K. Johnson

We can always take comfort in the fact that we can find and do embrace answers to metaphysical questions.


King's College

Dr. David Kyle Johnson is Associate Professor of Philosophy at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He earned a master's degree and doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma.

At Oklahoma, he won the coveted Kenneth Merrill Graduate Teaching Award. In 2011, the American Philosophical Association's committee on public philosophy gave him an award for his ability to make philosophy accessible to the general public.

Professor Johnson regularly teaches classes on metaphysics, philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, and logic, as well as courses on critical thinking and scientific reasoning. He has published papers on human freedom, the problem of natural evil, the multiverse, the existence of souls, and many related topics in such journals as Religious Studies, Sophia, Philo, Philosophy and Literature, and Think. He also maintains two blogs for Psychology Today.

Professor Johnson also publishes prolifically on the intersection of pop culture and philosophy. One of his books, Inception and Philosophy: Because It's Never Just a Dream, inspired an authors@Google talk with more than half-a-million YouTube views. He also has written numerous articles that explore the relationship between philosophical questions and such pop cultural phenomena as The Hobbit, Doctor Who, Batman, South Park, Johnny Cash, Quentin Tarantino, and Christmas.

By This Professor

The Big Questions of Philosophy
Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy
The Big Questions of Philosophy


How Do We Do Philosophy?

01: How Do We Do Philosophy?

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....

33 min
Why Should We Trust Reason?

02: Why Should We Trust Reason?

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....

31 min
How Do We Reason Carefully?

03: How Do We Reason Carefully?

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....

31 min
How Do We Find the Best Explanation?

04: How Do We Find the Best Explanation?

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....

33 min
What Is Truth?

05: What Is Truth?

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....

30 min
Is Knowledge Possible?

06: Is Knowledge Possible?

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 René Descartes' celebrated struggle with this problem, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of his position....

31 min
What Is the Best Way to Gain Knowledge?

07: What Is the Best Way to Gain Knowledge?

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....

32 min
Do We Know What Knowledge Is?

08: Do We Know What Knowledge Is?

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....

32 min
When Can We Trust Testimony?

09: When Can We Trust Testimony?

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....

32 min
Can Mystical Experience Justify Belief?

10: Can Mystical Experience Justify Belief?

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 "feeling the touch of God," like Jules in Pulp Fiction, justify religious belief? ...

32 min
Is Faith Ever Rational?

11: Is Faith Ever Rational?

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....

33 min
Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

12: Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

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....

31 min
What Is God Like?

13: What Is God Like?

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....

31 min
How Could God Allow Moral Evil?

14: How Could God Allow Moral Evil?

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....

32 min
Why Would God Cause Natural Evil?

15: Why Would God Cause Natural Evil?

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....

32 min
Are Freedom and Foreknowledge Compatible?

16: Are Freedom and Foreknowledge Compatible?

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....

32 min
Do Our Souls Make Us Free?

17: Do Our Souls Make Us Free?

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....

33 min
What Does It Mean to Be Free?

18: What Does It Mean to Be Free?

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....

32 min
What Preserves Personal Identity?

19: What Preserves Personal Identity?

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....

32 min
Are Persons Mere Minds?

20: Are Persons Mere Minds?

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....

32 min
Are Persons Just Bodies?

21: Are Persons Just Bodies?

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....

33 min
Are You Really You?

22: Are You Really You?

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....

32 min
How Does the Brain Produce the Mind?

23: How Does the Brain Produce the Mind?

The next three lectures address the big question: What is the nature of the mind? Start with the celebrated "hard problem" of consciousness: How does the brain produce the mind? Investigate two possible answers and explore why many philosophers consider both to be problematic....

33 min
What Do Minds Do, If Anything?

24: What Do Minds Do, If Anything?

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?...

32 min
Could Machines Think?

25: Could Machines Think?

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....

33 min
Does God Define the Good?

26: Does God Define the Good?

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....

31 min
Does Happiness Define the Good?

27: Does Happiness Define the Good?

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....

32 min
Does Reason Define the Good?

28: Does Reason Define the Good?

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....

32 min
How Ought We to Live?

29: How Ought We to Live?

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....

33 min
Why Bother Being Good?

30: Why Bother Being Good?

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....

31 min
Should Government Exist?

31: Should Government Exist?

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....

32 min
What Justifies a Government?

32: What Justifies a Government?

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....

30 min
How Big Should Government Be?

33: How Big Should Government Be?

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....

32 min
What Are the Limits of Liberty?

34: What Are the Limits of Liberty?

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?...

32 min
What Makes a Society Fair or Just?

35: What Makes a Society Fair or Just?

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....

32 min
What Is the Meaning of Life?

36: What Is the Meaning of Life?

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....

35 min