The Big Questions of Philosophy

Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is the single most intellectually stimulating course I have yet to find on here! If you need an introduction to Philosophy, I highly recommend this course! Dr. David Kyle Johnson presents the material effectively and challenges one to think in depth about the material. If you are looking for something good, I highly recommend starting here!
Date published: 2020-10-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good review despite being truncated. This is an excellent crouse, informative and entertaining. The professor is a good speakers who teaches clearly and keeps your attention at all times. The course suffers from an attribute that many other courses do, Westrern-Centiricity. Any mention of non-western philosophy is cursory. All starts with the Greeks and ends either in Europe or America. Other civilization, if existed, are at the far periphery. Had the title been The big questions in Western Philosophy, the course would have been perfect; but not as advertised.
Date published: 2020-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exactly as advertised! How certain can we be that what we claim to "know" is true? How should one behave? How should our society be organized? The most interesting and relevant questions of philosophy--about justifying our beliefs, our ethics and our politics--are asked and competing answers described, debated and often discarded. Everyone should challenge themselves by attentively listening to this course. Professor Johnson's humor and clear presentation really help make sense of these fascinating aspects of our daily lives. In addition to the breadth of topics, Professor Johnson's historical treatment adds great depth.
Date published: 2020-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding review of the topics in Philosophy I got this course a long while back, and finally got to listening to it. I have always been fascinated by philosophy and about what it means/what it says, etc. This lecture series DOES NOT cover all the various philosophers and schools/sayings. So, do not expect that here. No deep discussions of what Plato, Aristotle, etc said. However, discusses WHAT the questions have been that philosophers have been talking/thinking about. So, not as much discussion of people, as much as of the topics. I really loved the lectures on knowledge/truth. Logical reasoning (induction, deduction, abduction) are dealt with in a manner that was eye-opening to me. Discussions about faith, person-hood were very novel and illuminating to me. Some of the lectures were a little obtuse ("why is there something rather than nothing" - I did not get that well), but overall, I enjoyed this course. Free will is now a topic about which I will always think differently. I paused and rewound/re-listened to this several times, as I found the topics interesting & fascinating. I took notes, and often downloaded articles that he referenced. I ended up buying several books from the bibliography. So, overall, a fantastic journey for a novice. This lecture series taught me about topics I had no idea existed. Also this has pointed me to other ideas/venues to explore.
Date published: 2020-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Logical Progression The course is constructed exactly like a philosophical argument. I find it fascinating, enlightening, and very worthwhile.
Date published: 2019-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A fast paced Philosophical Discourse Professor Johnson's presentation is a fast paced sharp articulated formal verbal presentation in a simultaneously parallel artistry of the informal communication necessary extensional dynamic(s) that fulfill the topic's coverage in all dimensions. If there is one suggestion that I could add is that in such a course that presents many terms not commonly used in the mainstream lexicon, where such terms not only are defined ,however used to synthesize a concept takes my mind into a spin to follow both the definitions, and the synthesized concept that is challenging to encode as learning. It would help if terminology could first be introduced as definitions. Then, repeat the value of each term, and how it contributes to the concept as conclusion. Lastly, recap shortly all the terms, and the concept conclusion for a manageable learning encoding. As usual with many of the courses I have acquired, I prefer the video version as it affords to present the detailed lecture in its entirety.
Date published: 2019-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Makes driving less tedious A delightful, detailed discourse about philosophy's concepts of our lives. The course is entertaining and thought provoking.
Date published: 2019-03-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing and not worthy of The Great Courses If you are part of the "New Atheist", "New Skeptical Materialist" crowd , you will love these lectures and the snide, condescending approach that is taken to any philosophical beliefs that challenge those assumptions - (and, I am sorry...they are just assumptions, no matter how elegantly packaged.) I bought these lectures fully prepared, even chomping at the bit, to have my own beliefs and assumptions thoroughly questioned and examined in hopes of further growth and insight. But after 12 lectures it was glaringly obvious that I what I was being treated to was less honest philosophical analysis and, instead, polemic and propaganda. We are assured that "scientific invesitgation", (or at least the scientific investigation that aligns with the professor's own beliefs), is a better "faith" for the modern world. Yet this assumption is, itself, never thoroughly questioned or examined. It is "obvious", after all. Really? What makes it "obvious"? We are given that favorite shibboleth of the "scientism" crowd that an unexpected improvement from a serious illness, (as an example), is due to the "placebo effect". Oh, well, that explains it. And what exactly is the "placebo effect", exactly, and why does it work? "Well's the placebo effect...that's why!" Does that sound like a rational answer to you? The author Patrick Harpur talks about in his writing of this tendency of the Scientism crowd to embrace "explanationism" any explanation, no matter how tawdry or unsatisfying, is better than the possibility, however slight, that something may be happening that is beyond or ability to understand it, not only now, but perhaps, ever. So if you are looking for a stimulating, challenging, yes maybe even comfortable, honest examination of philosophical assumptions and beliefs...look elsewhere, this is isn't it. If you are one of the snarling New Atheist/Skeptical crowd that enjoys living in the comfortable echo chamber of your own "belief system", you will love these lectures. This is "Logical Positvism" at his finest. And propganda and polemic for that Belief. (Funny...and perhaps revealing...that term does not occur in these lectures...not once. If you are not familiar with the term, and it's logical weaknesses, it may be well worth looking up.) This kind of polemic, propoganda and, yes, bullying, is not worthy of the Great Courses. And if this is the kind of "penetrating, questioning, probing analysis" currently being taught in Acedmia, it is diffucult to see how we are really advancing scientifically, intelectually...or morally. say the least.
Date published: 2019-01-07
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The Big Questions of Philosophy
Course Trailer
How Do We Do Philosophy?
1: 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?
2: 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?
3: 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?
4: 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?
5: 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?
6: 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?
7: 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?
8: 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?
9: 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
David K. Johnson

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


University of Oklahoma


King's College

About David K. Johnson

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.

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