What is Philosophy?

Spring 2021

Samuel Beckett, from Waiting for Godot

Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot, Grove, NY, 1954, p. 13.


Course CodeLocation Times
PHIL-SHU 101OnlineMondays and Wednesdays, 1:15pm–2:30pm


NameEmailOfficeConsultation Times
Brad Weslakebrad.weslake@nyu.edu1555 Century Avenue, Room 961By appointment.


This course is a methodologically oriented introduction to philosophy through the study of selected central problems. Our approach will be historical, comparative and interdisciplinary.


The aim of this course is for students to significantly improve their capacity to:



The final grade will be determined approximately as follows:

First Paper (Wednesday 17 March): 20% [PDF]
Second Paper (Monday 19 April): 30% [PDF]
Third Paper (Sunday 16 May): 40% [PDF]
Attendance and participation: 10%


Attendance and Lateness

Students are required to attend all classes on time. An explanation for every absence or late attendance must be submitted in writing. Every failure to attend class on time will count against the component of the final grade awarded for attendance and participation, unless an explanation is received and approved. Requests for exceptions will be considered on a case by case basis, and typically granted only when related to an illness or other unforeseeable change of circumstances. Students who have been excessively absent will be considered to have unofficially withdrawn and will be given a final grade of F.


It is a condition on passing this course that students read and adhere to the NYU Shanghai policy on academic integrity as described in the current NYU Shanghai Academic Bulletin.


Meeting 1: What is Philosophy? (Monday 25 January)

Section I: Scepticism

Meeting 2: Descartes I (Wednesday 27 January)

Meeting 3: Descartes II (Monday 1 February)

Meeting 4: Vasubandhu I (Wednesday 3 February)

Meeting 5: Vasubandhu II (Monday 8 February)

Meeting 6: Method I: Comparative Philosophy (Wednesday 10 February)

Spring Festival: 11–19 February

Section II: Freedom

Meeting 7: First-Order Compatibilism (Monday 22 February)

Meeting 8: Second-Order Compatibilism I (Wednesday 24 February)

Meeting 9: Second-Order Compatibilism II (Monday 1 March)

Meeting 10: Incompatibilism I (Wednesday 3 March)

Meeting 11: Incompatibilism II (Monday 8 March)

Meeting 12: Method II: Experimental Philosophy (Wednesday 10 March)

Section III: Virtue

Meeting 13: Aristotle I (Monday 15 March)

Meeting 14: Aristotle II (Wednesday 17 March)

Meeting 15: Virtue and Reason (Monday 22 March)

Meeting 16: Xunzi (Wednesday 24 March)

Meeting 17: Situationism (Monday 29 March)

Meeting 18: Xunzi and Situationism (Wednesday 31 March)

Qingming: 5–7 April

Section IV: Property

Meeting 19: Locke (Monday 12 April)

Locke, John. [1689] 2003. Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration, Yale University Press, New Haven, Chapter V, “Of Property“, pp. 111–121. [PDF]

Meeting 20: Locke and Capitalism I (Wednesday 14 April)

Macpherson, C. B. 1951. “Locke on Capitalist Appropriation”, in The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 4, December, pp. 550–566. [PDF]

Meeting 21: Locke and Capitalism II (Monday 19 April)

Ryan, Alan. 1965. “Locke and the Dictatorship of the Bourgeoisie”, in Political Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2, June, pp. 219–230. [PDF]

Meeting 22: Locke and Colonialism (Wednesday 21 April)

Arneil, Barbara. 1996. “The Wild Indian’s Venison: Locke’s Theory of Property and English Colonialism in America”, in Political Studies, Vol. 44, No. 1, March, pp. 60–74. [PDF]

Section V: Existentialism

Meeting 23: Camus I (Sunday 25 April)

Camus, Albert. [1942] 1975. The Myth of Sisyphus, Penguin, Harmondsworth, pp. 10-32. [PDF]

Meeting 24: Camus II (Monday 26 April)

Camus, Albert. [1942] 1975. The Myth of Sisyphus, Penguin, Harmondsworth, pp. 32-63; 107-111. [PDF]

Meeting 25: Beckett (Wednesday 28 April)

Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot, c1949. Text from Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts, Grove, New York, 1954. Film directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg from Beckett on Film, Clarence Pictures, London, 2001. Act I [PDF] [AVI], Act II [PDF] [AVI].

China Labor Day: 3 May

Meeting 26: Sartre I (Wednesday 5 May)

Jean Paul Sartre, No Exit, c1944. Text from Sartre, Jean-Paul. 1989. No Exit and Three Other Plays, Vintage, New York, pp. 3–46. Film adapted and directed by Philip Saville, BBC, 1964. [PDF] [YouTube]

Meeting 27: Sartre II (Monday 10 May)

Jean Paul Sartre, Existentialism Is a Humanism, 1946. From Sartre, Jean-Paul. 2007. Existentialism Is a Humanism, Yale University Press, New Haven. pp. 17–54. [PDF]

Meeting 28: Money and Love (Wednesday 12 May)

Smith, Justin E. H. 2016. “Money and Love”, in The Philosopher: A History In Six Types, Princeton University Press, Princeton, pp. 223–236. [PDF]

Updated: 25 April 2021