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University of Edinburgh

Introduction to Philosophy

University of Edinburgh via Coursera


This course will introduce you to some of the main areas of research in contemporary philosophy. Each module a different philosopher will talk you through some of the most important questions and issues in their area of expertise. We’ll begin by trying to understand what philosophy is – what are its characteristic aims and methods, and how does it differ from other subjects? Then we’ll spend the rest of the course gaining an introductory overview of several different areas of philosophy.

Topics you’ll learn about will include:

Epistemology, where we’ll consider what our knowledge of the world and ourselves consists in, and how we come to have it;

Philosophy of science, where we’ll investigate foundational conceptual issues in scientific research and practice;

Philosophy of Mind, where we’ll ask questions about what it means for something to have a mind, and how minds should be understood and explained;

Political Philosophy, where we'll investigate whether we have an obligation to obey the law;

Moral Philosophy, where we’ll attempt to understand the nature of our moral judgements and reactions – whether they aim at some objective moral truth, or are mere personal or cultural preferences, and;

Metaphysics, where we’ll think through some fundamental conceptual questions about free will and the nature of reality.

The development of this MOOC has been led by the University of Edinburgh's Eidyn research centre.

To accompany 'Introduction to Philosophy', we are pleased to announce a tie-in book from Routledge entitled 'Philosophy for Everyone'. This course companion to the 'Introduction to Philosophy' course was written by the Edinburgh Philosophy team expressly with the needs of MOOC students in mind. 'Philosophy for Everyone' contains clear and user-friendly chapters, chapter summaries, glossary, study questions, suggestions for further reading and guides to online resources. Please click "Start Here" and navigate to the "Optional Reading" page for more information.


  • What is Philosophy?
    • (Dr. Dave Ward) We’ll start the course by thinking about what Philosophy actually is: what makes it different from other subjects? What are its distinctive aims and methods? We'll also think about why the questions that philosophers attempt to answer are often thought to be both fundamental and important, and have a look at how philosophy is actually practiced. Finally, we'll briefly touch upon two very influential philosophers' answers to the question of how we can know whether, in any given case, there really is a right way of thinking about things.
  • Morality: Objective, Relative or Emotive?
    • (Dr. Matthew Chrisman) We all live with some sense of what is good or bad, some feelings about which ways of conducting ourselves are better or worse. But what is the status of these moral beliefs, senses, or feelings? Should we think of them as reflecting hard, objective facts about our world, of the sort that scientists could uncover and study? Or should we think of moral judgements as mere expressions of personal or cultural preferences? In this module we’ll survey some of the different options that are available when we’re thinking about these issues, and the problems and prospects for each.
  • What is Knowledge? And Do We Have Any?
    • (Professor Duncan Pritchard) We know a lot of things – or, at least, we think we do. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies knowledge; what it is, and the ways we can come to have it. In this module, we’ll take a tour through some of the issues that arise in this branch of philosophy. In particular, we’ll think about what radical scepticism means for our claims to knowledge. How can we know something is the case if we’re unable to rule out possibilities that are clearly incompatible with it?
  • Week 2 review: Lesson Choices
  • Do We Have an Obligation to Obey the Law?
    • (Dr. Guy Fletcher) The laws of a state govern what we can and cannot do within that state. But do we have an obligation to obey those laws? In this module, we'll discuss this question, together with some of the main positions that philosophers have developed in response to it. We'll start off by examining what obeying the law means exactly. Then we'll look at three factors that might form the basis of an obligation to follow the law. Finally, we'll discuss what the consequences might be if the problem can't be solved.
  • Should You Believe What You Hear?
    • (Dr. Allan Hazlett) Much of what we think about the world we believe on the basis of what other people say. But is this trust in other people's testimony justified? In this module, we’ll investigate how this question was addressed by two great philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment, David Hume (1711 - 1776) and Thomas Reid (1710 - 1796). Hume and Reid's dispute about testimony represents a clash between two worldviews that would continue to clash for centuries: a skeptical and often secular worldview, eager to question everything (represented by Hume), and a conservative and often religious worldview, keen to defend common sense (represented by Reid).
  • Week 3 review: Lesson Choices
  • Minds, Brains and Computers
    • (Dr. Suilin Lavelle) If you’re reading this, then you’ve got a mind. But what is a mind, and what does it take to have one? Should we understand minds as sets of dispositions to behave in certain ways, as patterns of neural activation, or as akin to programmes that are run on the computational hardware of our brains? In this module, we’ll look at how and why recent philosophy of mind and psychology has embraced each of these options in turn, and think about the problems and prospects for each.
  • Are Scientific Theories True?
    • (Professor Michela Massimi) In this module we will explore a central and ongoing debate in contemporary philosophy of science: whether or not scientific theories are true. Or better, whether a scientific theory needs to be 'true' to be good at all. The answer to this question comes in two main varieties. Scientific realists believe that theories ought to be true in order to be good. We will analyse their main argument for this claim (which goes under the name of 'no miracles argument'), and some prominent objections to it. Scientific antirealists, on the other hand, defend the view that there is nothing special about 'truth' and that scientific theories and scientific progress can be understood without appeal to it. The aim of this session is to present both views, their main arguments, and prospects.
  • Week 4 review: Lesson Choices
  • Do We Have Free Will and Does It Matter?
    • (Dr. Elinor Mason) We typically feel that the actions that we make are the result of our own free choices. But what if those actions are simply the end result of a long chain of cause and effect? What does this mean for free will? In this module, we'll look at the concept of determinism. In particular, we'll consider the implications that determinism might have for the notion of free will.
  • Time Travel and Philosophy
    • (Dr. Alasdair Richmond) In this module we'll think about some issues in metaphysics, a branch of philosophy that investigates the ways that reality could intelligibly be. Our case study will be the possibility, or otherwise, of time-travel. Some have thought that the apparent possibility of creating a machine that we could use to transport a person backwards in time can be ruled out just by thinking about it. But is time-travel really logically impossible? What would the universe have to be like for it to be possible? And can we know whether our universe fits the bill?
  • Week 5 review: Lesson Choices
  • Peer review

Taught by

Dave Ward, Duncan Pritchard, Michela Massimi, Suilin Lavelle, Matthew Chrisman, Allan Hazlett and Alasdair Richmond


4.3 rating, based on 73 Class Central reviews

4.7 rating at Coursera based on 9004 ratings

Start your review of Introduction to Philosophy

  • As someone in grad school whose first and only formal exposure to academic philosophy was a single introductory course in college, this course was extremely useful in helping me keep up with the general trends and concepts in the field. The readings and the optional lectures are impressively engaging; while the course lets you choose 1 of 2 options for the final weekly material, I highly recommend taking both for more learning.
  • Anonymous
    This a beginner-friendly course that introduces you to Philosophy and it's sub-disciplines. The lectures are mostly good and interested students can find further links to go into details of the topic being taught.
    The quizzes were extremely easy and this is something that I didn't like. I wouldn't say that you would be spending your time productively by attempting the quizzes. However, the peer-assessments were better and it will give you an opportunity to test yourself.

    Overall, I'd recommend this course to an absolute beginner and expect him or her to be familiar with Philosophy after he or she has completed the course.
  • Anonymous
    In my opinion, this MOOC offers a decent introduction to Philosophy for an absolute beginner. This MOOC is good for an absolute beginner who wants to get acquainted with Philosophy but may be a bit easy for an enthusiast.
    The contents of the MOOC lack detail for an enthusiast but I found the suggested links to the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy and the Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy to make up for the lack of detail in the MOOC.
    Go for this MOOC if you want an easy and interesting introduction to Philosophy.
  • Bart
    It's a very easy course. It touches an assortment of topics followed up with some easy quizzes. Don't expect to get a complete history or overview. No in depth coverage of a certain philosopher or idea. I guess this course is meant to to wet your appetite for philosophy.

    The value of this course is in the proposed reading materials and the rather active fora. It's nice to discuss the philosophy topics on there with people who to a certain degree share the same a vocabulary given by the course.

    Great for beginners. Maybe too light or boring for people familiar with the subjects discussed.
  • Profile image for Pambili Sinxoto
    Pambili Sinxoto
    I absolutely enjoyed this course from University of Edinburgh. It covered the general overview of the Philosophy field that I needed. It gave me a fresh perspective of philosophy in general.
  • Profile image for Candice Hincksman
    Candice Hincksman
    This was a very easy course - not recommended if you are already familiar with concepts in philosophy. It was interesting yet didn't go beyond surface level investigations.
  • Profile image for Seeratpreet Kaur
    Seeratpreet Kaur
    i loved this course... uh all must try..!!!!!!! so so so much informative

    well explained and so calming and soothing
  • This is a great beginning course in philosophy. It was easy enough for anyone to understand and to become interested enough to want to study more philosophy. I especially like the last lecture on the logical aspects of time travel into the past. This would interest not only someone interested in philosophy or time travel, but also to the writer doing a science fiction novel.
  • Anonymous
    I liked that the lectures were given by different professors all lecturing in their areas of specialization. The course seemed a little too easy, with the only requirement for a statement of accomplishment being passing each of the weekly quizzes. I really liked the final section on time travel.
  • Wow...this is awesome my experience in life raise my pride so high that i know what philosophy is,but just at the introduction and defination of philosophy by a different lecturer on this web i knew i know nothing but need to humble myself and learn...which ever persons or group of people that put out this opportunities to us did a good job and we appreciated him/them thank you
  • Tetiana Vorobiova
    This course may not be an introduction per se, but it's clearly for beginners. It is well-structured. The lecturers have really simplified the concepts they talk about to make sure it's comprehensible for people with different learning paces. Although you need to audit roughly half the lectures and tests to pass, I've enjoyed going through 100% of available material.
  • Anonymous
    Excellent introductory course- very suitable for those with no background in philosophy. Many participants annoyed by grade given as LOWEST mark achieved in multiple choice assessments!
  • Anonymous
    Decent introductory course. I thought some material was covered better than others. On the plus side, the discussion forums were pretty active though.
  • Class Central user
  • Anonymous
    It's not what I expected, but it is a great introduction to philosophy and to the fields of philosophy. Recommended!
  • It's a very good introductory course on philosophy, giving also good insights in the main contemporary philosophical issues and further readings.
  • Anonymous
    Excellent course - facilitators actually mingled with participants. Clunky forum not fit for purpose though.
  • Anonymous
    Good introductory course for a very difficult subject. Highly recommented.
  • Profile image for Abhijeet Krishnan
    Abhijeet Krishnan
    A nice overview of the various schools of thought out there. The course doesn't go into too much depth, but it is structured in a way that makes sense - introducing a point of view and then offering counterarguments to that view. It certainly made me take more of an interest in philosophy. The assignments are not deep, however, and merely make you recall the course content.
  • Profile image for Hideki Diego Harada Oyakawa
    Hideki Diego Harada Oyakawa
    Interesting and relevant content. The content was well structured and clear, so as presented in a way it could be easily understood. The tests are challenging enough to make you remember things but easy enough do pass without checking your notes. One of the best courses if you are starting with MOOCs.

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