PHI 315 - Philosophy & Science Fiction - Fall 2012

In this course students will actively explore the philosophical aspects of that wonderful genre known as science fiction.  Works of science fiction have the capacity to inspire an audience to ask questions about the most basic aspects of existence—to ask the same sorts of questions that eternally transfix philosophers.  Confrontations with the alien other, the alien self, or the alien environment inevitably engender deep and desperate questions.  For some thinkers, of course, philosophy is not the first thing that comes to mind upon being exposed to science fiction’s enacted thought experiments.  Yves Chevrier, for example, in analyzing Ridley Scott's film, Blade Runner, called "inescapable" the "puerile intrigues and infantile philosophical messages" of science fiction film.  He stated, "Blade Runner's story is likewise impudently dull and conventional, and its metaphysics aren't worth a plug nickel" (1984:51).  At least he held the film’s imagery in high regard.  It is often the subtle or unspoken messages of science fiction which make the genre amenable to philosophical speculation, however.  The attentive viewer/reader is called upon to ask the questions that implicitly arise as the story unfolds.  Critics such as Chevrier, Mark Rowland writes, "wouldn't recognize a complex philosophical point if [they were] pissing on it" (2003:x).  Science fiction and its metaphors can easily allow one to, from a safe distance perhaps, entertain questions like:  Who or what is the ‘I’. . . really, and where exactly is. . . it?  Do I have a free will, or am I only deluded into thinking that I do?  Can the senses ever be trusted, or is my life necessarily some kind of dream?  Can a robot or a computer program have an ‘I’ that is genuinely comparable to mine, provided that I indeed have one?  Could I somehow transfer my consciousness into a human-engineered receptacle and essentially become immortal?  Could there be an infinite number of alternate selves out there, each convinced that it is I?  Major themes to be explored this semester include:  personal identity, free will, artificial intelligence, dystopia, absurdity, and possible worlds.


Below you will find links to the course syllabus and the assigned PDF readings.


The Experience Machine - Robert Nozick

Brains in a Vat - Hilary Putnam

Brains in a Vat: Different Perspectives - Yuval Steinitz

We Can Remember It for You Wholesale - Philip K. Dick

The No-Self Theory: Hume, Buddhism, and Personal Identity - James Giles

The Simplicity of the Soul - Jonathan Bennett

The Library of Babel - Jorge Luis Borges

Time and Personal Identity in Nietzsche's Theory of the Eternal Recurrence - Scott Jenkins

The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility - Galen Strawson

I Could Not Have Done Otherwise--So what? - Daniel Dennett

Against Neural Chauvinism - Tom Cuda

Is the Brain a Digital Computer? - John Searle

Artificial Intelligence and Personal Identity - David Cole

Adaptive Flight Control with Living Neuronal Networks on Microelectrode Trays - DeMarse & Dockendorf

Ethical Robots in Warfare - Ronald C. Arkin

Why I Want to Be a Posthuman When I Grow Up - Nick Bostrom

The Artificial Alien: Transformations of the Robot in Science Fiction - Morton Klass

Trying to Plug In: Posthuman Cyborgs and the Search for Connection - Melissa Colleen Stevenson

Sex and the Single Cyborg: Japanese Popular Culture Experiments in Subjectivity - Sharalyn Orbaugh

Refiguring the Radical Cyborg in Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell - Carl Silvio

Transhumanism - Francis Fukuyama

Transhumanism, Metaphysics, and the Posthuman God - Jeffrey Bishop

Blade Runner; or, The Sociology of Anticipation - Yves Chevrier

Ideology as Dystopia: An Interpretation of Blade Runner - Douglas E. Williams

Blade Runner and Sartre: The Boundaries of Humanity - Judith Barad

Entering the Posthuman Collective in Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Jill Galvan

Do Androids Pulverize Tiger Bones to Use as Aphrodisiacs? The Tragedy of Extinction - Simon A. Cole

Vicious Circle Principle (selections from Too Smart for Our Own Good: The Ecological Predicament of Humankind) - Craig Dilworth

Republic (selections from Book V) - Plato

The Survival Lottery - John Harris

Why the Numbers Should Sometimes Count - John T. Sanders

The Gene Regime - Francis Fukuyama

The Identity of Clones - Kathinka Evers

Human Cloning: Three Mistakes and an Alternative - Francoise Baylis

Self and Other in Alien Encounters - Carl D. Malmgren

Possible Worlds - Robert C. Stalnaker

Counterparts of Persons and Their Bodies - David Lewis

Beyond the Earth Charter: Taking Possible People Seriously - Robin Attfield

The Theologian's Nightmare - Bertrand Russell

The Absurd - Thomas Nagel






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