The Big Questions of Philosophy

Narrated by: David K. Johnson
Length: 19 hrs and 2 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (1,084 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

We have all pondered seemingly unanswerably but significant questions about our existence - the biggest of all being, "Why are we here?" Philosophy has developed over millennia to help us grapple with these essential intangibles. 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, defined the terms, and then reasoned out potential solutions. Once you've compared the arguments, the final step is always deciding for yourself whether you find an explanation convincing.

This course gives you the tools to follow and create logical arguments while exploring famous philosophers' viewpoints on these important questions. Although progress has been made toward answers, brilliant thinkers have continued to wrestle with many big questions that inspire thoughtful people everywhere. These questions include: What is knowledge? Does God exist? Do humans have free will? What is right and wrong? How should society be organized?

Given the complexity of these big questions, it should be no surprise that many controversies are far from settled. In fact, by the end of these 36 lectures, you may be even less sure of the right answers to some of the questions than you were at the beginning. But being a philosopher means constantly testing your views - giving a reasoned defense if you believe you are right and modifying your ideas when you realize you are wrong. You'll discover that great thinkers before you have offered convincing answers to hard questions, philosophers after them have made equally persuasive objections, and then still others have refined the debate even further - causing the issues to come into sharper and sharper focus.

Join Plato, St. Anselm, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Mill, Smith, Marx, Rawls, and many others in an exploration of fundamental questions. Get ready to think big!

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.

©2016 The Great Courses (P)2016 The Teaching Company, LLC

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No easy answers, just easy questions

I get irritated by people who think philosophy is a waste of time. A course like this one shows how profitable it is to learn critical reasoning and why it is so important for understanding our place in the universe. Most of the tough questions asked in the series don't have a cookie cutter answer, but all of them provided a method for approaching the question more profitably.

For example, on the nature of identity, what does it mean to be the same person over time ("ship of Theseus" question), he will show that it's probably more profitable to realize that the categories and labels that we put on the concepts about self identity are convenient fictions, and there just might not be a way to answer the question properly. He'll say perhaps as in the Dr. Who TV show that an episode from season one is different from an episode from last season, but they are connected because they are part of the same series. We aren't episodes, but are the series of events that make us up.

I loved the beginning lectures on the nature of knowledge and how absolute knowledge is best thought of as justified true believe. That series of lectures on knowledge and science (and there were several) helps put "philosophy of science" in perspective for me.

One note, I had listened to his course on Metaphysics. Get this one instead, because most of the lectures from that course seemed to also be on this one, and you get a lot more lectures in this course including most of the ones on the other one thus giving you better value for your money.

[I'll give a warning, if you're certain in your belief systems and have no doubt in your faith based things, this lecture might be a disconnect for you because he'll pretty much state that the soul makes no sense, God might not exist, free will is not what you think it is, and so on. As for me, I love learning things that challenge my world view and can recommend this lecture series for anyone who feels the same].

153 people found this helpful

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  • mc
  • 06-10-17

Polemical, not educational

Would you try another book from The Great Courses and/or Professor David K. Johnson?

No

What could The Great Courses have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

Diversity of opinion

How could the performance have been better?

More well-rounded

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Disappointment

Any additional comments?

Time does not permit a lengthy analysis, but still it will be clear to many of those experienced in the field that this course lacks significant features and has definable defects when compared to the typical Teaching Company offering. For example, it misstates relevant factors when dealing with the positions it opposes, e.g., Paul's vision on the Damascus Road was, according to the lecturer, a "private" experience (and thus, perhaps, an occurrence of epilepsy), yet the relevant primary source document (Christian New Testament) indicates at least twice that others also shared in aspects of the event, that is, it was not purely private. And so it goes, with a plethora of inadequate presentations, many of which have their roots in an unexamined devotion to David Hume whose reasoning, and consequent conclusions, are critiqued in many thoughtful presentations (e.g., Hume's Abject Failure, Oxford University Press). Of course, those whose beliefs are confirmed by this course will extol its virtues (a tendency extant, unfortunately, in all of us); still, when dealing with these highly debatable subjects, many would see a superior approach to consist of a more well-rounded presentation that adequately and accurately presents the prevalent schools of thought and then leaves it to the listeners to reach their own conclusions (many listeners can, after-all, think for themselves). Instead, time and again the lecturer simply concludes with an assertion of one position, which is, apparently, his own. As a result, what we really have here is largely polemical not educational.

38 people found this helpful

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Did not like.

I felt like I was being indoctrinated, instead of offered an opportunity for objective learning.

33 people found this helpful

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Ad Hoc Rescue

This course started out well in terms of content. (I will say that my wife overheard me listening to it and could not tolerate Johnson's voice, even in the background.) When Johnson got to proofs of God it was obvious he had an agenda, and after "refuting" his own rendition of the (Kalam) cosmological and teleological (fine tuning) arguments to his own satisfaction he went on to propose other possibilities to explain the existence of the universe: 1) maybe we are acting within computer software like in the Matrix; 2) maybe our future selves came back and created things as you see them, like in Interstellar; 3) quantum foam; 4) it needs no explanation, it is a brute fact. Sorry, this is not serious philosophy.

30 people found this helpful

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Excellent Experience

What made the experience of listening to The Big Questions of Philosophy the most enjoyable?

This is a terrific audio book by a terrific author and lecturer. He really pulls you into philosophy rather than just talking about it. He also has a course on Metaphysics, which I'll take as soon as I get through with my current course.

What about Professor David K. Johnson’s performance did you like?

I love his enthusiasm for his topic.

30 people found this helpful

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interesting and challenging

although i might not agree with all of the conclusions the course draws, i do feel i learned a lot, and that the course was worth the time and money

23 people found this helpful

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Bravo!

For anyone interested in philosophy, this is a must-have.
Prof. Johnson did an incredible job, far better than his previous lecture series (Exploring Metaphysics).
My only criticism is that towards the end, the lectures become less interesting, as they include more political and less philosophical issues.
Overall, very informative.

18 people found this helpful

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Great lectures that will challenge your views!

I just can't say enough how great this whole series is. Professor David K Johnson is one of the better lecturers because of the way he is able to take complex ideas and break them down. While I don't pretend to understand everything in these lectures, I enjoy the challenge they present. Acknowledging that we can always allow for what we believe we know to change and grow is a central theme here. This particular lecture is supposed to pick apart certain beliefs and force us to honestly think about what they are and what they mean. Not to mention that Professor Johnson is absolutely hilarious. I highly recommend this lecture

17 people found this helpful

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A very complete introduction.

Ready for more courses on the subject.
Very well divided and good takeaways at the end of each lesson

11 people found this helpful

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One of the most enjoyable books I've listened to.

Challenged many of my own personal beliefs and opened up new perspectives of how I view the world. Very thought provoking. I am definitely going to give this another listen.

10 people found this helpful

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  • mr
  • 10-20-17

Worth staying with it til the end

Overall really thought provoking content as well as arming you with tools for day to day functioning. Are bits that get a bit mind twisting/heavy in early/middle parts but well worth sticking it out to the final few chapters which were some of the most interesting to me anyway. Thank you.

4 people found this helpful

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  • fedgie
  • 10-12-16

Scotsmen don't lie!

because we believe everything thing we say to be the truth! great listen gets you thinking and asking yourself questions!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Mr Ben Bland
  • 02-26-20

Comprehensive, Comprehensible, yet Compact

The second of Johnson's courses I've listened to, the other being 'Sci-Phi'. Both courses are excellent. He sets off at an eager pace and maintains it throughout, yet I never felt lost or left behind. As expected, the course raises more questions and ideas than answers but it left me feeling educated.

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  • Adisha
  • 11-03-18

Intellectually Challenging lecture series!

Wow! This was a fantastic, challenging and highly thought-provoking lecture series that warrants multiple listens.

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  • N. M. Kosky
  • 07-21-16

Excellent

Briefly- lucid, reasonably comprehensive and up to date. Very much recommended. Suitable for the non- expert.

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  • Jayne Charlton
  • 06-10-16

Excellent

This is an excellent overview of the quest for understanding the basic principles of philosophy. Just makes me want to continue in my quest for the real question!

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  • shikha
  • 05-27-16

very good

enjoyed listening to it..made me think a lot and fascinated me at some point..love the narrator

1 person found this helpful

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  • James Wang
  • 02-21-19

The big questions of philosophy unphilosophically

The big questions of philosophy answered unphilosophically. Logic of the book is weak, when the author gives answer to philosophy, logic should be the foundation stone. Most of the arguments the author made after chapter 4 can be used against his own reasoning process and contradicts. The best written part of the book is the sample provided on Audible, was attracted by it and bought the audio book. But it is a downward journey after for me. If you expect the book is to be as objective as the sample, you might be disappointed too. Thanks for reading this comment, hope it helps.

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  • Hermez Hwoma
  • 11-18-17

Probably the best intro to philosophy book.

So I've read my fair share of introduction to philosophy books and I'm not sure if it's just me but I honestly think this rates significantly better than the usual recommendations (Bertrand Russell's Western Philosophy) etc... I mean, i know theyre different in nature but what I meant was is you're looking to jump into an intro to philosophy book. I would definitely recommend this book. Why... 1- He's not a bad narrator, nice to listen too. Very clearly spoken and. Gets to the point. 2- The book is split up into obvious logical sections that makes the whole thing easy to follow. 3- He knows he's stuff 4- He claimed to address the big questions and that he did. All in all, 10/10 . Thank you for a great read 🙂

2 people found this helpful