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Discussion Questions

  • 1. Why did dualism give way to monism? What fundamental problem with dualism do monists try to solve? Why do they choose a picture of reality with only one type of substance? Is monism the right answer to dualism?
  • 2. What is idealism in philosophy? What makes a philosopher an idealist? How might someone argue for idealism?
  • 3. What is materialism in philosophy? What makes a philosopher a materialist? Do you agree with the materialist position? Why, or why not?
  • 4. How do Descartes and Berkeley rely on God in their understanding of the world? Do they both need God for their philosophical perspectives to work? Why, or why not?
  • 5. Why do idealists like Berkeley believe reality is mental? How is it that they see no reason to believe in the existence of what we traditionally think of as the physical world? Could it be that reality is entirely mental? Can you prove them wrong? Why, or why not?
  • 6. How is Hume’s philosophy different from Berkeley’s? Why do you suppose Hume adopted such a radical philosophy? Does the fact that he was not religious help us understand his philosophy?
  • 7. What is the human mind like? According to Hume, we cannot think of it as a Cartesian thinking thing. When we examine our consciousness, the mind is nowhere to be found—we find perceptions, but no entity containing them. Is Hume right? How would you characterize the mind? Is the mind something separate from a stream of perceptions?
  • 8. How does Hume argue that we find no causal connections in nature? How should we understand causality according to him? Is he right? How could you argue against Hume?
  • 9. How was Hume’s radical philosophy received by Kant? Why did Kant find it problematic?
  • 10. How is Kant’s view of the mind different from Hume’s? What does he think Hume is missing? Which of the philosophers attribute more structure to the mind?
  • 11. According to Kant, our world is a constructed reality. How is this view different from Hume’s? Does Kant succeed in defeating Hume’s skepticism? Why, or why not?
  • 12. What is the difference between the phenomenal and noumenal worlds? Why does Kant think we cannot have knowledge of the noumenal world? Which world is more real according to Kant? Is Kant a dualist, since he believes in two worlds?
  • 13. What happened to idealism in the twentieth century? Idealism was popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Why did materialism take over in the twentieth century? Do you think idealism could have remained strong, or was its decline inevitable?
  • 14. How does Einstein’s theory of relativity challenge Kant’s understanding of space and time? How might a Kantian respond to this challenge?
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