Philosophy and the Science of Human Nature


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Richard Mitingi
Chamaro Tanda
Wesley van Steen


Philosophy and the Science of Human Nature pairs central texts from Western philosophical tradition (including works by Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus, Hobbes, Kant, Mill, Rawls, and Nozick) with recent findings in cognitive science and related fields. The course is structured around three intertwined sets of topics: Happiness and Flourishing; Morality and Justice; and Political Legitimacy and Social Structures.

Nearly 20 hours of video

26 lectures.

24 reading guides,10 reading exercises and Final exam study guide.


Required texts

Course Packet/Online

  • Annas, Julia. “The Phenomenology of Virtue,” Phenomenology and Cognitive Sciences 7, 2008.
  • Ariely, Dan. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions. Harper Collins, 2008.
  • Ariely, Dan and Klaus Wertenbroch. “Procrastination, Deadlines, and Performance: Self-Control by Precommittment,Psychological Science Vol. 13:3, 2002.
  • Batson, Daniel C. “Moral Masquerades Experimental Exploration of the Nature of Moral Motivation,” Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, Vol. 7, 2008, pp. 51-66.
  • Boethius. The Consolations of Philosophy, Bobbs-Merrill, 1962.
  • Boorse, Christopher and Roy Sorensen. “Ducking Harm,” The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 85, No. 3, March, 1988. pp.115-134.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. TED talk “Flow.” (19-minute video)
  • Darley, John and Thane S. Pittman. The Psychology of Compensatory and Retributive Justice,” Personality and Social Psychology Review, Vol. 7, No. 4, 2003, pp. 324-336.
  • Doris, John. “Persons, Situations, and Virtue Ethics.” Noûs 32, 1998.                                                                           
  • Evans, Jonathan St. B. T.In two minds: dual-process accounts of reasoning.” Trends in Cognitive Science, vol 7, (2003), pp. 454-459
  • Freud, Sigmund. The Ego and the Id. ed. James Strachey. W. W. Norton & Company; The Standard Edition edition (September 17, 1990)
  • Gendler, Tamar Szabó. “Alief and Belief,” Journal of Philosophy (2008), pp. 634-663.
  • Gendler, Tamar, Susanna Siegel and Steven M. Cahn, eds. The Elements of Philosophy: Readings from Past and Present. Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Homer, The Iliad. Viking, 1990.
  • Hume, David. Treatise on Human Nature, eds. David Norton and Mary J. Norton. Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Kahneman, Daniel. “A Perspective on Judgment and Choice: Mapping Bounded Rationality.” American Psychologist, 58 (2003), pp. 697-720.
  • Kahneman, Daniel. Nobel Prize Lecture “Maps of Bounded Rationality.” (38-minute video)
  • Kant, Immanuel. “The Right to Punish,” an excerpt from The Philosophy of Law (Rechtslehre). trans. W. Hastie, 1887, pp. 194-198.
  • Kazdin, Alan. Behavior Modification in Applied Settings. Dorsey Press, 1980.
  • Kazdin, Alan. Parenting the Defiant Child. Houghton Mifflin, 2008.
  • LeGuin, Ursula. “The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas: Variations on a Theme by William James” New Directions 3, 1973.
  • Lewis, David. “The Punishment that Leaves Something to Chance” Philosophy and Public Affairs Vol. 18, No. 1, Winter, 1989, pp. 53-67.
  • Milgram, Stanley. “Behavioral study of obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Vol. 67 (1963), pp. 371-378, reprinted in Elliot Aronson, ed. The Social Animal, pp. 26-40.
  • Nozick, Robert. “Love’s Bond,” from The Examined Life: Philosophical Meditations. Simon & Schuster, 1989.
  • Plato, Phaedrus, trans. and ed. R. Hackforth. Cambridge University Press, 1972.
  • Rawls, John. “Two Concepts of Punishment,” an excerpt from “Two Concepts of Rules,” Philosophical Review 64: 1955, pp. 3-13.
  • Stockdale, James “Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus in the Laboratory.” Speech delivered at King’s College, 15 November 1993.
  • Sunstein, Cass. “Moral Heuristics,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28, 2005, pp. 531-542.
  • Thomson, Judith Jarvis. “The Trolley ProblemThe Yale Law Journal, Vol. 94, No. 6, May 1985.


Tamar Szabó Gendler is Vincent J. Scully Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Cognitive Science at Yale University, and Chair of the Department of Philosophy. She received her BA in Humanities and Mathematics & Philosophy from Yale in 1987 and her PhD in Philosophy from Harvard in 1996. After a decade teaching first at Syracuse University and then at Cornell, she returned to to Yale as a professor in 2006. Her professional philosophical work lies at the intersection of philosophy and psychology, and she is the author of Thought Experiments (2000) and Intuition, Imagination and Philosophical Methodology (2010), and editor or co-editor of Conceivability and Possibility (2002), Perceptual Experience (2006) and The Elements of Philosophy (2008). She has been honored with fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, the American Council for Learned Societies, and the Mellon Foundation.

PHIL 181: Philosophy and the Science of Human Nature by Professor Tamar Gendler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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Course content

  • Lecture 1 - Introduction

  • Lecture 2 - The Ring of Gyges: Morality and Hypocrisy

  • Lecture 3 - Parts of the Soul I

  • Lecture 4 - Parts of the Soul II

  • Lecture 5 - The Well-Ordered Soul: Happiness and Harmony

  • Lecture 6 - The Disordered Soul: Thémis and PTSD

  • Lecture 7 - Flourishing and Attachment

  • Lecture 8 - Flourishing and Detachment

  • Lecture 9 - Virtue and Habit I

  • Lecture 10 - Virtue and Habit II

  • Lecture 11 - Weakness of the Will and Procrastination

  • Lecture 12 - Utilitarianism and its Critiques

  • Lecture 13 - Deontology

  • Lecture 14 - The Trolley Problem

  • Lecture 15 - Empirically-informed Responses

  • Lecture 16 - Philosophical Puzzles

  • Lecture 17 - Punishment I

  • Lecture 18 - Punishment II

  • Lecture 19 - Contract & Commonwealth: Thomas Hobbes

  • Lecture 20 - The Prisoner's Dilemma

  • Lecture 21 - Equality

  • Lecture 22 - Equality II

  • Lecture 23 - Social Structures

  • Lecture 24 - Censorship

  • Lecture 25 - Tying up Loose Ends

  • Lecture 26 - Concluding Lecture

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