FT 05-D Science Fiction and Philosophy
Cheryl Hughes, Department of Philosophy and Religion, TTh, 9:45
Science fiction is always a kind of thought experiment, inventing new worlds that are often inhabited by something alien or other, or extending our current science and technology into an imagined future full of tough moral dilemmas, or simply playing with some of our most challenging ideas such as the nature of space and time, the possibility of artificial intelligence, or the problems of personal identity and free will. Philosophy, too, often proceeds by using thought experiments to question what we might otherwise take for granted, to explore familiar problems in new ways, or to construct ideas and ideals and test their possibilities. Thus science fiction can be an excellent way to introduce philosophical issues. Consider Stephen Spielberg’s 2002 film, Minority Report, for example, with its precogs who can predict future crimes and its Pre-Crime Unit of the police department charged with apprehending criminals before they commit murder. Here is a story that at least sketches out the thorny problem of freedom of the will: do we freely choose and freely act on our choices or are we simply another thing in the world subject to very complex causes and effects and therefore not free at all? In this course, we will use science fiction novels, short stories, and films as well as philosophical essays to explore such topics as the limits of knowledge, relationships between appearance and reality, the nature of intelligence, the paradoxes and logical problems in the idea of time-travel, problems of memory and personal identity, and various social and moral issues. Science fiction authors may include Isaac Asimov, Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, Brian Aldiss, Stanislaw Lem, Aldous Huxley, and Kurt Vonnegut.