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Prospectus

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Philosophy of the Infinite

Course
2021-2022

Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to:

  • BA students in Philosophy, who have successfully completed the first year, and who have furthermore obtained at least 10 EC’s of the mandatory components of the second year, including: Wetenschapsfilosofie or Philosophy of Science, and Analytische filosofie or Language and Thought.

  • Pre-master’s students in Philosophy who are in possession of an admission statement, and for whom this course is part of their programme.

Description

The idea of infinity has played an important role in Western philosophy ever since the pre-Socratics. It has been understood as the unlimited, boundless, immeasurable, and as such was at the centre of Zeno’s paradoxes of motion, questions about the eternity of the world, and foundational problems in the philosophy of mathematics. But it has also been understood as the complete, whole, absolute, perfect and self-sufficient; and it is as such that it has exercised not only theological reflection, but also all the philosophical attempts to understand and deal with our own finitude and contingency. Perhaps most fundamentally, the infinite seems to push human understanding to its limit: the infinite is precisely that which our finite intellect cannot grasp. But by making that very statement, we seem to have grasped the infinite. We thus come face to face with a paradox inherent in any attempt to think through our own finite nature.

In this course, we will pursue the infinite across space and time. Using Adrian Moore’s book The Infinite as our core text, and supplying this with a variety of shorter texts, we will delve into the history of the topic; explore the adventurous world of the mathematics of the infinite; and consider the implications of the infinite on our own status as finite intellects. We will pay special attention to Kant, Wittgenstein and recent analytic work on infinity in physics and mathematics; while Moore will also introduce us to the somewhat unlikely, but according to his interpretation crucial, trio of Hegel-Spinoza-Nietzsche. Of course we will take care to uncover and understand the links between these very disparate thinkers.

As is no doubt clear from this description, our readings will be varied and will require a solid basis in philosophy. No mathematical background is required, but one must be prepared to spend a non-trivial amount of time on the conceptual aspects of modern mathematical theories of the infinite. (If fear of maths might dissuade you from taking this course – and it probably shouldn't – contact me and we’ll discuss it.)

Course objectives

This course aims to give students a detailed insight into the ways that thinking about infinity has shaped and continues to shape philosophical reflection. In particular it aims to introduce students both to mathematical and metaphysical conceptions of infinity and the ways that they elucidate our own status as finite thinkers.

Students who successfully complete this course will have a good understanding of:

  • mathematical theories of the infinite and their place in contemporary philosophy;

  • metaphysical ideas of the infinite, and how they have shaped metaphysical reflection;

  • the meta-philosophical significance of reflections on the infinite.

Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:

  • explain a variety of theories and ways of thinking about the infinite;

  • apply these ideas in contemporary debates and draw well-argued philosophical conclusions from them.

Timetable

The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method

Assessment

  • Mid-term paper (30%)

  • Final paper (70%)

Active participation in class is required for admission to the exam.

Weighting

The final grade for the course is the result of the weighted average of several subtests (see above).

Resit

The resit covers the following exam component: paper (100%). The mark for the resit replaces any partial result. Active participation in class is required for admission to the resit.
Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

  • A. W. Moore, The Infinite, Third Edition. (It is important that you have the third edition, since this has been substantially enlarged.)

  • Other materials to be announced and/or distributed on Brightspace.

Registration

Enrolment through uSis for this course is not possible. Students are requested to submit their preferences for the third-year electives by means of an online registration form. They will receive the instruction and online registration form by email (uMail account); in June for courses scheduled in semester 1, and in December for courses scheduled in semester 2. Registration in uSis will be taken care of by the Education Administration Office.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.

Contact

  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the information bar at the right hand side of the page.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc., contact the Education Administration Office Huizinga

Remarks

Not applicable.