Undergraduate Course: Philosophy of Virtual Worlds (PHIL10221)
|School||School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences
||College||College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
|Credit level (Normal year taken)||SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate)
||Availability||Available to all students
|Summary||Virtual worlds that are indistinguishable from non-virtual worlds are no longer just far off examples from science fiction - they are instead, very likely, something humanity will face in the near future. Thinking seriously about virtual (and augmented) reality requires confronting philosophical questions from metaphysics to ethics, and beyond. For example, are virtual worlds merely illusions or fictions? Is virtual reality just escapism? Does what happens in virtual reality really happen? Are the objects in virtual worlds real objects? How do we know that our world is not a virtual world? Would it even matter if it was? Can one lead a meaningful life in a virtual world? This course provides the opportunity to engage with some of the diverse and controversial answers to these questions. In doing so, we will make connections to, and be guided by, doctrines and positions from the history of philosophy.
The course will be divided into four main parts, each of which will be addressed, although the exact distribution of topics and the emphasis may vary in any given year.
1. Knowledge and virtual worlds
This part of the course addresses the distinctive epistemological issues arising from virtual worlds. The following are representative topics which will usually be covered:
a) How do we know we aren't in a simulation?
b) Is it likely that we are in a simulation?
2. Reality and virtual worlds
This part of the course addresses the distinctive metaphysical issues arising from virtual worlds. The following are representative topics which will usually be covered:
a) What is reality?
b) What is virtual reality?
c) Can virtual things be real?
3. Mind and virtual worlds
This part of the course addresses the distinctive issues in the philosophy of mind arising from virtual worlds. The following are representative topics which will usually be covered:
a) How do mind and body interact in a virtual world?
b) Can there be consciousness in a simulation?
c) Does augmented reality extend the mind?
4. Value and virtual worlds
This part of the course addresses the distinctive moral issues arising from virtual worlds. The following are representative topics which will usually be covered:
a) Can one lead a good life in a virtual world?
b) Do simulated lives matter?
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
|| Students MUST have passed:
Mind, Matter and Language (PHIL08014) AND
Knowledge and Reality (PHIL08017)
||Other requirements|| Students studying on MA Cognitive Science (Humanities) are permitted to take this course without having met the pre-requisites of Mind, Matter and Language and Knowledge and Reality. However, it is advisable that students discuss the suitability of the course with their PT and the course organiser before enrolling.
Information for Visiting Students
|Pre-requisites||Visiting students should have completed at least 3 Philosophy courses at grade B or above. We will only consider University/College level courses. Applicants should note that, as with other popular courses, meeting the minimum does NOT guarantee admission. These enrolments are managed strictly by the Visiting Student Office, in line with the quotas allocated by the department, and all enquiries to enrol in these courses must be made through the CAHSS Visiting Student Office. It is not appropriate for students to contact the department directly to request additional spaces.
|High Demand Course?
Course Delivery Information
|Academic year 2022/23, Available to all students (SV1)
|Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info)
Seminar/Tutorial Hours 22,
Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4,
Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours
|Assessment (Further Info)
|Additional Information (Assessment)
||Practical report (40%) - 1500 words
Final essay (60%) - 2500 words
||Guidance will be given in advance of each assignment. This may be in the form of an in-class discussion, a handout, or discussion of a component of the assessed work. Instructor feedback on essay outline and peer feedback provides further formative opportunities ahead of final essay.
|No Exam Information
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
- Understand central debates in the philosophy of virtual worlds.
- Apply abstract philosophical reasoning to problems arising from virtual and augmented reality technologies.
- Connect issues arising from the philosophy of virtual worlds to various historical debates in metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.
- Apply key distinctions and terminology from the relevant philosophical literature.
- Improve core skills in philosophy, including ability to interpret and engage with philosophical texts, evaluate arguments, and develop critical ideas in response.
|To keep the readings up to date and to allow different course organisers to emphasise different topics, the following list of readings (in random order) is merely indicative:|
Chalmers (2022) Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy, Allen Lane Publishing.
Philosophers Explore the Matrix, (2005), ed. Grau, Oxford University Press.
The Oxford Handbook of Virtuality, (2014), ed. Grimshaw, Oxford University Press.
Experience Machines and the Philosophy of Virtual Worlds, (2017), ed. Silcox, Rowman and Littlefield.
Sloman (1978) The Computer Revolution in Philosophy, Harverser Press.
Zhai (1998) Get Real, Rowman & Littlefield.
Putnam (1981) "Brains in a vat", chapter 1 of Reason, Truth and History, Cambridge University Press.
Bennett (1966) "Real", Mind.
Peirce (1902) "Virtual", in Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology.
Bostrom (2003) "Are you living in a computer simulation?", Philosophical Quarterly.
Nozick (1989) The Examined Life, Chapter 10, Simon & Schuster
Moore (1939) "Proof of an External World", Proceedings of the British Academy.
Bouwsma (1949) "Descartes' Evil Genius", Philosophical Review.
Floridi (2009) "Against Digital Ontology", Synthese.
Heidt (1999) "Floating, Flying, Falling: A philosophical Investigation of Virtual reality Technology", Inquiry.
Elga (2003) "Why Neo was too confident that he had left the Matrix", online.
Ludlow (2019) "The social furniture of virtual worlds", Disputatio.
Velleman (2013) "Virtual Selves", in Foundations of Moral Relativism.
Wolfendale (2007) "My Avatar, My Self: Virtual Harm and Attachment", Ethics and Information Technology.
Wildman and MacDonald, (2020) "The Puzzle of Virtual Theft", Analysis.
|Graduate Attributes and Skills
||Students will be able to engage critically with the contemporary philosophical literature on virtual worlds, and will be able to connect it to various historical debates in metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. They will be able to apply abstract philosophical reasoning skills to problems arising from advances in new technology.
|Course organiser||Dr Mahrad Almotahari
Tel: (0131 6)67 7290
|Course secretary||Mr Peter Cruickshank
Tel: (131 6)50 3961