Green Philosophies: Can we know what it's like to be a bat?

Ref: C2346595

It had been a dominant view in philosophy that only humans have consciousness or self-awareness. This course covers the origins of this view in Cartesian dualism, and presents and scrutinizes the arguments used to support it. We will then consider three critiques of this view : 1. the claim developed in the philosophy of mind that (some) animals have consciousness, self-awareness and a unique point of view (from Nagel's 1974 article "What Is It Like To Be A Bat?” onwards); 2. evidence of consciousness and of 'having a life of one's own' from animal research; 3. an alternative approach to humans and animals in the Aristotelian tradition (also called virtue ethics) - which focusses on conditions for thriving, respect for living beings, empathy and practicing virtues. Knowledge of philosophy is not expected. The course will be run as a combination of tutor input, student tasks and discussions. Study materials will include online articles and radio programmes or podcasts.

Course aim

to give students the opportunity to consider evidence and philosophical arguments regarding consciousness and self-awareness in animals

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • This course is for beginners and improvers

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • summarize the Cartesian view of human and animal consciousness
  • set out the reasons for Thomas Nagel's conclusion that we (humans) can't know what it is like to be a bat
  • using evidence from animal research, explain what kind of consciousness which animals have
  • show similarities and differences between the Cartesian and the Aristotelian analyses of animal and human life
  • draw your own conclusions about which of the approaches or arguments covered on the course is the most and which the least convincing and give reasons for your conclusions

How will I be taught?

What kind of feedback can I expect?

What else do I need to know?

This is an online course. You will need an email address, reliable Internet access, and a CANVAS account. Help with CANVAS is available from the national WEA team.

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

What can I do next?

View full course information sheet

Green Philosophies: Can we know what it's like to be a bat?

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This course has been cancelled.


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  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2021
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