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This document should serve as a brief outline of the subject of philosophy for those preparing for the International Philosophy Olympiad. Since it is a very vast subject, the point of organizing a kind of syllabus is only to train the student’s mind in reasoning and to introduce the wide scope of philosophical thought. The Indian Philosophy Olympiad selection process is outlined on our website.

This can also be used by high school teachers / students to define assignments or projects. There are topical links to the relatively easy references on the net and also there are certain links in general for most topics and for beginners at the bottom of the page.

Philosophy: Who Needs It ?!? (Arranged as a projects theme for Stimulus 2010)

For the Love of Wisdom

Philosophy as a Quest

Philosophy as a quest for knowledge, truth, etc; Why we need philosophy?; A brief history of philosophy; Philosophy is not a subject, but a progenitor of all subjects; Ancient Philosophers (Eastern & Western, i.e. more than about 1000 yrs ago)

Demonstrations: A role play of a fun debate between two great ancient philosophers

Resources: A timeline of western philosophy by Dolhenty; Why is it important -;

A Battleground of Ideas

It is a battleground of ideas - philosophers have different viewpoints and they both could be right in some sense; Various disciplines of thought (branches & isms) Great Philosophers (Recent, i.e. in the last few centuries); Their work (highlights)

Resources: A glossary of terms;

The Indian Legacy - The Vedic period 

The origin and essence of the veda  - rigved , yajurved, samved, atharvaved - the differences in their philosophical outlook to approaching God; The different divisions in them - Samhita, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads; The Astik schools of thought

Resources: The Discovery of India (Jawaharlal Nehru); Bharat Ek Khoj (An adaptation of Nehru’s book, first few episodes)

The Indian Legacy - The Epic Period 

The period of upheaval and questioning of the authorities of the vedas; Chanakya; Jainas; Buddha; Charvak; Their deviation from the Arya Dharma and its effect on the Indian sub-continent (in terms of demography and sociology)

The Indian Legacy - The modern view

The Idea of Hinduism as a way of life; Arya Samaj; Swami Vivekanand; Ramakrishan Paramahansa and recent Indian praxeologists e.g. Amartya Sen, Dasgupta. Which of the thinker have impressions of veda, deviations from the indian tradition? What are today’s Indian Philosophers doing? - research in Hermeneutics, Economics & Praxeology

Doing Philosophy - Logic & Arguments

Logic as a tool of the philosopher; Verbal reasoning and Aristotelian logic; Mathematical reasoning (the syllabus of XII Math); Arguments – structure, soundness; validity

Pitfalls - Fallacies 

Fallacies in arguments – some important kinds and interesting examples.( Take examples from everyday experience. If possible, try making a small demonstration about these fallacies.)

Paradoxes & Dilemmas

Paradoxes as motivators for critical thinking ( Give examples of famous paradoxes such as Liars paradox, Zeno, Achilles, etc. and other classical paradoxes.), Moral paradoxes or Ethical Dilemmas as the referees between philosophies. Give examples such as Prisoners dilemma and many more.

A User's Guide To Society

A User’s Guide to Society

Ethics as Normative guidelines; Ethics as a connection between thought & action; What is more important - thought or action? What is the purpose of action? - happiness, satisfaction, etc; Different ethical systems or ‘isms’ with their viewpoints

Are we conscious of our Ethics?

An Ethical system needs a moral code, a set of values and a set of virtues; What is Morality? What are values? What are virtues? Identifying or misidentifying them (examples which show misconceptions); Use Ayn Rand’s definitions for value and virtue; Does everyone have a code? What about criminals? What about those whose thinking is in some way disabled?

Should values change?

How do changes in technology affect our way of life? Examples from Bioethics & Cyber-ethics; Is yesterday’s virtue, today’s vice and vice versa? Can values remain eternal in a changing world? Should we discard the values which are “useless” and adopt the more “practical” ones?

Are we in control of our actions?

Are our ethics subjective or objective? Do we decide our principles or should others do that for us? Should we accept others authority over us - e.g. parents, teachers, government, god? If we do, then where is our freedom Or what is freedom? If we don’t then how can the society remain stable? (i.e. if people do whatsoever they wish) Examples like Dictatorship Vs Democracy, Sectarian politics

Choosing between ‘One’ and ‘All’

What drives the society- Marxian theory: MPFs & classism- Do societies move in a particular direction? [Perspectives in sociology viz conflict perspective, functionalism and symbolic interactionism; Spencer’s ideas of simple to complex transition] -Human action: rational or irrational

Know Your World

How do we begin to understand the World?

Ontology - defining things and classifying them on the basis of their properties; Relating them through equations and reasoning; Checking the relations through predictions and experiments and experiences; re-checking the underlying assumptions we make. (In short the scientific method)

Demonstrations: scientific method; object definitions, their associations, classifications etc.

Ways to know?

Ways of reasoning - induction, deduction etc...and their reliability

Resources: Epistemology; Guide to Theory of Knowledge, Adam Morton

How do we Know?

Beliefs & Knowledge; The Justifiable-True-Belief idea and the extra factor

Resources: Epistemology; Guide to Theory of Knowledge, Adam Morton

What is Reality?

Can we trust our senses? Do we see what actually is or is what we actually see only an impression of the real world? If latter, then how do we know what the world actually is? Can our beliefs or concepts affect the way we perceive something new?? Perception, Observation and their Connection; Illusions; Different ‘isms’ like realism, naturalism, pragmatism. representationalism & objectivism. Variety of examples...

Demonstrations: Demonstrate examples of illusion

Resources: Guide to Theory of Knowledge, Ch.2, Adam Morton; CommonSenseScience.Org


Definition; Determinism in various scientific theories like Mechanics, Relativity, Quantum Physics; Chaos; Is the world deterministic or chaotic?- are they opposites- if not then soft determinism-compatibilism-what is acausal

Does science have all the answers?

Understanding the “rationale” behind the pseudo-sciences like astrology, palmistry; Explaining the paranormal like ghosts, UFO’, etc. The argument of “Faith as a means to know”; Can science explain everything? Can it ever? Is science incomplete and should we look up to something else to explain the world?

Resources: Faith And Reason

Know Your Self

What is our Identity?

Who are we? How do we identify ourselves? Are we what others see us to be or are we what we think of ourselves? Are we what we think or are we what we say & do? Is our body our complete identity?... or is it our face? ... or our mind and its thoughts?

What is the Mind?

What is the seat of our thoughts? Where is the mind – inside or outside the body? Is it real or only an illusion? How do you relate the brain with the mind? What is consciousness? How do we know we are conscious? How do we know we are aware?

Mind Your Behavior

Behaviorism; Conditioning- classical and operant ; Is Behaviorism complete?? (Explain the shortcomings), Therefore how can one access the mind

Human Learning

How do humans learn- conditioning [classical, operant] vs other theories [cognitive theory, observational learning], place of original thought- can man have free thoughts or is he highly conditioned, can he not unlearn what is observed? Generalization and induction

Resources: Encyclopedia of Informal Education


Idea of intelligence, Criteria for intelligence, Theories about intelligence such as Psychometric (IQ) approach, Multiple intelligence, General factor of intelligence etc.( Discuss the factors describing intelligence in each of these theories and their comprehensiveness ) ; Are their factors that affect intelligence such as biological( heredity, gender, race etc.) and environmental.

Resources: Encyclopedia of Informal Education


Can Machines Think?

Turing test, is consciousness necessary for a machine to be intelligent? (coz a machine may pass turing test, but can it be considered as a thinking entity??) is it necessary to be aware of one’s thinking process?

Resources: McCarthy , intro to AI

Enriching life

How do we define Beauty?

Is beauty relative to the observer? Why are we so obsessed with beauty? Is beauty that which is “good” for us and ugly being that which is in some sense “bad” for us? lots of examples of both; Can you describe beauty in numbers? If beauty is absolute, then who decides what is beautiful?

Resources: Aesthetics, Philosophy Talk, The Blog(14th and 17th March 2005); Metaphysics of Beauty

What is Good?

Why do we need to distinguish things as good or bad/evil?? How is good defined?? Is there any ultimate idea about good?? If not then which idea of good should one accept??

Quest for Truth?

Is there only one kind of truth? The versions of truth, universal Vs personal, physical Vs metaphysical, social, political, etc; How can one know what is true? What is the “ultimate truth” that some mystics search for? Is it a meaningful question to ask “What is true”?

 Are All Men Equal

What are the different senses of equality? Does lack of equality mean discrimination or subordination?

Resources: Equality & Liberty

Towards Harmony

Everyone tried it; Common problems - Varied solutions; Learning from other civilizations; Religion as a philosophy; Religion as a bridge between cultures (eg. Sikh). Various forms of discrimination. Given all the conflict in the world, given our natural tendency to be biased and discriminating and jealous can we appreciate a world without conflict? Can we actually work towards a harmonious co-existence amongst all mankind? What kind of philosophy would allow us to do that? Should we value our emotions towards others more than the rationale of survival? Can the feeling of brotherhood solve the problems of survival?

Links common to most topics (Also for advanced study)

1.       Philosophy for Children Links

2.       A comprehensive view of Philosophy

3.       Some courses in Philosophy

4.       An Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy

5.       Philosophy: The Quest for Truth and Meaning By Andrew Beards (first chapter)

6.       An overview of the work of some philosophers by Dolhenty

    This site is copyrighted to Kedar Soni

Updated on: 06-03-2019 00:14 +0530