Five Issues in Contemporary Philosophy WEA Sydney

Thanks for adding:

Proceed to Checkout

Continue browsing


Print this page Five Issues in Contemporary Philosophy

Available Classes

The five issues we will address in this course have attracted new philosophical research over the last decade. Rutger Bregman’s attempts to redress the growing pessimism about ‘human nature’ and our inability to deal with contemporary and future problems in his recent book Humankind-A Hopeful History (2019). Conspiracy theories became a hot topic for philosophers and psychologists during the COVID-19 pandemic and has continued to be of serious concern. Morality we will explore through Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. His book has become one on the seminal classics of the last decade. The last decade has also produced fascinating new research on non-human animals, and we will concentrate on the issue of how animals think. Lastly, we will look at some of the new research in the of environmental philosophy.


  • Face-to-Face / Online


  • Rutger Bregman (2017) Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World
  • Rutger Bregman (2020) Humankind - A Hopeful History
  • Joseph E. Uscinsk (2021) Conspiracy Theories: A Primer. Rowman & Littlefield Publisher
  • Tim Hayward (2021) "Conspiracy theory": The case for being critically receptive
  • M. Dentith (2014) The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories. Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Jonathan Haidt (2012). The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics
  • Jonathan Haidt (2018). The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, co-written with Greg Lukianoff. New York City: Penguin Press.
  • Jonathan Haidt, (2021) The Psychology of Self-Righteousness. The On Being Project.
  • Robert Lurz ed (2021) The Philosophy of Animal Minds. Cambridge University Press.


  • Human nature: hope vs pessimism: The media and political discourse tends to dramatize human failure, crime and corruption, which gives a lopsided view of humanity and causes undue pessimism and anxiety. Redressing this view is difficult because good stories are not always considered newsworthy. Dutch author and public intellectual, Rutger Bregman, attempts to redress this imbalance with historical examples, empirical evidence and an appeal to evolutionary biology.
  • Conspiracy theory: On this topic we begin with a discussion of exactly what constitutes a ‘conspiracy theory’ and whether all such theories must be considered fundamentally flawed. The aim of this section is to see how cogently and informatively such an understanding can be articulated. The challenge is to provide a definition of conspiracy theory as an irrational cognitive activity that differentiates this both from other—non-conspiratorial—kinds of irrational thought process and from intellectually respectable investigations into potential conspiracies.
  • Understanding Contemporary Ethics: Jonathan David Haidt is an American social psychologist, Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University Stern School of Business, and author. His main areas of study are the psychology of morality, political philosophy, and the ideological makeup of America.
    Haidt's main scientific contributions come from the psychological field of moral foundations theory, which attempts to explain the evolutionary origins of human moral reasoning. He states (2017) “to live virtuously as individuals and societies, we must understand how our minds are built. We must find ways to overcome our natural self-righteousness. We must respect and even learn from those whose morality differs from ours”.
  • Animal minds: Philosophers have been interested in animals since the ancient times, however the subject of their minds has only emerged as a major topic over the last few decades. This flourishing has been abetted by an explosion of empirical research in comparative psychology, cognitive ethology, and related disciplines, along with an increased tendency among philosophers to engage with empirical research.
  • Contemporary Environmentalism: On this issue we will look at a range of theorists on the issues of: What constitutes ‘Life’; How do ecosystems work; What measures can science take to reduce environmental damage. Marjolein Oele’s book E-Co-Affectivity (2020) adds a prescriptive, ethical lens that formulates a new epoch beyond the Anthropocene, one that is sensitive to the larger ecological, communal concerns at stake.


By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Discuss the pros and cons involved in the contemporary debates on the issues of hope vs pessimism, conspiracy theory, contemporary ethics and animal minds
  2. Discuss aspects of the contemporary philosophy of environmental affectivity
  3. Identify the main ideas of contemporary thinkers including Jonathan Haidt, Rutger Bregman and Marjolein Oele
  4. Apply some of the course ideas to broader contemporary world issues

Kerry Sanders

BA (Hons), PhD
Dr Kerry Sanders gained her PhD in Philosophy at the University of Sydney. Her specialist areas are: Aesthetics, Phenomenology, Postmodernism and Political Philosophy. She has formerly taught at...