Course Descriptions and Syllabi

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View the department's Fall 2016 Course Description Packet by clicking here.  Updated 4/18/16 - note that the schedule is subject to change.

Phil 1000: Dean's Seminar

Topics Vary

 

Fall 2015:

PHIL 1000.11 An Introduction to Jewish Philosophy taught by Dr. Eric Saidel

The old joke tells us that in every gathering of two Jews, there are three opinions. Elihu, a character in the book of Job, is a good representative of the Jewish people: he is full of words that he must express.  With those words come many questions.  This is how philosophy begins: with questions.  In this class, we’ll look at some of the most basic questions about the relationship between Jews and God and the relationship between Jews and the rest of the world.  What obligations do Jews owe God?  Other human beings?  The natural world?  Ought we make distinctions between obligations Jews have toward other Jews and toward gentiles?  Does God have special obligations toward the Jews?  Do our answers to these questions change if we don’t believe in God?  We’ll start the semester with a careful look at the book of Job, perhaps the oldest book in the Bible and a surprisingly philosophical approach to the question of theodicy – the attempt to understand the ways of God, especially in the face of the presence of evil in the world.  We’ll try to figure out our own answers to these questions, using as a guide the work of several philosophers (including Saadya ben Joseph, Moses Maimonides, and Baruch Spinoza).  We’ll also try to figure out what Jewish Philosophy is.  Is it that certain philosophical questions are “Jewish?”  Or perhaps it’s the answers that are particularly Jewish?  Or the approaches to the problems?  Or maybe this is backwards, maybe it’s that Jews approach problems philosophically?  By the end of the term, the progress we’ve made on answering these questions should help us understand what Jewish Philosophy is.

 

Spring 2016:

No Dean's Seminars offered this semester.

Phil 1051: Intro to Philosophy

Andrea Pedeferri

This course is an introduction to Western philosophy. The aim of this course is to introduce students to the basic concepts of philosophy, to examine and assess the main philosophical theories and to understand the philosophical methods. The course does not aim to be an exhaustive account of the history of philosophy and philosophical ideas. Instead, it aims to focus on some key concepts, themes and theories, trying to engage students in "doing philosophy", that is, by means of conceptual analysis and argument. To accomplish this goal the course is organized by philosophical topics rather than in an historical sequence. This cross temporal approach will help to show how key concepts were treated and developed within different philosophical theories and frameworks in different moments of the history of philosophy. By the end of the class, students should have a good knowledge of philosophical concepts and ideas and, ultimately, they should be able to present their philosophical arguments both in writing and in class discussions.

 

Dimiter Kirilov

This course aims to teach you to think critically: to be able to understand and analyze arguments, to evaluate reasons, to come up with your own arguments, and in general to engage in thoughtful and well-reasoned debate. The course also introduces you to the literature, problems, and methods of philosophy either through a study of some of the main figures in philosophic thought or through an examination of some of the central and recurring problems of philosophy.

 

Paul Churchill

The theme of this course is the good life, as posed by the question, “How should we live?” We will explore a wide variety of positions and issues in connection with the course theme: e.g. whether morality can be objective, and whether living happily requires morality, what ethical theories are defensible, is morality a matter of cultural relativism, and does life have any meaning, or purpose, after all?  All readings will be appropriate for an introductory course, but will be drawn from classical sources in the Western philosophical tradition, as well as contemporary philosophers. In addition, philosophical readings are interspersed with short works of fiction to spark imaginative thinking about the possibilities explored in the reading. We will have the opportunity to consider the ways ideas discussed in class apply to contemporary social and political issues. Also, we will focus on developing the capacity for critical thinking, especially the ability to develop one’s own position and to defend it against criticism. Students will be expected to come to class ready to discuss the assigned readings.

Phil 1062: Philosophy and Film

Christopher Venner

This course will give students an historical overview of how Western philosophy has thought about the relationship between the individual and the group to which she belongs. We will examine this theme in three different historical settings – the ancient polis, the early modern state, and contemporary civil society. And we will situate each of our readings alongside movies that address similar themes. For example, we will use Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing to orient our discussion of justice in Plato's Republic, Bridesmaids to accompany our discussion of Aristotle's theory of friendship and choice, and Fight Club to guide our reading of Freud's Ego and the Id. Students will develop the ability to closely read philosophical texts, apply themes and ideas from those texts to films, and engage in critical discussion with others about those texts and films.

Class time will be divided between lecture, discussion, and clips from assigned films.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 1153: Meaning of Mind

Eric Saidel

The sciences of the mind are proliferating at an accelerating pace. Developmental psychology, comparative psychology, cognitive psychology, neuropsychology, social psychology, linguistics, artificial intelligence, cognitive neuroscience, and neuroeconomics are all rapidly growing, established sciences, generating thousands of discoveries about the mind every year. At the same time, the nature of the human mind is one of the oldest questions of philosophy. For example, Plato, the earliest Western philosopher with substantial surviving works, devoted considerable attention to the nature of the mind, and many of his ideas continue to be influential. This course will introduce students with no background in philosophy or the sciences of the mind to the central questions, assumptions and hypotheses about the human mind. Subjects covered include: the nature of thought, the nature of consciousness, the relationship between the mind and the brain, the implications of the sciences of the mind for freedom of the will and responsibility, the nature of the self, our knowledge of other minds, and the possibility that the mind may incorporate elements outside the skull, like information processing and communications devices.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 1193: Introduction to Existentialism

Cameron Bassiri
This course will serve as a general introduction to existentialism. It will be devoted to exploring the core existentialist themes of freedom, subjectivity, death, and ethics. It will cover the different areas and developments of existentialism in the 19th and 20th centuries through reading both philosophical works as well as short stories, novels, and plays that deal with existentialist themes. To supplement the reading for the course and to see the relation of existentialism to certain of the arts, we will watch films which engage core existentialist themes. The course will cover works by Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Joyce, Kafka, Faulkner, Heidegger, Camus, Sartre, and de Beauvoir. Among the films we will cover are Cleo from 5-7, The Seventh Seal, and Wild Strawberries.

Sample Syllabus

Michael Sigrist 
We examine the movement in philosophy, literature and culture known as existentialism. Existentialism begins with the conviction that philosophy is more than an academic discipline; it can matter to one’s whole life. Consequently, existentialists ask questions of a deeply personal nature: Is there a right way to die? Why should anything matter to me? Can I be true to myself while still respecting my responsibilities to others? Who am I, anyway? As the name implies, existentialists believe philosophy should remain focused on the individual’s existence and experience. Accordingly, we examine concepts that matter to philosophy more generally—truth, reality, selfhood, value and responsibility—but always with an eye towards how these concepts matter in the individual’s daily existence. We will investigate how individuality is achieved in the face of other people, the world, and in the confrontation with one’s own mortality. We also ask how this same individuality can be maintained against impersonal social systems, moral codes, religious orthodoxy, and history. The course will and filmmakers.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 2045: Introduction to Logic

Michèle Friend

We reason every day, and we try to convince other people every day. We get into arguments or have disputes. Some of these are emotionally charged and some are just an attempt at understanding another person's perspective or understand the truth of a difficult question. We can convince others by using psychological tricks or by sloppy thinking and sloppy language, when the other person is sloppy too. Or, we can convince people by using a good, reasoned argument. The advantage of the latter is that it is more systematic, more honest and if something goes wrong, we know where to look for the problem. In other words, conclusions reached by reasoned argument tend to be closer to the truth, or at least, have longevity. They are more efficient in the medium and long run. 

There are also perfectly logical arguments, ones against which no one, or almost no one, can argue. These are deductive arguments, or logical demonstrations. We shall look very closely at what it is that makes for the perfect logical arguments, and learn some of the philosophy that goes into making such arguments. The technical work will be quite simple, but the implications for arguing in philosophy and good argument in general are profound. In normal discussions few arguments take this perfect form, but parts of very ordinary arguments do. It is good to be able to recognize these for what they are perfect pieces of a less perfect argument.

We shall also look at less perfect, but nevertheless quite good arguments. These are informal arguments. We shall see how to construct and evaluate these through studying what is a mistake in an argument. These are invaluable skills for anyone who intends to work in an environment where it is important to know the difference between persuading someone for the right (i.e., logical or good and honest) reasons and tricking someone into agreeing. If you know both, you can use both, and you can tell if someone else is trying to trick you!

Sample Syllabus (Friend)

Phil 2111: History of Ancient Philosophy

Laura Papish

Our goal in this class is to give a systematic overview of the history of Ancient Greek philosophy, beginning with the Presocratics and ending with Aristotle.  We will treat a range of topics in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and political philosophy, but we will preface these topics with a brief look at Hesiod’s Theogony and the ways that Theogony both initiates and resists natural philosophy.  After we conclude our discussion of Hesiod and the Presocratics, we will examine the philosophical views of both Socrates and Plato, taking special care to consider both different accounts of the relationship between these two figures and Plato's philosophical development.  We then turn to Aristotle, both for his critique of Plato and for his own contributions to metaphysics and ethics.

Sample Syllabus

 

Summer 2016: PHIL 2111W History of Ancient Philosophy

Short Term Study Abroad Program to Greece  

Click here for more information

 

Phil 2112: History of Modern Philosophy

Lee Okster

What is modern in the works of the dead? Like us, Western European philosophers in the 17th and 18th centuries cease to accept traditional conceptions of mind and world on faith alone, and instead tend to cultivate the insights of mathematics and the new science. This course offers a critical introduction to the metaphysical and epistemological theories of Modern Philosophy, with particular attention to how its practitioners used various conceptions of reason and sense experience to ask fundamental questions about knowledge, perception, and reality. We focus on the following figures and themes: Descartes’ indictment of the senses and his arguments for both the existence of God and mind/body dualism; the pan-psychic materialism of Cavendish; pantheism, geometrical method, and the interaction of imagination and reason in Spinoza; Leibniz’s re-envisioning of atoms as monads and its implications for freedom and the ideality of space and time; Locke’s embrace of corpuscularian mechanics and the empiricist way of ideas; the varieties of skepticism urged by Berkeley and Hume; and Reid’s defense of common sense. We shall conclude by examining Kant’s Copernican Turn and its attempted closure of metaphysics and modern philosophy. A question we shall ask throughout the course is whether this period in the history of philosophy contains any lost or strange conceptual possibilities that illuminate how we do philosophy now.

 

Sample Syllabus

Phil 2124W: Philosophies of Disability

Megan Davis

Disability presents an intense and interesting challenge to traditional philosophical presuppositions and principles. This course will examine various philosophical approaches to disability—both historical individual or medical paradigms as well as those that rely on frameworks of social or human rights. While disability studies has become more prominent in the fields of historical and literary studies, philosophical approaches have been more recent. Work in feminist philosophy, critical race theory and queer theory has challenged such presuppositions and, therefore, provides a the foundation on which we can consider the disabled body itself along with larger social and political considerations related to cultural treatment and understanding of disability.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 2125: Philosophy of Race and Gender

Megan Davis

This course examines differing perspectives on how race, gender, class, and ethnicity inform individual as well as group identities.  Despite their diverse views, all of the assigned authors are united in the belief that race, gender, class, and ethnicity are formative influences on both people and cultures, and many of them focus on the consequences of being marginalized because one is deemed to be a member of the "wrong" race or the "wrong" gender.  This course takes up the question of whether and how individuals and society can rectify social and political inequities associated with specific marginalized identities.  Note: PHIL 2125 also counts towards the Women's Studies major.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 2131: Ethics: Theory and Applications

Christopher Venner

The goal of this course is to give students an opportunity to think more deeply about how they live their lives, as well as how those choices impact specific aspects of the contemporary world. We will begin by engaging some of the canonical thinkers in the Western tradition as they attempt to answer the question of what it means to live a meaningful life – should we seek above all to avoid pain or instead strive to achieve goals that might turn out to be unreachable? And along the way, should we try to resign ourselves to the way things are, or instead always seek our own advantage in what life throws our way? Once we have a basic orientation among these positions, we will then turn to questions specific to contemporary society, including issues such as animal research, social justice, and euthanasia.

Class time will be devoted to lecture, discussion, and evaluation of assigned texts.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 2132W: Social and Political Philosophy

Vanessa Wills

This course focuses on normative questions concerning the arrangement of economic, political, and cultural institutions. We will cover most of the major normative theories, including utilitarianism, republicanism, liberalism, libertarism, and socialism. Readings will consist of both classic and contemporary texts.  There is a special emphasis on how political and social institutions might be more just. In addition we will investigate matters such as the nature of political and civic liberty, legal and moral rights, the moral significance of inequality, and the relation between democracy and the rule of law.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 2133: Philosophy and Nonviolence

Paul Churchill

The course offers philosophical approaches to civil disobedience, nonviolent activism, ahimsa, and pacifism as ways of living as well as political strategies. We examine the thought and campaigns of such figures as Thoreau, Tolstoy, Gandhi, King, and Chavez, as well as just war theory and myths relating to "peace through power." We also focus on the causes of aggression and violence in human nature as well as the environment. Students will be required to make oral presentations to the class, and to earn civil engagement credit by engaging in a project relating to nonviolent activism and human rights.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 2134: Philosophy of Human Rights

Paul Churchill

Although the discourse of human rights has become the lingua franca, or primary category, for discussions of the morality of human relationships, much confusion still surrounds human rights.  Four major questions predominate in debates: "What are human rights?", "Which rights can be claimed as human rights?,” "Why are human rights important?,” and "How do human rights apply to contemporary problems and issues?"

The first third of the course focuses on the development of conceptual and logical issues as well as justifications of human rights of human rights from the Enlightenment through the contemporary era.  The balance of the course focuses on the universality of human rights and respect for cultural and social diversity. In addition, there will be an emphasis on the application of human rights to global problems such as: poverty, development and the global economy; human rights to environmental equality, self-determination and rights to democratic government; humanitarian intervention, and gender violence and women's human rights.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 2135: Ethics: Business and Professions

Lloyd Eby

This is a course in applied ethics. It deals with questions and problems of ethics that occur in business – the workplace, marketplace, and business place – and in the professions. We will first consider ethics in general and theories and views of ethics, and then go on to examine and discuss many ethical issues that arise in business and the professions. We will attempt to use some of those ethical theories to solve some of those ethical problems. A great deal of in-class discussion will occur, and all students are expected to participate in those in-class discussions.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 2136: Contemporary Issues in Ethics

Cameron Bassiri

The goal of this course is to introduce you to a range of debates in applied ethics, including classic debates on the permissibility of abortion, animal treatment, and suicide, as well as more current debates concerning our interactions with the environment and our obligations to the poor in a global context.  This course is a green leaf designated course and counts toward the Sustainability minor (Track C).  This course also fulfills the GPAC civic engagement, analysis (humanities), and oral communication requirements.

Sample Syllabus (Papish)

Phil 2281: Philosophy of the Environment

Michael Sigrist

It is taken as a basis for this course that there might be a problem with our relationship to the natural environment we live in. We will not assess this claim, only acknowledge it as fact or as mistaken perception. Nevertheless, as a mistaken perception, it is one held by enough people that we should learn about it, by looking at what it would take to alleviate the concern. 

There are three components to this course. The first is to fix the supposed or actual problem with technology, the second is to fix it culturally, ethically or spiritually, the third is to fix it economically. The three components inform each other.  We spend more time on the economic fix, since this is conceptually more complicated and unusual. In particular, students will be exposed to the thinking of ecological economists, who reject standard neo-classical economic thinking.

Sample Syllabus (Friend)

Phil 3100: Selected Topics

Offered as PHIL 3100 and PHIL 3100W.

PHIL 3100.80 Evil taught by Dr. Joseph Trullinger

Thomas Aquinas once argued, “If evil exists, then God exists.” We are surely taken by the counterintuitive boldness of this statement; the existence of evil in the world strikes us as strong evidence against any claim that there exists a God who personally cares for us. Any careful thought on this issue requires that we first think through what we mean by funny little words such as evil and God. Is evil real, and an opposite force to goodness, or is evil only what we label as being less good than something else? Could it be that God benevolently wants to stop evil, but simply lacks enough power to do so—and would such a deity still count as God? What is more central to what people revere: power or goodness?
 
This class will explore these questions as we wonder whether the idea of God is compatible with the existence of evil, looking both at classical sources as well as philosophical responses to the Holocaust. Significant authors include Plato, Leibniz, Kant, Arendt, Levinas, and Hans Jonas. Our course will also include discussions of philosophical literature, namely parts of Voltaire’s Candide and Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, which both explore the question of what goodness is good for in a world that suffers.

Phil 3113: 19th Century Philosophy (Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard)

Rebecca Carr

(Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard)

In contrast to Kant, whose accent falls on the objective, the transcendental, the necessary, and the certain, our 19th C. philosophers accent the subjective, the concrete, the existential, and the uncertain. Such a subjective accent blurs the lines between literature and philosophy, between works that aim to tell the truth about the human relationship to facts and the disinterested truth about the actual nature of things. Not only is this a course with philosophical content, but a course about philosophy itself and how it might be best expressed.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 3121: Symbolic Logic

Michèle Friend

The aim of this course is to study the formal system of deduction called “natural deduction” both in propositional and in quantificational logic. The course will also have a philosophical part where will be discussed some meta-mathematical results of classical logic. There are three parts to the course. The first is revising natural deduction in propositional logic (a topic that students should recall from their introduction to logic classes). The second part looks at a more sophisticated formal system of logic, and the third part of the course is more philosophical.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 3142W: Philosophy of Law

Jeffery Brand

This course introduces Western legal philosophy, emphasizing the twentieth century. Legal philosophers ask questions such as following. What purposes do legal systems serve? What are the essential features of a legal system? Who creates the law? Who should create it? Are judges entitled to make law, or does that job belong exclusively to legislators? What are the sources of law? What kinds of standards are included in the set of legal standards? What reasons do we have to obey the law? When, if ever, are we morally obligated to obey? What reasons do public officials, such as judges, have to apply the law? When, if ever, are they morally obligated to apply it? Is there any legal question that has a unique, legally correct answer? Does every legal question have a unique, legally correct answer? How does one discover the legally correct answer to a legal question? To what, if anything, does legal discourse refer? How should judges use legal precedent? How is law related to justice, ethics, and morality? What is the “rule of law” and what does it require? In this course, we’ll also examine specific bodies of law, such as criminal law, constitutional law, and the law of torts (wrongful harms). We’ll ask what underlying rationales we can identify with respect to these areas. Finally, we’ll debate the values that public officials (e.g., judges, executives, and legislators) should implement when they make and apply law. What moral principles and policies should our penal system reflect? Did the U.S. Supreme Court make a mistake when it upheld the death penalty? Was it wrong to uphold affirmative action in higher education? Was it correct to recognize constitutional rights to abortion and sodomy?

Sample Syllabus

Phil 3151: Philosophy and Science

Eric Saidel

One reason for philosophers to take science as their subject matter is that if we take scientific knowledge as the paradigm of knowledge, and the pursuit of science as the paradigm of the pursuit of knowledge, then a philosophical study of science may help us understand what knowledge is and how we get it.  Of course, there are assumptions about science and knowledge implicit in this goal, and we should question these assumptions:  Do all sciences proceed in the same way?  Is there one scientific method that unifies all sciences?  Do we even know what science is?  Is there a truth that science gets at?  Is scientific activity really a paradigm of a knowledge-gathering activity, or is it, like most other human activities, flawed and marred by independent human interests?  We’ll focus on these questions over the course of the semester.  We'll start by thinking about what counts as scientific discovery, about when we've actually learned something positive (such as, that a particular theory is true), or if learning something positive is even possible.  This will lead us naturally to consider if science can ever tell us the truth about the world, or if it just paints a nice picture.  This will lead us to explore the nature of explanation; we'll look at different accounts philosophers have offered of what counts as a good scientific explanation.  Finally, we'll consider the issue of scientific reduction: are all scientists looking at the same world from different perspectives, so that all scientific theories reduce to a basic unified theory?

Sample Syllabus (Zawidzki)

 

Phil 3152: Theory of Knowledge

Avery Archer

Epistemology is the study of knowledge and knowledge-related concepts like justification. In this class we will think about how the term knowledge should be defined, the nature and structure of epistemic justification, putative sources of knowledge, and whether knowledge is even possible. We will explore these questions via a close reading of contemporary texts that have played an important role in shaping the contours of the field. One of the primary goals of this course will be to hone your ability to closely read philosophical texts.  Consequently, classes will be largely devoted to the careful analysis and discussion of the assigned readings.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 3153: Mind Brain Artificial Intelligence

Eric Saidel

What is the mind? Where is it? How is it related to your brain? What does it do? How does it do what it does? Can we make artificial minds? The goal of this class is to get a firmer grasp on the answers to these questions. We'll start by thinking about the relationship between the mind and the brain (what is classically known as the mind-body problem). There are three basic positions that one might take about the relation between the mind and the body: that they are completely distinct, that they are exactly the same thing, or that they overlap without being identical. But careful attention to the theories spelling out these positions reveals that each theory has fatal flaws. How can that be? Doesn’t one of these theories have to be true? We’ll spend most of the semester trying to figure out which one. In part this will involve delving deeply into issues that are part of the contemporary focus of philosophers studying the mind. These may include (but are not limited to) the nature of mental causation, what it means to be conscious, whether artificial minds are possible, and whether animals have minds.

By the end of the class you should:

  • Have a firm grasp on the different philosophical theories of the relationship between the mind and the body,
  • Have a good sense of what you think the right understanding of this relationship is,
  • Have a deeper understanding of the problems in resolving the mind-body problem,
  • Be able to read and discuss contemporary texts in the Philosophy of Mind.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 3161: Philosophy and Literature

Michael Sigrist

This course will pair readings in literature with texts important philosophical texts primarily drawn from the continental tradition. Partly we will examine how works of literature give expression to philosophical themes, and reciprocally, how philosophical themes inform works in literature, but we will also examine the connection between the forms of writing on a deeper level. Philosophy, after all, is primarily a written, and therefore literary, tradition, while literature cannot help but rely upon concepts and worldviews that are fundamentally philosophical. The relation between the two, therefore, is not incidental. Our approach to this connection will be grounded in existentialist themes. We will examine both literature and philosophy with an eye for how each simultaneously expresses and informs our attitudes and understandings of death, temporality, authenticity, selfhood, and social responsibility. A special focus will be the degree to which narratives reflect, or distort, our lives.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 3162: Aesthetics: Philosophy of the Arts

Christopher Venner

The goal of this course is to give students an overview of major theories in the philosophy of art in the Western intellectual tradition. We will begin with the ancient Greek approach to art as an imitation of reality as outlined in texts by Plato and Aristotle. We will then focus on texts in the German Idealist tradition that theorize art as a particular type of cognitive response -- in contrast to the ancient Greeks, Idealists like Kant, Hegel, and Schopenhauer use art to explore how the mind processes data, rather than judging the art object by its adherence to an external reality. Finally, we will examine a number of movements in the contemporary philosophy of art, including phenomenology, psychoanalysis, structuralism, and postmodernism, looking to each for concrete methodologies for analyzing artistic works.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 3172W: American Philosophy

Rebecca Carr

The development of Pragmatism takes place from the time of the Civil War until the outbreak of WW II. This classical pragmatism is the work of three American philosophers who broke from European traditions and made original entries into the encyclopedia of philosophy. "Pragmatism" is a theory of meaning that accounts for the ways in which thinking enters into experience and experience determines the truth of our concepts and beliefs. These philosophers radicalized traditional notions of truth and experience and democratized the reach and importance of philosophy. Charles Peirce (1839-1914), William James (1842-1910), and John Dewey (1859-1952) are the classical pragmatists.  Following the study of John Dewey, we will read some of the work of two public intellectuals: Alain Locke, the intellectual spokesman for the Harlem Renaissance, and Richard Rorty, a neo-pragmatist of the second half of the 20th Century.  Engagement with American Philosophy, its theory of pragmatism and concepts of experience and truth, will be through reading primary texts, lecture, class discussions, and writing about ideas that are still philosophically significant in making life worth living.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 3251: Philosophy of Biology

Eric Saidel

It has been 150 years since Darwin published The Origin of the Species and overturned the science of biology. The Twentieth century saw the discovery of the gene, the double helix model, and the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis. One could accurately describe the current era as the Darwinian Age. But what exactly does Darwin claim about the origin and evolution of species? What, for that matter, is a species? How does evolution work? Does “survival of the fittest” mean that the best will flourish? These are some of the questions that philosophers of biology ask. We will strive to better understand evolutionary theory, and then to see what light it can shed on other areas, including our understanding of our own place in nature, and what it can or cannot explain about our characters, as well as core philosophical issues such as the nature of scientific explanation and the relation one scientific theory may have to another.

By the end of the semester students will have a solid understanding of the workings of evolutionary theory, and they will be able to think critically about issues in the philosophy of biology as well as about these issues as they arise in both public debate and in other academic areas.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 4192: Analytical Philosophy

Avery Archer

British and American philosophers of the first half of the 19th century believed that with careful attention to the meanings of the words in which apparent philosophical problems were raised, they would be able to resolve, or more likely, dissolve many of the traditional problems of philosophy. Once these (mostly) metaphysical worries were tended to, what remained would then be the true realm of philosophy: a kind of logico-scientific analysis of language. In many ways, this approach culminated in Saul Kripke's Naming and Necessity (1972) (the title of which is a reference to Carnap's classic and central work of the language-focused tradition: Meaning and Necessity (1947)). The tradition born of this approach to philosophy, known as analytic philosophy, is the strongest component of contemporary British and American philosophical inquiry.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 4193W: Phenomenology and Hermeneutics

Gail Weiss

This course offers an intensive, systematic introduction to the phenomenological and hermeneutic traditions in philosophy through some of their best-known representatives: Husserl, Heidegger, Gadamer, Sartre, Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, and Ricoeur.  Central topics of discussion include consciousness, anguish/anxiety, lived experience, interpretation, the Other, death, and ambiguity. This course is recommended for junior and senior majors. Prerequisites: 19th Century Philosophy (3113) or Modern Philosophy (2112).

Sample Syllabus

Phil 4195W: Topics in Value Theory / REL 3990W: Contemporary Philosophy of Religion

Topics Vary

Contemporary Philosophy of Religion taught by Dr. Derek Malone-France

Philosophy of religion is the common label for a notably diverse range of scholarly conversations all of which share an overarching methodological commonality: the application of philosophical modes of thinking to aspects of or issues related to religious belief and practice. The breadth of approaches among philosophers of religion is the product of a two- fold relation. First, philosophers of religion differ over which fundamental model of philosophical thinking they employ—there are ‘analytic’ philosophers of religion, ‘continental’ philosophers of religion, ‘deconstructionist’ philosophers of religion, ‘process’ philosophers of religion, etc. Second, they differ over their attitudes toward and perspectives on religion—some analytic philosophers of religion are devout believers, some are agnostics, some are atheists. In short, philosophers of religion differ over both how they frame the various perennial questions that they ask and how they answer these questions. Moreover, contemporary philosophers of religion frequently draw upon knowledge and arguments from other disciplines that intersect with their own concerns, such as anthropology, biology, cultural theory, law, literary theory, physics, political science, etc. All of which makes for a lively and multivalent discourse within the field.

In this course, we will trace some of the major lines of inquiry and approaches in philosophy of religion by studying the arguments of some of the major figures in several prominent contemporary schools of thought within the field. Students will gain an introductory understanding of each of these various schools of thought and will have the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of some of them through their own writing projects. Cross-listed with REL 3990W: Contemporary Philosophy of Religion.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 4196: Topics in Theory of Knowledge

Topics Vary

Philosophy of Mathematics taught by Dr. Michele Friend

In general, the philosophy of mathematics differs from the philosophy of other areas of enquiry because of the presuppositions which are made concerning the nature of mathematics. The philosophy of mathematics differs from the philosophy of science ontologically in that a lot of (arguably all of) mathematics cannot be scientifically tested, in the sense of using observations and laboratory experiments to decide whether a proposition in, or about, mathematics is true. This is because a lot of mathematics concerns abstract objects. Moreover, a lot of mathematics concerns infinite objects, or infinite collections of objects, and we cannot physically observe or test these. The philosophy of mathematics differs from other areas of philosophy epistemologically. This is because our methods of enquiry in mathematics are deductive, in the sense of requiring rigorous proof. There is no sense in which the claims of mathematics are decided upon by vote, consensus, coercion, through political mechanisms or with respect to social or moral concerns. The philosophy of mathematics differs from some other areas of philosophy phenomenologically, in that mathematics is “cold”. We do not (usually) care very much whether the answer to a mathematical problem is one number or another. Prima facie, this all seems right. We shall revisit these presuppositions in the class.

The basic questions we ask in the philosophy of mathematics concern ontology and epistemology. Ontological questions we might ask include: what is it that we study when we study mathematics? Are numbers independent of us? How many of them are there? What make an object abstract? Is an abstract object less real than a physical object? Epistemological questions we might ask include: How do we choose between one
area of mathematics and another? Are some formal proofs better than others? Are we discovering or creating mathematics? What is (are) the mechanism(s) which allow(s) us to understand mathematical truths?

In the course, we shall start with an investigation into infinity. The text we shall use is: Introducing Philosophy of Mathematics. We start with infinity because almost every philosophy of mathematics has something important to say about infinity. Furthermore, it is not a bad idea for students to have some understanding of how it is that mathematics deals with infinity. We shall then examine the default, or naïve, philosophical position called Platonism. Of course, Platonism has grave problems associated with it, so we shall then look at an amendment to Platonism, called Logicism. The third position we shall examine is Structuralism, which can usefully be compared to Platonism. We shall then plunge into a more advanced text which sets out the structuralist position in detail. The text is by Shapiro. The title is: Philosophy of Mathematics; Structure and Ontology. This book is a very carefully worked out presentation of the structuralist position, and will add depth to our understanding of the philosophy of mathematics, since we shall see some debates carried out at a sophisticated level.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 4198: Proseminar in Philosophy

Topics Vary

 

Fall 2015:

PHIL 4198.10 Marx & the Alienation Concept taught by Dr. Vanessa Wills

In "The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1884," Marx identifies four chief aspects of alienation under capitalism. These are: the worker's loss of ownership in her own products; the debasing and stultifying character of wage-labor itself; the inability of human beings to recognize and to treat one another as human and therefore as of the same kind, with interests in common; the individual human being's separation from her own nature as a member of the human species. Particularly in his earlier writings before The Theses on Feuerbach, Marx regularly characterizes communism as "the return of man to himself"--the abolition of alienation in each of its forms.

In this course, we will investigate the contours of the "alienation" concept in Marx's thought. We will consider its meaning and its justificatory role in Marx's critiques of class society and his arguments for communism. We will investigate the relationship between Marx's views on alienation and his views about human nature. We will also engage the question of whether Marx abandoned the alienation concept in his "mature" work, and of the potential theoretical implications of such abandonment.

In addition to reading Marx and his collaborator, Engels, we will read several of those with whom Marx entered into conversation about the alienation concept, particularly Hegel, Feuerbach, and Stirner, and we will read relevant secondary literature. See flyer and syllabus.

PHIL 4198.80 Spinoza and His Critics: Nihilism, Pantheism, and the Crisis of Reason taught by Dr. Joseph Trullinger

This course will study the great debate following Spinoza’s (in)famous proof that God and Nature are the same. In the space of a few years it sparked a crisis of meaning in Europe that overturned traditional beliefs in free will, objective morality, and religion. The word “nihilism” was coined at that time—and it inspired later movements such as existentialism and romanticism, in addition to prominent philosophers of the 19th century such as Hegel, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard. Even Kant weighed in on the debate. We will see how today’s questions about whether life has any objective meaning sprang out of this crisis. This seminar is intended for rising juniors and seniors with an interest in learning one of the greatest philosophical debates of all time.  See flyer and syllabus.

 

Spring 2016:

PHIL 4198.10 Mindshaping taught by Dr. Tadeusz Zawidzki

What makes humans unique in the animal kingdom? According to one recent philosophical theory, it is mindshaping. More than any other mammal, we shape each other’s minds to respect prevalent norms of conduct.  These multifarious mindshaping practices and mechanisms are arguably the secret to our evolutionary success: they enable us to solve problems of coordination in cooperative projects involving large numbers of other human beings, many of whom are personally unknown to us. We are so much better at coordinating on complex projects than other mammals because, from a young age, we are shaped to act as most expect us to act. 

This seminar will involve exploration and critical evaluation of this philosophical hypothesis about what makes humans distinctive. Reviewing both empirical data and philosophical assumptions and implications, the seminar will explore the human drive to shape minds. Topics covered will include the exceptional susceptibility of human infants to mindshaping, through pedagogy and high-fidelity imitation, our irresistible tendency to institute and enforce norms, and our drive to identify with groups and stereotypes, and to tacitly enforce these stereotypes.  See flyer.

PHIL 4198.80 Heidegger's Being and Time taught by Dr. Mark Ralkowski

“When I left the auditorium, I was speechless. For a brief moment I felt as if I had a glimpse into the ground and foundation of the world. In my inner being, something was touched that had been asleep for a long time.” 

That is how one person described the experience of listening to Heidegger present his philosophy in 1929. Our advanced seminar will be an intensive and focused study of Heidegger’s Being and Time, one of the most influential philosophical works of the twentieth century. We will begin the course with an overview of Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological method, and then trace how Heidegger adopts and adapts this new way of doing philosophy in order to address the problems of existence. Second, we will work our way through Being and Time systematically, mastering Heidegger’s arguments and considering their implications for traditional philosophical problems in epistemology and ontology. Finally, we will look at the “turn” in Hiedegger’s later thought, and consider the importance of his philosophy for understanding language, art, and poetry, as well as his profound critique of modernity, which has influenced thinkers as diverse as Sartre, Marcuse, Derrida, Foucault, Lacan, Cavell, Taylor, Agamben, and Žižek.

As Richard Rorty once said, “You cannot read most of the important philosophers of recent times without taking Heidegger’s thought into account.” This course is designed for students who want to know why.  See flyer.