Course Descriptions and Syllabi

Click on the dropdown menus below to view course descriptions and the syllabi for those courses.

View the department's current course listings here.

Phil 6211: Topics in the History of Ancient Philosophy

Mark Ralkowski

Topic announced in the Schedule of Classes.  This seminar offers a critical examination of issues in the history of ancient philosophy. Emphasis may be placed on a particular figure or on the development of a particular trend in the history of ancient philosophy. Offered every year.

Sample Topic: Socrates.  This course topic will begin with the “Socrates Problem,” the difficulty we have in discerning what the historical Socrates thought given our inconsistent historical sources. The rest of the course will focus on current issues in Socrates studies, including Socrates’ doctrine of obedience to civil law, Socrates’ disavowal of knowledge, Socrates’ eudaimonism, and Socrates’ intellectualism.


Phil 6212: Topics in the History of Modern Philosophy

Laura Papish

Topic announced in the Schedule of Classes.  Offered every year.

Sample Topic: Kant's Theoretical and Practical Philosophy.  This class is dedicated to an in-depth reading of two Kantian masterpieces, Critique of Pure Reason (1781/1787) and Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals.  After briefly setting up the concerns about rationalist metaphysics, Humean skepticism, and moral sentimentalism that motivate Kant’s new Critical approach to philosophy, we will begin slowly reading and analyzing the most important sections of his first Critique.  We will consider, for example, Kant’s views about space and time, his account of human understanding and how it relates to sensibility, the distinction between reason and the understanding, and how reason both leads us to problematic illusions and has important regulative functions.  Following this, we will consider how Kant’s Groundwork marks a radical departure from the moral sense theory favored by Kant’s immediate predecessors, such as Hume, Shaftesbury, and Hutcheson.  We will focus particularly on Kant’s derivation of the moral law, Kant’s account of respect, and his attempt to ground morality in freedom. 


Phil 6221: Advanced Logic

Michéle Friend

This course will offer an intensive reading of a difficult text in an advanced logical system, or a series of logical systems. The focus of the course is on analyzing reasoning under partial information. We shall engage in two different activities that involve working with partial information: 1) using the formal system to analyze fallacies of reasoning; 2) analyzing quantum phenomena using the formal system we are studying.  Offered on demand.


Phil 6222: Philosophy of Mathematics

Michéle Friend

This course examines several philosophies of mathematics. We concentrate on one in depth, Field’s “fictionalism.” A fictionalist believes that all of the ontology of mathematics is favorably compared to a fictional object – so it does not literally exist. Students will be expected to react to Field’s philosophical position using the resources of alternative philosophical positions. Offered on demand.


Phil 6223: Philosophy of Logic

Michéle Friend

Central concepts in the philosophy of logic will be discussed. These include: truth, reasoning, inference, deduction, induction, judgment, assertion, warrant, proof, demonstration, meaning, semantics, syntax, paradox, mathematical models and the relationship between a formal representation of logical reasoning and the philosophical ideal of the practice of reasoning. We shall look at historical and present day texts that broach these very fundamental issues.  The questions we shall raise include: What is logic for? What is the best method of achieving that goal? Who goes astray, in trying to achieve that goal? What is the relationship between logic and: language, mathematics, computations, metaphysics, science, decision-making and logic itself?  Offered on demand.


Phil 6225: Queer(ing) Philosophy

Gail Weiss

This course will examine how queer theory, which emerged as a field in its own right in the early 1990s, has posed significant challenges to traditional, taken-for-granted understandings of time, space, the body, race, sexuality, normality, culture, violence, and disability. Course authors include: Judith Butler, Sara Ahmed, Eve Sedgwick, Josè Esteban Muňoz, Jack Halberstam, Jasbir Puar, Shannon Winnubst, Michael Warner, Gayle Salamon, Robert McRuer, and Alison Kafer.  Offered on demand.


Phil 6230: Ethical Issues in Policy Arguments

Laura Papish

This course is meant to serve three goals.  First, it aims to introduce you those theories of normative ethics most dominant in the Western philosophical tradition.  Second, this course will acquaint you with theories of democracy, the common good, and rational choice so that you can engage in ethical analysis of policy questions in contemporary American life, as opposed to ethical analysis of applied topics most generally.  Third, this course will survey several areas where philosophers have much to contribute to public policy discussions, including: systems of taxation, race policy, campaign finance reform, and contemporary debates regarding corporate personhood and the social responsibility of corporations.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 6231: Seminar: Economic Justice

Vanessa Wills

This course is about inequality. When, if ever, is it just for some to have more than others? We'll read recent philosophical work critiquing and defending inequalities in wealth and income; as well as empirical and theoretical work on the past, present, and future of inequality.

Phil 6232: Topics in Contemporary Political Philosophy

Jeffrey Brand

Topic announced in Schedule of Classes. 

Sample Topic: Multiculturalism. This course will serve as both a detailed study of themes in contemporary political philosophy and a way to explore issues of pluralism and multiculturalism.  Racial and ethnic groups, national minorities, aboriginals, women, sexual minorities, and other groups have organized to highlight injustice and demand recognition and accommodation on the basis of their differences. In practice, democratic states have granted a variety of group-differentiated rights, such as exemptions from generally applicable laws, special representation rights, language rights, or limited self-government rights, to different types of groups. This course will examine how different theories of citizenship address the challenges raised by different forms of pluralism. We will focus in particular on the following questions:

  • Does justice require granting group-differentiated rights?
  • Do group-differentiated rights conflict with liberal and democratic commitments to equality and justice for all citizens?
  • What, if anything, can hold a multi-religious, multicultural society together? Why should the citizens of such a society want to hold together?



Phil 6233: Contemporary Moral Philosophy

Laura Papish

This course will investigate contemporary debates in normative ethics and/or metaethics. Possible course topics include: the virtue ethics revival in the 20th century, the distinction between the right and the good, or important metaethical positions such as fictionalism, expressivism, and constitutivist accounts of moral principles.  Topic announced in the Schedule of Classes.

Sample Topic: Wrongdoing and Responsibility.  Students will examine ethical questions that become particularly salient after wrongdoing has occurred.  They will begin the course by examining the nature of moral responsibility and the related problem of free will.  The class will slowly shift attention to phenomena that complicate assessments of responsibility, such as addiction, moral ignorance, and the way that luck shapes who we are and the circumstances we find ourselves in.  It will then move to more practical applications as we explore whether we can engage in retributive punishment and what conditions – if any – make the forgiveness of moral wrongs permissible.


Phil 6234: Consequentialism and Its Critics

Jeffrey Brand

An overview of the debate over consequentialism in the past century, culminating in discussion of recent literature; forms of consequentialism (act, rule, motive, cooperative); direct versus indirect; classic objections and replies; partiality; friendship; agent-relative considerations; doctrine of doing and allowing; doctrine of double effect.  Objections to be considered primarily concern the psychology of the consequentialist agent, raising questions such as (1) whether such an agent could truly be happy or effectively promote the happiness of others (the alleged self-defeat of consequentialism) and (2) whether such an agent could have integrity or exhibit other virtues. Offered on demand.

Phil 6236: Moral Status

David DeGrazia

This course examines the question of what sorts of beings matter morally in their own right and how much they matter.  In addition to considering persons—the paradigm bearers of moral status—the course will consider competing ways of thinking about the possible moral status of human nonpersons, nonhuman persons, great apes and dolphins, other sentient animals, nonsentient lifeforms, the environment, future people, and advanced forms of artificial intelligence.  At a more general theoretical level, the course will ask whether the concept of moral status is genuinely useful and, if so, whether there are degrees of moral status.  Class members will strive to develop a coherent and plausible overall account of moral status, which they will present both orally and in the form of a term paper.


Phil 6237: Animal Ethics

David DeGrazia

This course explores the moral status of animals and the ethics of human use of animals.  Major topics include models of moral status, animals' mental life, and the specific ethical issues associated with the eating of animal products, the use of animals in research, and the keeping of animals in homes and zoos.


Phil 6238: Feminist Ethics and Policy Implications

Gail Weiss

This course examines feminist critiques of traditional ethical theories, focusing in particular on the limitations of classic deontological and utilitarian approaches in addressing issues of gender, class, race, ethnicity, and ability. Course readings by contemporary feminist ethical theorists emphasize relations with others, rather than the autonomous moral subject, as the locus for both theory and practice. The feminist ethical frameworks that will be discussed include the ethics of care, maternal ethics, the ethics of dependency, relational ethics, and narrative ethics. Throughout the course, we will critically analyze the unique contributions these approaches can make to our understanding of contemporary ethical and policy issues. In particular, we will explore how disability, dependency, war, and cross-cultural differences are experienced, both individually and collectively, through intersecting (and often conflicting) axes of race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, age, and ability. Cross-listed with WGSS 6238.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 6239: Virtue Ethics

Laura Papish

This course will consider historical and/or contemporary approaches to virtue ethics and key readings in the virtue ethical tradition.  Topics covered include empirical work on virtue in philosophy and psychology, the divide between “radical” virtue ethics and contemporary virtue ethics, “hybrid” approaches to virtue ethics (e.g., consequentialist virtue ethics), and meta-ethical issues relevant to the study of virtue.   Offered on demand.


Phil 6242: Philosophy, Law & Social Policy

Lee Goldsmith

After being raised, educated, and socialized in a constitutional democracy, we tend to take our court system for granted. The courts serve many functions, among the most central being the interpretation of the laws created by our legislatures and the actions taken by our executives. This function—that our courts’ justices interpret our laws and evaluate their legitimacy—we hold to check and balance the powers that reside in the other two branches. The judiciary ensures that the other two branches abide by our Constitution. To us, this basic role the judiciary plays in our constitutional democracy is a commonplace. But throughout the history of this nation-state politicians, pundits, scholars, and citizens have raised objections to the general powers the judiciary has claimed for itself, to the methods the judiciary has employed to settle disputes, and to the specific policies that the judiciary has crafted. As we can see in today’s political landscape, whether the decision is long-standing, such as Roe v. Wade, or newly promulgated, such as Citizen’s United, critics decry the Supreme Court for over-reaching its authority, misreading the Constitution, and usurping the will of the people. How can such a venerated and popular institution also be the target of such fundamental criticism?

In this course we will delve into the controversies surrounding the scope of the Supreme Court’s authority, the legitimate use of its power, and its proper method for making decisions. We will ask questions such as—but not limited to—the following. What justifies having a judiciary that can invalidate the acts of the legislature and executive? Is the Court a democratic institution or is it an elitist check against the pitfalls of democracy? What is a Constitution and how should one be interpreted? Should values or politics play any role in the Court’s decisions? Must or should the justices consider the policy implications of their decisions?

Theorists offer a perplexing range of answers to these questions. Some see judicial review as an institution of dubious political legitimacy and seek to curtail it. Others welcome it as a vital safeguard against legislative and executive abuses. Some theorists instruct judges to interpret the text of a constitutional provision as that provision would have been understood at the time it was enacted. Others regard such “originalism” as misguided, even incoherent. Some theorists think all constitutional interpretation involves moral and political judgment, others think that only bad constitutional interpretation does. Together we will explore the arguments for and against these theoretical positions alongside actual decisions made, and policies set, by the Supreme Court. We will attempt to see the theory in action and participate in the practice by theorizing.

Sample Syllabus (Brand)

Phil 6245: Biomedical Ethics

David DeGrazia

This graduate seminar offers an in-depth introduction to biomedical ethics.  Following a brief review of ethical theory, the course proceeds to several central topics in biomedical ethics--ranging from the professional-patient relationship to the definition of death to justice and health care access--before ending with students’ presentations of their original research.  Students are expected to keep pace with relatively heavy reading assignments while gradually developing their research projects in consultation with the instructor.  The emphasis throughout the course will be on normative ethical reasoning with considerable attention to the empirical assumptions underlying particular ethical judgments and to policy dimensions of several of the central topics.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 6250: Topics in Health Policy

David DeGrazia

Intended for graduate students but occasionally open to undergraduates with the instructor’s prior permission, this course addresses the following topics in health policy from the perspective of philosophical bioethics: (1) human and animal research; (2) the enhancement of human traits; and (3) justice and health care allocation. After introducing the subject matter, clarifying expectations, and reviewing ethical theory in the first two weeks, the course will examine specific issues organized under the themes listed in (1) – (3) above. In examining each specific issue, the class will (a) confront implicated philosophical issues (e.g., moral status, personal identity, distributive justice) and (b) analyze policy dimensions, focusing on relevant laws and regulations as well as proposals for change.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 6251: Advanced Introduction to Philosophy of Mind

Tadeusz Zawidzki

An advanced introduction to topics in philosophy of mind, this course will critically examine classical philosophical arguments pertaining to the mind/body problem, the problem of consciousness, the problem of intentionality, the problem of freedom of the will, and the problem of personal identity. The focus will be on the careful analysis of classical philosophical writings on these topics.  Offered on demand.


Phil 6252: Advanced Introduction to Philosophy of Cognitive Science

Tadeusz Zawidzki

An advanced introduction to philosophical issues raised by the scientific study of cognitive phenomena, this course covers the emergence of cognitive phenomena in phylogeny and ontogeny, social cognition, nativist vs. empiricist approaches to cognition, models of reasoning and decision-making, representationalist vs. embodied/embedded/enactive approaches to cognition, and theories of perception, memory, and concepts.  Offered on demand.


Phil 6253: Cognitive Science and Public Policy

Tad Zawidzki

The cognitive sciences are providing new insights into the nature of human decision-making at an accelerating pace. Cognitive psychology, cognitive neuroscience, neuroeconomics, evolutionary psychology, developmental and comparative psychology are all vibrant fields that are rewriting our theories about human nature. The recent discoveries made by these sciences have significant implications for public policy. For example, evidence of the unreliability of eyewitness testimony or the impotence of conscious will has implications for our legal and judicial systems. Evidence concerning human decision-making biases has implications for economic modeling, forecasting, and policy. Finally, evidence that our evolved psychology is skewed toward in-group vs. out-group thinking has implications for contemporary political polarization, and group decision-making. This course examines recent work in the cognitive sciences with the intent of drawing out its public policy implications.

Each time this course is offered, the focus and readings are different. This year, the focus is on the cognitive science and neuroscience of moral judgment and moral responsibility. We will read chapters from three recent edited volumes devoted to philosophical and empirical debates about the nature of moral cognition and its implementation in the human brain.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 6254: Mental Representation

Eric Saidel

Thoughts are like pictures of the world.  They represent the world.  But, unlike photographs, thoughts sometimes represent the world in ways that don’t correspond to the way the world actually is.  How can that be?  How do thoughts come to have representational content?  Why do we have thoughts?  This class will look at these questions through the careful reading of recent work in the Philosophy of Mind.  Offered on demand.

Phil 6257: The Nature of Animal Minds

Eric Saidel

Do nonhuman animals have minds?  If so what are they like?  How are they like our minds and how are they different from our minds?  We cannot talk to animals, so what might count as evidence that an animal has a mind.  These questions represent the tip of an iceberg that has been the focus of a great deal of philosophical thought in the last twenty years.  We will look at some of the questions philosophers and scientists have been asking and attempt to come to our own conclusions about the issues raised when we think about the possibility that nonhuman animals are thinking creatures.  Offered on demand.


Phil 6262: Normative Issues in Foreign Policy

Paul Churchill

This seminar will focus on global justice with an emphasis on continuing poverty, oppression, and increasing inequality between the wealthy and poor despite increasing development assistance, and growing recognition of obligations to distant others as well as the responsibility to protect. We will address these problems in terms of philosophical analysis, international political theory, and applied and theoretical ethics, especially human rights, equality, and justice. The policy issues addressed will include specific programs for promoting gender equity, the dollar a day poverty index, the first UN Millennium Development Goal, reforming global institutions, the misuses of development aid, the global costs of the war on terrorism, humanitarian intervention, and the foreign policy effects of domestic issues. Seminar participants will work collaboratively in drafting reports and commenting one another's papers. A graduate seminar in the MA program, the course is open to philosophy majors in the senior year and with prior approval of the professor.

Sample Syllabus

Phil 6281: Environmental Philosophy and Policy

Michele Friend

Students will be exposed to the notion of institutional analysis to address questions concerning the environment.  An institution is either a habit or custom, a norm or moral, or a formal institution (such as a government institution).  Students will also be asked to make a fairly extensive record of their ecological footprint in order to identify institutions that affect our impact on the environment.  They will then be asked to develop an accounting measure for the environmental impact of an institution.

Sample Syllabus


Phil 6293: Contemporary Continental Philosophy

Gail Weiss

This course focuses on several powerful philosophical concepts introduced by late 20th/early 21st century continental scholars including Pierre Bourdieu, Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Luc Nancy, Judith Butler, Kaja Silverman, Julia Kristeva, Michel Foucault, Gayatri Spivak, Edward Said, Linda Martìn Alcoff, George Yancy, and Giorgio Agamben.  Through a close reading of selected works by these and other authors, we will trace the influences they have had upon one another, and we will critically examine the theoretical resources their works provide in articulating some of the most urgent ethical, social, and political demands of contemporary human existence.


Phil 6294: Special Topics in Continental Philosophy

Mark Ralkowski

Topic announced in the Schedule of Classes.  Offered on demand.

Sample Topic: Heidegger.  This 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.