New Courses Spring 2017

New, exciting offers for the Spring 17 semester (courses are listed according to the subject number)

PHIL 3121: Symbolic Logic

Andrea Pedeferri

The aim of this course is to study quantificational logic and the formal system of deduction called “natural deduction” in it. The course will also have a philosophical part where will be discussed some meta-mathematical results of classical logic. There are two parts to the course. In the first we shall look at a sophisticated (compared to propositional logic) logical language called ‘quantificational logic’ (known also as “predicate logic’ or ‘first order logic’). This formal language is more sophisticated because it allows us to analyze the structure of propositions. We will learn its vocabulary and formation rules and how to translate from natural language into it. We will then turn to natural deduction for quantificational logic. We will introduce new rules of inference and learn how to generate natural deduction proofs in quantificational logic. We will then turn to the semantics of quantificational logic introducing the notion of a counter-example to the validity of an argument. In the second part of the course we will discuss the limitative results of propositional logic in contrast to those of quantificational logic. We will also present and discuss some classical meta-mathematical results connected with first order logic. In particular, we will discuss decidability, completeness and incompleteness results, models and structures and the hierarchy of higher order logics.

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PHIL 3152: Theory of Knowledge

Avery Archer

In this course we will investigate how the term knowledge should be defined, what is required for a belief to be justified, 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 study of knowledge.  One of the primary goals of this course will be to hone your ability to analyze arguments.  Consequently, class discussions will be primarily devoted to the careful appraisal of the arguments advanced in the assigned readings.

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PHIL 3100: Selected Topics Character 

Mark Railkoswki

In his Laws, Plato suggests that our moral character is what “shapes the kind of life we live.” He compares it to the keel in a boat, and he says nothing matters more “if we are going to sail through this voyage of life successfully.” What is a “good” moral character, and how do we develop one? What kinds of institutions do we need for developing our character, and what role is played by friendship, family, community, education, and meaningful work? This class will be divided into three parts. In the first, we will look at writings by Plato, Aristotle, and Seneca to get a clear sense of how the ancients understood the relationship between moral character and a good life. In the second, we will read a few of Nietzsche’s best writings to track how he develops some of the Greeks’ most important insights into a new form of moral perfectionism that is beyond good and evil. In the third and final part of the course, we will use Martha Nussbaum’s new book Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice and His Holiness the Dalai Lama’sBeyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World to close out the semester with a series of reflections on particular virtues and vices. Socrates thought there was no better way to spend one’s time than to have conversations with like-minded people about the best way to live. In this course we will spend a semester doing that!


PHIL 4198: Proseminar: Kant’s Theoretical and Moral Philosophy

Laura Papish

This class will focus on the theoretical and moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant, and it begins with his Critique of Pure Reason (1781/1787).  After briefly setting up the concerns about both rationalist metaphysics and Humean skepticism that motivate Kant’s new Critical approach to philosophy, we will read and analyze 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.  We will then shift our focus to Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), a landmark work in moral philosophy.  Our topics will include Kant’s account of the good will, the different formulae of the Categorical Imperative, and the relationship between the moral law, freedom, and reason.  Finally, we will provide two supplements to this discussion: 1) We will explore selections from the Critique of Practical Reason (1788) in order to illuminate further aspects of Kant’s moral philosophy, such as the doctrine of the highest good.  2) We will consider how Kant intends to bridge the gulf between moral philosophy and the philosophy of nature in his 1790 Critique of the Power of Judgment.
The GW Philosophy Department is honored and thrilled to be the hosts of the 14th Annual Meeting of the Eastern Study Group of the North American Kant Society.  The meeting will take place on our campus on April 29-30, 2017, and it will consist of talks from two keynote speakers (Susan Meld Shell and David Sussman) and several additional Kant scholars.  This course will prepare you for participation in this meeting.  It will provide background regarding the most essential elements of Kant’s thought.  And in our last class meetings, we will collectively read and discuss the papers scheduled for presentation at ENAKS.


PHIL 6251: Advanced Introduction to Philosophy of Mind

Avery Archer

When we are considering if a certain proposition is true—for example, the proposition “climate change is real”—there are three doxastic attitudes we may potentially adopt towards that proposition: we may believe that climate change is real, disbelieve that climate change is real, or be agnostic about whether climate change is real.  But when is it rational to believe something, and when are we required to be agnostic or suspend judgement?  What is the difference between justified believing and wishful thinking?  When we say belief aims at truth, what exactly do we mean?  These are some of the questions we shall consider in this course.  More generally, we will investigate what makes belief distinct from other psychological attitudes and when it is rationally appropriate for us to believe something.

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Phil 6290: Special Topics - Human Rights, Ethics, and Public Policy

Paul Curchill

This seminar is specially designed for M.A. students in the philosophy and philosophy and public policy program.  It is open to graduate students in other programs and to advanced undergraduates with the permission of the professor.  The seminar examines human rights as an ethical theory and focuses on major justifications for the universality of human rights.  In addition, the seminar examines the application of human rights to two major contemporary problems, immigration and man-made climate change.

Syllabus - email

PHIL 6294: Special Topics in Continenetal Philosophy

Michael Sigrist

This course examines how identities—both collective and individual—are shaped by the past. We start with an in-depth examination of Martin Heidegger’s concept of thrownness and then turn to a study of what other continental thinkers (Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Jaspers, Gadamer, Sartre, Beauvoir, etc.) have to say on the topic. We supplement our readings throughout with work by contemporary researchers. Heidegger argues that the past does not lie behind us, like an object to inspect, but continues to shape who we are. An essential feature of one’s identity is determined by how one takes up the past. That idea has been contested. Jean-Paul Sartre for instance argues that the meaning of the past comes solely out of the present. We are free to decide, both individually and collectively, the meaning of the past. Friedrich Nietzsche argues that an affirmative engagement with life requires a healthy forgetfulness about the past. But other thinkers agree with Heidegger. Søren Kierkegaard argues that everyone has a past but only a few of us—those who manage to achieve selfhood—acquire a history. We will work to make these issues as intuitive and relevant as possible by discussing how they inform contemporary debates about history and identity. Among these are questions about how legacies of racism and oppression obligate us in the present, what it means to respect the past of a place or a people, what we are trying to achieve with historical monuments and museums, and how some moments come to stand out among others as ‘historical.’ Finally, we examine what it means to have a past as an individual and how historical emotions like regret, pride, disappointment, nostalgia, and so on, connect to philosophical discussions about personal identity. 

Syllabus - email