Skip to main content

Course Descriptions 2018-2019

Course Categories:

Courses Primarily for Undergraduate Students

PHIL 109 – “Know Thyself”

In this course we will investigate the nature and significance of, as well as several possible routes to, knowing oneself. The readings will be drawn from various fields (above all, philosophy and psychology, but also from literature). The questions we will seek to answer, above all, will be: (1) What is it to know oneself? (2) How does one attain such knowledge? (3) What are the impediments to acquiring this knowledge? (4) How do the opinions and expectations of others factor in to our knowledge of ourselves? (5) Why, if at all, is it valuable to have this knowledge?

PHIL 109-6-20 – First-Year Seminar

PHIL 109-6-20 – First-Year Seminar - "The Self"

In this course we will discuss philosophical questions about the nature of the self, raised and answered in readings from the history of philosophy and contemporary philosophical writings. Thus we may discuss questions such as: Can one prove the immortality of the soul? What guarantees the continuity of personal identity over time? How do portraits "capture" the selfhood of the sitter? To what degree is the self constituted by its social context? As with any first-year seminar, the course will also involve frequent writing assignments, including both informal exercises and formal argumentative papers.

PHIL 109-6-21 – "Augustine for Everyone"

Popular characterizations of Augustine hold that he synthesized Platonism and Christianity. While not untrue, this is too often an unhelpful excuse to dismiss him. And yet the great African bishop offers much more, both to the religious and non-religious (and the Platonist and non-Platonist). For Augustine's project in the Confessions is fundamentally to understand ourselves and the predicament of human life. This attempt at understanding yields a compelling portrait of our place in the universe and the significance of moral deliberation, one that is relevant to anyone interested in his question---whether religious or not.

PHIL 109-6-21 – First-Year Seminar

PHIL 109-6-21 – First-Year Seminar - "Values and Power"

In this course, we will look at questions about what we value, what we ought to value, whether there are objective values, and what makes something valuable through an examination of some fundamental philosophical problems. We will pay particular attention to the role that power dynamics play in value-driven disagreements, regarding, for example, mass incarceration, abortion, euthanasia, affirmative action, and animal rights.

PHIL 109-6-22 – "What is Democracy"

In this seminar we will examine some of the fundamental ideas and questions behind democracy and provide a reading of their "inventors". Some of the questions are: What is democracy? Is it a form of government, a value, an ideal, a political system, a form of life, a bit of all this? Is democracy always the best political solution (in wartime? general starvation?)? Why should the whole of the people decide and not the specialists in the respective questions? Are all democratically taken decisions automatically legitimate (what about minorities\' rights?)? How should all citizens in a democracy participate in politics? By direct self-government of the people or by voting representatives? Is everything democratically decidable or does the individual have unalterable rights? Is tolerance and/or free speech necessary for democracy and how far can it go?

PHIL 110 – Intro to Philosophy

This course has two central goals. The first is to give you an understanding of what philosophical problems are and how they might be solved. This will be done through consideration of some perennial philosophical problems, drawing on readings from important figures in the history of philosophy, as well as contemporary authors. The second goal is to develop your analytic and argumentative skills. Topics to be discussed include the existence of god, the nature of knowledge, the relation of mind to body, free will and ethics and the nature of right and wrong.

PHIL 150 – Intro to Logic

Logic is about representing reasoning using a specialized set of symbols. The purpose of the symbols is to make it easier to discern how certain forms of sentences indicate when the reasoning involved is good, and when the reasoning is bad. So, we first learn how to use symbols to represent certain natural language sentences. We then use the symbolism to construct symbolized arguments that correspond to good arguments in natural language and use the symbolism to show when such natural language arguments---to the extent that the symbolism represents them---are bad.

PHIl 210-1 – History of Philosophy: Ancient Philosophy

This course will introduce you to some of the greatest thinkers and movements in the philosophy of the ancient Greek world. We will focus on these thinkers’ conceptions of the human soul, the capacity for knowledge, the good life, and law and morality. We will first discuss the views of the key figures in Classical philosophy: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. We will examine their answers to enduring questions such as: What are the fundamental constituents of reality? What is knowledge, and how do we come to have it? How can we be happy, and what is a good life? What makes for a just society? We will then move on to the Hellenistic period, and will examine Epicurean and Stoic conceptions of how we should live our lives, and why philosophy can help us flourish. Our emphasis will be on analyzing both these philosophers' views, and their reasons and arguments for holding these positions.

PHIL 210-3 – History of Philosophy: Early Modern

PHIL 216 – Intro to Pragmatism

Classics of Pragmatist Thought Pragmatism is probably the first, but certainly the most important genuinely North American philosophical tradition. The classical writings of Peirce, James, Dewey set the stage for a completely new orientation in epistemology, moral and political theory, psychology and many other fields. Basic to all Pragmatist writers is the belief that the active and interactive human being in its natural and social environment has to stand at the center of reflection. They thus emphasize volitional, procedural, social, and evolutionary aspects of knowledge of any kind. Given this focus on practically involved intelligent agents, political pragmatists like Dewey, Addams, Locke explore the natural origins, revisability and legitimacy of moral and political norms. They develop the idea of a critical use of knowledge and its connection to non-violent democratic conduct. Neopragmatists (Rorty and Putnam) explore the philosophical and political implications of critical thinking.

PHIL 220 – Introduction to Critical Theory

In this class, we will focus on the foundations of critical theory in the works of Marx, Nietzsche, Weber, and Freud, paying particular attention paid to methods they devise and deploy in their treatment of moral and religious phenomena. Lectures will primarily involve a close analysis and discussion of the readings.

PHIL 230 – Gender, Politics & Philosophy

PHIL 250 – Elementary Logic II

Logic is the art of formalizing arguments: it creates symbolic languages aimed at showing which inferences are gooe ones. Metalogic is the science of evaluating those formalizations. In this class we prove the basic results concerning the First-order Logic (FOL) developed in PHIL 150. We demonstrate, mathematically, that deductive proofs really do establish the correctness of the inferences they represent (this is the Soundness Theorem). We also show that everything (FOL) says is a good inference can be established as such by deduction (this is the Completeness Theorem). Finally, we turn to some other results, among them that there exist non-standard models of arithmetic, and that FOL cannot distinguish the different infinities described by set theory. We'll also discuss some of the philosophical claims that have been made concerning these results.

PHIL 253 – Introduction to the Philosophy of Language

PHIL 254 – Introduction to the Philosophy of Natural Science

The course will introduce students to deep philosophical issues raised by modern natural science of metaphysical and epistemological nature. From a reflection on methodological questions, it will approach the question of realism. We will be guided by nested "what does it take"-questions. For example: What does it take for a system of sentences to count as a good scientific theory? What does it take for a scientific theory to be testable by observational and experimental data (and, by the way: what does it take for certain series of experiences to count as data or observations?)? What does it take for a given theory to be better supported by the available evidence than its competitors? What does it take for a given theory to explain the known phenomena in an area of knowledge? What does it take for an explanatory scientific theory to be credited with reference to underlying structures of reality? We will begin with a brief overview of the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17 th century, and then turn to the treatment of certain problems in the contemporary literature, like the problem of induction, the problem of the underdetermination of theory choice by the available data, the problem of rationality and conceptual change, the problem of realism.

PHIL 261 – Introduction to Political Philosophy

PHIL 262 – Ethical Problems/Public Issues

PHIL 266 – The Philosophy of Religion

This course will investigate fundamental issues raised by the theory and practic of the three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Among the questions to be addressed are: What is God? Can one prove the existence of God? Is there an inherent conflict between faith and reason? If God is all good, why do we experience evil? Is there any way we can overcome the lure of sin? What does it mean to love God?

PHIL 267 – Philosophy, Race & Racism

This course provides a broad over view of philosophical discussions of race and racism in American culture. In this over view, we will focus on phenomenological issues concerning the experience of race (especially in the US), epistemological issues concerning racial distortions and racial ignorance, and ethical and political issues concerning racial oppression. Some of the central questions that we will address are: How should we under stand the concept of race and the processes of racialization through which people come to see themselves as having a racial identity? What are the different kinds of racial injustice that we can identify, and the different kinds of exclusion, subordination, marginalization and stigmatization that can be part of racial oppression? How should racial oppression be resisted? How should racial violence be stopped? How should we build racial solidarity and fight for racial justice? We will also explore the connections between race and other identity categories such as gender , sexuality, class, ethnicity, religion, nationality, etc.

PHIL 269 – Bioethics

An analysis of the ethical issues that arise as a result of developments in medicine and biotechnology. Topics considered will include cloning and stem cell transplantation, human and animal research, new reproductive technologies, the definition of death, abortion, euthanasia, and the allocation of resources.

PHIL 273 – Brady Scholars - “The Good Life”

"The Good Life" This is the first in a sequence of three courses required of sophomores in the Brady Scholars Program in Ethics and Civic Life. Our topic, the good life, will be explored by reading and discussing several recent books. We will ask: what should one try to get out of life? Is there a single best answer to this question? Is each person the final judge of what is good for that individual, or is it possible to be mistaken about where one's good lies? What is the relationship between living well and being moral? What is happiness and how is it best achieved? How important is pleasure?

PHIL 273-2 – The Brady Scholars Program

What does morality require of us?  Does acting morally amount to consistently bringing about the best consequences that we can?  Or are there other important considerations that we should take into account when thinking about how to act well?  When we are trying to figure out how to act, what questions should we be asking ourselves?    Drawing on both classic and contemporary readings in philosophy, as well as our own experiences, we will ask what it means to live a moral life in different spheres and situations.  Do we have, or can we justify, special obligations to our friends and family?  Do our professional and other roles shape what we have reason to do?  How do we understand our obligations towards strangers?  Is there some unified way to understand the reasons that should guide us in all of these spheres, or do they operate independently?

PHIL 273-3 – The Brady Scholar Program

Courses for Undergraduate and Graduate Students

PHIL 310 – Studies in Ancient Philosophy

PHIL 313 – Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason”: Dialect

In this course, we will study the second half of Kant's great work, the Critique of Pure Reason, in which he presents his widely influential criticisms of traditional metaphysics. We will be concerned to understand and evaluate Kant's arguments that human beings are incapable of establishing truths beyond the reach of experience - e.g., that the soul is immortal, that God exists, or that we have free will - by pure reason alone. We will also investigate Kant's explanation of the occurrence and persistence of these metaphysical questions throughout human history: his conception of the nature of human reason as itself inevitably prone to metaphysical error, as aiming, necessarily, to transcend its own limits, in order to gain a grasp of the "unconditioned" ground of experiential reality.

PHIL 314 – Studies in German Philosophy: "Kant's Philosophy of Religion"

PHIL 315 – Studies in French Philosophy - "Michel Foucault"

This course offers an overview of the work of one of the most important late-twentieth-century French philosophers, Michel Foucault. Focusing on his studies of madness, the medical gaze, prisons and other institutions, gender and sex, and the search for truth, knowledge, and liberation, students will gain an understanding of Foucault’s most important concepts—concepts that over the last four decades have become central categories of inquiry and critique in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. These include archaeology, biopolitics, discipline, pleasure, power-knowledge, resistance, governmentality, and genealogy. The course is reading intensive; you should plan to read several of Foucault's major texts throughout the quarter.

PHIL 317 – Studies in 19th & 20th Century Philosophy - "The Idea of Politics: Weber and Schmitt to Arendt and Habermas"

In this course, we will examine a series of attempts to define 'politics' or 'the political' in Twentieth Century German thought. We will begin with Max Weber's famous address on the vocation of politics and Carl Schmitt's notorious The Concept of the Political, which emphasize the irreducible importance of considerations of power in the political sphere. And we will conclude with a study Hannah Arendt and Jurgen Habermas, who emphasize instead the distinctive power of communicative action. Other figures we will treat, time permitting, include Thomas Mann, Herbert Marcuse, Leo Strauss, and Niklas Luhmann.

PHIL 327 – Philosophy of Psychology

This course will explore the nature of the mind and its relation to the brain, focusing on issues of foundational significance for psychology and cognitive science. It will be organized around group of fundamental questions. First, is the mind like a computer program? If so, what kind? Is it organized like a symbolic computation system, or like a complex network of associations? What does this tell us about how the mind relates to the brain? Second, to what extent is the mind organized around separate `modules\', as opposed to being one single general intelligence engine? Third, to what extent are our cognitive abilities innate, and to what extent are they acquired through learning? Readings will be drawn from classic and contemporary papers in philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience.

PHIL 353 – Philosophy of Language

Language is a familiar part of our everyday lives, but it is also an important topic in philosophy. In this course, we will explore some of the fundamental philosophical issues that surround language. We will investigate what makes a language what it is, by investigating the nature of linguistic meaning, and the range of special actions we can perform in virtue of having a language. We will also investigate what it is to know something so complicated as a human language, by investigating the nature of linguistic rules, and the kinds of cognitive states that comprise knowledge of language. As time permits, we will also examine how the contexts in which we speak influence how we communicate, and the way language is able frame thoughts about the world around us.

PHIL 357 – Topics in M&E

PHIL 360 – Topics in Moral Philosophy – “Contemporary Moral Theory”

At least since Plato, moral philosophers have attempted to address the question "Why should I act morally?" In this class we will study some of the best contemporary philosophers' treatments of this issue. As with any good philosophical question, this one brings many others in its wake. We will take a special interest in the relationships among what we have reason or obligation to do, what we want, and what would be good for us. Do you have to want to do something in order to have a reason to do it? And do you have to have a reason to do something to have a moral obligation to do so? Or would it, rather, be good to act in some way only if you have good reason to want to do so? Good morally, or good for you, or both? The course will consist partly in lectures, but will allow plenty of time for discussion.

PHIL 367 – Studies in African American Philosophy

PHIL 390 – Special Topics in Philosophy - "Science, Objectivity, and Realism"

It seems that a very robust commonsense requirement for our beliefs, knowledge claims, and conceptions to be correct and epistemically authoritative (i.e. so that if we hold the contrary, we ought to correct ourselves) is that they adequately represent a reality that is in some sense independent from these claims, their structure, and the fact that we hold them. The expectation is that this explains that we are sometimes right or wrong no matter what we believe. Likewise, the reference to a ‘construction-independent’ reality seems helpful in tracking epistemic norms. It seems to tell us how our judgments, hunches and generalizations are under public, 'objective' constraints that are equally epistemically obligatory for anyone with a claim that their beliefs, assertions or conceptions are true and/or refer to this publicly accessible reality. The philosophical assumption of a mind-independent accessible reality is called ‘realism’. The set of norms that bind our claims to knowledge and representational correctness to a subject-independent reality as the ‘tribunal’ can be called ‘objectivity-norms’, expressed in claims’ being true or false, representative of fact or fiction etc. These norms are currently under politically motivated attack by the outright rejection of truth and the possibility that established theories are objectively correct, by the propagandistic rhetoric of ‘fake news’, by the false equivalence between established science and hyped-up pseudoexplanations, manufactured doubt and conspiracy-theories. These challenges look new (and shocking) in contemporary political culture. They make a defense of realism, science and objectivity-norms look desirable because the reference to a shared and equally epistemically obliging set of realities seems indispensable for rational collective belief fixation and thus ultimately, democratic forms of will formation, too. However, new as such challenges may seem to contemporary politics, philosophers of science (i.e. philosophers trying to understand the set of institutions concerned with establishing and scrutinizing objectivity-claims) have been discussing realism and its challengers anti-realism, social constructivism, relativism for decades after the mature sciences themselves produced theories postulating entities whose control, measurement and observation is no longer obviously ‘theory-independent’ (like electrons, genes, deficit trends). This course is based on these debates and aims at helping to clarify what it takes to defend of norms of scientific objectivity and reality constraints on beliefs’ correctness, and what of the challenges it needs to accommodate. Many philosophers of science have drawn from these debates the lesson that the conception of objectivity and realism operative in contemporary science is best explicated in terms of indispensable pragmatic presuppostions. The course will then look at new work on the defense of climate science results and the development of social ontology that discusses the reality and social nature of conceptions of race, gender and other ‘identity-markers’. Both will show that skeptical attitudes directed at each must rely on questionable and largely discredited assumptions from the philosophy of science.

Courses Primarily for Graduate Students

PHIL 401 – 1st Year Proseminar – “Speech Acts”

In this seminar we will look at several traditional accounts of speech acts (Bach and Harnish; Searle; Alston) and recent applications on topics such as silencing, slurs, hate speech, insinuation, and dogwhistles.

PHIL 401-2 – First-Year Proseminar

PHIL 402 – 2nd Year Proseminar “Epistemic Injustice”

Under the rubric of epistemic injustice we will study those forms of unfair treatment that relate to issues of knowledge, understanding, and participation in communicative practices. These issues include a wide range of topics concerning wrongful treatment and unjust structures in meaning-making and knowledge producing practices, such as the following: exclusion and silencing; invisibility and inaudibility; having one's meanings or contributions systematically distorted, misheard, or misrepresented; having diminished status or standing in expressive practices; unfair differentials in authority and/or epistemic agency; being unfairly distrusted; receiving no or minimal uptake; having one's voice coopted or instrumentalized; etc. We will read books and essays by Miranda Fricker, Linda Alcoff, Kristie Dotson, Charles Mills, Gaile Pohlhaus, and Jose Medina, among others.

PHIL 402-2 – Second-Year Proseminar

PHIL 410 – Seminar in Special Topics - "Descartes and Spinoza"

Descartes and Spinoza are two of the central figures in the history of Western philosophy. Descartes is often regarded as the first Modern philosopher, at least in the sense that he was the first to put forward an entire system of philosophy that captured a new way of thinking about ourselves and our relation to both the world and to God. His impact on philosophy cannot be overstated. Spinoza—notorious and often vilified in his own time—now seems like the Early Modern philosopher closest to being our contemporary. His radically unorthodox views now seem not troubling but innovative. Both Descartes and Spinoza were profoundly systematic thinkers. Learning about their views will not only help you understand how the philosophical tradition has developed but will also provide you two different frameworks for understanding the deepest philosophical problems we still face.

PHIL 414 – Seminar in German Philosophy

In this course we will examine the main features of the philosophical paradigm of hermeneutics that Heidegger articulates in Being and Time. They key to Heidegger’s paradigm shift is the generalization of hermeneutics from a traditional method for interpreting authoritative texts to a way of understanding human beings themselves. The hermeneutic paradigm offers a radically different understanding of what is distinctive about human beings: to be human is not primarily to be a rational animal, but first and foremost to be a self-interpreting animal. In order to assess the explanatory power of hermeneutic philosophy, our seminar will undertake three tasks. First, we will analyze Being and Time’s hermeneutic conception of human identity and its main philosophical consequences. To get a sense of the full explanatory potential of Heidegger’s hermeneutics we will then analyze Gadamer’s dialogical approach to interpretation as elaborated in his Truth and Method as well as contemporary accounts that directly engage with it, like those of Brandom, Dworkin, and Habermas. Third, we will explore the potential limits of hermeneutic philosophy through an analysis of challenging approaches such as Marx’s critique of ideology, feminism, and critical race theory. Engaging with the Gadamer/Habermas debate will also help us assess the possibilities of articulating a critical hermeneutics along the lines of Habermas’s ‘democratic turn’ in critical theory.

PHIL 414 – Seminar in German Philosophy

PHIL 415 – Seminar in French Philosophy – “Biopolitics after Foucault”

This interdisciplinary course integrates readings from contemporary French philosophy and from critical race, gender and sexuality studies. Focusing on the field of biopolitical theory (and its complement, "thanatopolitics"), and the political management of life and death in both domains, it engages the legacy and ongoing influence of Michel Foucault. One section of the course is devoted to a group of lecture series offered by Foucault at the College de France, allowing students to augment their knowledge of core texts such as Discipline and Punish and History of Sexuality, with a study of some of the following: Psychiatric Power, Society Must Be Defended, and Security, Territory, Population. The second section of the course considers the role of Foucauldian biopolitics within a number of debates from contempory gender, queer and race studies. Topics will be selected from: politics of utopianism, futurism, the anti-social thesis, critique of reproductive futurism, necropolitics and afro-pessimism, cruel optimism, social ontolology and precarious life, debility, biopolitics and the management of language, and the politics of plural temporalities.

PHIL 420 – Studies in Ancient Philosophy – “Pleasure”

We will examine discussions of pleasure in Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus - as well as in later authors (Sidgwick, contemporary philosophers). What is pleasure? Has hedonism been refuted? What are the best arguments for and against it? Is all pleasure good to some extent? How does it compare in value to that of other goods (if there are any)? Students should own Plato's collected dialogues and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Other assigned readings will be made available.

PHIL 459 – Seminar in Metaphysics

This seminar will focus on the metaphysics of material objects, which has been among the central topics in metaphysics. We will consider the nature of material objects: are they, for instance, simply collections of atoms, or are they more structured wholes, involving both matter and form? How do they persist through time, and what kinds of changes can they undergo while surviving? How easy is it to form a full-fledged object, e.g. by mereological fusion? We will also consider the nature of constitution, the holds, for instance, between a statue and the bronze that constitutes it. Discussion of constitution will lead to discussion of varieties metaphysical dependence. In what ways does the statue depend on the clay that constitutes it? Finally, as time permits, we will see how these issues extend beyond the domain of material objects, to kinds, artifacts and other such things.

PHIL 460 – Seminar in Ethical Theory

PHIL 468 – Seminar in Epistemology – “Topics in Applied Epistemology”

In this course, we will examine key issues in applied epistemology, such as the epistemology of race, groups, the internet, and sexual consent.

PHIL 488 – Professional Skills

Back to top