Skip to main content

Course Descriptions 2019-2020

Course Categories:

Courses Primarily for Undergraduate Students

PHIL 109 – First-Year Seminar - "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 – First-Year Seminar - "Is Goodness out of this World?"

"Goodness" is a concept we cannot seem to escape. This seminar will address several questions about the nature of goodness. For example, is goodness reducible to something seemingly unrelated to goodness? Do we encounter goodness in experience like we encounter solidity in experience? Can we be judged as good or not, even if we cannot fully understand goodness? And what of its source: is it something natural, or supernatural, or something else entirely? The seminar will examine how these questions are addressed in several traditions, with a focus on the work of the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch.

PHIL 109 – First-Year Seminar - “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 – First-Year Seminar

PHIL 109 – First-Year Seminar - "Love and Money"

There are many different and incommensurable kinds of goods: consumer goods (like cars and computers and clothes), personal relationships (love and friendship), goods of status, bodily goods (health, freedom from pain), opportunities for meaningful work, leisure, and so on. We will explore the moral and political implications of the idea that the way in which a specific good should be allocated, promoted and engaged with depends on the type of good it is. In particular, we'll be interested in the contrast between marketable goods - commodities - and other sorts of goods. If there are things that should not be for sale, why is that, and what does it say about the nature of value?

PHIL 109 – First-Year Seminar - "Fundamental Concepts in Political Philosophy"

We will examine and discuss some of the most important concepts that figure in contemporary political discourse. Among our topics will be: equality, liberty, democracy, liberalism, socialism. gender and race. Our readings will include one classic of political philosophy (On Liberty by John Stuart Mill) but will otherwise be contemporary authors. 

PHIL 109 – First-Year Seminar - "Propaganda"

Democracy works when people are able to make conscientious, informed decisions about the kind of society they want to live in. Thinkers from antiquity to the present have been concerned with the various ways that this ability can be undermined by propaganda, both in purported democracies and in explicitly authoritarian regimes. On the other hand, many radical thinkers have suggested that propaganda isn't always bad, and is perhaps a necessary component of liberatory social and political movements. In this course we will be asking three central questions: What is propaganda? How does propaganda function in the world today? And finally, how can a just society deal with propaganda's negative effects?

PHIL 109 – 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 – 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 – First-Year Seminar - "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", and confront the democratic ideals they articulate with contemporary challenges to democratic reality from money in politics through populism to systemic racism. 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 (is it possible in wartime? in conditions of 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

In this course, we will explore a broad range of philosophical questions, both traditional and contemporary. We will pay particular attention to how these issues relate to our moral, social, and political values. Questions to be discussed include: What is the connection between belief in God and reason? Are there moral absolutes, or is morality relative? What should our view be on abortion, the death penalty, torture, and the status of nonhuman animals?

PHIL 150 – Intro to Logic

Subtle mistakes in reasoning can get us into trouble, especially in philosophy where reasoning can be very intricate. Logic symbolizes arguments to make subtle mistakes easier to spot, and intricate arguments easier to follow. In this class we will first learn how to use symbols to represent certain natural language sentences. The symbolization allows us to give step-by-step reconstructions of arguments. When these step-by-step symbolized arguments have a certain profile, they represent good arguments. When they don't have that profile, the corresponding arguments can go wrong---and we can devise examples of when they go wrong! Throughout we'll address some concepts (such as truth and existence) that are deployed in philosophy, and how logical techniques can help us sort the good uses from the bad.

PHIL 210-1 – History of 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

The transition from the Medieval to the Modern era in philosophy began, roughly, in the late 16th and early 17th centuries and ended, again roughly, in the late 18th century. New methods of acquiring knowledge, along with a radically different conception of the world, permanently transformed the philosophical enterprise and the broader culture. In this course we will examine the views of some of the most important modern philosophers;especially Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Bayle, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume;on the nature of God, causation, substance, mind, knowledge, and the material world. Additional readings will be drawn from Elizabeth, Galileo, Masham, Boyle, Shepard, and Du Châtelet.

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 219 – Introduction to Existentialism

PHIL 220 – Introduction to Critical Theory

PHIL 221 – Gender, Politics & Philosophy

This class introduces students to a variety of philosophical problems concerning gender and politics. Together, we'll read classic and contemporary texts that examine questions such as: what is gender -- and how, if it all, does it relate to or differ from sex? What does it really mean to be a woman or a man -- and are these categories we're born into or categories that we become or inhabit through living in a particular way under specific conditions? Human history all the way up to the present seems to be rife with asymmetrical relations of power that relegate those marked out as women to a subordinate position -- what explains this? What would it mean to over turn this state of affairs -- and which strategies are most likely to accomplish this task? And to what extent is it possible to grapple with all of the above questions -- questions of gender, sex and sexuality -- without also, at the very same time, thinking about how they relate to questions of class and race? Readings will include selections from Simone de Beauvoir, Iris Marion Young, Sandra Bartky, Bell Hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, Judith Butler, Talia Bettcher, and others.

PHIL 222 – Intro to Africana Philosophy

PHIL 224 – 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 250 – Elementary Logic II

PHIL 253 – Introduction to the Philosophy of Language

In this introduction to the philosophical study of language, we will ask questions like: What is language anyway? What is meaning? And how does the meaning carried by language vary (if it does) from the sort of meaning we attribute to natural phenomena when we say, for instance, "smoke means fire" or "those rings mean that this tree is 106 years old"? We will also touch on the role that the study of language has sometimes been thought to play in philosophical inquiry broadly, and on the connection between the philosophy of language and the empirical investigation of language in other disciplines.

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 257 – Philosophy of the Universe

This course will explore how philosophy can help us understand our place in the cosmos. The course covers a variety of topics at the intersection of science and philosophy. How does the world we observe emerge from the microscopic world science tells us about? What are the laws of nature? What is time? What is life? The course’s emphasis is not on leading students to particular conclusions about these topics. Instead, it is to learn how to ask these questions critically and to understand what would count as evidence that is relevant to their answer.

PHIL 259 – Introduction to Metaphysics

PHIL 260 – Intro to Moral Philosophy

This course will introduce students to some perennial questions in the philosophy of morality. We will be concerned with questions about (1) the nature of morality: For instance, are there universal, objective truths about right and wrong? Or is morality ultimately a subjective or relative matter? (2) The substance of morality: Are there certain actions that are absolutely forbidden, no matter what the consequences? When evaluating a person's action, in what way do his or her motives matter? And (3) the importance of morality: Should we really care whether or not we do the right thing?

PHIL 261 – Introduction to Political Philosophy

In many ways, Liberalism has become the dominant model for political organization today. Taking this as its starting point, this course will introduce students to some of the central texts of the Liberal tradition (Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, and Rawls) as well as critiques of this tradition from Marxist, Feminist, and Anti-Racist thinkers (Marx, Iris Marion Young, Silvia Federici, and Charles Mills). The guiding questions of this course will be: how ought we to conceptualize political freedom and what is the best way to bring freedom about? By investigating the tensions between Liberalism and its critics it will be possible to see the stakes and complexity of freedom.

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 268 – Ethics and the Environment

PHIL 269 – Bioethics

This course is an analysis of ethical and political issues that arise in medicine, with particular attention to questions posed by developments in biotechnology. Topics to be considered include human research, abortion, euthanasia, genetic engineering, and the allocation of medical resources.

PHIL 270 – Climate Change and Sustainability

PHIL 273-1 – The Brady Scholars Program - “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, as well as authors of antiquity (Plato, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius). We will ask: Are there objective truths about what is valuable – or about anything? Does life have a point or meaning? What should one try to get out of life? How should we think about death? 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? How important is pleasure? Since more good is better than less, should we aim at all times to promote “the greatest happiness of the greatest number?”

PHIL 273-2 – The Brady Scholars Program - "The Moral Life"

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 Scholars Program - "The Good Society"

What are the markers of a good society? How are we to achieve this? Instead of approaching these questions from an abstract theoretical perspective, this course will pursue them in a concrete and focused way through the lens of race and racial politics in the US. Some of the questions we will discuss include: What is racism? Should we distinguish between types of racism? Is there a difference between racism and racial insensitivity, racial anxiety, racial ignorance, and racial injustice? Is the concept of "race" itself morally destructive or socially damaging? Is color-blindness the right response to our racial problems, or is it misguided in specifiable ways? How can we overcome deep patterns of mistrust between racialized groups of citizens in the US? Why do American ghettos persist? Should governments foster integrated neighborhoods? How should our criminal justice system treat the oppressed? At the end of the course we will briefly turn to the ancient notion of cosmopolitanism to ask about how to deal with encounters across deep divides of not just race, but also ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and gender orientation.

Open only to students in the Brady Scholars Program.

PHIL 280 – Intro to Philosophy of Art

This course is an introduction to some of the main questions, concepts, and theorists in the philosophy of art. We will discuss the nature and value of aesthetic appreciation, of art objects, and of artistic activity, considering questions such as: Does the nature and value of art lie in its expression of emotion, its originality, or its meaning? Is artistic activity a special type of action, requiring particular natural gifts (genius), or is it similar to other forms of activity? What counts as a truthful or false artistic representation? Does anything a museum curator chooses to exhibit count, automatically, as art?

PHIL 373-1 – The Brady Scholars Program - "The Civically Engaged Life"

Brady Scholars in their senior year meet frequently throughout the quarter to move ahead with the collaborative project they have chosen as their service to the Evanston community.   

PHIL 373-2 – The Brady Scholars Program - "The Civically Engaged Life"

Brady Scholars in their senior year meet frequently throughout the quarter to move ahead with the collaborative project they have chosen as their service to the Evanston community.   


Courses for Undergraduate and Graduate Students

PHIL 310 – Studies in Ancient Philosophy - Ancient Theories of Desire

This course examines competing views of desire in the Ancient world. We will focus on the nature of desire, the relationship between desire and action, and the role of different kinds of motivation in a good life. We will explore the metaphysical, moral-psychological, and ethical aspects of desire. Some of the questions we will discuss are: Do human and non-human animals share the same kinds of desires? Are there different species of motivational states? Are desires a sort of belief, a kind of affective state, or something else? How does desire relate to pleasure, pain, and the emotions? We will read works by Plato, Aristotle, and Stoic philosophers.

PHIL 312 – Studies in Modern Philosophy - "Spinoza"

This class will consider the high points of Spinoza's metaphysics and epistemology as described in Books I & II of the Ethics. The class will contain lecture and discussion as we work through Spinoza's proofs and explanations one at a time. Among the issues to be discussed are: God, causality, free will, determinism, our place in nature, perception, knowledge, and the relation between mind and body. Connections will be drawn between Spinoza and Aristotle, Descartes, and Leibniz.

PHIL 312 – Studies in Modern Philosophy

PHIL 313-1 – Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason": The Analytic

PHIL 313 – Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason”: The 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 - "Introduction to German Idealism"

This course will be an introduction to German Idealism with particular attention paid to the problem of whether metaphysics is possible as a science. To this end, we will read Kant's _Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics_, the introductions to Fichte's _Wissenschaftslehre_, and the "Preliminary Conception" of Hegel's _Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline_.

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 318 – Studies in Contemporary Philosophy

PHIL 324 – Studies in African American Philosophy - Race, Rationality, Revolution

In this course we will attend to the questions concerning the relationships between race, rationality, and revolution. What is race? Is it an irrational idea? And how does revolution lay claim to both while superseding them? Through a survey of thinkers from the 19th century in the United States (W.E.B Du Bois, Anna Julia Cooper, and Alain Locke) to thinkers from the 20th century in the Caribbean (Frantz Fanon, C.L.R James and Aime Cesaire) and concluding with contemporary thinkers of the United States (Joy James, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and James Baldwin) we will assess the ways in which rationality has formed race and how this formation has necessitated revolution. The focus of this course will be both historical and conceptual to bring out the ambiguities and tensions that animate these terms and present a more complex picture of philosophical practices.

PHIL 325 – Philosophy of Mind

PHIL 326 – Philosophy of Medicine

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 328 – Classics of Analytic Philosophy

This course will trace the major preoccupations of of analytic philosophy from its beginnings in the late 19th century up until the present moment, with readings by central figures such as Frege, Russell, Moore, Wittgenstein, Strawson, Quine, Grice, Evans, Lewis and Kripke, as well as by prominent historians of the tradition. We will also consider some challenges to contemporary analytic philosophy's inherited sets of priorities and methodologies.

PHIL 330 – Practical Reasoning and Choice

PHIL 350 – Advanced Logic

PHIL 353 – Philosophy of Language

PHIL 357 – Topics in Metaphysics & Epistemology - "The Philosophical Small Picture of Artificial Intelligence"

It is well known that there are many connections between philosophy and artificial intelligence. Most introductions to this topic focus on high level questions such as: “what would it be to design a system that could be called intelligent?”. The present course will bypass these questions and focus instead on more local interactions between philosophy and AI. Among the topics we will cover are: how should intelligent systems receive information from the world? How should they manage this information? How should they structure their own inquiry? Can intelligent systems be creative? And what sorts of normative and ethical principles should they be able to recognize? While there are no formal prerequisites, some willingness to think through formalism is required.

PHIL 359 – Studies in Metaphysics

PHIL 360 – Topics in Moral Philosophy

PHIL 361 – Topics in Social & Political Philosophy - "Critical Race and Gender Theory"

This course explores the intersection of critical race theory and critical gender theory. We will examine the performative and embodied aspects of race, gender and sexuality, giving special attention to intersectionality, performativity theory, queer theory, and critical phenomenology of race, gender, and sexuality. Authors will include: Franz Fanon, Iris Marion Young, Judith Butler, Maria Lugones, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Sarah Ahmed, Mariana Ortega, and Gayle Salamon, among others.

PHIL 363 – Kant's Moral Theory

Exploration of the moral and ethical thought of Immanuel Kant through careful study of Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals along with readings from the Critique of Practical Reason , Metaphysics of Morals , and Religion within the Bounds of Mere Reason.

PHIL 364 – Business Ethics

Do corporations have social responsibilities that extend beyond mere compliance with law? Or is business ethics a contradiction in terms? In this course, we will attempt to answer these questions. We will survey the major contemporary theories of business ethics, and we will apply these frameworks to issues such as climate change and worker's rights. Readings will be drawn from economics and organizational theory as well as philosophy.

PHIL 380 – Topics in Philosophy of Art

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 – First-Year Proseminar – “Understanding and Reason in Kant's Theoretical Philosophy”

In this seminar on Kant’s theoretical philosophy, we will focus on Kant’s conceptions of the human capacities of thought -- understanding, reason, and reflection – as well as his related conceptions of philosophical practice or method: critique and dialectic. We will investigate Kant’s reasons for sharpening his distinctions among these three modes of thinking over the course of his philosophical development, and the implications of those distinctions for his criticism of the rationalist philosophy of his predecessors, and for his own developing views in epistemology and metaphysics. As this course is a proseminar, we will also work on developing aspects of graduate-level work, including oral presentation/q and a, engagement with secondary literature, and revision practices.

PHIL 402 – Second-Year Proseminar - “Plato's Republic”

We will read all of Plato’s "Republic," always with attention to the contemporary relevance of this dialogue.

PHIL 410 – Seminar Special Topics - "The Philosophical Small Picture of Artificial Intelligence"

It is well known that there are many connections between philosophy and artificial intelligence. Most introductions to this topic focus on high level questions such as: “what would it be to design a system that could be called intelligent?”. The present course will bypass these questions and focus instead on more local interactions between philosophy and AI. Among the topics we will cover are: how should intelligent systems receive information from the world? How should they manage this information? How should they structure their own inquiry? Can intelligent systems be creative? And what sorts of normative and ethical principles should they be able to recognize? While there are no formal prerequisites, some willingness to think through formalism is required.

Discussion section is required.

PHIL 410 – Seminar 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 410 – Seminar Special Topics - "Seminar in Language and Mind"

What is the relation between language and our wider cognitive faculties? This course will explore this question, focusing on a number of related issues. First, to what extent is our linguistic competence the result of a distinct cognitive faculty or module? If there is one, what is the nature of this faculty, and how does it relate to our wider cognitive abilities? How much of what we normally think of as 'language' might be part of such a faculty? Second, how much does our linguistic competence influence other aspects of cognition? Does the language we speak influence how we categorize objects or navigate the world? If it does, how extensive can such influence be and how can it happen? Readings will be drawn from a range of works by philosophers, linguists, and psychologists.

PHIL 410 – Seminar Special Topics

PHIL 410 – Seminar Special Topics

PHIL 410 – Seminar Special Topics - "The Modal Future"

This seminar will work chapter by chapter through Professor Fabrizio Cariani's book manuscript “The Modal Future.” We will cover: the semantics and pragmatic of future discourse; the relationship between philosophy of language and metaphysics; the epistemology of future belief; the nature of prediction; cutting edge work on future cognition.

PHIL 414 – Seminar in German Philosophy - "An Introduction to Hegel's Logic"

Hegel’s logic attempts to simultaneously derive and critique the fundamental notions of philosophy: both categories like being, identity, and universality; and forms like the proposition, the syllogism, and scientific method. In this course, we will try to come to an understanding of the dual nature of Hegel’s project through a close but selective study of the shorter of the two books he published on this topic, the Encyclopedia Logic. As our guiding thread, we will focus on Hegel’s theory of logical truth (Wahrheit), a term he does not apply to propositions or sentences, as is usual in philosophy, but only to the abstract categories and forms of philosophical thought themselves (like the very concept of a proposition). This course will not presuppose any previous acquaintance with Hegel, but it will presuppose some familiarity with the history of philosophy prior to Hegel.

PHIL 414 – Seminar in German Philosophy - "Hegel and Marx on History"

In this course, we will examine Hegel's philosophy of history and Marx's theory of history (and if time permits, we will consider some other philosophical or sociological approaches to history).

PHIL 414 – Seminar in German Philosophy - "Heidegger and Gadamer on Interpretation"

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 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 422 – Studies in Modern Philosophy

PHIL 423 – Studies in Contemporary Philosophy

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 - Valuing Attitudes: Reasons without Reasoning

Experiences of value play a central role in providing reasons for our normative commitments. It is more common to hold such commitments on the basis of experience than to embrace them simply because one is convinced by some argument. Love for another person on the basis of direct experience and appreciation of him is a paradigm example. The reasons that these experiences provide standardly outstrip any attempts to capture them in propositional form. We can therefore have perfectly good reason to value what we do, while being faultlessly incapable of saying what these reasons are. This calls into question a methodological assumption of a great deal of practical philosophy: normative commitments should be based on reasons, and these reasons should be expressible as claims that could figure in a philosophical argument. According to this ideal, if we lack such reasons, we should revise or suspend our commitments. We will consider instances of the phenomenon in question, ask how to make sense of the idea that experiences could rationally ground our normative commitments, consider comparisons and contrasts with the case of beliefs based on perception, and discuss some implications of rejecting the ideal of articulacy about our reasons for moral commitment, moral education and political reasoning.

PHIL 460 – Seminar in Ethical Theory

PHIL 461 – Seminar in Social and Political Philosophy

This course explores the intersection of critical race theory and critical gender theory. We will examine the performative and embodied aspects of race, gender and sexuality, giving special attention to intersectionality, performativity theory, queer theory, and critical phenomenology of race, gender, and sexuality. Authors will include: Franz Fanon, Iris Marion Young, Judith Butler, Maria Lugones, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Sarah Ahmed, Mariana Ortega, and Gayle Salamon, among others.

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

The professional skills course is designed to prepare advanced graduate students for the academic job market in philosophy. Back to top