Admission & Financial Aid

Admission & Financial Aid


Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses



Professors Gentzler †, A. George (Chair), Moore*, Shah; Assistant Professors Hasan and Leydon-Hardy. Emeritus Vogel

An education in philosophy conveys a sense of wonder about ourselves and our world. It achieves this partly through Emeritus exploration of philosophical texts, which comprise some of the most stimulating creations of the human intellect, and partly through direct and personal engagement with philosophical issues. At the same time, an education in philosophy cultivates a critical stance to this elicited puzzlement, which would otherwise merely bewilder us.

The central topics of philosophy include the nature of reality (metaphysics); the ways we represent reality to ourselves and to others (philosophy of mind and philosophy of language); the nature and analysis of inference and reasoning (logic); knowledge and the ways we acquire it (epistemology and philosophy of science); and value and morality (aesthetics, ethics, and political philosophy). Students who major in philosophy at Amherst are encouraged to study broadly in all of these areas of philosophy.

Students new to philosophy should feel comfortable enrolling in any of the entry-level courses numbered 100 through 231. Courses numbered 310 through 341 are somewhat more advanced, typically assuming a previous course in philosophy. Courses numbered 360 through 369 concentrate on philosophical movements or figures. Courses numbered 410, 450 through 479 are seminars and have restricted enrollments, a two-course prerequisite, and are more narrowly focused. No course may be used to satisfy more than one requirement.

All students are welcome to organize and to participate in the activities of the Philosophy Club.

Major Program. To satisfy the comprehensive requirement for the major, students must pass nine courses, exclusive of PHIL 498 and 499. Among these nine courses, majors are required to take:

(1) two courses in the History of Philosophy: Philosophy 217 (Ancient Greek Philosophy), 218 (Early Modern Philosophy), or 359 (Kant and the 19th Century);

(2) one course on a Major Figure or Movement (for example, Philosophy 360 (Language, Method & Nonsense: Origins of Analytic Philosophy) or 363 (Continental Philosophy: Nietzsche's Critique of Morality))

(3) one course in Logic (for example, Philosophy 213 (Logic);

(4) one course in Moral Philosophy (for example, Philosophy 310 (Ethics));

(5) one course in Theoretical Philosophy (for example, Philosophy 332 (Metaphysics), 335 (Theory of Knowledge), 341 (Freedom & Responsibility) or 360 (Language, Method & Nonsense: Origins of Analytic Philosophy));

(6) one Seminar (for example, Philosophy 410 (Seminar: Epistemic Agency), , or 450-479);

(7) two electives.

No course can count toward more than one requirement.  Ordinarily, no more than three of these courses can be taken outside the Amherst College Department of Philosophy.

Departmental Honors Program. Candidates for Honors in Philosophy must complete the Major Program and the Senior Honors sequence, PHIL 498 and 499. Admission to PHIL 499 will be contingent on the ability to write an acceptable honors thesis as demonstrated, in part, by performances in PHIL 498 and by a research paper on the thesis topic (due in mid-January). The due date for the thesis usually falls in the third week of April.

Five College Certificate in Logic. The Logic Certificate Program brings together aspects of logic from different regions of the curriculum: Philosophy, Mathematics, Computer Science, and Linguistics. The program is designed to acquaint students with the uses of logic and initiate them into the profound mysteries and discoveries of modern logic. For further information about the relevant courses, faculty, requirements, and special events, see

*On leave 2020-21.† On leave fall semester 2020-21.‡On leave spring semester 2020-21. 

111 Philosophical Questions

This is an introduction to philosophy that explores a range of issues pertaining to religious conviction, knowledge, mind, freedom, ethics, and value. This exploration will take place through critical engagement, via reflection, writing, and conversation, with written work – some classical, some contemporary – in the philosophical tradition.

Each section in the fall limited to 18 students. In the Fall 6 seats will be reserved for first-year students. Fall semester: Professor Hasan (both sections). Spring semester, limited to 18 students (both sections): Professor Shah and Leydon-Hardy.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024, Spring 2025

210 Introduction to Philosophy through Film

Although film and philosophy appear very different at first glance, a more careful look reveals film to be a medium well-suited to give expression to philosophical ideas. This course will pair films with philosophical texts in order to introduce a wide range of philosophical ideas in such diverse areas of philosophy as ethics and metaphysics, social and political philosophy, and epistemology. The films will be drawn from a variety of cinematic traditions, such as popular narrative film, documentary, and the art film. There will be film screenings.

Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2020-2021.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018

212 Public Health Ethics during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted significant concerns that have not been prominent in institutional conversations about medical ethics.   At hospitals like our local Cooley-Dickinson Hospital, where shortages of supplies have been rare and where there is a strong ethic of giving the best medical care to all members of the community regardless of their ability to pay, the questions that have typically been taken up by ethics committees have concerned how best to serve individual patients when no great solution is possible, given the frailty of the human body and mind and the variability of family support.  No longer is this the case. The COVID-19 pandemic has required all of us to reflect upon issues of justice–to think not only about the ethical dilemmas that arise when considering the health and well-being of individual patients and their families, but also the ethical questions that arise when considering the health and well-being of entire communities under conditions of scarcity and economic upheaval.  The pandemic has also shed light on the health disparities by race and socioeconomic status that have been constant features of our country since its founding, but have only recently been widely recognized as urgent matters of ethical concern and action.  Since these disparities are often the result of factors known as the “social determinants of health”– for example, access to education, food, housing, and social respect–public health ethics must broaden its focus beyond questions of access to medical treatment.  In this class, we will consider principles of justice for distributing health care resources, thus broadly conceived, and ask what is owed, in particular, to those whose current health, or prognosis of health, is poor at least in part because of the injustices that they have suffered in the past.  

Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2020-21. Professor Gentzler

2023-24: Not offered

213 Logic

"All philosophers are wise and Socrates is a philosopher; therefore, Socrates is wise." Our topic is this mysterious "therefore." We shall expose the hidden structure of everyday statements on which the correctness of our reasoning turns. To aid us, we shall develop a logical language that makes this underlying structure more perspicuous. We shall also examine fundamental concepts of logic and use them to explore the logical properties of statements and the logical relations between them. This is a first course in formal logic, the study of correct reasoning; no previous philosophical, mathematical, or logical training needed.

One communal lecture and two small-group practice meetings each week.  There will be three practice sections, each limited to 15 students and section 1 being restricted to first-years.

Fall semester. Professor A. George.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

217 Ancient Greek Philosophy

An examination of the origins of Western philosophical thought in Ancient Greece. We will consider the views of the Milesians, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Protagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Epicureans, and the Stoics. Particular attention will be paid to questions about the nature, sources, and limits of human knowledge; about the merits of relativism, subjectivism, and objectivism in science and ethics; about the nature of, and relationship between, obligations to others and self-interest; and about the connection between the body and the mind.

Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2020-21. Professor Gentzler.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2023

218 Early Modern Philosophy

A survey of European philosophy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with emphasis on Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. Reading and discussion of selected works of the period.

Limited to 18 students per section. Fall semester. Assistant Professor Leydon-Hardy. 

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2025

219 Philosophy of Religion 

(See RELI 316)

225 Environmental Philosophy

(Offered as PHIL 225 and ENST 228) Our impact on the environment has been significant, and in recent decades the pace of change has clearly accelerated. Many species face extinction, forests are disappearing, and toxic wastes and emissions accumulate. The prospect of a general environmental calamity seems all too real.

This sense of crisis has spurred intense and wide-ranging debate over what our proper relationship to nature should be. This is the focus of the course. Among the questions we shall explore will be: What obligations, if any, do we have to non-human animals, to living organisms like trees, to ecosystems as a whole, and to future generations of humans? Do animals have rights we ought to respect? Is nature intrinsically valuable or merely a bundle of utilities for our benefit? Is there even a stable notion of “what is natural” that can be deployed in a workable environmental ethic? Do our answers to these questions result in some way from a culturally contingent “image” we have of nature and our place within it? How might we best go about changing the ways we inhabit the planet?

Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2020-2021. Professors Moore.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2014, Spring 2016, Fall 2018

309 Introduction to Critical Theory

The Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School was an attempt both to study modern capitalist society and to make possible its eventual transformation. Generally influenced by a Marxist critique of modern capitalism and its alienated form of life, thinkers in the Frankfurt School were troubled and disappointed by the fact that the promised Marxist revolution never took place. The relation between theory and practice turned out to be more difficult than assumed. Therefore, they also wanted to address the question of how to contribute to change in a society in which opposition so easily becomes co-opted. Modern society has, arguably, a cunning ability to undermine resistance. What role does Critical Theory play in such a state of society? 

This course will examine this tradition both historically and in terms of its contemporary relevance. Readings will be made up mostly of primary sources, including writings from Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Benjamin, Habermas, and Honneth. These readings are often very densely constructed, so we will also look at some secondary literature to aid in the tasks of understanding and interpretation.

Requisite: One course in Philosophy or consent of the instructor. Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2020-21. 

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023

310 Ethics

We will be concerned to see whether there is anything to be said in a principled way about right and wrong. The core of the course will be an examination of three central traditions in ethical philosophy in the West, typified by Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, and John Stuart Mill. We will also look at contemporary discussions of the relation between the demands of morality and those personal obligations that spring from friendships, as well as recent views about the nature of personal welfare.

Requisite: One course in PHIL or consent of the instructor. Priority is given to Amherst College students. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Shah.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2014, Fall 2022, Spring 2025

334 Black Existentialsim

(See BLST 195)

335 Theory of Knowledge

This is a course on epistemology, the branch of philosophy concerned with knowledge. Consider two parallel scenarios. In both cases you ask a passer-by for directions to the store. In the Good Case, the passer-by happens to be an employee of the store. In the Bad Case, they simply take a confident guess. In either case the passer-by gives you identical directions. From your perspective, the testimonies are indistinguishable, and in both cases you form a true belief.

 Are you better off in one case than the other? One thought might be that in the Good Case, you acquire knowledge, whereas in the Bad Case you acquire a (fortuitously) true belief. Is there a difference between knowledge and true belief? What is the relationship between our reasons for belief and the status of our beliefs (like whether a belief is somehow justified, or counts as knowledge)? Can we know anything at all? Or does the arguably pervasive possibility of being in a near-miss situation, like the Bad Case, undermine our claim to truly knowing much of anything?

This course will address why we should care about what knowledge is, and what it requires; the relationship between our reasons for belief and the biases that we have and their impact on the credibility we afford to members of marginalized groups; ways that our identities intersect with our ability to both acquire and to disseminate knowledge; and whether we have an obligation to speak out against what is false, or unjustified.

Requisite: One course in PHIL or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Spring Semester semester. Assistant Professor Leydon-Hardy.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2013, Spring 2017, Fall 2019, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Fall 2024

341 Freedom and Responsibility

Are we free? Do we possess the freedom necessary for moral responsibility? What form of freedom is necessary for moral responsibility? Is this freedom compatible with causal determinism? To be morally responsible for an action, must its agent have been able to act otherwise? Must she have chosen her own character? What is it to be morally responsible for an action? These are the main questions we shall address in this course. To address them, we shall read works by Hume, Reid, Chisholm, Ayer, Strawson, Frankfurt, Nagel, and others.

Requisite: One course in PHIL. Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2020-2021. Assistant Professor Leydon-Hardy. 

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2018, Spring 2020, Fall 2021, Spring 2025

359 Kant and the Nineteenth Century

Immanuel Kant's philosophy set off a revolution that reverberated throughout 19th-century Europe. For Kant, it is our own reason, not God or nature, which is the original source of all moral principles, freedom, and even goodness itself. Human beings are autonomous in that we determine what is morally right.

We will trace the effects of the Kantian revolution and several influential responses to it. We begin with Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), which grounds ethical obligations in the idea of autonomy. We then consider Hegel's radicalization of this project in his Philosophy of Right (1820), which seeks to demonstrate that freedom requires a certain form of social and political life. We conclude with an examination of two critiques of the Kantian/Hegelian project in ethical theory: Karl Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844) and Frederick Douglass’s My Bondage and My Freedom (1855).

Our aim in this course will be to understand and evaluate these four difficult texts, and to write about them in clear and analytical prose.

Requisite: One prior course in Philosophy. Limited to 15 students. Spring Semester. Professor Hasan

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023, Fall 2024

360 Language, Method, and Nonsense: Origins of Analytic Philosophy

Language and the nature of meaning, the search for a philosophical method, and the limits of logic and intelligibility—these are central concerns that drove the pioneers of analytic philosophy. We shall explore these themes through classic readings by some of the seminal figures of the tradition: Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Rudolf Carnap, and W. V. Quine.

Requisite: One course in PHIL or consent of the instructor. Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2020-2021. Professor George.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2016, Fall 2018, Spring 2025

363 Topics in Continental Philosophy: Nietzsche’s Critique of Morality

This course will focus on a careful reading of two principal texts by Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy and On the Genealogy of Morals. Our goal is to understand and evaluate Nietzsche’s critique of the idea of morality, based on the concepts of obligation, guilt, and responsibility, and to investigate Nietzsche’s own positive vision of ethics. We will consider sections from Nietzsche’s other works, including Daybreak, Ecce Homo, and Thus Spoke Zarathustra, as well as important secondary literature, including engagements with Nietzsche from a feminist and philosophy of race perspective.

Requisite: One course in PHIL. Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2020-2021. Professor Hasan.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017

364 Kant

An examination of the central metaphysical and epistemological doctrines of the Critique of Pure Reason, including both the historical significance of Kant's work and its implications for contemporary philosophy.

Requisite: Phil 218 or consent of the instructor. Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2020-2021.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2011, Fall 2013, Fall 2015, Fall 2019

366 Introduction to African-American Philosophy

(See BLST 135)

373 Seminar: Speech & Harm

It’s your wedding day. After exchanging heart-felt vows, you and your partner celebrate as the judge says “I now pronounce you a married couple.” Unbeknownst to you, the judge has recently been disbarred. Even though she uttered the right words, the judge didn’t have standing to carry out her pronouncement. Unfortunately, you’re not married.

This linguistic example brings out how successful speech depends not just upon the words that are uttered, or upon the intentions of the speaker, but also upon social conditions that enable speakers to do things with their words. For over half a century, philosophers and linguists have tried to explain the workings of many different types of speech, including irony, jokes, expletives, slurs, and the fictional utterances of actors on a stage.

Very recently, philosophers have asked how harm might arise when speech goes awry. Does, for example, a pornographic culture effectively silence women by undermining their ability to issue restrictive commands (like “stop!”), or even to decline unwanted proposals? Does racist hate speech undermine the status of certain speakers to make genuine assertions, or even to ask questions? If so, exercising free speech requires not merely the freedom to utter words, but also the type of surrounding cultural conditions that enable genuine speech acts. Moreover, some speech that is currently protected as free might actually undermine the free speech of others. All of this raises the difficult question of what limits might justifiably be put on our freedoms of speech.

Requisite:  One course in Philosophy or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students.  Fall semester.  Professor Shah.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

410 Seminar: Epistemic Agency

What we believe matters tremendously to how we understand ourselves, and to who we are or believe we are. Belief is a normative concept. One ought to believe what one's evidence supports, what reason dictates, etc. And we hold people accountable for what they believe. We say things like, "You ought to believe that p," or "You ought not to believe that p." If one ought not believe that p, presumably one could have believed otherwise. But we do not seem to choose our beliefs in the way that we choose our actions. As we say, belief aims at the truth: to believe that p is just to see the (apparent) truth of p. If we do not have this kind of power or control in the realm of belief, how can we make sense of our practice of normatively appraising belief? What is the connection between what we believe, on the one hand, and who we are, on the other? In this seminar we take up this question: in what way are we agents with respect to our epistemic lives?

Requisite: Two courses in Philosophy or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2020-2021. Professor Leydon-Hardy.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

459 Seminar: Just Human Health

The concept of justice, according to American political philosopher John Rawls, concerns the proper principles for determining who has what rights and what duties with respect to the distribution of “social advantages"—that is, those good things that society has the ability, if it were so inclined, either to grant to or withhold from its members. This seminar is an investigation and evaluation of different conceptions of justice through the lens of human health. Health is an illuminating lens for this inquiry, because nearly everyone agrees that health is a good in itself and is also a precondition for enjoying many other human goods. For this reason, nearly everyone agrees that a just society will prevent its members from harming the health of one another. However, as we now know, whether any individual is healthy is due to many and varied factors, some within and some beyond their own individual control, including access to health care, healthy food, education, loving and respectful relationships, and meaningful work. In a democracy, our collective choices about how to structure our society disadvantage some and advantage others with regard to all of these goods. What do these facts about human health imply about our obligations to, and claims on, others? To what extent does a just society protect, repair, and enhance the health of its current and future members, and at what cost?

Requisite: Two courses in philosophy or the consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2020-2021. Professor Gentzler.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020, Spring 2022

461 Seminar: Skepticism

The topics change from year to year. Some of the most interesting and most characteristic work in recent philosophy has been concerned with the problem of skepticism and the external world, i.e., roughly, the problem of how you know that your whole life isn't merely a dream. We will critically examine various responses to this problem and, possibly, consider some related issues such as relativism and moral skepticism. There will be readings from authors such as Wittgenstein, Moore, and Austin, and philosophers working today such as Dretske and Putnam.

Requisite: Two courses in PHIL or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2020-2021.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2011, Fall 2012, Spring 2016, Fall 2019

462 Seminar: Philosophy of Time

Is time real? If so, are the past and the future as real as the present? (How should we even approach such questions?) And what is time, anyway? Does time exist independently of things in time? Could there be time without change? Could time have a beginning or an end? Time seems linear, and also to have an intrinsic direction or “arrow”? But does it have to be this way? It’s often said that time passes, but if so, how fast does it pass? In what sense is time “open” in the future? Is time travel possible? Do causes have to precede their effects? Finally, should we, and can we reconcile our everyday conceptions of time with the sometimes counter-intuitive conceptions of modern physics?

Over the last hundred years, these questions have received a great deal of attention from scientists and philosophers. This seminar will explore these questions and others about the nature of time. It will be run in conjunction with a speaker series in which theorists present and discuss recent work on the philosophy of time.

Required: Two courses in PHIL or consent of the professor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2020-2021. Professor Moore.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019

463 The Later Wittgenstein

In 1930, Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) returned to Cambridge, England and to philosophy, more than a decade after having solved, in his earlier work, all its problems to his satisfaction.  He now had some doubts.  In 1933, he began to dictate to his students a series of notes on his revolutionary new ideas "so that they might have something to carry home with them, in their hands if not in their brains."  These notes were not published during his lifetime but were circulated privately; they eventually came to be known as The Blue Book.  This course will primarily be a slow reading and discussion of this seminal, original, and radical work, and will serve as an introduction to Wittgenstein's later thought on language, mind, and philosophy.
Requisite: two courses in PHIL. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor George.
2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Fall 2011, Spring 2015, Spring 2017, Spring 2021

464 Seminar: Population Ethics

(Offered as PHIL 464 and ENST 464) Is our planet overpopulated? And if so, how many of us should live on it? Population raises tricky questions that are both empirical and broadly philosophical: How should we weigh the well-being of future individuals against the lives of those currently living? Should we aim for a future population whose average or whose total level of well-being is maximized—or should we apply some other standard? Even more fundamentally: are we right to think of human life as, on balance, a positive thing? And how might a policy based on answers to such questions be weighed against rights to reproductive choice, and against considerations of justice?

In this seminar, we will explore recent work in the emerging and fascinating field of population ethics. We will chart new areas for research, as well as for practical policy-making.

Requisite: At least one course in either ENST or PHIL. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2020-2021. Professor Moore.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Spring 2018, Fall 2019

466 Seminar: Faith and Reason

Many believe that Socrates walked the streets of ancient Athens; that there are infinitely many prime numbers; that a divine being created the universe; that tomorrow day will follow night; that there are minds other than their own. Are all these beliefs justifiable? If so, in the same way or in radically different ways? Or is it a mistake to seek to justify some of these beliefs, for instance, religious beliefs? And if a belief cannot be justified, is it irrational to believe it? We shall explore these questions through discussions of a handful of classics of philosophy, including works by David Hume, William James, Søren Kierkegaard, John Locke, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Requisite: Two courses in PHIL or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2020-2021. Professor George.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017

467 Seminar: Philosophy of Music

Music is sometimes described as a language, but what, if anything, does Charlie Parker’s “Ah-Leu-Cha” say to us? If music isn’t representational, then how should we understand its connection to the various emotions that it can express and invoke? (Or maybe these aren’t genuine emotions: Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings is widely described as sad, but what exactly are we—or is it—sad about? And why would we choose to listen to Mozart’s Requiem if it genuinely terrified us?) Perhaps our musical descriptions and experiences are metaphorical in some way—but how, and why?

What exactly is a musical work anyway? Where, when and how do “Summertime,” or “Stairway to Heaven,” or “Shake Ya Tailfeather” exist? And what makes for a performance of one or the other (or of no work at all)?

What, if anything, guides a proper “listening” or understanding of a musical work? Does it require knowledge of relevant musical and cultural conventions, or of the composition’s historical context, or even of the composer’s intentions and guiding aesthetic philosophy? (Think of gamelan music; think of the Sgt. Pepper’s album; think of John Cage.)

What determines whether a work, or a performance of it, is good? What role is played by beauty, grace, intensity and so on? And how objective are these aesthetic properties? Finally, why do we sometimes find music to be not just enjoyable, but intensely moving and even profound?

Requisite: Two courses in PHIL or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2020-2021. Professor Moore.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2018, Spring 2020, Fall 2022, Spring 2025

468 The Calderwood Seminar in Public Writing: Philosophy in Public Life?

Plato famously argued that only philosophers should rule and that only a few, very exceptional intellects would qualify to be philosophers.

In this course, we will reflect on the role of philosophy in public life. Who, if anyone, would benefit—a few, many, or the majority—from being exposed to philosophy? We will then consider the value of blogs, Amherst’s own AskPhilosophers, articles in national and local newspapers and magazines, book reviews, biographical and philosophical profiles of philosophers (both historical and contemporary), pop-up philosophy workshops/dramas at the college or in the community, and any other strategies that might provide a compelling education in philosophy to an appropriate public audience. By the end of semester, each student will have completed at least six different public philosophical writing projects. Class sessions will be conducted as workshops devoted to analyzing and critiquing our public philosophical writing.

This seminar is designed as a capstone course for senior majors in PHIL. Limited to 12 students. Omitted 2020-2021. Professor Gentzler.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019

469 Seminar: Reasons for Belief and Action

Your friend wrote a tacky song. Should you believe it's a masterpiece? (She is your friend, after all). You’re about to jump across an icy stream. You’re more likely to make it if you believe you can. Should you believe that? Your resolutions to exercise regularly usually fail. Should you believe you will succeed this time? If we say "yes," what is the relevant sense of "should"? Are these beliefs rational, or merely beneficial? These cases suggest that there can be different sorts of considerations in favor of belief and action. This course is about how to understand these different sorts of reasons and how these might conflict or interact.

This course will be co-taught with Professor Katia Vavova from Mount Holyoke. Half the spaces will be reserved for Amherst College students, and half the spaces will be reserved for Mount Holyoke students. The overall enrollment cap will be 24 students. The enrollment cap for Amherst College students will be 12.

Requisites: Two courses in PHIL or consent of the instructor. Limited to 12 students. Omitted 2020-2021. Professors Shah and Vavova (Mount Holyoke College).

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017

475 Seminar: Racial Justice and Injustice

What is racism? Is it in the heart (a feeling), or in the head (a belief)—or both, or neither? Has it always been around? If not, why is there racism now? What is discrimination, and what is wrong with it? Are acts of discrimination and discriminatory institutions sufficient to explain prevailing forms of racial inequality? By what other mechanisms is racial inequality reproduced? Is the modern liberal state itself an institution of racial domination? What is the relation between racism and capitalism?

Given racial injustice, what program of racial justice ought we to pursue? Are reparations for past injustice a necessary part of that program? How might we achieve the fair political representation of racial minorities? What is the connection between racial justice and other egalitarian ideals?

The seminar will be run in conjunction with a visiting-speaker series. Philosophers working on these issues will discuss with us their recent work on racial justice and injustice.

Requisite: Two courses in PHIL or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2020-2021. Professors Hasan and Shah.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

479 Morality and the Emotions

It is widely agreed that the emotions are central to morality. But there is much less agreement about how the relationship between the emotions and morality should be understood. In this seminar, we will investigate the nature of emotion and its role(s) in morality. Some of the topics we will address include: What are emotions? Are they feelings, judgments, perceptions of value, or something else? How do emotions shape our moral talk, thought, and behavior? Are emotions rational or irrational? What does it mean to call a particular emotion "moral" (or immoral), and which emotions count as the distinctively moral (or immoral) ones? Along the way, we'll draw from work in ethical theory and the philosophy of emotion as well as contemporary research in psychology and cognitive science.

Requisite: Two courses in PHIL or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2020-2021.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018

490 Special Topics

Independent reading course. Reading in an area selected by the student and approved in advance by a member of the Department.

Admission with consent of the instructor. Fall and spring semesters. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023

497 Senior Honors Seminar

The senior honors seminar supports the first half of senior thesis work in philosophy. It will provide a hands-on introduction to philosophical research. During the course of the semester, students will fine-tune and develop their initial thesis proposals into detailed thesis plans, and then draft significant chunks of their eventual theses. This will be accomplished through close reading and discussion of central texts, structured writing, and the eventual sharing of student drafts. By the end of the semester, students will be connected with a faculty member who will then direct their research through the second semester of the honors work.

Requisite: Departmental approval of a thesis proposal due the first day of the fall semester. Omitted 2020-2021. Professor Moore.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2024

498 Senior Departmental Honors

Required of candidates for Honors in Philosophy. Directed research culminating in a substantial essay on a topic chosen by the student and approved by the Department.

Open to seniors with consent of the Department. Fall semester. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Fall 2023

499 Departmental Honors Course

Required of candidates for Honors in Philosophy. The continuation of PHIL 498. In special cases, subject to approval of the Department, a double course (499D).

Admission with consent of the instructor. Spring semester. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Spring 2025

Departmental Courses

226 Introduction to Political Philosophy: Justice, Freedom, and the State

States are made up of individuals. And yet states have powers that no individuals have. They collect taxes, put us in jail, draft us into the army, tell us what we can and cannot own, etc. In general, states compel us to do things in the name of the ‘common good,’ even when that good conflicts with what we would individually prefer to do. In this course, an introduction to key concepts in Western political philosophy, we seek to understand what, if anything, could justify states’ having this power over us. To this end, we examine two philosophical issues raised by the state. (1) The problem of political obligation. Is there any reason why we ought to obey the law? What are the grounds for legitimate civil disobedience? (2) The question of distributive justice. What reasons are there to tax the rich in order to give to the poor? What is the role of the state in securing economic equality?

Readings include: Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Nozick, and Rawls. We will also think about the legacy of racism in modern political life. We will ask how this legacy should shape our attitude toward the state. Readings here include: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Tommie Shelby, and Shatema Threadcraft.

Limited to 18 students. Priority is given to Amherst College students. Spring semester. Professor Hasan.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2024

332 Metaphysics

Metaphysics is the investigation, at the most fundamental level, of the nature of reality. It has been an especially vibrant area of philosophy in recent years, and we will read some of the freshest and most important work in the field. Among the questions to be considered are: What is existence? Is there more than one kind of existence? Are there merely possible things? Could you have been a poached egg (Tichy)? What is possibility anyway? Can things really change, or do they last for no more than a moment, or both? When are several things parts of some greater whole, and why? Is a statue identical to the lump of clay from which it is fashioned? How can you destroy the statue, yet not destroy the clay? Thinking through such basic questions leads to surprising perplexities and surprising insights. Readings by Quine, Kripke, Lewis, Van Inwagen, and others.

Requisite: One course in PHIL. Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2020-2021.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Fall 2015, Fall 2017, Fall 2022

Related Courses

- (Course not offered this year.)