Philosophy

2011-12

100 Rights and Wrongs

A primary objective of this course is to develop analytic tools for making thoughtful moral decisions in our own lives and for evaluating policies and decisions made by others. Equally, this course offers students the opportunity to become effective and eloquent writers. The particular moral problems that we consider will depend in part on the interests of the members of the seminar. They may include problems raised by the practices of international aid, abortion, euthanasia, affirmative action, capital punishment, eating animals, sex, parenting, war, and terrorism.

Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 12 students. Omitted 2010-11. Professor Gentzler.

2023-24: Not offered

111 Introduction to Philosophy

An examination of basic issues, problems, and arguments in philosophy, e.g., proofs for the existence of God, the nature of morality, free will and determinism, the relationship between the mind and the body, knowledge and the problem of skepticism. Discussions will take place in the context of readings from classical and contemporary philosophers.

Two sections will be taught each semester.  Each section limited to 25 students.  Fall semester: Keiter-Mellon Fellow Vavova.  Spring semester: Professor Emeritus Kearns.

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

213 Logic

"All philosophers are wise and Socrates is a philosopher; therefore, Socrates is wise." Our topic is this 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.

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 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 and Aristotle. 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. Fall semester. 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 30 students. Spring semester. Professor Vogel.

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

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2016, Spring 2021, Spring 2023, Fall 2024

222 Contemporary Moral Problems

In the United States today citizens disagree fiercely about torture, gay marriage, abortion, the role of religion in science and politics, the demands of patriotism, etc. Can we find common ground in shared ethical principles that will allow us to engage in rational debates about these issues rather than in disrespectful shouting matches? This will be our guiding question as we investigate many of the contemporary moral issues that divide us.

Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2011-12.

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

225 Ethics and the Environment

(Offered as PHIL 225 and ENST 228) As our impact on the environment shows itself in increasingly dramatic ways, our interaction with the environment has become an important topic of cultural and political debate.  In this course we will discuss various philosophical issues that arise in such debates, including: What obligations, if any, do we have to future generations, to non-human animals, and to entire ecosystems?  How should we act when we are uncertain exactly how our actions will affect the environment?  How should we go about determining environmental policy?  And how should we implement the environmental policies we decide upon?  What is the most appropriate image of nature?

Limited to 30 students. Spring semester.  Professor Emeritus Kearns.

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

227 Aesthetics

The course investigates the central issues of aesthetics. These include: the nature and value of art, works of art, expression, creativity, artistic meaning, aesthetic experience, interpretation and aesthetic judgment. In the first half of the course, we will examine certain historical texts—from Plato to Tolstoy—that have been influential in both the study and practice of art. In the second half, we will discuss contemporary treatments of selected topics in aesthetics.

Limited to 25 students. Spring semester.  Professor Moore.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2015

229 The Problem of Evil

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2015, Fall 2018, Spring 2023

310 Normative 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 Philosophy or consent of the instructor. Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Keiter-Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow Vavova.

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

333 Philosophy of Mind

An introduction to philosophical problems concerning the nature of the mind. Central to the course is the mind-body problem—the question of whether there is a mind (or soul or self) that is distinct from the body, and the question of how thought, feelings, sensations, and so on, are related to states of the brain and body. In connection with this, we will consider, among other things, the nature of consciousness, mental representation, the emotions, self-knowledge, and persons.

Requisite: One course in Philosophy. Limited to 25 students. Spring semester.  Professor Antony.

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

335 Theory of Knowledge

A consideration of some basic questions about the nature and scope of our knowledge. What is knowledge? Does knowledge have a structure? What is perception? Can we really know anything at all about the world?

Requisite: One course in Philosophy or consent of the instructor.  Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Vogel.

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? An absence of external constraint seems to be necessary for freedom, but is it enough? Can obsessions, addictions, or certain types of ignorance threaten our freedom? Some philosophers have argued that if actions are causally determined, then freedom is impossible. Others have argued that freedom does not depend on the truth or falsity of causal determinism. Is freedom compatible with determinism? Are there different kinds of freedom? Are all kinds of freedom equally worthwhile? Must we act freely in order to be responsible for our actions? Is freedom of action sufficient for responsibility? Are the social institutions of reward and punishment dependent for their justification upon the existence of responsible, free agents? In what sort of society are humans most likely to get the sort(s) of freedom most worth wanting? We will attempt to determine the nature of persons, action, freedom, and responsibility in an effort to answer these questions.

Requisite: One course in Philosophy. Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2011-12. Professor Shah.

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

350 Philosophy of Mathematics

Mathematics is often thought to be the paragon of clarity and certainty. However, vexing problems arise almost immediately upon asking such seemingly straightforward questions as: “What is the number 1?” “Why can proofs be trusted?” “What is infinity?” “What is mathematics about?” During the first decades of the twentieth century, philosophers and mathematicians mounted a sustained effort to clarify the nature of mathematics. The result was three original and finely articulated programs that seek to view mathematics in the proper light: logicism, intuitionism, and finitism. The mathematical and philosophical work in these areas complement one another and indeed are, to an important extent, intertwined. For this reason, our exploration of these philosophies of mathematics will examine both the philosophical vision that animated them and the mathematical work that gave them content. In discussing logicism, we will focus primarily on the writings of Gottlob Frege. Some indication of how the goal of logicism--the reduction of mathematics to logic--was imagined to be achievable will also be given: introduction to the concepts and axioms of set theory, the set-theoretic definition of “natural number,” the Peano axioms and their derivation in set theory, reduction of the concepts of analysis to those in set theory, etc. Some of the set-theoretic paradoxes will be discussed as well as philosophical and mathematical responses to them. In the section on intuitionism, we will read papers by L.E.J. Brouwer and Michael Dummett, who argue that doing mathematics is more an act of creation than of discovery. This will proceed in tandem with an introduction to intuitionistic logic, which stands in contrast to the more commonly used classical logic. Finally, we will discuss finitism, as articulated in the writings of David Hilbert, who sought to reconcile logicism and intuitionism. Students will then be taken carefully through Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems and their proofs. The course will conclude with an examination of the impact of Gödel’s work on Hilbert’s attempted reconciliation, as well as on more general philosophical questions about mathematics and mind.

Requisite: PHIL 213 or MATH 385 or consent of the instructors. Omitted 2011-12. Professors A. George and Velleman.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011, Fall 2013

360 Origins of Analytic Philosophy: Frege, Russell, and the Early Wittgenstein

Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, and Ludwig Wittgenstein are towering figures in the history of analytic philosophy.  We shall examine their work, paying special attention to the following themes and their interconnections: language and the nature of meaning, the limits of sense and rationality, and the search for a philosophical method.

Requisite: One course in Philosophy. Omitted 2011-12. Professor George.

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

362 Heidegger and the phenomenological tradition

The course is an in-depth introduction to Heidegger's main work, Being and Time.  We shall situate it in the context of Husserlian phenomenology, hermeneutics, and existential philosophy.  Central problems that will be discussed include being, existence, truth, mortality, and time. The course also touches upon some of the philosophers who critically elaborated Heidegger's thinking, such as Gadamer, Arendt, and Derrida.

One course in Philosophy or consent of the instructor.  Limited to 25 students. Fall semester.  Visiting STINT Fellow Ruin.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 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. Fall semester. Professor Vogel.

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

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 about 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 Philosophy or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2011-12. Professor Vogel.

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

462 The Social Construction of Knowledge

It is rare for a philosophical idea to command widespread acceptance.  Over the past twenty years or so, however, a remarkable consensus has formed--in the humanities and social sciences--around the thesis that knowledge is socially constructed.  What does it mean to say that our knowledge that the earth is a sphere or that murder is wrong is "socially constructed"?  Is it a plausible thesis about all knowledge or just about particular sub-domains of knowledge, such as morality?  Unfortunately, advocates of this thesis rarely attempt to answer these questions.  They tend to believe that the thesis is so obvious that it needs no explanation or defense.  As we shall see, there in fact are significant obstacles to both formulating and defending the thesis that knowledge is in some interesting sense a creature of our construction. 

Requisite: Two courses in Philosophy or consent of the instructor.  Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2011-12. Professor Shah.

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

463 The Later Wittgenstein

In 1933, shortly after he returned to philosophy, Ludwig Wittgenstein began to dictate to his students at Cambridge 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.”  They were never published during his lifetime but were circulated privately, eventually becoming known as The Blue Book.  This course will primarily be a slow reading and discussion of this seminal and suggestive work.

Requisite: Two courses in philosophy or consent of the instructor.  Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor A. George.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Fall 2011, Spring 2015, Spring 2017, Spring 2021

464 Seminar: Practical Reasons and Morality

Lying would get you out of a pinch, but morality requires that you tell the truth. What should you do? Humeans argue that what you have reason to do depends on what you happen to want. Given that your interests are not promoted by doing what morality commands in this case, Humeans thus are likely to claim that it would be irrational to tell the truth. Kantians, on the other hand, typically argue that the commands of morality are the commands of reason itself, and thus that you are rationally obliged to obey morality--to tell the truth--even though it would better serve your interests to lie. Which conception of practical reasons is correct?

Requisite: Two courses in Philosophy or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2011-12. Professor Shah.

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

466 Evolution and Morality

Almost all human adults believe that:

(1) The fact that an action would promote one’s survival is a reason to do it.

(2) The fact that an action would promote the interests of a family member is a reason to do it.

(3) We have greater obligations to help our own children than we do to help complete strangers.

(4) The fact that someone has treated one well is a reason to treat that person well in return.

(5) The fact that someone is altruistic is a reason to admire, praise, and reward him or her.

(6) The fact that someone has done one deliberate harm is a reason to shun that person or seek his or her punishment.

Why do we accept these claims? Is it because they accurately describe a moral reality that we are able to perceive? (By what means do we perceive it? Do we have moral antennae?) Or is it because, as evolutionary biology leads many to believe, these beliefs tended to promote survival and reproduction? If the evolutionary explanation is correct, does this mean that these moral judgments are merely useful fictions that we would cease to accept if we were fully clear-eyed and rational? We will pursue these and related questions.

Requisite:  Two courses in Philosophy or consent of the instructor.  Limited to 15 students.  Omitted 2011-12.  Professor Shah.

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 Philosophy or consent of the instructor. Omitted 2011-12. Professor Moore.

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

468 Seminar: Miracles

Many believe that Jesus Christ died through crucifixion and that several days later he was alive again. Most would consider such a resurrection a miracle, but precisely what is it about the event that makes it miraculous? Quite a few people claimed they saw Jesus alive after his death. Does such testimony make it rational to believe that Jesus in fact returned from the dead? Could any evidence, however reliable and abundant, ever make it rational to believe that a miracle took place? In order to pursue these questions, we shall have to examine more carefully such notions as law of nature, testimony, evidence, interpretation, and rationality. We shall do so through discussion of a range of classical and contemporary philosophical texts with special attention to the relevant writings of David Hume and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Requisite: Two courses in Philosophy or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2011-12. Professor A. George.

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

470 Epistemology Seminar: Of Disagreement and Doubt

We are fallible creatures, prone to making all sorts of mistakes. How should we accommodate evidence of our own epistemic imperfection? Should such evidence lead us to doubt ourselves and our beliefs? Or are we rationally permitted to dismiss it? 

One way in which we might get evidence of our own error is through disagreement. The discovery that someone you respect disagrees with you can make you lose confidence in, and sometimes altogether abandon, your belief in the disputed proposition—but should it? Does disagreement provide evidence of error? Is it epistemically significant, or simply unpleasant? 

We will approach these questions by looking at current work on the epistemology of disagreement. This will lead us to more general issues about evidence and rationality that are central to both recent and traditional epistemology.

Limited to 15 students.  Omitted 2011-12.  Keiter-Mellon Fellow Vavova.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2021

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.

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

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.

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

472 Seminar: Identity

Identity is the relation a thing bears to itself and to no other thing. It is so basic to our thought, and so fundamental to the world we think about, that philosophers have despaired of saying much more about it. Some have even suggested that we should dispense with talk of “identity.” Yet, issues of identity are at the center of many important philosophical issues, for example, the relation between mind and body, the constitution of persons, and the nature of scientific discovery. And recent philosophers have done much to illuminate the nature of identity by studying its logic and grammar, and by asking how it interacts with other fundamental phenomena.

In the first part of this seminar, we will explore some puzzles revealed by these recent investigations. Identity and meaning: why exactly is it more informative to say that Lady Gaga is Stafani Germanotta than it is to say that Lady Gaga is identical to herself? Relative Identity: Should we say that one thing is identical to another, such as Barack Obama and the President of the United States, only relative to a functional role or a sortal concept? Contingent identity: could one thing, such as Water/H20, have been two, or two things one? Vague identity: is it coherent to hold that two things, such as the mountain(s) that rise to connected and nearby peaks, neither stand, nor fail to stand in the identity relation to one another? Identity and composition: is my reading lamp identical to the swarm of microphysical particles that compose it? Identity and change: how can a thing, such as a river, undergo change while retaining its identity?

In the second part of the course, we will use our general understanding of identity to explore the individuation of such entities as psychological states, musical works, events, and persons. The topic of personal identity will consume the final month of the seminar.

Limited to 15 students.  Spring semester.  Professor Moore.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2016

Related Courses

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