Year: Show curriculum in:

Amherst College Philosophy for 2011-12

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.

2019-20: Offered in Fall 2019 and Spring 2020
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2008, Fall 2008, Spring 2009, Fall 2009, Spring 2010, Fall 2010, Spring 2011, 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

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.

2019-20: Offered in Fall 2019
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018

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.

2019-20: Offered in Fall 2019
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018

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.

2019-20: Offered in Spring 2020
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019

219 Philosophy of Religion

(Offered as RELI 316 and PHIL 219.) An examination of several major discussion topics in the analytic philosophy of religion: the ethics of religious belief, the “problem of religious language,” the nature of God and the problem of evil. It would seem that it is always irrational to believe that statements about matters which transcend the realm of the empirical are true, since none of these statements can be directly supported by evidence. Thus it would seem that a great deal of religious belief is irrational. Is this the case, or can religious beliefs be supported by other means? Can philosophical reflection bring clarity to such puzzling matters as God's relationship to time, or the question of how a good and all-powerful God could permit the existence of evil? Alternatively, is the entire project of evaluating religious discourse as a set of claims about transcendent realities misguided--i.e., does religious language work differently than the language we use to speak about ordinary objects?

Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2011-12. Professor A. Dole.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2013, Spring 2016

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.

2019-20: 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.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2015

229 The Problem of Evil

(Offered as RELI 318 and PHIL 229.) If God is omnibenevolent, then God would not want any creature to suffer evil; if God is omniscient, then God would know how to prevent any evil from occurring; and if God is omnipotent, then God would be able to prevent any evil from occurring. Does the obvious fact that there is evil in the world, then, give us reason to think that there is no such God? Alternatively: if an omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent God does exist, then what could possibly motivate such a God to permit the existence of evil? This course will survey recent philosophical discussions of these questions. We will read works by J. L. Mackie, Nelson Pike, John Hick, Alvin Plantinga, Robert and Marilyn Adams, and others.

Limited to 25 students.  Omitted 2011-12.  Professor A. Dole.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2015, Fall 2018

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.

2019-20: Offered in Spring 2020
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019

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.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Fall 2010, Spring 2012, Fall 2014, Fall 2016

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.

2019-20: Offered in Fall 2019
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2011, Fall 2013, Spring 2017

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.

2019-20: Offered in Spring 2020
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2018

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.

2019-20: 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.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Spring 2013, Spring 2016, Fall 2018

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.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011

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.

2019-20: Offered in Fall 2019
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2011, Fall 2013, Fall 2015

460 Seminar: Reason, Experience and Reflection

We have various ways of knowing: reason, perception, and introspection. When we perceive, things around us seem to be directly present to our minds. Is this picture compatible with the fact that perception involves a complicated causal process? And if perception is the immediate grasp of objects in the world, how can we be subject to illusion and hallucination? We say that seeing is believing. Is it really? Or, if not, what is the relation between perception and belief? Can the contents of perceptual experience be captured completely by conceptual thought?

Reason is the source of our knowledge of logic and mathematics. But what is reason, and how does it work? Is it something like perception? Do we somehow “see” that there is no greatest number, or that the conclusion of a proof follows from its premises? Is reason subject to illusion and error? How could we ever tell? What do reason and understanding language have to do with each other?

Finally, we have some way of knowing what we’re thinking and feeling, which can be called introspection or reflection. Should we think of introspection as some sort of inward perception? What else could it be? What is the relation between having an experience and knowing that you have that experience? To what extent do we know our own minds better than anyone else can?

These questions are the subject of great interest and intense controversy in contemporary philosophy. We will try to get clear about them by reading some of the best work in field, from authors such as Grice, McDowell, Quine, BonJour, Peacocke, Burge, and Shoemaker.

Requisite: Two courses in Philosophy or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Vogel.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2012

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.

2019-20: Offered in Fall 2019
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2011, Fall 2012, Spring 2016

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.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Fall 2011, Spring 2015, Spring 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.

2019-20: Offered in Spring 2020
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2011, Spring 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 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.

2019-20: Offered in Fall 2019 and Spring 2020
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, 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

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.

2019-20: Offered in Fall 2019
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018

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.

2019-20: Offered in Spring 2020
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019

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.

2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2016

Related Courses

MATH-385 Mathematical Logic (Course not offered this year.)
RELI-278 Christianity, Philosophy, and History in the Nineteenth Century (Course not offered this year.)
RELI-316 Philosophy of Religion (Course not offered this year.)
RELI-318 The Problem of Evil (Course not offered this year.)