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Philosophy

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2022-23

217 Ancient Greek Philosophy

European and American philosophers trace their intellectual heritage to Ancient Greece.  Plato and Aristotle, in particular, have set standards for philosophical inquiry, by distinguishing it from other practices such as poetry, drama, and sophistry.  In this class, we will examine and critically assess their understanding of the nature of philosophical inquiry, by comparing the writing of those whom that they deemed to be philosophers to Homeric poetry, Sophoclean drama, and Protagorean sophistry. We will also examine and critically assess the arguments that Ancient Greek philosophers offered in support of their answers 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 the good life; about the relationship between obligations to others and self-interest; and about the connection between the body and the mind.  Open to all students. Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Gentzler. 

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2021

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. Omitted 2022-23. Assistant Professor Leydon-Hardy. 

2022-23: Not offered
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, Spring 2020, Fall 2020

241 Ancient Philosophy in Dialogue: China, India, and Greece

(Offered as PHIL 241 and RELI 241). This course puts into dialogue the ancient philosophical traditions of China, India, and Greece. We will explore their reflections and debates on how to live a good life, how to gain knowledge, and how to understand our place in the universe. Through close readings of texts, we will compare ancient philosophical conceptions, styles of discourse, and intellectual contexts. The course reconsiders the Eurocentric history and ideologies of many modern conceptions of philosophy. Professors Gentzler, and Heim, and TBD. No prerequisites. Enrollment limit: 60 students.

No prerequisites. Enrollment limit: 60 students. Spring semester. Professors Gentzler, and Heim, and TBD. 

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
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, Fall 2019, Fall 2021

301 Education for Democracy

(Offered as PHIL 301 and EDST 301) In the past decade or so, public support for liberal democratic institutions has waned significantly all over the world. The solution, some argue, is to educate our citizens better so that they understand the value of liberalism and democracy and so that they develop the knowledge and character required to exercise the rights of a citizen in a liberal democracy responsibly and well. In this class, we will consider and assess philosophical arguments for and against both liberalism and democracy. In light of this inquiry, we will consider what it would mean to educate for citizenship in a liberal democracy. Readings will be drawn from the works of Plato, John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Horace Mann, John Dewey, Alexander Meiklejohn, John Rawls, Amy Guttman, David Estlund, Thomas Christiano, Elizabeth Anderson, Danielle Allen and Martha Nussbaum, among others.

Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Omitted 2022-23. Professors Gentzler and Leydon-Hardy.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2022

312 The Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School

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. Spring semester. Omitted 2022-23. Visiting Professor Anders Bartonek.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2022

335 Theory of Knowledge

(Offered as PHIL 335 and EDST 335) 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 25 students. Fall Semester. Omitted 2022-23. Assistant Professor Leydon-Hardy.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2011, Fall 2013, Spring 2017, Fall 2019, Spring 2021, Fall 2021

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 2022-2023. Professor Shah

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2018, Spring 2020, Fall 2021

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 of what can be thought—these are the central topics that drove the pioneers of analytic philosophy. We shall explore these themes through classic readings by some of the major 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. Spring semester. Omitted 2022-23. Professor George.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Spring 2022

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.  Omitted 2022-23.  Professor Shah.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

374 Population Ethics

(Offered as ENST 474 and PHIL 374) 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 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Moore.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Spring 2018, Fall 2019

409 Seminar: Plato's Republic

In his greatest work, the Republic, Plato takes up a challenge that was prevalent in the society in which he lived, namely, why should we be just when the benefits of being unjust seem obvious?  In order to provide a rational defense of a just life against those who would advocate injustice, Plato believes, we must explore and take a stand on most of the major questions in political philosophy, philosophy of education, value theory, philosophy of action, philosophy of mind, practical rationality, metaphysics, and epistemology. This class will be devoted to an assessment of the entirety of Plato's argument in the Republic in defense of a life of justice. 

Prerequisite: Two courses in Philosophy, or permission of the instructor.Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Gentzler. 

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023

410 Seminar on Epistemic Agency

(Offered as PHIL 410 and EDST 410) What does it mean to be responsible for your beliefs? Here’s one idea: when we think about responsibility, we think about choice. For example, we might say that you are responsible for your misdeeds because you could have chosen otherwise; you chose to act as you did. What is the analog to this way of explaining responsibility when it comes to our mental lives? In what sense could we have believed otherwise? And in what sense ought we to know certain things? Some epistemologists—philosophers who study knowledge and belief—have argued that epistemic agency is an empty concept. Belief, as they say, “aims at the truth”. The idea is that I do not choose to believe that Milo is the best dog because I prefer to believe it, or because I have decided that the evidence is in his favor (it is!). Instead, I believe it because its truth compels me: it is evident, and in virtue of recognizing the evidence for what it is, the belief arises in me unbidden. Your beliefs smack you in the face; they happen to you, not because of you. But what, then, do we make of our widespread—and, arguably, deeply meaningful—practice of evaluating one another on the basis of our beliefs? Why do we admire one another for our good ideas, or repudiate one another for reactionary, dogmatic, or bigoted beliefs? If these practices of evaluation—which seem to presuppose that we are responsible for our beliefs—are legitimate, why are they? In what sense are our beliefs under our control? Are we free to know, and believe?

Requisite: Two courses in Philosophy or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Leydon-Hardy.

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

413 Philosophy: Insight or Illusion?

The twentieth century saw powerful attempts to bring a halt to the kind of philosophy that had consumed people for millennia. Key figures included Wittgenstein, Quine, and so-called Ordinary Language Philosophers. They did not seek to provide solutions to philosophical problems, but tried instead to show that the problems are illusions.  We will examine their attempts through several case studies involving language, mind, knowledge, and ethics.

Requisite: two courses in Philosophy. Spring semester. Professors George and Shah. 

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023

459 Seminar: Just Human Health

Citizens of the United States are currently engaged in heated debates about access to health care. Is it okay that some of us find it much easier than others to access quality health care that can save our lives? How much access do any of us have a right to? These debates have been informed by our understanding of what a just society guarantees for its different members as well as our understanding of how a just society distributes advantages and burdens among its members when all needs cannot be met. These debates are also informed by our understanding of the nature of health and its value to our lives, as well as our understanding of how different people are responsible for their own health and that of others. Recent research and scholarship have challenged the common view that access to health care is the most relevant factor in determining health outcomes. In particular, recent research has suggested that in addition to access to health care, the following factors play a significant role in our long-term health: our relative status in the groups to which we belong; our access to loving parents, partners, family members, and friends; our access to challenging, stimulating, and inclusive education; our sense of safety in our homes and neighborhoods; our access to meaningful work and engaging play; among other things.Recent research in philosophy has also challenged our assumptions about the most reasonable principles for determining whether certain actions, policies, or emotional dispositions are just or unjust. Putting all of these considerations and observations together, we as scholars are faced with the challenge of providing justified answers to the questions: Do we have any obligation of justice to protect the health of others? If so, in which cases and why? To answer these questions, we will explore and assess recent philosophers’ efforts to understand the general nature of our obligations to one another, the various situations of privilege and disadvantage that we humans experience in relation to one another, and the effects of these relations on our long term health. We will then apply our best understanding of the nature of justice to particular cases to determine whether a given health disparity is a matter of justice, or instead, of good or bad fortune that no one has a moral obligation to change.

Requisite: Two courses in philosophy or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Gentzler

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020, Spring 2022

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. Omitted 2022-23. Professor George.

2022-23: 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 2022-23. Professor Moore.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Spring 2018, Fall 2019

470 Sem: Equality/Inequality

Open a newspaper today and one will encounter statistics like the following: in the United States the top 1% of households have 15 times more wealth than the bottom 50%. Over the past three decades, the top 10% of U.S. households have seen their wealth rise by almost ten percentage points, while the total wealth controlled by the bottom 50% has been cut nearly in half. And in the time of pandemic, the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider.

Many people think there is something unjust about a society in which some have so much more than others. But is inequality unjust, and, if so, why? Reducing inequality will involve taking away some of what hard-working, innovative people have earned through legitimate avenues. What could justify governments in doing this?

We will consider these questions by studying two of the most-discussed works of modern political philosophy: John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice (1971) and Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974). Rawls argues that a society genuinely committed to equality must redistribute wealth so as to promote the well-being of the worst off. Nozick argues that redistributive taxation unjustly interferes with our freedom. Reading Rawls and Nozick together allows us to investigate whether freedom and equality are, in fact, irreconcilable values.

Along the way, we will also examine arguments for a universal basic income, the relation between personal responsibility and economic inequality, and inequalities of power in the workplace. To this end, we will read contemporary philosophers such as Elizabeth Anderson, G.A. Cohen, and Thomas Nagel.

Requisite: Two prior courses in PHIL. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Hasan.

 

2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2021