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 2009-10. Professor Gentzler.2019-20: Not offered
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.
One section will be taught fall semester and two sections spring semester. Each section limited to 25 students. Fall semester: Professor Shah. Spring semester: Professor Emeritus Kearns.2019-20: Offered in Fall 2019 and Spring 2020
"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
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
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 50 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor Sleigh.2019-20: Offered in Spring 2020
(Offered as Religion 18 and Philosophy 19.) 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 2009-10. Professor A. Dole.2019-20: Not offered
A paradox arises when unimpeachable reasoning leads from innocuous assumptions to an outrageous conclusion. A paradox brings us up short. Where did we go wrong? Were our assumptions less innocent than we supposed? Was our reasoning subtly fallacious after all? Must we alter our view of the world to make room for the formerly unacceptable conclusion? Or must we acknowledge an irresolvable conflict within reason itself? Paradoxes are not puzzles, but, at their best, goads to greater clarity and deeper thought. We shall explore a spree of philosophical topics (including time, motion, the past, the future, causation, infinity, truth, belief, the will, action, faith) via reflection on a range of paradoxes, ancient and modern, authentic and counterfeit.
Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor A. George.2019-20: Not offered
An elementary introduction to some very mysterious topics in the philosophy of mind, each one associated with a striking experiment. Topics will be chosen from among the following: so-called brain-bisection and the resulting "split-brain syndrome" (two independent consciousnesses seem to inhabit the two separated brain hemispheres); "blindsight" (subjects seem to be able to see without visual sensations); "phantom limb phenomena" (genuine pains are felt where an amputated limb used to be, and there is even a sensation of the presence of the limb as a whole); after-image color (there exist "non-physical" visual sensations with as strong a color as physical images); "OOBEs" (out-of-body experiences have been induced in recent experiments); the ambiguous figures, such as the so-called "duck-rabbit" (without a change in the stimulus, what is seen will assume a new and different aspect); "mental rotation" (experiments seem to show subjects rotating mental images as though they were as substantial as physical images); and Libet's experiment on free will (the physiological activity leading to an action precedes the conscious decision to act by about a third of a second, so that we cannot have free will). The leading idea of the course as a whole is to uncover and study the premises in our conception of mind that make each experimental result so baffling. No background in philosophy or psychology is required.
Limited to 35 students. Fall semester. Visiting Lecturer Westphal.2019-20: Not offered
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 2009-10.2019-20: Not offered
U.S. citizens are currently faced with many important decisions about health care policy. Who should have access to health care and to which services? Should physician-assisted suicide be legalized? Should AIDS be treated differently from other sorts of communicable diseases? Should abortion remain legal? These issues, in turn, raise basic philosophical questions. What is the nature of rights? Do we, for example, have a basic right to health care, to privacy, to decide the course of our treatment, or to authority about the timing and manner of our deaths? Do fetuses have a right to life? These issues, in turn, raise questions about the relative weight and nature of various goods--e.g., life, pain relief, health, privacy, autonomy, and relationships--and questions about the justice of various distributions of these goods between different individuals when their interests are in conflict. Finally, our attempts to answer these questions will raise basic questions about the nature of rationality. Is it possible to reach rational decisions about ethical matters, or is ethics merely subjective?
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2009-10. Professor Gentzler.2019-20: Not offered
What is the law? Is law a branch of morality discoverable by ethical reflection or is it nothing more than the commands issued by whoever happens to have the most power? When judges interpret laws, is this a process of discovery or of invention? Is there an objective standard for determining whether a law has been correctly interpreted? After considering these very general questions about the nature of law, we will examine two concepts that are central to law, property rights and punishment: What is the nature and justification of the property rights that the law protects? What is the justification of punishment and is there a difference between punishing someone and merely harming him?
Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2009-10. Professor Shah.2019-20: Not offered
A critical examination of selected theories of the nature of art, expression, creativity, artistic truth, aesthetic experience, interpretation and criticism. Special emphasis is placed on the thought of modern philosophers and critics.
Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2009-10. Professor Moore.2019-20: Not offered
Life is a risky and competitive business. As individuals, we constantly confront choices involving chancy and uncertain outcomes. And our institutional decisions--in government and business, for example--are often complicated by the competing interests of the individuals involved. Are there any general, rational procedures for making individual and institutional choices that involve chance and conflict? Positive proposals have been developed within decision theory, game theory and social choice theory. This course will provide an introduction to these theories and their philosophical foundations. Topics include the following: different conceptions of probability and utility; proposed rules for rational decision making under ignorance and risk; recent accounts of the way we actually assess prospects and make decisions; the source of altruism and fairness; “tragedies of the commons”; voting procedures and other methods of determining a just group policy.
Omitted 2009-10. Professor Moore.2019-20: Not offered
(Offered as Religion 51 and Philosophy 29.) 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. Spring semester. Professor A. Dole.2019-20: Not offered
Metaphysics concerns itself with basic and fundamental questions about the nature of reality. At its most general, metaphysics asks how we should distinguish appearance from reality, how we should understand existence, and what general features are had by reality and by the entities that exist as part of it. We will examine these questions, as well as other central issues in metaphysics. Additional topics may include: causation, change, identity, substances and properties, space and time, abstract objects like numbers and propositions, possibility and necessity, events, essences, time travel and freedom of the will. Readings will be drawn primarily from contemporary sources.
Requisite: One course in Philosophy or consent of the instructor. Omitted 2009-10. Professor Vogel.2019-20: Not offered
An introduction to philosophical problems concerning the nature of the mind. Central to the course will be the mind-body problem. Here we will be concerned with 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, and persons.
Requisite: One course in Philosophy. Omitted 2009-10. Professor Moore.2019-20: Not offered
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. Professor Shah.2019-20: Offered in Spring 2020
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. Omitted 2009-10. Professor Vogel.2019-20: Offered in Fall 2019
“Caesar was stabbed.” With those words, I can make a claim about someone who lived in the distant past. How is that possible? How do our words succeed in picking out particular portions of reality, even ones with which we have had no contact? How does language enable us to convey thoughts about everything from Amherst College, to the hopes of a friend, to the stars beyond our galaxy? What are the thoughts, or the meanings, that our words carry? And whatever they turn out to be, how do they come to be associated with our words: through some mental activity on our part, or instead through our use of language? We will explore these and other philosophical questions about language through a reading of seminal works by 20th-century thinkers.
Requisite: One course in Philosophy. Omitted 2009-10. Professor A. George.2019-20: Not offered
The practice of science and its fruits have dominated the lives of human beings for centuries. But what is science? How does it differ, if at all, from common sense, or religion, or philosophy? One hears that scientists follow the “scientific method,” but what is that? It is said to be based on observation, but what is it to observe something? And how can our observations justify claims about what we do not, or even cannot, observe? The claims of science are often said to describe “laws of nature,” but what are such laws? These claims are said to form “theories,” but what is a theory? And if science issues in theories, what is their point, that is, what is the goal of science? To predict? To explain? What is it to explain something, anyway? And do all sciences explain in the same way; for instance, does physics explain in the way that psychology does? Science is often treated as the paragon of rationality and objectivity. But what is it to be rational or objective? To what degree does, or can, science really approach such ideals? Are there any values explicit or implicit in the practice of science? If so, do they threaten science’s alleged objectivity, and do they conflict with other values one might hold?
Requisite: One course in Philosophy or consent of the instructor. Omitted 2009-10. Professor A. George.2019-20: Not offered
When we assert that murder is wrong, what are we saying? Are we describing some aspect of a moral realm that exists independently of what humans think and do? If so, how do we gain access to this realm (do we have moral antennae or ethical telescopes?), and what is the relation between truths in this realm and those in the ordinary world of mental and physical entities? On the other hand, if we are not talking about independent moral facts when we call an action wrong, what are we doing? Are we saying anything meaningful at all, or are we merely expressing emotions?
Requisite: One course in Philosophy or consent of the instructor. Omitted 2009-10. Professor Shah.2019-20: Not offered
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. Fall semester. Professor George.2019-20: Not offered
Why should I be just? Even if I do benefit from other people’s being just, surely there are occasions on which I would benefit from being unjust. If so, then don’t I sometimes have a good reason to be unjust? Plato’s greatest work, the Republic, is devoted to answering this question. To defend the practice of justice, Plato must take a stand on most of the major questions in political philosophy, moral psychology, practical rationality, the nature of human well-being, metaphysics, and epistemology. This class will be devoted to an assessment of the entirety of Plato’s argument.
Requisite: One course in Philosophy or consent of the instructor. Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2009-10. Professor Gentzler.2019-20: Not offered
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: Philosophy 18 or consent of the instructor. Omitted 2009-10. Professor Vogel.2019-20: Offered in Fall 2019
The state exercises authority over its citizens: if you fail to obey its dictates, you will be punished. Does this authority not conflict with human freedom and autonomy? If it does, can political authority be morally justified? We will focus on this central question in political philosophy, with particular attention to the idea that this authority is justifiable because we have in some fashion given our consent to it. Readings will include works by Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and (most extensively) John Rawls.
Requisite: One course in Philosophy or consent of the instructor. Omitted 2009-10. Professor A. George.2019-20: Not offered
If we think about it, it’s natural to suppose that sensory experience is the source of all our concepts and all our knowledge about the world. This view is known as empiricism. David Hume, one of the greatest philosophers who ever lived, provided an extremely radical and searching exposition of empiricism in A Treatise of Human Knowledge (Book One). We’ll read Hume carefully, and also consider contemporary responses to the issues Hume raises. For example, we’ll discuss recent attacks on the doctrine of empiricism itself. We’ll also take up one of the most profound and troubling problems in all of philosophy, namely Humean skepticism about induction, and current attempts to address this problem. This course satisfies the figure/movement requirement for the major.
Requisite: One course in philosophy; Philosophy 18 recommended but not required. Omitted 2009-10. Professor Vogel.2019-20: Not offered
For hundreds of years, Aristotle was known simply as “The Philosopher.” Indeed, in many ways, Aristotle defined the scope and methods of Western Philosophy. We will consider Aristotle’s reasons for fixing the boundaries of philosophy where he did. In addition, we will examine Aristotle’s main doctrines concerning language and reality, scientific method and the structure of scientific knowledge, the nature of “things,” the nature of life and living organisms, the relationship between soul and body, the nature of human action, the connection between human virtue and happiness, and the ways in which his views are based on, and challenge, our ordinary ways of regarding the world around us.
Requisite: One course in Philosophy or consent of the instructor. Omitted 2009-10. Professor Gentzler.2019-20: Not offered
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. Spring semester. Professor Shah.2019-20: Offered in Spring 2020
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. Omitted 2009-10. Professor Vogel.2019-20: Not offered
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 2009-10. Professor Vogel.2019-20: Offered in Fall 2019
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. Fall semester. Professor Shah.2019-20: Not offered
A close examination of Ludwig Wittgenstein's later philosophical work, focusing on readings from The Blue Book, Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, and Philosophical Investigations.
Requisite: Two courses in philosophy or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor A. George.2019-20: Not offered
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 2009-10. Professor Shah.2019-20: Not offered
Many scientists and philosophers regard the mind as entirely physical: according to “materialism,” our mental states, events and processes are nothing more than complex arrangements of the fundamental, natural properties and processes that are to be found in the inanimate portions of reality. The deepest philosophical worry for this view has been to provide an adequate understanding of human consciousness. How, asks the anti-materialist, can the “raw feel” of an intense toothache, the taste of a good Merlot, the rich experiential quality of viewing a desert sunset, or the inner life of a bat be fully understood as nothing more than a complex arrangement of neurons, or ultimately, of micro-physical particles? Isn’t there some aspect of consciousness that will elude any materialist analysis?
This seminar will focus, at the outset, on recent materialist attempts to meet consciousness-based objections of this type. This will lead us to consider recent attempts to understand consciousness in terms of higher-order thought (i.e., thoughts about our thoughts), and, more generally, to regard the phenomenal, qualitative features of conscious experience as thoroughly representational. Along the way, we will consider, among other things, whether we should distinguish different notions of consciousness, whether there is a “unity” of conscious experience, and whether we should regard introspection as a perceptual faculty-like vision?
Requisite: Two courses in Philosophy or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2009-10. Professor Moore.2019-20: Not offered
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 2009-10. Professor Moore.2019-20: Offered in Spring 2020
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 2009-10. Professor A. George.2019-20: Not offered
Moral philosophers, economists, political scientists, and psychologists all make use of the closely related concepts of well-being, welfare, utility, prudential value, and quality of life. Indeed, we all want what is good for us. But what does it mean to say that something is good for us? That we like it? That we want it? That it develops our essential capacities as human beings? Can we measure and compare different levels of well-being? What makes a life well lived? Are well-lived lives those that give us well-being? Or do other factors contribute to the quality of a life? What roles should the concepts of well-being and well-lived lives play in moral and political philosophy?
Requisite: Two courses in Philosophy. Omitted 2009-10. Professor Gentzler.2019-20: Not offered
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
Required of candidates for Honors in Philosophy. The continuation of Philosophy 77. 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
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 semester.2019-20: Offered in Fall 2019 and Spring 2020