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Philosophy

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2021-22

111 Philosophical Questions

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

Limited to 25 students. In the Fall 10 seats will be reserved for first-year students. Fall semester: Professors Hasan and de Harven. Spring semester: Professor Leydon-Hardy.

2021-22: Offered in Fall 2021, Spring 2022
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2008, Fall 2008, Spring 2009, Fall 2009, Spring 2010, Fall 2010, Spring 2011, 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

210 Introduction to Philosophy through Film

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

Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2021-2022.

2021-22: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018

213 Logic

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

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

Fall semester. Professor A. George.

2021-22: Offered in Fall 2021
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 2020, Fall 2021

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.  Fall semester.  Professor Gentzler 

2021-22: Offered in Fall 2021
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 2021-2022. Assistant Professor Leydon-Hardy. 

2021-22: 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

219 Philosophy of Religion 

(Offered as REL 316 and PHIL 219) Philosophy of Religion is philosophical reflection on matters that have traditionally been of religious concern, and on religion itself. Although philosophers have been discussing such topics for thousands of years, the period since the middle of the twentieth century has been particularly vibrant, with philosophers working within the analytic tradition producing a substantial body of literature on a variety of religious themes. This course introduces students to several major areas of discussion within this literature. Over the course of the semester we will discuss whether persons can survive death; God’s relationship to time; the issue of “religious belief” (the role it plays in religion and its rationality); and the significance of religious pluralism for religious adherence.

Omitted 2021-22. Professor A. Dole.

2021-22: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2013, Spring 2016, Spring 2021

225 Environmental Philosophy

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

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

Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2021-2022. Professors Moore.

2021-22: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2014, Spring 2016, Fall 2018

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

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

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

Limited to 18 students. Priority is given to Amherst College students. Omited 2021-2022. Professor Hasan.

2021-22: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 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. Professors Gentzler and Leydon-Hardy.

2021-22: Offered in Spring 2022

310 Ethics

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

Requisite: One course in PHIL or consent of the instructor. Priority is given to Amherst College students. Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professors Hasan.

2021-22: Offered in Spring 2022
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021

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. Class meets twice a week for 80 minutes. Visiting Professor Anders Bartonek.

2021-22: Offered in Spring 2022

332 Metaphysics

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

Requisite: One course in PHIL. Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2021-2022.

2021-22: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2013, Fall 2015, Fall 2017

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. Assistant Professor Leydon-Hardy.

2021-22: Offered in Fall 2021
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. Fall semester. Professor Shah

2021-22: Offered in Fall 2021
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2018, Spring 2020, Fall 2021

359 Kant and the Nineteenth Century

Immanuel Kant's philosophy set off a revolution that reverberated throughout 19th-century Europe. For Kant, it is our own reason, not God or nature, which is the original source of all moral principles, freedom, and even goodness itself. The rational autonomy of human beings, Kant somewhat surprisingly suggests, commits them to building a more just and humane world.

We will trace the effects of the Kantian revolution, including several influential responses to it. We begin with Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), which grounds ethical obligations in the idea of rational autonomy, before considering his theory of the state in the Doctrine of Right (1797). Other readings will vary from year to year. Authors may include: Frederick Douglass, J.G. Fichte, G.W.F. Hegel, Soren Kierkegaard, Karl Marx, and Mary Wollstonecraft. Topics discussed may include: property, human rights, gender, capitalism, religion, and racism.

Our goal is to understand and evaluate some of the most exciting (and difficult) philosophical texts of the 18th and 19th centuries, and to write about them in clear and analytical prose.

Requisite: One prior course in Philosophy. Limited to 25 students. Spring Semester. Professor Hasan

2021-22: Offered in Spring 2022
Other years: Offered in Spring 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. Professor George.

2021-22: Offered in Spring 2022
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009

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

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

Requisite: One course in PHIL. Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2021-2022. Professor Hasan.

2021-22: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017

364 Kant

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

Requisite: Phil 218 or consent of the instructor. Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2021-2022.

2021-22: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2011, Fall 2013, Fall 2015, Fall 2019

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 2021-2022.  Professor Shah.

2021-22: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020

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. Professor Leydon-Hardy.

2021-22: Offered in Fall 2021
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

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. Professor Gentzler

2021-22: Offered in Spring 2022
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020

461 Seminar: Skepticism

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

Requisite: Two courses in PHIL or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2021-2022.

2021-22: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2011, Fall 2012, Spring 2016, Fall 2019

462 Seminar: Philosophy of Time

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

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

Required: Two courses in PHIL or consent of the professor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2021-2022. Professor Moore.

2021-22: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019

463 The Later Wittgenstein

In 1930, Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) returned to Cambridge, England and to philosophy, more than a decade after having solved, in his earlier work, all its problems to his satisfaction.  He now had some doubts.  In 1933, he began to dictate to his students a series of notes on his revolutionary new ideas "so that they might have something to carry home with them, in their hands if not in their brains."  These notes were not published during his lifetime but were circulated privately; they eventually came to be known as The Blue Book.  This course will primarily be a slow reading and discussion of this seminal, original, and radical work, and will serve as an introduction to Wittgenstein's later thought on language, mind, and philosophy.
 
Requisite: two courses in PHIL. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2021-2022. Professor George.
2021-22: 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 2021-2022. Professor Moore.

2021-22: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Spring 2018, Fall 2019

466 Seminar: Faith and Reason

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

Requisite: Two courses in PHIL or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2021-2022. Professor George.

2021-22: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017

467 Seminar: Philosophy of Music

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

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

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

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

Requisite: Two courses in PHIL or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2021-2022. Professor Moore.

2021-22: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2011, Spring 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2018, Spring 2020

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

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

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

This seminar is designed as a capstone course for senior majors in PHIL. Limited to 12 students. Omitted 2021-2022. Professor Gentzler.

2021-22: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019

469 Seminar: Reasons for Belief and Action

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

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

Requisites: Two courses in PHIL or consent of the instructor. Limited to 12 students. Omitted 2021-2022. Professors Shah and Vavova (Mount Holyoke College).

2021-22: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017

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. . Professor Hasan.

 

2021-22: Offered in Fall 2021
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2021

475 Seminar: Racial Justice and Injustice

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

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

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

Requisite: Two courses in PHIL or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2021-2022. Professors Hasan and Shah.

2021-22: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018

479 Morality and the Emotions

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

Requisite: Two courses in PHIL or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2021-2022.

2021-22: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018

490 Special Topics

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

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

2021-22: Offered in Fall 2021, Spring 2022
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, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021

497 Senior Honors Seminar

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

Requisite: Departmental approval of a thesis proposal due the first day of the fall semester. Fall semester. Professor Gentzler. 

2021-22: Offered in Fall 2021
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2021

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.

2021-22: Offered in Fall 2021
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 2020, Fall 2021

499 Departmental Honors Course

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

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

2021-22: Offered in Spring 2022
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, Spring 2020, Spring 2021

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