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Upper Division and Graduate Courses
PHIL 320/7 Ancient Western Philosophy
This course explores the roots of Western philosophy through careful engagement with classic texts from ancient Greece and Rome. Our topics range across metaphysics (what there is), epistemology (whether and how we can grasp what there is), and ethics (how to live well). This semester, the course focuses on works by Plato, Aristotle, and Lucretius. We will pay special attention to how each thinker relates their theoretical understanding of the world to their claims about how we should live. We will develop our skills in close reading, analytical reasoning, and argumentative writing as we strive to understand these works and to critically engage with them.
PHIL 324/8 17th/18th Century Philosophy
The early modern period (roughly, 1600 to 1800) is one of the most exciting, revolutionary times in the history of science and philosophy. In this class, we will discuss its most significant developments and the thinkers behind them. We will focus primarily on six figures: Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Locke, Hume, and Kant. In the course of the semester, we will interpret and critically evaluate their views on a variety of topics, including human nature, knowledge and certainty, space and time, causation and induction, free will and determinism, contingency and necessity, and the relationship between the mental and the physical.
PHIL 340/7 Ethical Theory
Ethical theories usually try to do two things. First, they give a comprehensive explanation of what makes actions right and wrong. Second, they usually give some sort of guide to deliberation: a reliable method for reaching the morally right decision, and acting on it. In this course, we will look closely at several ethical theories in the Western philosophical tradition, focusing mainly on the following schools of thought: Aristotelian, Humean, Utilitarian, and Kantian. Our emphasis will be on philosophical methods and on rigorous, critical reading of texts. At the same time, with the help of a series of film screenings, we will ask whether (and how) each type of theory can answer the basic questions of ethics for us, here and now.
PHIL 345 Bioethics
Phil 345 is an introductory survey of the field of bioethics. This course will explore a variety of approaches to ethical problems in contemporary healthcare, such as abortion, euthanasia, human subjects research, allocation of scarce medical resources, and eugenics. Students will be introduced to moral theory early in the course, and will have opportunities to apply it in discussion of concrete clinical cases throughout the term.
Whether one supports the Affordable Care Act or the current proposals to replace it, they are stark reminders of not only the high-stakes issues at play when discussing healthcare, but also the way in which moral, legal, and social perspectives can often collide. This is because the medical field and the biological sciences, more generally, are riddled with value judgements — from the classic life and death issues of abortion and euthanasia to larger questions about access to healthcare and medical research. Bioethics, as a form of applied ethics, critically engages these matters in a systematic fashion, often with an eye towards informing public policy, and we will do the same in this course. We will start by learning about some particularly useful ethical theories, as well relevant aspects of the legal system, and then move into discussions centered on: the right to care, informed consent, end of life issues, privacy and confidentiality, reproductive health, cultural sensitivity, and medical research. To help engage these issues, we will make frequent use of case studies to spur discussion. This course does not presuppose previous experience with philosophy, and is aimed at providing skills and outcomes that would particularly benefit those interested in pursuing careers in healthcare, medical research, or public policy.
PHIL 346 Environmental Ethics
This course introduces ethics through an engagement with environmental issues. Topics will include: the emergence of environmental ethics and its relation to traditional moral philosophy; pollution and environmental justice; population ethics; sustainability and obligations to future generations; animal ethics in agriculture and wildlife management; the value of non-human organisms, species, ecosystems, and biodiversity; ethics of biological conservation and ecological restoration; the value of wilderness; and ethical dimensions of global climate change. No prior experience with philosophy is required. The two main goals of the course are to provide students with the tools to make and evaluate ethical arguments across domains and to engage students’ ethical reasoning and reflection on environmental issues in particular. Students will also engage in team-based service learning projects.
PHIL 360 Philosophy of Science
This course studies science as a social process. What distinguishes science from pseudoscience? How does scientific reasoning lead to knowledge? What biases does science suffer from and how can it achieve objectivity? How has scientific investigation been influenced by widespread stereotypes about race and gender? Is a value-free science possible? In addition to general questions about the nature of science and the scientific process, we will discuss several philosophical topics related to the human sciences. These include the use of heuristics and biases in human reasoning, historical and contemporary manifestations of scientific racism, adaptationism in evolutionary biology, and gendered hypotheses in evolutionary psychology.
PHIL 372 Metaphysics
Metaphysics is the philosophical study of reality. In this course, we will investigate some of the central issues in metaphysics. Our aims are to clarify the main positions on these issues and develop and defend our own views about them. These issues are tough; and deciding what to think about them is not obvious (at least not to me!). Hence, the class will be run ‘seminar-style’—emphasizing student involvement and discussion. I will encourage you, through class discussion and written work, to develop your own critical perspective on the material.
PHIL 382 Philosophy of Feminism
Feminism as a political movement is concerned with ending sexist oppression in all its forms, which requires attending to how sexism interacts with other systems of oppression such as racism, heterosexism, cissexism, classism, and ableism. This course will explore the relationship between feminism and contemporary analytic philosophy. We will critically evaluate what feminism is and what it ought to be. We will then survey some key feminist contributions to contemporary philosophy, and some key philosophical contributions to contemporary feminism.
PHIL 390 Philosophical Foundations of Democracy
The United States, like much of the world, is experiencing a populist moment. Movements and figures, on the right (e.g., the Tea Party, President Trump, etc.) and the left (e.g., Occupy Wall Street, Senator Sanders, etc.), have positioned themselves as saviors of the people and promised to deliver them from an evil elite (e.g., liberal academics, lamestream media, Hollywood, Wall Street, Washington, etc.). But how should we understand this moment? Is it a fix for a broken system? Or is it a threat to liberal democracy?
This is an upper division, writing intensive course, which will use populism as a foil for thinking through conceptual and normative issues raised by democratic theory and practice. Topics may include: pluralism, identity politics, inclusion and exclusion, liberalism and democracy, representation and participation, the people and the common good, party politics, the rule of law, referenda and voting, the separation of powers, media, the market, and civil society. Assignments will include: daily discussion, weekly readings and quizzes, a midterm and final exam, and a term paper.
PHIL 391 Social/Political Philosophy
This is an undergraduate survey course focused on central philosophical issues that arise in our effort to understand the nature of our social and political institutions, their interactions, and our relationships to them. We and our text will focus on the main currents or schools of thought in contemporary social and political philosophy. Through lecture, I will often provide historical context for and explore the more determinate policy implications of these currents or schools of thought. Our text will be Will Kymlicka's Contemporary Political Philosophy, 2nd. Ed., Oxford University Press. Class meetings will be devoted to lecture and discussion. Assessments will include take-home examinations and short essays.
PHIL 400/585 Philosophy of Language
The use of language is a fundamental part of human life. Language is used to coordinate actions, to convey knowledge from person to person and from the present to the future; to share feelings and experiences; and to create and maintain relationships and social groups. Even thinking depends on language. It is only because language is meaningful that it can form part of the very basis of being human. In this course we will develop a basic understanding of what makes language meaningful, and how the meaningfulness of language contributes to some of its basic roles in human life. We will begin with theoretical approaches to the nature of meaning by C.S. Peirce, Gottlob Frege, and Hilary Putnam. Then, as time permits, we will look at more recent empirical work on the ways meaning is created through linguistic interactions.
The core material in this course will be semantics and semiotics, followed by applications in linguistic anthropology and possibly some psycho-linguistics. No prior experience with these disciplines will be assumed.
PHIL 441 Global Justice/Human Rights
This is an upper-division philosophy course focused on recent work concerning the norms, if any, that govern and/or ought to govern the international and global order. These norms include state sovereignty, non-intervention, the rule of law, jus cogens, the voluntarist nature of international law, just war theory, fair and free trade, human rights, humanitarian intervention and R2P (responsibility to protect), and much else. This is not a class focused on international or global politics or institutions, though of course both will be relevant. Nor is it a class on particular problems such as global climate change, though again such problems will be relevant. It is a philosophy class, though perhaps a bit more interdisciplinary than other philosophy classes, the aim of which is to move students closer to understanding the possibilities for and merits of a defensible normative order international or global in reach and scope. Class meetings will be devoted to lecture and discussion. I will not merely summarize readings during course lectures; you are expected to have read assigned readings in advance of attending lecture. Required readings will include John Rawls, The Law of Peoples, Harvard UP, 1999; Jim Nickel, Making Sense of Human Rights, 2nd Ed., Blackwell, 2007; and David Held and Pietro Maffetone, eds., Global Political Theory, Polity, 2016. Students wanting to get a feel for course material in advance may find it helpful to consult either Jon Mandle, Global Justice, Polity, 2006; or Mathias Risse, Global Political Philosophy, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012; but these are not required texts. Required assessments will include exams and papers.
PHIL 442/545 Climate Ethics
Topics to be covered include:
- international climate justice
- collective responsibilities to future people regarding the climate
- individual responsibilities to future people regarding personal greenhouse gas emissions
- implications for climate ethics of long-term environmental ethics.
Readings will consist primarily of contemporary philosophical papers on these topics—though there will also be some background material on climate science and climate science denial. Grades will be based on three critical papers, a term paper and class participation—and for grad students a seminar presentation.
PHIL 480/573 Advanced Survey of Epistemology
A survey of important issues and work in contemporary epistemology. Questions to be considered include: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowing a proposition to be true? What general structure(s) can a set of epistemically justified beliefs have? Are the facts about which of your beliefs are epistemically justified determined completely by facts to which you have reflective access? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for epistemically justified belief? What’s involved in having evidence for a proposition? What is the epistemic significance of known disagreement?
PHIL 600/624 Philosophy of Disability
Philosophers have increasingly come to realize that issues of disability are of central importance to moral and political philosophy. Disability raises fundamental issues about the significance of variations in physical and mental functioning for human performance and well-being, for personal and social identity, for self-respect and respect for others, and for justice in the allocation of resources and the design of the physical and social environment. The aim of this course is to introduce students to the main conceptual and normative issues in disability. Topics that are likely to be discussed include the nature of disability, epistemic privilege and discrimination, whether disability necessarily makes a person’s life go worse for her, distributive justice for disabled people, respect for people with disabilities and their self-respect, whether people with severe mental disabilities have moral status equal to people who are not disabled, physician-assisted suicide, healthcare allocation to disabled people, and reproduction and parenting by disabled people.