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Upper Division and Graduate Courses
PHIL 324 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 345 Bioethics
Whether one supports the Affordable Care Act or the proposed replacement (the American Health Care Act), they are a stark reminder 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 engage these issues, we will make frequent use of past cases to spur discussion. This course does not presuppose previous experience with philosophy, and is aimed at providing skills and outcomes that would benefit those interested in pursuing careers in healthcare, medical research, or public policy. Previous experience with philosophy is not required to succeed in the course.
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 Western 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.
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 sex-specific hypotheses in evolutionary psychology.
PHIL 373 Philosophy of Mind
You and I have minds. Tables and chairs don’t. But what exactly is a mind, and what is the mind’s relationship to the brain? In this course, we will investigate some of the central issues in contemporary philosophy of mind. We will focus on two issues: (1) The “mind-body problem”—that is, what is the metaphysical relationship between our minds and our brains and, in particular, is the mind the same thing as the brain or is it something different? (2) The “problem of consciousness”—that is, what does it mean to be conscious of something and, in particular, what special puzzles does consciousness present for a physicalist view of the mind? These issues are tough; and deciding what to think about them is not obvious (at least not to me!). Hence, the aim for the class is for each of us (me included) to develop and defend answers to these questions. Given this aim, 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 take on the material.
PHIL/WOST 382 Philosophy of Feminism
This course takes an intersectional approach to feminism by engaging with feminist theory and practice that centers marginalized women’s experiences in order to illuminate the specific ways that sexism and misogyny interact with racism, heterosexism, cis-supremacy, classism, and ableism. Using an intersectional lens, the course looks at various contemporary facets of oppression such as representation and controlling images, sexual violence and rape culture, settler colonialism and decolonization, cultural appropriation, and reproductive justice. The course pays particular attention to the intellectual tradition of U.S. Black 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 discussions, weekly readings, three exams, and a term paper.
PHIL 392 Philosophy of Law
This is an upper division undergraduate philosophy course devoted to introducing students to the philosophy of law. The philosophy of law aims at understanding the social phenomenon of human law, the paradigmatic case being that of a municipal (city, state or national) legal system. Though familiar, legal institutions and practices are perplexing in many ways. For example, they purport to underwrite obligations and so reasons for acting that do not reduce to prudential self-interest, yet it is not clear how this is possible. And they are often associated with ‘the rule of law’ as distinct from ‘the rule of men’ or from the production of social order through power alone, yet the meaning of the 'rule of law' is unclear and in any case the ideal is not obviously possible or desirable. In this course we will take up these and related issues with an eye toward developing a coherent understanding the general social phenomenon of human law. We will not be studying the substantive content of particular legal systems. Nor will we be approaching or subject matter as social scientists (e.g., anthropologists or historians). To be sure, these inquiries make important contributions to a complete understanding of human law and they will sometimes be relevant to our discussions, which may sometimes have a more interdisciplinary feel than some philosophy courses. But we will focus our attention on some of the most general philosophical questions about the nature of human law: What distinguishes it from mere organized force? From morality? In what sense, if any, are legal obligations genuine obligations? Does the rule of law entail any substantive requirements on the content of legal systems? What, if anything, is necessarily distinctive about legal reasoning? We will devote class meetings to lecture and Q/A. 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: H.L.A. Hart, The Concept of Law, Third Edition, Oxford UP, 2012; John Finnis, Natural Law and Natural Rights, Second Edition, 2011; Lon Fuller, Chapters 3 and 4 from The Morality of Law, Revised Edition, Yale UP, 1969; and, Ronald Dworkin, “Model of Rules I” and “Model of Rules II” from Taking Rights Seriously, Harvard UP, 1977. Students wanting a to get a feel for course material in advance may find it helpful to consult David Reidy, On the Philosophy of Law, Wadsworth, 2007; but this is not a required text. Required assessments will include exams and papers.
PHIL 420/520: Stoicism
Stoicism was the most widespread philosophical school in Greco-Roman antiquity for about five centuries, and it had an enormous influence on subsequent philosophical and religious thought. We will study aspects of Stoic physics (materialist, determinist, providentialist), logic (sentential, non-truth-functional), epistemology (coherentist but anchored by indubitable, "kataleptic" impressions), moral psychology (intellectualist, rationalist), and ethics (austerely virtue-theoretical, with a strong interest in moral development). All of these commitments and more fit together into a well-motivated, synoptic whole that is well worth coming to grips with.
PHIL 420/542 History of Modern Moral Philosophy
This course is a survey of moral philosophy in the Modern period. We will be concerned with the following basic questions: What ought we to do? What is valuable in life? How should we treat others and ourselves? What counts as a happy or fulfilled life? We will read canonical texts from figures such as Thomas Hobbes, Joseph Butler, David Hume, Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill.
PHIL 441 Global Justice & Human Rights
By recent estimates, over 800 million people live in extreme poverty, with nearly 80% of these people living in South Asia and Sub Saharan Africa. If current trends continue, climate change and persistent environmental degradation will have serious impacts on human well-being and will disproportionately impact the poor. In the past decade, uprisings in the Middle East and Northern Africa, have lead some countries to intervene to end the violence in some cases, but not others. How are we to make sense of what we ought to do, given the social and economic interconnections that exist in today’s society? Do national borders matter morally? Do we need a world state? Are we obligated to make changes in the way we conduct trade and international relations? We often appeal to an idea of human rights to answer these questions, but what kind of work can human rights really do for us? Do we even know what they are? Over the course of the semester, we will take up these questions, carefully considering the key philosophical issues that are at the heart of the global justice debate. While cross-listed with GLBS 441, this is an upper-division philosophy course, more specifically one in political philosophy. While we will be looking at matters with clear practical implications, our focus is on the underlying conceptual issues and normative theories. Thus, we will not be directly focused on matters such as human rights activism, particular aid practices, and so on. Previous experience with philosophy is not required to succeed in the course.
PHIL 480/573—Free Will
Do we have free will? Why exactly is free will important or significant? What would be lost if we don’t have it? Is free will compatible with determinism? More generally, what conditions must obtain in order for a person to act freely? This course is an advanced introduction to contemporary issues about free will. We will focus primarily on two recent books—Derk Pereboom’s Free Will, Agency, and Meaning in Life (2014), which develops a skeptical incompatibilist view, and Carolina Sartorio’s Causation and Free Will (2016), which defends a non-skeptical compatibilist position. Topics to be covered along the way include: determinism, causation, alternative possibilities, luck, and the significance of free will. These issues are tough; and deciding what to think about them is not obvious (at least not to me!). Hence, the aim for the class is for each of us (me included) to develop and defend answers to these questions. Given this aim, 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 take on the material.