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Upper Division and Graduate Courses
PHIL 322 Medieval Philosophy
One of the main themes in medieval philosophy is the relationship between philosophical reason and revealed religion. We will study three philosophers who address that theme, spanning over a thousand years, from three different religious traditions. In the first part of the course, we will study several works by Philo of Alexandria, a Hellenized Jew from the first century CE. In the second and longest part of the course, we will read Augustine's account of his life up through his conversion to Christianity in the Confessions, written in the fifth century. In the third and final part of the course, we will read the great twelfth-century Islamic philosophical novel Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, by ibn Tufayl, which tells the story of a human being coming to maturity in total isolation from others, and of his coming to understand the world and his place in it through sustained, independent inquiry.
PHIL 324/8 17th/18th Century Philosophy
This course is an introduction to major themes and figures in early modern philosophy. We will study the doctrines of five philosophers whose thought has had an enormous influence on subsequent philosophy and on subsequent intellectual developments more generally: Rene Descartes, John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant. We will focus our attention mostly on the answers that these philosophers gave to classical questions of theoretical philosophy (epistemology and metaphysics), such as the following: Can we prove that there is a real world outside the mind, or could we always be dreaming (or be living in the Matrix) for all that we can tell? Is the mind identical to the brain, or are mind and body two different substances? Can we prove that God exists? How can we know mathematical truths about numbers or triangles? Are apples really green, or is greenness nothing but a subjective sensation in our mind? Are we justified in thinking that the sun will rise tomorrow, or that a stone must fall to the ground if dropped? Does the existence or the character of objects depend on our minds? We will consider the answers that modern philosophers gave to these questions, both in light of the scientific developments of the 17th and 18th centuries and in their own right.
PHIL 326 Topics in 19th/20th Century Philosophy
This course examines the attempts of 19th/20th century thinkers to come to terms with issues that are central to the modern human condition: our self-awareness of the finitude and the limitations of human existence; the impression that life has no objective meaning; the (for some exciting, for others frightening) sense that there is no room for binding moral principles in a secular world (“if God is dead, then everything is permitted”); and, the sense that the advent of modern science poses a powerful threat to human values and culture. We will spend roughly half of the class comparing and contrasting how these (and related) issues are addressed by two major 19th century philosophers: Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. The other half of the class is devoted to the the French existentialist philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus. Other figures to be studied include Dostoievski, Karl Jaspers, and Max Horkheimer. At the end of class, we will consider the themes of the course from the perspective of film, namely Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal.
PHIL 340/7 Ethical Theory
This course surveys ethical theory: the study of values, worth, reasons, and obligations, of what to do and how to live. We begin by considering psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg's account of moral development as well as Carol Gilligan's critique of this account. We then investigate leading traditions of ethical theory, understanding each as a sophisticated version of one of Kohlberg's developmental stages: these include amoralism, relativism, Aristotle's eudaimonism, divine command theory, John Stuart Mill's utilitarianism, and Immanuel Kant's theory. The course introduces students to central topics and approaches in ethical theory, provides students with training in philosophical inquiry, and helps students think and write clearly and critically.
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, it is 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 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.
PHIL 360 Philosophy of Science
A prevalent view of the nature and scope of science is that science is: (1) clearly demarcated from other fields of inquiry, (2) objective in a way that other fields of inquiry are not, (3) a threat to religion, and (4) value-free. In this course, we shall examine whether these common conceptions of science are true and, if so, how. After considering what others have said about the main topics of the course, students will be expected to develop and defend their own positions on them. The course readings will be drawn from both philosophical and scientific sources.
PHIL 371 Epistemology
This course will introduce you to central issues in Epistemology, a core area of Philosophy that focuses on the concepts of factual knowledge and rational belief. We’ll explore some of the most important and influential work in this field, spending much of our time studying recent work (= published within the last 50 years or so) on the nature and extent of knowledge and rational belief. In the course’s first part (“The Proper Order of Epistemological Inquiry”), we’ll consider a crucial debate about the proper order of inquiry in Epistemology. We’ll start the course’s second part (“The Justified True Belief Analysis and its Successors”) by meeting the most popular account of knowledge during the first two-thirds of the twentieth century: the Justified True Belief (JTB) Analysis. After considering the main objection to the JTB analysis—so called Gettier Cases—we’ll assess the main analyses of knowledge developed over the last 40 years or so. In the course’s third part (“Foundationalism and its Rivals”), we’ll study the Foundationalism / Coherentism / Infinitism Debate, which revolves around this question: What structure can a set of justified beliefs have? Having explored this important debate about the structure of justified belief, we’ll be well positioned to assess the main accounts of justified belief developed over the last 30 years or so, which we’ll do in the course’s fourth part (“Main Theories of Justified Belief”). Finally, in light of what we’ve learned throughout the course about the nature of justified or rational belief, we’ll carefully study two challenging “skeptical” arguments concerning perceptual and religious beliefs in particular.
PHIL 373 Philosophy of Mind
You and I have minds. Tables and chairs don’t. But what exactly is a mind, and what 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 bodies 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 375 Philosophy of Action
This course surveys action theory: the study of behavior, intention, practical judgment, and character. We begin by summarizing the constituents of action and investigating how acting for reasons relates to other, more primitive forms of agency. We then investigate two central issues in the theory of action. One is the nature of responsibility for action, including consideration of both non-moral and moral responsibility. The other is the nature of free action, including both the compatibility of free action with deterministic laws of nature and the relationship of free action to knowledge, understanding, reflection, and the representation of reasons. The course introduces students to central topics and approaches in action theory, provides students with training in philosophical inquiry, and helps students think and write clearly and critically.
PHIL 382 Philosophy of Feminism
This course will take an intersectional approach to feminism. One of the ways that the mainstream white feminist movement continues to fail in its struggle to end sexist oppression is by silencing women of color and ignoring the needs of women who are oppressed on the basis of race, class, and sexual identity. We will look at 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. The course will pay particular attention to the intellectual traditions of Black feminism. We will use an intersectional lens to look at a number of contemporary facets of oppression such as representation in the media, rape culture, colonialism and decolonization, cultural appropriation, reproductive justice, and labor exploitation.
PHIL 390 Philosophical Foundations of Democracy
This is an upper-division, writing-intensive course, aimed at thinking through conceptual and normative issues raised by democratic theory and practice. It has been designed using gamification and experiential learning theory to encourage active engagement and critical reflection. Equipped with a democratic theory (i.e., elitism, pluralism, legalism, participation, or deliberation), students confront questions raised by democratic practice (e.g., why are constituents required to vote?, what are candidates permitted to say when campaigning?, how should we think about citizenship, given groups like the Tea Party and Black Lives Matter?, etc.). Assignments include small and large group discussion, readings, quizzes, freewriting, essays, and exams.
PHIL 391 Social/Political Philosophy
This course is a study of selections from classic works in political philosophy from Plato to John Rawls, including Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Marx. Questions include: What are the requirements of justice, for example, regarding property, individual liberties, and democratic procedures? Is the idea of a social contract relevant today? What is the source of political authority, political legitimacy and the obligation to obey the law? When, if ever, is revolution justified, and why? What, if any, obligations do we have to other countries?
Practical issues may include taxes, religious toleration, affirmative action, civil disobedience and humanitarian intervention.
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. While 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 the production of social order through power, yet the 'rule of law' 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 Aristotle
Our ultimate quarry in this course will be Jessica Moss's recent book, Aristotle on the Apparent Good. First, through, we will prepare by reading the Nicomachean Ethics, large parts of the Rhetoric, and smaller parts of On the Soul and On the Motion of Animals. We will end up thinking quite a bit about Aristotle's accounts of deliberation and action and how (according to Moss, at least) Aristotle thinks of pleasure and pain as foundational in moral epistemology.
PHIL 435 Intermediate Formal Logic
This is a second course in formal (symbolic) logic. Philosophy 235 or an equivalent course is prerequisite. Topics include the philosophy and metatheory of classical propositional and predicate logic, and extensions of or alternatives to classical logic, perhaps including modal logic, deonic logic, intuitionistic logic, relevance logic, free logic, 2nd order logics, multivalued logics or other such systems. Text: a revised, unpublished version of my book Logics (1997) that will be made available to students online.
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 450/540 Practical Reasoning
Practical Reason in Aristotle and Hume
What is the connection between practical rationality, and the morality of one’s actions? The answer to this question depends on what practical rationality is. Very broadly speaking, “practical reasoning”, or deliberation, is the human process of figuring out what to do. But philosophers disagree strenuously about what practical reasoning is like, what exactly it aims to do, and what its purpose is in human life. Some philosophers (Aristotle and Kant, for example) argue that to do the (morally) right thing requires excellent practical reasoning. Other philosophers (Hume, most conspicuously) believe that practical rationality has no direct connection with the morality of action. Practical reasoning in the Humean view is purely instrumental: it is a tool for figuring out how to do what we want to do, regardless of whether what we want to do is good, bad, or indifferent.
In this class, we will examine the relationship between practical reason and moral goodness in the work of several neo-Aristotelian and neo-Humean philosophers of the 20th and 21st centuries.
PHIL 460/560 Science and Social Value
Science is embedded in social structures, and scientific research influences and is influenced by social values. This course will analyze the relationship among structures of oppression, social values, and the scientific study of race, gender, sexuality, and disability. The history and contemporary manifestations of scientific racism in biology and medicine, scientific research into sex differences, evolutionary psychological explanations of human behavior, and the investigations aiming to uncover a genetic basis for intelligence are some examples of scientific research that has been developed in accordance with dominant social structures and values. The course will engage with philosophy of science, feminist science studies, and critical race scholarship in order to examine these theories and interrogate the extent to which they are supported by empirical evidence. The course will consider the role that values play in hypothesis formation, data interpretation, and theory evaluation in science. The course will also address the question of what, if anything, are the appropriate roles for values in science.
PHIL 480/573 Omissions
We tend to think that as well as acting freely, people can also freely refrain from doing something and freely omit to do something. Moreover, we tend to think that people can be morally responsible for what they refrain from doing and what they omit to do. But what does it mean to freely omit to act or freely refrain from acting, and how might people be morally responsible for what they omit to do or refrain from doing? The topic of omissions—what people omit to do and refrain from doing—has received relatively little attention in contemporary philosophy. In this class, we investigate the metaphysical and ethical nature of omissions. The main text will be Randolph Clarke’s new book, Omissions (OUP, 2014), the only book-length treatment of the topic.