Instructor-Specific Course Descriptions for Special Topics, Upper Division, and Graduate Courses
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PHIL 300 – Classical Chinese Philosophy – Shaw
Classical Chinese philosophy discusses the full range of topics familiar from other philosophical traditions: ethics, politics, epistemology, mind, language, and more. Its texts contain some views and arguments familiar from Western philosophy (e.g., forms of virtue ethics and impartialist consequentialism) but often in different forms (e.g., different core virtues or different arguments for impartiality). In other cases, the basic categories and views seem more fundamentally different (e.g. the relationship between the heart-mind [xin] and body as compared to Western discussions of metaphysics of mind). Studying classical Chinese philosophy thus stands to improve philosophical understanding and expand our sense of the views one might hold and of how one might defend them. Further, because its schools and texts have deeply influenced both Chinese and global life, culture, and politics, studying it can improve our grasp of history and of the modern world.
The course will be divided into four main sections: one each on Kongzi (= Confucius), Mozi and the Mohists, the later “Confucians” Mengzi and Xunzi, and a “Daoist” text attributed to Zhuangzi.
The Analects, a text attributed to Kongzi, expresses a broadly virtue-centered approach to ethics and politics. It offers a practicable, persistently-developmental human ideal (the junzi). Its account of moral development is initially rooted in the family and in internalization of integrated norms of thinking, feeling, and acting, all tied to family roles. Development continues beyond the family through active reflection on positive and negative moral exemplars, including one’s friends and political superiors. Such development requires expansion of concern, but it preserves the primacy of the original familial bond.
The Mohist corpus argues for an impartialist consequentialism that contrasts sharply with Kongzi’s approach. (They were also the first to defend such a view, millennia before Bentham and Mill!) Rather than taking ordinarily admirable people as exemplars, the Mohists use the model provided by heaven (tian), understood as intelligent and agential. This leads them to wider reflections on epistemology and particularly the standards (fa) that appropriately regulate judgment and action, as well as to philosophy of language and logic in their “Canons and Explanations”. The Mohists see that their views require radical changes to ordinary attitudes and practices, but they emphasize the pliability of our psychology and social structures.
The later “Confucians” Mengzi and Xunzi develop Kongzi’s views in two different directions, in which the main disagreement concerns the relationship between human nature (xing) and virtue (de). Mengzi posits a psychology in which the heart-mind (xin) holds natural inborn emotional capacities (compassion, disdain, deference, and approval) that develop into the virtues (humanity, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom), like the growth of a young plant into a mature specimen. For Xunzi, by contrast, our basic psychology is egoistic. Social norms are an artifice introduced by the sage kings (sheng wang) to shape people first through force (as one might steam wood to shape it) and eventually through deliberate effort by the agent. In this way, wise rulers can prevent social chaos driven by our basic psychology, ensuring greater mutual satisfaction of our desires.
The “Daoist” text attributed to Zhuangzi sees Confucian and Mohist approaches as embodying dogmatic fixations. It treats arguments between these traditions as akin to disagreements among different animals about what foods are most delicious. The upshot sometimes seems to be skepticism, sometimes relativism, and sometimes a form of particularism in which actions, feelings, thoughts, and traits of character must always be evaluated by reference to circumstance. Zhuangzi’s critical project also sets the stage for a more positive vision on which reality is structured by ever-changing, internally-unified opposites. We can directly apprehend this structure and model our lives on it, but attempts to grasp and articulate the structure rationally and linguistically result in fixations of the sort suffered by Confucians and Mohists. The Zhuangzi contains many other themes as well: it praises political withdrawal (in contrast to all the abovementioned figures); expresses indifference towards or even celebration of death as a condition of life; makes free use of paradox in arguing for the limitations of language and logic; and glorifies an exemplary “true” person who cares little for material wealth or social recognition as compared to spiritual growth. Naturally, we will reflect on the intrinsic interest of these texts, and most assignments will involve direct analysis of them. But we will also use our study of these texts as an occasion for reflecting on how we learn new material in general. Accordingly, some assignments will require students to reflect (= engage in metacognition) on their experience of the process of learning, both in our course and more generally. The instructor will also engage in explicit, shared metacognition concerning the process of learning and teaching.
PHIL 400/590 – Liberal Democratic Socialism? – Garthoff
This course investigates both the possibility and the advisability of liberal socialism in aspirationally democratic societies. We begin by attempting to understand more precisely what “liberalism” and “socialism” mean, drawing on how these terms have been used in the history of economic thought, the history of political philosophy, and contemporary political discourse. This includes consideration of whether capitalism and socialism exhaust the socioeconomic systems available in modern democratic societies, also whether these systems are mutually exclusive. During the course we discuss both liberal and socialist critiques of (i) focusing on the actions and attitudes of individuals rather than on social structures; (ii) meritocracy as a political ideal; and (iii) the welfare state.
Special attention will be paid to the anti-capitalism of John Rawls, perhaps the most sophisticated thinker of the liberal tradition. We also read essays by the especially important socialist thinkers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Though we take note of incompatibilities between the views of Marx and Rawls, a major course theme is the perhaps surprising extent of their agreement. We explore this consilience further in the work of contemporary authors influenced by both Marx and Rawls, including Elizabeth Anderson, Daniel Brudney, G. A. Cohen, William Edmundson, Samuel Freeman, Richard Miller, Kristina Mishelski, and Martin O’Neill.
PHIL 400/528 – Reason, Reasons and Reasoning – Thalos
Many scholars throughout history have seized on the capacity for Reason as an attribute setting humans apart from the rest of the natural world, and often also as the primary credential of self-governance and hence of status as a person. Throughout history too scholars (sometimes the same ones) have acknowledged the flaws in human capacity for reasoning, and for self-governance through reasoning. In our times, reasoning has come to be the preserve of machines—we have learned that it is easier to automate reasoning than to automate such things as fluid movement through and interaction with the natural and social environments. Philosophers today are working out new conceptions of the role of reasoning, and the special human capacities—if any—for engaging in it.
PHIL 420/524 – History of Analytic Philosophy – Eldridge
Analytic philosophy begins historically around 1900 with the revolt against Absolute Idealism carried out by G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell. Moore emphasized the importance of common sense and the elucidation of ordinary commitments (against ‘revolutionizing,’ ‘world-altering,’ unbelievable metaphysical systems), in a way that was taken up and extended by John Austin, Gilbert Ryle, and ordinary language philosophy. Russell emphasized the ability of logical analysis to disclose the ultimate constituents of reality, in a way that was taken up and extended in logical positivism (especially in the work of Rudolf Carnap), with its image of philosophy as the systematic justification of the discoveries made in the natural sciences. Both W. V. O. Quine’s pragmatist ‘strong naturalism’ and Saul Kripke’s essentialism develop (differently) out of this latter strand of thought. Athwart and aslant both developments lies the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Within these opposed visions of the nature (and limits) of philosophy, developed in contention with each other, most of the most important questions, responses to which continue to shape current philosophical work, were raised and addressed. Can there be deep metaphysical and epistemological discoveries? What is the relation of philosophy (as a cognitive discipline?) to the natural sciences? Are thinking and the possession of concepts best understood as natural, ultimately physical facts about us as evolved organisms, of the sort that a natural science might grasp? Or are they best understood as aspects of the autonomy of culture and cultural commitments from biological-physical explanation? Can there be a proper science of mind? Is the mind the same thing as the brain? How do we so much as represent the world (under concepts)? Are there essences in the world? What is truth? How, if at all, might we affirmatively ‘take responsibility for’ our thoughts, commitments, and actions?
PHIL 420/542 – Kant’s Second Critique – Stratmann
In this course, we will investigate central texts in Kant’s influential moral philosophy: principally, the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) and the Critique of Practical Reason (1788)—which is also known as the Second Critique. We will also scrutinize Kant’s highly controversial views (on race, gender, etc.) and their potential significance to his moral philosophy. In addition, we will survey some influential works of contemporary Kantian moral philosophy (by Christine Korsgaard, Rae Langton, etc.). The topics for the final few weeks will be decided by class consensus.
PHIL 450/540 – History of Modern Moral Philosophy – Cureton
This is a seminar in the history of modern moral philosophy. 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 address these questions through in-depth explorations of classic works by Hobbes, Butler, Hume, Kant, and Mill.
PHIL 450/540 – Ethics: Hierarchy & Alternatives – Gehrman
Analytic” philosophy traces its own intellectual history back through the empiricism and rationalism of modern Western European philosophy, through medieval Western European Christian philosophy (and especially its appropriations of Aristotle’s thought), and back to the ancient Greeks. You can see this self-conception reflected in the standard course requirements for majors and graduate programs in any analytic philosophy department in the world.
In this course we will first briefly establish, and then explore alternatives to, one feature of this thought system that has been especially relevant to ethical theory: namely, its anthropocentric, hierarchical conception of nature and humanity’s place in nature. We can see this view of things captured, for example, in Ernst Haeckel’s evocative 1879 illustration, Pedigree of Man. We’ll begin the course (weeks 1-3) by noting how pervasive this picture is in ethical theory, and how important it is as an explanatory paradigm and as a guide to assigning value. The rest of our time together will be devoted to exploring a series of alternatives which can be very loosely categorized as ecocentric. At the same time, we will be asking how philosophers operating within the analytic thought tradition can responsibly draw on deeply embedded structural features of very different traditions. What methods will ensure that we learn from, rather than appropriate or misconstrue, value paradigms other than the one within which we currently operate?
Note: Students who took Dr. Gehrman’s seminar “History of the Idea of Nature” for credit may take “Ethics: Hierarchy and Alternatives” for credit, and the former is not a prerequisite for the latter.