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Lower Division Courses
PHIL 256S Social Justice
This 5 credit hour Experience Learning course offers students a unique opportunity to learn about social justice by working with marginalized populations and social change organizations in the Greater Knoxville community. Each student will be placed with a community partner organization. Students must be available to commit 5 hours per week outside of the designated class time to this organization for the duration of the course. Experiential learning at community partner organizations will take place alongside class discussion and reflection on classic and contemporary works of philosophy. Students in this class will learn how to make relevant connections between these important texts and their community placement experiences, and will be encouraged to reflect on these connections throughout the semester. The goal of the course is to foster critical consciousness, enabling students to question conventional wisdom, and to learn how to work toward a just society.
PHIL 320/327 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 ethics (how to live well), metaphysics (the fundamental nature of reality), and epistemology (whether and how we can understand such matters). This semester, the course focuses on two major works by Plato (Republic) and Lucretius (On the Nature of Things) that lay out systematic, interconnected positions on all of those topics. We will develop our skills in close reading, analytical reasoning, and argumentative writing as we strive to understand and assess the thought of Plato and Lucretius.
PHIL 324/328 17TH/18TH Century Philosophy
The 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, Locke, Leibniz, Spinoza, 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 various reform/replacement proposals, they all serve as 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 will introduce you to the central elements of environmental ethics. Environmental ethics lies at the crossroads between, on the one hand, theoretical questions such as What sorts of things have intrinsic value? and Do we have obligations to future generations?, and on the other hand practical questions like Should I buy bottled water? and Should the United States government mandate higher gas mileage than it does currently? Like all ethical questions, questions of environmental ethics depend on an awareness of the facts—in this case facts about the nature and functioning of the environment (ecology) and about how it got that way (natural history). To that factual knowledge, we will need to add some tools from philosophy and ethics. Finally, we will need actual experiences in and of the environment to help us understand how those facts and tools interact.
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 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 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/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 traditions 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 391 Social and 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. Though 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.