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Instructor-specific Course Descriptions

Please See Banner/Timetable for Further Information about Sections, Times, Locations, and Instructors for Multiple Section Courses.

Spring 2019

Lower Division Courses

P255S: Sustainability Ethics

Sustainability Ethics is an experience learning course designed to give students the opportunity to learn about the ethical issues involved in the goal of sustainability, by working with local environmentally-oriented change organizations here in the Greater Knoxville area. Each student will be placed alongside a group of other students in a local partner organization, and will be required to commit 4-5 hours per week, outside of normal class-related time, to work with that organization for the period of the course. Experience learning at the community partner organization will be parallel to, and in conjunction with, deep and sustained reflection on both their experiences and the philosophical works on the conceptual and ethical issues raised by the goal of a sustainable culture. The goal of the course will be to contextualize the philosophical material students are exposed to through the experience learning component of the course, enabling students both to better understand the reality of the issues raised by the philosophical literature, as well as to be better able to articulate and defend their own views about sustainability, thus developing a deeper and more thoughtful environmental citizenship. 

PHIL 340 Ethical Theory

This course is an introduction to ethical theory.  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?   This course aims to help us begin to think about the requirements of morality and how they relate to our own lives by examining some of the great ethical theories of the
past, such as those of Thomas Hobbes, Joseph Butler, David Hume,Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill.

PHIL 345  Bioethics

Whether one supports the Affordable Care Act or some form of replacement (e.g., the American Health Care Act), these debates are a stark reminder of not only the high-stakes issues at play, 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 careers in healthcare, research, or public policy.  Previous experience with philosophy is not required to succeed in the course.  If you find yourself struggling with the philosophical content, I highly encourage you to ask questions in class and/or visit me in office hours.

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.

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 375 Philosophy of Action

In this course we examine the nature of actions and of the agents who perform them. Among the questions we investigate are: In what sense are actions caused by agents? What is the relation between action and behavior? What makes an action intentional? What is it to act for a reason? Which agents are responsible for their actions? When is an action free? How does character determine action, and vice versa? What is weakness of will? What is mental action? What is group action? We look carefully at not only human action but also the actions of animals (and groups of animals). One major theme of the course is how different levels of psychological sophistication enable distinct types of agency, together with modes of learning and behavioral modification that correspond to these agential types.

PHIL 390 Philosophical Foundations of Democracy

Since the early 20th century, many polities have understood and organized themselves as constitutional liberal democratic republics.  This is an upper-division undergraduate course the aim of which is to understand philosophically the democratic dimension of this phenomena both on its own terms and in relationship to constitutionalism, liberalism and republicanism.  We will inquire into the concept, competing conceptions, possible justifications, necessary conditions, feasibility and limitations, scope, developmental patterns and much else of democracy and democratization.  We will not be undertaking a close comparative study of specific democracies or a detailed historical inquiry into any particular democracy's development.  Instead, we will aim at coming to grips philosophically with the general phenomena of democracy and democratization to a degree sufficient to support and sustain such more focused comparative studies and historical inquiries.  We will be trying to establish a philosophical framework for their productive pursuit.  Though we will be focusing on general phenomena and not any one political tradition, students may reliably anticipate emerging with a richer understanding of the political tradition of the United States of America.  Class meetings will be devoted to lecture and discussion.  Course texts have not yet been selected, but representative possibilities (all have been used in previous versions of the course) include David Held, Models of Democracy; Frank Cunningham, Theories of Democracy; Robert Dahl, Democracy and its Critics; Ross Harrison, Democracy;Ian Shapiro, The State of Democratic Theory; David Estlund, Democracy; Thomas Christiano, The Rule of the Many.

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.  While familiar, legal institutions and practices are perplexing in many ways.  For example, they purport to underwrite a distinctive class of obligations and so a distinctive class of reasons for acting, yet it is not clear how this is possible.  For another example, legal institutions seem to presuppose their own existence, for how else could they legally come into existence?  In this course we will take up these and related issues with an eye toward 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 our subject matter as social scientists (e.g., anthropologists or historians).  To be sure, such inquiries make important contributions to a complete understanding of human law.  But we will focus our efforts on some of the most general questions about the nature of human law, questions that must be asked and answered (even if only tacitly or implicitly) before undertaking to identify the substantive content of any particular legal system or to study law from a historical or anthropological perspective.  These general questions include:  How do we distinguish law from other normative systems, such as morality, and from other systems of organized force, such as political power?  What is the relationship, if any, between the existence of law and the oft-celebrated ideal of ‘the rule of law’?  Is there any content, or are there any aims, that the law must, if it is to be law at all, affirm?  In what sense, if any, is a legal obligation a genuine and yet still distinctively legal (rather than a species of moral) obligation?  Is there anything universally or necessarily distinctive about legal reasoning as compared to other forms of reasoning?  We will devote class meetings to lecture and to Q/A. Course texts include:H.L.A. Hart, The Concept of Law, Third Edition, Oxford UP, 2012; John Finnis, Natural Law and Natural Rights, Second Edition, 2011; and selected chapters from Lon Fuller, The Morality of Law, Revised Edition, Yale UP, 1969, and from Ronald Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously, Harvard UP, 1977.

PHIL 400 Descartes and Leibniz

This is a course on the philosophy of Descartes and Leibniz, two central figures in seventeenth-century continental rationalism. In this course we will discuss their views about a variety of philosophical and scientific topics, including motion, space, time, force, perception, knowledge, and the mind.

PHIL 420/520 Plato

We will study several dialogues centered on virtue, knowledge, and pleasure, most likely including the Protagoras, Gorgias, Theaetetus, and Philebus, along with snippets from other dialogues.

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 led 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.  We will be looking at matters with clear practical implications, but 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.  If you find yourself struggling with the philosophical focus, I highly encourage you to ask questions in class, use the recommended resources, and/or visit me in office hours.

PHIL 480/573 Grounding

Grounding is a kind of noncausal explanation, often expressed by the phrase “in virtue of.” For instance, “an action is wrong in virtue of its consequences,” “a person is in a particular mental state in virtue of being in a particular brain state,” and “societies are just in virtue of being organized according to certain principles.” This kind of explanation is not causal.  It’s not that what causes an action to be wrong is its consequences. Nor is the explanation identity.  It’s not that wrong actions are identical to their consequences. Rather, it’s that what it is for the action to be wrong is for it to have certain consequences; that is, what grounds the action’s wrongness is its consequences. In this class, we’ll examine the notion of grounding. We will focus on two issues: (i) the theory of ground (What is grounding? How does it differ from other relations—causation, identity, etc.? Is it basic or can it be reduced to other relations?), and (ii) the application of ground. For most of the course, we’ll look at how grounding has been used in contemporary debates in ethics, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of action as a way to shed new light on old problems. Our aims will be to clarify what grounding is supposed to be and assess to what extent appealing to it can make progress.

Justice as Fairness

In this course we examine John Rawls's conception of justice, which he labels "justice as fairness". We set the context for Rawls's conception by briefly articulating the views of his (arguably, at least) most important precursors in English-language political philosophy: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, James Madison, and John Stuart Mill. We then turn to investigate Rawls's own work, using his book Justice as Fairness: A Restatement as our principal text. Among the Rawlsian ideas we explicate and criticize are: the basic structure of society, the well-ordered society, the difference principle, the original position, property-owning democracy, public reason, and overlapping consensus. We look at how these ideas can illuminate contemporary large-scale political disputes, such as oppositions between capitalism and socialism and conflicting understandings of the appropriate role of religion in public life. One major theme of the course is the significance of Rawls's distinctive conception of stability in helping to frame these disputes.


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