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Instructor-specific Course Descriptions

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Sping 2020

Lower Division Courses

PHIL 320/327 (Honors) Ancience 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 especially on accounts of knowledge and value found in Plato, Epicurus and the Epicureans, and Sextus Empiricus.

PHIL 340/347 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 and Carol Gilligan’s critique of this account. We then investigate leading traditions of ethical theory, understanding each as a philosophically sophisticated version of one of Kohlberg’s developmental stages: these traditions include amoralism, relativism, Aristotle’s eudaimonism, divine command theory, John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism, and Immanuel Kant’s theory. The course aims to introduce students to topics and approaches in ethical theory, to provide them with training in philosophical inquiry, and to help them think and write clearly and critically.

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 382 Philosophy of Feminism
This course takes an intersectional approach to feminism and feminist philosophy. The course engages with feminist theory and practice that centers marginalized women’s experiences in order to illuminate the specific ways that sexism and misogyny interact with structures of racism, heterosexism, cis-supremacy, classism, and ableism, among other dimensions of inequality and difference. Using an intersectional lens, the course looks at various contemporary facets of structural oppression such as labor exploitation, sexual violence and rape culture, settler colonialism and decolonization, representation and controlling images, and epistemologies of resistance. The course pays particular attention to the intellectual traditions of Black feminism and women of color feminism. Readings will include work by bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Patricia Hill Collins, KimberlĂ© Crenshaw, Gloria AnzaldĂșa, and Kristie Dotson.

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 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 420/520 Aristotle
This course will focus on Aristotle's psychology and ethics.  We will start by studying Aristotle's general theory of casual explanation (in Physics II), followed by his psychological theory in general (De Anima II-III), his accounts of various emotions (Rhetoric II), and his account of character virtue as a mean state in both action and emotion (Nicomachean Ethics I-IV, VI-VII, X).

Philosophy 435  Intermediate 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 such extensions of or alternatives to classical logic as modal logic, deonic logic, intuitionistic logic, relevance logic, free logic, higher order logics, and multivalued logics.  Text is an unpublished update of my book Logics (Wadsworth, 1997) that will be made available to students online.

PHIL 441 Global Justice and Human Rights
How are we to make sense of what we ought to do, given the social and economic interconnections that exist in today’s globalized world? 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? During the semester, this course 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 related to international relations and the global order.  Thus, we will not be directly focused on matters such as human rights activism, particular aid practices, and so on.  Class meetings will focus on a blend of lecture and discussion, with some days focused only on the latter.  The semester will center around working through two books, which will be read in full.  Previous experience with philosophy is not required to succeed in the course.  If you find yourself struggling with the philosophical focus, you are highly encouraged to ask questions in class, use the recommended resources in addition to required readings, and/or visit office hours.

PHIL 450/540: Obligation and Character
This course investigates two of the most important phenomena of ethics, character and moral obligation, with an eye especially to how they relate to each other. We start with moral obligation, distinguishing these from reasons in general, also discussing how each relates to different kinds of values. We furthermore consider how obligations relate to moral status and to reactive attitudes such as resentment and indignation. We transition to the topic of character by examining the ideas of good willing and of moral worth, noting theoretical pressures toward understanding these at least in part in terms of character. We then turn to the virtues, noting that virtues generally admit of both a threshold understanding closely connected to obligation and a perfectionist understanding not closely connected to obligation. We close with discussion of moral learning and moral development, aiming to illuminate moral rules, ethical ideals, non-ideal circumstances, the principle that ought implies can, and even whether we should have an overall positive or negative attitude toward human nature. Along the way we read various authors, but special attention is paid to the work of Barbara Herman, who has arguably done more than anyone else in contemporary philosophy to illuminate connections between the course's two principal topics.

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