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Instructor-specific Course Descriptions

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Spring 2020

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).

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.

We speak of rationality in many contexts, both in theoretical contexts (devising theories or principles) and in practical contexts (making decisions).  Is there a single conception of rationality (a single standard) that we invoke?  If not, how does rationality break down in the disparate applications into its several standards?  Most importantly: however many standards of assessment are involved in the invocation of rationality, how can we study rationality, whether in the laboratory or elsewhere, to understand its contours?

History of the Idea of Nature
Kristina Gehrman
What is “nature” and what is humanity’s place in nature? What does it mean for something to be “natural” – as opposed to what, unnatural, supernatural, artificial? In this course we’ll look at one particular theory of “nature”, considering its historical origins and development, its intrinsic merits, and its role in the intellectual history of political, ethical, and environmental American philosophy and policy. We will not be comprehensive in tracing the historical genesis and influence of the ideas to be discussed. And we will shift back and forth between focusing on understanding the history of the ideas in question (their origins, their development, their influence upon one another, etc.), and simply considering the philosophical merits of the views we are discussing. Readings will include The Great Chain of Being by intellectual historian A.O. Lovejoy, The Death of Nature by Carolyn Merchant, The Veil of Isis by Pierre Hadot, excerpts from Aristotle’s Physics, Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, David Hume’s A Treaties of Human Nature, and various texts from environmental philosophy including work by Winona LaDuke, Vandana Shiva, and Aldo Leopold. If time permits, and insofar as it is helpful to more clearly perceive our own background assumptions about the concepts nature, natural, etc. we will also consider alternative “cosmologies” from indigenous American and/or Hindu traditions.

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