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Last updated 14 April 2017
Philosophy Course Descriptions
Introductory level courses (no prerequisites)
PHIL 101 Introduction to Philosophy. Philosophy is about the rigorous discussion of big questions, and sometimes small precise questions, that do not have obvious answers. This class is an introduction to philosophical thinking where we learn how to think and talk critically about some of these challenging questions. Such as: Is there a single truth or is truth relative to different people and perspectives? Do we have free will and, if so, how? Do we ever really know anything? What gives life meaning? Is morality objective or subjective, discovered or created? We’ll use historical and contemporary sources to clarify questions like these, to understand the stakes, to discuss possible responses, and to arrive at a more coherent, more philosophically informed, set of answers.
No prerequisite. Class 3, credit 3. Offered regularly.
PHIL 102 Introduction to Moral Issues. This course examines ethical questions that arise in the course of day-to-day individual and social life. Some consideration will be given to ethical theory and its application to such questions, but emphasis will be on basic moral questions and practical issues. Examples of typical issues to be examined are: What are the grounds for moral obligations like keeping promises or obeying the law? How do we reason about what to do? Examples of typical moral issues that may be introduced are capital punishment, euthanasia, abortion, corporate responsibility, the treatment of animals, and so forth.
No prerequisite. Class 3, credit 3. Offered regularly.
PHIL 103 Critical Thinking. The purpose of this course is to improve everyday reasoning skills. Critical thinking means evaluating the reasons for our actions and beliefs. Ideally, we think our actions are rational, not arbitrary. But one does not have to look far to discover disagreement and apparent irrationality. What accounts for this? This course investigates how to argue effectively, how to evaluate evidence and reasons, and how to marshal good evidence and reasons in order to arrive at reliable knowledge and justified action. It covers common mistakes that people make in causal, statistical, moral, and everyday reasoning, and it teaches how and when it pays to be skeptical, reflective, and critical.
No prerequisite. Class 3, credit 3. Offered regularly.
200 level courses (no prerequisites)
PHIL 201 Ancient Philosophy. This course examines the origin and development of Western philosophy in ancient Greece from Thales in the sixth century down to at least the fourth century B.C.E., concentrating on the central ideas of the pre-Socratics, the Sophists, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Some attention might also be given to the Hellenistic philosophers (Epicureans, Stoics, and Sceptics). This was a period of remarkable intellectual creativity in philosophy, mathematics, medicine, rhetorical theory, aesthetics and cosmology. Questions to be considered in this course will include: What are the nature and limits of knowledge? Is knowledge even possible? What is the nature of language? How reliable is perception? What is the true nature of reality? What is the origin and nature of the material world? Is moral knowledge possible? What is the nature of happiness, and what sort of life would make people happy?
PHIL 202 Foundations of Moral Philosophy. This course is a survey of foundational, and normative, approaches to moral philosophy and their motivating moral questions. Topics will include virtue ethics, deontology, consequentialism, and other approaches. Some of the questions to be examined are: How is human nature related to morality? What are the grounds for moral obligations? Is there an ultimate moral principle? How do we reason about what to do? Can reason determine how we ought to live? What are moral judgments? Are there universal goods? What constitutes a morally worthwhile life? Can morality itself be challenged?
PHIL 203 Modern Philosophy. This course examines the history of modern philosophy, from Descartes through Kant. It concentrates on the development of modern thought, examining the concepts of mind, body, and causation among others. This period marked the beginning of modern science, with a rich ferment of ideas, and the philosophy of the period is essential to understanding modern science as well as contemporary problems about consciousness, mind/body interaction, causation, and so on. Questions to be considered in this course include the following: What can we know? How do we come to know what we can know? What is the scope and what are the limits of our knowledge? What is the nature of reality? Do we have access to reality? How is causal interaction possible, if at all? Does God exist, and if so, how do we know and what relation does God have to the world?
PHIL 205 Symbolic Logic. An introduction to symbolic, or formal, deductive logic and techniques, such as truth tables, truth trees, and formal derivations. The emphasis will be on propositional (or sentential) logic and first-order predicate logic.
300 level courses (no prerequisites)
PHIL 301 Philosophy of Religion. This course will examine critically definitions, assumptions, and arguments central to religion. Topics may include interpreting the nature of religion, arguments for and against the existence of God, the relation between theology and philosophy, the relation between God and the world, paganism, the problem of evil, and the nature of religious language and experience.
PHIL 303 Philosophy of Art/Aesthetics. This course introduces students to thinking philosophically about the nature of art and its relation to other human experiences. Among the topics considered are the aesthetic experience, the relation between morality and art, ugliness in art and truth in art.
PHIL 304 Philosophy of Law. An introduction to philosophical analysis centering on the nature, extent and justification of law, the nature of legal thought, and the problems and theories of justice.
PHIL 305 Philosophy of Peace. An introduction to some of the philosophical dimensions of the search for world peace, including the elements that would constitute a just and lasting peace, nations as moral entities, justice and national self-interest, force and violence, the morality of the use of force, peace-making and peace-keeping groups.
PHIL 306 Professional Ethics. This course critically examines ethical issues that arise in professional life. The course will examine not only the general relationship between ethics and professional life but the particular consequences of ethical considerations within the student’s own profession and the professions of others with whom the student must live and work.
PHIL 307 Philosophy of Technology. Technology is a ubiquitous and defining force in our world. This course investigates how our conceptions of technology have emerged within philosophy, as well as the role technology plays in shaping how we live and how we reflect upon questions of meaning and value in life. Technological modes of understanding, organizing and transforming the world shape our relationships with others, with ourselves and with nature at fundamental levels. We will explore how these modes have emerged and why they emerged so predominantly within a Western social and intellectual context.
PHIL 308 Environmental Philosophy. A variety of decision procedures may be and have been used to determine what to do regarding various environmental issues. We might make the choice that has the least worst alternatives, or the best alternatives, or is approved by the majority of those who vote or of those who are affected, etc. Each alternative can determine what is reasonable and moral, and assessing them presents theoretical problems. We examine each in terms of morality, examine their presuppositions and consequences, determine whether we can assess them, and if so, how. Students begin to learn to be conscious of and assess the decision procedures that are often buried in policy recommendations regarding particular environmental problems.
PHIL 309 Feminist Theory. This course examines the main currents in contemporary feminist thought. Feminist theory explores the nature and effects of categories of sex and gender upon our ways of living, thinking and doing, while also challenging how gendered assumptions might shape our conceptions of identity and inquiry more generally. Different conceptions of sex and gender will be discussed, and the course will investigate how these concepts affect our lives in both concrete and symbolic ways. Special attention will be paid to how gendered assumptions color our understanding of knowledge production, experiences of embodiment and emotion, public and private activities, and the nature of ethical decision making.
PHIL 310 Theories of Knowledge. Epistemology, or the theory of knowledge, examines how we come to know what we know. This course covers historical and contemporary approaches to the question of what knowledge is, what makes a belief true, and how beliefs are justified. Philosophical skepticism, the idea that we actually know nothing at all, will also be discussed, as well as possible responses. Other topics may include epistemic relativism, feminist epistemology, naturalism, the internalism/externalism debate, and the application of epistemology to other fields.
PHIL 311 East Asian Philosophy. This course is an introduction to the origin and development of the philosophical traditions of primarily China and Japan through a consideration of selected thinkers, schools, and classic texts of Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Zen. Questions of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics are emphasized with reference to the nature of reality and the person, social harmony and self-realization, causality, right action, and enlightenment. Comparisons may also be made with Western philosophers, both contemporary and classical.
PHIL 312 American Philosophy. This course examines the contributions of American philosophers from the colonial era to the present day. From the New England Transcendentalists of the 19th century, to the Pragmatism and Neo-Pragmatism of the 20th and 21st, American philosophy has responded to the demands of a pluralistic, ever-changing society. Because American philosophy is a reflection of American culture, it has also offered a unique perspective on perennial philosophical problems in ways that have differed sharply from dominant forms of European philosophy. Authors may include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, C.S. Peirce, Jane Addams, William James, John Dewey, Richard Rorty, and Cornel West.
PHIL 313 Philosophy of Film. Introduces students to models of film interpretation and critique that arose in pre-war Europe and that have burgeoned since; these models combine philosophical, aesthetic, economic and psychoanalytic methods of analysis. Among the topics considered are the nature of the image, ideology and alienation, trauma, fetishism, magical realism, realism and anti-realism in film.
PHIL 314 Philosophy of Vision and Imaging. This course examines how philosophers and others have understood the nature and primacy of sight. It explores how technologies of seeing and imaging have influenced theories of sight and our most dominant and authoritative practices of seeing and representing—in the humanities and the arts, as well as in the natural and social sciences. The course will focus on the impact these theories and practices of seeing and representing—both analogue and digital—have on the nature of knowing, as well as on how they shape and mediate our experiences of personal and social identity and agency more generally.
PHIL 315 Responsible Knowing. What we do is connected to what we know. Acting well depends on appropriate evaluation of perception, logic, and evidence, and acting on our beliefs commits us to various ethical outcomes. In addition, understanding how our minds work and how we produce knowledge in teams and institutions can improve the reliability of what we know and can assist us in achieving ethical goals. This course develops advanced critical thinking skills and investigates how knowledge claims and value claims interact in order to shed light on the conditions that make responsible knowing possible. We will study how we produce responsible knowledge individually and collectively: from how we make ethically rational choices in our own lives to how society directs research priorities in science and technology. Topics may include: rational decision-making, cognitive bias, moral psychology, social epistemology, epistemic and ethical relativism, risk and uncertainty, research integrity, and values in science.
PHIL 316 Bioethics and Society. This course introduces students to some of the ethical considerations and problems that arise in the context of medical practice, biological science, health care policy, and related research. Issues that may be covered include: abortion; stem cell research; human cloning; euthanasia; informed consent; human organ procurement; health care allocation and how it is approached in various countries; bioethical concerns arising from human-caused climate change and other environmental issues impacting public health concerns around the globe. Students will become familiar with the concepts and principles of bioethics while engaging with case studies and related media.
PHIL 317 Renaissance Philosophy. This course provides an overview of the Renaissance (c. 1350–1650), one of the most important cultural revolutions of Western civilization affecting nearly all aspects of European life — the arts, the relation with the natural world, and the attitude toward religion, the past, and politics. The “Renaissance person” came to denote a universal individual whose knowledge spaces over the entire realm of experience. The overarching theme of the Renaissance — humanism — prefigures contemporary theories of posthumanism, transhumanism, and the critique of anthropocentrism in general. Thinkers considered in this course include Petrarca, Valla, Pompanazzi, Cusanus, Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Machiavelli, Erasmus, Luther, Suárez, More, Bruno, Telesio, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Montaigne, and Bacon.
400 level courses (prerequisites apply)
PHIL 401 Great Thinkers. An examination of the thought of some of those philosophers who have been most influential in the history of ideas. An attempt is made to cover in some depth the works of one or more of these “great thinkers”. The student will begin to recognize the enduring nature of some of our most pressing problems, as well as the intellectual foundation of proposed solutions.
PHIL 402 Philosophy of Science. An examination of the nature of the scientific enterprise; possible discussion topics include the presuppositions of science, its logic, its claims to reliability, and its relationships to society and to problems of human values.
PHIL 403 Social and Political Philosophy. An examination of some of the main problems of social and political philosophy through an analysis, comparison and critical examination of various views concerning the natures of individuality and society and the relations between them.
PHIL 404 Philosophy of Mind. The Philosophy of Mind includes issues of metaphysics, epistemology, logic, psychology, aesthetics, linguistics, cognitive science, artificial intelligence, and biology, to name a few. Issues to be investigated include: Is there an ontological difference between minds and bodies? Could there be minds without bodies? Can I know that I have a mind? Are there other minds in the universe? Can I be conscious of my own consciousness? Can other things have the kinds of experiences which I have?
PHIL 405 Philosophy of the Social Sciences. This course examines the methods, foundations, assumptions and purposes of the social sciences. In particular, it will examine the ways in which “science” and “non-science” are distinguished as well as the similarities and differences between the social and natural sciences. Special attention will be paid to the ways in which both Anglo-American and European philosophical traditions approach the social sciences. Other topics may include the role of values in social scientific inquiry, the processes of explanation and theory confirmation in the social sciences, and various conceptions of interpretation and meaning in the social sciences. The course will also examine how the tensions between claims of universality and claims of relativism, claims of objectivity and claims of partiality should be understood within the social sciences.
PHIL 406 Contemporary Philosophy. This course examines developments in philosophy since 1900. During this time philosophy evolved along with science, politics, and the arts. In some cases philosophy responded to new discoveries and theories while at other times it precipitated movements that had far-reaching effects. A range of philosophical approaches may be discussed, including existentialism, experimental philosophy, feminist theory, hermeneutics, logical positivism, neo-pragmatism, phenomenology, and postmodernism. The connections among different approaches may also be addressed.
PHIL 407 Philosophy of Action. This course explores the three central philosophical issues of action theory: what is an action, what is an agent, and what is metaphysical freedom. The first part of the course examines the most significant theories of action and the different ways in which they characterize intentional behavior. The second part of this course explores the nature of agency. The third part of this course focuses on the classical problem of free will and its relation to moral responsibility.
PHIL 408 Critical Social Theory. Introduces students to models of cultural critique that arose in pre-war Germany and that have burgeoned in our contemporary aesthetic and philosophical practices. These models combine philosophical, aesthetic, economic and psychoanalytic methods of analysis. Among the topics considered are alienation and reification, hegemony or false consciousness, trauma, fetishism, the authoritarian personality and state, advertising and modern technology, and the relative autonomy of art.
PHIL 409 Existentialism. Existentialism is distinguished by its emphasis on human existence and the way its meaning is created through actions and choices. Existentialism focuses on the concept of individual freedom in an effort to respond authentically to the possibilities which life presents, emphasizing the importance of certain psychological states (e.g., anxiety, anticipation of death, fear, care, responsibility, and hope) and extreme situations in bringing us to an awareness of our radical freedom. This course will consider such philosophers and writers as Dostoevski, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Berdyaev, Heidegger, Jaspers, Camus, Sartre, Kafka, Beauvoir, Marcel, Buber, Ortega, and Unamuno.
PHIL 410 Medieval Philosophy. This course is an introduction to the philosophical thought during the medieval period (approximately 300 C.E. to 1500 C.E.). It will consider the thought of various major figures from the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic traditions, and will take up this period’s two principal areas of concern: the philosophy of religion and theology, on the one hand, and metaphysics and epistemology, on the other.
PHIL 411 Metaphysics. Metaphysics is the study of the general features of existence or reality. This course focuses on the fundamental concepts of being as developed in several major philosophers from the Greeks to the present. Discussion will focus on such topics as God, time, space, substance, essence, existence, process, causality, possibility, necessity, chance, and value.
PHIL 412 Nineteenth Century Philosophy. The nineteenth century marks a radical shift in the history of philosophy and culture and stands in its own right as a distinct period of thought between the modern era and the contemporary era. This course will consider such philosophical positions as idealism, empiricism, existentialistic romanticism, Marxism, evolution, nihilism, positivism, pragmatism, and the role of the arts and aesthetics. Philosophers considered include Schelling, Fichte, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Mill, Marx, Darwin, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Comte, Bradley, Green, Peirce, and James.
PHIL 413 Philosophy and Literary Theory. Introduces students to models of literary theory from the mid-twentieth century to the present and familiarizes them with the key works of literature to be analyzed. Prepares students to practice questioning and critiquing texts using the philosophical, aesthetic, economic and psychoanalytic methods of analysis which have come to form the foundation of contemporary literary theory. Among the topics considered are culture and imperialism, performativity, the encounter of modern literature and modern technology, structuralism and semiotics, the role of psychoanalysis, the role of the academy, and the relative autonomy of art.
PHIL 414 Philosophy of Language. This course examines how philosophers and others have understood the nature of language. It explores the classical philosophical contexts in metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics and rhetoric in which concerns about the nature of language arose. In addition, the course focuses on recent debates, within both contemporary analytic and continental traditions of philosophy. Some likely areas of inquiry will be: theories of reference, description and naming; theories of meaning, metaphor and narrative; functionalist, pragmatist and naturalist accounts; structuralist, post-structuralist, and hermeneutic accounts, among others. The prominence of one or the other of these debates and approaches will vary.
PHIL 415 Ethical Theory. This course examines the theoretical basis of ethics and morality, namely the theoretical commitments that enter into any judgment that a particular action is right or wrong, with special emphasis on a particular thinker or theoretical approach. Topics may include: different ways of understanding the concepts of right and wrong; the existence or non-existence of moral facts; different criteria of moral actions; different conceptions of the good life.
PHIL 416 Seminar in Philosophy. Examines some area of philosophy at an advanced undergraduate level. The area examined may vary from semester to semester. The seminar is designed especially for those whose interest in philosophy goes beyond the requirements of the Liberal Arts curriculum.
PHIL 417 Continental European Philosophy. This course will provide an overview of some of the major currents in Continental European philosophy, the distinctive philosophical approach and style of thinking that emerges in the early twentieth century largely as a critical response to German Idealism, Marxism, and the antecedent existentialism of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. Continental European philosophy is rooted in the history of philosophy, attentive to the world of experience, and develops in constant conversation with various other areas of human activities such as literature, politics, psychoanalysis, and religion. Among the major currents to be examined in the course are phenomenology, hermeneutics, deconstruction, structuralism, poststructuralism, French feminist theory, posthumanism, and speculative realism. Traditional philosophical topics such as ontology, metaphysics, epistemology, language analysis, feminist theory, ethics, and politics will be considered in the light of their reassessment by Continental European philosophy. Figures covered may include Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Gadamer, Foucault, Levinas, Deleuze, Nancy, Derrida, Agamben, Irigaray, and iek, among others.
PHIL 449 Special Topics. A critical examination of issues in some area of philosophy not covered in other philosophy courses.
PHIL 571 Honors Philosophy. A critical examination of issues in some area of philosophy, but specially geared for honors students and others who wish to participate in an honors section.
PHIL 595 Senior Thesis in Philosophy. This course is required of philosophy majors during their senior year. A student will choose a faculty member to serve as a primary advisor. With the advisor’s guidance, a student will research and write a substantial paper on a specific philosophical topic. Students will be encouraged to investigate a particular question in depth, likely building on earlier coursework. The finished thesis will be discussed and examined by a committee including two other faculty members.
PHIL 599 Independent Study. A program of study executed by an individual student with assistance and guidance by an instructor, outside a classroom setting. Guidelines for designing and gaining approval for an independent study are provided in section I.D. of the College of Liberal Arts Policy.
Class variable, credit variable. Offered in consultation with faculty advisor.
Graduate level electives
PHIL 703 Seminar in Art/Aesthetics. What is the relationship between art and knowledge, art and truth, art and politics, art and philosophical theory? What role is played in criticism by art theory, by considerations of the artists’ intentions, by ethics and other forms of cultural criticism? What makes an interpretation of an artwork valid or invalid? How is aesthetic value related to other values? The questions discussed are philosophical questions about art and aesthetic experience. The meetings in this course are not lectures but discussions, and participation is required of all students. Since the theories and examples discussed are mostly from the Western canon, familiarity with the history of Western art is recommended.
PHIL 704 Philosophy of Mind. Philosophy of mind is the philosophical discipline that explores what a mind is and how it fits in the natural world. In doing this, philosophy of mind raises further questions such as: What do we mean by mind? How do we attribute mentality? How are mental and physical properties related? What is consciousness? Can computers think? How is rationality connected to mental states like beliefs and desires? In this course we discuss and critically assess answers to these and related philosophical questions.
PHIL 714 Philosophy of Vision and Imaging. Appeals to sight, to the rhetoric of seeing, and to various media and technologies of imaging have had an enormous impact on philosophy and on human culture generally. This course will introduce students to the philosophy of vision and imaging by critically investigating four interrelated sets of concerns: (1) The relation between appeals to vision and the imaging technologies that mediate what and how we see; (2) the relation between imaging technologies and the acquisition and representation of knowledge; (3) the relations between imaging technologies and human identity and agency; and (4) the relations between imaging theories/practices and ethical, political, ideological, and social contexts.