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College of Liberal Arts
Rochester Institute of
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Rochester Institute of Technology



Last updated 14 March 2016

Current and/or upcoming
“variable topic” philosophy courses


Spring 2015–2016

PHIL 401: Great Thinkers: Nietzsche. Considered by many the single most influential thinker of the nineteenth century, Nietzsche’s impact extends well beyond the domain of philosophy, affecting work up to the present day in psychology, literature, philology, history, theology, aesthetics, political theory, and cultural studies. We will examine several of Nietzsche’s most influential texts with the expressed intent of determining the direction of various key themes (e.g., nihilism, the will to power, the death of God, the eternal recurrence, the overhuman) that recur throughout his writings. The format of the class will consist of lecture and discussion. (Instructor: Schroeder.)

PHIL 416: Seminar: Social Epistemology. Epistemology is the study of the nature, scope, and limitations of knowledge. Traditionally, epistemology has focused on how individual knowers acquire knowledge. This course investigates the social processes involved in the search for knowledge. How do we learn from others? How do we work together with others to test and to certify our knowledge claims? What social activities and values are involved in deciding what’s worth investigating, who’s epistemically trustworthy, and what counts as evidence? When and why do knowledge communities choose to remain ignorant? Scientific communities are especially successful at creating knowledge. We’ll consider how democratic practices, consensus, and dissent function in science. (Instructor: Brister.)

PHIL 449: Special Topics: Responsible Knowing. What we do is connected to what we know. Ethical action depends on what we know about the consequences of what we do, while 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 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 the process of team decision-making, to how society directs research priorities in science and technology. Topics may include: rational decision-making, metacognition and cognitive bias, moral psychology, social epistemology, epistemic and ethical relativism, risk and uncertainty, values in science, and the principles of well-ordered science. This course is accessible to students with no prior philosophy background and draws on interdisciplinary research in cognitive science, behavioral economics, sociology of science and technology, information sciences, and applied ethics. This course advances but does not presuppose the skills of Critical Thinking (Phil 103). (Instructor: Brister.)


Summer 2015–2016

PHIL 449: Special Topics: Buddhist Philosophy and Meditation. This course examines the origin and development of Buddhist philosophy, and especially Zen, through a consideration of selected thinkers, schools, and classic and contemporary texts. We will treat Buddhism as a philosophy and not as a religion. 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 awakening. Some comparisons will also be made with contemporary and classical Western philosophers. Though primarily a traditional philosophy class in format, some attention will also be given to exploring the practical application of Buddhist philosophy in its effort to develop self-discipline, focused concentration, and stress management. We will examine and engage in such traditional practices as zazen (the practice of sitting still, regulating one’s breathing, and calming the mind), kinhin (the walking form of such practice), and koan meditation (the reflection on paradoxical philosophical questions) to realize more fully the way of Zen Buddhism. There is no prerequisite for this course. (Instructor: Schroeder.)


Fall 2016–2017

PHIL 416: Seminar in Philosophy: Deep Skepticism. It is difficult not to be skeptical of many things — what politicians say, for instance — but we seem certain of many things. Do you know your name? Do you know who your mother is (if not adopted)? But feeling certain is a state of mind that bears only a contingent relation to reality. We may discover, as some have, that we do not carry the DNA of our birth mother, but your non-existent aunt, from the egg your mother absorbed in the womb. An oddity, for sure, but that is the point: even what seems most certain may be false. We will investigate the grounds for deep skepticism and thus whether we can have any knowledge of the world. We shall do so by examining some current discussions as well as by looking at two traditional philosophers, Descartes and Hume. Descartes founds his philosophy on a ground he thought immune from even the deep skepticism, but, I shall argue, Hume shows that Descartes is the true skeptic, and although skeptical of certain matters, Hume lays the foundation for the only kind of knowledge we can have about the world. (Instructor: Robison.)


Spring 2016–2017

PHIL 416: Seminar in Philosophy: Reading and Interpreting Plato’s Myths. The origin of philosophy is traditionally associated with the move from mythos to logos, from story-telling to logical argumentations and discourse. Yet Plato, the allegedly most influential philosopher of all times (if we accept Whitehead’s famous claim that Western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato), uses myths, images, metaphors, and stories exactly at the most crucial turns in his philosophy, when dealing with what have become the most traditional themes of philosophical reflections, and precisely at those junctures where one would expect the use of philosophical reasoning instead. Why this seeming inconsistency? In this course, we will explore the relation between story-telling and logical argumentation by reading and interpreting Plato’s most famous myths and images as found in the entire corpus of his writings—among them, the story of the swans, the myth of metals, the myth of the charioteer, the myth of the androgynous beings, the allegory of the cave, the analogy of the divided line, the myth of Er, the story of the birth of Love, the story of Teuth, the myth of Gyges, and a few others. (Instructor: Benso.)