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College of Liberal Arts
Rochester Institute of
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Copyright ©2008–2011
Department of Philosophy,
Rochester Institute of Technology

Department of Philosophy

Last updated 30 October 2015

Current and/or upcoming
“variable topic” philosophy courses

Fall 2015–2016

Seminar in Philosophy: Technology and Agency. Increasingly our intentions and activities are interconnected with and organized through a variety of softwares and around a variety of digital devices. How might these softwares and devices be exercising a kind of agency that we have traditionally thought belonged only to the human? How might they be contributing to our understanding of, our constructions of, and our experiences of space/place, of the world of things and non-things, of what it means for something “to exist”? What kinds of world-making capacity and power are being exercised by digital softwares and devices? What kind of governmentality might this constellation of forces be creating? How might these agencies be transforming, re-arranging, and re-aggregating our cognitive activities, our bodies, and their interactions in increasingly hybridized environments? How might they be shaping and redistributing our interactions within various fields of knowledge? How might digital and commercially marketed devices, and their often proprietary data-collecting and re-aggregating softwares, induce relationships to power that would not emerge otherwise? How might the automated temporalities of these digital agencies affect the way we conceptualize the role of slowness, place, and deliberation as conditions of consciousness, reflexivity and democratic governmentality? In effect, this seminar will investigate, from a variety of philosophical perspectives, how technology and agency are related. (Prerequisite: At least two prior courses in philosophy.) (Instructor: Engström.)

Special Topics: Descartes and Hume on Skepticism. Descartes founds his philosophy on a ground that is to be immune from even the deepest sort of skepticism. David Hume wrote a century later and has traditionally been thought a skeptic, and so the question naturally arises regarding the encounter between Hume’s supposed skepticism and the views on Descartes on how we are properly to ground knowledge. It turns out that the positions are the reverse of what they are thought to be. Hume shows that Descartes is the true skeptic, and although skeptical of certain matters, Hume lays the foundation for what he calls proofs, empirical propositions that are as certain as we are capable of achieving about the world and are capable of capturing, as Descartes cannot, the whole of human experience, from metaphysics to history to political science to aesthetics and economics. (Instructor: Robison.)

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.)