Fall 2016 Course Descriptions


First-Year Proseminar
83104  01 (13978)

12:30-3:30 R

This proseminar aims to equip beginning graduate students with the basic knowledge and skills requisite for advanced study in philosophy. These include: (i) a secure familiarity with core philosophical doctrines and distinctions; and (ii) a ready ability to deploy basic, discipline-specific techniques for advanced research and writing in philosophy at a  professional level.
As regards (ii), graduate students need to develop a philosophical toolkit for advanced research and writing. Suitable tools will permit them: to read, summarize, and analyze professional literature swiftly and successfully; to write clearly and succinctly in seemly prose; and to enter fruitfully into philosophical dialectic, both offering and receiving constructive criticism. 

As regards (i), while it would be foolhardy to suppose that one could develop a short, exhaustive list of core philosophical topics that every philosopher must master, it none the less behooves every graduate student—working on whatever topic, in whatever area, in whichever tradition, whether in a primarily systematic or historical idiom—to have an easy mastery of some core concepts and distinctions.  These  include: the objective and subjective; existence and ontological commitment; the modalities of possibility and necessity; and realism and truth.

These paired tasks provide the direction of our seminar. The topics we engage will involve in developing these tools and mastering these basic concepts and distinctions.


Plato's Laws
83224  01 (20093)

9:30-10:45 TR
Crosslist: POLS 60671
Plato's largest work is not the Republic, but the Laws, his last dialogue. In it, he proposes with painstaking detail the right laws for the second-best state, which he hoped could be more easily implemented than the earlier ideal. But the work is not simply the most comprehensive preserved work on the philosophy of law from antiquity. It contains also books dedicated to the philosophy of history and philosophical theology, and the subtle self-criticism of Plato makes it an excellent starting-point for gaining an overview over the whole Platonic corpus. Students will learn both about Plato's ideas, his literary techniques, and the legal and political concepts and institutions of classical Greece. The course is for graduate students but with openings for competent juniors and seniors.


Aristotle: Ethical Methodology
83225 01 (20094)

12:30-1:45 MW
Aristotle's ethical treatises contain rich methodological reflections about proper procedure in ethical inquiry. This seminar will examine both of his main ethical treatises, the Nicomachean Ethics and Eudemian Ethics, with a view to better understanding their respective methodologies. We will ask how they compare to one another, and how their methodologies stack up to other disciplines including dialectic, on the one hand, and the theoretical sciences, on the other. Students will be responsible for short study questions each week (to focus the reading), one short (2 pg.) reflection paper, a longer final term paper, and one presentation. 

Augustine: Philosophy/Exegesis
83228 01 (20095)

12:30-1:45 TR
Crosslist: MI 40334, MI 60334, PHIL 43132

The Confessions describe the way in which Augustine came to the synthesis of philosophy and Christianity characterizing the work of his middle period both by solving certain problems in metaphysics and by learning certain methods of biblical exegesis. This course will study in detail the interaction between philosophy and exegesis in Augustine's work through the reading of 1. (in the first half of the semester) a series of primarily philosophical texts (dialogues of Cassiciacum, works on psychology, epistemology, semantics, and ethics, and selections from On the City of God) and 2. (in the second half of the semester) the treatises On Christian Teaching, On the True Religion and twelve books of On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis. Knowledge of Latin is desirable if not absolutely essential. Written requirement: one final essay of ca. 20 pp.

83289 01 (20096)

6:00-8:45P M

The seminar involves close reading, discussion, and critical understanding of two of Nietzsche’s most important works.   The Birth of Tragedy is the central text of Nietzsche’s so-called “early period,” in which issues at the intersection of the philosophy of art and ethics predominate.  We shall be concerned with establishing the intellectual provenance of the text in a triad of precursor sources: ancient tragedy and its relation to Platonism; Schopenhauer; and the music theory of Richard Wagner.  We then move to consider Nietzsche’s views on tragic “culture,” artistic value, and the importance of historical understanding to value theory.   Attention to other early works will provide added conceptual context to understand Nietzsche’s views in the philosophy of language and the nature of conceptual thought, both of which are in play.  On the Genealogy of Morality is the main text we shall consider from Nietzsche’s so-called “late” period.  We concentrate on Nietzsche’s critique of standard versions of normative ethics, his understanding of the nature of religious thought, his genealogical “methodology,” what perspectivism in value theory might mean, etc.  Context is again provided by readings from other of Nietzsche’s works of the period, notably Beyond Good and Evil and the later Nachlaß

Main attention is to the primary texts, but we will also read and consider the best of the relevant secondary literature on main points: e.g. Williams, Foot, Nehamas, Geuss, Deleuze, etc.


Metaphysical Idealism: Then & Now
83290 01 (20097)

12:30-3:15 R

This seminar will explore versions of metaphysical idealism, very roughly the thesis that only minds and mind-dependent things exist. First, we will consider three historical versions of idealism, as found in Berkeley, Leibniz, and Kant. We will then turn to contemporary accounts of idealism to see what progress, if any, has been made in articulating and defending this family of views.


Philosophy of Science
83801 01 (11765)

9:30-10:45 MW
Crosslist: HPS 83801

Science is full of surprising predictions, shocking revolutions, and stupendous results that few science fiction writers have ever dreamed of. What makes science so special? This survey course is an introduction to the philosophical underpinnings of modern science. We will cover the central issues in the philosophy of science from logical empiricism to the present day. The topics we will cover include: the nature of scientific knowledge; the structure of scientific theories; progress in science; realism and antirealism; science and metaphysics; reductionism; laws of nature; explanation and confirmation; probability; the applicability of mathematics; causation; conceptual issues that arise in specific sciences (physics and biology); and the role of values and sociological factors in scientific research. The readings will be a mixture of the old classics and contemporary research in the field. The teaching will be a mixture of short lectures and structured discussions. 


Intermediate Logic
83901 01 (10883)

11:00-12:15 TR
Crosslist: PHIL 43907

An introduction to the metatheory of first-order logic up through the completeness, compactness and Lowenheim-Skolem theorems.  A survey of basic set theory is also be included.

Grades for the course are based on problem sets, a midterm and a final.
The midterm and final are take-home, open-book, open note; the problem sets are to be done in groups.

Teaching Methods: TA Practicum
85104 01 (10355)

A one-credit course required of all philosophy graduate students during the year they first begin to assist in teaching.


Teaching Practicum
85105  01 (16336)


A required seminar for philosophy graduate students preparing to take full responsibility for teaching undergraduate courses in the department.  The focus is on teaching at the college level as well as on teaching philosophy.  Students will construct and defend detailed course syllabi and prepare drafts of a philosophy of teaching statement during the seminar.  Also included will be opportunities to observe, and be observed, teaching.  


Placement Practicum
85106 01 (12318)

This one-hour course is aimed at helping graduate students in philosophy, especially those writing dissertations, to combine what they learn from the Department’s extensive series of colloquia and what they have learned or are learning in regular courses.  The aim is to have papers and dissertation materials reflect relevant points emerging in the colloquium series and other paper presentations in the Department or sponsored by it. The instructor will be attending the series to the fullest extent possible and will comment on papers submitted by registrants.

Philosophy of Religion Workshop
93413  01 (15498)

9:25-11:25 F

The seminar discusses current research by junior and senior scholars in philosophy of religion, providing an overview of a variety of cutting edge issues within this discipline.

The Problem of Free Will
93535 01 (20098)

van Inwagen
5:05-7:35 W

This seminar compares present-day discussions of the problem free will with discussions of the problem during its “classical analytic” period (roughly 1965-1985). Among the aspects of the current and earlier discussions that will be contrasted and compared are: the definitions of such terms as ‘free will’, ‘freedom’, ‘free action’, and ‘free choice’; the place of the question of the compatibility of free will and determinism in discussions of free will; the place of the question of the compatibility of free will and indeterminism in discussions of free will; the relation between free will and moral responsibility; the principle “Ought implies can”; the validity and significance of “Frankfurt counterexamples” to “the principle of alternative possibilities.”


  • Peter van Inwagen, An Essay on Free Will (Oxford: at the Clarendon Press, 1983)
  • Thinking About Free Will (forthcoming from Cambridge University Press)
  • J. M Fischer, R. Kane, D. Pereboom, and M. Vargas, Four Views on Free Will (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007)
  • Various papers and book chapters by David Lewis, Daniel Dennett, and other authors.

Possible and Impossible Worlds
93536 01 (TBA)

3:30-6:15p M

Possible Worlds were an important philosophical tool in the philosophy of the past few decades, and more recent work has suggested that we need to use impossible worlds in our theorising as well.  This course will examine four main questions in turn.  Why have philosophers gone in for possible worlds? Do we need impossible worlds as well?  What are these possible and impossible worlds?  And how can we draw a line between the possible and the impossible?

The Science-Gender Connection
93828  01 (20100)

2:00-3:15 TR
Crosslist: PHIL 43721, HPS 93838, GSC 53515, GSC 63515

Through much of its history, academia has been gendered in a particular way—male dominated, focused on men’s interests, and privileging those interests—and much of it still is.  In response, the area of enquiry known as women’s studies or gender studies emerged in the 1970s as part of the feminist movement.  In this course we will explore gender, the concept that lies at the heart of this area of enquiry.  We shall find that this concept is as complex and multi-faceted as the diverse disciplines from which it now draws and as political as its feminist origins suggest.  We shall also find that it is fraught with controversy. 

Though the disciplines that contribute to the idea of gender comprise nearly all of academia, we will concentrate on the sciences, from which the concept of gender first emerged.  No particular scientific background will be presupposed, however, and visits from science faculty will be organized to help us understand the terrain.  We will start with the gendered origins of the concept—the gender of science—and then proceed to the science that developed as a result—the science of gender; and we will conclude with some questions concerning the connection between the two—the gender of science and the science of gender.

This course will be run as a seminar.  Students will lead class discussions, present the results of individual research projects to the group, and have the opportunity to further develop those projects using feedback from the group.  Throughout, our aim will be for each student to develop a fully informed and defensible response to the controversial terrain we shall be exploring.


Einstein's Philosophy of Science
93889  01 (20101)

2:00-3:15 MW
Crosslist: HPS 93820

This course will survey the development and impact of Einstein’s philosophy of science, highlighting the close connections between philosophy and physics in Einstein’s work. We will examine in detail the philosophical aspects of Einstein’s work on the relativity and quantum theories. We will pay special attention to Einstein’s close involvement in the development of logical empiricism in the early twentieth century and his eventual disavowal of that program. Toward the end of the semester we will also take a brief look at Einstein’s social philosophy and his thoughts on religion and science. We will from both Einstein’s original papers, manuscripts, and correspondence, and from secondary literature. No specific background in physics will be assumed, and technical tutorials will be provided for those who need them.

Foundations of Math in 19th & 20th Century
93930 01 (20474)

11:00-12:15 MW

The aim of the seminar is to make a comparative study of major foundational programs of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We will consider in particular the objectives of the so-called logicist, formalist and intuitionist schools, the extent to and respects in which these programs succeeded or failed in meeting their objectives, and the respects in which their objectives remain compelling today.

Dissertation Research Seminar
98690 01 (16337)

3:30P-6:15P T

This seminar is aimed mainly at helping participants (1) write good dissertations, (2) prepare at least one paper (which may or may not be part of the dissertation) for a “job talk” and eventual publication, (3) broaden and deepen philosophical understanding through studying in detail the wide range of papers presented, (4) enhance presentation and commenting skills, (5) broaden the philosophical knowledge of participants, and (6) provide intellectual stimulation for all participating.  Doing the seminar at least once is considered an essential part of the placement effort for ND PhDs in philosophy, and the instructor will work intensively with participants on drafts of their work and related elements needed for applications to philosophy programs.

The seminar is open to philosophy graduate students in early or late stages of their dissertation work. Auditors and guests are normally welcome to attend the presentations, and there may also be some guest presentations.  Depending on the number participating, there should be time for more than one presentation by each seminar member—this is indeed desirable for most dissertation writers.  Papers (or self-standing chapters) are to be pre-circulated, studied by all participants, and presented from a handout or powerpoint rather than read.  Each should have at least one commentator. Outlines of commentaries should be given to the presenter in advance and circulated not later than on the occasion of presentation.

Readings will consist mainly of the papers to be discussed, but a small amount of collateral reading may be needed to make some presentations fully intelligible.  Required written work will consist entirely of what is to be presented and later revised.

Graduate Research Seminar
98698 01 (13836)

3:30-5:00P W

The Graduate Research Seminar is a forum for students to present work in progress, or completed research; to comment on others' work; and to engage in discussion of their own and others' work.