Graduate Courses

Philosophical Methodology
PHIL 83107 01 (30137)

3:30-6:15 M

Among the most difficult questions in philosophy is the question of how to do philosophy well. This course will examine a number of methodological issues, including the role of thought experiments, the role and nature of intuitions in philosophy, and the role science and other inquiries should play in informing philosophical debates. It will also examine methodology in a number of areas of philosophy, including contemporary areas such as metaphysics and philosophy of language, and areas of the history of philosophy. Finally, the course will discuss the goals of philosophy: what are we trying to get out of philosophizing, and how do we know we have found it?

PHIL 83201 01 (30138)

9:30-12:15 W

This course will be a seminar on Plato's Symposium. Prerequisite: reading knowledge of ancient Greek. Students will be responsible for regular translation from this dialogue and occasionally from other Greek sources.

Principle of Sufficient Reason: Then and Now
PHIL 83291 01 (30139)

12:30-3:15 T

This graduate research seminar will the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), very roughly the thesis that everything is explicable or that there are no brute facts. This principle was once a core animating feature of early modern philosophy, especially in the likes of Spinoza, Leibniz and Wolff. Kant raised objections to the PSR, and it fell out of favor for centuries. In the past ten or so years, however, the PSR is making a comeback in contemporary metaphysics and philosophy of religion. In this seminar, we will look at both the historical roots of the PSR and its contemporary rebirth.

PHIL 83701 01 (30140)

3:30-6:15 W

The first half-semester (8 weeks) will be an introduction to the epistemology of testimony. Each week two short articles or one longer article will be assigned as reading, introducing students to the main themes in this topic. Readings will include articles or book extracts by: Coady, Moran, Lackey, Elgin, Graham, Adler, as well as several by myself. Longer lists of suggested further readings will also be made available.

In the second half-semester (7 weeks) we will read and discuss some of the most important writings of Timothy Williamson expounding his ‘knowledge first’ approach to epistemology, and some of the secondary literature discussing it. Each week an article or chapter by Williamson, and/or by his critics, will be assigned. Topics will include key chapters from Knowledge and its Limits (OUP 2000), plus other recent pieces, e.g. ‘Improbable Knowing’ (2011). In the last two weeks we will read and discuss core chapters of Ernest Sosa’s Knowing Full Well (2011). This is an important work that develops one of the most refined expressions of virtue reliabilism.

Students will be given the opportunity to make short presentations in class (max 20 mins) synopsising a set reading, and noting two arising issues for discussion. A detailed set of readings will be available at the start of December, and I will hold a short (optional) meeting during the week of Monday 4th December, at which prospective students can ask questions about the readings and any aspects of next term’s class, and sign up for a specific set reading on which they would like to make their presentation. Students taking the class for credit will be expected to make at least one presentation during the term.

The course will be examined by term paper, either two short papers or one longer paper, total word limit 8,000. Each student taking the class for credit will have two 30 minute one-on-one meetings with me during the semester, the first to discuss and fix upon paper topic(s), the second to discuss and suggest developments of a submitted 1500 word paper proposal; in addition they will each have a longer meeting (up to 90 mins) discussing a first draft of their term paper.

PHIL 93326 01 (30141)
5:00-7:20 R

This seminar will survey contemporary work in phenomenology. The first third of the semester will be devoted to an examination of Edmund Husserl’s classical account. The second part will briefly examine both external challenges and internal developments to this account: for example by Schlick or Carnap, Heidegger or Merleau-Ponty, Cassirer or Adorno, Derrida or Deleuze. In so doing we will be particularly focused on modifying Husserl’s strong foundationalist commitments. Finally we will examine the contemporary status and applications of phenomenology, for example, in Ethics, Aesthetics or Philosophy of Religion.

Crosslisted with: PHIL 43202

Causation and the Law
PHIL 93540 01 (30142)

12:30-3:15 W

How do questions of causal responsibility bear on questions of legal responsibility? Causation plays a central role in the law, from assessing legal accountability for outcomes to apportioning damages to victims. This course will examine the role of causation in various areas of the law, including which theories of causation are used to assess causal responsibility, how well those theories work as guides to legal responsibility,  standards for omissive causation or negligence, legal evaluations of counterfactual possibilities, and definitions of attempts versus completed crimes. We will also discuss the law's stance on nonstandard causation cases, including cases of preemption, overdetermination, joint causation, and deviant causal chains.

This course can count for the ethics requirement or the metaphysics requirement depending on the type of paper completed for the course.

Perceptual Knowledge and Intentional Action
PHIL 93707 01 (30637)
3:30-6:15 T

Perception is a central topic in both epistemology and the philosophy of mind. Perception is essential for human knowledge, and it is a pervasive element in human psychology.  It is external in connecting us with the external world and internal in being—with arguable exceptions—phenomenally experienced. As to knowledge of the internal world, even basic self-knowledge may be quasi-perceptual.  In any case, there is reason to think that if we have any knowledge at all, we have some basic knowledge, with perceptual knowledge constituting a paradigm case of it. There is also reason to think that if we do anything at all, we do some things basically.  How is basic action like and unlike basic perceptual knowledge and, in each case, how are the basic cases related to those that rest on them?

Virtually everyone presupposes that we have perceptual knowledge. It seems familiar and is commonly taken to be well understood—though of course it is conceived in ways that leave room for disparate philosophical theories of perception.  By contrast, it is not clear that virtually everyone presupposes that there is a priori knowledge, and such knowledge is not commonly taken to be well understood. Might it be conceived as, in basic cases, a kind of intuitive apprehension that is importantly similar to perceptual knowledge?  If so, how might it embody, as perception does, a causal connection to what it is about?  And what phenomenology and ontology might do justice to it?

If, like many philosophers, we aim at understanding rationality in an overall way, we need an account of how knowledge and justification figure in rationality, both intellectually and practically—above all in relation to belief and action.  Perception and perceptual knowledge are crucial for understanding rationality in both domains: broadly speaking, the cognitive and the behavioral realms.  In normal human lives, perception and perceptual knowledge are both basic for our rational beliefs and essential for guiding rational action.  Is a priori intuition or a priori knowledge similarly basic for rational belief or rational action? Can perception guide rational action only through yielding perceptual knowledge? If rational actions are based on reasons, must the content of those reasons be known, whether perceptually or otherwise? And must agents have self-knowledge—perceptual or introspective—as a condition of rational action?

These and other questions about perception, knowledge, and action are projected main topics of this seminar. The seminar should interest people in epistemology, philosophy of mind and action, or the epistemological and action-theoretic aspects of ethics. A seminar paper focusing on some major concerns of the seminar is the main written work expected, as is a short commentary on someone else’s seminar paper.  (If the paper sufficiently engages ethical theory, the seminar may serve to fulfill a PhD requirement in that area.)

Readings will be determined before the start of the 2018 spring term, and some space will be reserved for additions and, as usual, presentations by seminar members. At this writing (October 2017) the expectation is that we might begin with some classic texts on perception by Locke and Reid, with secondary reading from James van Cleve’s recent book on Reid, and proceed to contemporary readings, including a good part of Susanna Siegel’s Rational Perception (OUP 2017), selections from Mohan Mathen’s comprehensive Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Perception (OUP 2015), Casullo and Thurow’s collection, The A Priori in Philosophy (2015), and selected recent or forthcoming journal papers.  (Some readings will be provided by the instructor, who is doing a book on the issues sketched here.)

Auditors are welcome and, at least if registered, may present a paper (time permitting), but written work is not a requirement for auditing.  There may be one or two presentations by visiting philosophers, but that may not be determined before the beginning of the term.  

History of Philosophy of Science from the Scientific Revolution to 1900
PHIL 93812 01 (30638)
12:30-1:45 MW

This course examines the work of key figures from the history of natural philosophy and science. Placing the philosophical work of Leibniz, Newton, Hume, Kant, Alexander Humboldt, Whewell, J. S. Mill, Helmholtz, Ernst Mach, Wilhelm Wundt, William James, Einstein, Henri Poincare, Bergson, and others, within a wider philosophical, historical, and cultural context, we will explore how and why they identified their central problems and the methods they used to approach those. We will focus on understanding how the central problems and theories that these figures worked on, ranging from questions of space, time, motion and substance/matter to theories of human sensibility and perception, to wider epistemological and metaphysical investigations, engaged the scholarly communities surrounding them, and helped them promote broader programmatic goals for reshaping and reforming philosophy/science. As they engaged contemporary philosophers/scientists over fundamental philosophical questions, they pressed new ideals of knowledge and programs to reform natural philosophy and reorganize the broader scholarly community - and society itself (e.g., Kant). We will explore how these natural philosophers framed new epistemologies and simultaneously promoted new ideals of the philosopher, scholar, and/or educated citizen, who would be capable of creating valid knowledge. In sum, we will explore how preeminent natural philosophers, at once, made original contributions to epistemology, understanding of space and time, and metaphysics, as they framed new visions of the knowing subject within a changing society

Logical Consequence
PHIL 93929 01 (30143)
12:30-3:15 M

What do we mean when we say that one sentence "follows logically" from another sentence (or collection of sentences)? This course will discuss a number of answers to this question, focusing on the difficulties which arise when we try to formalize these answers using mathematical tools. Along the way, we will examine some basic conceptual issues in modern logic: What is a proof? What does it mean to say that sentences are “true" at a model? How does the structure of the set-theoretic universe affect our notion of logical consequence?

Gödel's Theory
PHIL 93931 01 (20360)
9:30-10:45 MW

This course looks at some of the famous incompleteness and undecidability results from the first half of the twentieth century. We’ll start by discussing the notion of computability and then use this notion to examine the limitations of (even ideal) computers. We’ll then move on to look at Goedel’s first and second incompleteness theorems, the undecidability of arithmetic and of second-order logic, and the undefinability of truth. Finally, if there’s time, we will discuss some of the technical and philosophical ramifications of this material.

Crosslisted with: PHIL 43924

Dissertation Research Seminar
PHIL 98690 01 (30639)
12:30-1:45 M


Two types of challenges face dissertation writers: intellectual challenges, such as finding a topic, discovering that a topic is too large or too small, dealing with a shifting topic, writing clearly, and engaging current literature; and psychological challenges, such as writer’s block, lack of confidence, non-productive ruts, and perfectionism. This dissertation seminar will address both types of challenges. In addition to dissertation research presentations, we will discuss such issues as finding a topic and narrowing it appropriately, staying consistently productive throughout one’s dissertation career, what to do when one is stuck, how to stay passionate about one’s topic; how to receive feedback and incorporate it into one’s work productively; how to start writing rather than getting bogged down in reading, and how to construct dissertation chapters with an eye to the job market. This course is required for fourth and fifth year graduate students.