Philosophy University Seminars
Philosophy university seminars are discussion-based introductions to philosophy. All seminars are taught by a regular faculty member, and none have more than 19 students. Some focus on particular philosophical questions or topics, while others range more widely.
Fall 2020 Courses
Honors Philosophy Seminar - ONLINE CLASS
9:35 - 10:50
This course is an introduction to philosophy, focusing on philosophical questions related to: the existence of God, the nature of human knowledge, and the relationship of the citizen to the state. Readings are drawn from historical and contemporary sources. Requirements include several short and medium-length papers, and a final exam. Active participation is required.
12:45 - 2:00
In this seminar, we learn how to think philosophically about science, art, history, ourselves, and inquiry itself. Unlike many philosophy classes, we spend less time looking at the canon of philosophical writing and more time looking at items from our broader intellectual culture. We discuss things as diverse as U.S. Supreme Court cases (in order to see how the law is actually practiced) and modern poetry (in order to see how language can actually be used). We read Plato, but we also look at quantum mechanics and evolutionary game theory and a modern novel. In the end, we hope to have some facility with looking at the full gamut of things we do from a philosophical perspective.
Every seminar meeting begins with a workshop, in which we read, discuss, and critique one another's writing. The purpose of these workshops is threefold: to learn how to make pointed, concrete observations and to communicate these clearly and effectively, to learn how to engage constructively with others' ideas, and to learn how to make good use of other's reactions to your work.
At the end of the term, you will submit two essays (that you have worked on over several weeks and drafts). Your grade will reflect the quality of these essays, your demonstrated understanding of and ability to grapple with the texts and concepts we encounter, and your performance in the writing workshop.
The course deals with some of the central issues of modern philosophy - what exists, the nature of good and evil, what it is to act well, what we can know, and what it is to have a reasonable belief. The course is structured thematically, though attention is given to some of the key texts from the history of philosophy and the Catholic tradition.
This course provides an introduction to philosophy and philosophical method. We will examine inter alia the following main areas and questions:
- Do we have any compelling, or even plausible, argument for God’s non-existence? Do we have, that is, any good reason to be (or become) theists?
- Should we be concerned if we do not? What is the relation between faith and reason?
- If God does exist, how should we conceive God’s nature?
- Do we have, by contrast, a compelling, or even plausible, argument for God’s non-existence? Do we have, that is, any good reason to be (or become) atheists?
- Is atheism the only rationally acceptable stance in a scientifically informed world?
- Should we, perhaps, prefer a humble sort of agnosticism?
The Mind and its Place in Nature
- What is the mind-body problem? (Or, rather: what are the mind-body problems?)
- Are there good theism-independent reasons for accepting mind-body dualism?
- What are the prospects, if any, for personal post-mortem survival?
- What does personal identity consist in? Do we have good reasons for thinking that you are the same person as the two-year old organism with whom you are biologically continuous? (What, precisely, does biological continuity consist in?)
- Is personal identity necessary for survival?
Free Will and Human Responsibility
Are human freedom and responsibility compatible with universal causal determinism?
- Des universal causal determinism in fact obtain?
- Are human freedom and responsibility compatible with the denial of universal causal determinism?
- What form of human freedom does moral responsibility require?
Morality and its Critics
Is there any good reason to accept psychological egoism? Is there any good reason to accept ethical egoism? (What, precisely, is the distinction between psychological and ethical egoism?)
- What is ‘enlightened’ egoism? What, by contrast, is the unenlightened sort?
- To what extent, if any, is egoism compatible with cosmopolitanism, understood as the view that all human beings belong to the same moral community?
Should we be moral relativists?
- If so, of what sort?
- If not, should we be moral nihilists or moral realists? Or?
Are there mind- and language-independent moral facts?
- If so, how might we know them?
- If not, what are the consequences for moral decision making?
2:20 - 3:35
What is philosophy? What is it good for? In this course we will approach these questions by the method of “taste and see.” To that end we will read (and re-read), slowly and carefully, three texts by two widely-acknowledged masters of philosophical writing, Plato and Descartes. Our first task will be to “taste”: that is, to try to enter into some lines of thought opened up by these texts, to follow those lines in our own thinking, to think those thoughts ourselves. Our second task will be to “see”: that is, to try to step back out again, to reflect on the experience, and to try to make articulate, in conversation and writing, what we make of it, as well as of the larger enterprise of which it was a sample.
3:55 - 5:10
This course will explore the nature and relevance of philosophy, as well as major themes in Western philosophy, including the existence of God and the origins of the universe, knowledge of the external world, the mind-body problem, personal identity, free will, morality, and the meaning of life. It also aims to teach how to think, read, and write critically about philosophical issues.
11:10 - 12:25
This course will be an introduction to philosophy with a special focus on issues at the intersection of philosophy and science. The readings will carry us from Plato to Darwin, and will include discussion of scientific issues ranging from ancient, medieval, and early modern cosmology, the Galilean and Newtonian revolutions in science in the early modern period, and the birth of the modern theory of evolution in the nineteenth century.