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 2021 Courses

Philosophy University Seminar
13185 01 (11399)
Kelsey
2:00-3:15 TR
First Year Students Only

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 texts from four authors: Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, and Hume. 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.


Philosophy University Seminar
13185 02 (11398)
Seachris
9:30-10:45 TR
First Year Students Only

Why are you here? What is real? What can you know? How should you live? For what should you hope? You did not choose to exist, but here you are. In virtue of being here, and in virtue of being a human being, questions like these partly define and depict the condition—the human condition—in which we find ourselves. Philosophy was and continues to be a discipline that systematically attempts to frame and answer such questions with intellectual rigor—questions that we all ask at one time or another in one form or another.

This course offers a targeted glimpse into key problems and questions in philosophy, with central aspects of the human condition serving as our guide. Course readings will include a mix of historic and contemporary philosophical sources, as well as publicly-engaged pieces aimed at connecting perennial philosophical questions to twenty-first century life.  

Most classes will consist of a combination of lecture, discussion, and group activities.


Philosophy University Seminar
13185 03 (16147)
Watson
3:30-4:45
TR
First Year Students Only

This seminar will focus on an historical introduction to problems concerning the origins of the self and human subjectivity. Texts will include selections from Sophocles, Aristotle, Saint Augustine, Hobbes, Montaigne, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Beauvoir and Gadamer. Like all university seminars, this one will be writing intensive with approximately twenty-pages of required writing (and in some cases revising) over the course of the semester. In addition, each student will be expected to make a seminar presentation.

Our objective will be to examine major writings on the historical development and cultural relevance of the concept of the self. To this end we will attempt come to grips with these authors’ positions, to come to decision and judgment regarding the validity, veracity and relevance of their accounts and arguments — and thus to acquire an initial introduction to the discipline of Philosophy.


Philosophy University Seminar
13185 04 (20359)
Watson
5:05-6:20
TR
First Year Students Only

This seminar will focus on an historical introduction to problems concerning the origins of the self and human subjectivity. Texts will include selections from Sophocles, Aristotle, Saint Augustine, Hobbes, Montaigne, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Beauvoir and Gadamer. Like all university seminars, this one will be writing intensive with approximately twenty-pages of required writing (and in some cases revising) over the course of the semester. In addition, each student will be expected to make a seminar presentation.

Our objective will be to examine major writings on the historical development and cultural relevance of the concept of the self. To this end we will attempt come to grips with these authors’ positions, to come to decision and judgment regarding the validity, veracity and relevance of their accounts and arguments — and thus to acquire an initial introduction to the discipline of Philosophy.


Honors Philosophy Seminar
13195 01 (11401)
Blanchette
9:30-10:45
TR
First Year Students Only

 

This seminar focuses on a handful of philosophical issues that lie at the heart of what it is to be a human being. These will include prominently questions about how our limited human faculties manage to give us knowledge about the vast world, both material and immaterial, around us, and questions about the nature of political organization and political obligation. The work of the seminar will include discussion, and the writing of a number of short and medium-sized essays, with an eye on honing students' ability to write clearly and argue effectively.


Honors Philosophy Seminar
13195 02 (11400)
Franks
12:30-1:45
TR
First Year Students Only

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. 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 other's 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. 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.


Honors Philosophy Seminar
13195 03 (11492)
Roeber
9:30-10:45
TR
First Year Students Only

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.    


Honors Philosophy Seminar
13195 04 (14449)
Cutter
11:00-12:15
TR
First Year Students Only

Philosophy is concerned with the big picture, the most fundamental questions about reality and human life. In this course, you will learn how to think philosophically by way of an exploration of several core philosophical topics. Questions to be addressed include: Are there rational grounds for belief in God? What is the relationship between mind and matter? What does it mean to have free will, and is free will compatible with scientific explanations of human behavior found in modern neuroscience and psychology? What are the limits of human knowledge? What are the most fundamental principles of morality? What makes for a good and meaningful life?


Honors Philosophy Seminar
13195 05 (12670)
Shields
8:00-9:15
TR
First Year Students Only

Prospectus:
This course provides an introduction to philosophy and philosophical method.  We will examine inter alia the following main areas and questions:

Rational Theology

  • 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?
  • Should we be concerned if we do not?  What is the relation between faith and reason?

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?

Honors Philosophy Seminar
13195 06 (11962)
Bernstein
2:00-3:15
TR
First Year Students Only

This course will introduce students to the central puzzles and questions of philosophy, including: what is space? What is time? Is time travel possible? How is the mind related to the brain? How do we know what we know, and how do we know that we know anything at all? What sorts of things exist? What are our moral and ethical responsibilities? Do you have free will? What counts as art and music as opposed to lines and noise? In addition to learning about some central questions in philosophy, the goal of this course will be to learn how to do philosophy, rather than merely study it. Students will leave the course with new powerful tools of analysis and argumentation, and be able to apply these new tools to anything they choose to study and do.


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