2nd Courses in Philosophy

Second courses in Philosophy are designed for non-majors who would like to pursue philosophical questions beyond their introduction to philosophy. These courses typically focus on a sub-field of philosophy, to enable students to focus in on areas of interest in a way which is not possible in the typical introduction to philosophy.

We offer courses across every major field of philosophy; among the most commonly offered courses have been courses in the philosophy of science, in ethics and political philosophy, and in the philosophy of religion. All of the courses listed below satisfy the University Philosophy Requirement.

Spring 2021 Courses

Theories of Sexual Difference - ONLINE CLASS
20205 01 (31178) - No classification restriction
20205 02 (31176) - Must be a Sophomore
20205 03 (31175) - Must be a Junior

5:30-6:45 MW
Cross-listed with GSC 20102-01

What kind of differences separate men and women? Are these differences natural or are they socially produced, and are these differences beneficial to us or are they limiting? Most important, what does equality mean for people characterized by such differences? These are the questions we shall pursue in this course, and we shall pursue them systematically, devoting attention even to the male/female sex difference itself and the current debates over intersexuals, transsexuals, and transgendered persons.

The style of the course will be discussions, and these will be informed by readings drawn from a variety of sources, including natural and social scientists and journalists- as well as philosophers, and both feminists and contributors to men's studies. Requirements will include three papers as well as active participation in discussions.

Minds, Brains and Persons- ONLINE CLASS
20208 01 (32137) - No classification restriction
20208 02 (32181) - Must be a Sophomore
20208 03 (32182) - Must be a Junior

9:35-10:50 TR

This course is an introduction to some issues in the philosophy of mind. The course will be structured around three topics: freedom of the will, the relationship between mind and body, and the possibility of life after death. 

We will approach these issues in two ways. First, we will consider views on these issues and philosophical arguments for and against those views. Second, we will think critically about the practical importance of these issues and the ethical implications of views about them, considering questions such as: Can there be moral responsibility without free will? Could we create machines that have rights? Is life after death worth having?

Paradoxes - ONLINE CLASS
20229 01 (32061) - No classification restriction
20229 02 (32062) - Must be a Sophomore
20229 03 (32063) - Must be a Junior

2:20-3:35 TR

Paradoxes are situations where individually plausible claims lead to contradictions. This course examines a variety of philosophical paradoxes as a way to introduce concepts and ideas in metaphysics, logic, decision theory and other topics in philosophy. By examining these paradoxes, you will acquire useful analytic skills and become proficient in logical reasoning.

20229 04 (32703) - No classification restriction
20229 05 (32704) - Must be a Sophomore
20229 06 (32705) - Must be a Junior

3:55-5:10 MW

A paradox is a set of sentences such that (1) each sentence in the set is highly plausible and (2) the set is logically inconsistent. As a consequence of (2), we know that at least one sentence in the set is false — the question we need to answer is which! Think of a paradox as a sign that the way we ordinarily conceptualize the world is wrong. In order to solve a paradox, we need to alter our view of reality in a fundamental way. In this class, we will think about some of the most famous paradoxes (e.g. Zeno’s paradoxes, the liar paradox and the sorites paradox) and analyze solutions proposed by different philosophers. Students will leave the class with both a deeper understanding of these paradoxes and an improved ability to formulate and critique logically valid arguments

Buddhist Philosophy - ONLINE CLASS
20245 01 (32453) - No classification restriction
20245 02 (32456) - Must be a Sophomore
20245 03 (32457) - Must be a Junior

12:45-2:00 MW

In this course, students will explore several key philosophical issues in the Buddhist tradition. We begin by asking if we can make sense of the term “Buddhist Philosophy” and then turn to Buddhist views of the self, interdependence, the philosophical role of meditation, and ethics. The focus of this course will be on Mahayana Buddhist thought, although we will occasionally examine Therevada and Vajrayana views as well. We will largely draw on the work of Nagarjuna, Dharmakirti, and Dignaga. The goal of this course is to examine questions, and proposed answers, that are critical to the Buddhist philosophical tradition.

Buddhist Philosophy - ONLINE CLASS
20245 04 (32463) - No classification restriction
20245 05 (32464) - Must be a Sophomore
20245 06 (32465) - Must be a Junior

2:20-3:35 MW

In this course, students will explore several key philosophical issues in the Buddhist tradition. We begin by asking if we can make sense of the term “Buddhist Philosophy” and then turn to Buddhist views of the self, interdependence, the philosophical role of meditation, and ethics. The focus of this course will be on Mahayana Buddhist thought, although we will occasionally examine Therevada and Vajrayana views as well. We will largely draw on the work of Nagarjuna, Dharmakirti, and Dignaga. The goal of this course is to examine questions, and proposed answers, that are critical to the Buddhist philosophical tradition.

Systematic Thinking
20249 01 (32398) - No classification restriction
20249 02 (32399) - Must be a Sophomore
20249 03 (32400) - Must be a Junior

8:00am-9:15am TR

This class is dedicated to helping you begin to develop a systematic philosophical worldview. Ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind—you name the domain and we'll think about a major issue from it. And, crucially, we will think about how positions on these issues relate to one another. For instance, your position on what kind of thing we essentially are affects what you ought to believe about the permissibility of abortion and that of eating animals, as well as the possibility of you (yes, you!) making it into an afterlife. Every philosophical position has consequences.

Yet, as you might have noticed from the title, the so-called "modern" philosophers—roughly those writing in the period from Descartes to Kant—will also feature prominently in this class. Why? Like many fields, philosophy has undergone increasing specialization in recent years. One benefit of this trend is that philosophers are digging deeper into issues of all sorts. However, one cost is that often the big picture is forgotten, or at least shelved for the time being as narrower problems are addressed. An era where this sort of overspecialization did not occur was the modern period. Most moderns developed systematic worldviews that contained answers to many of the big questions. In fact, the worldviews that the moderns developed are among the main options that contemporary philosophers still investigate today. As a consequence, the moderns can provide us with guidance about how to go about developing a systematic philosophical worldview, and studying the moderns can help you better understand contemporary philosophy.

Persuasion and Truth
20251 01 (32401) - No classification restriction
20251 02 (32402) - Must be a Sophomore
20251 03 (32403) - Must be a Junior

2:20-3:35 TR

The history of humanity is riddled with leaders—from Adolf Hitler and Robert Mugabe to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln—who have used skilled oratory and rhetoric to convince. Yet, as these very examples show, the ability to persuade is distinct from the ability to convey the truth. Indeed, in the battle for public opinion, the truth wins only incidentally—it defeats falsehood only if the truth-tellers happen to be the most persuasive. As the Scottish philosopher David Hume put it, "'tis not reason, which carries the prize, but eloquence; and no man needs ever despair of gaining proselytes to the most extravagant hypothesis, who has art enough to represent it in any favourable colours."

In the age of social media, cable news, and reality shows, snake oil is selling better than ever. As a consequence, knowing how to discern the unvarnished truth from a heaping mound of you-know-what is extremely valuable. By pairing the study of the abstract philosophical science of truth with the art of engaging and lively persuasion, this course will be part of your lifelong quest to acquire and hone this skill. This course will help you learn how to represent the truth in "favourable colours" of your own. You will practice arguing for your philosophical views through activities, projects, debates, and papers. You will work closely with your peers, relying on their insight and feedback to sharpen your argumentation skills and helping them refine theirs. Along the way, you will learn to cut quickly and easily through the drivel, hogwash, baloney, and poppycock of politicians to the substance of their arguments—if there is any. Topics covered will range from immigration to theism, affirmative action, and abortion. Figures studied will range from Sojourner Truth to Cicero, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Judith Jarvis Thomson.

The Soul
20254 01 (32360) - No classification restriction
20254 02 (32407) - Must be a Sophomore
20254 03 (32408) - Must be a Junior

9:35-10:50 TR 

Two conceptions of soul pervade the Western philosophical tradition, one manifestly theistic and one decidedly not. In the Christian philosophical tradition, for instance, the soul plays a central role in understandings of post mortem existence and personal identity, as well as in conceptions of the dignity of the human person. The soul existed in the Western philosophical tradition before there was Christianity, however, most prominently in the systems of Plato and Aristotle. Aristotle devoted an entire treatise to its consideration, De Anima, which depicts the soul not as a locus of personal identity or as an immaterial being capable of existing in its own right without the body, but as a principle of life, as that which differentiates the living from the non-living and which grounds the unity of the living system. Given his approach, it was natural for Aristotelians to think of non-human animals and plants, no less than human beings, as endowed with souls. If that sounds odd to our ears, it is worth reflecting that his word for soul, psuchê (ψυχή), comes into Latin as anima, which then gives way to our ‘animate’, which we in our turn are happy to extend to all living beings; we do not, that is, find reason to use it restrictively in the way that we tend to do with ‘ensouled’. Thus, a soul, in the Aristotelian approach, is simply that whose presence allows us to demarcate the animate from the inanimate. These two conceptions of soul—as an (1) immaterial entity capable of surviving the death of the body and as a (2) principle of life for all living things—seem on the surface, and even a good deal below the surface—to be talking about two different sorts of things, accidentally (if understandably) given the same name, the soul. One bold hypothesis, owing above all else to the seminal synthesis of Aristotelianism within theistic philosophy, both Christian and Islamic, takes a different view: the soul understood as a repository of value and the soul understood as a principle of life are, on the contrary, one and the same. A crucial question about this proposed synthesis arises unavoidably: can one and the same soul hold both offices? Or is this synthesis really rather a mixture of inconsistent views, serving only to water down each while preserving nothing of value in either?

20401 01 (32807) - No classification restriction
20401 02 (32810) - Must be a Sophomore
20401 03 (32811) - Must be a Junior

3:55-5:10 TR

This course is an introduction to certain core issues in contemporary ethical theory. We will start by looking at competing theories of what it is for an action to be morally wrong. We will then discuss several specific moral issues such as abortion, poverty, animal consumption and our duties to future generations. We’ll end with some more theoretical reflections on the nature of ethical questions themselves.

Classics of Political and Constitutional Theory - ONLINE CLASS
20407 01 (32127) - No classification restriction
20407 02 (32159) - Must be a Sophomore
20407 03 (32160) - Must be a Junior
2:20-3:35 TR 

This online course will examine a number of the fundamental texts in political and constitutional theory, with an emphasis on works of special importance to the British and American political systems.

Throughout the semester, three fundamental questions will be addressed.  First, what is (or should be) the end or goal or purpose of government?   Second, what system of government best achieves that end or goal?  And third, are the answers to the first two questions the same at all times & places?

The principal authors to be read are Aristotle, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Hamilton, Madison, Bagehot, Marx and Mill. The class will be conducted as a combination of lecture and discussion.

By the end of the class, students should have made significant progress toward answering the three questions noted above, and should have acquired an enhanced appreciation for the forms of government present in the United States and in the United Kingdom.

Grading will be based on contribution to class discussion, two short papers, a mid-term exam, and a final exam.  (At least one of the tests will, in all likelihood, be an oral exam.)         

Philosophy of Law
20408 01 (28583) - No classification restriction
20408 02 (28720) - Must be a Sophomore
20408 03 (28721) - Must be a Junior
11:10-12:00 MW
Required - PHIL 22408 Friday discussion section

M/W lecture; required Friday discussion section

In class exams, short papers, final exam.

Topics for this class: a mix of issues in foundations of criminal law, criminal law, and criminal procedure. We may do one unit on a constitutional law topic (probably free speech law). The main idea is to introduce students to important philosophical and legal debates about real world law. We focus on US law but include some comparative international law. No background legal knowledge is presupposed. Though the course may well be of interest to pre-law students, the course is not limited to such students.

Ethics of Food - ONLINE CLASS
20432 01 (32409) - No classification restriction
20432 02 (32410) - Must be a Sophomore
20432 03 (32411) - Must be a Junior
11:10-12:25 TR

Certain ways of eating are morally bad. (Think cannibalism, for a start.) But what ways of eating are morally good, or at least morally permissible? Common ways of eating today reflect different attitudes toward and have different effects on various nonhuman animals, agricultural workers, cultural traditions, the environment, women and other marginalized groups, and socio-economic wellbeing at various levels of society. One of your main goals in this class will be to figure out which way of eating you are going to pursue and why you think it’s morally permissible. (I assume you want to be moral.)

Throughout the class, we’ll be looking at two kinds of arguments in tandem. First, arguments about the “applied ethics” of food. We’ll read arguments about the morality of various ways of eating. Second, arguments about “normative ethics” – or what makes right actions right in the first place. These more abstract arguments should inform the way we think about the specific, complex issues raised by food.  

Environmental Philosophy
20603 01 (33119) - No classification restriction
20603 02 (33120) - Must be a Sophomore
20603 03 (33121) - Must be a Junior
3:55-5:10 TR

In recent decades, there has been growing concern about the often difficult relationship human beings have with our larger biological ecosystem. The means by which we power and feed our civilization have deleterious environmental effects, effects that are themselves felt by human communities. In the face of this concern, modern philosophers have attempted to clarify the extent of our ethical obligations vis a vis the natural world. In this class, we will investigate these attempts, and in the process try to address such questions as: “do we have responsibilities toward the physical world around us?” “Should we admit non-human life forms as members of our moral circle?” “What are our responsibilities toward those threatened by pollution, deforestation, or climate change?” “How do environmental injustices intersect with racial, regional, and class injustices in our global society?” Along the way, we will touch on more fundamental philosophical questions, such as the nature and source of value and the limitations of human knowledge. Students will learn to consider environmental issues from a variety of ethical standpoints, will apply ethical analysis to issues in animal welfare, economics, and scientific research, and will gain practical knowledge about integrating environmental ethics into their lives. 

Philosophy of Science
20617 01 (32133) - No classification restriction
20617 02 (32134) - Must be a Sophomore
20617 03 (32136) - Must be a Junior
5:30-6:45 MW

One common view of scientific practice inherited from the Scientific Revolution is that of geniuses in lab coats, toiling away in their labs or at their chalkboards high atop their Ivory Towers. This received conception insists upon detachment and a near-monastic approach to the life of the mind, wherein scientists qua scientists need not engage with or consider the outside world beyond their empirical research. However, much work in philosophy of science as well as science and technology studies (STS) since the mid-20th century have challenged this narrative, highlighting ways in which the social/political/economic/ethical considerations of society more broadly influence and contribute to scientific practice. This course focuses on whether these challenges are 1) a call to action to develop a 'new normal' for scientific practice, or 2) unfortunate stumbling blocks preventing us from reaching the described ideal. Topics discussed will include:

  • economic constraints upon research in the public and private sector
  • political influences upon what research projects gain traction
  • the effects of disinformation campaigns upon scientifically-informed public policy initiatives ('agnotology')
  • whether scientific practice has its own self-defeating constraints that challenge this received narrative
  • whether scientific practice should consider these social/political/economic/ethical dimensions (and if so, what mechanisms could make these influences beneficial rather than damaging)
  • what counts as 'objective,' given the above

Students need not have much of a scientific background to engage with or participate in discussion: what technical aspects exist in the readings will be previewed/explained in class sessions.

Science and Catholicism
20627 01 (31168) - No classification restriction
20627 02 (31167) - Must be a Sophomore
20627 03 (31166) - Must be a Junior
4:05-4:55 MWF

A historical and philosophical examination of the relations, if there are any, between science and religion with particular reference to the Catholic intellectual tradition. Through the use of historical materials the course will attempt to isolate and examine philosophical difficulties that might be thought to obtain between the claims made by Christian revelation and various scientific theories about features of the world. Emphasis will be placed upon distinctive ways in which the intellectual tradition of the Catholic Church has faced the issues raised. Figures to be considered may include Augustine, Aquinas, Galileo, Bellarmine, Darwin, Huxley, Dawkins, Newman, Leroy, Zahm, LeMaitre, and Hawking, as well as others. Topics to be discussed are Language, Meaning, and Revelation, Faith and Reason, the Nature of Science, Theory, and Hypothesis, Evolution, the Big Bang, Soul and Body, Creation versus Making, Providence and Chance.

Epistemology in Practice - ONLINE CLASS
20653 01 (31165) - No classification restriction
20653 02 (31164) - Must be a Sophomore
20653 03 (31163) - Must be a Junior

12:45-2:00 TR

Epistemology is often defined as the theory or philosophy of knowledge. This course takes a broad view of epistemology, thinking of it as concerned with good ways of thinking and believing - including thinking about important stuff like politics, religion, science, and morality. This course also takes practical approach. You will be asked to reflect deeply and critically on the ways in which you are committed to forming and revising your opinions, as well as participating more generally in the flow of ideas as informants and bystanders. By the end of the course, you will be expected to write your own epistemic manifesto, outlining the kind of epistemic agent you want to be. The course will involve both traditional reading assignments as well as “immersive” assignments. These are assignments that will ask you to do something – engage in a certain conversation, reflect in a certain way, pay attention to something in a new space – and then also write about it.

We'll address five main questions:

  • How skeptical should I be, and what kinds of things might I hope to know?
  • How, if at all, should disagreement matter in my forming/revising opinions?
  • How, if at all, should I get the news?
  • What “knowing” should I outsource to my phone or other technologies, and what (if anything) should I try to appreciate for myself?
  • What do I owe to others, as a participant in the flow of information?

Methods of Reasoning
20656 01 (32321) - No classification restriction
20656 02 (32345) - Must be a Sophomore
20656 03 (32347) - Must be a Junior
8:00 am-9:15 am MW

Arguably the most important philosophical skill is the ability to reason and formulate arguments. Sound arguments and good reasoning methods allow us to effectively search for the truth of any philosophical question. In this class, we will consider the reasoning methods used in everyday language, mathematics, and the sciences. We will consider how successful these methods are and how they are able to produce knowledge and understanding. We will discuss the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning, common argument forms, mathematical proof, the role of rigor and intuition in mathematics, the aim of the sciences, and methods for prediction and experimentation in the sciences.

Climate and Culture
20657 01 (32926) - No classification restriction
20657 02 (33173) - Must be a Sophomore
20657 03 (33174) - Must be a Junior

Cross-listed with SUS 20657-01

By now, it is no secret that the effects of global climate change could, within the next two centuries or so, cause cultures around the world—including the cultures of the affluent nations—to collapse. Those who would experience such cultural collapse, were it to occur, would be forced to live in ways radically different from their pre-collapse precursors. This course will invite students to think both imaginatively and philosophically about such a possibility. Our guiding questions for the course will be: (i) What is cultural collapse, and how might climate change bring it about? and (ii) How do the participants in a cultural tradition weather well the collapse of their own tradition? To lay the philosophical groundwork for the course, we will read from the work of L.A. Paul, Jonathan Lear, and Alasdair MacIntyre (among others). The semester will then culminate with readings from Lakota, Kiowa, Pueblo, and Navajo writers (among others) who have not only experienced cultural collapse first hand (to varying degrees) but have also written about it in an insightful way.

Philosophy of Religion - ONLINE CLASS
20801 04 (33146) - No classification restriction
20801 05 (33148) - Must be a Sophomore
20801 06 (33149) - Must be a Junior
12:45-2:00 TR

The course sets out from an examination of the nature of God. Who or what is God? That is the central question. How should we understand His nature? Here we are looking at the definition of God as developed by theologians since the dawn of Christianity. In the following weeks, we will move on to consider the comparative authority of the Christian teachings and the secular authority of modern science. Are we able to accept religion and science as equals, or are they at perpetual war with one another, as some would have it? We will then turn to two of the most rational arguments in support of belief in one real God. These concern the origins of the cosmos, first causes, the eternity and necessity of God and/or the universe, and the question of whether there must be a divine architect behind the order and beauty observed in the world. One prominent theme running through the course concerns the role of faith in a reason-dominated world, with special attention to the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard.

The second half of the course opens with the problem of evil, the question of whether it is possible to accept the existence of a perfectly good and omnipotent God, who seems to allow so much human and natural evil, and the pain and suffering that accompany them. This will be followed by broader questions about the origins and status of morality and moral laws. Does God command what is good because it is good? Or is it good because He commands it? In short, how do God and morality connect? Two related topics arise from this, the plausibility of miracles and the significance of religious experience. Among philosophers featuring on this course, the most prominent will be St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, Kierkegaard, Albert Einstein, A.N. Whitehead, Stephen Jay Gould, John Hick and Richard Swinburne.

Course Text
Linda Zagzebski and Timothy D. Miller (Editors), Reader in Philosophy of Religion: Ancient to Contemporary, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

Philosophical History of God
20815 01 (28586) - No classification restriction
20815 02 (28823) - Must be a Sophomore
20815 03 (28824) - Must be a Junior

D. Cory
2:20-3:35 MW
Cross-listed with MI 20362

Many people believe in God, but just what is it that they are believing in? Just what do we mean when we talk about God? In this course, students will be introduced to various philosophical conceptions of God, and will consider what we can know about God given only the light of reason. Are there good reasons to assign to God the typical attributes we do, such as are omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence? Some additional recurring questions will be: Is God’s creation of the world free or necessary? Does God know particulars, including us humans? Is God changeless, and if so, what is the point of prayer? Is there will in God? The course will take a broadly historical approach, moving forward from pre-Socratic ways of talking about the first principle into discussions about how we name God, debates about divine transcendence, as well as the question of whether we can consider God at all in philosophy. Goals for the class include developing a rigorous and coherent notion of God; to appreciate the difficulties of forming such a conception; and of understanding why certain ways of talking about God developed historically. Finally, although we will not be considering God in the context of religion, it will become evident that at least some conceptions of God are common to a wide swath of religious traditions, and that these philosophical ideas can spread from one cultural tradition to another.

Philosophy of Law - ONLINE CLASS
24408 04 (33268) - No classification restriction
24408 05 (33269) - Must be a Junior
24408 06 (33270) - Must be a Sophomore
9:35-10:50 TR

Using real cases as illustrations, the opening classes will address some of the central problems in legal theory, past and present. These will include questions about the relation between law and morality, what law is and what it ought to be. What is law? What makes a good legal system? What is common law? What is justice? Competing legal theories will be evaluated.

In the second part, there will be a shift of focus as we turn to the philosophical assumptions underlying the contemporary systems of criminal justice in the UK. Central problems in criminal law will include the doctrine of mens rea, requirements for guilt in mind as well as in deed, negligence and criminal recklessness; types and grades of homicide; legal defenses of duress and necessity; and disputes over the general justification for state punishment.

Course Text:

Mark Tebbit: Philosophy of Law: An Introduction, 3rd Edition (Routledge, 2017). 

Data Ethics - ONLINE CLASS
24455 01 (32289) - No classification restriction
24455 02 (32291) - Must be a Sophomore
24455 03 (32292) - Must be a Junior
Department Approval Required

5:30-6:45 TR

This innovative, online class, which has been designed for students in the new iTREDS, undergraduate, data sciences program, will provide an introduction to a wide array of pressing ethical issues in data science, artificial intelligence, and related fields. After first reviewing the more important philosophical frameworks commonly employed in ethical decision making and some general issues surrounding policy making and the principles of responsible research, we will examine more special problems involving such topics as algorithmic bias, biometrics (facial recognition and analysis), who owns your data, data security, privacy, and a right to be forgotten.