Graduate Courses

Spring 2020 Courses

Colloquium Seminar
83103 01 (20141)

3:00-5:00 F

A one-hour seminar each semester tied to the talks given in the department's ongoing colloquium series. Required of all first-year graduate students.

Aristotle's Philosophical Theology
83203 01 (32226)

Shields, Miller
3:30-6:15 M

In the Metaphysics Book XII (Lambda) Aristotle argues that the universe has a first cause, which he designates as ‘god’.  After outlining his metaphysical framework he argues that all motion ultimately depends upon an immovable mover as its efficient and final cause. He offers a description of this prime mover as a divine intellect.  Rather surprisingly he also conjectures that there are in fact many immovable movers.  He concludes nonetheless that the unity and goodness of the whole universe are due to the one prime mover which is its ruler.  Throughout the course we will study the text of Metaphysics XII closely, taking into account related works of Aristotle, as well as major commentaries—ancient, medieval, and modern—which have shaped our understanding of Aristotle’s philosophical theology.  We will also discuss the major criticisms of Aristotle’s argument, and we will consider whether he offers any enduring insights for modern philosophers, theologians, and scientists still seeking a grand ‘theory of everything’.

Spinozism: Then and Now
83292 01 (31876)

12:30-3:15 T

In this seminar, we will begin with an overview of central components of Spinoza’s metaphysics and value theory. The bulk of the seminar will focus on significant efforts to refute or appropriate Spinoza’s conclusions. Spinoza’s views attracted a bewildering array of objections and criticisms over the centuries, some of which are mutually inconsistent. But his critics shared the sense that Spinoza’s views remained live options, options that were both philosophically hard to resist but also deeply problematic and potentially even dangerous. We will examine several prominent strands of this critical reaction, paying particular attention to Bayle, Leibniz, Wolff, Jacobi, Mendelsohn, Hegel and early 20th century British idealists.

In the final third of the course, we will explore several recent defenses of Spinozistic conclusions by contemporary philosophers as we read parts of book manuscripts by Michael Della Rocca and Robert Merrihew Adams. This will help us decide whether Spinozism is still a live option, and if so, what its most promising developments might look like today.

The only required text to purchase will be Spinoza: A Reader (ed. and trans. by Edwin Curley, Princeton University Press).

Philosophy Pedagogy Workshop
85105 01 (20039)
Time: TBA

The Notre Dame Philosophy Pedagogy Workshop brings together interested faculty and graduate students to collectively study ways to be more innovative and effective philosophy teachers.  All faculty and graduate students in the department are welcome to participate, but aspiring first-time graduate instructors (students in their 3rd year of the graduate program) must register for the workshop.

The Metaphysics of Identity, Identities, and the Self
93544 01 (31875)
9:30-12:15 M

The goal of this course is to explore the metaphysics of personal identity, social identities, and the self, with special focus on the question whether there is any sense in which narrative might constitute such things.  Narrative conceptions of identity and the self have received a great deal of attention in multiple disciplines over the past couple of decades; but there has been relatively little rigorous and detailed exploration of what it might mean metaphysically to say that a person or their identity or their self is or is constituted by narrative.  One goal of this class is to work together to arrive at a clearer understanding of such claims and their implications, and to see how they fit into larger conversations about the metaphysics of persons, social identities, and the self.  The first half of the course will focus on the metaphysics of personal identity and the self; the second half of the course will focus on the metaphysics of social identities—e.g., gender, race, disability, and sexual identity.  The reading list is not yet settled, but it will probably include works by Ted Sider, Trenton Merricks, Derek Parfit, Marya Schechtman, David Velleman, Sally Haslanger, Åsta, Ron Mallon, Elizabeth Barnes, and others.

Contemporary Ethical Theory
93627 01 (31568)
3:30-6:15 T

This seminar is being designed to serve interests of both grad students and instructor and to fill some gaps in our ethics offerings over recent years.  On the theoretical side, one gap is in the area of connections between moral obligation and moral worth; on the “practical” (and also theoretical) side, some gaps are in explorations of the historically—indeed, perennially—important figures.  The most conspicuous gap in the latter region is Kant’s ethics. I have been working more on this subject in recent years, and Kant is also an excellent source for exploring the relation between obligation and moral worth.  Another gap concerns W. D. Ross, who in recent decades has been much discussed and whose The Good and the Right (OUP 1930) has emerged as perhaps the most significant general ethical treatise of the 20th Century.

With these points in mind, the current plan is to devote at least two seminar sessions to Kant, mainly (but not exclusively) the Groundwork; and at least two to a combination of at least the early chapters of Ross’s The Good and the Right and David Phillips’ new Rossian Ethics:  W. D. Ross and Contemporary Ethical Theory (OUP 2019).  Both Kant and Ross have theories of obligation and theories of moral worth. The relation between the two theories in Kant is widely misunderstood (and Kant’s views on both moral worth and moral obligation are attacked by Ross in Kant’s Ethical Theory, 1954). Understanding this relation will take our discussion into an area of the philosophy of action important for ethics.

Two other elements are expected to figure importantly. At least two seminars are expected to focus on Garrett Cullity’s original and historically informed Concern, Respect, and Cooperation (OUP 2018), which connects, methodologically and in other ways, with Ross and engages consequentialism and, at points, virtue ethics and also considers myriad contemporary views on the topics he addresses. It is also likely that two seminars will focus on contemporary papers yet to be selected. At this writing, it is too early to say whether there be a visiting philosopher giving a paper, but that is a definite possibility.

In addition to the main aim—philosophical progress in understanding and advancing the issues—the seminar will be oriented toward better preparing graduate students to qualify for appointments in or requiring solid competence in ethics (of which there are many such appointments).  Here the texts mentioned, particularly those of Kant and parts of Ross, will be excellent resources. Participants will of course be able to pursue in their own papers some aspect of the overall topic, quite apart from any detailed engagement with Kant, Ross, or any other author studied.  Seminar papers are to be presented in the seminar (with the benefit of a commentator and pre-circulation of the draft) and, after further revision, made as nearly ready for conference or journal submission as possible.

Graduate students and others who are or will be doing ethics are welcome to discuss their potential participation—whether registered for full credit or as auditors—with the instructor. In some cases, versions of dissertation chapters might be eligible for presentation and seminar discussion. Undergraduate philosophy students are welcome to audit and, given adequate preparation, to register after discussing with the instructor how the requirements would be appropriately met for undergraduate credit. 

93638 01 (31877)
12:30-3:15 M

What's the relationship between moral and intellectual virtues? Are virtue theories of ethics and epistemology plausible, and are the important considerations the same in both cases? Are there traits that are moral virtues but intellectual vices, or vice versa? We'll primarily read contemporary and 20th century literature on virtue ethics and virtue epistemology, focusing on questions about the unity of the virtues and particular intersectional moral/intellectual virtues, e.g., humility and trust. 

History of Philosophy of Science from the Scientific Revolution to 1900
93812 01 (31569)
2:00-3:15 TR
Cross-listed with HPS 93812 01 (31891)

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.

Philosophy of Biology
93861 01 (31570)

9:30-12:15 T
Cross-listed with HPS 93805 01 (31901)

In the last few decades, focus in the philosophy of science has shifted from the physical sciences to the biological sciences. This is by no means a coincidence. Recent breakthroughs in evolutionary biology, genetics, conservation science, and medicine play a huge role in society and public policy and have impacted the lives of billions. This course will focus on a few foundational issues in the philosophy of biology. Topics include: conceptual issues in evolutionary theory; the possibility of cooperation, justice, and fairness in a Darwinian world; rivalrous conceptions of health and disease; and the value of biodiversity. 

Set Theory
93933 01 (31941)

12:30-3:15 W

This seminar will cover recent work in the philosophy of set theory: reflection principles, the omega-conjecture, ultimate L, the multiverse, etc.  The course presupposes a substantial amount of set theory—if you are not already familiar with forcing, large cardinals, inner models, etc., then this isn’t the course for you.

Dissertation Research Seminar
98690 01 (26847)
2:00-3:15 R

This seminar is for those graduate students actively working on their dissertations. The focus of the seminar is discussion of work in progress by participants.