Graduate Courses

Spring 2019

Colloquium Seminar
83103 01 (20150)

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.

83202 01 (30896)
2:00-3:15 TR

We will work our way slowly through the first book of Aristotle’s Physics, along with two new volumes of essays devoted to it.

Aquinas on God
83243 01 (30897)
9:30-10:45 MW

A close examination of several philosophical themes and arguments within the first thirteen questions of the first part of Aquinas' Summa Theologiae, as well as texts elsewhere in his work on faith, and related discussions in other authors as the occasion arises. The course will focus upon certain topics to the exclusion of others.  Topics of particular interest in the thirteen questions are the relationship between what Aquinas calls Sacra Doctrina and the exercise of reason apart from Sacra Doctrina in relationship to the nature of philosophy; the nature of faith, the demonstration of the existence of a god, the simplicity of a god, the perfections that pertain to a god, our knowledge of God, and how we speak about God.

Topics in Epistemology: Epistemology and the Big Sort
83701 01 (27642)
9:30-12:15 T

After Bush beat Kerry in the 2004 presidential election, The Stranger published an article that said this: “Liberals, progressives, and Democrats do not live in a country that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico. We live on a chain of islands. We are citizens of the Urban Archipelago, the United Cities of America. We live on islands of sanity, liberalism, and compassion. … And we are the real Americans. They—rural, red-state voters, the denizens of the exurbs—are not real Americans. They are rubes, fools, and hate-mongers.” 

Those aren’t nice words, and while people aren’t usually this rude (at least publicly), the ideas behind those words are common. At present, many liberals find conservatives literally incomprehensible. They find their own views so obvious that they can’t imagine how an intelligent person could disagree with them. And of course, many conservatives have analogous convictions about liberal views. By the lights of many conservatives, conservatism is just obviously true, and someone would have to be deeply irrational to hold liberal views. These conservatives don’t just disagree with liberals. They think liberals are literally crazy, to at least some degree, and of course many liberals think exactly the same thing about conservatives.  

How did this happen, and how should we think about it? Is either group rational or reasonable in this high level of confidence in its own view? Are both groups rational or reasonable in this high level of confidence? Is there any plausible asymmetry here? And if there is some asymmetry here, how can we tell which is the rational or reasonable group? Is it possible to tell this from the inside? If not, what should we think about our own views? And what should we do? 

These questions depend on central themes in recent epistemology, and they are the driving questions of this course. To make progress on these questions, we’ll look at the internalism/externalism debate, the epistemology of testimony, the epistemology of disagreement, the permissivism/impermissivism debate, and some social-scientific work on belief polarization and the influence of groups on beliefs. We’ll do all of this in order to ask, at the end of the semester, what happens from a distinctively epistemic point of view when we sort ourselves into the kinds of ideologically homogeneous communities that are becoming increasingly prevalent in affluent, technologically advanced societies like our own.

Philosophy Pedagogy Workshop
85105 01 (20041)


Contemporary Continental Philosophy
93303 01 (30898)
5:05-6:20 TR

A survey and evaluation of developments in 20th Century European Philosophy and beyond.

To be included: Phenomenology and Hermeneutics, Critical Theory, Post-Structuralism.

Requirements: Mid-term, Research Paper.

93310 01 (30899)

12:30-3:15 W

Gottlob Frege was one of the most influential figures in the 'analytic' tradition of philosophy at the beginning of the 20th century. The successes and failures of his work, both philosophical and technical, have had a lasting influence on philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics, and philosophy of logic. In this seminar, we read Frege's major works (in English translation), and then turn to the secondary literature in order to engage several different debates regarding the lessons to be learned from Frege's arguments. Topics to be covered in the secondary literature will depend to some extent on student interest. Presentations, papers, and active participation required of all participants.

Themes from Wittgenstein’s
93328 01 (30900)

3:30-6:15 W

We will take as a set text to study Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations (1952) (PI), the only work of his later period prepared by him for publication. The class will combine close attention to Wittgenstein’s text with extended following up, through secondary literature inspired by PI, on various themes debated in the text. Wittgenstein’s official philosophy of philosophy is that no systematic philosophical theorizing is proper, that philosophy’s role is entirely negative, clearing up pseudo-puzzles that can get a psychological grip when one fails to ‘know one’s way about’ in one’s everyday concepts, when language is ‘idling’ and ‘on holiday’; and that philosophy’s sole task is to remind us of the everyday use of the words expressing our concepts, so that we attain a ‘clear view’, at which point the illusion of a philosophical problem – of skepticism, of free will, of the unknowability of other minds – will evaporate. On this official view, the PI contains no philosophical arguments; certainly no arguments to revisionary philosophical positions.  But, despite this official view, the PI does contain arguments, or materials from which various philosophical arguments can be constructed. Starting always from the text of PI, we will examine these arguments, both as they can be extracted from PI, and as they have been extrapolated in the secondary literature. PI contains material of fundamental importance concerning a host of foundational topics in philosophy of language, and of mind. We will look at: the nature of meaning, in particular the relation between realist truth-theoretic semantics and the notorious slogan that ‘meaning is use’; the nature of logical necessity, in particular the source of ‘the hardness of the logical must’ - whether it stems from a source in reality, or merely in our own dispositions to find certain transitions primitively compelling (here, the discussion of ‘following a rule’ from PI 138-202 will take centre stage); the celebrated anti private language argument, which undermines the idea of an intrinsic phenomenal type of conscious state, well-defined independent of any functional connections, and the conception of conscious mental states associated with it, where ‘an inner process stands in need of outward criteria’.  We will also look at the phenomenon of immunity to error through misidentification involved in some self-ascriptions of conscious mental states, and the nature of self-awareness associated with this. All of these core topics from PI have generated literatures, and we will follow up the discussion in the text of PI with selected classic further readings of these topics.

Auditors as well as students taking the class for credit are warmly welcome. However, I expect a commitment to attend every week from all participants: the highly inter-connected nature of Wittgenstein’s writings means that dropping in for some weeks only will not work.


It is strongly advised to do some preparatory reading before the start of the semester: read the text of PI (in English translation) and also at least one secondary text. There are many introductory books on Wittgenstein’s philosophy, good ones to start with are those by: Anthony Kenny, A. Fogelin, William Child (all are just called Wittgenstein).

A more detailed reading list will be available in December. I will not be on campus until the start of the spring semester. But please do feel free to email me, if you are thinking of taking the course, and have questions about it.


The course will be examined by term paper: either one long one, or two shorter ones, depending on student’s preference. Word count: no more than 7,000 words in all.

Philosophy of Religion Workshop
93413 01 (24406)

9:25-11:25 F


93543 01 (30901)

3:30-6:15 M
Cross-listed with HPS 935543 01


Hylomorphism offers a middle way between two extreme theories about material objects: nihilism (there are none beyond simples) and universal mereological aggregation (there are plenty of them—in fact, every two objects yield a third).  Hylomorphism is thus a form of privileged ontology: some mereologically complex entities attain a status others lack; they manage this feat, the hylomorphist urges, in virtue of their comprising both matter and form, where, fairly plainly, form must be something more than mere shape or structure—all material mereological objects have a shape.

The theory thus implicates itself in a nexus of overlapping commitments in mereology, category theory, and essentialism. In this seminar, we will investigate contemporary literature on these topics arguing: (i) that questions of ontological privilege make ready sense only against the background of an articulated category theory; (ii) that while one cannot felicitously conceive of hylomorphic compounds in terms of classical extensional mereology, the notion of parenthood none the less has as role to play in articulating a defensible form of hylomorphism; (iii) that hylomorphism requires a commitment to a specific approach to essentialism, namely  non-merely modal essentialism; and (iv) that the notion of unity required to defend a hylomorphic analysis of substance is, for better or worse, ineliminably normative.


We will read a variety of philosophers, devoting the last quarter or so of the semester to Kathrin Koslicki’s Form, Matter, Substance (OUP 2018).

Advanced Topics in Ethics

93635 01 (30902)

3:30-6:15 T

Can moral statements be known to be true? Is the answer different for statements expressing moral principles and those that express singular moral judgments—arguably in some cases perceptually known propositions? Does moral knowledge presuppose (pace Christine Korsgaard and other constructivists—moral realism? These questions apply to deontological cases (purported knowledge of obligation and of right and wrong) and also to axiological ones—(purported knowledge of intrinsic value, the good and the bad). Many philosophers, including utilitarians, have taken value to be more basic than obligation.  How is that issue related to the question whether reasons for action (including moral reasons) are normatively basic? If there is knowledge of any normative truths in the realm of practical reason, whether of moral or non-moral reasons.

This seminar will explore intuitions and intuitionism, reasons for action—whether of normative reasons or of moral reasons in particular. Is some or all of it empirical and, if so, what roles to intuition and perception, play in justifying the attribution or reasons and the affirmation of corresponding moral judgments?

The seminar will pursue these and related questions through readings and papers by participants.  At this writing, the earliest readings may be selected parts of J. S. Mill (likely his epistemological chapter (IV) in Utilitarianism, G. E. Moore and W. D. Ross, each of whom deal with both the concept of obligation and conceptions of value.  Later writings in the theory of value might include contemporary work by Thomas Hurka, Judith Thomson, and (possibly) a paper by Robert Audi. Contemporary readings on moral knowledge in general might include Nicholas Sturgeon, Philip Stratton-Lake, Onora O’Neill or Christine Korsgaard (partly for a Kantian perspective), and Derek Parfit. On moral perception some papers from Anna Bergqvist and Robert Cowan’s Evaluative Perception (OUP 2018) are a likely choice, with work by Sarah McGrath and perhaps Cowan (possibly his recent paper in Ethics rather than his contribution to the volume) as selections.  For accounts of reasons and normativity in general. Parfit and T. M. Scanlon are among the best sources.

Undergraduate philosophy students are welcome to audit and, given adequate preparation, to register after discussing how the requirements would be appropriately met for undergraduate credit.  

Historical and Conceptual Foundations of Quantum Theory

93872 01 (30903)

12:30-1:45 MW

Cross-listed with HPS 93872 01


This course provides an introduction to the foundations of the quantum theory from an historical perspective. After surveying the development of quantum theory from the 1890s through the consolidation of modern quantum mechanics in the 1920s, we will turn our attention to the development of the standard, alternative interpretations of quantum mechanics, including Bohr’s complementarity interpretation, hidden-variable interpretations, the statistical interpretation, the Everett or “many-worlds” interpretation, and decoherence theory, along with Bell’s theorem and experimental demonstrations of quantum entanglement. The course will conclude with consideration of selected topics from recent literature on foundations, with special attention to issues in the foundations of quantum field theory. No specific background in physics is assumed, with the relevant, technical issues being explained in an accessible manner as the course proceeds.

Evolutionary Game Theory

93893 01 (30904)

3:30-6:15 R

Cross-listed with HPS 93893 01

Game theory describes rational decision making in interactions among people, where the consequences of one’s actions depend on the actions of others. Evolutionary game theory, by contrast, explains the strategies people (or animals) employ as the results of a learning (or evolutionary) process. This sort of approach has proven to be enormously fruitful in philosophy, biology, and the social sciences. This course will provide an introduction to evolutionary game theory, followed by applications, e.g. in philosophy of language, social epistemology, philosophy of science, naturalized ethics, and philosophy of biology.

Set Theory
93933 01 (30905)
11:00-12:15 TR
Cross-listed with PHIL 43925 01

This course will focus on the foundations of set theory.  The first part of the course will cover the ZFC axioms and (small) large cardinals.  The second will cover (in less detail) the ideas behind forcing, inner models, (large) large cardinals, etc.

All students will be expected to do problem sets and to write 1-2 short essays.  At the end of the term, students can choose between a take-home (technical) final exam or a term paper.

Dissertation Research Seminar
98690 01 (28102)
2:00-3:15 M