Majors & minors courses

The courses below are, for the most part, restricted to Philosophy majors and minors. You can learn more about the various majors and minors we offer on our Majors and Minors page. If you are a non-major interested in taking one of the courses below, you should sign up for an appointment with Professor Jech, the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Spring 2021 Courses

Ancient & Medieval Philosophy - ONLINE COURSE
30301 01 (21276)
30301 02 (27232) - Reserved for Glynn Honors Program

2:20-3:35 TR
Cross-listed with MI 30301

A survey of Western philosophy from its beginnings in the early Greek physicists to the late middle ages. The emphasis in class will be on the reading and analysis of fundamental texts by main figures of the period: Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Anselm, Bonaventure, and Thomas Aquinas. Concurrent reading of a standard history will supply additional background and continuity.

Requirements: Two papers (one each for the ancient and medieval portions of the course), a mid-term, and final examination.

Ancient & Medieval Philosophy
30301 03 (31160)
30301 04 (31159) - Reserved for Glynn Honors Program

12:45-2:00 TR
Cross-listed with MI 30301-03 (20406

The aim is to understand some of the leading ideas in ancient and medieval philosophy. The course is structured thematically, rather than historically, under the following topics: Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics. Each topic is examined by close reading of small extracts from relevant works. By the end of the course, you will be familiar with some of the leading ideas in Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Boethius, Avicenna, Anselm, Averroes, Aquinas, Henry of Ghent, Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham.

Gateway Seminar - Freedom and the Common Good
30304 01 (26941)
12:45-2:00 TR
Department Approval Required

Shakespeare’s Othello said we should

Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
               Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak
               Of one that loved not wisely but too well

He thereby claims that in the story of his tragic love for Desdemona, we can come to see him as he really was—and therefore that perhaps it was precisely in this tragic love that he had himself come to see himself as he was. He learned was that he was not wise, and if he loved “too well,” then loving “well” is not, it seems, the same as loving selflessly, but something else—yet what?

The idea that love is especially revelatory of self, and even involved in constructing the self, is an idea that has preoccupied philosophers from Plato until the present day. In this course we will explore a few of the authors who have discussed this idea—including Plato, Augustine, Kiekregaard, and Harry Frankfurt—and see what progress we can make in coming to understand what it would mean to love wisely, to love well, and to know these in such a way as, we hope, to make a difference.

Assignments will include two short analysis papers, one debate paper, and one final paper, along with weekly short assignments.

Gateway Seminar - The Human Mind
30304 02 (26942)
2:20-3:35 MW
Department Approval Required

This gateway seminar examines fundamental questions about the human mind. Questions to be addressed include: what is the relationship between the mind and the brain? Do human beings possess immaterial souls? Can the existence of consciousness be reconciled with a materialist view of the world? Is free will an illusion? What is the nature of agency and moral responsibility? What is the self?

Gateway Seminar - The Objective and the Subjective
30304 03 (31158)
11:10-12:25 TR
Department Approval Required

Virtually every area of Philosophy makes appeal to a distinction between the objective and the subjective. Most obviously this crops up in discussions of ethical theory, but one equally encounters the distinction in works in philosophy of mind, in metaphysics, in feminist philosophy, in philosophy of perception, in philosophy of science, and in epistemology to name just a few. Even so, appeals to the distinction are not always made with the clarity and self-consciousness that we as philosophers would like to expect.

This course investigates the objective-subjective distinction, first by focusing on the character of the distinction itself. What, after all, is the precise distinction being drawn here? Is there in fact a single distinction that can be brought sharply into view? Thereafter, we will consider a range of issues in which we find the distinction at work: free will, the meaning of life, meta-ethics, theories of consciousness, and, finally, the question of whether the subjective and objective are in the end irreconcilable points of view. For that last question, we will read Thomas Nagel’s The View From Nowhere (Oxford: 1987).

The purpose is to prepare emerging philosophers to read widely in the discipline equipped with a secure grasp of this pervasive distinction.

The Examined Life
30305 01 (25288)
12:45-2:00 TR
Department Approval Required

In this course, we will consider what it means to live philosophically. We will first approach this question in a general way by considering the nature of philosophy and its relationship to the rest of life. We will then take a more in-depth look at specific philosophical frameworks that aim to inform how we live. We will seek to understand and assess these frameworks in their own right, in light of the contexts in which they were produced, and will also discuss the extent (if any) to which they are adaptable as guides to our own lives. In the final part of the course, we will break into small groups, each of which will prepare a dialogue and an immersion experience about other philosophical frameworks for living well. Examples from previous semesters include pacifism, Epicureanism, and Orthodox Judaism.

This course also provides support and ongoing training to first-time dialogue leaders in the God and the Good Life Fellows program. To that end, our class meetings will be formatted in the same way as the dialogue meetings in GGL, and will include time for dialogue about the experience of facilitating GGL dialogues, including collaborative troubleshooting of any issues that may arise within or across GGL dialogue groups. The philosophical content we engage with in this course will also enrich the GGL dialogue experience by introducing perspectives that challenge and/or illuminate many of the positions that your dialogue group members will be exposed to in GGL.

Prerequisites: PHIL 10111 or PHIL 14101

Formal Logic
30313 01 (20196)
30313 02 (27234) - Reserved for Glynn Honors Program

9:35-10:50 TR

This course will provide an introduction to first-order formal logic. We'll begin by introducing a nice symbolic language and then learn how to "translate" between this language and ordinary English. Next, we'll study the notions of deduction and entailment as they are defined for this language. Finally, and on a more explicitly philosophical note, we'll discuss the degree to which these formally defined notions manage to capture ordinary language notions like "logical consequence" or "argumentative validity."

American Political Thought
30409 01 (28912)
30409 02 (28913) - Reserved for Glynn Honors Program

Weithman, McGreevy, and Gaspar
2:30-3:20 MW
Department Approval Required
Friday Discussion Section Required

Cross-listed with HIST 30654-01

Coming to grips with American political thought is at once an historical and a philosophical task. Students in this course will take on that task under the guidance of one faculty member from the Department of History and one from the Department of Philosophy. The guiding questions of the course are: How have ideas about freedom, equality and the social contract played out in the history of American political thought? When have we realized those ideas and when have we failed? Do those ideas provide us adequate guidance? The exploration of American political thought will be divided into six periods: The Founding, the Civil War era, the late 19th-century, the New Deal to the 1960s, the 1960s to the 1990s, and the 1990s to the present. The course has no prerequisites, though students wishing to count it toward the Philosophy requirement must previously have taken " Introduction to Philosophy.& quot;

History of Medieval Philosophy - ONLINE CLASS
43134 01 (32854)

3:55-5:10 TR

The course offers a survey of medieval philosophical thought from Augustine to William of Ockham, although emphasis will be given to the principal figures of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The development of medieval thought will be treated within the institutional and historical framework of the period, including the reception of Greek and Arabic thought, the educational programs of universities and religious orders, and the role of ecclesiastical censure.

43135 01 (31157)

11:10-12:25 TR
Cross-listed with PHIL 83229, THEO 40211, MI 43326, and MI 63326

This seminar will examine the major philosophical and theological writings of St. Anselm. His Monologion, Proslogion, and Cur Deus Homo will be of central concern, but several lesser-known Anselmian texts will also be read. Topics discussed in these writings include arguments for the existence of God, the divine nature, the Trinity, the Incarnation, human and angelic freedom (and their compatibility with divine foreknowledge), and truth.

Texts: The main text for the course will be Anselm: Basic Writings, a Hackett paperback; Thomas Williams is the editor and translator. Several chapters from Anselm, by Sandra Visser and Thomas Williams, will also be assigned. A few additional contemporary discussions of Anselm may also be read.

Requirements: The course will consist of loosely-structured lectures, with student participation expected and encouraged. Students will be required to write three short (five-to-six page) papers (one of which will be discussed in class) and a final exam. The opportunity to make class presentations may also be offered

Aquinas-Justice, Pardon, Mercy
43141 01 (31152)
3:55-5:10 TR

An examination of Thomas Aquinas' analyses of justice, pardon, and mercy. The course aims at understanding these virtues in Aquinas against the background of classical thought, examining both continuities with ancient Greek and Roman figures, like Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, and Cicero, as well as discontinuities. Central to the course will be delineating the role of compassion if any in the expression of these virtues.

43202 01 (31151)
5:30-5:15 R
Cross-listed with PHIL 93326

This seminar will survey contemporary work in phenomenology. The first third of the semester will be devoted to an examination of Edmund Husserl’s classical account. The second part will briefly examine challenges and internal developments to this account, for example, by Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty.  Finally, depending on areas of students’ interest, we will examine the contemporary status and applications of phenomenology, for example, in ethics, aesthetics, philosophy of religion, or cognitive science.  

Undergraduates. Midterm, Final Paper.
Graduates: Seminar Presentation, Final Paper.

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art - ONLINE CLASS
43312 01 (31150)

2:20-3:35 TR

This course is an advanced introduction into certain key concepts and issues involved in thinking philosophically about art. Six main topics are covered: (1) the ontology of art, i.e., what makes art what it is and not something else; (2) representation and expression in art; (3) the relation of art to art criticism; (4) art and ethical valuation; (5) art as a political activity; and (6) the relation of art to technology and nature. Readings from classic and contemporary sources..

Radical Politics: Anarchism - ONLINE CLASS
43429 01 (28594)
43429 02 (29149)

9:35-10:50 TR
Cross-listed with CNST 43604

This seminar treats one line of thought in modern political philosophy that poses a direct challenge from the Left to liberal theories of democracy: anarchism. Issues covered: anti-Statism, the relation of civil society to politics, conceptions of work, theory of property, nature of revolution, and anarchism’s view of socialism and communism. Selected readings from: William Godwin, Joseph-Pierre Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, Gustav Landauer, Emma Goldman, Rudolf Rocker, and David Graeber.

Philosophy of Race
43433 01 (31149)

12:45-2:00 TR
Departmental Approval Required

M/W Majors level seminar. Department permission is needed to enroll in this course (for those students with philosophy majors or other departmental affiliation this is routine via departmental advising).

Requirements: significant paper writing; in class exercises; no exams.

This course will be divided into two main units. First, we will explore a variety of views about the metaphysics of race. The organizing question is “What is Race?”. Second, we will ask and attempt to answer a variety of applied ethics and public policy issues centered around race. Examples of such topics include affirmative action, racial profiling practices, reparations, and more.

The course will be discussion intensive with many in class collaborative exercises and debate questions.

Metaphysics of the Social World - ONLINE CLASS
43444 01 (32107)

12:45-2:00 MW

This class will use metaphysics to examine the natures of a wide range of social entities and phenomena. Topics discussed will include the metaphysics of social kinds, including gender, race, and disability; the metaphysics of social groups, like baseball teams, the Beatles, and the Supreme Court; the metaphysics of social entities, like restaurants; the metaphysics of social relationships and activities, like love and video games; the metaphysics of virtual reality and cryptocurrency; and the metaphysics of food. We will end by discussing the metaphysics of collective responsibility.

The Metaphysics of Time and Time Travel - ONLINE CLASS
43505 01 (31148)

2:20-3:35 MW

This course will cover topics on time travel ranging from the classic to the cutting edge, including the possibility and coherence of time travel, metaphysical models of time travel, closed time-like curves, causal loops, practical problems with time travel, and requirements for the survival of time travelers. Readings will be primarily in philosophy, though time travel in literature and in movies will be frequently examined. The course will also include general topics in the metaphysics of time related to time travel, including what sorts of times exist, the nature of temporal passage, the direction of time, the existence and nature of the objective present, and temporal/ modal analogies.

43605 01 (31147)

12:45-2:00 TR

Pragmatism is a label applied to a loose collection of philosophical ideas that emphasize the contingency, historical situated-ness, continuity with natural science, and behavior-dependence of what are sometimes thought of as fundamental philosophical categories such as knowledge, truth, beauty, existence, and social welfare. In this class we will try to learn about and compare some of the more prominent strains of pragmatism together with their frequent criticisms of other philosophical attitudes. We will read and discuss original pragmatist writings of Dewey, Addams, Holmes, Du Boise, Peirce, and James alongside Louis Menand's history of the "American Pragmatist" movement. Then we will look at later writings by people like Quine, Putnam, Austen, Wittgenstein, Maddy, Haack, West, and Rorty. The pragmatist program is sometimes thought of as purely destructive, but its aspiration has always been to prepare us to see something hidden away by our philosophical superstitions. So as well as tearing things down, we will try to catch a glimpse of something new.

Ethics and Policy in Technology Management
43722 01 (31146)
11:10-12:25 TR
Cross-listed with STV 40218 and HPS 93828

New technologies reshape our lives and our world at an ever-accelerating pace, often for the better, but sometimes for the worse. Anxiety grows ever more acute that we have passed a tipping point beyond which intentional, human control of technology development is impossible. But we must assert such control as we can. An emerging body of philosophical literature proposes different mechanisms for doing that. Starting from deep philosophical reflection on the nature of technology, itself, and the manner of its social and cultural embedding, this literature moves on to assay the many urgent ethical questions posed by such technologies as synthetic biology, artificial intelligence, robots, autonomous systems, and nano-scale engineering. Contributors to this literature often conclude with proposed, general policy-making frameworks and specific policy advice. This course will survey the most important such literature.

The course is designed for advanced undergraduates and selected graduate students. It assumes no specific background, beyond a good undergraduate preparation in philosophy, with, perhaps, some focus on ethics and some ability to digest a modest amount of technical information.

Joint Seminar: Seeing Good
43801 01 (21464)
J. Grillo & T. Cory
8:00-9:15 TR
Cross-listed with THEO 43203
Department Approval Required

Part of the Catholic intellectual tradition is a long thread of reflection about the making of images, particularly religious images. From biblical and Platonic roots through the great iconoclast controversies and the upheavals of the Reformations to the age of mechanical reproduction, the problematics of the image – and particularly of the religious image – have been articulated across different discourses and in dialogue with artistic production. This course will bring together primary texts from the disciplines of philosophy and theology in order to explore questions such as: How are images like and unlike other things (objects, persons, texts) in their particular ways of mediating presence and in their religious functioning? How do the categories of iconoclasm and idolatry help in understanding the ways and uses of images? How do images maintain their covert power within various forms of aniconism, ancient and modern? Could there be new common ecumenical or inter-religious ground in the understanding of images generated by conversation between theology and philosophy?

Jewish Theology in the Medieval Islamic World
43821 01 (32287)
J. Brown
9:35-10:50 MW
Cross-listed with THEO 40285, THEO 60226, MI 40485, and MI 60485

This course provides an introduction to medieval rabbinic theology through the close study of The Book of Knowledge, a canonical work that defines the curriculum of Jewish thought. This foremost work, composed in twelfth-century Cairo by the Andalusian emigre Moses Maimonides, distills the vast domain of rabbinic theology into a concise legal code. The book treats central topics of religion—divinity, prophecy, cosmology, angelology, character formation, education, idolatry, and repentance (among others)—in a philosophical vein. Students will not only gain access to these central topics in medieval Jewish theology, but also study Maimonides’s codification of these topics within the evolution of rabbinic thought, and its broader intellectual context within the medieval Islamic world. Maimonides (who was studied by a host of Christian scholastics) is of central importance for students of medieval theology and philosophy, and similarly relevant for students of comparative theology, systematic theology, as well as those researching the cultural history of the medieval Mediterranean.

Philosophy of Mind
43901 01 (24583)
43901 02 (27235) - Reserved for Glynn Honors Program

Cross-listed with CDT 43510

This course examines fundamental questions about the mind and its place in nature. Questions to be addressed include: what is the relationship between mind and matter? What is the self? How does the mind perceive the world? What is the nature of artificial intelligence: could a machine have a mind like ours?

Modal Logic
43913 01 (31145)
12:45-2:00 TR
Cross-listed with PHIL 93921

This course will cover topics in the metatheory of modal logic. We will start with some basic correspondence theory, and then move on to discuss completeness and the finite model property. If there's time, we'll also try to cover some recent work on the relationship between modal logic and classical logic. This course has no formal prerequisites, since we'll start pretty much from scratch. That being said, the material is fairly technical, so a degree of comfort with formal work is required.

Infinity in Philosophy - ONLINE CLASS
43923 01 (31144)
2:20-3:35 TR

Thinking about infinity has been part of philosophy since its earliest days, and mathematical advances in the theory of infinity mean it remains an important area for philosophy today. This course will examine some ancient and early modern puzzles about infinity as well as contemporary philosophical issues. Issues to be discussed will include puzzles about infinite divisibility of space and time; paradoxes of infinite decision theory; infinite regress arguments; and paradoxes associated with the "absolute infinite" in mathematics.

Self and Identity - ONLINE CLASS
43928 01 (32056)

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. The first half of the course will focus on the metaphysics of personal identity and the self, with heavy emphasis on narrative conceptions of the self; the remainder will focus on the metaphysics of social identities (e.g., gender and race) and on transformation of the self.

Senior Thesis
48499 01 (20970)

Department Approval Required