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.
Fall 2020 Courses
Ancient & Medieval Philosophy - ONLINE CLASS
30301 01 (11469)
30301 02 (13857) - Reserved for Glynn Honors Program
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 (14749)
Cross-listed with MI 30301-03 (20406)
This course is a survey of themes concerning metaphysics, mind, and knowledge, in key ancient and medieval philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Avicenna, Aquinas, and Ockham. Attention will also be paid to pre-Socratic antecedents to Plato, and late antique philosophical schools. We will read primary texts, and coursework will include papers, exams, and presentations.
History of Modern Philosophy
30302 01 (10973)
30302 02 (16125) - Reserved for Glynn Honors Program
We will be studying the sweeping transformations of philosophy in the 17th and 18th centuries by examining some of the leading philosophers of that era: Descartes, Elisabeth, Malebranche, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. Our main focus will be on their innovations in metaphysics, philosophy of mind, philosophical theology, and the natural sciences, innovations that continue to shape the agenda in contemporary philosophy.
Gateway Seminar - Freedom and the Common Good
30304 01 (15996)
Department Approval Required
Today, political discourse tends to be dominated by various flavors of democratic theory and liberal theory. Republican theory, however—from Aristotle to Machiavelli to Hannah Arendt and Philip Pettit—possesses a long and distinguished tradition of thought and, because of its focus on the construction of enduring institutions, has been equally influential on history, acting as an important influence on 18th century revolutionaries and the founding of the American and French Republics.
In this class, we will consider the main ideas of republican theory, focusing on those that are most fundamental and most distinct or most interesting. We will be interested in particular on the republican debate over the nature of freedom—political participation vs. non-domination—as well as human nature, whether human beings are naturally political animals or only so by convention, the relationships between justice and liberty and between liberty and equality, the importance of institutional stability, and the vexed, but vital, question of how to define the common good.
The course will proceed in three parts. Part I will introduce fundamental republican ideas and familiarize students with debate between the “Athenian” and the “Roman” streams of republican theory. Part II will explore some of the main debates within republican theory and between republican theory and its rivals: democratic theory, monarchical theory, liberal theory, and radical theory. Finally, Part III will examine how republican theory could respond to contemporary debates.
Gateway Seminar - Plato
30304 03 (15997)
Department Approval Required
Plato’s Republic contains many ideas about many topics; most of the topics are of manifest human interest, and most of the ideas are developed with tremendous imagination and power. But though in these respects the book is an ideal text for a Gateway Seminar, it is also a very demanding text: it is an advanced book, not addressed to beginners; it is a long book, devoted to a single, complicated line of argument; and it is an old book, set in a world that is rather alien to us nowadays. Still, on the principle that few things worth doing are easy, and that anything worth doing is worth doing well, we will have a crack at it and read Plato’s Republic, in its entirety, slowly, with an eye to exploring, at leisure and in freedom, both the ideas the book contains and the ideas it provokes in us. (We will begin with some shorter dialogues; these we will read more quickly, to familiarize ourselves with some figures, themes, problems, etc.)
The Examined Life
30305 01 (16218)
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
30313 01 (15297)
30313 02 (16126) - Reserved for Glynn Honors Program
Formal Logic is the Philosophy Department's basic course in logic. Logic is one of the central philosophical topics, thus standing alongside aesthetics, epistemology, ethics, hermeneutics, and metaphysics. It is the study of the relationships that attain among facts, beliefs, and propositions independently of contingent features of reality. The modem approach to this study is through the development of formal languages, their interpretation, and their systematic implementation. Such will be the approach of this course. The formal language that we'll develop is that of classical, first-order logic. We will also learn to recognize the features of other logical systems (free, intuitionistic, second-order, and multi-valued logic) and to appreciate their significance.
Seminar in Philosophy, Science, and Math
30329 01 (14839)
Department Approval Required
This is the core seminar for the major and minor concentrations in Philosophy, Science and Mathematics. Enrollment restricted to students registered in the major/minor.
Technology, Ethics, and Imagination
30330 01 (21313)
McKenna (Law School)
5:40-8:40 pm M
Department Approval Required
Science fiction has long been a vehicle for reflecting on the ethical and humanistic dimensions of technological advances. Fiction can offer ethical arguments for or against uses of technology. It can enable us to see threats, puzzles, and opportunities for moral progress that were previously unappreciated. Fiction can help us uncover inconsistencies in our reasoning about what is technologically possible. And reflection on the possibilities technology offers can help us appreciate dimensions of our humanity that were previously obscure to us.
In this course, we’ll consider how contemporary science fiction authors play these roles in our thinking about technology and ethics. We’ll conduct a close study of writing from Ted Chiang, arguably one of the most important authors in this genre. Chiang will join us for 2-3 class sessions to offer masterclasses on his process of engaging with these ethical questions as a speculative fiction writer. We’ll study recent technological developments, philosophical theories, and policy debates that these stories engage with. And we’ll learn how to craft rigorous ethical arguments in three formats: philosophical analysis, policy brief, and narrative.
This is a three credit class, meeting Monday nights from 5:00-8:00pm, with some dinners (especially when Ted Chiang is in town) and films. The course fulfills the second philosophy requirement and is open to majors/minors in Philosophy, English, Creative Writing, Computer Science, FTT, and STV, as well as graduate students in Philosophy and in the Law School.
Enrollment in this course is by application. To apply, please submit to Kellye Mitros (firstname.lastname@example.org) a statement (no longer than 500 words) describing your interest in the course and why you’d be a particularly interesting contributor. Your submission can be in the form of science fiction, but the intelligence must not be artificial. Deadline to apply is April 17, 2020.
43129 01 (21339)
43129 02 (21340) - Reserved for Glynn Honors Program
This is an introductory course in classical Chinese philosophy. We’ll focus on philosophy from the Warring States periods (475-221BC), which saw the rise of the “Hundred Schools of Thought.” In particular, we'll trace the development of early Confucianism, focusing on three philosophers: Confucius, Mencius, and Xunzi. We’ll also look at the ways in which these philosophers influenced and were influenced by philosophers from rival traditions, like Mohism, Yangism, the School of Logic, Daoism, and Legalism.
Dante and Aristotle - ONLINE CLASS
43138 01 (17284)
43183 02 (17550) - Reserved for Glynn Honors Program
Duarte and Karnes
Cross-listed with PRL 33117-01, ENGL 40181-01, and MI 43302-01
In this course, we will be reading Dante’s Commedia as well as works by Aristotle and various medieval philosophers and theologians. Our aim will be to understand the way an Aristotelian worldview informs the Commedia. We will look at the cosmology of the work and consider how it responds to ancient and medieval theories of the cosmos. We will also investigate the ethics of Dante’s famous journey to hell, purgatory, and heaven with a view to identifying its Aristotelian elements. For instance, what is the role of pleasure in the ethical life? What is the highest good of the human being? How should human beings live in such a way as to achieve their highest end? All readings will be in translation. No prior knowledge of Dante or Aristotle is required.
Hegel - ONLINE CLASS
43170 01 (20407)
43170 02 (20408) - Reserved for Glynn Honors Program
A seminar in which we discuss Hegel’s epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and social and political philosophy through an intensive reading of some of his early essays and the Phenomenology of Spirit.
43301 01 (20409)
43301 02 (20410) - Reserved for Glynn Honors Program
This seminar explores major texts in the history of ethics, with a view to understanding both moral theories and their authors’ conceptions of how we can know moral truths. Part I deals with Aristotelian virtue ethics, Mill’s utilitarianism, Kant’s master principle view centered on the categorical imperative, and W. D. Ross’s commonsense intuitionism (the least famous, but not least practiced of the four most prominent kinds of moral theory). Part II explores contemporary moral theories, including contractualism as found in John Rawls, T. M. Scanlon, the nature and basis of reasons for action, and the theory of value. Part III is devoted to presentations of papers by the participants. These papers, revised in the light of both comments provided by the instructor and the give and take of the seminar discussions, constitute term papers. The papers normally go through several drafts and are the main written work. The seminar has two broad kinds of aims: to enhance understanding of ethical perspectives, moral theories, and moral knowledge and to improve skills in both oral presentations and writing.
Philosophy and Film - ONLINE CLASS
43333 01 (20411)
43333 02 (20412) -Reserved for Glynn Honors Program
Film has drawn the attention of philosophers and cultural theorists almost from its inception and has increasingly become a topic of interest in contemporary academic philosophy. Various directors and movements in film history have likewise been concerned with various philosophical questions and themes. A number of features of the medium make it open to philosophical investigation – its appeal to mass audiences and its social impact, questions of viewer identification, aesthetic questions about features of film like editing techniques and genre conventions, and its relationship to other art forms and new media.
This course will explore these issues and others at the intersection of philosophy and film, drawing on readings from film theory, traditional philosophy, and cultural criticism. Screenings will be drawn from a broad range of genres from the silent era to the present day.
Metaethics: Truth in Ethics - ONLINE CLASS
43335 01 (20413)
43335 02 (20414) - Reserved for Glynn Honors Program
This module will deal with a range of core issues in contemporary meta-ethics. Topics covered will include the question of whether our moral judgements truly describe some feature of our decisions, actions and character; the objectivity of moral judgements; whether our ordinary moral judgements might be radically mistaken; and what methods are appropriate for moral inquiry.
Philosophy of Law
43403 01 (20415)
In this majors level seminar we will explore one foundational topic in criminal law and a couple of pressing practical issues in criminal law guided by recent systematic explorations of the topics.
What is the relation between ignorance of law and criminal liability? Is ignorance of the law a complete or partial excuse? Should ignorance of the law be relevant as a mitigating factor? Is ignorance of the law wholly irrelevant to issues of criminal liability – perhaps ignorance is “no excuse” at all? We will work through these and related issues in a close reading of Douglas Husak’s *Ignorance of Law* (OUP 2016), in which Husak defends the provocative view that ignorance of law should typically be a complete excuse from criminal liability.
We will likely explore the following two issues in some detail. First, what typically goes wrong procedurally, if anything, when things do go wrong in death penalty cases? The stakes are high and the issues are important. Second, though felonies get most of the attention, misdemeanors in the criminal justice system raise important distinctive issues. We will give this neglected issue some attention.
Requirements – significant paper writing and in class discussions. This course is a majors level philosophy course but suitably interested non-majors (most likely advanced pre-law majors) might seek permission if spots remain open after the initial enrolment period.
43404 01 (11505)
Keys and Weithman
Department Approval Required
Cross-listed with POLS 43640-01 and ECON 33250-01
The Justice Seminar undertakes a critical examination of major theories of justice, using both contemporary works (e.g., John Rawls' A Theory of Justice and Kenneth Arrow's seminal papers on voting theory) and historical classics (e.g., Aristotle's Politics and the Lincoln-Douglas debates). The seminar requires substantial written work and discussion. This is the core course for the minor in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (P.P.E.).
Contemporary Political Philosophy - ONLINE CLASS
43443 01 (20416)
43443 02 (20417) - Reserved for Glynn Honors Program
This course will focus on the work of four really great contemporary political philosophers: John Rawls, Robert Nozick, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Susan Okin, and on how their views are related. We will begin with Rawls's A Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism. We will then consider Robert Nozick's challenge to Rawls from within the liberal tradition in his State Anarchy and Utopia. Then we will take up Alasdair MacIntyre's critique of the liberal tradition and in particular Rawls's and Nozick's views in After Virtue and the Aristotelian/Thomistic alternative MacIntyre offers in that work and most recently in Ethics in the Conflict of Modernity. Lastly, we will take up Susan Okin's critique of Rawls, Nozick, and MacIntryre from a feminist perspective in Justice, Gender and the Family. We will also take up some very recent work on gender relations, Caroline Perez’s Invisible Women, and climate change, David Wallace-Wells’s The Uninhabitable Earth to better determine how these theories apply in our contemporary world.
The goal of the course is for each student to figure out what they should take away from the clashing political perspectives of these four contemporary political philosophers. To that end, students will write two papers and participate in class discussions. In the first paper (15 pages), each student will assess the conflict between Rawls and Nozick. In the second paper (25 pages), students will integrate the conclusions that they reached in their first papers and their assessments of the further challenges of MacIntyre and Okin with special application to the issues of gender relations and climate change.
John Rawls, A Theory of Justice
John Rawls, Political Liberalism
Robert Nozick, State Anarchy and Utopia (Revised Edition)
Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Third Edition)
Alasdair MacIntyre, Ethics in the Conflict of Modernity
Susan Okin, Justice, Gender and the Family
Caroline Perez, Invisible Women
David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth
The Science-Gender Connection - ONLINE CLASS
43721 01 (20427)
43721 02 (20978) - Reserved for Glynn Honors Program
Cross-listed with PHIL 93828-01, GSC 53515-01, GSC 63515-01, and HPS 93838-01
Through much of its history, academia has been gendered in a particular way—male dominated, focused on men’s interests, and privileging those interests—and much of it still is. In response, the area of enquiry known as women’s studies or gender studies emerged in the 1970s as part of the feminist movement. In this course we will explore gender, the concept that lies at the heart of this area of enquiry. We will find that this concept is as complex and multi-faceted as the diverse disciplines from which it now draws and as political as its feminist origins suggest. We will also find that it is fraught with controversy. Though the disciplines that contribute to the idea of gender comprise nearly all of academia, we will concentrate on the sciences, from which the concept of gender first emerged. We will start with the gendered origins of the concept—the gender of science—and then proceed to the science that developed as a result—the science of gender; and we will conclude with some questions concerning the connection between the two—the gender of science and the science of gender.
No particular scientific background will be presupposed, and visits from science faculty will be organized to help us understand the terrain we will be covering. The rest of the time the course will be run as a seminar. Students will lead class discussions, present the results of individual research projects to the group, and have the opportunity to further develop those projects using feedback from the group. Throughout, our aim will be for each student to develop a fully informed and defensible response to the controversial terrain we will be exploring.
Technology and Human Persons
43724 01 (17902)
43724 02 (17914) - Reserved for Glynn Honors Program
Department Approval Required
This seminar explores metaphysical, moral, and social issues raised by digital technologies. Although the underlying questions are not entirely new, recent developments in artificial intelligence, data gathering, cognitive enhancement, virtual worlds, social media, and smartphones raise important philosophical issues about the nature and values of human persons that have consequences for the habits we form, the relationships we cultivate, the goals we pursue, the practices we allow, the institutions and cities we build – in general, for the kinds of lives we lead. We begin with a quick overview of the history and current state of artificial intelligence, with special attention to deep learning and neural networks. Our first main unit explores the nature of persons, minds and consciousness in ways that connect artificial intelligence debates with the philosophy of mind and value theory. We then turn to philosophical discussions of more exotic digital topics, such as mind uploading, the singularity and virtual worlds. In the final arc, we will listen to voices of digital resistance and consider arguments for and against the increasingly pervasive intrusion of digital technology in our lives and society.
This is a majors-level philosophy seminar. Before taking this course, students must have completed a minimum of two other philosophy courses, including PHIL 30302. Class expectations include regular contributions to discussion, outside class exercises, several shorter writing assignments throughout the term, and a longer, research-based seminar paper.
Philosophy of Cosmology - ONLINE CLASS
43725 01 (21001)
43725 02 (21016) - Reserved for Glynn Honors Program
Cross-listed with PHIL 93894-01 and HPS 93894-01
We will focus on philosophical and foundational issues as they arise in modern cosmology. There are two themes that will recur through the course: (i) the role played by various “principles” in furthering our understanding of cosmological theories—such as the cosmological principle, the anthropic principle(s), and the principle of indifference; and (ii) the nature of certain outstanding problems with the theory of cosmic inflation. These themes will arise in a broader discussion of issues that will include: laws and explanation in cosmology; probabilistic reasoning in theories of single and multiple universes; and problems in accounting for the very earliest moments, viz. “just after” the putative big-bang singularity.
Philosophy of Mathematics ONLINE CLASS
43906 01 (20418)
43906 02 (20419) - Reserved for Glynn Honors Program
Mathematical knowledge forms a fascinating part of human knowledge. Somehow this science, which appears to develop without any empirical input, turns out to be absolutely crucial for empirical science and practical work. One of the issues we’ll be interested in is the attempt to explain this dual nature of mathematics: its apparently non-empirical foundation and its extremely empirical applicability. We will also be interested in the nature of mathematical truth itself: are mathematical truths like the truths of physics in that they’re independent of us, or is there something about math that makes it more tied to human ways of representing the world? We will examine a number of influential views of the nature of mathematical truth and knowledge, from ancient ones (e.g. Plato’s) to 20th-century ones (e.g. Frege’s logicism, Brouwer’s intuitionism). We will be interested in different notions of infinity, and the importance of these for mathematical truth as a whole. We will also examine the impact of such technical developments as the advent of modern quantified logic, and the proof of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, on our understanding of the nature of mathematics. By the end of the course, students will understand the history of some important themes in the philosophy of mathematics, will have a better understanding of some of the challenges involved in accounting for mathematical knowledge, and will have a good grasp of some modern foundational work in mathematics. Requirements include several essays and exams.
43907 01 (17569)
43907 02 (17570) - Reserved for Glynn Honors Program
Cross-listed with PHIL 83901
48499 01 (10703)
Department Approval Required