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 2019

Ancient & Medieval Philosophy
30301 01 (21406)

2:00-3:15 TR
Cross-listed with MI 30301 01

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 02 (27627)

2:00-3:15 TR
Cross-listed with MI 30301 02

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.

History of Modern Philosophy
30302 01 (20702)

12:30-1:45 TR

The sweeping scientific revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries paralleled the development of sweeping new approaches to philosophy. Of particular concern to these so-called “modern philosophers” was to understand the relationship between human beings and the natural world, especially in the light of the emerging new scientific picture. In this course, we will explore many facets of this relationship: the relationship between the mind and the body; the nature, role and knowledge of God; skepticism and knowledge of the external world; the possibility of human freedom; the possibility of miracles; causation; and the nature of the fundamentally real. As we will see along the way, many of the new methods, problems and proposed solutions surrounding these topics are the very methods, problems, and solutions still driving contemporary philosophy.

Readings will be drawn mainly from Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. Requirements: 2 papers, 2 exams, occasional short writing exercises.

Gateway Seminar: Self-Knowledge and Identity
30304 01 (30880)
11:00-12:15 TR

Who am I? How did I become the person I am now? Who am I trying to be? – These are fundamental questions that we all ask ourselves from time to time, especially in moments of decision, reflection, or crisis. This seminar invites all participants to think through these questions by engaging in a dialogue with major figures of the history of philosophy and of psychology, as well as with contemporary philosophers. We will read texts, among others, from Aristotle, Augustine, D. Hume, J.-J. Rousseau, I. Kant, W. James, J.-P. Sartre, and C.G. Jung, as well as from Christine Korsgaard, Richard Moran, and Anthony Appiah. These authors will help us to understand the intricate relationship between self-knowledge, personal identity, and self-constitution. We will delve in particular into questions of self-expression (Part i), rational commitment (Part ii), self-fulfillment (Part iii), and social identity (Part iv).

Gateway Seminar
30304 02 (30881)

12:30-1:45 MW

This course examines fundamental questions about the mind and its place in nature. Questions to be addressed include: what is the relationship between the mind and the brain? Can the existence of consciousness be reconciled with a materialist view of the world? Do we directly perceive the external world, or do we only directly perceive internal mental images? What is the self?

Gateway Seminar
30304 03 (30882)

12:30-1:45 MW

This class will focus on two of the most important challenges to Christian faith:  the problem of evil, and the problem of divine hiddenness. If God is good, why does God permit evil?  If God loves us like a perfect heavenly parent, why don’t we have much more compelling evidence of God’s existence, and why don’t we more frequently experience tangible signs of divine love--comfort in the midst of suffering, assurances that we can clearly recognize as coming from God, and so on?  These questions, and the more rigorous philosophical challenges built upon them, invite us to examine not only the rationality of belief in God but also the proper understanding of key divine attributes—especially divine goodness and divine love. The main texts for the class will be Hud Hudson’s philosophical novel, A Grotesque in the Garden and accompanying essays, Michael Rea’s The Hiddenness of God, and a variety of related articles posted on Sakai.  Course requirements will probably include two or three short papers (1,500 words maximum) and one longer paper (3,000 words maximum).

Philosophy as a Way of Life
30305 01 (26446)
2:00-3:15 TR

A companion to God and the Good Life, this course will address the ways in which philosophy, as an intellectual discipline or set of practices, can contribute both to our understanding of meaning in life and to our actually living meaningful lives. This semester we will focus on a range of issues in the philosophy of ecology, especially those, such as global climate change and mass extinction that may seem to threaten the possibility of living meaningful lives at all. Readings will come primarily from the American tradition of environmental writing, since we have inherited that tradition as students at an American university. Classes will proceed in seminar fashion, with an open discussion format that emphasizes thoughtful consideration of various and opposing points of view.

Formal Logic
30313 01 (20216)

12:30-1:45 MW

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. \Ve will also learn to recognize the features of other logical systems (free, intuitionistic, second-order, and multi-valued logic) and to appreciate their significance.

Philosophy Issues in Physics
30389 01 (30883)
2:00-3:15 TR

Center stage in this course are the foundations of space and time, understood as concepts in ongoing development and for use in theorizing about physics and cosmology. As we will see, how we have come to understand these concepts today is intimately wed with both how we have come to understand the nature of matter and fields, as well as how we have come to understand the large-scale history of the universe. Note: this course will focus entirely on classical (i.e. not quantum) physics. 

Plato’s Images of Love and Death
43117 01 (30885)
9:30-10:45 MW

The primary work of this seminar will be to study three dialogues of Plato devoted to love and death: Phaedo, Symposium, and Phaedrus. The secondary work of the seminar will be to consider the relation between philosophy and literature, and the arts more generally. We will study some other works that supplement Plato's dialogues, probably including selections from the Gospels, the ancient poets Homer and Ovid, Shakespeare, and modern poets and artists. The course will be a true seminar, where students will respond to the writing of other students as an essential part of the course. I will also be sharing with the seminar some writing of my own on the course material. (I would also be happy to arrange a time for any students who would like to read some of Plato in Greek, probably for an extra course credit.)

Contemporary Continental Philosophy
43117 01 (30885)
5:05-6:20 TR
Cross-listed with PHIL 93303 01

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.

43312 01 (27633)
2:00-3:15 TR

This seminar is devoted to the ontology of the visual arts, roughly the most general features that make a kind of art the kind of art it is. We shall read and discuss both historical and contemporary materials, dividing the course into four sections, each pertaining to a type of visual art: sculpture, painting, photography, and film.

Feminism and Philosophy
43338 01 (30887)
12:30-1:45 MW
Cross listed with GSC 40538 01, GSC 60538 01, and STV 43338 01

This course will examine numerous topics related to feminism from a contemporary analytic philosophical perspective, including the nature of biological sex and gender, gender equality, misogyny, implicit bias, epistemic harm, objectification, intersectionality, and sexual consent. Readings will be drawn from philosophy, fiction, history, and contemporary media.

Philosophy of Law
43403 01 (30890)
11:00-12:15 MW

In this majors level seminar we will explore two topics in the foundation of criminal law guided by recent systematic explorations of the topics.

Why punish children less severely than adults for the same criminal offenses? This is something most of us think we should do (perhaps all else equal). But there is no consensus on the justification of this standard position. Guided by Gideon Yaffe’s recent book on this topic (*The Age of Culpability*, OUP 2018) we will explore this issue in some depth. 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 – ignorance is perhaps “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.
The two topics sketched above are not unrelated and we will spend some time considering connections between them.

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 enrollment period

43506 01 (30891)
3:30-6:15 M

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).

Joint Seminar in Theology and Philosophy: Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky
43801 01 (21615)
Astell and Jech
9:30-10:45 TR
Cross-listed with THEO 43203 01

In this class we will read two of the great thinkers of the 19th century, Søren Kierkegaard and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Writing during a time of increasing prosperity, liberty, and enlightenment, both found much that was troubling or naïve in the age’s conviction in the liberating and transformative power of reason, and provided analyses of the human condition and the self whose power and insight continue to provoke and challenge.

We will focus on three themes that unite this analysis of the human condition: freedom, faith, and the father. Every human being must form the self in freedom, but when freedom is made subject to nothing but reason it becomes trapped in its own irresolvable perplexities concerning its origin and its destination. The course will raise the question of what “the self” is, how reason and freedom are related to the self, how relationships structure and limit the self, how faith, reason, and the self are interrelated, in what sense despair represents the disordered self, and the different ways that Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky envision faith and love as unifying and completing the self.

Projected texts:
Kierkegaard: Either / Or; Fear and Trembling; Sickness unto Death; selections from Philosophical Fragments, The Concept of Anxiety, and Concluding Unscientific Postscript.
Dostoevsky: Notes from Underground; Crime and Punishment; The Brothers Karamazov

Projected assignments:
One paper on Kierkegaard; one paper on Dostoevsky; and one comparative dialogue

Philosophy of Mind
43901 01 (25465)
12:30-1:45 TR
Cross-listed with CDT 43510 01, and STV 43901 01

This course gives an introduction to the philosophy of mind for undergraduates who have taken at least two previous philosophy courses. During the semester you will be introduced to core issues in the philosophy of mind through reading and discussing in class a set of carefully picked classic articles on key topics.  In the first half-semester we will cover: the nature of our everyday mental concepts of sensation, perception, belief, desire, emotions and feelings etc; in doing this, we will consider both behaviourist and functionalist accounts of everyday mental concepts. We will consider the relation between mind and body, looking at Descartes’ classic argument for dualism, and more modern arguments for the irreducibility of concepts of conscious states to more ‘objective’ ones of neuroscience and the brain. In the second half semester we will consider what makes for the persistence of the same person over a lifetime in which they undergo much change, contrasting bodily versus psychological continuity accounts; the possibility and nature of self-deception; the nature of action and everyday explanations of action; and we will discuss emotions.

The course is examined in 3 components: a mid-term exam done in class time (30%); a shorter term paper (max 2,500 words) based on material covered in class in the first half-semester (30%), and a longer paper (max 3,500 words) based on material covered in class in the second half-semester, but for which you are expected also to do some further independent reading (40%).

The Origins of Analytic Philosophy
43904 01 (30892)
9:30-10:45 TR
Cross-listed with STV 43904 01

In this course, we investigate the foundations of 20th-century analytic philosophy through a careful reading of such authors as Frege, Russell, Stebbing, Carnap, Wittgenstein, Anscombe,  Tarski, and Quine. We will focus on the connection between the broadly empiricist outlook of

many members of this group (the idea, roughly, that all knowledge should somehow "rest on" information given by the senses), and the new techniques of analysis which gave rise to bold new theses about the meanings of ordinary sentences and of mathematical and scientific theories.  We will investigate the extent to which both the successes and the failures of this group of thinkers have had a lasting influence on the ways in which we now think about science, language, and philosophy.  The course will be partly lecture and partly seminar; active participation is required of all students. Papers and exams.

Infinity in Philosophy
43923 01 (30893)
2:00-3:15 MW
Cross-listed with STV 43923 01 and HPS 83923 01

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.

Set Theory
43925 01 (30894)
9:30-10:45 MW
Cross-listed with PHIL 93933 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.

Game Theory
43926 01 (30895)
11:00-12:15 TR
Cross-listed with STV 43926 01

Game theory is the study of strategic decision making, used to analyze decisions in situations where the outcome of your choice depends on the choices of others. Studying game theory can aid in your understanding of how to make rational decisions in various situations during your everyday life. Game theory is also used to study decision making in a variety of academic fields including economics, politics, biology, and philosophy.