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Philosophy

Course Information

NEW PHILOSOPHY COURSES FOR SPRING 2014!

PHIL 120 Existentialism: An introduction (W)

Existentialism is considered to be one of the 20th century’s most important philosophical movements, with key figures such as Sartre, Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty. In the aftermath of Nietzsche’s famous claim that God is dead, together with the sensation of a loss of a foundation for human and moral values after the two world wars, existentialism seeks to examine the philosophical and ethical conditions for human existence that can no longer take transcendent foundations for granted. What becomes of moral responsibility, if no moral values are absolutely given? What is freedom, if no longer granted by divine or human essence? How can meaning be created, and on what grounds, if no higher meaning is given anymore? In this course, we will explore a number of existentialist questions and themes, such as meaning, nihilism, humanism, the absurd and anguish, but also hope, ethics and intersubjectivity through various texts by such as Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Camus, Beauvoir, Heidegger and Arendt, and also through literature and films inspired by or inspiring for the existentialist movement: Beckett, Kafka, Dostoievski and Bergman among others.

Class format: Seminar
Requirements/Evaluation: Each week, you will write a 1-2 page paper corresponding to the reading assignment. In addition to that, you will write a 5-6 page paper on assigned topics for mid-term and for finals. Active participation in class discussions is required.
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment preference: First year students and sophomores.
Divisional Attributes: Division II, Writing Intensive
Enrollment Limit: 19
Instructor: Fredrika Spindler

PHIL 210T Nietzsche: How one becomes, what one is (W)

It might seem curious to read Nietzsche starting out from his very last book: his autobiography, Ecce Homo. Indeed, this book was written right before his mental and physical breakdown, leading a good many commentators to assume that its unusual tone – with chapters bearing titles such as “Why I am so wise” or “Why I write such good books” – already constitutes a prelude to Nietzsche’s final collapse and thus invalidates itself as philosophy. However, a closer reading reveals this book to be not only one of the best possible starting points to Nietzsche’s own philosophy precisely because he gives us an overview and a critical analysis of his whole project through a reading of his previous books, but also makes it possible for us to raise a certain number of questions central to philosophy itself. What is the self, the “autos” concerned in a philosophical autobiography, and what does it mean to, as Nietzsche says, “become what one is”? How can the history of philosophy be understood it we apply a Nietzschean genealogy to its Socratic heritage of “knowing oneself”, and how can we understand its necessary and continuous overcoming of itself? Through Nietzsche’s own re-reading of a number of his books – The Birth of Tragedy, The Genealogy of Morals, Human, all too Human, Thus spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil and The Gay Science, among others, he invites us to undertake an investigation of some of his key questions – body and mind, health and illness, knowledge and creation, morals and ethics, nihilism, affirmation and Amor Fati. Hereby, is rendered possible an open discussion about the power and destiny of philosophical thinking, about its relation to history and its need for “untimeliness”, about its critical capacity to question its own foundations, and its ability to create while – sometimes – also destroying.

Literature: Friedrich Nietzsche: Ecce Homo; selections from The birth of Tragedy, The Genealogy of Morals, Human, all too Human, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, The Gay Science, The Will to Power, Posthumous Fragments.
Secondary literature: Deleuze, Foucault, Heidegger, Kaufmann, Kofman, Plato, and others.
Class format: Tutorial
Requirements/Evaluation: Each week one student will write a 5-6-page paper on the assigned reading and the other student will write a 2-3-page critical response paper.
Prerequisites: At least one previous course of philosophy, or permission of instructor.
Enrollment preference: current and prospective Philosophy majors and students with a sufficient background in political or critical theory
Divisional Attributes: Division II, Writing Intensive
Other Attributes: PHIL History Courses
Enrollment Limit: 10
Instructor: Fredrika Spindler

PHIL 109 T (F)Skepticism and Relativism

Not offered this year

Intellectually, we are ready skeptics and relativists. We doubt, we point out that no one can be certain in what she believes, and we are suspicious of declarations of transcendent reason or truth (unless they are our own). Emboldened by our confidence in skeptical arguments, we claim that knowledge is inevitably limited, that it depends on one's perspective, and that everything one believes is relative to context or culture. No domain of inquiry is immune to this destructive skepticism and confident relativism. Science is only "true" for some people, agnosticism is the only alternative to foolish superstition, and moral relativism and, consequently, nihilism are obvious. But is the best conclusion we can come to with respect to our intellectual endeavors that skepticism always carries the day and that nothing at all is true? In this tutorial, we will investigate the nature of skepticism and the varieties of relativism it encourages. Our readings will come primarily from philosophy, but will be supplemented with material from anthropology, physics, psychology, and linguistics. We will look at relativism with respect to reason and truth in general as well as with respect to science, religion, and morality. Along the way, we will need to come to grips with the following surprising fact. With few exceptions, thoroughgoing skepticism and relativism have not been the prevailing views of the greatest minds in the history of philosophy. Were they simply too unsophisticated and confused to understand what is for us the irresistible power of skepticism and relativism? Or might it be that our skepticism and relativism are the result of our own laziness and failure? Of course, this question cannot really be answered, nor is there any value in trying to answer it, and any "answer" will only be "true" for you. Right? [ more ]

PHIL 112 (F, S)Philosophy and Human Nature

What, if anything, makes us human? Are we fundamentally rational or spiritual? Natural or social? Free or determined? Can we change what and how we are? Are we basically self-interested or other directed? What relevance does knowing our nature have to how we understand and arrange our ethical and political life? Our happiness? How we educate our children? Discipline and punishment? Do men and women share one nature? Is there a fundamental purpose to human life? Can philosophers help us answer any of these questions today? Or have philosophical accounts of nature been surpassed by those found in the natural and social sciences? In this course we critically examine influential philosophical accounts of human nature found in the works of figures such as Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, Hume, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Rawls, Nozick and Foucault. Readings from the natural and social sciences will also be included. [ more ]

PHIL 114 (F, S)Freedom and Society

Freedom is one of our fundamental values. It is emphasized in our founding documents, and it occupies a central place in our contemporary political discourse. But do we ask: What is freedom? and Why do we value it? In the first unit of this course, we will raise these questions by considering the relationship between freedom and society in general. We will read Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. We will then turn to some specific social forms. In the second unit, we will read Adam Smith and Karl Marx on capitalist labor, and Simone de Beauvoir on gender. Our question will be whether these specific social forms enable or prevent our freedom. [ more ]

PHIL 115 (F, S)Personal Identity

Through lectures, discussions, close readings and assigned writings, we will consider some of the variety of philosophical questions about the nature of persons, and personal identity through time. Persons are subjects of experiences, have thoughts and feelings, motivation and agency; a person is thought of as continuous over time, and as related to, recognized and respected by other persons. Thus, the concept of person plays a significant role in most branches of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, moral and political philosophy, and of course in the philosophy of mind. Conceptions of the person are equally important for scientific research programs (especially in psychology), for Law, and for the arts (especially mimetic arts). Questions about persons are thus of central importance for a myriad of our theories and practices, and for the ways in which we live our lives. The aim of this course is to explore and evaluate a number of rival conceptions of persons and personal identity over time. Some of the questions which we will discuss are: What is a person? How do I know that I am one? What constitutes my knowledge of myself as a person, and does that knowledge differ in any significant respect from my knowledge of physical objects and other people? What makes me the particular person that I am, and how is my identity as this individual person preserved over time? While addressing these questions through lectures and class discussions, the course will place special emphasis on developing students' intellectual skills in the following domains: close, analytical reading; recognizing, reconstructing and evaluating claims and reasons that support them; producing original ideas and arguments; writing clear, polished, well-argued papers. [ more ]

PHIL 116 (S)Perception and Reality

Not offered this year

An introduction to philosophy through two of its central themes, the nature of the mind and the limits of knowledge. Topics include skepticism, the mind/body problem, reason, knowledge of the external world, and subjectivity. Our discussions will range over historical and contemporary works, and will draw from both Western and Eastern philosophical traditions. Throughout we will pay special attention to whether and to what degree science sheds light on these issues. [ more ]

PHIL 117 (S)Arguing about God

Not offered this year

"Faith is a fine invention," according to Emily Dickinson's poem, "when gentlemen can see; but microscopes are prudent in an emergency." This introduction to philosophy will see how far the microscopes of reason and logic can carry us in traditional arguments about the existence and nature of God. We will closely analyze classical arguments by Augustine, Avicenna, Aquinas, Anselm, Maimonides, Descartes, and others. Pascal's wager is a different approach: it argues that even though proof of the existence of God is unavailable, you will maximize your expected utility by believing. We will examine the wager in its original home of Pascal's Pensees, and look at William James' related article, "The Will to Believe". The millennia old problem of whether human suffering is compatible with God's perfection is called "the problem of evil". We will examine this issue in Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, classic sources and contemporary articles. Students should be aware that, in the classic tradition, this class resembles a logic course. [ more ]

PHIL 121 (F, S)Truth, Goodness, and Beauty

In our everyday lives, we routinely assume that our clocks can tell us the truth about what time it is, that committing murder is wrong, and that there are people, landscapes, and works of art that are beautiful. But we are also aware that people can and often do disagree about what is true, what is good or right, and what is beautiful. Should the fact of such disagreement lead us to conclude that truth, goodness, and beauty are in some basic sense relative to human beings, perhaps as individuals, perhaps as members of societies or cultures? Some philosophers defend such conclusions, but others argue that truth, goodness, and beauty are "objective," in some important sense, despite the fact that people disagree about them. This introductory course addresses these and related issues. [ more ]

PHIL 122 (F)Philosophical Approaches to Contemporary Moral Issues

Not offered this year

In this course we will examine a number of prominent and controversial social issues, using our study of them both as an opportunity to better understand the moral dimensions of those issues in and of themselves, and to consider the ways in which selected classical and contemporary moral theories characterize and address those moral dimensions. Topics will depend to some extent on student interest, but are likely to include concerns that fall under such headings as euthanasia, famine relief, abortion, capital punishment, terrorism and torture, food ethics, environmental ethics, and the like. Writing assignments will employ a "target essay" approach that involves writing groups in which students share their work with each other. For each issue we cover in class, one student in each group will write a five to seven page "target essay" on an assigned topic; all of the remaining members of each group will then read that essay and write a two page response to it. Depending on the number of students in the class, each person will write either one or two target essays, as well as four or five response essays throughout the course of the term. In addition, students will be required to substantially revise and expand one target essay in light of the peer response papers and written comments from the instructor, and to submit it as a final paper for the course. [ more ]

PHIL 123 (F, S)Objectivity in Ethics

It is often claimed that morality is subjective or just a matter of opinion. In this course we'll examine several influential attempts to provide a rational foundation for morality, along with Nietzsche's wholesale rejection of these efforts. Readings will include work by Plato, Hobbes, Kant, Mill, Nietzsche, and contemporary authors. [ more ]

PHIL 126 (S)Paradoxes

Not offered this year

There are three grains of sand on my desk. This is unfortunate, but at least there isn't a heap of sand on my desk. That would be really worrisome. On the other hand, there is a heap of sand in my backyard. I don't know how exactly how many grains of sand are in this heap, but let's say 100,000. My daughter removes one grain of sand. I don't know why, she just does. It seems like there is still a heap of sand in my backyard. In fact, it seems like you can't change a heap of sand into something that isn't a heap of sand by removing one grain of sand. Right? But now we have a problem. By repeated application of the same reasoning, it seems that even after she removes 99,997 grains of sand--I don't know what she wants with all this sand, but I'm starting to worry about that girl--there is still a heap of sand in my backyard. But three grains isn't enough for a heap. So there is not a heap in my backyard. Now I'm confused. Where did my reasoning go wrong? What we have here is an example of the sorites paradox. It is a paradox, because I started with seemingly true statements and used valid reasoning to arrive at contradictory conclusions. We can learn a lot about logic, language, epistemology and metaphysics by thinking through and attempting to resolve paradoxes. In this class, we'll work together to think through some ancient and contemporary paradoxes. We'll also work on writing lucid prose that displays precisely the logical structure of arguments, engages in focused critique of these arguments, and forcefully presents arguments of our own. Other topics could include: Zeno's paradoxes of motion and plurality, the liar's paradox, the surprise exam paradox, paradoxes of material constitution, Newcomb's Problem , and the Prisoner's Dilemma. [ more ]

PHIL 201 (F)Continental Philosophy: Reading the Critics of Reason

Not offered this year

Nineteenth- and twentieth-century European philosophy gave rise to an astounding number of brilliant thinkers (including Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Arendt, Lacan, Adorno, Gadamer, Habermos, Irigaray, Deleuze, and Derrida), who in turn initiated an equally astounding number of important philosophical movements (including existentialism, structuralism, critical theory, hermeneutics, French feminism, and post-structuralism). Fortunately, this bewildering diversity comprises a recognizable tradition in virtue of a common theme: the relentless critique of the conceptions and projects of reason inherited from the Enlightenment, Kant, and Hegel. Unfortunately, because many of these critiques are written in ways that attempt to undermine and transform our notions of rationality, they can be maddeningly difficult to read. This course will introduce students to continental philosophy through guided readings of these challenging texts aimed at developing students interpretive skills. [ more ]

PHIL 201 (F)History of Ancient Greek Philosophy

Very few people believe that everything is water, that we knew everything before birth, that philosophers ought to rule the state, or that some people are natural slaves. Why then should we spend our time studying people who in addition to having these surprising beliefs have been dead for 2500 years? First of all, Greek thinkers, especially Plato and Aristotle, radically shaped the trajectory of western thought in every area of philosophy. No one can have an adequate understanding of western intellectual history without some familiarity with the Greeks, and we might think that an understanding of our intellectual history can deepen our understanding of our own situation. More importantly, many of the thinkers that we will read in this class are simply excellent philosophers, and it is worthwhile for anyone interested in philosophical problems to read treatments of these problems by excellent philosophers. We will begin the course by looking briefly at some of the Presocratic philosophers active in the Mediterranean world of the seventh through fifth centuries BCE, and some of the sophists active in the fifth century. We will then turn to several of Plato's dialogues, examining Plato's portrayal of Socrates and his development of a new and profoundly powerful philosophical conception. We will then read some of Aristotle's works on metaphysics, epistemology and ethics, considering some of the ways Aristotle's thought responds to that of predecessors. [ more ]

PHIL 202 (S)History of Modern Philosophy

This course provides an introduction to Modern Philosophy of the 17th and 18th Centuries, with a focus on metaphysics and epistemology. Topics: What can we know through our senses? Can we know anything through reason alone? What is the nature of the mind? What is the nature of bodies? Are bodies independent of minds? Do bodies interact with minds? Do bodies interact with other bodies? What are space and time? What can we know about God? Authors: Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Leibniz, and Kant. [ more ]

PHIL 203 (S)Logic and Language

Logic is the study of reasoning and argument. More particularly, it concerns itself with the difference between good and bad reasoning, between strong and weak arguments. We all examine the virtues and vices of good arguments in both informal and formal systems. The goals of this course are to improve the critical thinking of the students, to introduce them to sentential and predicate logic, to familiarize them with enough formal logic to enable them to read some of the great works of philosophy, which use formal logic (such as Wittgenstein's Tractatus), and to examine some of the connections between logic and philosophy. [ more ]

PHIL 207 (S)Contemporary Philosophy of Mind

Not offered this year

The philosophy of mind has been one of the liveliest and most active areas of philosophical inquiry over the last century, and it has taken a place at the center of the field. Part of the explanation for this is the rise of compelling scientific accounts of who and what we are. The question of whether the mind can be fully understood within a physicalist, materialist framework has taken on an exciting urgency. In this course we will investigate the mind/body problem, mental representation, the conceptual and nonconceptual content of mental states, and the nature of consciousness. Throughout we will attend to the relevant empirical literature. [ more ]

PHIL 208 (S)Philosophy of Education: DuBois versus Washington

Not offered this year

At the beginning of the last century Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois engaged in a great debate about the nature of education. Their dispute raised some of the deepest questions in philosophy: consequentialism versus deontology, the goals of happiness versus dignity, long term versus short term goals, and more. We will begin with Washington's classic article "Industrial Education for the Negro" and DuBois' classic "The Talented Tenth". We will continue with J. S. Mill's Utilitarianism and Kant's Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, considering these books as works in the philosophy of education. We will read the great 20th century philosopher who saw education as the foundation of democracy: John Dewey. We will also study contemporary philosophers who have written on education, such as Martha Nussbaum and Cornel West. [ more ]

PHIL 209 (F)Philosophy of Science

Not offered this year

It is a generally held belief, in our time and culture, that science is the best source of our knowledge of the world, and of ourselves. The aim of this course is to examine the origins, grounds, and nature of this belief. We will analyze and discuss various accounts of scientific method, structure and justification of scientific theories, scientific choice, change, and the idea that scientific knowledge is progressive. The course will begin with the "received view" of science, advanced by logical empiricists, which assumes the objectivity and the rationality of science. We will then discuss philosophies of science which emerged out of various criticisms of this view - especially those of Popper, Lakatos, Kuhn and Feyerabend - and the challenges to the assumptions of scientific objectivity and rationality their works provoked. This discussion will naturally lead us to the relativist and social-constructivist views developed within contemporary science studies. Finally, we will analyze the current debate about cognitive credentials of science and proper approach to the study of science, which came to be known as "the science wars." [ more ]

PHIL 212 (S)Ethics and Reproductive Technologies

Not offered this year

In her groundbreaking book, The Tentative Pregnancy, Barbara Katz Rothman writes that "[t]he technological revolution in reproduction is forcing us to confront the very meaning of motherhood, to examine the nature and origins of the mother-child bond, and to replace--or to let us think we can replace--chance with choice." Taking this as our starting point, in this course we will examine a number of conceptual and ethical issues in the use and development of technologies related to human reproduction, drawing out their implications for such core concepts as "motherhood" and "parenthood," family and genetic relatedness, exploitation and commodification, and reproductive rights and society's interests in reproductive activities. Topics will range from consideration of "mundane" technologies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), prenatal genetic screening and testing, and surrogacy, to the more extraordinary, including pre-implantation diagnosis (PID), post-menopausal reproduction, post-mortem gamete procurement, reproductive cloning and embryo splitting, and in utero medical interventions. Background readings include sources rooted in traditional modes of bioethical analysis as well as those incorporating feminist approaches. [ more ]

PHIL 213 T (S)Biomedical Ethics

Much like the construction of medical knowledge itself, it is from specific cases that general principles of biomedical ethics arise and are systematized into a theoretical framework, and it is to cases they must return, if they are to be both useful and comprehensible to those making decisions within the biomedical context. In this tutorial we will exploit this characteristic of biomedical ethics by using a case-based approach to examining core concepts of the field. The first portion of the course will be devoted to developing and understanding four moral principles which have come to be accepted as canonical: respect for autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice. The remainder of the course will consider key concepts at the core of medical ethics and central issues for the field, such as privacy and confidentiality, the distinction between killing and "letting die," therapy vs. research, and enhancement vs. therapy. To this end, each week we will (1) read philosophical material focused on one principle or concept, and (2) consider in detail one bioethics case in which the principle or concept has special application or relevance. In some weeks, students will be asked to choose from a small set which case they would like to address; in others the case will be assigned. [ more ]

PHIL 217 (S)Philosophy of Animal Life

Not offered this year

This course will investigate the nature of non-human animals and our relationship to them. Throughout we will aim to fuse a rigorous scientific perspective with more humanistic themes and moral inquiry. Topics will include animal minds and cognition, empathy and evolution, the history of domestication, animal rights, cross-cultural views on animals, arguments against and for vegetarianism and veganism, and pets and happiness. [ more ]

PHIL 222 (F)Minds, Brains, and Intelligent Behavior: An Introduction to Cognitive Science

This course will emphasize interdisciplinary approaches to the study of intelligent systems, both natural and artificial. Cognitive science synthesizes research from cognitive psychology, computer science, linguistics, neuroscience, and contemporary philosophy. Special attention will be given to the philosophical foundations of cognitive science, representation and computation in symbolic and connectionist architectures, concept acquisition, problem solving, perception, language, semantics, reasoning, and artificial intelligence. [ more ]

PHIL 224 (F)Contemporary Political Philosophy

Roughly the first half of this seminar will be devoted to a critical examination of the survey of contemporary Anglo-American political philosophy presented by Will Kymlicka in the second (2002) edition of Contemporary Political Philosophy. An Introduction. Central topics for consideration will be the following positions (to each of which Kymlicka devotes a chapter): utilitarianism, liberal equality, libertarianism, Marxism, communitarianism, citizenship theory, multiculturalism, and feminism. Topics for consideration thereafter will be determined by specific student interests; the topics will be selected from those included in the second (2012) edition of A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy, edited by Robert E. Goodin, Philip Petit, and Thomas Pogge. FRANCIS provides access to an electronic version of this book; interested students should consult it to see the topics treated in its forty-five chapters. [ more ]

PHIL 225 (S)Classics in Western Feminist Thought

Not offered this year

This course provides an introduction to feminist thought through readings of seminal feminist texts from the Enlightenment to the present. Special attention will be given to feminist revisions (including those by woman of color) of traditional and contemporary emancipatory theories such as liberalism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, poststructuralism, and queer theory as well as transnational feminism. Authors read may include the following: Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alexandra Kollantai, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Jacobs, Emma Goldman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Adrienne Rich, Marilyn Frye, Gloria Anzaldua, Audre Lorde, Catherine MacKinnon, Judith Butler, Iris Young, Nancy Fraser, Gayatri Spivak, and Chandra Mohanty. We conclude the course with an exploration of the wide range of feminist analyses of issues concerning prostitution and pornography. [ more ]

PHIL 227 (S)Death and Dying

In this course we will examine traditional philosophical approaches to understanding death and related concepts, with a special focus on the ethical concerns surrounding death and care for the dying. We will begin with questions about how to define death, as well as reflections on its meaning and function in human life. We will move on to examine ethical issues of truth-telling with terminally ill patients and their families, decisions to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatments, the care of seriously ill newborns, physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia, and posthumous interests. In addition to key concepts of death, dying, and terminal illness, we will develop and refine notions of medical futility, paternalism and autonomy, particularly within the context of advance directives and surrogate decision making. [ more ]

PHIL 228 (S)Feminist Bioethics

Not offered this year

In this course we'll explore the ways in which feminist approaches to moral thinking have influenced both the methodology and the content of contemporary bioethics. The first portion of the course will address the emergence of the "Ethics of Care," critically assessing its origins in feminist theory, its development within the context of the caring professions, and its potential as a general approach to bioethical reasoning. The second portion of the course will use feminist philosophy to inform our understanding of the ways in which gender structures the individual's interactions with the health care system. To do this we'll explore topics that might traditionally be considered "women's issues" in health care, such as medicine and body image (e.g., cosmetic surgery, eating disorders), reproductive and genetic technologies, and research on women and their health care needs. In addition we'll also look at feminist analyses of topics that traditionally have not been regarded as "gendered," such as resource allocation and end of life issues. As a course offered under the Exploring Diversity Initiative, this class is designed to improve students' ability to recognize both the existence and the effects of gender disparities within the health care context, and in particular, how power and privilege within and beyond medicine contribute to gender inequalities in health and medical treatment. Moreover, students will theorize about ways of conceptualizing and of reforming health care interactions in order to reduce or eliminate those gender inequalities. [ more ]

PHIL 229 (F)19th Century Philosophy

This course provides an introduction to 19th Century Philosophy, with a focus on the distinctive theme of criticism. We consider Hegel's criticisms of our natural conceptions freedom and religion; Marx's criticisms of capitalism and its ideology; Kierkegaard's criticisms of aesthetic, ethical, and rational lives; Nietzsche's criticism of Christianity and its morality; and Freud's criticisms of civilization and religion. By comparing and evaluating these powerful and influential criticisms, we will be able to assess the tradition of philosophy in the 19th Century. [ more ]

PHIL 231 (F)Ancient Political Thought

Not offered this year

The core activity of this seminar is the careful reading and sustained discussion of selected works by Plato and Aristotle, but we will also engage such other thinkers as Epictetus and Augustine, and, from a political and theoretical point of view, selections from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. Among the questions that we will address: What is justice? How can it be known and pursued? How is political power generated and exercised? What are the social and ethical prerequisites--and consequences--of democracy? Must the freedom or fulfillment of some people require the subordination of others? Does freedom require leading (or avoiding) a political life? What distinguishes that kind of life from others? What does it mean to be "philosophical" or to think "theoretically" about politics? Although we will attempt to engage the readings on their own terms, we will also ask how the vast differences between the ancient world and our own undercut or enhance the texts' ability to illuminate the dilemmas of political life for us. [ more ]

PHIL 232 (S)Modern Political Thought

This course invites you to contemplate some of the core questions taken up by major political thinkers from the 16th through the 20th century, through close readings of a number of pivotal texts. Beginning with the revival of classical republicanism during the Renaissance and the advent of new scientific outlooks on politics in the early modern period, we will proceed to key texts in the liberal and social-contract traditions, Enlightenment and counter-Enlightenment republican thought, liberal Utilitarian perspectives, classical Marxism, and finally to the work of Hannah Arendt, one of the most significant interpreters and critics of modern political theory in the 20th century. The thinkers we will read in this course include Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, and Arendt. These thinkers have much to tell us about the political ideals and concerns that seemed exciting or pressing in the past. But their texts may also reorient and energize our thinking about politics today. Read with an open mind and a critical spirit, they can challenge our settled preconceptions about good and evil, provoke reexamination of our role as citizens, demand that we justify our institutions afresh, and even inspire us to describe a better, more just future. Through classroom dialogue and personal reflection, we will carefully ponder partial answers to immense, enduring questions: What is justice? What is freedom? Who should rule? With what limits and justifications? What form of government best serves the people? Who are the people, anyway? And on what grounds can we justify confidence in our answers to such questions? [ more ]

PHIL 235 T (F)Morality and Partiality: Loyalty, Friendship, Patriotism

The aim of this tutorial is to critically examine the nature, importance, and ethical value of personal attachments and loyalties. Loyalty is frequently expected by family, friends and lovers, and demanded by institutions, religious and political communities, as well as by the state. A person incapable of loyalty is often characterized as fickle, cold, self-serving and sometimes even pathological. However, the status of loyalty as a virtue has always been suspect: it has been argued that it is incompatible with impartiality, fairness and equality, and claimed that it is always exclusionary. So, some relationships with other people--such as friendships, familial ties, love, patriotism--seem to be ethically desirable, central to the quality of our lives, and yet prima facie in tension with the widely held belief that morality requires impartiality and equal treatment of all human beings. Are we ever justified in having more concern, and doing more, for our friends, family, community or nation? Does morality require that we always subordinate our personal relationships to universal principles? Is patriotism incompatible with cosmopolitanism, and if so, which of the two should we value? If loyalty is a virtue, what are the proper limits of its cultivation and expression? [ more ]

PHIL 236 (F)Contemporary Ethical Theory

Not offered this year

Is sacrificing an individual's welfare for the sake of the community ever justified, or does each individual have an inviolable status that must be respected? Should moral considerations always take priority over personal projects and intimate relationships, or are there some spheres in which we should be free to pursue our goals without concern for morality? We will explore these and related questions by systematically comparing the two dominant ethical theories of the 20th century, consequentialism and deontology. While both find their roots in earlier thinkers -- consequentialism in Mill and Sidgwick, deontology in Kant -- our focus will be on contemporary developments of these views. We'll conclude by examining contractualism, which attempts to transcend the divide between consequentialist and deontological views. Readings include works by Bentham, Mill, Nozick, Railton, Brink, Williams, Wolf, Taurek, Rawls, Smart, Scheffler, Nagel, Kant, Kamm, Quinn, Kagan, Ross, and Scanlon. [ more ]

PHIL 238 T (F)Just War Theory, Terrorism, and Weapons of Mass Destruction

Not offered this year

What is generally known as Just War Theory (JWT), first clearly formulated by Augustine and then developing both theistic and non-theistic variants, is currently challenged by terrorism, torture, and weapons of mass destruction. Participants in this tutorial will review prominent current forms of JWT, examing how each deals--or can be adapted to deal--with these challenges. Participants will aim to discover, or perhaps in part to develop, the currently best available theory concerning the political ethics of torture, terrorism, counterterrorism, and the production and uses of weapons of mass destruction. [ more ]

PHIL 241 (F)Contemporary Metaphysics

Not offered this year

In this course, we will examine a number of issues in contemporary metaphysics. Possible topics include: realism and anti-realism, the problem of universals, the nature of necessity, causation, material constitution, the nature of time, personal identity, and freedom of the will. While we will be concerned to place our discussions of these issues in historical context, almost all of the reading for the class will consist in articles written by contemporary philosophers working in what is sometimes called the "analytic" tradition. [ more ]

PHIL 271 T (S)Woman as "Other"

Not offered this year

At mid-century, Simone de Beauvoir, existential philosopher and perhaps the greatest feminist theorist of the twentieth century, described woman as "living in a world where men compel her to assume the status of the Other." At the same time, Beauvoir asserts: "One is not born a woman, one becomes one." How, given their objectification, can women become subjects for themselves? Is authenticity even possible? Must the relation between self and other inevitably be one of objectification and domination? Is reciprocity and mutuality in self-other relations possible? In our efforts to deepen our understanding of these important philosophical questions, questions that have been at the center of social and political thought at least since Hegel introduced the dialectic of master and slave, we will engage in close readings of writings by Beauvoir (including autobiography and biography), as well as philosophers responding to her--Frantz Fanon, Luce Irigary and Judith Butler. This course has been designated EDI because it explores identity formation under conditions of inequality. [ more ]

PHIL 272 T (F)Free Will and Responsibility

In moral and legal decisions we hold people responsible for their deliberate actions. This practice seems justified as long as people are free to make the choices that they do. But which criteria must a decision meet in order to qualify as free? Clearly, a free decision must not be the result of external coercion. But must the decision also be free from any outside influence at all? If so then freedom may seem impossible, for we are all deeply influenced by external factors ranging from the general laws of nature to specific features of our genetic endowment and social environment including religion, political ideology, and advertising. These affect not only our particular choices but also, more fundamentally, who we are and what we value. Since it is undeniable that we are pervasively influenced by such forces, the real question is whether, and how, free choice is possible amidst all of these influences. In this course we will examine the best-known recent philosophical attempts to make sense of the nature of free will and responsibility. Since these issues have a direct bearing on which theory of legal punishment we should accept, we will also examine influential theories of punishment. Our focus will be on works by contemporary authors. Emphasis will be placed on developing skills in reading, interpretation and oral argument as well as critical reasoning and writing. [ more ]

PHIL 274 T (S)Messing with People: The Ethics of Human Experimentation

Not offered this year

The Tuskegee Syphilis Study and Stanley Milgram's Obedience experiments are infamous. Yet, other lesser known experiments are equally important landmarks in research ethics, as well, such as the Willowbrook experiment, in which residents of a state home for mentally impaired children were intentionally infected with a virus that causes hepatitis, and the Kennedy-Krieger Lead Abatement study, which tested the efficacy of a new lead paint removal procedure by housing young children in partially decontaminated homes and testing those children for lead exposure. In this sophomore tutorial we'll closely examine a series of contemporary and historical cases of human experimentation (roughly, one case per week) with an eye toward elucidating the moral norms that ought to govern human subjects research. A number of conceptual themes will emerge throughout the course of the term, including notions of exploitation and coercion, privacy and confidentiality, and the balance between public interests and individual rights. Specific issues will include the ethics of placebo research, deception in research, studies of illicit/illegal behavior, genetic research, experimentation with children, pregnant women and fetuses, and persons with diminished mental capacity, among other topics. [ more ]

PHIL 280 (F)Frege, Russell, and the Early Wittgenstein

Not offered this year

The last line of Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus famously reads: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." Are there things that cannot be put into words? What are the limits of language? What is the nature of language? How do logic and language relate? We will examine these (and other questions) in the context of the great philosophical revolution at the beginning of the last century: the linguistic turn and the birth of analytic philosophy. We will see how a focus on language affects our understanding of many traditional philosophical questions, ranging from epistemology and metaphysics to aesthetics and ethics. Our texts will include Gottlob Frege, The Foundations of Arithmetic, Bertrand Russell, Principles of Mathematics, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. While you're debating whether to take this class, consider the following puzzle. There is a village where the barber shaves (a) all those and (b) only those who do not shave themselves. Now, ask yourself: who shaves the barber? You will see that if the barber does not shave himself, then by condition (a) he does shave himself. And, if the barber does shave himself, then by condition (b) he does not shave himself. Thus, the barber shaves himself if and only if he does not shave himself. See if you can figure out why this is sometimes called a paradox, and then ask yourself what this has to do with our opening questions. [ more ]

PHIL 281 T (S)Philosophy of Religion

Our goal in this course will be to try to determine how far reason can justify belief in God. We will spend at least half of the semester examining the best-known philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God (including the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, the argument from religious experience, the argument from evil, and the argument from religious disagreement). For each one, we will first look at historically important formulations of the argument and then turn to contemporary reformulations. Our aim will be to identify and then evaluate the strongest version of each argument. After working through these arguments, we will reflect more generally on the proper roles of reason and faith in justifying religious belief. In the final section of the course, we will examine the relationship between god and morality. Authors will include Plato, Anselm, Aquinas, Pascal, Paley, Hume, Kant, Kierkegaard, Freud, Marx, and several contemporary philosophers. [ more ]

PHIL 288 (F)Embodiment and Consciousness: A Cross-Cultural Exploration

Not offered this year

This course examines some of the central questions raised by the study of the consciousness: the place of intentionality, the role of emotions, the relation with the body, the nature of subjectivity, the scope of reflexivity, the nature of perceptual presence, etc. In confronting these difficult questions, we do not proceed purely theoretically but consider the contributions of various observation-based traditions, from Buddhist psychology and meditative practices to phenomenology to neurosciences. We begin by examining some of the central concepts of Buddhist psychology, its treatment of the mind as a selfless stream of consciousness, its examination of the variety of mental factors and its accounts of the relation between cognition and affects. We also introduce the practice of meditation as a way to observe the mind and raise questions concerning the place of its study in the mind-sciences. We pursue this reflection by examining the views of James, Husserl, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, particularly as they concern the methods for the study of the mind and the relation between consciousness, reflexivity and the body. In this way, we develop a rich array of analytical tools and observational practices to further our understanding of the mind. But we also question the value of these tools based on first person approaches by relating them to the third person studies of the mind. In this way, we come to appreciate the importance of considering the biology on which mental processes are based and the light that this approach throws on the nature of consciousness. We conclude by considering the relation between first and third person studies of the mind, focusing on the concept of the embodied mind as a fruitful bridge between these different traditions. [ more ]

PHIL 289 T (S)Socrates

Not offered this year

Socrates was executed in 399 BCE on the charges of impiety and corruption of the youth of Athens. Apparently he corrupted the youth by engaging with them in philosophy. In this class, we will attempt to carry on the noble tradition of corruption by philosophy. We will read works by three of Socrates' contemporaries: Aristophanes, Xenophon, and especially Plato. Through an examination of these works, we will try to get some feeling for what Socrates' controversial positions and his arguments for these positions may have been. While he never wrote any philosophical works of his own, Socrates is one of the most influential thinkers in the western tradition. His thought influenced the thought of subsequent generations of philosophers. In fact, Socrates seems to have been thought of as a kind of intellectual saint in the Hellenistic world. The stoics and skeptics both claimed a Socratic imprimatur for their own thought. Stoicism and skepticism, however, are wildly divergent schools of thought. How could proponents of each be claiming to follow in the footsteps of Socrates? We will read some representative works from each of these schools of thought to see how each approaches Socrates. If time permits, we may also look at how the figure of Socrates has been thought about in the works of more modern thinkers. [ more ]

PHIL 291 T (S)Violence: Its Trajectory and Its Causes

This tutorial examines Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of our Nature. Why Violence Has Declined (2011). We focus first on the controversial theses that--despite two world wars and the Holocaust--the twentieth century was not the most violent so far, and that, over the entire course of history, human beings have become decreasingly violent. We then turn to the book's explanations of the factors it identifies as leading us to be violent--our "inner demons" and as curbing our violence--our "better angels." [ more ]

PHIL 294 T (S)Philosophy and Narrative Fiction

Not offered this year

What is it for a novel, a story, a play or a film to be a philosophical narrative? It is not enough for it merely to be about a character who happens to be a philosopher; nor is it just that philosophical positions are reviewed in the narrative, as in Gaarder's Sophie's World. Milan Kundera tried to answer this question by saying that a good philosophical novel does not serve philosophy but, on the contrary, tries to "get hold of a domain that (...) philosophy had kept for itself. There are metaphysical problems, problems of human existence, that philosophy has never known how to grasp in all their concreteness and that only the novel can seize." If Kundera is right, fictional narratives (such as novels) sometimes do the philosophical work that philosophy cannot do for itself. What kind of work is that, and how is it accomplished? Why can't argumentative prose--philosophers' preferred form of expression--clearly say, and moreover prove, what literature, theatre and film illustrate, show and display? One possible answer which we will examine is that, while many philosophers recognize that there are intimate connections between what we believe, feel and do, philosophical argumentation by its very nature appeals to belief alone; narrative art, by contrast, can simultaneously engage our reason, emotions, imagination and will, thus resulting not only in deepening our understanding, but also in transformation of the self.
To properly address a number of interrelated questions concerning philosophy in literature and film, and philosophical problems of meaning, interpretation and evaluation of narrative fiction, we will discuss both narrative works of art and theoretical approaches to their analysis. We will consider the ways in which narrative fiction presents and engages its audience in philosophical reflections on personal identity, nature of the self, interpersonal relationships, memory, time, human existence, freedom, and the meaning in life. The works to be discussed and analyzed in the tutorial meetings will be by some of the following writers and directors: Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus, Thomas Mann, Borges, Kundera, Ecco, Bergman, Tarkovsky, Resnais, Kurosawa, Bunuel and Kubrick. The theoretical aspect of the course will involve close readings of selected articles in contemporary philosophy of language, mind and action; in contemporary philosophy of literature and philosophy of film; and in contemporary narratology.
[ more ]

PHIL 301 (S)Textual Meaning and Interpretation

Not offered this year

Early philosophy of language focused on meaning of assertions, denials and descriptions. However, this approach is too narrow, since people use language to do a myriad of things: to ask, demand, promise, praise, blame, threaten, command, insinuate, evoke, express feelings, and sometimes just to play. The philosophical study of what we do in language, and how we understand one another, is called pragmatics; within the analytic tradition, the main philosophical contributions to the study of pragmatics in language came from Peirce, Wittgenstein, Austen, Grice and Searle. Other philosophers and literary theorists have used some of their ideas recently to throw light on the nature of textual meaning and the interpretation of literary texts. We shall first explore the salient features of the pragmatic approaches to language, paying special attention to Austin's notion of illocutionary force and Grice's notion of non-natural meaning. We will then examine how these notions may be exploited in the consideration of various long-standing issues in the theory of literary interpretation. We will discuss the importance of specific genre conventions and broader contextual matters to the interpretation of literary texts (along the lines suggested by Quentin Skinner); the possibility of using intention to rule out mistaken and arrive at acceptable interpretations, if not a single correct interpretation (a possibility denied by such relativists as Stanley Fish); the use and meaning of metaphors; and the host of questions surrounding the intentional fallacy (the alleged result of invoking authorial intention to determine textual meaning). [ more ]

PHIL 305 (F)Existentialism and Phenomenology

Not offered this year

According to Jean-Paul Sartre, the only philosopher to ever refer to himself as an "existentialist," existence precedes essence. What is essential to human being is not any fixed set of characteristics, but rather what a human being becomes and how it defines and creates itself under conditions it does not choose. In this course we address key themes and figures from two of the most influential movements in twentieth century European philosophy, namely, existentialism and phenomenology, a philosophical approach to which existentialism is indebted. We will discuss major works (philosophical, literary, visual) by such figures as Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Richard Wright, Ingmar Bergman and Jean-Luc Godard. We will raise questions concerning the task of philosophy, the structure and meaning constituting function of consciousness, the relationship between self and other, the mind-body relationship, freedom, authenticity, and absurdity. [ more ]

PHIL 306 (F)The Good Life in Greek and Roman Ethics

Most thoughtful human beings spend a good deal of time musing about how we ought to live and about what counts as a good life for a human being. The philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome were among the first thinkers to develop rigorous arguments in response to such musings. Much of the moral philosophy produced in Greece and Rome remains as relevant today as when it was written. In this course, we will examine some central texts in ancient Greek and Roman moral philosophy. We will begin by reading some of Plato's early dialogues and his Republic. We will then turn to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. We will then examine writings in the Stoic and Epicurean traditions, as well as Cicero's On the Ends of Good and Evil. As we proceed through the course, we will look at the way in which each thinker characterizes happiness, virtue and the relation between the two. We will also pay close attention to the way in which each of these thinkers takes the practice of philosophy to play a key role in our realization of the good human life. This course is part of the Williams College program at the Berkshire County Jail and House of Corrections and will be held at the jail. Transportation will be provided by the college. The class will be composed equally of Williams students and inmates, and one goal of the course will be to encourage students from different backgrounds to think together about issues of common human concern. [ more ]

PHIL 308 (F)Wittgenstein's "Philosophical Investigations"

Not offered this year

Bertrand Russell claimed that Ludwig Wittgenstein was "perhaps the most perfect example I have ever known of genius as traditionally conceived--passionate, profound, intense, and dominating." Wittgenstein's two masterpieces, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and the Philosophical Investigations, stand like opposing poles around which schools of twentieth-century analytic philosophy revolve. The Wittgenstein of the Tractatus is known as the "earlier Wittgenstein," the Wittgenstein of the Investigations is known as the "later Wittgenstein." This course is an intensive, line-by-line study of the Investigations--one of the greatest (and thus, one of the most controversial) books in the history of philosophy. Aside from its overwhelming influence on 20th and 21st century philosophy and intellectual culture, any book which contains the remark, " if a lion could talk, we could not understand him," deserves serious attention. [ more ]

PHIL 310 T (S)Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) is probably the greatest philosopher of the 20th century. His later work, best known through posthumously published Philosophical Investigations, continues to influence contemporary thinking about language, mind, action, knowledge, ethics, religion, aesthetics, culture, and of course, philosophy itself. Understanding later Wittgenstein is thus vital for engaging in contemporary philosophy, but neither the interpretation nor the evaluation of his thought is straightforward or easy. Later Wittgenstein is a controversial, polarizing figure; but serious reading of his work is invariably intellectually enriching and fertile. This tutorial aims to provide students with the skills necessary for careful, serious and thorough reading of Wittgenstein's later philosophy. In the first part of the course, we will read Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, one of the greatest books ever written. In the second part of the course, we will read On Certainty, and selections from other of Wittgenstein's posthumously published works: Zettel, Philosophical Grammar, Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology, Culture and Value, Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief, and The Big Typescript. Throughout the course, we will consult and discuss the important secondary literature on Wittgenstein, and analyze different philosophical presuppositions and goals that motivate particular readings. The central topics of the course will be: meaning, rule following, human languages; private experiences and other minds; intention and action; knowledge and skepticism; and especially, the methods and nature of philosophy. [ more ]

PHIL 312 (S)Philosophical Implications of Modern Physics

Some of the discoveries made by physicists over the last century seem to show that our common sense views are deeply at odds with our most sophisticated and best confirmed scientific theories. The course will present the essential ideas of relativity theory and quantum theory and explore their implications for philosophy. We will ask, for example, what these theories tell us about the nature of space, time, probability and causality. [ more ]

PHIL 315 (F)Kant's Critique of Pure Reason

Not offered this year

Kant's Critique of Pure Reason is perhaps the most significant text in the history of philosophy. It puts an end to the Early Modern traditions of Rationalism and Empiricism, and it stands at the beginning of both the Analytic and Continental traditions in contemporary philosophy. Love it or hate it, you cannot ignore it. In this course, we will study the most important and influential chapters of the Critique with the help of some secondary literature. [ more ]

PHIL 320 (S)Recent Continental Feminist Theory

Not offered this year

This course explores developments in recent feminist thought influenced by philosophical currents in France and Germany (poststructuralism and critical theory.) Depending upon the year in which the course is offered, we explore topics such as self and society, sexual difference, embodiment, critiques of reason, the psyche, new materialist theories, queer feminism, and transnational feminism. We will read from works by authors such as the following; Sandra Bartky, Iris Young, Judith Butler, Elizabeth Grosz, Luce Irigaray, Jessica Benjamin, Gayle Rubin, Rosi Braidotti, Eve Sedgwick, Lynne Huffer, Sara Ahmed, Jasbir Puar, and Wendy Brown. Fiction and film may also be included. [ more ]

PHIL 321 T (F)Critical Theory: The Enlightenment and its Critics

Not offered this year

"Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason-that is the motto of Enlightenment." Thus the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant exhorts his contemporaries to muster the courage to cultivate their capacity for reason. Modern faith in the prospects of universal human dignity, rational autonomy, the rights of man, individual liberty, democracy, open scientific inquiry and social and political progress depend upon it. Yet in 19th and 20th centuries we find the promise of Enlightenment tempered by the rise of nationalism and the persistence of racism, sexism, genocide, terrorism, and religious extremism as well as the emergence of wars of mass destruction, environmental degradation, and the potential for manipulation of populations by consumerist mass media. Can the promise of Enlightenment be redeemed? In this tutorial we begin with short readings by Kant, Hegel and Marx, key sources for critical social theory in the 20th century. Possible other figures read may include: Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamin, Jurgen Habermas, Nancy Fraser, Amy Allen, Noelle McAfee, Judith Butler, Elizabeth Grosz, Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard, and Gilles Deleuze, Georgio Agamben, Frantz Fanon, Edward Said and Achille Mbembe, as well as current critiques of neoliberal capitalism. Although we will not directly address diversity issues except insofar as cultural, racial, class, sexual and other differences are bound up within power or domination relations, insofar as the course examines social and political power, oppression and domination, and the possibility or viability of the idea of human emancipation it meets the EDI requirement. This tutorial will be adapted for WGSS students seeking to meet a theory requirement. [ more ]

PHIL 322 T (S)Hume's "Treatise of Human Nature"

Not offered this year

Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature, one of the greatest books in the history of philosophy, still exerts a considerable influence on contemporary epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of science, philosophy of action, ethics and moral psychology. Unfortunately, the relevance of Hume's ideas and arguments for particular philosophical disciplines has too often led to a piece-meal reading of his work: the three books of Treatise ("Of the Understanding," "Of the Passions" and "Of Morals") are typically considered in isolation from one another. Epistemologists don't seem to think that Hume's account of human psychology, morality and taste can in any way illuminate his treatment of skepticism and natural belief, while moral philosophers often neglect Hume's conclusions about the limits of our knowledge in analyzing his conception of motivation, action, obligation and virtue. In contrast with this interpretive tendency, this tutorial will focus on Hume's" science of human nature"--his overall philosophical project in Treatise--and cultivate the discussion of different philosophical issues and arguments in light of this general aim of the work as a whole. We will start by situating Hume's project within the historical tradition in which he thought and against which Treatise was directed. For clarification and discussion of the points made in Treatise, we will read parts of Hume's later works, especially the two Enquiries. Our reading of Hume will be supplemented by historical and interpretive essays on his work. Throughout the course, our focus will be on three broad issues: Hume's conception of theoretical rationality, his conception of practical rationality, and his views about the role and relevance of non-rational (on some readings, irrational) elements in a good life of a wise person. [ more ]

PHIL 327 T (F)Foucault

This course begins with a brief introduction to some of Foucault's early writings but focuses on a close reading of a selection of middle and late texts that have become central to debates about the significance of his work such as: Discipline and Punish, The History of Sexuality (vols. 1-3), and selected interviews and course lectures. We examine debates in the Foucault literature about freedom, power, ethics, and the nature of critical theory. This course has been designated EDI because it engages questions concerning power, social differences and social and political freedom. [ more ]

PHIL 330 (F)Plato

Not offered this year

Plato is one of the most important and influential thinkers in the history of the western tradition. His depiction of the trial and death of Socrates is one of the classics of western literature, and his views on ethics and politics continue to occupy a central place in our discussions 2400 years after they were written. It is, in fact, quite difficult to get through any course of study in the liberal arts without some familiarity with Plato. Nevertheless, comparatively few people realize that the views we commonly think of as "Platonic" represent only one strand in Plato's thought. For example, we commonly attribute to Plato a theory of the Forms on the basis of his claims in the so-called "middle dialogues" (mainly Republic, Phaedo, and Symposium). However, in his philosophically more sophisticated and notoriously difficult later dialogues (such as the Parmenides, Philebus, Sophist and Statesman), Plato engages in radical criticism and revision of his earlier views. In this course, we will spend the first third of the semester attempting to understand the metaphysics and epistemology in Plato's middle dialogues. We will spend the balance of the semester coming to grips with Plato's arguments in the later dialogues. We will read several complete dialogues in translation, and will also read a wide variety of secondary source material. [ more ]

PHIL 331 T (F)Contemporary Epistemology

Not offered this year

Epistemology is one of the core areas of philosophical reflection. In this course, we will study the literature in contemporary philosophy on the nature of knowledge and rational belief. Epistemologists seek answers to the following kinds of questions: When is it rational to have a particular belief? What is knowledge (as opposed to mere opinion)? In order to be justified in holding a belief, must someone know (or believe) that she is justified in holding that belief? What, if anything, justifies our scientific knowledge? These questions are typically asked within a framework where the overarching goal is attaining truth and avoiding falsity. Beyond this common ground, however, epistemologists are much divided. Some maintain that these issues are solely the provinces of philosophy, using traditional a priori methods. Others maintain that these questions will only yield to methods that incorporate our broader insight into the nature of the world including, perhaps, feminist thought or science. Both stances face severe difficulties. Further, even where there is agreement as to the proper way of answering epistemological questions, there is a stunning variety of possible answers to each question. [ more ]

PHIL 332 (S)Aristotle's Metaphysics

Not offered this year

In this course we will study Aristotle's Metaphysics concentrating of books gamma-theta. Aristotle sets out to study being qua being, or what is insofar as it is. The thoughts that Aristotle expresses in these books were instrumental in setting an intellectual agenda that dominated western thought through the Middle Ages and provided the backdrop against which the modern philosophical tradition arose. Furthermore, many of the issues that Aristotle takes up in these books remain of central importance in contemporary philosophy. Our main goal in this course is to work our way through Aristotle's text which can be extremely daunting, and to reconstruct his central positions and his arguments for these positions. We will also read selections from the vast secondary literature on Aristotle's Metaphysics. [ more ]

PHIL 334 (S)Greek and Roman Ethics

Not offered this year

Most thoughtful human beings spend a good deal of time musing about how we ought to live. The philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome were among the first thinkers to develop rigorous arguments in response to such musings. While ancient scientific theories and the philosophical systems constructed in accordance with these theories might be of interest only to scholars of the ancient world, the moral philosophy produced in Greece and Rome remains as relevant today as it was when it was written. In this course, we will closely examine some central texts in ancient moral philosophy. We will begin by reading several of Plato's early dialogues and the entirety of his Republic. We will then turn to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, as well as selections from his Eudemian Ethics, Magna Moralia and Politics. Finally we will examine some central texts in the Stoic and Epicurean traditions, as well as some of Cicero's contributions to moral philosophy. We will pay special attention to how different thinkers conceive of the nature of happiness, the nature of virtue, and the relation between the two. We will also spend a good deal of time thinking about the moral psychology of the thinkers we read. [ more ]

PHIL 335 (S)Contemporary Metaethics

Not offered this year

We often speak as if moral judgments can be true or false, well-reasoned or not. But how should objectivity in this domain be understood? Is moral objectivity like scientific objectivity, assuming we have a clear sense of what that involves? If not, should that concern us? Are there other models for understanding moral objectivity besides science? While answers to such questions are implicit in historically important accounts of morality, these issues became the topic of explicit, sustained debate in the twentieth century. Our focus will be on the most recent and sophisticated work in this area. We will examine several different approaches in depth, including realism, constructivism, expressivism, and skepticism. Readings will include works by Moore, Stevenson, Harman, Mackie, Railton, Boyd, Blackburn, Williams, McDowell, Korsgaard, and Nagel. [ more ]

PHIL 337 T (F)Justice in Health Care

Not offered this year

Justice is a notoriously complex and elusive philosophical concept, the conditions of which are even more difficult to articulate within real world institutions and contexts than in the abstract. In this course we'll explore justice as a fundamental moral principle and as a desideratum of the US health care system. The first portion of the course will be devoted to considering general theories of justice as well as alternative conceptions of justice within the health care context. This will provide the background for subsequent examination of specific topics, which may include, among others: justice in health care financing and reform, which may itself include an analysis of the Affordable Care Act; justice in health care rationing, with particular attention to the relationship between rationing criteria and gender, "race," disability, and age; justice in the procurement and allocation of organs for transplantation; AIDS and personal responsibility for illness; and justice in medical research, including "double standards" for research conducted in less developed countries. [ more ]

PHIL 339 (F)Mind and World

We will consider a series of debates in 20th Century Analytic Philosophy concerning the relationship between the mind and the world. Questions include: Does the world decide the truth and falsity of all our beliefs? Or are some of our beliefs true in virtue of their meanings alone? Do our beliefs have their meanings one-by-one? Or can meaning be allocated only to entire sets of beliefs? Could the world be made up of sensory properties only? Or, must sensible properties be organized spatiotemporally? Must they inhere in substances? How do our thoughts refer to objects? How does our experience justify our beliefs? [ more ]

PHIL 360 (S)The Political Thought of Frantz Fanon

Not offered this year

Martinican psychiatrist, philosopher, and revolutionary Frantz Fanon was among the leading critical theorists and Africana thinkers of the twentieth century. Fanon ushered in the decolonial turn in critical theory, a move calling on those both within and outside of Europe to challenge the coloniality of the age and to forge a new vision of politics in the postcolonial period. This course is an advanced seminar devoted to a comprehensive examination of Fanon's political thought. We will begin with an analysis of primary texts by Fanon and end by considering how Fanon has been interpreted by his contemporaries as well as activists and critical theorists writing today. [ more ]

PHIL 373 (S)Antigone

Two and a half millennia of commentary and reinterpretation of Sophocles' Antigone have placed her at the center of debates in philosophy, law, ethics and politics. As a young woman who publicly defies the law in order to bury a brother who died fighting against his own city, Antigone becomes the target and the inaugurator of critical debates about agency and fate, individuality and membership, traditional versus civic religion, speech and silence, gender and the public-private distinction in political thought. Does Sophocles' character open up critical inquiry into some of the most important categories of ethical and political thought, as many commentators have claimed, or does the tragedy of Antigone instead reinforce traditional notions of filial duty, kinship ties, gendered citizenship, the place of women, and the nature of authority? Who was Antigone then, and who could she become today as the production and reception of the play move into more global and experimental territory? [ more ]

PHIL 378 (S)Pragmatist Currents in Contemporary Epistemology and Philosophy of Science

Not offered this year

American Pragmatism left a deep legacy in contemporary epistemology and the philosophy of science, but it is--more often than not--a legacy difficult to disentangle from other intellectual influences. Consequently, many philosophers deeply influenced by pragmatism do not recognize the fact, while, on the other hand, some self-proclaimed pragmatists of our days can hardly be seen as continuing the tradition to which they pledge allegiance. This seminar will try to establish, with as much accuracy as the subject allows, what are the central tenets of American Pragmatism, how they have shaped contemporary epistemology and the philosophy of science, and finally, to what extent are pragmatist approaches to human knowledge philosophically sound and fruitful. The seminar will fall into two unequal parts. The first, shorter part will focus on the writings of the three classics of American pragmatism--Charles S. Peirce, William James and John Dewey--and analyze their reaction against traditional epistemology, as well as the positive philosophical ideas that they had to offer. The second, longer part of the seminar will try to isolate and follow some of the pragmatist currents which run through epistemology and philosophy of science in the 20th and 21st centuries. We will read, among others, selected papers by Carnap, Hempel, Quine, Goodman, Kuhn, Elgin, Hacking, Misak, Putnam, Rorty, and Haack. [ more ]

PHIL 379 (F)American Pragmatism

Not offered this year

Along with jazz, pragmatism stands as the greatest uniquely American contribution to world culture. As the music wails in the background, we will study the classic pragmatists: William James, C. S. Peirce, and John Dewey. We will continue with the contemporary inheritors of the tradition: Cornel West, Richard Rorty, and Hilary Putnam. Although it has influenced both analytic and continental philosophy, pragmatism is a powerful third philosophical movement. Always asking what practical difference would it make, our authors investigate the central questions and disputes of philosophy, from epistemology and metaphysics to ethics and religion. Rather than seeing philosophy as an esoteric discipline, the pragmatic philosophers (with the possible exception of Peirce) see philosophy as integral to our culture and see themselves as public intellectuals. [ more ]

PHIL 380 (S)Relativism

Not offered this year

'Relativism' is a term often used in philosophy for a great number of very different views. The aim of the course is to survey, analyze and discuss many varieties of relativism--semantic, epistemic, ontological and moral--from Plato's Theaetetus to contemporary social constructivism. We will pay special attention to the structure of arguments for and against relativism, as well as to the moral motivations and perceived consequences of its endorsement or rejection. We will thus be led to discuss some of the concepts common to epistemology, metaphysics and ethics: reason, justification, objectivity, understanding, reality and truth. Some of the questions we will consider are: Are moral standards relative to cultural frameworks? Are there incompatible but equally true ways of describing the world? Is rationality--the notion of a good reason to believe something--relative to cultural norms? Is relativism a form of skepticism? Is it forced on people who endorse cultural pluralism as their political ideal as the only tenable philosophical position. Our readings will include the relevant works of Plato, Sextus Empiricus, Bayle, Locke, Berkeley, Carnap, Quine, Davidson, Goodman, Elgin, Hacking, Krausz, Foot, Williams, Harman and Thomson. [ more ]

PHIL 388 T (S)Consciousness

Not offered this year

The nature of consciousness remains a fundamental mystery of the universe. Our internal, felt experience--what chocolate tastes like to oneself, what it is like to see the color red, or, more broadly, what it is like to have a first person, waking perspective at all--resists explanation in any terms other than the conscious experience itself in spite of centuries of intense effort by philosophers and, more recently, by scientists. As a result, some prominent researchers propose that the existence of consciousness requires a revision of basic physics, while others (seemingly desperately) deny that consciousness exists at all. Those positions remain extreme, but the challenge that consciousness poses is dramatic. It is at the same time the most intimately known fact of our humanity and science's most elusive puzzle. In this tutorial we will read the contemporary literature on consciousness. We will concentrate both on making precise the philosophical problem of consciousness and on understanding the role of the relevant neuroscientific and cognitive research. Tutorial partners will have an opportunity to spend the end of the semester working on a special topic of their choosing including, for instance, consciousness and freewill. Pain and anesthesia, consciousness and artificial intelligence, or disorders of consciousness. [ more ]

PHIL 389 (S)The Structural-Systematic Philosophy

Not offered this year

The structural-systematic philosophy (SSP) is a theory that, if completed, would qualify as a philosophical theory of everything. Central aspects of this theory are presented in Structure and Being (SB; by Lorenz Puntel, translated by and in collaboration with Alan White, 2008), Being and God (BG; by Lorenz Puntel, translated by and in collaboration with Alan White, 2011), and Toward a Philosophical Theory of Everything (TAPTOE; by Alan White, 2014). We begin by reading and discussing TAPTOE. Thereafter, topics for further investigation will be determined in significant part by student interests. Some might want to examine specific sections of SB and/or BG, others might want to develop objections to the SSP from other philosophical perspectives, considering what (if anything) is said about those other perspectives in SB, BG, and/or TAPTOE. One unique opportunity is provided by the fact that the Metaphysical Society of America (MSA) will meet at Williams in April 2014. Several of the essays presented at that meeting will be devoted to question(s) of being. We will be able to read those essays in advance, comparing them with each other and with the theory of being sketched in TAPTOE. Interested students would then have the option of attending the MSA sessions devoted to those essays. [ more ]

PHIL 391 T (S)The Ethics of Hume and Kant

Not offered this year

David Hume and Immanuel Kant are indisputably among the most influential figures in the western philosophical tradition. Interestingly, each regarded his work in epistemology and metaphysics as a mere prelude to his work in moral philosophy. In both domains, Kant took himself to be responding directly to Hume, whom he credited with awakening him from his dogmatic slumber. In this tutorial we shall study their core works in moral philosophy, in which they develop conceptions of practical rationality, motivation, freedom, and morality. For Hume, we'll read Books II and III of A Treatise of Human Nature, the Second Enquiry, and several essays, including "Of the Standard of Taste." For Kant, we'll read Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and Critique of Practical Reason, along with related essays. Rich and intriguing in their own right, these texts are particularly rewarding when read together, as they articulate profoundly different views of the nature of human reason, agency, and sociality. It is no exaggeration to say that Hume and Kant have set the stage for much current work on these issues in contemporary ethics. One happy consequence of the enduring quality of their work is an abundance of superb secondary literature, which we'll draw upon to supplement our study of the primary texts. [ more ]

PHIL 393 T (F)Nietzsche and His Legacy

Not offered this year

The late 20th Century philosopher Richard Rorty characterized the present age as "post-Nietzschean." Indeed Nietzsche's influence has been pervasive. German philosopher Martin Heidegger thought he represented the culminating point of Western metaphysics; French Nietzscheans such as Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze as well as French feminist Luce Irigaray appropriate Nietzschean themes and concepts in their critical engagements with the Western philosophical tradition; and Anglo-American moral philosophers such as Bernard Williams, Alisdair MacIntyre, and Phillippa Foot (as well as Rorty) respond to and engage his critique of traditional morality. In this tutorial we read key writings from early, middle and late periods by this controversial 19th century philosopher in order to address some (certainly only some) of the current debates in critical and ethical theory that have been fueled by Nietzsche's work. Key ideas and concepts such as the death of god, the use and abuse of history, the eternal recurrence, will to power, and master and slave morality will be addressed. Nietzsche texts will include selections from: Untimely Meditations, The Gay Science, Beyond Good and Evil, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, The Genealogy of Morals, Twilight of the Idols, and Ecce Homo. [ more ]

PHIL 401 (F)Senior Seminar: Skepticism

In this course we will investigate and evaluate some of the most important historical and contemporary skeptical arguments. [ more ]

PHIL 491 (F)Senior Essay: Philosophy

This course involves Independent Study under the supervision of a member of the department. The objective is the presentation and writing of a senior essay (maximum 40 pages). [ more ]

PHIL 493 (F)Senior Thesis: Philosophy

This course involves Independent study under the supervision of a member of the department. The objective is the preparation and writing of a senior thesis (maximum 75 pages). [ more ]

PHIL 494 (S)Senior Thesis: Philosophy

This course involves Independent study under the supervision of a member of the department. The objective is the preparation and writing of a senior thesis (maximum 75 pages). [ more ]