PHIL 104 TPhilosophy and Tragedy

Last offered Spring 2017

Tragedy and philosophy were two of the finest achievements of classical Athenian civilization, and each attempts to reveal to the reader something fundamental about our shared human condition. The worldview that underlies classical tragedy, however, seems markedly different from the one that we find in classical philosophy. While Plato and Aristotle differ on many points, they share the belief that the cosmos and the human place within it can be understood by rational means. Furthermore, they share the conviction that the most important components of a successful life are within the control of the individual human being. The picture that we find in the works of the tragedians, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides is markedly different. The tragedians emphasize the ways in which the cosmos and our role in it resists any attempt to be understood, and emphasize the ways in which the success or failure of our lives often turns on things completely beyond our control. The view of the tragedians can lead to a thoroughgoing nihilism according to which --the best thing of all [for a human being] is never to have born-but the next best thing is to die soon (Aristotle's Eudemus as quoted in Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy; see also Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus)." Despite these rather grim pronouncements, tragic drama has continued to fascinate and educate generations. Furthermore, philosophers have continued to revisit the existential questions vividly raised by Greek tragedy. In this course, we will examine a number of Greek tragedies and philosophical writing on tragedy and the tragic. We will read the Oresteia and Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, Sophocles' Theban Cycle, and the Hippolytus, Bacchae and Philoctetes by Euripides. As we read through these plays, we will also examine a number of philosophical works about tragedy. We will begin with Aristotle's Poetics and will continue with Hume's Of Tragedy, Hegel's various writings on tragedy, and Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy. If possible, we will arrange to see a live performance of a Greek tragedy. [ more ]

PHIL 109 TSkepticism and Relativism

Last offered Fall 2015

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 114(F)Freedom and Society

Freedom is one of our fundamental values as Americans. 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 consider the relationship between freedom and social order. Do society's laws limit our freedom in order to make us safe? Or do laws somehow enhance or enable our freedom? We will read Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in seeking answers to these questions. We will then turn to some specific social forms in the second unit. We will ask whether they promote or preclude our freedom. We will read Adam Smith and Karl Marx on capitalism, and Simone de Beauvoir on gender. [ more ]

PHIL 115Personal Identity

Last offered Spring 2017

Through lectures, discussions, close readings and assigned writings, we will consider a 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 person are equally important for scientific research programs (especially in psychology), for Law, and for the arts (especially mimetic arts). Questions about persons are 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 of 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, orally and in writing; - responding to the claims and arguments presented in texts and in class; - writing clear, polished, well-argued papers. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

PHIL 116(S)Perception and Reality

This course is an introduction to philosophy through four major themes: The nature of the universe, the existence of gods, thought itself, and the mind/body problem. Throughout, we will appeal to reason and evidence in forming our best beliefs. Our discussions will range over historical and contemporary works in the Western Tradition. [ more ]

PHIL 117Arguing about God

Last offered Spring 2018

"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 119(F, S)Plato with Footnotes: Ethics and Politics

This course addresses a central question in practical philosophy: How should we live? The question has two parts: What is the best life for individuals? And what social and political arrangements make such a life possible? In attempting to answer these questions we also engage related theoretical questions concerning what is real and how we have access to it. We begin with readings from Plato's Republic---a seminal work in the history of philosophy that illustrates the inseparability of theoretical and practical questions and has exerted a powerful influence on nearly every subsequent attempt to answer these questions in the context of the Western philosophical tradition. While reading the Republic, we also consider some of the best of these attempts in the Western philosophical canon ("footnotes on Plato." Possible footnotes include Aristotle, Hobbes, Rousseau, Kant, Mill, Nietzsche, Adorno, and Foucault as well as contemporary philosophers. We will focus especially on questions concerning assumptions (about human nature, justice, and freedom, and the idea of a good life) that underpin democratic theories. [ more ]

PHIL 121(F)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 T(F)Philosophical Approaches to Contemporary Moral Issues

In this tutorial 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, conscientious eating, abortion, capital punishment, the ethics of protest, and torture and terrorism. The course will use a case-based approach to examine these issues, and so in most weeks we will (1) read philosophical articles focused on a key concept or set of arguments central to the issue, and (2) consider in detail one morally complex case in which the concept or arguments have special application or relevance. In addition, we will devote several class meetings interspersed throughout the semester to reading foundational sources in ethical theory. [ more ]

PHIL 123(S)Objectivity in Ethics

Is morality simply 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

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 128Utopias and Dystopias

Last offered Spring 2017

The touchstone of our course will be Plato's Republic: the first and perhaps greatest Utopia as well as perhaps the greatest work in political philosophy. We will prepare for the Republic by reading two Socratic dialogues: the Euthyphro and the Meno. After several weeks on the Republic we will turn to Shakespeare's last play: The Tempest. From there it is a natural transition to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. We will continue with B. F. Skinner's Walden Two, and finish by comparing the dystopias of the first book and first film of The Hunger Games. [ 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, Leibniz, Hume, 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 204(F)Hegel and Marx

This course will explore the themes of alienation, fetishism, ideology, dialectic, sociality, and freedom in the philosophical writings of G.W.F. Hegel and Karl Marx. We will focus our study on Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit and Marx's early writings. We will conclude by considering some critical appropriations of Marx by 20th Century philosophers, including Georg Lukacs, Max Horkheimer, and Theodor Adorno. [ more ]

PHIL 207Contemporary Philosophy of Mind

Last offered Spring 2017

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 208Philosophy of Education: DuBois versus Washington

Last offered Spring 2014

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(S)Philosophy of Science

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

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, possibly including pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), post-menopausal reproduction, and post-mortem gamete procurement. Background readings include sources rooted in traditional modes of bioethical analysis as well as those incorporating feminist approaches. [ more ]

PHIL 213 TBiomedical Ethics

Last offered Spring 2018

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 216Philosophy of Animals

Last offered Spring 2018

Animals are and always have been part of human life. To name just a few: We treat animals as companions, as food, as objects of wonder in the wild, as resources to be harvested, as testing grounds for science, and as religious sacrifice. The abstract philosophical question before us is, what are animals such that they can be all these things? In this course we aim to engage that abstract question through two more focused projects. Firstly, we will try to understand the mental lives of non-human animals. Secondly, we will try to make sense of the moral dimensions of our relationship to animals. Throughout we will to fuse a rigorous scientific perspective with more humanistic themes and philosophical inquiry. Topics include sentience, animal cognition, language in non-human animals, empathy and evolution, the history of domestication, animal rights, cross-cultural views on animals, arguments against and for vegetarianism and veganism, the morality of zoos, hunting and fishing, and pets and happiness. [ more ]

PHIL 220 T(F)Happiness

According to Aristotle the ultimate good is happiness---everything we desire we desire for the sake of happiness. Yet what is it to be happy? Should we value other things (say justice or passionate commitment and curiosity) over happiness? Are happiness and pleasure the same thing? Is happiness an emotional or mental state or is it a social construct? What do the social and psychological sciences have to teach us about happiness? Philosophy? Is the happy life a life of virtue? Does being virtuous guarantee happiness? How important are honor, money, love, work, friendship and our connections to others to our happiness? In this tutorial we will read from Ancient, modern and contemporary philosophical sources as well several relevant studies in the social sciences and positive psychology movement in order to engage questions concerning happiness. [ more ]

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

Last offered Fall 2017

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 223Philosophy of Sport

Last offered Spring 2018

Sports: many of us (at Williams, in the US, throughout most of the world) play them, yet more of us watch them, and we invest not only our time but enormous amounts of money in them (we build sports arenas, not cathedrals; in 2013, in 40 of the 50 United States, the highest-paid public official was a football or basketball coach). Why do sports matter so much to us? Should they? The topics we consider in responding thoughtfully to these questions will include sports and health, sports and education, ethical issues in sports (including issues of class, gender, and race), and sports and beauty. [ more ]

PHIL 225Existentialism

Last offered Spring 2018

We will study the philosophical and literary works of Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir. What makes these thinkers "Existentialists"? It's not merely that they ask the question, "What gives meaning to a human life?" And, it's not merely that their answers invoke our freedom to determine our own identities. More than this, Existentialists emphasize the subjective relation we bear to our belief systems, moral codes, and personal identities. Existentialists investigate deeply irrational phenomena of human life, including anxiety, boredom, nausea, tragedy, despair, death, faith, love, hate, sadism, masochism, authenticity, guilt, and care. And, Existentialists express their thought in philosophical treatises as often as in literary texts. In this course we will attempt to understand these dimensions in which Existentialism is a distinctive intellectual tradition. [ more ]

PHIL 227Death and Dying

Last offered Fall 2017

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 228Feminist Bioethics

Last offered Fall 2016

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. [ more ]

PHIL 231Ancient Political Thought

Last offered Fall 2017

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(F)Modern Political Thought

This course is a chronological survey of major works of political theory from the 16th to the 20th century. In discussions and writing, we will explore the diverse visions of modernity and of politics offered by such thinkers as Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Marx, Mill, and Freud. They help us ask: What is freedom? Who is equal? 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 provisional answers to such questions? Class will be primarily driven by discussion, often preceded by brief lectures. Attention to the writing process and developing an authorial voice will be a recurrent focus of our work inside and outside the classroom. [ more ]

PHIL 235 T(S)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 236Contemporary Ethical Theory

Last offered Spring 2017

This course will be an in-depth exploration of central questions in normative ethics, including the following: Which features of actions are morally important and why (e.g., their motive, their intrinsic nature, or their consequences)? When should we give morality priority over our personal commitments and relationships, and why? Are there universal moral principles that apply to all cultures? Are we capable of disinterested altruism, or are we motivated solely by self-interest? By which methods can we answer these questions? We will examine these and related issues by looking closely at two influential moral theories: consequentialism and deontology. While both have important historical roots -- consequentialism in Mill and Sidgwick, deontology in Kant -- we will focus on contemporary developments of these views. In the last few weeks, we'll examine contractualism, which outlines a different approach to these questions. [ more ]

PHIL 240(F)The Autobiographical Philosophy of Education

Why are you here? What do you expect to learn? How do you expect to learn? The College Mission Statement says that "Williams seeks to provide the finest possible liberal arts education by nurturing in students the academic and civic virtues, and their related traits of character". How have you already been taught the academic and civic virtues? Where have you been taught them? In school? On the sports field? At home? How did you develop your character? This first-year seminar will examine the philosophy of education through educational autobiographies: works that tell the story of a moral and intellectual education. Each book was chosen by and will be introduced by a professor from a different department, and then Professor of Philosophy Steve Gerrard will continue the discussion. This year's autobiographies are: John Stuart Mill, Autobiography, Charles Dew, The making of a Racist, Michael Chabon,The Recipe for Life, Philip Roth, The Facts: A Novelist¿s Autobiography, bell hooks, Wounds of Passion, Paul Kalanithis, When Breath Becomes Air, Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom, Zhuangze, Basic Writings. This course is part of the John Hyde Teaching Fellowship. [ more ]

PHIL 241(F)Contemporary Metaphysics

In this course, we will examine a number of issues in contemporary metaphysics through a discussion of the nature of kinds. The problem of universals has vexed philosophers at least since the time of Plato. Oscar is a dog and Annie is a dog. Oscar and Annie aren't identical but they have something in common; each of them is a dog, each of them belongs to a single kind and they share the property of being a dog. But what is going on here? We, at least most of us, are happy to say that Oscar and Annie exist. But is there a third entity that we need to countenance: the universal caninity? If we do think that there is such a thing as caninity, what sort of thing is it? If we don't, what accounts for the truth of our judgment that Oscar and Annie have something in common? Scientists often give explanations for the behavior of objects in terms of their properties. What role do properties play in causation, explanation and laws of nature? Finally there are different kinds of kind. Some kinds or properties seem to be pretty natural, e.g. being an electron or a dog. Other kinds seem to be less natural and seem somehow to be socially constructed, e.g. being a work of art, an American or a sausage. But are there really natural kinds? Can we, as Plato put it, "carve nature at the joints", or are all kinds constructed rather than discovered? Furthermore what is involved in the social construction of a kind? Finally, the nature and existence of some kinds is a hotly contested political matter. How should we think about racial kinds or about gender kinds? While we will be concerned to place our discussions of these issues in historical context, most of the reading for the class will consist in articles written by contemporary philosophers. [ more ]

PHIL 242 TPeople Power

Last offered Fall 2017

A major lesson, for political philosophers, from the past century or so is that people outside of official political structures and the military often have greater power than do insiders, if only they can figure out how to use it. Evidence of this is that "between 1900 and 2006, nonviolent resistance campaigns were nearly twice as likely to achieve full or partial success as their violent counterparts" (Chenoweth and Stephan 2011, 7). Topics in the tutorial will be empirical--examining successful and unsuccessful cases of uses of people power in nonviolent resistance--theoretical--seeking generalizations, in part from historical and ongoing cases--and practical--considering how techniques and generalizations we encounter or discover might be used on issues of importance to participants in the seminar, on scales ranging from the local to the global. [ more ]

PHIL 243(S)The Philosophy of Higher Education: College Controversies

What are the purposes of higher education? What are the purposes of liberal arts colleges in America? What should be the goals of Williams College? We will begin examining these questions by studying the history of controversies in American higher education, concentrating especially on debates about the curriculum. We will then turn to contemporary controversies such as campus free speech. This course is part of the John Hyde Teaching Fellowship. [ more ]

PHIL 244 T(S)Environmental Ethics

What ethical standards should guide our individual and societal choices when those choices affect current and future environmental conditions? This course will introduce students to fundamental concepts, methods, and issues in environmental ethics. Initial tutorial meetings will focus on theoretical materials that will background later discussions and will include classic readings from the environmental ethics literature (e.g., Leopold, Taylor, Rolston). Subsequent sessions will pair readings about key concepts with specific cases that raise complex ethical issues, including the concept of moral standing and, e.g., people who do not yet exist, non-human individuals, species, and complex living systems; the concept of moral responsibility and complicity in environmentally damaging practices; the legitimacy of cost-benefit analysis as an environmental policy tool; and the valuation of human lives. [ more ]

PHIL 248Free Speech and Its Enemies

Last offered Spring 2018

The Williams College Mission statement says that "free inquiry requires open-mindedness, and commitment to community draws on concern for others". The question of this course is whether these values are in conflict. Does free inquiry clash with concern for others, or do they (or can they) work together? We will begin with John Stuart Mill's powerful defense of free speech in On Liberty, but will then investigate challenges to Mill's traditional liberalism from thinkers, such as Catharine MacKinnon, who believe that such rights are never neutral. Our subjects will include hate speech, press censorship, pornography, controversial art, sacrilegious speech and campus controversies. We will, undoubtedly, have to adjust the syllabus to respond to breaking international, national and local news. The course will, I hope, provide the students an opportunity and the tools to intellectually examine deeply emotional and contentious issues. This course is part of the John Hyde Teaching Fellowship. [ more ]

PHIL 272 TFree Will and Responsibility

Last offered Fall 2014

Our practice of holding people responsible seems justified as long as people are free to make the choices that they do. But which criteria must a decision meet to qualify as free? Clearly, a free decision must not be the result of external coercion. But must it also be free from any outside influence at all? If so then freedom seems 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 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 TMessing with People: The Ethics of Human Experimentation

Last offered Spring 2017

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 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 280Frege, Russell, and the Early Wittgenstein

Last offered Spring 2017

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 TPhilosophy of Religion

Last offered Spring 2015

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 286Contemporary Systematic Philosophy

Last offered Fall 2016

Systematic philosophy, also describable as comprehensive theorization, was central to the philosophical enterprise from at least the time of Aristotle until that of Hegel, but has been out of style, in both analytic and continental philosophy, for more than 100 years. This course examines a current attempt to return systematic philosophy to its long-central position.We begin by assessing Alan White's Toward a Philosophical Theory of Everything (2014), which, although not yet receiving widespread attention, was described by one reviewer as "a critically important work for all those deeply interested in philosophical issues and their significance for basic human concerns." Because of the scope of systematic philosophy, this course provides students with the opportunity to investigate theories currently under development on a much richer variety of issues than is usual in philosophy courses (which are often restricted to specific subdisciplines of philosophy or to works of historical figures). Among those issues are ones involving semantics, ontology, truth, knowledge, moral and other values, human freedom, beauty, being, and God. [ more ]

PHIL 288Embodiment and Consciousness: A Cross-Cultural Exploration

Last offered Spring 2018

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 TSocrates

Last offered Spring 2013

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(F)Violence: Its Trajectory and Its Causes

This tutorial focuses on two books by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker: The Better Angels of our Nature. Why Violence Has Declined (2011) and Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (2018). 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 books' explanations of the factors they identify as leading us to be violent---our "inner demons"---and as curbing our violence---our "better angels," among which the books particularly emphasize reason, science, and humanism. [ more ]

PHIL 294 TPhilosophy and Narrative Fiction

Last offered Spring 2017

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 choice of literary works and films to be discussed will to some extent depend on students' interest. Most of the authors will come from this list, however: Sartre, de Beauvoir, Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Thomas Mann, Camus, Ecco, Kundera, Borges, Charlie Kaufman, Bergman, Tarkovsky, Resnais, Kurosawa, Bunuel, Kubrick, Godard, Visconti and Guillermo del Toro. The theoretical aspect of the course will involve close readings of selected articles in contemporary aesthetics, philosophy of literature and philosophy of film. [ more ]

PHIL 295Philosophy of Film and Film Theory

Last offered Fall 2015

Philosophy of film is a relatively young, but very rich and rapidly growing field. Its central question--What is film?--has been approached and framed in many different ways; naturally, the answers to that question, and the theoretical assumptions that underlie the answers, differ as well. This course will offer a selective overview of the debates that characterized philosophy of film since the early 20th century. Starting with early film theorists (such as Munsterberg, Arnheim, Bazin, and Soviet formalists), we will examine how their insights and disagreements influenced later developments in continental and analytic philosophy of film, and in film theory. While looking at film as art, as document, as experiment and as entertainment, we will always keep in sight specific theoretical assumptions that underlie different understandings of film, and different critical approaches to the medium. Some of the questions we will ask are: What is the nature of filmic representation? Does film accurately capture reality, as no other art does? Does it advance our thinking and increase our knowledge of the world? Or is it a supreme illusion, a dream-like escape, the domain in which the viewer's unconscious wishes are magically fulfilled? How does film generate meaning? Is film a creation of a single artist - the director, the author - or is it a result of a loosely synchronized and not quite coherent collaboration of many different people, each guided by her or his particular vision? Is there a room for the notion of collective intention in filmmaking? What is the nature of audience's response to film? Why do we seek to experience through film fear and anguish that we avoid in our daily lives? Are there ethical considerations that should govern both film production and spectatorship? Finally, is there a reason for philosophy of film and film theory to exist as a separate field? Is philosophy of film really autonomous, independent from traditional philosophical disciplines which help generate its central questions, such as aesthetics, philosophy of art, epistemology, ontology, semiotics, ethics, social and political philosophy? Is film today really distinct from a number of new, emerging visual media? How should we think about the boundaries and methods of theorizing about film? [ more ]

PHIL 301Textual Meaning and Interpretation

Last offered Spring 2009

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 304Philosophy of Language

Last offered Fall 2015

This will be a course in the philosophy of language at it has developed over the past century and a half in the analytic tradition. We will narrow our focus even further and will concentrate primarily on meaning, reference and truth. What sorts of things can be true or false? We ordinarily claim that sentences are true or false, but are there other entities whose truth and falsity explains the truth and falsity of sentences? If there are such things--we'll call them propositions--what are they like? If there aren't such things, how do we characterize meaningfulness instead? What is it for a sentence or a proposition to be true? We think that there is a difference between a linguistic object's being meaningful and its having a referent. For example, many people would agree that 'Keith's favorite unicorn' is a meaningful expression. However, few (haters gonna hate) would say that the expression has a referent. It is difficult, however, to get clear on the relation between the meaning of an expression and its reference. We'll try to make some progress on these issues. Our study will definitely include Frege, Russell, Quine, Searle, and Kripke. There will be a series of short response papers in which you provide a careful analysis of particular arguments in our texts. There will also be a midterm paper (roughly 10 pages) and a final paper (roughly 15 pages) which you will develop and revise in consultation with the instructor. It will be very helpful, though not absolutely necessary, for you to have some familiarity with logic and some experience in reading philosophy. [ more ]

PHIL 305Existentialism and Phenomenology

Last offered Fall 2011

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(S)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"

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 TWittgenstein's Later Philosophy

Last offered Spring 2015

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 315Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason"

Last offered Fall 2017

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 321 TIntroduction to Critical Theory

Last offered Spring 2018

"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 topics may include: alienation, authoritarianism, "pathologies of reason," and reification, as well as recognition, the idea of socialism, and progress. 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. This tutorial will be adapted for WGSS students seeking to meet a theory requirement. [ more ]

PHIL 322 THume's "Treatise of Human Nature"

Last offered Spring 2014

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 TFoucault

Last offered Fall 2014

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. [ more ]

PHIL 328(S)Kant's Ethics

Although Kant initially planned for his magnum opus to comprise theoretical and practical chapters, his metaphysics and epistemology take up all of his Critique of Pure Reason while his ethics is spread out over a series of works--Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Critique of Practical Reason, and Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. These latter writings of Kant's had a tremendous influence on the development of subsequent moral philosophy and indeed set the stage for contemporary discussions of the nature of practical reason, motivation, freedom, and morality. Our seminar will have two aims: (1) to reconstruct the single most compelling moral theory from Kant's various ethical writings, and (2) to trace the influence of Kant's ethics in contemporary philosophy. [ more ]

PHIL 330Plato

Last offered Fall 2008

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 TContemporary Epistemology

Last offered Fall 2012

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 332Aristotle's Metaphysics

Last offered Spring 2014

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 334Greek and Roman Ethics

Last offered Spring 2010

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 335Contemporary Metaethics

Last offered Spring 2016

We speak as if moral judgments can be true or false, warranted or unwarranted. 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 and twenty-first century. Our focus will be on recent influential work in this area. We will examine several different approaches in depth, including realism, constructivism, expressivism, and skepticism. [ more ]

PHIL 337 T(F)Justice in Health Care

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 or current legislative proposals; 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; obesity and personal responsibility for illness; and justice in medical research, including "double standards" for research conducted in less developed countries. [ more ]

PHIL 339Mind and World

Last offered Fall 2014

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 340 TLocke and Leibniz

Last offered Spring 2017

Modern philosophy centers on two debates: Empiricism vs. Rationalism and Realism vs. Idealism. Locke is the first great Empiricist Realist, and Leibniz the greatest Rationalist Idealist. The debate between Empiricism and Rationalism concerns whether all our knowledge derives from experience, or any is innate. The debate between Realism and Idealism concerns whether reality is composed of mind-independent matter, or mind-like substances. Leibniz wrote his New Essays in 1704 as a critical response to Locke's Essay of 1690. He hoped it would occasion a public debate between Locke and himself, and prompt the intellectual community to decide, once and for all, between Empiricism and Rationalism, Realism and Idealism, and on related issues concerning the mind, language, truth, God, natural kinds, causation, and freedom. The debate never transpired - indeed, Leibniz suppressed his New Essays - because of Locke's death in 1705. This tutorial will bring to life the debate between Locke and Leibniz, and enable students to reach their own conclusions about Empiricism vs. Rationalism, Realism vs. Idealism, and related issues. [ more ]

PHIL 360(F)The Political Thought of Frantz Fanon

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 378Pragmatist Currents in Contemporary Epistemology and Philosophy of Science

Last offered Spring 2011

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 379American Pragmatism

Last offered Fall 2017

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 380Relativism

Last offered Fall 2016

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 philosophical 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 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, Carnap, Quine, Davidson, Goodman, Elgin, Hacking, Krausz, Foot, and Williams, among others. [ more ]

PHIL 388 T(S)Consciousness

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 free will, pain and anesthesia, consciousness and artificial intelligence, or disorders of consciousness. [ more ]

PHIL 391 TThe Ethics of Hume and Kant

Last offered Spring 2012

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 will 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. 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 TNietzsche and His Legacy

Last offered Spring 2015

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 modern morality. In this tutorial we 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 may 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. I may also pair some Nietzsche texts with readings from representatives of both the Anglo-American and European critical reception of his work (Bataille, Heidegger, Habermas, Foucault, Irigaray, Deleuze, Derrida Williams, Rorty, Reginster, Hussain, and so forth). While students will not regularly be required to read the latter, any who want to pursue this legacy will be supported in doing so.) [ more ]

PHIL 401(F)Senior Seminar: Contemporary Moral Psychology and Virtue Ethic

The seminar will focus on contemporary philosophical work on practical and intellectual virtues considered indispensable for a good, meaningful human life. We will begin by reading selections from seminal ethical writings by Plato, Aristotle and Hume, then move on to the 20th century revival of eudaimonistic and sentimentalist traditions of virtue ethics. Special stress will be placed on discussing the nature of virtues such as integrity, empathy, self-knowledge, authenticity and emotional maturity, and on articulating realistic psychological and social preconditions for their development. [ 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 ]