PHIL 109 TUT Skepticism and Relativism

Last offered Fall 2022

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 110(F) SEM History of Modern Moral and Political Philosophy

This course is a survey of 17th-, 18th-, and 19-century moral and political philosophy. We will consider what, if anything, justifies the rules of morality and law, and we will consider the nature, value, and limits of freedom. We will ask whether our individual actions and our social and political structures are based in our self-interested desires, our natural instincts, or our rationality. Authors will include: Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Kant, Smith, Marx, and Mill. [ more ]

PHIL 114 SEM Freedom and Society

Last offered Fall 2021

Freedom is widely held as one of our fundamental values. But how often 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 our society's laws limit our freedom in order to make us safe? Or do our 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, and ask whether they promote or preclude our freedom. We will read Adam Smith and Karl Marx on capitalism, Simone de Beauvoir on gender, and Charles Mills on race. [ more ]

PHIL 115(S) SEM Personal Identity

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, e.g. metaphysics, epistemology, moral and political philosophy, philosophy of mind. Conceptions of person are equally important in science (especially in psychology), law, and the 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? Our starting and central question will be: What makes me the particular person that I am, and how is my identity as this individual person preserved over time? The course will place special emphasis on developing students' intellectual skills in close, analytical reading; 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; and writing clear, polished, well-argued papers. [ more ]

PHIL 116(S) SEM Mind, Knowledge, and Reality

This course is an introduction to philosophy through three major themes: The nature of the universe, the existence of gods, 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 117 SEM Arguing about God

Last offered Spring 2023

"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 be 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 118 SEM Meaning, Communication and Society

Last offered Spring 2023

The primary way we interact with others is through the use of language. We use language to communicate meanings in order to accomplish a variety of goals: to convey information, make requests, establish rules, utilize power, issue protests, and much more. We coordinate our lives through sounds from mouths, signs from hands, and squiggles on paper because somehow sounds, signs, and squiggles have meanings. This course is an investigation into how language is used to express meaning, and how such expression can have real interpersonal and societal impact. Using resources from philosophy and linguistics, we will study various ways in which literal and non-literal uses of language influence our social lives. Of particular interest will be how language can be used to establish, reinforce, and resist power relationships involving race and gender. [ more ]

PHIL 119(F, S) SEM Why Obey the Law?

What social and political arrangements are most conducive to fostering human well-being and the common good? What makes governmental authority legitimate? A foundation in reason and morality? Popular sovereignty? Does might make right? We turn first to two of Plato's most famous dialogues,The Apology and The Republic in which we encounter Socrates' trial for impiety and corrupting the youth, and, Socrates effort to defeat an argument that might makes right, that only the weak agree to obey the law, by envisioning an ideal (non-democratic) city-state ruled by benevolent philosopher-kings. The rest of the course is devoted to figures in the history of modern political philosophy, both defenders and critics of democratic liberalism (egs., Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Marx, J.S. Mill, Nietzsche, W.E.B Dubois, etc.). We conclude with contemporary reflections on the fate of democracy today. [ more ]

PHIL 122 TUT Philosophical Approaches to Contemporary Moral Issues

Last offered Fall 2022

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, the ethics of protest, and Covid-19. 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 SEM Objectivity in Ethics

Last offered Fall 2023

Are moral beliefs simply expressions of opinion, or can we construct good arguments on their behalf? 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 125 TUT Introduction to the Philosophy of Law

Last offered Fall 2019

This tutorial, designed especially for first year students, is a philosophy course, not a prelaw course. We will examine basic questions in the philosophy of law: What is the relationship between law and morality? Why should one obey the law (if one should)? When, if ever, is paternalistic interference by the state into the lives of its citizens justified? We will look at civil disobedience and theories of legal interpretation. We will pay special attention to the first amendment and questions concerning free speech and hate speech. We will read classic works (such as John Stuart Mill, On Liberty and H. L. A. Hart, The Concept of Law), contemporary articles, and United States Supreme Court cases. [ more ]

PHIL 126(S) SEM 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 127(F, S) TUT Meaning and Value

What gives an individual life meaning? Pleasure? Success in fulfilling desires? Flourishing in ways distinctive to a rational agent or a human being (including, for example, developing rational capacities and self-mastery, succeeding in worthwhile projects, cultivating relationships, living morally, developing spiritually)? Can we be mistaken about how well our lives are going, or about what has value? What are the main sources of uncertainty here? Does the fact that our lives will end threaten their meaning? How can science contribute to our understanding of these issues? We'll examine these and related questions through historical and contemporary readings. This course aims to teach skills required for good philosophical thinking, including those involved in reading texts closely, reconstructing and evaluating arguments, articulating ideas clearly in discussion, and crafting well-structured and carefully-reasoned papers. [ more ]

PHIL 128 SEM Utopias and Dystopias

Last offered Spring 2022

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. [ more ]

PHIL 129 LEC Language and the Mind

Last offered Spring 2024

Many animals communicate, but only humans can use language. What is language? Is the ability to learn it specialized, or just a matter of having enough cognitive processing power? Do successes of large language models and AI chat bots confirm or challenge traditional linguistic theory? Does language in any way determine, shape, or enable thought? How sophisticated could a mind without language be? Does knowledge of language require consciousness? In this course we will investigate (a) what makes language stand out from other kinds of communication system and (b) what makes human minds uniquely capable of acquiring language. Drawing on debates about the evolution of language, Chomskyian universal grammar, the computational theory of mind, and more, we will explore the philosophical consequences of our existance as linguistic creatures. [ more ]

PHIL 201(F) LEC 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 the earth is at the center of the cosmos. 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. Finally, we will examine 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) SEM History of Modern European Philosophy

This course is a survey of 17th- and 18th-century metaphysics and epistemology. Topics will include: What can we know through our senses? Can we know anything through reason alone? What is the mind? What is the body? What is the relationship between the mind and the body? What are space and time? Are we rationally justified in drawing causal inferences? Are we justified in believing in God? Authors will include: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. [ more ]

PHIL 203 LEC Logic and Language

Last offered Fall 2023

Logic is the study of reasoning and argument. More particularly, it concerns itself with the differences between good and bad reasoning, between strong and weak arguments. We will 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 that use formal logic (such as Wittgenstein's Tractatus), and to examine some of the connections between logic and philosophy. [ more ]

PHIL 206 TUT Philosophy and Tragedy

Last offered Spring 2024

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 207 SEM Contemporary Philosophy of Mind

Last offered Spring 2023

The philosophy of mind has been one of the most active areas of philosophical inquiry over the last century. Whether the mind can be fully understood within a scientific framework has taken on an exciting urgency. In this course we will investigate the the broad topics of consciousness and thought by surveying the many approaches to mind that yield the contemporary debates. [ more ]

PHIL 208 SEM Philosophy 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 SEM Philosophy of Science

Last offered Spring 2022

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 in a cumulative way. The course will begin with the "received view" of science, advanced by logical empiricists, which assumes the objectivity and the rationality of science and argues that induction is the main scientific method. 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 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 about proper approaches to the study of science, which came to be known as "the science wars." [ more ]

PHIL 211 TUT Ethics of Public Health

Last offered Spring 2023

From questions about contact tracing apps to racial and age disparities in health risk and outcomes, the COVID-19 pandemic has foregrounded the importance of ethics as a key concern in public health policies and activities. Moreover, the ethical issues that are implicated in responses to the pandemic reflect the range of those manifested across the field of public health as a whole. In this course, we will survey the ethics of public health through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic, investigating concepts and arguments that are central to the ethics of public health research and practice. For example, we will examine the ethics of disease surveillance, treatment and vaccine research, resource allocation and rationing, compulsion and voluntariness in public health measures, and social determinants of health outcomes, among other topics. To do this, we will need to become familiar with key ethical theories; think deeply about such concepts as privacy, paternalism and autonomy, exploitation, cost-benefit analysis and justice; and compare the function of these concepts in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic with the way they work in responses to other public health concerns. [ more ]

PHIL 212(F) LEC 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 contraception, abortion, 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, uterine transplants, and "artificial wombs." Background readings include sources rooted in traditional modes of bioethical analysis as well as those incorporating feminist approaches. [ more ]

PHIL 213(S) TUT 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," and therapy vs. research. 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 216 SEM Philosophy of Animals

Last offered Spring 2021

Animals are and always have been part of human life. To name just a few ways: 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 aim 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 TUT Happiness

Last offered Fall 2018

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 221 LEC Introduction to Formal Linguistics

Last offered Fall 2023

The sentence "Every cookie is chocolate chip and three of them are oatmeal raisin" is a perfectly grammatical sentence of English, but it's self-contradictory. What does it take to realize this fact? One must grasp the meanings of the various parts of the sentence. In particular, one must grasp that "three of them" picks out a subset of the group picked out by "every cookie", and that there's no such thing as a cookie that is both chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin. There two ways to understand "Many students took every class". According to one, there is a single group of students that had their hands extremely full this semester. According to the other, every class was well-populated, potentially by different groups. The reason for this is that there are two underlying structures that the original sentence can realize. This course serves as an introduction to formal methods in the scientific study of language. Our goal will be to characterize phenomena like those above with logical and mathematical precision. The focus will be on model-theoretic semantics, the sub-field of linguistics that studies meanings. Along the way we will discuss principles of syntax, the sub-field that studies sentence structures, and pragmatics, the sub-field that studies inferences of non-literal content. This is a formal course, but no prior logical or mathematical background will be expected. Starting from scratch, students will learn the building blocks of current-day linguistic research. This introduction will be of use to students interested in language from a variety of perspectives, including philosophy, cognitive science, and computer science. [ more ]

PHIL 222(F) LEC 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(S) TUT Nietzsche, Marx and Freud

Nietzsche, Marx and Freud have had a profound influence on literature, philosophy, and critical theories of the 20th and 21st centuries. In this tutorial we will treat them as diagnosticians of modernity who engaged in unveiling illusions and opening up possible alternative human futures. Each questioned the emancipatory effects of dominant understandings of reason and freedom as well as idealist and humanist accounts of moral progress in history; each aimed to liberate human beings from unnecessary suffering. We will focus on questions concerning their distinctive diagnostic and critical methods, the problems they identified, and their respective understandings of religion and and modern science. [ more ]

PHIL 225 TUT Existentialism

Last offered Spring 2024

We will study the philosophical and literary works of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Kafka, Sartre, de Beauvoir, and Camus. One of our guiding questions will be: What makes a thinker an "Existentialist"? The answer is not merely that they ask the question, "What gives meaning to a human life?" And, it's not merely that their answer invokes 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, tragedy, melancholy, despair, death, faith, sexuality, love, alienation, hate, sadism, masochism, and authenticity. And, Existentialists express their thought in philosophical treatises as often as in literary works. In this course we will seek to comprehend the dimensions in which Existentialism is a distinctive intellectual tradition. [ more ]

PHIL 227 LEC Death 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 228 LEC Feminist Bioethics

Last offered Fall 2023

In this course we will 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 interactions with and within the health care system. To do this we will explore topics that might traditionally be considered "women's issues" in healthcare, 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 231(F) LEC Ancient Political Thought

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 SEM Modern Political Thought

Last offered Spring 2024

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 TUT Morality and Partiality: Loyalty, Friendship, Patriotism

Last offered Spring 2022

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, political and ethnic 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 SEM Contemporary Ethical Theory

Last offered Spring 2024

This course will examine central questions in normative ethics, including the following: Which features of actions are morally important and why (e.g., their motive, intrinsic nature, or consequences)? Which characteristics of persons give them moral status? How should moral equality be understood, and what is its foundation? When should we give morality priority over personal commitments and relationships, and why? Are we capable of disinterested altruism, or are we motivated solely by self-interest? By which methods should we pursue answers to these questions? We will examine these and related issues by looking in depth at contemporary defenses of consequentialist, deontological, and contractualist theories. [ more ]

PHIL 239(S) LEC The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence

Human beings will someday live alongside artificially intelligent beings who equal or exceed us. The rise of AI will be a tectonic shift for culture, technology, and our fundamental sense of ourselves. When AI is fully realized, it is likely to be amongst the most important things to happen to our species. Some challenges we face are broad and about the future. How can we ensure that AI's will act morally? Is a world with AI's overall better or worse for us? How do we create legal and policy frameworks that cover a new kind of thinking being? If they are conscious, will AI's have dignity and rights? Other questions are pressing and immediate: Artificial intelligence techniques are used today to help decide whether someone gets a bank loan, is eligible to be released on bail, or in need of particular medical treatment. And right now there are autonomous vehicles deciding how to behave in traffic, and autonomous weapons capable of delivering lethal force. Is it moral for us to pass along these sorts of decisions to AI's? What if they are biased, unbeknownst to us? What if they are more fair? How should we understand intellectual and creative work in an era of generative models that take on some aspects of thought? In this course we will engage ethical questions surrounding the seeming inevitability of AI. [ more ]

PHIL 240 SEM Philosophy of Education

Last offered Fall 2019

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. [ more ]

PHIL 241 SEM Contemporary Metaphysics

Last offered Spring 2023

Our focus in this class is going to be on the nature of causation. We make causal judgments constantly in our everyday lives and in scientific contexts. It turns out, however, to be surprisingly difficult to say what causation is. We will begin the course by looking at Hume's and Kant's discussion of causation. We will then turn to a variety of more recent attempts to give a clear characterization of causation. In addition to examining general accounts of causation, we will examine particular problems that come up in thinking about mental causation and causation in indeterministic contexts. [ more ]

PHIL 243(S) TUT 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 some controversies in American higher education, and then turn to contemporary controversies such as campus free speech, cancel culture, divestment, decolonization, and admissions criteria. [ more ]

PHIL 244(S) TUT 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, among others. Most 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 245(S) LEC Mind and Persons in Indian Thought

In this course, we follow the Indian philosophical conversation concerning the self and the nature of consciousness, particularly as they are found in its various Yogic traditions. We start with some of the Hindu views about the self and the mind and consider their ethical implications. We then consider a range of Buddhist critiques of these views, focusing more particularly on the Madhyamaka, which radicalizes the critique of the self into a global anti-realist and skeptical stance. We also examine the Yogacara school, which offers a process view of reality focusing on the analysis of experience. We conclude by considering some of the later Hindu holistic views of the self as responses to the Buddhist critique. In this way we come to realize that far from being the irrational foil of "the West," Indian tradition is a rich resource for thinking through some of the central questions that have challenged philosophers in both traditions. [ more ]

PHIL 248 SEM Free 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 250 TUT Philosophy of Economics

Last offered Spring 2021

The status of economics as a predictive science has been most prominently brought into question, historically, by three unpredicted yet extremely important economic events: the Great Depression of the 1930s, stagflation of the 1970s, and bursting of the mortgage bubble in 2008. The issue of prediction was also raised by economist Donald McCloskey who, in 1988, asked his fellow economists, "If you're so smart, why ain't you rich?" Some critics find predictive failures of economists unsurprising, given the frequent reliance of the latter on assumptions known to be false (e.g., that economic agents are always selfish, have perfect information, and never make mistakes) and on models that unavoidably ignore potentially relevant factors. Perhaps, then, economics is not primarily a predictive science, but instead a descriptive, historical, and/or mathematical one. In this course, relying on works by economists and philosophers, we examine the status of economics as an academic discipline, focusing on its assumptions, methods, and results. [ more ]

PHIL 251 SEM Offensive Art

Last offered Spring 2023

Twenty-four centuries ago Plato argued for censorship of art. In the last century New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani attempted to shut down the Brooklyn Museum "Sensations" exhibit because he claimed it offended Christians, and the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center was prosecuted for exhibiting allegedly obscene photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe. Just today (15 February 2022) The New York Times removed some solutions from their recently purchased game Wordle, saying that words such as "pussy", "slave", and "wench" are "offensive or insensitive". At Williams College a mural was removed from The Log and Herman Rosse's painting "Carnival of Life" was removed from the '62 Center. What should be done about offensive art? What is offensive art? Does it matter who is offended? Does offensive art harm? Is there a difference between being offended and being harmed? Is there a difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation? What are the responsibilities of museum curators and theater producers when presenting art that might offend? Who gets to decide the answer to these questions; indeed, who gets to decide what questions to ask? We will attempt answers by studying classical works (such as Plato's Republic and John Stuart Mill's On Liberty), contemporary articles, and works of art in various media. Trigger Warning: all the works of art studied in this class will be chosen partly because they have offended a significant number of people. You are very likely to be offended by some of the art we discuss. This will be the only trigger warning for the class; if you don't want to be offended then this course is not for you. [ more ]

PHIL 272(S) TUT Free Will and Responsibility

Our practice of holding people responsible seems justified as long as their choices are free. But when does a choice qualify as free? We're all deeply influenced by 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. The key question, then, is whether, and how, agency is possible amidst all of these influences. We'll attempt to answer this question by examining recent philosophical work on the nature of free will and responsibility. [ more ]

PHIL 274(F) TUT Messing with People: The Ethics of Human Experimentation

The Tuskegee Syphilis Study and Stanley Milgram's Obedience experiments are infamous. Yet, other lesser known experiments are equally important landmarks in research ethics that continue to shape the design, conduct, and regulation of research involving human participants. 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 such 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. The cases will be drawn from different domains of research, including clinical medicine, public health, social and behavioral sciences, and education. Specific issues are likely to include the ethics of placebo research; deception in research; studies of illicit/illegal behavior; genetic research; research involving social media; experimentation with children, pregnant people and fetuses; research involving persons with mental illness, justice and research with marginalized populations, among other topics. [ more ]

PHIL 280 SEM Frege, 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 TUT Philosophy of Religion

Last offered Spring 2020

Our goal will be to determine how far reason can justify belief in God. We will examine well-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, and the argument from evil). For each argument, we will first look at historically important formulations and then turn to contemporary reformulations. Our aim will be to identify and 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. Near the end of the semester, we'll also examine some evolutionary explanations of religious belief. Our tools in this course will be logic and reason, even when we are trying to determine what the limits of reason might be. Authors will include Plato, Anselm, Aquinas, Pascal, Paley, Hume, Kant, Kierkegaard, and several contemporary philosophers. [ more ]

PHIL 288 SEM Embodiment and Consciousness: A Cross-Cultural Exploration

Last offered Fall 2022

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 TUT Socrates

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 294 TUT Philosophy 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 295 SEM Philosophy 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 301 SEM Textual 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 304 SEM Philosophy 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 305 SEM Existentialism 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 SEM The Good Life in Greek and Roman Ethics

Last offered Spring 2023

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. [ more ]

PHIL 307 SEM Augustine's Confessions

Last offered Fall 2020

No thinker has done more to shape the Western intellectual tradition than Augustine (354-430 CE), and no book displays Augustine's dynamic vision of reality more compellingly than the Confessions. Its probing and intimate reflections on the meaning of human life, the nature of God and mind, time and eternity, will and world, good and evil, love and sexuality have challenged every generation since Augustine's own. The seminar will be structured around a close, critically engaged reading of the Confessions (in English translation) and will give attention to its historical context and significance as well as to its philosophical and theological ideas. (There will be optional, supplementary opportunity to engage with the Latin text for interested students with some facility with Latin.) [ more ]

PHIL 308 SEM Wittgenstein's "Philosophical Investigations"

Last offered Fall 2018

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 TUT Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy

Last offered Fall 2019

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 LEC Philosophical Implications of Modern Physics

Last offered Fall 2023

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 314 SEM Linguistic Meaning and Reference

Last offered Spring 2024

"The 100th US President will be shorter than Aristotle was" is a sentence that is either true or false, we don't know which. Either way, it's true/false thanks to a special relationship it has to somebody in the far future and to somebody in the distant past. What is the nature of that relation? How does it work? What makes it possible? In this course we will investigate reference, a central topic in the philosophy of language. We will discuss competing theories about how different representational types refer, including names (like "Aristotle"), definite descriptions (like "the 100th US President"), indexicals (like "you"), and even non-verbal deixis (like pointing gestures). Of particular interest will be the relation between reference and linguistic meaning. Is reference all there is to meaning, or is there more to what some (or all) referring expressions mean? We'll explore this topic with an eye toward making connections with philosophical questions about the mind--do thoughts refer in the same way that words do? Must a speaker's linguistic reference always match their mental reference? [ more ]

PHIL 315 SEM Kant's Critique of Pure Reason

Last offered Spring 2023

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 319 SEM Topics in Philosophy of Race: Hegel and Africana Philosophy

Last offered Fall 2022

How are individual and social subjects formed, and how do they connect to questions of race? What is the nature of consciousness and how can it be unhappy, false or double? What do we mean when we talk about racial capitalism? This course introduces philosophy students to these and related questions through a parallel reading that brings together 19th century German philosopher Hegel and a tradition of Africana philosophy running through Douglas, Du Bois, Fanon, Gilroy, Hartman and Wynter. While Hegel studies tends to occur in isolation from philosophers in the Africana tradition, many of the above explicitly refer to and take up questions in Hegel. This course argues that by reference to the historically specific modes of subjectivity and sociality that resulted from the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Haitian Revolution, for instance, we can better understand and address long-standing questions in European Social Philosophy. Topics to be considered include the nature of freedom (both individual and social), the master/slave dialectic and subject constitution, self-consciousness and double consciousness, the stages of history, and racial capitalism [ more ]

PHIL 320 TUT Topics in Critical Theory: What is Critique? What Can It Do?

Last offered Fall 2021

In this course, we focus on the aims of critique and on how we might use critical theory to further our social and political agendas today. You will become familiar with immanent critique, ideology critique, genealogical critique, and negative critique. Key questions include: What are the foundations and aims of critique? Does critique require postulating alternatives? How is power exercised? Should we abandon the idea of moral progress in history? Readings may include texts by Adorno, Horkheimer, Foucault, Deleuze, Judith Butler, Amy Allen, Raymond Geuss, Wendy Brown and Nancy Fraser. [ more ]

PHIL 321 TUT Introduction to Critical Theory: The Enlightenment and Its Critics

Last offered Spring 2023

We often associate 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 with the Enlightenment . How can we reconcile this faith with the persistence of domination today? Critical theory aims not merely to understand the "struggles and wishes of the age" as Marx one described it, but with emancipation from domination. Understood in this way, critical theory is identified closely with the intellectual tradition of the Frankfurt School. In this tutorial, will read works in critical theory from the 18th century to the present, some from the Frankfurt tradition, and some not. We will focus on particular topics, examples of which are the following: normative critique, capitalism, authoritarianism, mass culture, enlightenment and reason, progress, violence, the domination of nature, white supremacy, patriarchy and colonialism. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

PHIL 322 TUT Hume'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 326 TUT Foucault Now

Last offered Spring 2023

If we think of Michel Foucault as engaged in writing histories, or genealogies, of his own present designed to undercut the sense of the obviousness of certain practices and ways of thinking, categorizing, and knowing, we can easily imagine that he might now be questioning different aspects of our contemporary "present" than the ones standardly associated with his name, namely, panopticons and surveillance, discipline, criminalization, the biopolitics of health, the normal and the abnormal, etc. In this course we address the question: How is the present we find ourselves living today different from the one that the author Foucault wrote about in the 1960s, 70s and early 80s before his untimely death in 1984? What differentiates today from yesterday? And what present practices and ways of thinking and knowing might be questioned using Foucault's tools, genealogy in particular, for resisting unnecessary constraints on freedom and the perpetuation of unnecessary suffering? What is his legacy today? In this tutorial you will read from a selection of Foucault's texts (books, lectures, interviews) in order to acquire a firm grasp of his method of "critique" and his way of looking at the interconnections between forms of power and the knowledge associated with particular disciplines. We will also read more recent work by Foucault inspired scholars on topics such as the biopolitics of gender, the genealogy of terrorism, the informational person (how we become our data), and neoliberal subjects. [ more ]

PHIL 327 TUT Foucault on Power and Knowlege

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 and value of his work such as: Discipline and Punish, The History of Sexuality (vols. 1-3), and selected interviews and course lectures. We will focus particularly on how subjects are positioned in relation to his writings on power and knowledge with particular attention to the later so-called ethical writings in the years before his untimely death in 1984. [ more ]

PHIL 328(F) SEM 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, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, and The Metaphysics of Morals. 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 329 TUT Four Challenging Moral Philosophers

Last offered Fall 2022

Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Amelie Rorty, and Cora Diamond all challenged the prevailing philosophical tenets of their times. Anscombe and Foot resurrected virtue ethics for Anglo-American philosophy and made moral psychology academically respectable. (Foot also invented the infamous trolley car thought experiment.) Rorty challenged the very concept of morality and questioned all moral theory. Diamond investigated the methodology of moral philosophy, paying special attention to the role of literature. In order to hit the ground running, students will be expected to read The Women Are Up to Something: How Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, and Iris Murdoch Revolutionized Ethics by Benjamin J. B. Lipscomb before the first meeting, preferably over the summer. [ more ]

PHIL 330 LEC Plato

Last offered Spring 2023

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 ]

Taught by: TBA

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PHIL 331 TUT Contemporary 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 332 SEM Aristotle's Metaphysics

Last offered Spring 2020

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 333 SEM Kant on Beauty, Life, and History

Last offered Fall 2023

In this course, we will study Kant's theories of aesthetic and teleological judgments. Aesthetic judgments are puzzling, since we call things "beautiful" because they cause us to feel pleasure, and yet we expect others to find the same things beautiful as we do (e.g., the sunset over the Taconic Ridge), while we do not generally expect others to find the same things pleasurable as we do (e.g., your favorite ice cream flavor at Lickety). Teleological judgments are likewise puzzling, since we often explain living things as designed for certain purposes (e.g., the hummingbird's long bill is for accessing nectar deep inside flowers) or as striving for certain goals (e.g., the sunflower turns toward the sun to take in energy), and yet we are committed to a scientific world-view, where nature is governed by mechanistic causal laws. Indeed, we sometimes describe human history as progressive (aiming toward greater rationality, morality, equality, or freedom, e.g.), even though we regard individual humans as free to choose whether to act well or poorly. Our course will consider Kant's attempts to account for these sorts of paradoxical judgments. [ more ]

PHIL 335 SEM Contemporary Metaethics

Last offered Spring 2023

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 that we have a clear sense of what that involves? If not, should this concern us? What are other models for understanding moral objectivity? 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 336 TUT Political Liberalism and its Critics

Last offered Fall 2023

Political liberalism has been both celebrated and lamented. The philosopher John Rawls is widely credited with reviving liberalism in the late 20th century and providing its most persuasive defense. In this tutorial, we'll read portions of Rawls' major works, A Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism, and trace how his theory evolved in response to an array of critics, including libertarians, perfectionists, communitarians, feminist philosophers, and critical race theorists. Among other things, these critics challenged Rawls' interpretation and defense of the social contract framework, the ideals of freedom and equality, the content of principles of justice, political neutrality about the good, the nature of the self, the division between public and private spheres, and the distinction between ideal and non-ideal theory. We'll examine these criticisms in depth. If time permits, we'll also look briefly at some recent post-Rawlsian debates about the nature of distributive justice (e.g., luck vs. relational egalitarianism, or global justice). [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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PHIL 337 TUT Justice in Health Care

Last offered Spring 2024

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 specifically within the health care context. While social justice and distributive justice are deeply intertwined in the health care context and we will discuss both, we will focus primarily on the concept of distributive justice. This theoretically oriented work will provide the background for subsequent examination of specific topics, which may include, among others: justice in health care financing and reform; justice in health care rationing and access to health care, with particular attention to the intersections of rationing criteria with gender, sexuality, 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 low resource settings. [ more ]

PHIL 338(F) SEM Intermediate Logic

In this course, we will begin with an in-depth study of the theory of first-order logic. We will first get clear on the formal semantics of first-order logic and various ways of thinking about formal proof: natural deduction systems, semantic tableaux, axiomatic systems and sequent calculi. Our main goal will be to prove things about this logical system rather than to use this system to think about ordinary language arguments. In this way the goal of the course is significantly different from that of Logic and Language (PHIL 203). Students who have take PHIL 203 will have a good background for this class, but students who are generally comfortable with formal systems need not have taken PHIL 203. We will prove soundness and completeness, compactness, the Lowenheim-Skolem theorems, undecidability and other important results about first-order logic. As we go through these results, we will think about the philosophical implications of first-order logic. From there, we will look at extensions of and/or alternatives to first-order logic. Possible additional topics would include: modal logic, the theory of counterfactuals, alternative representations of conditionals, the use of logic in the foundations of arithmetic and Godel's Incompleteness theorems. Student interest will be taken into consideration in deciding what additional topics to cover. [ more ]

PHIL 339 SEM Mind 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 TUT Locke 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 341 SEM Black Marxism: Political Theory and Anti-Colonialism

Last offered Spring 2021

The seminar involves a critical engagement with key Africana political leaders, theorists and liberationists. We will examine the Pan-African writings of: Cedric Robinson (Black Marxism); Walter Rodney (How Capitalism Underdeveloped Africa), Eric Williams (Capitalism and Slavery; From Columbus to Castro); Frantz Fanon (The Wretched of the Earth); Malcolm X (Malcolm X Speaks); Amilcar Cabral (Resistance and Decolonization; Unity and Struggle); C. L. R. James (The Black Jacobins). [ more ]

PHIL 343 TUT What Philosophy Is: It's Methods, Aims and Values

Last offered Spring 2022

Put simply, metaphilosophy is reflection on the nature of philosophy: Can it be defined? How is it different from science? What are its distinct methods? Does philosophy yield knowledge? What role does the history of philosophy play in the discipline? Why read the history of philosophy? Unsurprisingly, philosophers have proffered a variety of answers to these questions, prompting one philosopher to remark, half-jokingly, that "there are as many definitions of philosophy as there are philosophers." Thus, Plato described the philosopher as "the one who beholds all Time and all Being." Wilfrid Sellars regarded as uncontroversial the view that it is "an attempt to see how things, in the broadest possible sense of the term, hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term." Critical theorists regard philosophy as social and ideology critique. Some understand its aim to be to answer normative questions about the nature of truth, justice, goodness and rationality. Finally, there are those who do not think philosophy can contribute much at all to answering such questions and others who question its claims to universality given its associations with colonialism, racism, sexism, etc. In this tutorial we will read philosophical texts from a range of approaches in professional philosophy since the early 20th Century (Analytic, Pragmatist, Continental or European, and Public). Some of them explicitly engage meta-philosophical debates; others exemplify particular philosophical styles and methods. Our aim is to enrich our understanding of the discipline in order to evaluate its value and limitations. [ more ]

PHIL 345 SEM Alienation

Last offered Spring 2024

What does it mean to feel or to be alienated? Wanting things just because other people do? Not being able to identify with our social and political institutions? Or does it mean the narrowing of our activities, becoming workers who carry out tiny parts of broader processes that we can't see and that we can't control? How do ideas of alienation and meaninglessness have to do with ways that social life is organized -- with the capitalist economy, for one, but also with institutions like race and gender? This course traces different views of alienation and its critique that runs through Lukacs, Marx, Fanon, Kierkegaard, Rousseau, de Beauvoir and others. We'll also look at less conventional forms of alienation critique as part of our inquiry: Afrofuturist fiction by Octavia Butler, work on ornamentalism by Anne Anlin Cheng, and films like A Woman Under the Influence. [ more ]

PHIL 350 TUT Emotions

Last offered Spring 2021

Philosophy is often described as thinking about thinking: variously conceived inquiries into the nature, scope and limits of human reasoning have always been at its heart. Without challenging the centrality of such projects for philosophy, this tutorial will focus on a less emphasized, but equally essential aspect of our lives: emotions. What are emotions, and how should we think about them? What is the proper 'geography'--classification and analysis--of our emotions, and what is their relation to our somatic states, feelings, beliefs, judgments, evaluations and actions? Do we have any control over our emotions? Could we (individually and socially) educate and cultivate them? How are conscious and unconscious emotions related to a person's action, character, and her social world? In addressing these substantive questions, we will also consider which methodological approach--if a single one can be privileged--we should adopt for examining emotions. We will try to determine what is the scope and nature of an adequate theory of emotions, what are the desiderata for such a theory, and what should count as evidence in its favor. We will examine a variety of philosophical and scientific theories of emotion, as well as some issues concerning normative aspects of emotions: the role of emotions in a good life, and the concept of emotional maturity. [ more ]

PHIL 355(S) SEM Other Minds

We will discuss, in this course, several different kinds of problems concerning other minds. Our starting point will be the traditional philosophical problem of solipsism - the skeptical challenge to our belief in the existence of other minds. Since I cannot have direct access to anyone else's experiences, how do I know that I am not the only being in the world that has experiences? What gives me the idea that there are others like me? What justifies my application of the same psychological concepts (such as sad, curious, intends, fears) to myself and to others? How do I check whether the application is correct? Is self-knowledge a different kind of knowledge than knowledge of other minds? After considering these philosophical questions and various answers that have been given to them, we will turn our attention to natural, everyday questions about others. How do we manage to understand each other? Do we directly observe each other's psychological lives? Or do we make inferences, or form theories? To what extent can we really know one another, and can we refine and deepen our understanding? Is knowledge of other minds crucial for our ethical practices? Are there people who lack the capacity for such knowledge? If so, are they exempt from at least some of our ethical expectations? Finally, how far can our understanding of others go? For example, how do we understand 'inner lives' of infants, of people with dementia, of people with schizophrenia, or of people without any empathy whatsoever? How do we understand mental lives of non-human animals? For that matter, how do non-human animals understand us? Is it true that other minds will always remain unknown and inscrutable to a considerable degree? The literature on other minds is vast and heterogeneous. In addition to a number of philosophical texts, we will be reading in a wide area of contemporary scientific research: on 'mindreading', social cognition, empathy, and on so-called psychopathology. Time permitting, we will also consider the role of narrative fiction (in literature and film) in expanding and deepening our knowledge of other minds. [ more ]

PHIL 358 TUT Reasoning and Inference: The Philosophy of Logic

Last offered Spring 2022

This is a course in the philosophy of logic. What, you may ask, is the philosophy of logic? In a logic class, we think about how to represent ordinary language and thinking within formal systems and how to prove various things within these systems. In a philosophy of logic class, we think about what we are doing when we do logic. An example might be helpful. You are psyched to be reading this course description right now. At least, let's assume that you are for the sake of argument. A number of things follow from this happy assumption. Here are a few: (i) You are psyched. (ii) You are reading. (iii) You exist. (iv) It is possible that you are reading. (v) Either you are reading or you are a fish. In the first part of this course, we are going to focus on what this following-from business amounts to, and ask whether there is a special sense of following-from that characterizes logic? We will also try to get more precise in our understanding of some of the key concepts in logic, such as contradiction, consistency, logical consequence, syntax and semantics. In the second part of the course, we will turn to the fundamental questions concerning the status and structure of logic. Logic is sometimes called the study of reason. But, is logic the study of how people do reason, or is it the study of how people should reason? Against the first, people often don't seem to reason very well. On the other hand, if logic is about how we should reason, what makes it the case that we should reason one way rather than another? What makes a theorem of logic true? For that matter, what are logical theorems even about? Should we revise logic in light of empirical discoveries in, for example, physics or psychology? If so, what are the constraints on good revisions? Logicians and mathematicians have done a good deal of work developing extensions of and alternatives to classical logic. Some philosophers have wondered, however, whether the notion of an alternative logic is even coherent. We will end the course with a discussion of some of these alternatives. Among the authors we will read are: Aristotle, Frege, Russell, Quine, Kripke, Putnam, Field and Fine. [ more ]

PHIL 360 SEM The Political Thought of Frantz Fanon

Last offered Fall 2019

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 364 SEM Mental Health and Illness: Philosophical Considerations

Last offered Spring 2020

This course will raise and discuss a number of philosophical questions concerning our current understanding of mental health and mental illness. We will begin by examining the general concepts of health and disease, and then apply them to human psychology. Throughout the course, our focus will be on the best theoretical and practical knowledge we now have to diagnose, explain, and alleviate mental illness. Some of the questions that we will discuss are: What is psychopathology and what are its causes? Is it possible to have systematic knowledge of subjective experience? If so, is that knowledge importantly different in kind or in rigor from the knowledge we gain through physics, chemistry or geology? Are there metaphysical and ideological assumptions in contemporary psychiatry, and if so, could and should they be avoided? What is the basis on which current psychiatric diagnostic manuals are organized? Is that principle of organization justifiable or not? Do particular case histories offer good explanations of psychopathology? In framing and answering these questions, we will discuss subjective experience (or phenomenology) of mental illness; holism vs. reductionism; functional, historical and structural explanations of psychopathology; theory formation, evidence, and the role of values in psychology and psychiatry; the diversity and disunity of psychotherapeutic approaches; relationship between knowers and the known; and relationship between theoretical knowledge in psychiatry and the practices of healing. [ more ]

PHIL 378 SEM Pragmatist 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 379(S) SEM American Pragmatism

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 SEM Relativism

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 TUT Consciousness

Last offered Spring 2019

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 390 SEM Discourse Dynamics

Last offered Spring 2023

It'd be perfectly natural to say "I might've left the stove on", then check the stove, then say "I didn't leave the stove on". But perform those exact same steps in a different order--check the stove, say "I didn't leave the stove on", then say "I might've left the stove on"--and something's gone quite wrong. Conversation is dynamic--the back and forth exchange of information is a process that grows and adapts to the surrounding context. The order in which you say things matters, and it matters for what you communicate what actions you take and what events happen around you. In this course, we will investigate dynamic communicative phenomena and discuss competing theoretical explanations about how they're interpreted. Of particular interest will be the extent to which discourse dynamics are built into the meanings of linguistic expressions vs. the extent to which they're consequences of our rational cognition. Is a sentence's relation to previously uttered sentences similar to its relation to extra-linguistic events? How much inference goes into interpreting what's said? In pursuing the answers to these questions, we will discuss both classic and contemporary theories from philosophy and linguistics. [ more ]

PHIL 393 TUT Nietzsche 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) SEM Senior Seminar--Philosophy in the Public Sphere

In this seminar we will study contemporary philosophers who see themselves as public intellectuals, using various media to engage in the wider world. [ more ]

PHIL 491 HON Senior Essay: Philosophy

Last offered Fall 2023

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) HON 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). This is part of a full-year thesis (493-494). [ more ]

PHIL 494(S) HON 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). This is part of a full-year thesis (493-494). [ more ]