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Instructors’ Course Descriptions for Spring 2020

The following descriptions of courses being offered by the Philosophy Department in Spring 2020 were submitted by the course instructors. Exceptions are descriptions in braces {…}, which have been adopted from the Undergraduate Catalogue (students desiring further information regarding the specific content of courses with bracketed descriptions are advised to contact the instructors directly).

Specific information regarding the dates, times, and locations of these courses may be found in the Registrar’s official Schedule of Courses for Spring 2020.

2000-Level Courses

PHI 2010 Introduction to Philosophy — Dr. D’Amico

The course introduces students to the topic of philosophy through contemporary and historical selections. The four units of the course cover some readings in theory of knowledge and the threat of skepticism, the metaphysical mind-body problem, the question of whether human actions are free or not, and realism concerning moral properties. This course fulfills the Gordon Rule for 4000 words and Humanities General Education credit.
Syllabus (PDF)

PHI 2010 Introduction to Philosophy — Dr. J.Rothschild

In this course we will engage some of the fundamental questions and classical texts in philosophy. Central topics include questions about what human beings are and what we need; questions about the possibility of morality and about the construction of just political arrangements; questions about human understanding and its limits; questions about the sociality of human beings; and questions about the ways we are determined from without and the ways we are free to determine ourselves. We will track our various authors’ approaches to these philosophical concerns, examine their arguments about how these concerns relate to one another, and consider how the course texts make a case for the relevance of these questions to our own human lives. The course involves a significant focus on philosophical writing. Readings are taken mostly from the history of philosophy, including Descartes, Hume, Freud, Althusser, Arendt, and Plato.

PHI 2010 Introduction to Philosophy — Dr. Pismenny

This course will introduce you to some of the main topics of philosophy. Philosophy addresses some of the most fundamental questions in life. The main tool by which Philosophy addresses these questions is the human capacity to reason. You will find that philosophical answers are based on reasoned arguments, which analyze and seek to justify beliefs. Philosophy, therefore, is a sort of self-examination, in which you discover what you think, and then reflect on whether your opinions are really worth holding. To look critically at your own ideas is the essence of the life of reason.

During this course you will examine your views on several core philosophical topics such as the nature of personal identity, the possibility of knowledge, and the basis of morality. You will read philosophical texts, analyze their arguments and evaluate their answers to the questions of the course, see how philosophical concepts can help you understand practical dilemmas, and express your ideas through arguments – both verbal and written – which present your reasons for holding your beliefs.
Syllabus (PDF)

PHI 2010 Introduction to Philosophy — Dr. Dorst

This course is a general introduction to philosophical questions, methods, discussion, reading, and writing. It presumes no background in philosophy. We will be surveying various philosophical topics in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and philosophy of mind. Some examples of questions we will be addressing are: What evidence is there for or against the existence of God? Can we be sure that there is an external world? Is the mind distinct from the brain? Do we have free will (and if not, what are the consequences for ethics)? What distribution of social goods is demanded by justice? Throughout the course, there will be a heavy emphasis on learning to discuss and write about philosophical topics, so class discussion will be an important component.
Syllabus (PDF)

PHI 2630 Contemporary Moral Issues — Dr. Rick

Do non-human animals have moral standing, comparable to that of human beings? Is it ever morally permissible to eat animals? What is sexism, and should prostitution be ethically and legally permissible or prohibited? What is racism, and are affirmative action policies morally justified or morally bankrupt? What is the most ethically justified immigration policy – one of largely open or largely closed borders? Given the persistence of vast global poverty in our world, what moral duties do those of us in wealthy nations have to persons in impoverished states? Should private gun ownership be morally permissible or impermissible? Is climate change a significant issue for individual morality? Are individuals morally responsible for their greenhouse gas emissions, despite the fact that individual actions seem to make little difference to climate change?

These are examples of moral questions about which many of us have strong and often opposing opinions. And, just as we disagree on many of these issues, so do many philosophers, political theorists, and economists. In this course, we examine opposing philosophical arguments and points of view on these urgent moral questions. The governing aim of our course will be to come to grips with and critically reflect on the underlying justifications for the various sides of these different debates. This course counts towards the Humanities (H) general education requirement and the Writing (W) requirement (4000 words).
Syllabus (PDF)

PHI 2630 Contemporary Moral Issues WEB — Dr. Pismenny

This course serves as an introduction to philosophical thinking about contemporary moral topics. In addition to briefly exploring frameworks for ethical thinking, we will tackle the following topics: abortion, the treatment of non-human animals, ethics of technology, and sexuality, romantic love, and friendship. Students should expect several short writing assignments as well as some longer writing assignments in fulfillment of the Gordon Rule requirement (4000 words).
Syllabus (PDF)

IDS 2935 Ethics & the Public Sphere — Dr. Ahlberg

Contemporary public discourse is teeming with issues of urgent moral concern. From the me too campaign and associated conversations about sexual violence to the presence of right wing extremists on campus, and the growing imperatives to respond to economic inequality, we are faced with complex challenges that have ethical problems at their core. It is not always easy, however, to think through these challenges in a responsible and productive way. So, how is one to begin?

This interdisciplinary Quest 1 course explores the how the methods and traditions in the humanities provide resources for approaching publicly relevant ethical issues. The topics we will address include campus free speech, economic inequality, and sex and gender justice. Philosophical and legal arguments, laws, papal encyclicals, pastoral letters, historical analyses, and news articles will be incorporated into our course readings. The crucial skills we will emphasize throughout the class include identifying the moral dimensions of legal, political, and economic problems; critically evaluating traditions and perspectives; appreciating the diversity of perspectives on these controversial issues; thinking beyond one’s own interests; and approaching disagreement with open-mindedness and a willingness to be rationally persuaded. The class is thus for students from any major who want to explore public moral challenges in rigorous, creative ways. Assignments will include short writings on the ethical topics listed above, and a capstone project in which students address an ethical, public issue of importance to them.
Syllabus (PDF)

IDS 2935 Conflict of Ideas: How to Fight Fair — Dr. Borges

The focus of the course will be on the conflict of ideas, and on how students can make a positive and lasting impact on the conflicts they will encounter in their own lives. To that end, students will learn about multiple aspects of intellectual conflict: psychological aspects of conflict that stand in the way of conscientious dialogue, questions about rhetoric and its role in manipulation, facing and working with our own cognitive limitations, and structuring debate and dialogue in a way that should help us make progress without simply compromising for the sake of peace. They will also practice and witness intellectual disagreements as they debate their fellow students and observe others engage in intellectual disagreement. In virtue of the complexity of the social phenomenon that is intellectual disagreement, students will be exposed to readings in multiple disciplines. Those include the disciplines of economics, statistics, history, feminist ethics, psychology, linguistics, computer science, philosophy, biology, and theology (see schedule for details). Assignments include short argumentative essays, reports on observed conflicts, and practicing and evaluating in-class debates.
Syllabus (PDF)

3000-Level Courses

PHH 3100 Ancient Philosophy — Dr. J.Palmer

This course is the first part of the Philosophy Department’s history of philosophy sequence. Together with PHH 3400: Modern Philosophy, it aims to give students an understanding of the major questions addressed in the history of Western philosophy, the range of answers offered to these questions, and the methods employed in addressing them. This course particularly aims to familiarize students with some of the main ideas of the three most important thinkers who stand at the beginning of the western philosophical tradition: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. We will also devote some attention to the early Greek philosophers Zeno, Anaxagoras, and Democritus as well as to Epicurus as a representative of Hellenistic philosophy. PHH 3100 is required of all philosophy majors and meets an area requirement for the philosophy minor.
Syllabus (PDF)

PHH 3111 Ancient Ethical & Political Thought — N.Rothschild

The focus of this course is the ethical and political thought of Plato and Aristotle. Both authors saw ethics and political theory as inextricable. Following their lead, the course will make a special point of examining the ways in which these authors’ ethical and political views inform one another. The course begins by examining Plato’s development of the view that the ideal individual and political community is one governed by knowledge. This guiding commitment has decisive consequences for, among other things, Plato’s understanding of justice, the relation of rulers to ruled and the terrible shortcomings of democratic forms of government. Of special interest, will be examining the way Plato’s commitment fits with and shapes his developing understanding of human beings as creatures that live together. The course will then turn to Aristotle. Aristotle presents Nicomachean Ethics as a precursor to an account of the ideal community, and we will read the Ethics in this light before moving on to Aristotle’s scientific study of political community proper in Politics. We will examine the ways in which Aristotle seeks to extend Plato’s thought that the constituting principle of both individuals and political communities ought to be knowledge, while simultaneously trying to avoid some of Plato’s more radical and unsettling conclusions. Aristotle’s resulting vision of the best life and political community presents its own version of the view that human life is lived with others. We will try to understand this view, the view encapsulated in Aristotle’s oft quoted, frequently misunderstood claim that man is a ‘political animal.’

PHI 3114 Reasoning — Dr. Ray

Philosophy is especially concerned with bringing reason to bear on tough questions. Philosophical texts and discourse are rich in reasoned case-making in the form of argumentation and dialogic disputation. In this course, we will develop our skill in the identification, extraction and representation of arguments from philosophical texts. This is primarily a skill-building class. We focus on practical techniques that help us understand, and will make central use of diagrammatic techniques for representing the structure of arguments. We will learn strategies for understanding challenging arguments and developing clear, defensible interpretations/criticisms of them. Finally, we will turn things around and show how these very same techniques make writing a thesis-defense essay dramatically easy. (You will never look on a paper assignment the same way again!) The skills gained in this class will improve your own reasoning skills and critical discernment. The content of this course will be of value to every student. This course requires subscription to a web-based diagramming service for the duration of the course (free to you). There is no required textbook to purchase. Note: This is not a course in logic and no training in logic is presupposed. Students of logic will learn a fundamental complementary skill. More Info >>
Syllabus (PDF)

PHI 3130 Symbolic Logic — Dr. Borges

This course will familiarize students with the syntax, semantics, and some of the metalogical results of first-order propositional and predicate logic. Students will also learn some extensions of those first-order logics, such as modal logic. Finally, we will explore connections and differences between formal logic and human reasoning.

PHH 3400 Modern Philosophy — Dr. Duncan

This is an introduction to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European philosophy. We will focus on four prominent works of the period: René Descartes’ 1641 Meditations, Benedict Spinoza’s 1677 Ethics, John Locke’s 1689 Essay concerning Human Understanding, and David Hume’s 1748 Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. We will also look, more briefly, at the views of some of their contemporaries. The course will focus on the philosophers’ views in metaphysics and epistemology, but will also consider views in the physical sciences and in ethics. Assessment will involve papers, a final exam, and some other smaller items.

This course, together with PHH 3100, aims to give students an understanding of major questions addressed in the history of Western philosophy, the range of answers offered to these questions, and the methods employed in addressing them. As well as meeting requirements for the Philosophy major and minor, PHH3400 counts towards the Humanities (H) general education requirements.
Syllabus (PDF)

PHI 3420 Philosophy of Social Science — Dr. Rick

Ours is an age in which, for the right price, almost anything can be bought and sold. It is an age where the mechanism of the Market reigns supreme in organizing the production and distribution of nearly everything we might value (and, indeed, also much of what we don’t). Ours is not merely a market economy but a market society: The principles of market exchange increasingly govern more and more of our social life, well beyond even the buying and selling of material goods. Living in a market society, like any society, has its benefits and burdens. The aim of this course is to interrogate the value of living life on the open market. These will be our governing, guiding questions: What exactly is a market, and what are the moral underpinnings, moral successes, and moral limitations of markets? While markets are extremely effective at telling us how much things cost, do they help or hinder us in determining how much things are worth? In responding to these guiding questions, we will examine various topics in Social Philosophy — and the Social Sciences, more broadly – which reside at the intersection of Politics, Ethics, and Economics. Potential topics include the moral psychology of human motivation; the division of labor; the exploitation of labor; the moral standing of corporate entities, laissez-faireism vs. regulation; democratic institutions and the marketplace; and the infiltration of markets into areas of our life, which we might have presumed were not for sale. Our readings will include both historical and contemporary sources.
Syllabus (PDF)

PHI 3500 Metaphysics — Dr. Ross

Metaphysics is, generally speaking, the study of the fundamental nature of reality. This course will cover several core topics in contemporary analytic metaphysics. Topics we will likely cover (and the main questions associated with them) are:

The Mind/Body Problem: Persons seem to consist of both minds and bodies, but what is the relation between these? Bodies are paradigmatic physical objects, and if any non-physical entities exist, thoughts and mental states are top contenders. But our minds certainly seem to control our bodily actions; how could a non-physical entity interact with the physical world? Or might minds be physical, despite first appearances?

Particulars & Universals: There are lots of particular things that are, for example, red. But is there something over and above all these instances, like the property (or “universal”) of redness? Do we need to posit such things, or can we explain everything to be explained without doing so?

Time (& a bit of Space): What is time exactly? Is it real? Is it an objective sort of thing? How is time related to space? Is time travel theoretically possible (is it physically possible)?

Personal Identity: How is it that one person remains the same person throughout enormous changes in their lifetime? How do other, ordinary things, persist through change? Does anything really persist through change?

In addition, we may tackle an additional topic: causation, free will, modality (necessity and possibility), or… depending on class interest and facility with the subject.
Syllabus (PDF)

PHI 3633 Bioethics — Dr. Dorst

This course aims to familiarize students with some of the central issues, positions, and arguments in biomedical ethics. The course begins with an exploration of general moral theories and principles, and then proceeds to apply these theories and principles to a host of issues such as paternalism and autonomy, truth-telling and confidentiality, informed consent, abortion, reproductive technologies, the distribution of healthcare resources, and euthanasia. Throughout the course, our primary aim will not necessarily be to figure out “The Correct Answer,” but rather to appreciate the diversity of positions on these issues, and to understand the reasons and arguments that can be used to support these positions.
Syllabus (PDF)

PHI 3641 Conduct, Change and Consequences: Making Ethical Decisions — Dr. E.Palmer

This course is designed to familiarize students with some of the major ethical theories, with ethical issues surrounding innovation, and with some of the psychological obstacles to acting ethically. We will survey the main ethical theories – utilitarianism, deontological ethics, and virtue ethics – to provide a theoretical framework for our discussion of some of the different ethical issues surrounding innovations in fields such as bioengineering and Internet technology. Finally, we will consider how psychological factors inhibit ethical behavior, with an eye towards identifying strategies to combat them.
Syllabus (PDF)

PHI 3650 Moral Philosophy — Dr. Pismenny

This course provides an introduction to problems of moral philosophy, or ethics. We will be asking the following questions: 1. Where does morality come from? 2. What do we do when we make a moral judgment? 3. What should morality be like? 4. What does morality do for us? 5. Why should we be moral? In attempting to answer these questions, we will examine and scrutinize various views, theories, and arguments. For instance, we will look at the popular view of Cultural Relativism (‘What’s right is whatever my culture says is right’), examine the role of religion in morality (e.g., ‘What’s right is just what God says is right’), and, most importantly, attempt to understand the role of reason in morality with views like Social Contract Theory, Kantian Ethics, and Utilitarianism. We will work with historical as well as contemporary texts and look at the ways in which they attempt to provide systematic procedures for answering questions about right and wrong. In addition, we will discuss a variety of specific moral issues such as assisted suicide, racial biases, and drug policies and drug addiction among others. Our discussion will also draw on empirical data pertaining to these issues. Throughout the course we will seek not so much to form judgments about specific moral issues—most of us do that on our own anyway, though with varying degrees of certitude—but to improve our thinking about the considerations that may count as reasons for and against the moral judgments we are tempted to make.
Syllabus (PDF)

PHP 3786 Existentialism — Dr. Auxter

In this course we will examine the philosophical themes and concepts of existentialism in context — including historical, geographical, cultural, religious, social, and political contexts. The goal is to evaluate contributions to philosophical debates about reality, knowledge, personal identity, sensibilities, consciousness, values, and commitment. We will read both classical and contemporary texts.

Topics: What is existentialism? Who are the first existentialists? What are the historical conditions that give rise to existentialism as a movement or school of thought? Who are the major existentialist thinkers receiving the attention of the literary world? Of the philosophical world? What are the main themes and approaches? How do existentialist ideas change traditional conceptions of the relationship between reason and faith? How are existentialist themes developed in European texts? In African and Latin American texts? How are existentialist values related to traditional Western values? What are the traditional Western roles for women? How do existentialists challenge this? How are gender differences regarded in each type of view? How are people who were previously colonized regarded in the traditional Western approach? How do existentialists connect issues about oppression with issues about freedom? How does existentialism change as it moves across national boundaries? How does existentialism change with time?

Requirements: There will be a midterm essay test and two essays written in a final examination. Each of the essays will count as one third of the grade. Students are expected to attend class.
Syllabus (PDF)

PHI 3930 Metaphysics: Ordinary Objects — Dr. Biro

For most of the semester, we will be exploring some much-debated questions about the individuation and identity conditions of material objects: what makes one the object it is and distinct from others and what makes it the same object over time. Our discussions will be based on recent papers on these topics which will be made available in a course-pack. Towards the end of the semester, we will take a brief look at parallel questions concerning persons.

There will be two examinations, one near the middle and one near the end of the semester. In addition, you may write a paper; if you do, your course grade will be based on the best two of the three earned.
Syllabus (PDF)

PHI 3930 Ethics of Technology — Dr. Ross

This course exposes students to ethical issues related to emerging technology in data science, algorithmic decision-making, and artificial intelligence. Students will grapple with foundational concepts in ethics, economics, and policy-making. Beginning with a brief introduction to philosophical ethics, the then course pairs theoretical discussions of ethics, economics and policy-making with concrete issues in emerging technologies. Discussion topics include: cost-benefit analysis, risk, markets and market failures, economic valuations of technology, justice and fairness, and property rights. We will apply these concepts in assessing emerging technologies like autonomous weapons, big data policing algorithms, facial recognition cameras, and “creative” machine learning algorithms.
Syllabus (PDF)

PHI 3930 Plato on Eros — N.Rothschild

This course will focus on three of Plato’s dialogues, Symposium, Phaedrus and Republic, along with supporting literature. It will do so in order to pursue two primary goals. The first is to work out Plato’s understanding of eros, or love. The second, is to explore the ways in which Plato uses love to make sense of a number of fundamental psychological and metaphysical notions such as desire, emotion, the soul, and the ideal character of the objects of knowledge. If all goes well, the pursuit of these two goals will be mutually reinforcing, the understanding of eros shining light on Plato’s understanding of these other subjects, and vice versa. The course focuses on these three dialogues because they seem to advance two (difficult to understand) claims: namely, that human beings are in some sense essentially erotic, and that the intelligible order of the cosmos is best understood as an object of love.

4000-Level Courses

PHI 4320 Philosophy of Mind — Dr. D’Amico

Philosophy of mind has become central to much of contemporary philosophy. This course takes the problem of and response to dualism as its focus. In recent decades there have been innovative positions that incorporate some feature of dualism into an otherwise naturalistic account. For example, there are positions called emergentism, anomalous monism, and property dualism. The course will trace some of these debates through selections from, among others, Rene Descartes, Karen Bennett, Lynne Rudder Baker, Donald Davidson, Jerry Fodor, and John Searle. The course will also use Tim Crane’s The Elements of Mind, but the rest of the readings will be as PDFs under Files within our Canvas page.
Syllabus (PDF)

PHH 4930 Seminar on Kant & Hume — Dr. Biro

In this course, our goal will be to come to understand some of the central aspects of the philosophies of David Hume and Immanuel Kant and, especially, the relations between the two. Our primary texts from Hume will be An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, with occasional glimpses at A Treatise of Human Nature; from Kant, parts of the Critique of Pure Reason. There will be two required examinations and an optional paper. If you write a paper, your course grade will be based on the best two you earn.
Syllabus (PDF)

PHI 4930 African Philosophy — Dr. Auxter

In this course we will read important works in recent African philosophy. We will also discuss some of the most controversial issues addressed by African philosophers.

African philosophers to be studied include Steve Biko, Cheikh Anta Diop, Frantz Fanon, Kwame Gyekye, Tsenay Serequeberhan, and Kwasi Wiredu.

Topics: Why have the issues raised by African philosophers been all but invisible in Western discussions of significant philosophical questions? How is this phenomenon to be explained? How do Eurocentric accounts of the history of philosophy frame categories of interpretation that rule out, or at least skew, identification of the problems Africans urgently need to have addressed? How do conceptions of moral ideals framed by African philosophers change formulations of what it is to be human and what values are important? If we recognize the dimensions of the problem resulting from the Atlantic slave trade, what it would take to pursue social and economic justice today? If we recognize dimensions of the problem resulting from cultural genocide during colonization, what policies can we adopt today to address this issue? How do priorities identified, and values adopted, by African philosophers help shape and define choices for how to set policies today?

Requirements: A term paper will be due the week before classes end. Class attendance is required.
Syllabus (PDF)

PHH 4930 Seminar on Hannah Arendt — Dr. J.Rothschild

In this course we will read a number of works by Hannah Arendt, tracing the development of her most important philosophical themes. Arendt is committed to understanding a good human being as a creature of activity, one who is in a dynamic relationship with political and social conditions. Best known for her writings on totalitarianism and the Holocaust, she is also, of course, concerned with the darkness that comes when human moral and political activity is undermined, slowed, or in some other way fails. Dark as her work sometimes is, however, it is not bleak: she maintains a kind of hope for human beings, mining tradition for historical and philosophical lessons worth considering again in our contemporary political moment. Work for the course will include several short reading papers as well as a longer final paper. Prerequisite: completion of one 3000-level course in Philosophy or permission of the Philosophy Department. Recommended but not required: prior completion of one course (in any department) in moral or political theory.