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Instructors’ Course Descriptions for Spring 2021

The following descriptions of courses being offered by the Philosophy Department in Spring 2021 were submitted by the course instructors.

Specific information regarding the dates, times, and formats of these courses may be found in the Registrar’s official Schedule of Courses for Spring 2021.

2000-Level Courses

PHI 2010 Introduction to Philosophy — Dr. Borges

The goal of this course is to introduce students to some of the main issues in Western Philosophy. We will do this by critically approaching classical and contemporary readings on question such as ‘What is philosophy?’, ‘What is knowledge?’, ‘How should we act?’, and ‘What is the meaning of life?’. A further goal is to introduce students to the methods and tools philosophers use when approaching philosophical questions. This course counts towards the Humanities (H) general education requirement and the Writing (W) requirement (4000 words).


PHI 2010 Introduction to Philosophy — Dr. Driggers

Perhaps you decided to enroll in college to increase your knowledge about a particular subject. Maybe, after a few courses, you would say that you know a thing or two about, for example, calculus or business administration or art history. But how can you really be sure?

Ask yourself: how do you know that you aren’t dreaming right now? Or that you aren’t in an elaborate virtual reality simulation? Could it be that all of the experts you rely on for “knowledge” are really just trying to cheat you out of money? Once you begin to doubt these things, how can you be sure that you really “know” anything?

In Introduction to Philosophy, you will learn how to tackle skeptical questions like these. In our first unit of the class, we will ask about the foundations of knowledge. What does it mean to know something, as opposed to merely believing it?

We will also consider questions in a variety of different areas of philosophy. For example, we will wonder about the relationship of your mind to your brain. Are they the same thing? Could your mind exist apart from your brain? Could there be zombies with no mind at all?

In addition to questions about knowledge and the mind-body relationship, we will ask other philosophical questions: Can we prove that God exists, or can we only have faith that God exists? To what extent does the morality of our actions depend on forces beyond our control? Why be moral in the first place?

Our primary goal will be to construct and evaluate arguments based on good evidence in favor of different answers to these questions.  The answers we will consider come from both classical readings in Philosophy (like Descartes’ Meditations) as well as from contemporary sources.

This course aims to develop students’ skills in critical thinking, reading, and writing. Class time will largely be discussion-based, though I will lecture on some key concepts from the reading.

Students will be asked to write three papers. They will also be asked to participate in a peer review process of two of these papers to help them challenge their ideas and strengthen their arguments. The rest of the course grade will be based on students participating in guided discussion, writing weekly short assignments, and their performance on a final exam.


PHI 2010 Introduction to Philosophy — Dr. Gardner

Is it rational to believe in God? Do you really know what you think you know? Do you have free will? What is the right thing to do? This course will equip you with some philosophical methodology and some background information you can use to try to answer these and similar questions. We will survey some of the main topics in philosophy, including metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and the philosophy of mind. Through class discussions and short writing assignments, we will also practice using philosophical methods like logical argumentation and thought experiments. Since this is an introductory course, it presumes no background in philosophy.


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 what makes a good argument, the nature of morality, and social justice. 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.


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).


PHI 2630 Contemporary Moral Issues (UFO) — Dr. Purves

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).


IDS 2935 Ideas in Conflict (Quest) — Dr. Borges

If war is the continuation of politics by different means, then how should we approach disagreement in order to avoid war? This course investigates how we can have a fair fight in the battlefield of ideas. To that end, we draw lessons from psychology, history, philosophy, economics, and more.


IDS 2935  Ethics and the Public Sphere (Quest) — Dr. J. Rothschild

Contemporary public discourse is teeming with issues of urgent moral concern. 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 may include, for example, freedom of speech, economic inequality, and sex and gender justice (among others). 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.


3000-Level Courses

PHH 3100 Ancient Greek 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.


PHH 3400 Modern Philosophy — Dr. Driggers

Can your mind exist without your body? Does God exist, and if so, what is God like? How are we supposed to answer these questions: can we rely on our sense experience, or do we believe that we have innate ideas? Does the physical world exist outside of our minds? In this course, we will read and discuss how philosophers from the Early Modern period answered these and other questions. We will read works by Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Berkeley, Conway, Hume, Leibniz and Kant. These philosophers are interesting not only because they produced difficult and fascinating arguments in favor of radically different answers to these questions, but also because they were “systematic” thinkers. Our goal will be to get an understanding of the various philosophical “systems” constructed by these philosophers in an effort to help us answer deep questions about the nature of god, the possibility of miracles, the nature and limits of human knowledge, the nature of personal identity, the existence and nature of the material world and so on. This course is highly recommended not only for philosophy majors, but also for those interested in how thinkers from the past tried to answer the “big questions” that we ask ourselves today. This course presupposes no knowledge of the history of philosophy, though students would likely benefit from having taken Ancient Greek philosophy.


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.


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?

Identity; Type and Token: There are many relations that can hold between multiple individuals, and many ways that several individuals can be “the same” in some sense. But there is a special relation, self-identity, that an individuals only holds towards itself and nothing else. Understanding the difference between this kind of identity relation and other kinds of “sameness” is key to understanding a host of puzzling philosophical problems.

Time (& a bit of Space): What is time, exactly? Is time 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? Is there any such thing as the self at all, or is it just a very robust illusion?


PHI 3650 Moral Philosophy — Dr. J. Rothschild

This course is an introduction to some of the foundational issues and influential theories in Western moral philosophy.  We will concentrate most of our efforts on a few ethical theories: utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, and Aristotle’s virtue ethics.  The main goal of our engagement with these few is to understand what resources the theories have to help us describe and assess what is good in human motivations, actions, activities, and even complete human beings and human lives.  We will also attend to some of the framing issues of moral theory, such as the potential for objectivity of some sort in moral thinking, the extent to which moral theory is relevant t0 everyday living, and the potential for things beyond our control to limit our possibilities for doing and being good.


PHH 3111 Ancient Ethical and 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 3420 Philosophy of the Social Sciences — 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.


PHI 3551 Thought Experiments — Dr. Biro

Thought experiments are the bread and butter of philosophy.  In this course we will discuss a number of well-known examples, both for their intrinsic interest and as a way of drawing morals about a particular philosophical question and about the method itself. Students who successfully complete the course should be familiar with with several famous thought experiments and be skilled at close examination of hypothetical examples for the purpose of assessing their coherence and significance. They will also become acquainted with the contemporary debate about the propriety of appealing to thought experiments. Requirements include three papers of moderate length and class participation.


PHI 3641 Ethics and Innovation — 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.


PHI 3681 Ethics, Tech, and Data — Dr. Ross

This course exposes students to important interactions between ethics, economics, and public policy in assessing the social value of emerging technologies. Students will grapple with foundational concepts in ethics, economics, and policy-making. The course pairs theoretical discussions of the philosophical dimensions of 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 cars, big data policing algorithms, and germline gene editing, among others.


PHI 3930 Philosophy of AI — Dr. Dorst

This class will explore some fundamental questions about the nature, possibility, and potential consequences of artificial intelligence. We will begin by considering some questions about intelligence in general: What is its nature? How is it measured? Is it an objective characteristic? We will then turn to the issue of whether it is possible to create genuine ​artificial intelligence, and if so, how it might be done: Could a computer truly be said to ​think and ​understand​? And what methods might we use to develop an intelligent computer? Finally, we will consider the potential societal consequences of the development of a genuine artificial intelligence: Could we reasonably hope to control it? What are the potential benefits and detriments? What is the likelihood of an “intelligence explosion,” and what might be the effects if one occurs? In this last unit, we will work through Nick Bostrom’s recent book, ​Superintelligence​, and critically evaluate it on the basis of our earlier topics.


PHI 3930 Philosophy of Comedy — Dr. Driggers

The first section of the course will consider various answers to the question: what is it for something to be funny? What is it about a joke, a sketch, or a cartoon that deservedly elicits laughter? And how is laughter about funny things different than laugher that expresses anxiety or grief? This section introduces students to techniques of conceptual analysis as well as the philosophical thought of Hobbes, Freud, Bergson, Dennett and others.

The second section concerns the aesthetics of humor in the context of more general aesthetic concerns. For example, we will explore the curious connection between the humorous and the horrific, ask whether or not there is a form/content distinction in humor as some argue is present in other art forms, and wonder about the nature and power of irony.  We will also ask whether or not something can be “objectively” funny.

The third and final section will investigate the relationship between ethics, politics, and comedy. For example, we will wonder whether or not the ethical content of a joke (is it sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic?) impacts its funniness and whether or not one can appreciate the craft of jokes even if they disagree about the positions advanced by the comedian via those jokes. Alternatively, we will discuss whether or not a joke’s being baldly political can be a detriment to its funniness. Finally, we will discuss the political value of humor in comics like Chapelle, Carlin, Bamford, and Gadsby.


PHI 3930 Buddhist Philosophy — Dr. Poceski

The course is a survey of the main concepts and traditions of Buddhist philosophy. It focuses on the classical systems of Buddhist philosophy that developed in India, covering both the early schools and the Mahāyāna movement. Additionally, it explores the growth and transformation of Buddhist philosophy outside of India, especially in China. While Buddhist philosophy tends to be shaped by soteriological concerns, centered about a quest for spiritual liberation or insight into reality, the course examines the creative ways in which major Buddhist thinkers have addressed central philosophical concerns with metaphysical, hermeneutical, epistemological, and ethical implications.


PHI 3930 Philosophy of Love and Sex — Dr. Pismenny

Love and sex are essential to human life, and many would argue that our intimate relationships are the key to self-esteem, fulfillment, and even happiness itself. In fact, our intimate relationships are probably more important to our sense of well-being than our careers. Yet we spend tremendously little time thinking about love and sex. In this course, you will be asked to reflect on the most intimate sphere of human experience.

We will explore several philosophical problems arising from reflection on romantic love and sex including the nature of love, the relationship between value and desire, the rationality of emotion, and ethical nonmonogamy. In addition, we’ll look at moral questions concerning sex, and discuss why certain practices are considered perverse or immoral. We will examine the role of consent as a necessary and/or sufficient condition for legitimate sexual intercourse. Furthermore, we will examine the role of the mental in sexual desire in discussing racial sexual desires and BDSM.

The goal of the class is to be useful to you in your own lives. Reflection on personal experience, beliefs, and values will be central to the course as a whole. I hope that in the end you will obtain a better understanding of your own beliefs and values about love and sex, and acquire tools for thinking about problems concerning these topics.


PHM 3127 Race and Philosophy — Dr. Auxter

In this course, we take a critical approach to the study of race. We examine race and racism from the perspectives of those who have suffered from racist policies and behaviors. We ask how it is possible to overcome racism in a comprehensive way –establishing racial justice as a program for action.

The United States has been the scene of racist policies and behaviors for more than four centuries, since 1619. It is “the original sin” of the nation, which was written into the Constitution in 1789, enforced in various ways, and changed forms often. But it has never been eradicated or even substantially reduced, since slavery was abolished.

What would it take to recognize the dimensions of racism in social, political, and economic spheres? What would it take to eliminate racism and establish institutions that bring about racial justice?

What are the international dimensions of racism? How has colonization of Africa and the Caribbean reshaped the world? How have racist laws and social practices been established so that Europeans and their descendants dominate and dictate policy? How have expectations of ways of life been refashioned so that the image of Europeans is always visible? What is it like to exist under an apartheid regime in South Africa? What is it like to experience economic and social repression so extreme that a worse scenario cannot be imagined? How does life in the United States differ? How is life in the United States the same?

How is racism in India maintained and perpetuated? Why did Martin Luther King, Jr. go to India to see what life was like? What did he learn from Gandhi about the struggle against racism? What is the power of nonviolent struggle? What are the limitations? What are the lessons to be learned by comparing the United States with India?

What forms does the struggle against racism take in Europe? What lessons are to be learned by comparing forms of racism in the United States and Europe?

We will search for answers to these questions in readings and in classroom discussion.

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

Texts: Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks; Steve Biko, I Write What I Like; Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist; Lewis R. Gordon, ed., Existence in Black: An Anthology Of Black Existential Philosophy

Books and Readings on Reserve in Library West: Steve Biko, I Write What I Like; Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks; The Wretched of the Earth; Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist; Martin Luther King, Jr., A Testament of Hope;  “Nonviolence: The Only Road to Freedom”; “Showdown for Nonviolence”; “The Ethical Demands for Integration”;  “A Time to Break Silence”;  “Letter from Birmingham City Jail”; Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?; Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents; Thomas Auxter, “Abolishing Apartheid”; “Justice for Farm Workers”


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.


4000-Level Courses

PHH 4644 Continental Philosophy — N. Rothschild

A study of selected works by 19th and 20th century continental philosophers.  Specifically, this course will read texts by Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Foucault.  These texts will be used to call into question the view that the solitary individual is the ground of human thought and action.  Taken together the course materials challenge the target understanding of the subject along three axes.  One, they deny that the single individual is a unified whole.  Instead they contend there are sub-personal sources of action and that the unity of the individual subject is, if possible, an achievement.  Second, these texts argue that human thought and action is possible only insofar as it is located within a wider context of intelligibility such as that provided by a particular social structure or form of life.  Finally, these texts argue that the subject is historically constituted due to the dependence of subjectivity on shared practices. What it is to be a subject is determined by how we understand ourselves, and how we understand ourselves determines, and is determined by, shared practices that can and do change.


PHI 4662 Ethical Theory — Dr. Gardner

This course will focus on the role of consequences in ethical theory. It is widely believed—by consequentialists, of course, but even by many deontologists—that the consequences of our actions matter morally. But this idea raises further questions. For example, there are causal consequences, logical consequences, and even counterfactual consequences. Do some kinds of consequences matter more than others? Moreover, some consequences are immediate, whereas others obtain millions of years in the future. Does the importance of consequences fade with time? And what should we say in a case where a significant consequence, like climate change, cannot be traced back to any single individual’s action, like driving a car? The prerequisite for this class is either a 3000-level philosophy course or department permission.


PHI 4930 Philosophy of Emotion — Dr. Pismenny

This course has two central aims. One is to understand how a philosophical approach to emotions differs from, but can benefit from scientific studies. The other is to understand the centrality of emotion in our practical, moral and aesthetic experience. We will attempt to shed light on the following questions: What exactly are emotions? How are they like and unlike other mental states and processes? Are they shaped mostly by our genes, or by culture and society? How do they relate to beliefs and desires? Do emotions apprehend values in the world, or do they create values by being projected onto the world? Are emotions rational, irrational or arational? Can they be shaped, defended, and justified? What role do they play in morality? Are there specifically “moral emotions”? How are emotions involved in our experience of movies, music, art and literature?