To browse the full list of courses available by academic department, visit Courses of Instruction.


To browse the most up-to-date faculty listing, click here.

2016-2018 CATALOGUE

To browse the 2016-2018 Catalogue online as a PDF, click here.

2014-2016 CATALOGUE

To browse the 2014-2016 Catalogue online as a PDF, click here.

2012-2014 CATALOGUE

To browse the 2012-2014 Catalogue online as a PDF, click here.

2010-2012 CATALOGUE

To browse the 2010-2012 Catalogue online as a PDF, click here.

2008-2010 CATALOGUE

To browse the 2008-2010 Catalogue online as a PDF, click here.

2006-2008 CATALOGUE

The 2006-2008 Catalogue is still available online as a PDF. To browse it, click here.


If you have questions or comments about the new online Catalogue, please send us your feedback.



Courses in the Philosophy Department provide students with a background in the history of philosophy, and assist them in developing competence in the analysis and evaluation of philosophical problems and arguments that arise in making choices about their own lives and in participating in the decisions on the future of our society.

Philosophy is concerned with the most fundamental questions that human beings can ask. What is the ultimate nature of the world? When are our beliefs justified? What can we know? Which actions are right and which are wrong? What is the best form of government? What is the good life? Is mind reducible to body? In addition, philosophy seeks to understand the bases of other areas of study, for example in philosophy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of law, and philosophy of art.

The Philosophy Department welcomes both those who have an interest in continuing in philosophy and those who wish to use their philosophical training as a basis for other life pursuits. The study of philosophy has both intrinsic and instrumental value. The intrinsic value is the sense of satisfaction and self-discovery that comes from dealing in a careful and systematic way with basic questions. The instrumental value lies in the skill that the study of philosophy provides in critical thinking, a skill that helps a person to communicate better and to more effectively adapt to changing circumstances.

All courses toward a philosophy major or minor must be completed with a grade of C- or higher, and no C/NC courses are allowed.

disciplinary, 10 courses
At least six courses must be unique to the major. No more than three 100-level courses may be counted toward the major.

The following three courses:
PHIL 370 Ancient Philosophy
PHIL 372 Early Modern Philosophy
PHIL 460 Senior Seminar

At least two area courses (at least one of which must be at the 300-level):
Area 1: One of the following courses about knowledge/reality: 220, 237, 238, 260, 275, 342, 345, 350, 373, 374, 380, 390
Area 2: One of the following courses about values/normative theory: 230, 232, 233, 234, 235, 236, 250, 256, 310, 315

Any five additional philosophy courses, at least two of which must be at the 200-level or higher.

disciplinary, 5 courses
One of the following courses about knowledge/reality: 220, 237, 238, 260, 275, 342, 345, 350, 373, 374, 380, 390
One of the following courses about values/normative theory: 230, 232, 233, 234, 235, 236, 250, 310, 315
One of the following historical courses: 370, 372, 373, 390
Any two additional philosophy courses

PHIL 100 Introduction to Philosophy This course seeks to provide an understanding of what philosophy is by discussing some of the main problems that philosophers examine and by developing skills in the methods used in philosophy. Among the kinds of problems considered in this course are: Is it always wrong to break the law? Can we prove God's existence? What is 'personal identity'? What distinguishes knowledge from mere belief? (Staff, offered every semester)

PHIL 110 Puzzles and Paradoxes Puzzles can be both fun and frustrating. In some places, working to solve them can also provide fascinating insights about our world. Philosophical puzzles and paradoxes are like that. This course will cover a variety of challenging puzzles about the nature of reality, morality, language and what we can know about the world. Some of these puzzles have been solved, but many are not yet solved, and we can learn much from both of these. Even if you don't solve a particular puzzle completely, working toward the answer can help you with future problems by giving you a set of tools that you can use again and again to get other answers. Puzzles and paradoxes make you a better thinker. (And, for some, they are lots of fun too.)

PHIL 151 Contemporary Issues: Crime and Punishment This course explores the relationship between moral responsibility and criminal responsibility. It looks at some perennial problems in ethical theory, such as: What makes an act wrong? When is a person morally responsible for their actions? When is punishment an appropriate response to behavior that violates social norms? It also looks at some problems in legal theory and in public policy, such as: What sorts of acts ought to be criminal? When is a person legally responsible for her actions? Why should insanity be a defense to criminal charges? The following general question links all these problems: Which forms of behavior control are morally justifiable responses to which forms of social deviance? (Brophy, offered annually)

PHIL 154 Contemporary Issues: Environmental Ethics This course explores the ethical and philosophical issues that arise when we consider the relation between humans and the natural environment - issues made urgent by our current environmental crisis. Among questions examined are: Is the value of nature intrinsic or only instrumental? Do humans have obligations toward nonhuman animals? Why are animal species worth preserving? Is it individual animals or ecosystems that should be of moral concern? What can feminism tell us about our treatment of nature? Are economic efficiency and cost/benefit analysis adequate criteria for assessing our relation to the environment?

PHIL 155 Contemporary Issues: Morality and War This course explores the phenomenon of war from a moral point of view. Among the questions considered are: When, if ever, is it morally justified to fight a war? What, if any, are the moral limits on how one may fight a war? Among the topics considered are: just war theory, pacifism, realism, humanitarian intervention, civil war, terrorism, and nuclear deterrence. (Lee, offered annually)

PHIL 156 Biomedical Ethics This course examines ethical issues that arise in the practice of medicine, in the delivery of health care, and in biomedical research. Ethical issues arise in all areas of human activity, but they arise in medicine with special urgency. Some reasons for this are the special nature of the physician/patient relationship, the importance of the matters of life and death involved, the difficulty in distributing health care in a just manner, and the many recent technological advances in medical treatment that exacerbate all of these problems. Among the issues considered are informed consent, patient autonomy, confidentiality and privacy, genetic intervention, medical experimentation, reproductive control, allocation of scarce medical resources, and justice in health care delivery. (Staff, offered annually)

PHIL 157 Ethical Inquiry: Multicultural Approach This course considers some specific ethical issues from global and multicultural perspectives. Topics include issues such as human rights, gender roles and morality, world hunger and poverty, euthanasia, and racial and ethnic discrimination. In addition to examining these issues using a variety of Western philosophical traditions, students consider approaches that come from Chinese, African, Indian, Native American, feminist, Buddhist, and other non-Western perspectives. (Oberbrunner, offered alternate years)

PHIL 158 Debating Public Policy Effectively advocating for one's plan of action, when it's opposed, is what makes the difference between just a cool idea and an implemented policy. However, respectfully and persuasively selling one's ideas requires knowledge and skills that most people lack. This course develops students' theoretical knowledge of policy analysis tools and their practical skills (especially oral communication skills) to improve their advocacy. Students work in teams to develop public policy positions on current political, moral, and legal issues - domestic and international. Teams then formally debate these positions while other students vote on them. Strong emphasis is placed on anticipating problems with one's own public policy positions. Students learn about the general structure and tools of advocacy and opposition, as well as particular issues of current concern. The primary goal of this course is not to teach you how to debate. Debate is just the primary medium of the assignments about public policy analysis. (Barnes, offered alternate years)

PHIL 162 Ethics Civic Engagement How can I participate in my community in an ethical manner, and what can we, as a community, do to promote responsible civic engagement?  Students will study traditional ethical theories and learn how to apply them to the many complex ethical questions facing individuals who engage in volunteering, service, civic engagement, and community activism.   We will also address contemporary analyses of the ethical challenges posed by social inequalities of gender, race, sexuality, and class. Topics explored in this course include: professionalism, confidentiality, respect for autonomy, conflict of interest, appreciation of difference, trust and honesty.  Students will learn ethical and non-oppressive strategies for engaging with both local and international communities.  This course is a service-learning course with a civic engagement component. (K. Frost-Arnold, offered alternate years)

PHIL 220 Semiotics This is an introductory course to semiotics, the doctrine of sign in all forms and shapes. Signs are processes of interpretation. Anything (object, idea, feeling, action) can become a sign by being interpreted. But interpretation is itself a sign in need of being interpreted, and so semiotics quickly becomes a labyrinth in which the concept of the sign becomes more, rather than less, problematic, as the inquiry into its nature proceeds. A wide variety of approaches to semiotics are presented, and applications to literature, art, architecture, dance, history, anthropology, film studies, women studies, photography, sociology, psychology, and biology are encouraged. (Baer, offered annually)

PHIL 230 Aesthetics This course addresses a variety of philosophical issues relating to the arts, focusing on questions such as these: What is the nature of artistic creativity? What is the purpose of the arts? Is there a way for us to determine aesthetic value? Is there truth in art? How are emotions related to the arts? What role should art critics play? How are interpretations and evaluations of art influenced by factors such as culture, time period, race, gender, class? What role do the arts have in non-Western cultures? Are there aesthetic experiences outside of the arts? The course concludes by examining specific art forms chosen according to student interests. (Oberbrunner, offered annually)

PHIL 233 Cosmopolitanism and Global Ethics Cosmopolitanism, deriving from the Greek 'cosmo' (world) and 'polites' (citizen), is the study of citizenship beyond the boundaries of nation-states. In this course, we will study theories of world-citizenship and the relationship of citizenship to global ethical questions. We will look, in particular, at two sorts of composition: ethical and political. Ethical cosmopolitanism concerns the ethical obligations we have to individuals with whom we do not share a nation-state. Political cosmopolitanism concerns development of global institutions to govern political or economic policies and laws that have global impact. Of primary importance in this course is the question of whether citizenship creates special moral and political obligations. We will consider the idea of world citizenship with regard to international organizations and global governance, human rights, immigration, economic inequality, and gender justice.

PHIL 234 Understanding Right and Wrong We'll examine the three dominant theoretical approaches to answering the fundamental practical question of what makes actions right and wrong. In the process, we'll also investigate questions like: What makes someone a good person? What makes something immoral? What is the relationship between rights and obligations? What makes the world a better place? (Barnes, offered alternate years)

PHIL 236 Philosophy of Law Study of the law raises many problems for which philosophy provides solutions. At the same time, the law provides valuable source material bearing on many traditional issues in philosophy. This course studies these problems and issues by examining both philosophical writings on the law and legal opinions. Tort and contract law are examined, as well as criminal and constitutional law. Some of the questions to be considered are: What is law? What is the relation between law and morality? To what extent is the state justified in interfering with a person's liberty? When are persons responsible for their actions? What is justice? When is a person liable for harm caused to others? When is morally justified to punish a person? (Lee, offered alternate years)

PHIL 240 Symbolic Logic This course is an introduction to the techniques and theories of formal logic. Topics include translation between English and artificial languages; formal techniques and procedures (natural deduction and truth tables); the concepts of validity, soundness, completeness, and consistency; along the way, we will discuss philosophical questions about logical truth and logical knowledge. (G. Frost-Arnold, offered alternate years)

PHIL 243 Philosophy of Sex and Love Sex and love are among some of the most ordinary human (and animal) experiences. Yet, we often neglect to consider them philosophically. This neglect stems in part from longstanding dualisms of mind/body and reason/feeling. This class focuses almost exclusively on bodies and feelings: in doing so it prioritizes what has often been philosophically neglected or rejected. Once we do that, puzzles arise nearly everywhere we look. Most basically: What is sex itself? Are sex and sexuality constituent or accidental features of identity? Are some sex acts morally wrong? What does it mean to love someone; it is a feeling, an action, or a metaphysical union? Should you commit yourself to someone else, what would it mean to do so? This class will provide a survey of metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, social, and political concerns about sex and love. We will focus on four main themes: being sexed and sexual, sexual orientations, power and sexualized violence, and marriage, commitment, and non-committal sex. Topically, we will discuss philosophical dimensions of : sex acts and sexual desires, masturbation, sexualized violence, sexual identities, queer subjectivities, marriage, non-monogamy, pornography, public sex, and sex work.

PHIL 250 Feminism: Ethics and Knowledge This course examines various feminist critiques of traditional approaches to ethics and to knowledge. The first half of the course addresses moral issues. Are traditional moral theories adequate for addressing the problems that women face? Do women tend to think about morality differently than men do? What is "feminist ethics?" What moral obligations does it assign to individuals? What are its implications for governments and social policy? The second half of the course discusses issues in science and epistemology (i.e., theory of knowledge). Historically, how has science contributed to the subordination of women? Are social and political considerations relevant to science? Is it possible for science to be "objective?" What can be done to make science less biased? (K. Frost-Arnold, offered alternate years)

PHIL 256 Health Care Policy A government’s laws and policies exert a great deal of influence on individuals’ health and on how they interact with their health care system. You might be allowed to choose your own doctor or your choices might be restricted. The system might permit doctors to help terminally ill people to end their own lives, or it may even empower others to make such a choice. Public policies might encourage or prohibit research to find ways to improve humans by altering their genes. The government could help everyone get health insurance or they could even take over the whole health care system. These kinds of public policy decisions would have major economic, political and person ramifications. The goal of this course is to investigate and understand these choices in health care policy, focusing on the ethical principles that are the foundation of any justification of such policies. (Barnes, offered occasionally)

PHIL 260 Mind and Language One fascinating feature of language and mind is that both are able to carry information: sentences and beliefs have content or meaning. In other words, sentences and beliefs are about something. This course investigates several questions involving linguistic and mental content.  How do words and mental states acquire their content? What is the meaning of a word or sentence?  For example, is the meaning of a proper name (e.g. 'Thomas Jefferson') simply the entity bearing that name, or must its meaning be more complex? What is the relationship between mental content and linguistic expressions: that is, do features of the language we speak determine which thoughts we can have, or vice versa? (G. Frost-Arnold, offered occasionally)

PHIL 271 Medieval Philosophy This course is a survey on common themes in Medieval philosophy. It explores on issues elaborated in the works of major Christian, Muslim, and Jewish philosophers. Among these issues include Being and its modalities, Perfect Being and the world, free and pre-determination, universals and particulars, and causality. It especially discusses the interplay between Platonic, Aristotelian and Neoplatonic views on the one hand and religious teachings on the other, as expressed in the works of medieval philosophers such as Augustine, Sa'adia, Ibn Sina, Maimonides, Averroes, Aquinas, and Ibn Tufayl.

PHIL 275 GOD This course examines both the nature of God and the foundation of rational belief in God. The traditional understanding of God, at least according to the Abrahamic religions, is a being that is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. However, each of these properties introduces classical philosophical problems. The puzzle of omnipotence challenges the idea that omnipotence is even a coherent notion. The dilemma of freedom and foreknowledge implies that God's omniscience is incompatible with human freedom. Last, the problem of evil gives reason to doubt that God is truly omnibenevolent. In sum, the class explores the following majors questions: does God exist? What is God like? How do we know what God is like? Do we have good evidence for belief in God? If not, can we still have rational belief in God?

PHIL 315 Seminar: Social Justice Justice is demanded by people and for people all around us. Many claim that they or others are being treated unjustly, but to recognize which of these demands we should acknowledge, we need to understand what justice is. Our focus in this seminar will be on social justice, the justice of how individuals are treated by society, rather then how we treat each other as private persons. One of the main topics considered is distributive justice. The first part of this seminar will be dominated by a discussion of the work of John Rawls, the most significant English-language political philosopher of the 20th century. Then we consider other theoretical approaches to social justice, such as strict egalitarianism, libertarianism, resource and welfare based approaches, and feminist and capabilities approaches. We will also consider social just on a global scale. (Lee, offered annually)

PHIL 342 Experiencing and Knowing Why should we believe What others tell us? How do we know the external world Exists? How reliable are the inductive methods of science? How can we tell when we have achieved knowledge? What is the scope of human knowledge? What are its limits? This course examines some 20th century discussions of these and similar questions that have long intrigued thinkers wishing to understand the capacities of the human mind. (K. Frost-Arnold, offered alternate years)

PHIL 345 Power, Privilege, and Knowledge How is power used to shape the knowledge produced in a society? How does my race or gender influence my knowledge and ignorance? These are key questions in social epistemology, which is the study of the social dynamics of knowledge. In this course, students explore the historical beginnings of social epistemology in the work of Marx, Foucault and Goldman. Drawing on this history, students conduct a sophisticated study of contemporary work by feminists and philosophers of race. Among the topics discussed are: the corporatization of science, knowledge of the female orgasm, white ignorance, and strategies for becoming a responsible knower in a world of power and privilege. (K. Frost-Arnold, offered alternate years)

PHIL 346 Critical Theory: Philosophy of History and Culture This course is an upper-level examination of a broad set of philosophical movements that fall under the classification of critical theory. Karl Marx describes critical theory as "the self-clarification of the struggles and wishes of the age." We will begin by looking at critical theory's genesis in left-Hegelianism, through Weberian social theory and Freudian psychoanalysis. We will then consider the first generation of theorists from the Frankfurt School (Benjamin, Adorno, and Horkheimer), paying particular attention to their critiques of Enlightenment theories and instrumental reason. We will then look at the way in which critical theory splits into two particular traditions: critical theories of democratic practice in capitalist societies, via Habermas and Fraser, and critical theories of embodied life in administered society, via Foucault and Butler. We will focus on four main aspects of critical theory in this course: the dialectic, the relation of subject-object, the philosophy of history (specifically, the idea of progress), and the question of ideology.

PHIL 350 Theories of Reality This course will focus on questions such as the following: What is real? Is the material world the only reality? Are properties, like being round, or being rational, as real as things? Is mind, awareness, consciousness, a different sort of reality? Are people simply complex machines? Are human beings free to create their own futures? With respect to physical reality, we will consider issues such as causality, space, time, and substance. For persons, we will examine the relationship between mind and body, the idea of personal identity, and the nature of human free will and responsibility. Both classical and contemporary perspectives will be considered. (Oberbrunner, offered annually)

PHIL 355 Philosophy of Time We seemingly experience the phenomenon of time every day. But what exactly is it? One of the greatest philosophers of time, C. D. Broad, declared that the problem of understanding time is "the hardest knot in the whole of philosophy." This course is an attempt to begin to unravel this knot. The topics are divided into two main sections reflecting the two main issues in the philosophy of time: the ontology of time and the properties of time. The ontology of time concerns, first and foremost, whether time is real, and, if so, whether only the present exists or whether the past and the future exist along with the present. The second section of the course concerns the consideration of the particular properties of time that give rise to several well-known questions involving time: How does time pass? What gives time its direction? Can we time travel into the past or future? These questions seem simple, but as one attempts to seek answers, it becomes clear that no obvious answers are to be found. Thus, this class ultimately serves not only as a philosophical introduction to the basic issues concerning time but also offers to students an illustration of how to structure and think through abstract issues.

PHIL 370 Ancient Philosophy This course is a survey of the Origins of Western philosophy. The course focuses on ancient Greek views of the nature of reality, morality, and knowledge. The great philosophers of the Classical period are studied in detail. The emphasis throughout this course is on understanding, analyzing, and evaluating the arguments and theories of these philosophers. Typical readings include: Plato, Euthyphro, Meno, Symposium, and Republic; Aristotle, Categories, Nichomachean Ethics, and Politics. (King, offered annually)

PHIL 372 Early Modern Philosophy This course is an introduction to the principal works and central theories of the early modern period (1600-1750). The philosophical thought of this period was closely tied to the newly developing sciences and also to profound changes in religion, politics, and morality. Accompanying the transformation of thinking in all of these areas was a renewed interest in skeptical theories from ancient sources, and what emerged was the beginning of uniquely modern approaches to philosophy. Each year this course focuses on a handful of texts from this period, to be selected from the works of Montaigne, Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, Hobbes, Arnauld, Gassendi, Mersenne, Leibniz, Spinoza, Boyle, Butler, Malebranche, Pascal, Newton, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. (Brophy, offered annually)

PHIL 373 Kant Kant's critical and transcendental investigations of the limits of the ability of the human mind to resolve issues of what we can know and how we should act have been enormously influential for all subsequent philosophical inquiry. This course is devoted to understanding the problems Kant faced, the answers he advanced, and the difficult and intriguing arguments he provided to support his views. Because understanding Kant's empirical realism and transcendental idealism is incomplete without critical scrutiny of his argument, objections are introduced and discussed. (Baer, offered annually)

PHIL 390 Contemporary Philosophy This course traces the development of contemporary philosophy in the analytic tradition from G.E. Moore, Frege, and Bertrand Russell through Wittgenstein, Quine, and beyond. Recurring questions include: What is the relationship between language and the world? What is the role of logic and mathematics in our knowledge of the natural world? At the end, an important recent book in analytic philosophy is studied. (G. Frost-Arnold, offered occasionally)

PHIL 450 Independent Study

PHIL 456 1/2 Credit Independent Study

PHIL 460 Senior Seminar This course has variable content. Each year a central philosophical issue or the work of an important philosophical figure is examined. (Offered annually)

PHIL 495 Honors

Courses Offered Occasionally*:
PHIL 125 Oral Argumentation and Debate
PHIL 150 Philosophy and Contemporary Issues: Justice and Equality
PHIL 160 Philosophy of Medicine
PHIL 205 Ideas of Self
PHIL 225 Versions of Verity
PHIL 271 Medieval Philosophy
PHIL 374 German Idealism
PHIL 380 Experience and Consciousness: Introduction to Phenomenology
PHIL 381 Existentialism

*Frequency as determined by student demand and faculty availability


Hobart and William Smith Colleges,
Geneva, NY 14456
(315) 781-3000

Contact the Colleges


Offices and Resources
Campus Directory

make a gift

Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.