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 count toward the major or minor.
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE MAJOR (B.A.)
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 one course from each of the following two areas (at least one of which must be at the 300-level):
Area 1: Knowledge and Reality
Area 2: Values and Normative Theory
The course description for each course states whether it satisfies Area 1 ("Knowledge and Reality") or Area 2 ("Values and Normative Theory").
Any five additional philosophy courses, at least two of which must be at the 200-level or higher.
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE MINOR
disciplinary, 5 courses
One course about Knowledge and Reality (Area 1)
One course about Values and Normative Theory (Area 2)
One of the upper-level historical courses labeled "Historical" in the Course Catalog
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 cases, 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 and paradoxes about the nature of reality, morality, language and what we can know about the world. Some of 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 people, they are lots of fun too. (Barnes, offered alternate years)
PHIL 120 Critical Thinking & Argument Analysis This course is designed to improve a person's ability to think critically. While any course in philosophy does this, this course explicitly examines the principles of good reasoning. Emphasis is placed on the evaluation, the understanding, and the formulation of arguments. Instruction is given in the detection and correction of fallacies of reasoning and in the writing of argumentative essays. (Staff, offered occasionally)
PHIL 130 Moral Dilemmas A moral dilemma is a situation in which there are good reasons to do something and apparently equally good reasons for not doing it. In this course, students will see what kind of reasoning is appropriate when we are confronted with a moral dilemma. The work for the course will include (1) understanding different moral principles, (2) applying these principles to the "facts" of different cases, (3) evaluating different moral principles, (4) understanding, constructing, and evaluating arguments. Students acquire an understanding of moral concepts and how to make use of those concepts in everyday situations. Students develop the skills for making intelligent judgments about which of alternative courses of action is the morally right one. (Barnes, offered occasionally)
PHIL 151 Contemporary Issues: Crime & 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 152 Contemporary Issues: Philosophy & Feminism This course examines both the ways in which philosophical concepts and methodologies have influenced contemporary thinking about gender and the ways in which feminist viewpoints have challenged many traditional philosophical ideas. Among the topics discussed are: marriage, sexuality, prostitution, human trafficking, affirmative action, and the connections between feminism and other liberation movements. (K. Frost-Arnold, offered alternate years)
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? (Ward, offered annually)
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. (Staff, offered occasionally)
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 Approaches 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 occasionally)
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 annually)
PHIL 162 Ethics of 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 inqualities 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 occasionally)
PHIL 205 Ideas of Self This class examines the nature and identity of persons. As a person, I am different from other animals. The same goes for you. But what is it that makes us different? In addition, I am the same person as I was when I was a baby, but what is it that makes me the same person over time? Is it having the same body? Would I be able to inhabit a different body? Is it my mind? Would I survive having all of my memories erased? What makes me me? Last, what kinds of things shape my unique identity and outlook on life? Am I fated to believe certain things due to my culture, economic status, or religion? In sum, this class focuses on three main issues: what it means to be a person; what makes me the same person over time; and what constitutes my self-identity. (Leininger, offered alternate years) [Area 1: Knowledge & Reality]
PHIL 208 The Scientific Revoution The present-day scientific view of the world has not always existed: it began in a particular time and place. This course studies the birth of the modern Western conception of the natural world in seventeenth century Europe, an event often called the "Scientific Revolution." We begin with an overview of ancient Greek ideas in philosophy, medicine, and cosmology. Then, the main portion of the course will focus on the profound intellectual transformations in Europe during the 17th century, when our knowledge of the natural world first became "modern." We will aim to understand the scientific revolutionaries on their own terms and for their own sake, but we will also study how their ideas relate to earlier and later periods. Finally, we look at the most influential theory of scientific revolutions, that of Thomas Kuhn, and compare it (and its successors) to the historical data. (G. Frost-Arnold, offered occasionally)
PHIL 215 Aristotle Aristotle is one of the most important philosophers of the Western tradition. His works include treatises on logic, metaphysics, physics, psychology, ethics, and biology. Medieval philosophers depend on his argumentation and concepts to ground their systems of thought, and the early modem philosophers are steeped in his philosophy, often dedicating their lives to respond to it. This course is a survey in Aristotle's works that explores for the power of his philosophical positions and his role in the history of philosophy, with particular emphasis on being and knowing, i.e. metaphysics and epistemology. Typical readings include Aristotle's Categories, Posterior Analytics, Physics, De Anima, Nicomachean Ethics, Politics, and Metaphysics. (Ward, offered alternate years) Prerequisite: PHIL 100.
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) [Area 2: Values & Normative Theory]
PHIL 232 Liberty & Community This is a basic course in political philosophy. The focus is on striking a balance in a political order between the freedom of the individual and the requirements of community. The central question is whether the state is merely instrumental to the fostering of individuality or is intrinsically valuable because of the community it represents. A related question is whether social relations are best understood as created by contract among persons or as in some sense constitutive of our personhood. What is at issue is the adequacy of liberalism. (Staff, offered alternate years) [Area 2: Values & Normative Theory]
PHIL 234 Theories of Morality 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? (Staff, offered occasionally) [Area 2: Values & Normative Theory]
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? (Staff, offered alternate years) [Area 2: Values & Normative Theory]
PHIL 237 Philosophy of Religion After reviewing some world religions, this course examines philosophically a variety fundamental questions about religion. Can we honor both the global diversity of religions and our common humanity? Can rational thought help us? The Western tradition, both classical and contemporary, includes a fascinating set of arguments to prove God's existence. Are they successful? Students address the Problem of Evil, a perennial question about why there is so much human suffering. Is religion patriarchal? What are some different ways of understanding the nature of divinity? Can we understand personal immortality? What is the relationship between religion and science? Students look at several perspectives on religious truth and ways of knowing it. (Oberbrunner, offered occasionally) [Area 1: Knowledge & Reality]
PHIL 238 Philosophy of Natural Science We take up several questions central to the philosophy of science: What distinguishes science from non-science? What is inductive reasoning? When is data evidence for a theory? What is a law of nature? How does a scientific community modify theories or reject one theory and replace it with another? What role, if any, do values play in the scientific enterprise? (G. Frost-Arnold, offered alternate years) [Area 1: Knowledge & Reality]
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 250 Feminism: Ethics & 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) [Area 2: Values & Normative Theory]
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) [Area 2: Values & Normative Theory]
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. (Kafrawi, offered alternate years)
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 major 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? (Leininger, offered alternate years) [Area 1: Knowledge & Reality]
PHIL 310 Cooperation, Competition and Justice Utilitarianism and social contract theory are both important approaches to moral and political theory. Some modern and contemporary scholars have sought to understand how morality might be seen as an agreement by a diverse group of people, and what such a morality might demand of us and our government. Others have sought to show that morality or political legitimacy is based on the idea of utility maximization. In both of these projects, ideas from philosophers, economists, and political theorists come into play with each other in a fascinating way. Central issues in this course will include: self-interest, fairness, rationality, redistribution of wealth, rights, and morality. We will begin with a brief look at some classic texts by Hobbes and Mill, then quickly move into how contemporary thinking has influenced recent developments in utilitarian and contractarian theory. Upper level students from philosophy, economics and political science are encouraged to take this course. (Barnes, offered occasionally) [Area 2: Values & Normative Theory]
PHIL 315 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. (Staff, offered occasionally) [Area 2: Values & Normative Theory]
PHIL 320 Philosophers, Prophets, and Revolutionaries of Latin America In 1984, journalist Alan Riding published a book on Mexico titled 'Distant Neighbors,' signaling by this paradoxical phrase that despite the geographical proximity between the US and Mexico, Americans did not know anything about Mexico. This same expression, however, might be applied to Latin America as a whole. Latin America remains a mystery to the general VS public. Nowhere is this more evident, however, than in Latin America's intellectual life. The philosophical traditions of Latin America are rarely explored even in philosophy departments. This course is an opportunity for students to familiarize themselves with the philosophical traditions of this distinct cultural region from a holistic, transdiscipliriary perspective, focusing on perspectives and issues central to the original peoples of the continent, although we will read thinkers of all backgrounds. From this vantage, we will survey, to the extent that this is possible, the last 500 years of philosophy and philosophical writing of the region, from the Pre Colombian period to the 20th Century. If time allows, we conclude by considering contributions of contemporary Latinx/a/os in the US.
PHIL 330 History of Moral Theory Contemporary philosophers looking at the history of ethics generally see 4 primary types of moral theories: virtue theory, contractarianism, deontology and consequentialism. This course will take a close look at the classic texts that are seen as the primary origins of these theories, written by Aristotle, Hobbes, Kant and Mill. We will also read some other classic authors and consider some contemporary refinements of these theories. (Barnes, offered alternate years) [Area 2: Values & Normative Theory]
PHIL 342 Experiencing & 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) [Area 1: Knowledge & Reality]
PHIL 345 Power, Privilege, & 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) [Area 1: Knowledge & Reality]
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. (Staff, offered annually) [Area 1: Knowledge & Reality]
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. (Leininger, offered occasionally) [Area 1: Knowledge & Reality]
PHIL 370 Ancient Philosophy This course is a survey of the thinkers who ground the Western philosophical tradition. The course focuses on the views of the Presocratics, Plato, and Aristotle, concerning reality, morality, and knowledge. In particular, we emphasize their debates concerning the soul, a concept of central importance in Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and the site for crossover between metaphysics, ethics, and physics at the time. The goal of this course is to understand, analyze, and evaluate the arguments and theories of these thinkers, and to build comprehensive interpretations of the primary texts. (Ward, offered annually) [Historical]
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) [Historical]
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. (Barnes, offered occasionally) [Area 1: Knowledge & Reality] [Historical]
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. (Staff, offered every spring semester)