Phil. 320: Text Seminar
The text seminar is a four-credit course required for the philosophy major. It also fulfills the university’s Integrated Writing Requirement. Over the course of the seminar, students examine a philosophical text (or set of related texts) in great depth, with the aim of understanding and engaging the ideas presented in that text. The course also seeks to help students develop their critical philosophical writing skills.
Participants in the course should expect to devote considerable time to writing, including submitting multiple drafts of papers. The particular text chosen for the course varies each semester, and may focus on either historical or contemporary philosophical texts. Please refer to that semester’s course description for more specific information.
This course is offered regularly.
Phil. 350: Symbolic Logic
Logic examines the principles of correct reasoning. In Symbolic Logic we use and investigate one theory that seems to have successfully captured a variety of such principles. The notions of formal language, proof and derivation, and truth under an interpretation will be considered in detail. There are no pre-requisites for this course, but those who wish a slower-paced course that aims more to improve reasoning ability should consider taking Introduction to Logic (151) or Beginning Logic (150) instead. This course is more suitable for those with theoretical interests in philosophy, mathematics, linguistics, computer science, or cognitive science.
The standard prerequisite of two prior Philosophy courses does not apply to Phil. 350.
Offered every Fall semester.
Phil. 351: Intermediate Logic
This class serves as a second course in logic for undergraduates.
We will review axiomatic sentential logic and natural deduction in quantificational logic. We will then look at: formal semantics for quantificational logic, modal logic and possible world semantics, basic set theory and foundations of mathematical logic, and a few of the key metalogical proofs, such as completeness, compactness, and Godel’s incompleteness theorem. We will also discuss issues in the philosophy of logic as we go.
Prerequisite: Phil. 350 or its equivalent. The standard prerequisite of two prior Philosophy courses does not apply to Phil. 351.
For graduate students this course is listed as Phil. 551.
Offered every Spring semester.
Phil. 361: Plato
This course is an introduction to Plato’s philosophy that takes seriously Plato’s commitment to understanding philosophy (i) as a love (philein) of wisdom (sophia) and (ii) as fundamentally dialogical – and so interpersonal – in character. By reading some of Plato’s dialogues addressing the philosophical life and the nature of education, rhetoric, love and mentoring, we will raise questions about philosophical and ethical transformation. What kind of difference does philosophising make to a life? Is this a good thing? How can talking to a person change her values – or indeed, the structure of her soul? If we claim to love wisdom, to whom should we be speaking, and how? To address these questions, we will read dialogues including the Symposium, Phaedrus, Phaedo, Apology, Laches, Gorgias and Republic. Students will master Plato’s central metaphysical and ethical positions and arguments, engage in critical assessment of the project of philosophy, and reflect extensively on the nature of education and what it takes to make a difference in a life.
This course is not offered regularly.
Phil. 365: Dante and the Christian Imagination
Jorge Luis Borges said that no one should deny themselves the pleasure of reading Dante’s Commedia. This course is intended to help the reader discover why this is so.
More specifically, this course will consider the explicitly Christian and uniquely contemporary intellectual relevance of Dante’s Divina Commedia in the context of the questions of human freedom and identity, as well as the role of the imagination in the formation of culture and worldviews. The basis and substance of the study will be Dante’s Divina Commedia. The approach of the course to this theme will be interdisciplinary, with significant consideration being given to the function of imagination as it operates in poetry, psychology, philosophy, and theology. The unifying element in this approach would be the role of metaphor in all these disciplines, with special attention to both the similarities and the specific difference of that role in each as it appears in the Comedy. We will read in translation and discuss substantial portions of all three of the Cantiche of the Commedia: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.
Students will be asked to make regular use of a website designed specifically for this course incorporating the text of the Commedia in Italian and English translation, as well as images from the rich history of the illustration of the poem by great artists and commentary on the text from a variety of sources. No prior expertise in web technology is required; students will, however, be asked to become familiar with and use a few basic techniques of interactive, web-based learning. Attention will be given to the poetic art of Dante as it is manifest in the original Italian text, but reading knowledge of Italian is not required.
Phil. 372: Kant to Nietzsche
Formerly Phil. 493
The purpose of this course is to provide a historical and philosophical overview of the development of German philosophy from Kant to Nietzsche. The goals of the class involve getting a good historical overview of the development of German philosophy in that period, developing a good philosophical grasp of what were some of the key issues in the development of that tradition and grappling with the philosophical issues about why and how the development took the shape it did. A list of key topics to be considered would include but not be exhausted by terms such as “spontaneity,” “autonomy,” “recognition,” “alienation,” “modernity,” and “subjectivity.” The focus all along will be on themes having to do with theories of knowledge, philosophy of mind, and the connection between ethics and political thought in all these thinkers. Aesthetics will also figure prominently. Among the philosophers to be considered will be: Kant, Fichte, Schleiermacher, Schelling, Hegel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. We will also look very briefly at the poets Novalis, Hölderlin, and Heine.
Offered every two years or so
Phil. 373: Hegel
Formerly Phil. 452
Hegel is sometimes referred to as being the most influential philosopher in the last 200 years. We will read important parts of his Phenomenology of Spirit and of his Philosophy of Right. We will also show the deep connection between his Phenomenology and psychoanalysis and between his Philosophy of Right and philosophy of economics and of capitalism. We will make brief references to his Logic.
Prof. Ver Eecke
Offered every two years or so
Phil. 380: 20th Century German Philosophy
Formerly Philosophy 362
The course is a survey of some but not all of the main streams of German philosophy in the 20th century. In particular, it is focused on the development of phenomenology by Edmund Husserl; on Martin Heidegger’s attempt to extend and ultimately replace phenomenology with something called “fundamental ontology” (which got the nickname, “existentialism”); on the movement of neo-Kantianism which formed an important couterweight both to phenomenology and Heidegger’s thought (represented here by one figure, Ernst Cassirer); the movement that came to be called “Western Marxism” with its neo-Hegelian and humanist elements, as seen in the work of the Hungarian philosopher, Georg Lukács (who wrote in German) and in Ernst Bloch (who rethought Marxism as a kind of non-theistic endorsement of Biblical themes); Heidegger’s post-war “turn” from his earlier work to his later thought on “being”; Hans-Georg Gadamer’s reworking of Heidegger’s early work into the movement called “hermeneutics”; Dieter Henrich’s new beginning with a metaphysics of self-knowledge; finally, a quick overview of Frankfurt Critical Theory, an attempt to mate philosophy and empirical social science into a left-leaning emancipatory comprehensive social theory (Theodor Adorno, Jürgen Habermas, Axel Honneth).
This course will be offered regularly
Phil. 382: Heidegger
In this advanced seminar, we will read a significant portion of Martin Heidegger’s magnum opus, Being and Time (1927). Time permitting, we will also read a handful of Heidegger’s most important essays, including “The Origin of the Work of Art” and “The Question Concerning Technology”. We will focus on mastering the framework of Heidegger’s project, its terminology, and its differences from traditional philosophical views and methods. Heidegger’s goal was to reawaken the question of the meaning of being, which he takes to have been neglected throughout much of the history of Western philosophy. In posing and pursuing the question of what it means to be rather than not, Heidegger develops a novel and powerful account of the human being as the understander of being – as both responsible for and responsive to the sense that things make. Drawing on Aristotle and Kant as well as Kierkegaard and Augustine, Heidegger analyses our embeddedness in the world and society, and our openness to meaning through action, tradition and language. His later essays extend his account to cover (for example) how art works to produce and shape the sense that things make, and how the modern technological attitude impoverishes the sense that things make. Assessment will consist primarily in short answer exegetical exercises, which will force students to confront Heidegger’s difficult prose and ideas directly. Students must be prepared to commit to grappling with a notoriously obscure thinker and his famously impenetrable texts.
Phil. 383: Hegel’s Aesthetics
Hegel’s Aesthetics have been characterized as the most important work in aesthetic theory since Aristotle’s own work. It has even been said to be the founding document in the development of art history. The work consists of lectures that Hegel gave in the 1820’s in Berlin, and it expresses his mature views on the nature of art, the nature of truth, and art’s relation to religion and to cognitive disciplines such as philosophy. It also contains some of Hegel’s clearest and best worked out statements about the nature of mind (Geist) and its social constitution.
PHIL. 391: Unconscious in 20th Century French Philosophy
In this course we will concentrate on the topic of the unconscious in twentieth century French philosophy.
We will start the course by studying some of the important influences in twentieth century French philosophy which are: Hegel, phenomenology, Saussure’s linguistics, and psychoanalysis.
In the main part of the course we will study Sartre giving attention to his theory of the look and his development of the idea of existential psychoanalysis. We then will turn to Ricoeur where we will study both his work on symbolism of evil and his treatment of psychoanalysis in his major book :”Freud and philosophy.” Next we will study Foucault ‘s works on the conception of mental illnes in the age of reason and his study of the history of sexuality. In Derrida we will study his analysis of psychoanalysis and his book on “The gift of death.” In Deleuze’s work we will study his discussions of the relationship between psychoanalysis and capitalism. Badiou will allow us to understand the philosophical meaning of the concept: the event. We will finish the course by studying the work of two women: Kristeva and Irigaray. We will study Kristeva’s essay on “Dostoyevsky, the writing of suffering and forgiveness” and Irigaray’s essays on “This sex which is not one” and “Women on the market.
Phil. 426: Role Morality
People occupy various roles, such as friend, lover, parent, child, student, teacher, doctor, patient, lawyer, client, researcher, and research subject. This course will explore the ways that these roles make a difference to what people are morally required or permitted to do. We will pursue this question both for its own sake, as an important part of understanding what we are morally required or permitted to do, and as an important way of diagnosing the strengths and weaknesses of alternative moral theories. At least four kinds of issue will arise. One concerns whether some roles are rightly seen provide excuses that permit some people (such as defense lawyers, interrogators, or presidents) to act in ways that would otherwise be wrong. A second concerns the obligations that special roles can add to the stock of obligations that people have. Parents seem to have special moral responsibilities to look after their children, for instance, or doctors for their patients. Can special role obligations ever bind someone who has not voluntarily assumed the role? Finally, there are many philosophical issues that arise when we start to use our tentative views about role obligations to diagnose what may have gone wrong with certain ethical theories. Here, we will be following the lead of the British philosopher W. D. Ross, who complained that utilitarians wrong-headedly attempt to boil all of moral life down to one kind of human relationship, that between a (potential) benefactor and a (potential) beneficiary. His more complex theory was aimed at recognizing that there are many other relationships (such as parent-child, promisor-promisee, and injuror-injuree) that have distinctive moral implications.
Phil. 428: Ethics and Economics
This course is an effort at interdisciplinary thinking about the possible conflicting demands of efficiency and justice. In a first section we will look at the history of economic thought, incl. the theories of Adam Smith and Karl Marx. In a second section we consult current economic theory, incl. the concepts of economic efficiency, public goods, merit goods, property rights, anti-trust legislation, and subsidies for education and social legislation. In a third section we will look at philosophical reflections upon economics as done by either philosophers or philosophically inclined economists (e.g., Hegel, Rawls, Sen, Baier, Buchanan). The implementation of ethical principles takes place within the context of existing ethos pattern (Olson or Briefs). We will also study how religious ethics plays an important role in the implementation of social justice. In a fourth section we will look how the financial crisis of 2007/08 can be clarified by the ideas developed in the previous sections.
Prof. Ver Eecke
Phil. 430: Moral Agency and Responsibility
Our ordinary moral concepts and practices presuppose the existence of responsible moral agents. We assume that most people are capable of exercising control over who they are and what they do, and we generally regard people as accountable for their characters and the choices that flow from those characters. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how we could engage any moral relationships without thinking of ourselves and others this way. But we also know that these assumptions present practical difficulties when it comes to people whose agency is undermined or incomplete in some way—children, people with serious mental health issues, people with dementia, etc. In this class, we will explore the philosophical foundations of agency and responsibility and the moral practices that depend on them. We will move between theoretical and practical problems about agency, using our practices to inform theory and theory to inform our practices. What features of human psychology matter to our assessments of agency? What circumstances make it appropriate or inappropriate to blame someone, or to resent or forgive? How does luck affect our judgments of responsibility? Readings will range from Greek tragedy to recently published articles in journals and anthologies.
Phil. 431: Moral Damage/Moral Repair
This course is offered regularly
Phil. 435: Global Justice/The Environment
The central topics examined in this course pertain to the global use and distribution of vital, but dwindling resources of food, energy, and water (the FEW Problem). Policy choices regarding any one of these resources are intertwined with resource implications for the other two. Beyond the policy challenges are deeper, often unrecognized issues of global justice. Access to and control over these resources raise fundamental questions about the paths to global development, poverty alleviation, and the capacity of individuals and nations to secure the basic requirements for decent human lives and to preserve a sustainable human habitat.
The relevant issues of global justice arise primarily out of the ways that major political institutions and patterns of economic organization shape food, energy, and water policies, and as a consequence exert profound and pervasive impact on the life prospects of everyone, especially the most vulnerable, least powerful people on the planet. For more on the FEW Problem, see my website fewresources.org.
Phil. 440: Bioethics and Mental Illness
This course will address philosophical issues that arise in the context of reflection on mental illness and the way in which it is treated medically. Among the topics that the course typically examines are these: the first rule of ethics: do good and avoid evil; the debate of the causes of mental illness; two psychological models for the explanation of the psychological dimension of mental illness and well-being: the attachment theory and the triangular theory of Lacan; the ethical guidelines of mental health professionals; the question to whether bioethical rules can be applied to the treatment of the mentally ill or whether different norms should be introduced; the idea that a mental health professional should have an ethical position or attitude. i.e., the task is not so much giving advice as to promote or elicit agency in the patient.
Prof. Ver Eecke
Phil. 441: Bioethics and “Abnormal Bodies”
Almost all ethical and political theorizing, across the history of philosophy, has simply presumed the able-bodied, ‘normal’, independent and self-sufficient human being as its unit of analysis – and has treated disabled, dependent, and abnormal bodies as fringe cases to be either accommodated post hoc or ignored altogether. However, this model radically misrepresents the human condition. Not only are many of us permanently disabled, dependent, or ‘abnormal’ in various ways, but almost all of us will spend the first and last decades of our lives highly dependent on caregivers, and will experience temporary disabilities along the way. In this course we will use disability and the concept of ‘abnormality’ as a lens through which to examine a wide range of ethical, metaphysical, and political questions. We will think about the social meaning and the metaphysical and ethical significance of disability, beauty, fatness, deformity, and other such variations in embodiment.
Phil. 444: Environmental Ethics
The moral issues raised by our relationship with the natural environment are among the most important moral issues of our day. Taking seriously our responsibilities to the environment has the potential to radically transform the way we can justifiably live our lives (both individually and collectively). At stake are our diets, consumer behavior, energy use and sources, procreative choices, etc., and with no exaggeration our very sources of identity and meaning. But thinking through the territory and how it fits within broader moral theory is notoriously difficult. This will be our task in Phil. 444.
PHIL. 484 EXISTENTIALISM
This course will be concerned with the question of human freedom; that question primarily involves asking what “human freedom” means and secondarily “whether” or how human persons are, or can be, free.
The investigation of this question will be guided by the philosophical testimony of three major Existentialist philosophers – Nietzsche, Sartre, and Heidegger, in conversation with other philosophers who have written in the existentialist spirit: Kierkegaard, Dostoyevski, Camus, de Beauvoir, Weil.
Our investigation of the question of freedom will take the form of a personal reflection on both the historical and the uniquely contemporary significance of a series of tensions that characterize human existence in the 21st century: The individuality of experience/the universality of reason; the objectivity of truth/the subjectivity of meaning; the limitations of human finitude/the desire for transcendence; personal fulfillment/social and moral responsibility; autonomy/relationship.
Heidegger and Sartre experienced these issues in the historical situation of the first half of the 20th century; we experience them in the changed context of the beginning of a new millenium. This is a course in philosophy, not about philosophy. Our task is to make the question of human freedom our own, guided by whatever we can learn from the existentialist philosophers. This task requires that we reflect on our own experience of the problematic tensions that the Existentialists emphasized and that made Existentialism the important episode it was in the history of philosophy and culture. The benefit of such a reflection on our parts will not be primarily knowledge about that episode; rather, it will be an understanding ofwhat the question of human freedom means for us as persons in the time that is uniquely our own.
Phil. 491: Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science
In this course, we will examine some of the key issues that have troubled people in the philosophy of mind, and we’ll try to figure out when and how research in the cognitive sciences can help to address these issues. The precise topics that we study will vary from semester to semester, but in general, we will examine things such as: free will and agency; the nature of consciousness and the self; the methodologies that cognitive scientists employ in studying the mind; and cross-cultural variation in the assumptions that people make about mentality. Over the course of the semester you will write two short papers, and you will be expected to contribute to in-class discussion. Previous knowledge of psychology and cognitive science will be helpful, but this background is not required; similarly, prior work in the philosophy of science, philosophy of language, or metaphysics will be incredibly helpful.
This course is offered every Spring semester.