Bridge Courses

Bridge Courses in Ethics (100–149)

Bioethics & Law (103)

This course analyses several topical, controversial ethical questions at the beginning of life, including infanticide, non-treatment of disabled newborns, separating conjoined twins, abortion, the existence and scope of maternal duties to the unborn, embryonic stem cell research, and cloning. Classroom discussion, often around real-life cases which have confronted the courts, is encouraged. The recommended course text offers a ‘natural law’ ethical perspective, which engages with alternative ethical perspectives, not least utilitarianism. 

Prof. Keown

Bioethics: Law and the End of Life (104)

This course provides an introduction to some of the most interesting ethical questions surrounding the end(ing) of life in the medical context. The course begins by outlining three competing theories of bioethics. It then examines several controversial questions in depth, not least whether and if so when the law should permit voluntary euthanasia and/or physician-assisted suicide; the withdrawal of life-saving treatment and tube-feeding; the definition of death; and organ transplantation. Classroom discussion, which will be encouraged, will largely revolve around real-life cases. No previous knowledge of ethics or law is required.

Prof. Keown

Bioethics (105)

This course introduces students to contemporary issues in bioethics, an interdisciplinary subject focused on ethical issues in health care, health policy, medical practice, medical and scientific research, and more. Students will engage with ethical theory, case studies, and media to gain familiarity with foundational bioethical concepts and important topics including ability/disability, the “obesity crisis,” reproduction, race, and research ethics. Students will learn to use ethical concepts and normative theory to analyze and evaluate real-life cases, understand, articulate and defend philosophically and ethically sound positions, engage critically and respectfully with opposing views, and to recognize the moral residue that is often an unavoidable aspect of resolutions to complex bioethical problems. 

Instructors vary.

This course is offered every semester and usually during the Summer.


We willingly share data about ourselves all the time—from apps we use for purchases to Ubers we take.  Consider the amount of data you share intentionally in the course of one day.  What happens to all that data?  We are coming to understand that it paints a picture of individuals, communities and our world that is permanent, accessible, and can be shared, sold, manipulated, and combined for purposes far beyond the intentions behind our original “disclosures.” Do we care; should we?

We also unwillingly share data every day.  What happens to the record of that Uber ride you took?  Who is aware of your google search history? Your purchases?  Your income from your part time job?  Your recent arrest on a minor charge?  What should governments, parents, employers, be able to learn about you?  Does Georgetown read your emails? Should they?

This class will combine traditional lecture, discussion, and assignments with project based learning.  In partnership with the CIO of Georgetown, students in this course will work in teams to produce real world projects including prototyping a new policy for the use of student data at Georgetown.

Permission of instructor required.  Send a short paragraph with your background and reasons for interest in the course to

Professors Maggie Little and Arjun Dhillon

This course is not offered regularly

Social Media & Democracy (110)

The internet has radically changed the way people form beliefs, develop world views, and assess claims. Knowledge is in one sense more democratized, as traditional gatekeepers to news, science, and opinion have less power. Knowledge in another sense has become more elusive, as standards of evidence and vetting become vastly different; and theory building itself has changed.  The 2016 election was influenced by the epistemology of the internet and the vulnerability of data:  fake news, competing paradigms of evidence and expertise, Russian hacking of politically sensitive emails, and the effects of targeted newsfeeds.  Given that most people access their information through digital means, the targeted flow of information threatens to divide our democracy. Is divided democracy inevitable or are there means for maintaining a robust democracy in the digital age? This course will examine questions of truth, democracy, and politics in the age of social media by drawing on contemporary case studies and philosophical tools from ethics, political philosophy, and epistemology.

Prof. Little

Privacy (111)

Concerns about the loss of privacy play an increasingly important role in discussions of modern life, but frequently the concept of privacy itself is unexamined and vaguely understood. How can/should we think about what privacy is? What explains its value? What kind of rights to privacy ought we to have? This course serves as an introduction to contemporary philosophical discussions about privacy and connects that literature to ongoing debates about interpersonal ethics and public policy. Course readings will be drawn from a variety of sources. Reading lists and specific topics addressed vary from semester to semester and from instructor to instructor, as do required work and expectations. Please consult the syllabi posted online by individual instructors for more detail. 

Prof. MacCarthy

Gender and Feminism (112)

Few facts about us are as significant for our identities and life prospects as our gender. Yet what sort of “fact” is the fact of one’s gender? Are there only two genders? Are gender differences biological, social, or cultural in origin? Are they all three? How does the significance of gender intersect with other facts about us, such as our ethnicity, level of education, age, socioeconomic status, cultural context, and sexual orientation? This course will bring a philosophic lens to questions about gender and its significance. We will examine aspects of the social and political significance of gender through the study of a range of texts, focusing throughout on analyzing and articulating the moral challenges introduced by the topics we study – e.g., concerning justice, fairness, expressive liberty, courage, and the demands of compassion and respect. Among the topics we will address are the following: taking moral responsibility for gender oppression; the difference between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’; images, myths, and norms of masculinity and femininity; sexual orientation and gender orientation; competing explanations of gender differences; androcentrism and the dynamics of privilege; psychological oppression and self-respect; shame and gender; sexuality, domination, and violence; gender and ‘discursive injustice’; gender and the politics of appearance; and conceptions of liberation. 

Prof. Carse

This course is offered regularly.

Just Wars (113)

When is it right for a nation to go to war? Once at war, what sort of behavior becomes permissible for soldiers and commanders? And what obligations do soldiers, sovereigns and states have in the aftermath of wars? Throughout the semester, we will tackle these questions (and many tangential and subsidiary ones) through the lens of contemporary just wary theory. 

We’ll begin with a brief unit situating the just war tradition among other historically prominent perspectives on war—realism, pacifism, militarism and crusadism. We will subsequently turn our attention to issues of jus ad bellum, or moral issues surrounding the initiation of war. Subtopics will include aggression, preemptions, preventive wars, interventions, secessions, reprisals. We shall then turn our focus to conduct within war (jus in bello), and take a close look at the Doctrine of Double Effect, noncombatant immunity, the moral responsibility of soldiers fighting unjust wars, and conditions of “supreme emergency.” Finally, we’ll discuss a recently popular movement in just war theory that focuses on justice in the conclusion of war (jus post bellum). 

While our readings will come primarily from contemporary Western just war theory, we will also examine the historical roots of the Western just war tradition, as well as the ethics of war in other cultures. In our final unit, we will briefly explore the Islamic, Jewish and Chinese traditions of just war. 

Prof. Langan

This course is offered regularly.

History of Ethics (114)

This course will be a rigorous historical survey of philosophical theories of ethics from ancient Greece onward. We will cover the ethical philosophies of a number of major philosophers, such as Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, Kant, Hume, Mill and Taylor, Nietzsche, or others. As we go, we will also read interpretations of and responses to those theories by contemporary philosophers, such as Julia Annas, Martha Nussbaum, Christine Korsgaard, Annette Baier, and others.

Clark Donley

Oppression & Justice (115)

The theme for this course will be an examination of three major concepts in moral philosophy: oppression, exploitation, and injustice. Although these terms are widely used and have powerful rhetorical force, they are often left under-defined. Therefore, in this course, we will aim to develop a clearer conception of what these terms mean. What are the features of oppressive social relationships? How do we determine who is oppressed and who is an oppressor? What duties might follow from these identifications, and do these duties fall on individuals or broader groups, such as the state? Throughout, we will be considering how injustice and social oppression relate to material inequality, and furthermore, to the possible exploitation of one group/individual by another. To get clearer on this issue, we must ask: what is exploitation, is it wrong, and if so, why? We will look at a variety of responses to these questions, drawing on both contemporary and historical writers, including Aristotle, Rousseau, Kant, and Mill. The aim of this course will be to deepen our understanding of these key concepts, philosophical frameworks, and ethical questions through the study of high quality philosophy texts as well as short films. Evaluation will be done on the basis of three short (approx. 4-7 pages) papers, brief reading responses, and class participation.

Michael Randall Barnes

Applied Ethics (116)

This course will introduce students to applied ethics, which explores moral issues involving health, medicine, life and death, social justice, the environment, emerging technologies, and a number of issues that have a significant bearing on public policy. We will familiarize ourselves with leading ethical theories before reading and discussing the writings of philosophers, economists, legal scholars, and scientists. We will use the book “Applied Ethics and Social Problems: Moral questions of birth, society and death,” by Tony Fitzpatrick. Assessments will include class participation, two quizzes, leading discussion as a group, and three short papers (2-3 pages each).

Oren Magid

Moral Agency (120)

In moral life we often fail in a variety of ways. Sometimes we’re weak-willed and act against our better judgment. Other times we revise our intentions too easily, or otherwise fail to control (or even know) our own motives and inclinations. In this course we will ask what capacities agents need to have in order to be both autonomous and morally good, and whether humans are—or can become—such agents. We will investigate what agency means, how to shape and improve one’s power as a moral agent, and which ethical theories can best help us decide what kinds of agents to become in the first place.

Course readings include selections from Aristotle, Hume, Kant, Spinoza, P.F. Strawson, Iris Murdoch, Elizabeth Anscombe, Iris Young, bell hooks, Daniel Dennett, John Doris, and Marina Oshana. Students will be graded on in-class participation, three 1400-word papers, and weekly reading responses.

McKay S Holland

Virtue Ethics (122)

This course is an introduction to virtue ethics. We will engage with different traditions in virtue ethics, including both Western ones (with authors such as Aristotle and Hume) and non-Western ones (such as Confucian virtue ethics). We will see how those various traditions inform contemporary discussions concerning the nature of virtue, virtuous motivation and character, the link between virtue and human flourishing, and the contrast between virtue ethics and other ethical theories. Throughout the course, we will pay attention to particular virtues and their features. Finally, we will consider applications of virtue ethics to contemporary moral issues (possible topics include issues of oppression, care of the environment, relationships with friends and family, virtue in politics, and others).

Clark Donley

Ethics of Climate Change (123)

No matter how look at it, climate change is a mess. What on earth (or in the atmosphere!) should we do? How should we go about doing it? And who is we? Governments? Institutions? Individuals like you and me? No matter how you answer these questions or any of the other myriad questions related to climate change, the answers are ultimately moral ones. Justifying that claim is one of the central goals of this class. Since your lifestyle and behavior (if not your Facebook feed) already—intentionally or not—makes moral claims and takes up moral positions with regard to climate change, another course goal is to examine those moral claims and positions (i.e., your claims and positions as well as those staked out by the rest of humanity) in order to try and determine which are justified and which aren’t.

The first module in this course will consider arguments by philosophers on why climate change is such an intractable problem and what our personal and collective obligations are in the face of this challenge. Climate change will be our constant focus, but in addition we’ll talk about ethics more generally, obligations to humans that exist and those that don’t but likely will in the future, what cost benefit analysis can and can’t tell us, and what the nature of responsibility is and what this means for governments, institutions, and individuals.

The second module will look at climate change within the greater question of moral relationship between humans and non-human nature. Additionally, we’ll look at responses to the anthropocene, as well as issues of extinction, geo-engineering, and wilderness.

James Olsen

Ethics and The Environment (124) 

This course will focus on the moral dimension of our relationship to nature. We will read authors foundational to the environmental movement, such as Carson and Aldo Leopold, as well as classical and contemporary moral philosophers. We’ll attempt to answer questions like: Who is responsible for responding to global climate change? Is our commonsense morality up to the task, or might we need to innovate new concepts to grapple with such a complex problem? How do animals and other non-human entities fit into our moral theorizing? How are our notions of wilderness and civilization interrelated? Is urban living a viable route toward sustainability, or will our lifestyles require more radical revisions?

Anthony Manela

This course is offered regularly.

Authenticity (125) 

Today, common sense tells us that we should live authentically.  Though it seems simple, this idea rests upon a complex and controversial philosophical framework with a dynamic and surprising history.  In this course, we ask what authenticity demands and why we should want it.  To that end, we will uncover the origins of the concept in ancient virtue ethics (Aristotle) and the Enlightenment’s ethics of autonomy (Immanuel Kant, Christine Korsgaard).  Then, for the majority of the course, Romanticism (Jean-Jacques Rousseau) and Existentialism (Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus) will be our focus, where today’s concept of authenticity took shape.  To close, we will examine contemporary adaptations and criticisms of the concept and assess its fate (Theodor Adorno, Charles Guignon, Cheshire Calhoun). Students will be assessed on the basis of three six-page papers, regular, informal reading reflections, and class participation.  

Joseph Rees

Contemporary Moral Issues (126)

This course tackles controversial moral issues that feature in contemporary public debate. Topics include: the treatment of animals, torture, world hunger, immigration, sexism, pornography, abortion, and gay marriage. Students will be exposed to multiple points of view on the topics and will be given guidance, through a range of activities, in analyzing the moral theories informing opposing positions. The goal will be to provide the basis for respectful and informed discussion of matters of common moral concern. We will read sections of Mark Timmons book, Disputed Moral Issues, and works by authors like Cheshire Calhoun, Ronald Dworkin, Peter Singer, and J.J. Thomson. Students will be expected to complete an argument analysis exercise, two short writing assignments, a longer essay, and an exam. Students will also be expected to participate in weekly online discussions and in class. 

Joshua Luczak

Intersectionality & Identity (128)

Intersectionality is the theory that identity and experiences can’t be reduced to or understood by appealing to one isolatable identity marker. On this theory, looking at one aspect of identity such as race, gender, gender identity, sexuality, or disability doesn’t capture all that is going on. Rather, intersectionality focuses on the interplay of identities in structuring our lived experiences; we need to see how these various aspects of identity are interlaced and enmeshed. This course will focus on understanding intersectionality, both as the theory developed historically and as it relates to more traditional approaches to understanding injustice. Throughout, we will attend to how intersectionality impacts the moral fabric of our daily lives.  Whereas traditional ethical theories are structured on universal and immutable characteristics, such as our shared humanity, intersectionality prompts us to attend to the particulars of our and others’ situated experiences. We will draw on texts from authors such as Kimberlé Crenshaw, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and Kristie Dotson to address issues ranging from the construction of knowledge, structural oppression, transnationalism and colonialism, to activism and resistance.

This course will be heavily discussion driven and grades will be based on class participation, four short writing assignments of 300-1,300 words, and a group presentation.

Cassie Herbert

Global Justice (129)

This course will investigate some of the main theoretical disputes that dominate discussions of global justice. Topics will vary from semester to semester. Among the topics that may be considered are: Which global inequalities (wealth/income, welfare, opportunity, health outcomes, education, carbon emissions, etc.) are justified, if any, and why? Where does responsibility rest to rectify problems in our global order? Are duties of justice owed to everyone or just to co­nationals? Under what conditions may one state justly wage war on another, and what constraints apply to the conduct of war? Do Western nations have the right, let alone the obligation, to export or internationalize the core values of Western political institutions, such as individual freedom, equality, and democracy.

Since specific topics and readings vary from semester to semester, students should consult the detailed course description for a given semester.

Colin Hickey

This course is offered regularly.

Philosophy and the Law (130)

Philosophy of law raises questions about how we should understand law and legal systems. What is the nature of law? Is there a necessary connection between law and morality? Under what conditions, if ever, do we have moral obligations to obey the law? What are the limits of legitimate legal authority? What role do (and should) judges play in creating, applying, or interpreting the law? What is the proper function of punishment? This course serves as an introduction to philosophy of law on the whole, and it will survey a range of topics in recent legal philosophy and jurisprudence. Students will read selections from Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, H. L. A. Hart, Ronald Dworkin, John Finnis, Joseph Raz, and Robin West, among others. We will think through how the various ethical traditions these authors draw from (e.g., consequentialist, deontological) inflect their arguments in philosophy of law. 

Daniel Threet

This course is offered regularly.

Economic Justic (131)

This course will explore what, if any, moral principles ought to guide economic institutions and practices. We will consider a range of theories of morality and economic value, and especially the tensions and interrelations between the values of labor, liberty, equality, opportunity, and property. We will ask questions like: What is the point of economic equality, and how much of it does justice demand? What is the value of work and leisure? Should governments provide a basic income to all citizens? Is government coercion in economic life morally permissible, and if so, to what extent?

Thomas Mulligan

This course is offered regularly.

Toleration (135)

In this class, we will seek to determine what sorts of things we ought to not tolerate. We will first discuss what toleration is and then consider various ideas about when toleration should end. (Everyone now thinks toleration is important, but no one thinks we ought tolerate everything.) We will not seek to determine if particular acts are right or wrong, or good or bad (nor whether a particular person is good or bad). Instead we will ask “should this act (behavior, speech, person) be tolerated? Why or why not?” There are many disagreements about what should be tolerated – some very serious, some less so. Should we tolerate abortion? Bad music? Cigarette smoking? Gay marriage? Cross-dressing? Home-schooling? Religious refusals of health care for children? Eating – or sacrificing –animals? Euthanasia? Assisted Suicide? Cannibalism? After discussing the nature, value, and moral limits of toleration we will consider various contemporary public policy issues in its light. We will consider a selection of such issues – perhaps same-sex marriage, immigration, sweatshops, the teaching of “intelligent design,” reparations, the selling of body parts, and torture – and consider what public policy we ought to endorse, in part by considering our previous discussion of what we ought tolerate.

Prof. Cohen

This course is not offered regularly. 

Greek Tragedy and Ethics (136)

We will read plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides along with philosophical texts by Plato and Aristotle in order to understand Ancient Greek views about a number of central issues in ethics, including: virtue and vice, happiness, emotion, action, the nature and limits of reason, psychological conflict, the relationship between humans and gods, etc.

Prof. Bronstein

Ethics & Technology (137)

For all its benefits, technology often complicates our moral world. This course will attempt to understand the moral terrain, both personally and socially, in advance of and in the wake of new technological developments. To do so, we will look at technological incursions into a range of domains of moral concern including: medicine (e.g., reproductive technology, genetic engineering), property and ownership (e.g., piracy), privacy (e.g., surveillance and big data), the environment (e.g., geoengineering, GMOs), social media (e.g., identity construction, bullying), warfare (e.g., drones, cyberwar). Other topics will be tailored to student interest. We will approach these topics by drawing from multiple and conflicting normative frameworks to illuminate key ethical concepts such as harm, beneficence, autonomy, rights, respect, etc. We’ll read selections from Gregory Alexander, Anita Allen, Daniel Solove, Julian Savulescu, Martha Nussbaum, and others. Students will be evaluated on the basis of participation, weekly short (<1 pg.) writing assignments, a mid-term exam, and a year-end research paper/presentation, which will be developed in stages throughout the semester.

Colin Hickey

Love, Sex and Friendship (138)

In this course we will explore the themes of love, sex, and friendship in ancient Greek philosophy. Texts may include: Plato’s Lysis, Symposium, and Phaedrus; Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Politics. We will consider questions such as the following: What is it to be a friend? What is the best or ideal form of friendship? What is the role of friendship in the development of moral and intellectual virtue? What is the role of love and sex in friendship? What roles do love, sex, and friendship play in moral and political life? 

Prof. Bronstein

Crime and Punishment (140)

This course investigates moral and philosophical issues in the criminal law. What acts ought to be criminalized? How can criminal punishment be justified, and what does it prohibit? What roles should rehabilitation, forgiveness, redemption, and mercy play in the criminal justice system? What special problems does the death penalty raise? How can just sentences be determined? What is the significance of racial and other discrimination for the criminal justice system? What are the proper limits of self-defense? How do such concepts as responsibility, mens rea, duress, necessity, and consent, as well as the distinction between justification and excuse, enter into a proper understanding of crimes and defenses against crimes? Our class activities will include a visit to the maximum security prison in Jessup, Maryland. 

Judith Lichtenberg

Moral Foundations of Market Society (141)

This course will bring together scholarship from philosophy, politics, economics, and law that deals with the moral underpinnings of modern market societies (such as contemporary American society). The course is organized around a text examining economic topics but written by a political philosopher:  Joseph Heath’s Economics without Illusions.  Heath’s book is devoted to analyzing twelve popularly held positions regarding economic issues and explaining why he believes those positions are mistaken.  We will alternate discussion of chapters from Heath’s book with discussions of texts that defend the claims that Heath criticizes or that examine those claims from a different perspective.  These texts include articles by philosophers, political theorists, and economists, as well as popular articles and legal cases. Among the topics we will discuss are whether free trade is a morally desirable policy; whether we ought to bail out people and institutions who lose out  after making bad gambles; whether it is fair to charge higher prices for a product when people are willing to pay more; and whether societies should condition social welfare payments on their recipients’ choices.

Dr. Persad

This course is not offered regularly. 

Eastern Perspectives on Ethics (142)

This course will draw on a rich set of historical texts and contemporary scholarship in Eastern ethical thought to shed light on a range of topics and concepts in normative theory. We will read material by Confucius and his followers Mengzi and Xunzi, as well as some of their main rivals. We will study the two chief works of Daoism (i.e., the Chuang Tzu and the Dao De Jing). And we will explore classics of Buddhism (e.g., the Dhammapada) and Hinduism (e.g., the Bhagavad Gita). We will situate critical readings of these classics with some analog and competing views from the Western ethical tradition. When paired with the work of contemporary scholars (such as Erin Cline, Bryan Van Norden, David Wong, Amy Olberding, Philip Ivanhoe, David Hall, and Roger Ames), we will hope to clarify questions such as, what can an account of human nature tell us about how to live? What is virtue? How should we think of suffering and the role of reason in the good life?

Colin Hickey

Morality and Psychology (143)

This course is intended as an overview of the psychological foundations of morality, with a particular focus on empirical approaches to morality. The first part of the course will focus on the connection between empirical psychology and morality. We will consider, in particular, the ways in which empirical research has been used to either criticize or substantiate traditional views of morality in order to evaluate how successful such projects are. The second half of the course will consider how and whether research in moral psychology can be action guiding. In particular, we will evaluate what this research implies about how we should live and act, and how we should structure our lives, environments, and institutions. Will read classic works from Aristotle and Kant, as well as contemporary works by Jonathan Haidt, Joshua Greene, John Doris, Liane Young, and Mahzarin Banaji. 

Instructors vary

This course is offered regularly.

Human Rights, Global Justice (144)

This course examines both foundational issues in human rights and a number of specific topics of current importance.

Foundational issues include the following: What makes human rights different from other moral concerns? What are the grounds or rationales underpinning human rights (e.g., some aspects of human well-being, autonomy, human dignity)? Are there any “positive” human rights (e.g., entitlements to goods and services such as education and health care)? How are human rights violations linked to structural injustices within societies or the global economic order? Are human rights truly universal or merely reflective of the values of Western liberal democracies? Who is responsible for securing human rights? What responses, including resistance, are justified when human rights are violated?

Topical issues include the following: immigration and the rights of migrants, human trafficking, climate change, gender inequalities and oppression, rights to a guaranteed income or a standard of living, health and health care access, sweatshop labor and other issues in the organization of global supply chains, control and ownership of water and other vital resources. Other issues may be added.

Prof. Powers

Ethics of Speech (146)

A commitment to free speech is embedded deeply in most liberal societies. However, there is a general agreement that some speech rightly falls outside the bounds of a right to free speech. In this course we will study the philosophical arguments that underlie the right to free speech, as well those that demonstrate how speech itself can perform many harmful acts. To guide our thinking on these ideas, we will read foundational work in ethics and political philosophy—including Kant and Mill—as well as the philosophy of language—such as Austin and Langton.

The course begins with a study of classic texts that aim to outline the ethical foundations of a robust freedom of speech—focusing primarily on Mill & Taylor’s On Liberty. In this section of the course, the aim is to bring out the diversity of arguments and values meant to demonstrate the special importance of free speech. These include epistemic arguments, democratic values, and autonomy-based concerns.

We will then consider how well these arguments fit together with more recent work that understands speech most fundamentally as an action, and an action that can oppress, subordinate, silence, and cause harm, among other things. To understand these ideas, we will consider a range of linguistic expressions and case studies, including lies, propaganda, pornography, so-called ‘dog-whistles,’ and more or less overt utterances of hate speech.

With these ideas behind us, we will then consider how, why, and when resistance to the harmful aspects of speech is possible, and perhaps morally required. Our guiding question throughout will be that between our intuitive ideas of free speech and hate speech lies a lot of rich and interesting philosophical material, and understanding how to balance the competing values and harms involved in real-life cases of conflict is worthy of sustained study.

The aim of this course will be to deepen our understanding of these key concepts, philosophical frameworks, and ethical questions through careful study of diverse texts. 

Trip Glazer

This course is offered regularly.

Ethics, Activism & Resistance (147)

We live in a radically unjust world. Much of moral and political philosophy focuses on the way things ought to be, but we often neglect the processes by which we get there. After a brief grounding in moral theory and theories of justice, we will draw on a rich historical and contemporary tradition of resistance movements to racial/environmental/economic/gender/etc. oppression to raise and evaluate core philosophical issues in the struggle to rectify injustice. How is responsibility for resisting injustice distributed? What is it to stand in solidarity with victims of injustice? Under what conditions might we ever have a moral right (or duty) to engage in civil disobedience, property destruction, violence, or revolution to protest injustice? What is the role of ritual, symbol, and art in resistance movements (yes, we will be talking about Tupac and Rage Against the Machine)? We will cover diverse sources ranging from Martha Nussbaum and John Rawls to MLK, Malcolm X, Berta Cáceres, Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, and others. 

Colin Hickey

This course is offered regularly.

Meta-Ethics (148)

Are there moral truths? If so, are they universal or relative? Is morality merely an expression of, for example, our emotions? Is God necessary for morality? Can we understand and explain morality from a purely scientific or naturalistic point of view? What motivates us to act morally? 

Some of the most gripping questions in contemporary life are about the nature and status of morality itself. In contemporary philosophy, these questions are central to a field known as “metaethics.” Metaethics aims to understand and to explain the nature and grounds of morality, moral discourse, and moral practice. This course is an introduction to metaethics. In it, students will learn how to think philosophically about metaethical questions (like those above) and the answers philosophers have proposed to them. Some of the contemporary philosophers that we will read include Christine Korsgaard, David Enoch, Sharon Street, AJ Ayer, JL Mackie, Philippa Foot, Russ Shafer-Landau, GE Moore, and others. We may also occasionally turn toward some of the giants of the past, such as Plato, Kant, and Hume. 

Clark Donley

This course is offered regularly.

Well-Being (149)

What kind of life is the best life? What makes a life go well? To what extent do these questions admit of universal answers? To what extent are the answers up to each person to decide for him- or herself? This course will consider a variety of theories of human well-being, and associated questions about the relation of well-being to pleasure, virtue, the satisfaction of desires, and more. We will read contemporary as well as historical texts that deal with these questions.

Oren Magid

This course is not offered regularly.

Bridge Courses in General Philosophy (“Non-Ethics,” 150–199)

Beginning Logic (150)

This course will be an introduction to informal and formal logic. As such it will require no previous experience with logic or philosophy. However, the latter part of the course will focus on symbolic logic and will look more like a math course than a traditional humanities course. So, students should be prepared for a moderate level of technicality. We will begin with a general overview of the nature of logic and argument. Next we will learn to pick out common types of both good and bad arguments. Then we will move on to learn some methods for translating arguments stated in ordinary language into symbolic logic. This will allow us to represent the form of very complicated arguments in a perspicuous fashion, which allows us to evaluate them more accurately. The primary goal of the course is to enhance students’ abilities to read critically by giving them a proper understanding of good argument. Textbooks and requirements will vary from semester to semester and instructor to instructor.

Instructors vary

Offered every Fall and Spring semester

Introduction to Logic (151)

What distinguishes good arguments from bad ones? Logic is the study of arguments, and answering this question is one of its chief aims. In this logic course, we begin by studying informal logical reasoning — the main patterns used in everyday arguments. But the majority of the course will focus on formal logic — the study of the abstract form of deductive arguments using symbolization. You will learn (1) how to translate sentences from ordinary English into sentences of symbolic logic, and (2) how to construct valid arguments using basic rules of inference. Once we have a handle on how to symbolize English sentences and how to construct valid proofs, we will move on to the first-order predicate calculus, in which simple propositions will be further analyzed in terms of their parts. We will learn how to prove arguments in a rule-governed system.

PHIL-151 will satisfy the logic requirement for philosophy majors, but is open to all students with one prior philosophy course.

Instructors vary

Offered every Fall and Spring semester, and frequently during the Summer as well. 

Philosophy of Film (155)

This course is an introduction to the philosophy of film. Readings will be primarily drawn from philosophy, but we will also make use of resources from film criticism and film theory. Issues to be considered include: (1) The nature of film. What distinguishes film from other forms of art, such as the theater? Must film be realistic? And is film a narrative or a dramatic art form? Finally, do films have authors? (2) The experience of film. Is our engagement with film primarily cognitive or emotional? What is the appropriate approach to film as a viewer? Why do we watch films–such as horror films–that arouse unpleasant emotions? (3) The politics of film. Is film inherently ideological, or can film be critical? If film can perform a critical function, how would it do so? Time permitting, we may also consider questions about the possibility of philosophizing in a cinematic medium and the nature and prospects of film theory.

In addition to readings, students should expect to watch between 10 and 15 films throughout the semester, to be drawn from the work of directors including Pedro Almodóvar, Charlie Chaplin, John Ford, Sergei Eisenstein, Jean-Luc Godard, Alfred Hitchcock, Spike Lee, Akira Kurosawa, Jean Renoir, Leni Riefenstahl, Quentin Tarantino, and Orson Welles.

Prof.  Mulherin

This course is not offered regularly. 

How to Believe Responsibly (156)

It’s very common for someone to deem another person’s thinking “rational” or “irrational”: someone thinking rationally seems to maintain and update beliefs in accordance with the right rules, while someone thinking irrationally seems to flout the rules (or at least be unaware of them). Rational thinkers look like responsible reasoners; as far as epistemological matters go, such thinkers are doing what they are supposed to do. In this course, we will think carefully about what it means to believe responsibly. What are the “right” rules for maintaining and updating beliefs? How should a person deal with evidence, especially evidence that is in tension with the beliefs she already has? When should she dismiss evidence to save the belief, and when should she jettison the old belief to accommodate new evidence? To what extent does a responsible believer investigate whether her beliefs are true? How curious about the world –and herself– must a responsible believer be? Can she ever cite practical considerations in support of her beliefs? When does she fall short of the norms of responsibility if she is unable to provide any explicit justification for her beliefs? When can she believe someone on the basis of another’s authority alone? When should she suspend belief, stop asking questions, or cease deliberation? How much control does a believer even have over her own avowed beliefs or over the dispositions that might guide her behavior or deliberation? Such questions have been asked for centuries under different guises, so readings will be a mix of contemporary articles and historical sources.

Prof. Primus

This course will be offered regularly. 

Hellenistic Philosophy (158) 

The Hellenistic era – the period in Greek history inaugurated by Alexander’s conquests – represents perhaps the first golden age of Western philosophy. In this course, we will explore the major schools of philosophical thought that arose during this golden age. After a brief introductory unit on philosophy generally, and Western philosophy before the Hellenistic era, we will read the surviving primary and secondary texts left by the Stoics, the Epicureans, the Skeptics, the Cynics, the Neoplatonists, and several smaller Hellenistic schools of thought. We will focus especially on the ethical, epistemological and metaphysical thought of each of these schools. Students will learn to recognize, analyze and critique the arguments put forward by the prominent thinkers within each school. 

Dr. Manela

Existentialism (159)

Existentialism was a literary, artistic, and philosophical movement that raised fundamental challenges to traditional and commonsense views about meaning in life.  Many existentialists believed that we unconsciously shrink from confronting these challenges, but that facing them would allow us to live unprecedentedly free, creative, joyful, or “authentic” lives.  This semester, we will examine the challenges these philosophers raise, including that of the death of God, the emergence of nihilism, and the threat of absurdity.  We will also explore existentialist views of “human nature,” including their implications for the nature of race, gender and embodiment.  Finally, we will explore the call to authentic living that these authors describe.  We will focus mainly on philosophical texts, but also draw from literature and film, including the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Frantz Fanon.  

Instructors vary

This course is offered regularly.

 Christian Creeds (160)

In this course, we will use the tools of philosophy to try to make sense of various ideas central to the Christian creeds: belief, God, creation, Trinity, incarnation, atonement, resurrection of the body, and heaven and hell. We are not trying to use philosophy to prove that the Christian creeds are true; we are asking, rather, whether and how philosophical investigation helps make sense of these doctrines. Everyone, of whatever faith or none at all, is invited to work through some of these really interesting problems. Course requirements include two medium-length papers, a final comprehensive exam, various unannounced reading quizzes, and prepared and active attendance.

Prof. Murphy

This course is offered regularly. 

Theory of Knowledge (162)

In this course we will discuss some of the most fascinating topics relating to the theory of knowledge. We will consider what knowledge is, where we get it, and how it’s justified. Topics include coherentism and foundationalism, peer disagreement, expert testimony, epistemic injustice, scientific knowledge production, and the connection between knowledge and power. Students enrolled should expect to discuss feminist issues as well as topics relating to the philosophy of race.  The syllabus includes a diverse array of philosophers such as Patricia Hill Collins, Linda Martín Alcoff, and Edmund Gettier. 

Students will be assessed by their performance on three five-page papers and weekly in class quizzes. No textbooks are required. All readings will be posted on blackboard. 

Benjamin Elzinga

This course is offered regularly.

Language and Power (163)

Language plays a central role in our interactions with people in the world: it helps us to convey our thoughts and to create important connections with others. It can also be a powerful mechanism through which to derogate, marginalize, or subordinate people. This course will examine how language draws on, exerts, and reinforces social power, paying particular attention to the impact of race and gender. We’ll make use of classic ideas from philosophy of language to address contemporary concerns about social discourse. To do this we’ll draw on authors such as John Stuart Mill, Rae Langton, Rebecca Kukla, and Kristie Dotson. We’ll start by examining famous arguments in support of freedom of speech. One of the central questions of the course is how these arguments work when we understand speech not merely as a way to convey information, but as an action which itself can have a significant impact on others. Much of the course will focus on the real impact of hate speech, pornography, and use of derogatory terms. We’ll examine the role of social authority and the ways in which discourse can be distorted by features of the participants’ identities. Then, we’ll look at what sorts of inferences are licensed both by derogatory terms and by seemingly innocuous language used in daily life. Finally, we’ll discuss whether, how, and when resistance to harmful speech is possible.

Cassie Herbert

This course is not offered regularly.

Political Emotions (165)

The drama of our political lives raises questions not just about how we should act, but also about how we should feel. Is resentment called for in the wake of atrocities? Is forgiveness? Does patriotism pay due honor to one’s country or promote ignorance and intolerance? When should justice be motivated by anger and when by love? How do shame and disgust perpetuate the subjection of women, the disabled, and LGBT people? What is subversive about political satire? Can politically incorrect jokes be funny? In this discussion-based course, we will investigate the political life of patriotism, anger, humor, nostalgia, shame, disgust, hatred, mourning, apathy, love, and hope, drawing from authors such as Iris Marion Young, Martha Nussbaum, Jonathan Lear, Thomas Brudholm, Sandra Bartky, Ryan Preston-Roedder, Alisa Carse, Nancy Sherman, Judith Butler, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. 

Joseph Rees

Fall 2015
This course is not offered regularly.

Political Philosophy (167)

This course serves as an introduction to contemporary political philosophy, in particular to several areas of ongoing debate. Political philosophy as a whole seeks to examine and explain the normative concepts that we use in political discourse, with an eye toward better self-understanding and arguments for reform. This course will look at questions of distributive justice, liberty, immigration and global governance, equality, oppression, and the appropriate level of ideality or abstraction in political philosophy. Students will read selections from contemporary political philosophers such as John Rawls, Jeremy Waldron, Iris Marion Young, Charles Mills, and Elizabeth Anderson. Students will be evaluated on the basis of three formal papers (5-7pp in length), participation, and a comprehensive final. This course satisfies part of the general-education philosophy requirement as a bridge-level course.

Dan Threet

This course is offered regularly 

Free Will (168)

Freedom matters to us. Most, if not all of us, find the suggestion that we may not be in control of our lives unpleasant. Happily, most of us also have the sense that we can to some extent carve out our own purposes and (hopefully more often than not) see them realized in the world. But is freedom really possible or are we under the grip of a powerful and widespread illusion? Suppose that most of us are right and freedom really is possible: is it possible for everyone or only a privileged few? If freedom isn’t possible for everyone, under which conditions is it possible and how might we go about obtaining it? In this course we will explore questions such as these from a philosophical perspective. Readings will consist of selections from historical thinkers such as Hume, Nietzsche and Paulo Freire as well as contemporary philosophers such as Robert Kane, Daniel Dennett and Susan Wolf. Through a close reading of such texts students will gain the ability to interpret and evaluate philosophical arguments and at the same time a deep appreciation of the problems of free will and why they matter.

Course requirements include active participation in the class, three 4-page papers and weekly short assignments or in-class quizzes. Students will not be required to purchase any course material, and all course material will be distributed electronically.

Benjamin Elzinga

What am I? (169)

This course is an introduction to what is sometimes called the metaphysics of persons. We’ll be concerned with four interrelated questions: 

•    What is required for our continued existence over time? 
•    What sort of thing are we? (a mind, soul, animal, or what?)
•    What is the nature of mental states?
•    What is free will and do we have it?

Prof. Lewis

Philosophy of Language (170)

This course will provide students with a survey of twentieth-century philosophical theories of meaning.  Commonsensically, to understand and use a language is to know the meanings of the expressions of that language and to use them to refer to things.  Much of the work of twentieth-century philosophers from the western world was an attempt to say substantial and systematic things about these phenomena.  We will trace the development of the most important twentieth-century views on these topics.  


 “Black Lives Matter” “The 99%”. Race and class are in the news, now, perhaps, more than ever. Political campaigns seek to pit frustration with stagnant wages among the working class against the demands of equal opportunity, respect, and inclusion for immigrants and oppressed minorities. Institutions like Georgetown join a broader conversation by asking what the beneficiaries of racialized oppression owe those harmed by it. This course will ask: what, if anything, should we do about inequality? Should we only be concerned with equality of opportunity, or with equality of condition as well? Do histories of injustice matter, or is it enough to build a better society for the future? We will use the tools of philosophy to think carefully about these questions, all the while keeping track of issues of race and class justice as they arise in contemporary culture and politics. 

Philosophy of Education (173)

Philosophy of education is the branch of philosophy that explores philosophical questions concerning the aims, nature, and problems of education. Some of the guiding questions of this course include: What are the (appropriate) goals and ideals of education? How should we evaluate the outcomes of educational practices and institutions? Can teaching be distinguished from indoctrination? Who should be taught, and what should they be taught? What is the proper scope of parental and state authority, and how are these constrained by children’s rights? How do the practices and aims of education relate to the wider society in which they are embedded? And lastly, who is in position to answer these questions? Throughout we will be exploring these questions while also examining the underlying philosophical assumptions of current education practices.

The aim of this course is to deepen our understanding of these key concepts, philosophical frameworks, and difficult questions through the careful study of diverse texts and other media. Using classic and contemporary texts, this course will give you the opportunity to interrogate various approaches to the philosophy of education in light of their real-world manifestations and your own personal experience. Some of the authors we will read include: Plato, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Mary Wollstonecraft, W.E.B. DuBois, John Dewey, Paolo Freire, bell hooks, Martha Nussbaum, and many more.


Philosophy of Race (175)

What is “race”? How does race relate to the production of knowledge and ignorance? In this course, we will consider the metaphysics and epistemology of race. Topics discussed will include implicit bias, whiteness, race and science, and race and reproduction. All philosophical topics studied in the course will have enormous bearing on the everyday lives of the students enrolled. 

Philosophy of Music (176)

This bridge course will be designed especially for students who are engaged in music production, but is open to all. We will ask a range of fundamental questions about music: what is music? What is an aesthetic response to a musical or other artwork? Is there a fact of the matter about what music is good? How does music evoke emotion, and how central is that to its nature? How does music function in forming social groups, especially political movements? Is it legitimate to judge music by it’s political value? 

Prof. Lance

Science and Skepticism (177)

The course will consider primarily our grounds for trust and for distrust in the pronouncements of modern science.  Part of this will involve disentangling what these pronouncements are from what they are not; part will be considering in some detail a variety of cases where there’s a lot of distrust of science where there shouldn’t be, and where there is not a lot but should be.

For case studies we’ll look in particular at some of the following: evolution controversies; anti-vaccine sentiment; anti-global climate change movements; the safety of various public scale works including nuclear storage, mining waste, oil drilling, etc; medical issues involving saccharin and dioxins, the so-called science of diet, etc.

Prof. Mattingly

This course is offered every other year.

Philosophy of Science (178)

What, if anything, is special about the method of the sciences? In what way, if any, does this method provide a sure route to knowledge production? Is there a single method of inquiry that characterizes modern science, or is it a simple grab-bag of ad hoc techniques whose only justification is that it produces results? We will explore these and other questions in this course. Some main themes: scientific explanation (do the sciences explain things? if so, how?); scientific theories (is there any such thing? what kind of thing is a scientific theory?); epistemology of science (what confidence should we have in the results of scientific inquiry? does science lead us to the truth about nature? is there a truth about nature?).

This course is offered every other year.

Philosophy and Star Trek (180)

Star Trek is very philosophical. What better way, then, to do philosophy, but to watch Star Trek, read philosophy and hash it all out in class (and on Blackboard)? That’s the plan. This course will center on topics in metaphysics that come up again and again in Star Trek. In conjunction with watching episodes of Star Trek, we will read excerpts from the writings of great philosophers, extract key concepts and arguments and then analyze those arguments. Questions we will wrestle with include: (1) Is time travel possible? Could you go back and kill your grandmother? What is time? (2) What is the relation between your mind and your brain: are they separate items or identical? Can persons survive death? Could a machine someday think? Is Data a person? (3) What is a person? Must you have the same body to be you? Same memories? When do we have one person, and when do we have two (think of the episodes where people “split” or “fuse”). (4) Do you have free will, or are you determined by the laws of nature to do exactly what you wind up doing (while believing you have free will)? Or both? What is free will? 

Prof. Wetzel

This course is offered regularly.

Science and Pseudoscience (181)

Should public schools include astrology in their science curricula? Should the government fund research into parapsychology or Intelligent Design? Should homeopathy be covered by public health insurance? These questions bring us face to face with what philosophers of science call the “demarcation problem,” the problem, that is, of distinguishing genuinely scientific theories from pseudoscientific flim-flam. In this course, we will explore this important issue at two levels of abstraction. First, at a relatively high level of abstraction, we will consider the major philosophical approaches to scientific demarcation – those of Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, Imre Lakatos, and Paul Feyerabend. Second, and at a lower level of abstraction, we will consider several case studies: debates about the scientific status of the Intelligent Design hypothesis, the anti-vaccination movement, parapsychology, “mind control” research, alternative medicine, and cold fusion. 

This course is not offered regularly.

Crisis and Change (182)

What happens when a person changes not just their beliefs about the world but their entire worldview? How does an organisation or a community come to make sense of the world in an entirely new way? Does crisis have a special role in precipitating these sorts of changes? Is there anything that we can (ethically) do to bring about or to direct such “changes in hearts and minds”? This course will address these questions by critically examining some philosophical accounts of individual, scientific and cultural conceptual change, from authors such as Augustine, Thomas Kuhn, and Jonathan Lear. Students can expect to write several short analytic papers and a final research paper.

Prof. Withy

This course will be offered regularly. 

Jewish Philosohpy (186)

A survey of some of the great works in the history of Jewish philosophy. Authors studied may include: Philo of Alexandria, Maimonides, Moses Mendelssohn, Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, Emmanuel Levinas, Emil Fackenheim, and Hannah Arendt.

Prof. Bronstein

Happiness & its Discontents (187)

What should we strive for in life?  A common answer is that we should strive to be happy.  But what is happiness, and what is it that makes people happy?  Perhaps more importantly, should happiness even be our most important goal?  What about living a moral life?  What about living a flourishing life, or a meaningful life?  What constitutes a flourishing or meaningful life?  Do we need God for our lives to be meaningful?  Do people in different nations have a different conception of the good life, or is there an underlying cross-cultural consensus?  Using the tools of philosophy, economics, psychology, and more, we will attempt to answer these questions.

Prof. Koons

Mind and World (188)

In this course, we will explore the relationship between mind and body: the relationship between conscious phenomena like dizzyness and the smell of coffee and physical phenomena like brain activity and the central nervous system. We begin by considering the classic positions on the metaphysics of mind, including: dualism, behaviorism, identity theory, functionalism, and eliminative materialism. In the second part of the course we turn to a more contemporary iteration of the mind-body problem. In particular, we will discuss several major philosophical and scientific proposals concerning the extent to which cognition is an essentially embodied/embedded phenomenon.

Aesthetics (189)

Aesthetics is the philosophical study of art, beauty, and taste. In this course, we will explore some influential aesthetic theories. However, we’ll also test the limitations of these theories using some especially challenging cases. For example, some societies do not share the Western conception of art. Yet they produce artifacts that obviously count as art under most aesthetic definitions. How should we treat these products without distorting them? Many of us also seem to seek out and enjoy movies and fiction that upset and frighten us. But why? And should these count as properly “aesthetic” experiences? Finally, aesthetic theories often struggle to deal with art forms like dance and performance art precisely because they are ephemeral. But if these established art forms are difficult cases, how should we think of newly recognized art forms like food and (possibly) humor?



In this course we read and discuss texts on the following topics in classical Chinese philosophy: Confucianism; Daoism; Mozi and Mohism; Han Feizi and Legalism. Special attention will be given to the controversy over human nature, with a degree of attention to its implications for ethical and political thinking. 

Huaping Lu-Adler

Propoganda & Social Exclusion (192)

Propaganda and other forms of politically motivated rhetoric are commonly deployed in political campaigns, public policy campaigns, and other types of social movements, as well as in advertising, news services, and popular culture. This is nothing new. Plato was worried about the ways in which political rhetoric and similar forms of speech impact our self-understanding as social and ethical beings; and many subsequent philosophers have been troubled by the effect of systematically distorted forms of communication. In this course, we will attempt to pursue these sorts of issues, building on the many things that we have learned about propaganda and social exclusion since Plato first puzzled through these issues. First, we will attempt to figure out what propaganda is, and how it differs from other forms of speech. Second, we will ask how and why it works, and we will examine the ways in which it is employed as a mechanism of dehumanization and social exclusion. We will draw on a host of multidisciplinary perspectives, as much of the relevant work has gone on outside of philosophy (and we will talk about why that is!). So while our primary approach will be philosophical, we will also need to draw on resources from anthropology, cultural psychology, cognitive science, and social theory. No background knowledge of philosophy or these other disciplines is expected or required.

Prof. Huebner

Phenomenology (197)

Phenomenology examines the way we experience the world and attempts to uncover the essential structures that underpin that experience. Although Phenomenology is most commonly associated with twentieth-century European philosophy, it remains a powerful tool for thinking about many important contemporary issues. In this course, we will study both the foundational texts in the field (by authors like Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and de Beauvoir) and more contemporary developments (Iris Marion Young, Judith Butler, and Sara Ahmed). These contemporary texts offer both extensions of the earlier ideas by applying the methodology and concepts to new topics (like gender and race) and critiques of the classical phenomenologists and their methodology.

Grades will be based on classroom participation, weekly writing assignments, and three in-class exams.

This course is not offered regularly.