Foundational Area and History Survey Courses

Courses numbered 200–349 typically have a formal prerequisite of two prior Philosophy courses. There are exceptions, noted for the relevant courses. 

Foundational Area Courses in Metaphysics and Epistemology (200-219)

Phil. 211: Epistemology

formerly Phil. 406

This course will provide a survey of classic and contemporary issues in epistemology. And over the course of the semester, we will try to figure out what role knowledge and truth play in our everyday social practices, as well as our politically structured lives. We will start with some of the classic approaches to the nature of truth and knowledge, drawing on resources from the European tradition, as well as traditions that flourished in Africa and Asia. In the second half of the class, we will turn to issues of scientific knowledge, trust, and objectivity. We will  think about how the process of producing knowledge can break down (focussing on a topic known as epistemic injustice), and we will think about how it can be repaired (focusing on suggestions by Paulo Freire).

Prof. Huebner

Phil. 212: Metaphysics

formerly Phil. 450

Metaphysics addresses issues such as the nature of possible worlds, free will and determinism, the nature of time, actions and events, existence, metaphysical grounding. Readings will be drawn from either or both traditional and contemporary literature. Precise topics, course requirements, readings, and expectations vary from year to year. Students should consult the syllabi of individual instructors for more detail about the current offering of the course.

Profs. Lewis, Primus, or Wetzel

Phil. 213: Philosophy of Language

Formerly Phil. 415

This course is a study of the nature of meaning and reference from a philosophical perspective, focusing on the relationships among meanings, referents, properties, ideas, conventions, intentions, the uses of language and speech acts. Topics in reference, or how words refer (what Helen Keller finally realized) include names and descriptions, the distinction between sense and reference, the puzzle of non-referring terms, causal theories of reference. Topics in meaning include: the identification of meaning with truth conditions, the nature of propositions, theories of linguistic understanding, and the roles of mind and world in determining meaning, the distinction between meaning and implication, the roles of context and convention in language use, speaker meaning versus linguistic meaning and speech act theory.

Profs. Lance or Wetzel


In this course, we will explore questions about what minds are, and what kinds of things have them (individuals, groups, nonhuman animals, plants, and bacteria). Along the way, we will investigate questions about mental imagery, dreams, and what it’s like to be an octopus. Finally, we will examine questions about what it means to be a “self”, to have a “soul” and to be a “person”; and in this part of the course, we will explore the philosophy of mind as it developed in the philosophical traditions of Europe, North America, India, Mesoamerica, and Western Africa.

Prof. Huebner

Phil. 215: Philosophy of Science

Formerly Phil. 392

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?).

Prof. Mattingly

Foundational Area Courses in Normative Philosophy (220–249)

Phil. 231: Social and Political Philosophy

Formerly Phil. 389

This course will examine questions about the justice of our fundamental social and political institutions and the basic organization of our social and political order. What is a just political order? What sorts of political institutions are required to ensure liberty and equality? How do we resolve (if we can) conflicts between liberty and equality when they arise? What is the nature and extent of oppression? These are examples of the sorts of questions that will be tackled in this course. 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.

Profs. Carse or Richardson

Phil. 232: Ethical Theory

This course will be a systematic, intensive exploration of philosophical ethics. It aims to provide philosophy majors and minors with a broad overview of ethical theory, but in a way that enables a deep level of engagement with its central concerns and considerations. Students will gain or improve their grasp of the most influential versions of normative ethical theory, including virtue ethics, Kantianism, utilitarianism, among others. We will consider the accounts of moral psychology presupposed by those theories. We will also consider important questions in metaethics. Finally, we will examine the resources of ethical theory for resolving practical ethical problems. Reading lists and specific topics addressed vary from year to year and from instructor to instructor, as do required work and expectations. Please consult the syllabi posted online by individual instructors for more detail.

Profs. Carse, Murphy, Sherman, or Stohr

Phil. 233: Moral Psychology

In what circumstances should a person be held responsible for his or her actions and attitudes? What sorts of traits are necessary to live well, ethically speaking? How do these issues intersect with mental health and wellness? This course will examine these questions in depth, leading us to investigate a number of fascinating philosophical issues located at the intersection of ethics, psychology, and philosophy of mind—issues such as: implicit bias; addiction and weakness of will; the puzzle of “moral luck”; happiness; authenticity; trauma; and a variety of moral emotions like shame, self-respect, resentment, trust, hope, and forgiveness.

Students will be required to purchase two classic texts by Aristotle and Immanuel Kant, respectively. The remainder of the readings will be available on Blackboard, from contemporary authors including Martha Nussbaum, José Medina, Judith Halpern, Manuel Vargas, Margaret Walker, Lori Paul, Otto Maduro, Joshua Greene, Harry Frankfurt, Charles Guignon, Malcolm X, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and the Dalai Lama. Grades will be based on weekly reading reflections, three in-class quizzes, two 5-page argumentative essays, and a final exam.

Prof. Carse

Phil. 245: Philosophy of Law

An examination of some central problems of the philosophy of law, problems centered on the role that the law’s authority ought to play in our proper understanding of it. This course will address both analytical and normative jurisprudence. Under the heading of “analytical jurisprudence,” we will consider various theories of the nature of law. We will ask: What is authority? What are the various ways that persons, or institutions, can bear authority? What sorts of authority, if any, are essential to law? And how should our account of the nature of law be shaped by the constraint that law be authoritative in these particular ways? Under the heading of “normative jurisprudence,” we will ask whether law really bears legitimate authority over those subject to it, and if so, how far that authority extends; and how whatever authority the law has is to be explained. Thus, we will ask: What are the various ways in which claims to authority can be made good? Does the law show itself to be authoritative by any of these ways? How, then, should we understand the scope and limits of legitimate legal authority?

Profs. Lichtenberg or Murphy

Additional Foundational Area Courses (260–279)

Phil. 260: Aesthetics

Formerly Phil. 455

At the end of his Republic, Plato has Socrates banish the poets from the ideal city. Plato fears that the poets will corrupt the citizens, encouraging them to let their passions, as opposed to their reason, rule them. This exile inaugurated a more than 2,000-year conflict between art and philosophy. In this time philosophical aesthetics has lived for the most part in genteel poverty on the outskirts of the discipline, trying to refute or limit philosophy’s charges while occasionally endorsing them. This course will provide a survey of the philosophy of art that takes Plato’s worry about the danger of art seriously, examining the various conceptions of art that have been advanced throughout the history of aesthetics (as representation, expression, form, and aesthetic experience) and considering the extent to which they relieve or deepen such concerns. In addition to these investigations, which will form the core of the course, we’ll look at a few special, related topics, including the relationship between art and knowledge, the concepts of kitsch and bad art, the high art/low art distinction, public art, and the aesthetic aspects of the political.

Dr. Mulherin

Phi. 261: Philosophy of Religion

Formerly Phil. 387

People are raising many philosophical questions about religion these days, and this course aims to address a number of the more central ones. Most of these questions have been treated by prominent thinkers of high philosophical quality, and we will be examining thinkers from both the past and the contemporary philosophical scene. These latter are particularly important since there has been much recent work in the philosophy of religion. In the past forty years there has been a robust resurgence of interest in applying contemporary philosophical methods to perennial issues pertaining to religion, and new perspectives have opened up, yielding new approaches to old problems and new areas for investigation. We will be discussing some of the following topics: God and evil, religious experience, faith and reason, who God is, proofs for God’s existence and whether belief in God needs proof, language about God, miracles, life after death, religion and science, religious diversity, religion and morality. By conversation and confrontation with the philosophers and their writings on these topics, you will be in an informed position to develop your own views.

Profs. Henninger, Langan, or Murphy

Dante & Christian Imagination (276)

The goal of this course is to consider the uniquely contemporary cultural relevance of Dante’s Commedia in the context of the questions of human freedom, responsibility and personal identity, as well as the role of the imagination in the formation of culture and world views. The basis and substance of the study will be Dante’s Commedia, with prior attention to Dante’s earlier work, Vita Nuova.

The approach of the course will be interdisciplinary with significant consideration being given to the function of imagination as it operates in poetry, history, 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 differences of that role in each as it appears in the poem. 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. Although the course will attend to issues of translation, no background in Italian is required.

Prof. Ambrosio

Surveys of the History of Philosophy (280–299)

Phil. 280: History of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy

Formerly Phil. 384

The first half of the course is devoted to major figures and themes in Ancient Greek philosophy (from 600 BCE on). We will explore the origins of Western philosophy by reading works by philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, and examining their answers to questions such as, What is the fundamental nature of reality? What is the good life? What is the relationship between the mind and the body? What is knowledge and how do we acquire it?

The second half of the course is devoted to Medieval philosophy (c. 400-1400 CE), as thinkers of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths engaged with the Greek philosophical heritage. Primary emphasis will usually be placed on thinkers from the Latin (Christian) West, such as Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Aquinas and Duns Scotus, but some consideration may be given to Jewish and Muslim thinkers such as Maimonides and Avicenna. Among topics that may be considered are the existence and nature of God, faith and reason, metaphysics, the soul, freedom of the will, and happiness and the good life.

This course is typically team-taught by two faculty members, one for the Ancient half of the course, one for the Medieval. 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.

Ancient Greek philosophy component: Profs. Bronstein, Sherman, or Withy
Medieval philosophy component: Profs. Bradley, Henninger, or Lewis

This course is offered every Fall and Spring semester. This course is intended for and required of all Philosophy majors.

Phil. 282: History of Modern Philosophy

Formerly Phil. 385

This course revolves around key epistemic and metaphysical topics in early modern philosophy, such as the source and extent of human knowledge, the mind-body relation, the nature of material substance, the possibility of human freedom, etc. We consider a wide range of views on these topics by both canonical and non-canonical figures (including several women philosophers) and examine them in the relevant cultural, religious, and scientific contexts. This is a 4-credit course. On average you are expected to spend 8 hours studying for this course each week.

Profs. Beauchamp, Lu-Adler, or Primus

This course is offered every Fall and Spring semester. This course is intended for and required of all Philosophy majors.

Phil. 291: 20th Century European Philosophy

Formerly Phil. 374

This course is a guided, collaborative excursion into important thinkers and themes in 20th C. European philosophy. Students will spend the semester researching and producing a substantial e-portfolio, and class sessions will be designed to further this work. In some sessions, students will informally present their own research and follow up on topics of interest that arise over the term. Other sessions will resemble traditional lectures, covering works by significant thinkers (such as Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Emmanuel Levinas, Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, Martin Heidegger, Michel Foucault, Ferdinand de Saussure, Jacques Derrida and Giorgio Agamben) and significant themes (such as the influence of Hegel, recognition and interpersonal relationships, the body, art and authorship, technology and modernity, and the structure of language). We will also aim to read short works of literature that influenced or were influenced by 20th C. European philosophy (such as works by Primo Levi, Italo Calvino, and Franz Kafka). The course will be fast-paced, eclectic, philosophically sophisticated, and writing-, research- and reading-intensive. Students can expect to accomplish much of their learning outside of the classroom and will be required to actively work on their e-portfolios and to actively participate in class sessions throughout the term.

Prof. Withy