Spring 2017 Courses
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101-2: Introduction to Philosophy
The goal of this class is to teach you how to think critically about fundamental issues. The issues we will discuss concern justification for our claims to knowledge, belief in God, free will and moral responsibility, ethics, and justice.
Thinking critically about these issues will be hard for many of you. This is because, first, they are of the sort that tend to draw strong opinions. Many of you probably believe in god, think that it is ok to accept claims on the basis of faith, are confident that knowledge is possible, believe that you have free will, and have views about what makes a society just or whether abortion is permissible. If you are like most people, you have not thought critically about these things. In fact, I bet that most of you believe in the god that your parents believe and for no other reason than that your parents raised you to accept their beliefs (and, in turn, they followed their parents). This would certainly explain why children of Christians, Muslims, and Jews tend to be Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Likewise, the best predictor of your views on justice and abortion are probably the views of your parents or peers. This brings us to the second reason why critical thought about fundamental issues is difficult: it requires that you suspend your belief in ideas that have probably seemed natural to you for so long.
But, finally, critical thinking is hard just because it's hard -- regardless of the issue under analysis. Critical thought requires examining assumptions that you may not realize you have made, it requires imagining alternatives that may be far from obvious, and it requires an ability to assess the soundness of arguments.
101-3: Introduction to Philosophy
The aim of this course is to introduce the student to philosophy, both the subject matter and the method. We will study some different areas in philosophy and the problems and questions addressed in those areas. But we will also study how philosophers go about answering these questions – what kinds of arguments they give, what reasons led them to their views. We will evaluate whether their arguments are good ones, and try to understand what work needs to be done to build adequate theories. The different areas of philosophy we will study include the following : Epistemology or the theory of knowledge which is concerned with questions about the nature and extent of Knowledge; Philosophy of Religion, where we will examine arguments for and against the existence of God; Ethics, where the focus will be on whether there really is such a thing as right or wrong, and if so, what makes something right or wrong; and finally, Free Will, where we will examine whether human beings can have free will if their actions are a part of the natural, causal order.
101-5: Introduction to Philosophy
This course provides an overview of some central questions of philosophy, and explains how philosophers go about investigating them. We will cover questions concerning the relation between mind and body, the nature of knowledge, the existence of the universe, moral obligation and value (what makes an action right vs. wrong?), and belief vs. nonbelief in God. We will also learn logical reasoning skills, which we will apply when discussing these questions. Assignments include short papers and two exams. Class attendance is mandatory.
101-8: Introduction to Philosophy
This course is an introduction to philosophical thinking and the Western philosophical tradition from antiquity to modernity. Through reading classical and contemporary texts, we will be examining central topics in this tradition: proofs for the existence of God, the nature of morality, the meaning of life, and the nature of art and beauty. By exploring these topics and works, students will develop a conception of what philosophy is, become familiar with its history, and acquire the skills needed to identify, evaluate, and construct arguments. In so doing, they will be laying the foundations for a fruitful engagement with philosophy and for critical thinking generally.
210-2: Reason in Communication
The aim of this course is to help you develop your critical skills in recognizing, comprehending, evaluating, and engaging in contemporary forms of reasoning. We will be paying special attention to reasoning in mass communication media.
210-3: Reason in Communication
Argument in familiar contexts; emphasis upon developing critical skills in comprehending, evaluating, and engaging in contemporary forms of reasoning, with special attention to the uses of argument in mass communication media.
211-1: Elementary Logic
This course is an introduction to formal logic, the study of valid reasoning. We will study methods for proving that an argument is either valid or invalid. Validity, as we will understand it, depends on the form of arguments rather than on their content; we will therefore work with a formal, symbolic language in which the form of sentences is made explicit. We will study both truth–functional and quantificational logic and use a deductive proof procedure for each.
211-2: Elementary Logic
A hotel manager put up a sign reading: "No one is permitted on these premises unless accompanied by a registered guest". Apparently the manager failed to realize that from the statement on the sign it follows that no unaccompanied registered guest is permitted on the premises! In general, the question of which statements follow from other statements is quite tricky. This course addresses this tricky question by (1) introducing a symbolic language into which one can translate a great many ordinary English sentences and almost all mathematical sentences, and by (2) using an automated proof procedure to show that certain sentences follow from other sentences.
211-3: Elementary Logic
Suppose I say, "The cheese was in the fridge when you left. If no one removed the cheese, it's still in the fridge. I'm the only one who could've removed the cheese, and I didn't. So the cheese is still in the fridge." This argument concerning the whereabouts of the cheese contains some premises followed by a conclusion. The argument is structured so that if the premises are true, the conclusion is true as well.
In this course we will represent arguments in symbols to reveal their structure, then study argumentative structures that guarantee a true conclusion from true premises. We will also learn how to prove that an argument with a particular structure is valid. The techniques we will learn are necessary for every area of contemporary philosophy, and are relevant to areas of economics, mathematics, computer science, rhetoric, and the law.
241-1: Introductory Ethics (fulfills category B requirement for the major)
Nature of moral problems and of ethical theory, varieties of moral skepticism, practical ethics and the evaluation of social institutions. Prerequisites: Sophomore Status.
241-2: Introductory Ethics (fulfills category B requirement for the major)
In this course we will investigate the ethical dimension of human life. What makes an action right or wrong? What obligations do we have to other people or the community and what do we do when these obligations conflict? What makes someone a good or bad person? How do we make ethical judgments and can they be objective? We will examine three historically important theoretical approaches to ethics (virtue ethics, utilitarianism and Kantian ethics), as well as objections that have been raised against each of them.
304-1: Topic in Philosophy-Humanities
Goodness and Happiness
In one of Plato’s early dialogues, the Apology, the seventy-year old Socrates stands before the Athenian jury that is about to condemn him to death and defends the life he has led. In one of the most famous sayings in the history of philosophy, he tells his judges, who were annoyed by his constantly questioning the values and beliefs of his fellow citizens, that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. But what exactly is it to lead an “examined life”? What are the things that are supposed to be “examined” in such a life, and how are we supposed to examine them? And how do you know whether or not you are, in fact, leading an examined life?
In this philosophy seminar, we will look closely at what Socrates had in mind—and, more generally, at what philosophy is all about and the different ways of investigating the values that can inform a person’s life. There is no better way to do this than by studying some of history’s greatest philosophers as they inquire into the nature of goodness and happiness, and especially the relationship between the two. What is it to be good or to lead a good life? (Correlatively, what is evil?) What is a right action and what makes it right? What is happiness? Does being a good person insure that your life will be a happy one? We will read selections from ancient, modern and contemporary philosophers, including Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Epictetus, Kant, John Stuart Mill, Jean-Paul Sartre, and others.
304-2: Topic in Philosophy-Humanities
The Ethics of Revolution and Resistance
At some point in your life you may determine that the social, political, or economic institutions of your society are unjust. This may inspire you to resist these institutions, or even work towards replacing them entirely through a revolution. How should acts of revolution and resistance be pursued? Should your pursuit be violent or nonviolent? Should these acts be sanctioned or unsanctioned by existing institutions? Should you strive to keep existing institutions largely intact or to replace these institutions with new ones? In this course, we will explore these questions and more. We will begin in Ancient Greece and China and proceed to contemporary analyses of terrorism, looking at the problem of dirty hands, theories of natural rights, socialist revolutionary theory, and activist strategies in US Civil Rights Movement along the way.
304-3: Topic in Philosophy-Humanities
Louis CK and Philosophy
Louis C.K. is an acclaimed comedian and actor. His distinctive brand of dark comedy is often philosophical both in its content and in its presentation. While Louis himself doesn't usually present arguments, he readily forms principles and applies them. He channels Kant, highlights social and economic injustice, sounds off on God's nature, and confronts human frailty. In this course we will compare Louis' (apparent) philosophical positions to those of the professional philosophical community (historical and contemporary), transform his jokes into arguments, and challenge his assumptions. Louis will be the mouthpiece through which we are introduced to a host of philosophically rich questions, including: What is the value of philosophy, if there is any?; What obligations do parents have to their children, if they have any?; What do we owe the dead, if we owe them anything?; and What is the point of life, if there is one?
We will watch episodes, in full and in part, of Louis' televisions programs, as well as some of his stand-up routines, and interviews.
341-1: Contemporary Moral Issues
The purpose of 341 is to acquaint students with rigorous forms of reasoning concerning live contemporary moral issues, and to help them develop the skills necessary to evaluate and intervene in public debates in a way that is intellectually honest and well-informed. This section of 341 focuses mainly on issues relating to childhood, family life, and education; among the issues we discuss are the morality of abortion; the permissible regulation of parenthood; cloning human beings for reproductive purposes; the morality of school choice; the morality of educational inequality, and whether parents should enroll their children in sports leagues(!). Attendance of discussion section is mandatory. Assessment of students’ work will be by papers, essay exams, and some short tests.
341-3: Contemporary Moral Issues
The course will address four contemporary moral issues: surrogate motherhood, abortion, income and wealth inequalities, and health care. In order to treat the issues systematically, it will also provide a brief introduction to Kant's moral philosophy, libertarianism, utilitarianism, and Rawls' theory of justice. This is a writing intensive lecture (but it does not provide Comm-B credit), and it aims to help students to analyze, criticize, and present arguments rigorous in clear and precise prose.
341: Contemporary Moral Issues (fulfills Category B requirement for the major)
Lec. 93 9:55 MTWR
Lec. 94 11:00 MTWR
Lec. 95 12:05 MTWR
Lec. 96 9:55 MTWR
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430-1: History of Ancient Philosophy
Metaphysics and Epistemology in Ancient Greek Philosophy: From Thales to Aristotle
The philosopher Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living, and his most famous follower, Plato, argued that the examined life requires consideration of what we can know (epistemology) and what exists (metaphysics). In this class we’ll be studying in depth, and with close attention to the texts, Plato’s, Aristotle’s and earlier philosophers’ attempts to answer the following questions: What sorts of things are there in the world? Is a world of change consistent with a world of enduring objects? What would be a satisfactory account of unity and diversity? What sort of knowledge, if any, can we have of the world in which we live? Why are reason and logic important? Why become a philosopher, and what is the difference between the philosopher and the sophist?
There will be three tutorials. Class participants will be asked to write a series of 1500-word essays answering specific and challenging questions on assigned texts or particular topics. They will then come in pairs to see the instructor for an hour or so, during which time they will read out and discuss their work. Grades will be assigned to the written work. The point of the tutorial is purely educational and fun. The final grade will be based on the grades for the three tutorial papers, attendance and good participation in section.
432: History of Modern Philosophy
In this course, we will read and discuss selections from the works of some influential 17th and 18th century philosophers: Galileo, Descartes, Princess Elisabeth, Malebranche, Spinoza, Leibniz, Lady Masham, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. Though these thinkers are a diverse bunch, one thing that unites them is their preoccupation with a set of philosophical issues connected with the scientific revolution ushered in by scientists like Galileo and Newton. The scientific revolution, which was closely associated with the so-called mechanical philosophy, raised troubling questions about free will, the mind-body relationship, God’s place in nature, the sources and limits of knowledge, and the ultimate nature of reality. The modern philosophers we will study in this class thought deeply about these questions, and though their answers often diverge widely from one another (and sometimes from common sense), they helped to shape philosophy as it is practiced today.
442: Moral Philosophy & the Holocaust (cross-listed with Jewish Studies)
This course follows a tradition of moral philosophy (Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger) as it is taken up by thinkers writing in the wake of the Holocaust. Through readings in texts by Hannah Arendt, Theodor Adorno, Emmanuel Levinas, Giorgio Agamben, and others, we will investigate how the Holocaust comes to figure in and orient postwar reflections on questions of guilt, human subjectivity, language, responsibility, judgment, and evil. Over the course of the semester, we will also supplement our philosophical readings with historical, literary, and cinematic representations of these events.
454: Classical Philosophers
Socrates and the Examined Life
Socrates had a huge impact on the history of philosophy, despite claiming to lack knowledge and never writing a word. Socrates put forward bold and unpopular views, challenging his contemporaries to engage in rational argument, rather than following unreflective opinion about how to live. He also developed a powerful method of examination, which enables non-experts to evaluate the claims of those who claim to have knowledge. Socrates viewed philosophy as much more than an intellectual pastime: for him philosophical examination was the most important activity one could engage in, and he refused to give it up, even in the face of death. We will focus on the famous portrayal of Socrates in Plato’s dialogues, but we will also compare the way in which he is portrayed in the dialogues of Xenophon and a play by the comic poet Aristophanes, in order to get the best possible picture of his philosophical commitments and way of life.
481: Meets with 516
482: Meets with 524
512: Methods of Logic
If mathematicians are necessarily rational but cyclists are not, is an individual who is both a mathematician and a cyclist necessarily rational or not? This is just one of the numerous puzzles associated with the notions of necessity and possibility, the notions that form the subject of modal logic. This course is a continuation of Philosophy 211 (Elementary Logic) and presupposes thorough familiarity with 211. The main object of the course is to enable students to (1) translate into logical notation English arguments involving the notions of necessity and possibility, and to (2) easily determine whether the translated arguments are valid or not. There is also a lot of philosophical discussion of issues related to modal logic.
516: Language and Meaning
The course will cover some of the main themes in the philosophy of language. The human ability to communicate information about the external world through language is remarkable and raises a number of philosophical questions. Topics to be considered include: what it is for a linguistic expression to be meaningful; how it could come about that a linguistic expression – which is at some level just an arbitrary group of sounds or symbols – could have a meaning; how both the mind and the external world interact with language to determine meaning; how speakers use and manipulate language in different settings to communicate different kinds of information; and the way in which the meaning of a term depends on context.
524: Philosophy and Economics (cross-listed with 524 Economics)
This course will address methodological, ethical, and foundational problems at the boundaries between economics and philosophy. It will assess the strong idealizations that contemporary economics employs and how these idealizations lead economists to endorse philosophical theses concerning the nature of rationality and welfare. In doing so, it will ask how much confidence citizens should place in the recommendations of economists and what to think when economists offer conflicting recommendations. Course requirements will include two papers, quizzes and a final examination.
549: Great Moral Philosophers (fulfills category B requirement for the major)
We will discuss the work of several great moral philosophers, for example, Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Hume, Mill and Kant, and some important contemporary moral philosophers, especially women, who develop or criticize these different approaches to ethics. The aim of the course is to gain a critical appreciation of the insights of each of these philosophers. How much time we spend on each philosopher and on each topic will depend on the interests of the participants in the course.
There will be ample opportunity for discussion. There will also be three tutorials. Class participants will be asked to write a series of 1500-word essays answering specific and challenging questions on assigned texts or particular topics. They will then come in pairs to see Professor Gottlieb for an hour or so, during which time they will read out and discuss their work. Grades will be assigned to the written work. The point of the tutorial is purely educational and fun. The final grade will be based on the grades for the three tutorial papers. Attendance and good participation in class discussion are also expected.
551: Philosophy of Mind
This course is a survey of classical and contemporary issues in philosophy of mind. Among these issues are: physicalism (is the mind composed of physical stuff? If not, what is it?); mental causation (can minds cause things?); conscious experience (why is an analysis of consciousness so hard?); extended minds (can parts of a mind exist outside the head?); animal minds (do non-human animals think, and, if so, how can we know?); and artificial intelligence (will computers ever be capable of thought?). Assignments will include five 3pp. papers.
555: Political Philosophy (fulfills Category B requirement for the major)
The purpose of this course is to introduce students to a range of contemporary thinking about topics in political philosophy. We shall focus on contemporary theories of justice, and, in the first part of the course, shall read John Rawls’s restatement of his influential theory of justice as fairness. Then we shall look at a series of alternative views including libertarianism, communitarianism, a liberal group rights approach and look at a form of conservatism. We'll then look at a series of more policy-oriented issues mainly concerning equality of opportunity, including how higher education should be funded, the role of markets in education, and the distribution of the costs of rearing children. The class is run through a combination of lecture and discussion, and you will be expected to write three papers, participate in online discussions, and in the second half of the semester groups will make in class presentations.
558-1: Ethical Issues in Health Care (cross-listed with Medical History)
Study of ethical issues arising from medical procedures and aspects of health care such as genetic screening, paternalism, informed consent, abortion, prolongation of life, treatment of severe birth defects, and human subjects research.
562: Special Topics in Metaphysics
In this course, we will focus on issues regarding whether consciousness can be accounted for in a purely physical world. We will begin studying classical and contemporary arguments for dualism and physicalism. Then we will spend some time studying accounts of mental representation and content. In the last section of the course, we will look at accounts of consciousness that understand the ‘seeming’ or ‘awareness’ that is distinctive of conscious states in terms of a certain kinds of representational states. We would study both ‘first order’ theories (Dretske’s and others) and second order theories (e.g. Carruthers’), which take consciousness to require a kind of apperceptive state wherein one is aware of one’s representational states.
565: The Ethics of Modern Biotechnology
(cross-listed with Agronomy, C&E Soc., and Medical History)
Study of ethical issues arising from the application of modern biotechnology to microorganisms, crops, animals, and humans. Readings cover applied ethics, moral theory, political philosophy, the science used in biotechnology, and current regulations governing its use.
581 Meets with 551
582 Meets with 562
830: Advanced History of Philosophy: Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason
Our goal in this seminar is to gain an understanding of some of the central doctrines of Kant’s mature theoretical philosophy (that is, his metaphysics and epistemology) as expressed in the Critique of Pure Reason. Topics to be discussed include: a priori knowledge; space, time, and geometry; the relationship between concepts and perceptions; skepticism; laws of nature; and human freedom.
Constructivism and Constitutivism
We will discuss two theories of normativity, Constructivism and Constitutivism, that offer alternatives to both normative realism and varieties of expressivism. We will try to understand how and why Constructivism gave rise to Constitutivism, and what the advantages of each position might be. The course will consider not only norms for action and intention, but also norms for belief.
951: Seminar - Philosophy of Mind
This seminar surveys externalist views in philosophy of mind with a special focus on philosophy of perception. Externalist approaches to perception can be roughly divided into two camps. The first camp often appeals to armchair assumptions about the epistemic role and the content of perception to motivate externalism. The second camp, in contrast, relies, for the most part, on empirical findings about perception. Despite some significant commonalities, the two camps are often regarded as pursuing orthogonal and independent projects. A central question in this seminar will be whether we can bridge the gap between these camps. Topics include content externalism, the extended mind, externalist representationalism, disjunctivism, direct realism, and embodied cognition.
960-1: Metaphysics Seminar
Persons, Persistence, and the Practical
This is a seminar in what would traditionally be called ‘personal identity’ – except that now it is highly doubtful whether (all) the subject(s) that have been traditionally studied under that heading is really identity. Since Derek Parfit’s groundbreaking work in the 70’s and 80’s, the topic might be called ‘Identity and/or What matters in personal identity’. We will look at the development of psychological theories of personal identity and the new set of questions that arise in the light of Parfit’s work: what, if anything, plays the role assumed to be played by identity in considerations of: survival, responsibility, desert, obligation, special concern, 1st person emotions, paternalism, prudential rationality, reparations and distributional justice? Is there a metaphysical subject here, to be investigated ‘purely’ and then applied to practical consequences? Is there a practically identifiable object, the identity of which can be investigated aside from metaphysical considerations? How radically should Parfitian findings (if we accept them) change our views about what we are and about normative and practical issues that seem(ed) tied to identity (and difference)? We will focus on a combination of ‘pure’ metaphysics, normative/practical issues, and issues of methodology.
960-2: Metaphysics Seminar
This will be a broad survey of various philosophical issues associated belief. We will primarily consider issues in metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of language. Some of the questions we'll consider include: What are beliefs? How are beliefs different from other mental attitudes like desires and intentions? Under what conditions is it appropriate to ascribe a particular belief to an agent? Can non-linguistic creatures have beliefs? How should we characterize the content of beliefs and what determines the content of a particular belief? How is belief related to knowledge? Are there different types of belief (e.g., de re/de dicto and occurrent/dispositional) and how might such distinctions be philosophically useful?