Current and Upcoming Courses

Fall 2019 Courses

Jump to: Fall 2019 Graduate Courses

101-1   Introduction to Philosophy

9:55 MWF
Shapiro

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to philosophical questions and to the kind of thinking that philosophers use to address these questions.  Philosophical questions are peculiar: unlike scientific questions, their solution typically does not depend on the collection of empirical data; unlike mathematical questions, there are no formulae that are guaranteed to produce a correct answer to them. An adequate answer to a philosophical question requires an argument, and so it is upon arguments that we will focus in this course. We will consider philosophical questions, such as “What, if anything, can we know about the world?,” “Do you have free will?,” “Are you the same person now as the person who was born eighteen years ago?,” “What should a just society look like?,” and “Is abortion morally permissible?”.  We will then examine some classical answers to these questions and will evaluate them critically. Graded assignments include a logic quiz, three exams, and three short papers.

101-2   Introduction to Philosophy

11:00 MWF
Lecturer

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.

101-4   Introduction to Philosophy

1:00-2:15 TR
Gibson

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 accounts of such things as knowledge, free will, moral responsibility, and what makes actions morally right or wrong. 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.

101-6   Introduction to Philosophy

9:30-10:45 TR
Messina

In this course, you will gain a sense of what philosophy is, what it is good for, and how it is done. We will proceed by considering answers to philosophical questions like the following: What, if anything, makes me at 37 years old the same person I was when I was 16? Do I have an immortal soul? If death is the total and permanent annihilation of my existence, what attitude should I have towards it? Do I have free will? Does God exist? What is knowledge and what can be known? What kinds of actions are morally right and morally wrong? Is there an objective morality? Is my life meaningful? Is it better to exist or not to exist? We will be reading a mixture of historical and contemporary sources. As will soon become clear, much of philosophy consists in formulating and evaluating arguments. Assuming you do the work, you can expect to emerge from this class with improved analytical skills and with an understanding of some fundamental philosophical issues.

101-8   Introduction to Philosophy

12:05 MWF
Southgate

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.

101-9   Introduction to Philosophy

2:30-3:45 TR
Lecturer

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.

104-1   Spec Topics: Philos-Freshmen

Children, Marriage & Family
2:30-3:45 MW
1:20 R
Brighouse

What makes for a good childhood? And what makes for a good family life? This course will look at philosophical, sociological, and historical perspectives on what children need in order to thrive, and what makes family life happy and successful. We’ll look at how the government is involved in creating and supporting families (for example, by promoting the institution of marriage) and ask what ways are justified and in what ways it ought to change. You’ll learn a lot about different kinds of family and childhood, and will develop ways of thinking better about the ethics of family life.

104-2   Spec Topics: Philos-Freshmen

Goodness and Happiness (Honors Only)
9:55 MWF
Nadler

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, Elizabeth Anscombe, Susan Wolf and others.

141-1   The Meaning of Life

1:00-2:15 TR
Schechtman

This course is an introduction to philosophy through one of the best-known philosophical questions: what is the meaning of life? We will discuss the question itself (for example, what would it even mean for a life to have a meaning?) and various classical and contemporary attempts to answer it. Assignments may include short papers and exams. No prior background in philosophy is required.

141-4   The Meaning of Life (Honors/ FIGS Only)

9:30-10:45 TR
Shafer-Landau

Does your life have any meaning? If so, why? In this course, we will explore these and related questions, such as: is God required to give meaning to life? What is the relationship between living a happy life, a virtuous life, and a meaningful life? Does death undermine life’s meaning, or is our mortality essential for life to have any meaning at all? Is a meaningful life within everyone’s reach, or are some people doomed to live a meaningless life? Does engaging in meaningful activities always enhance our well-being, or are we sometimes faced with a choice between being better off and living a more meaningful life?

210-1   Reason in Communication

2:30-3:45 TR
Masrour

The aim of this course is to help students develop their critical skills in recognizing, comprehending, evaluating, and engaging in reasoning. The course pays special attention to reasoning in mass communication media. Throughout the course the students will learn to recognize and analyze reasoning as it occurs in everyday discourse, to recognize and analyze the effect of rhetorical devices in everyday discourse and distinguish them from reasoning, and to follow basic logical principles and avoid common logical fallacies.

211-1   Elementary Logic

9:55 MWF
Mackay

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

12:05 MWF
Whittle

Logic is the study of arguments. An argument, in this sense, is a bit of reasoning, that starts from certain assumptions, and extracts some piece of information from these. For example: Helen is a bear; all bears gamble; therefore, Helen gambles. There are two things that we can ask about an argument. (a) Are the starting points true? And (b) does the end point really follow from these? We will focus on (b). (Your other classes should all, in one way or another, help you with (a).) We will learn some general techniques for determining whether a claim follows from some others. These will allow us to evaluate arguments regardless of their subject matter—be it chemistry, politics, or where to go for dinner. We will use a precise artificial language that allows perspicuous representations of natural language arguments, and that also allows rigorous methods for determining what follows from what.

211-3   Elementary Logic

1:00-2:15 TR
Titelbaum

Suppose I say, “If no one moved the cheese since last night, it’s in the fridge. If I didn’t move the cheese, then no one did. I didn’t move the cheese. So it’s 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 must be 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)

2:30 TR
Shafer-Landau

Nature of moral problems and of ethical theory, varieties of moral skepticism, practical ethics and the evaluation of social institutions.

241-2 Introductory Ethics (fulfills category B requirement for the major)

9:55 MWF
Fletcher

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.

243-1   Ethics in Business

11:00 MWF
Lecturer

Case studies of moral issues in business; types or reasons appealed to for settlement.

304-1   Topic in Philosophy-Humanities

The Future is Now: Ethical Questions Raised by Technological Advancement
1:00-2:15 TR
Lecturer

Fifty years ago, phones were tethered to the wall by a cord and watching a film at home required owning both a movie projector and a film reel. Today, from a device you carry around in your pocket, you can make a call to anywhere in the world and watch almost any movie ever made. Clearly, technology has changed our lives in innumerable ways. However, advancements in technology also force us to tackle ethical questions that, until recently, were the stuff of science fiction. In this course, we will explore a range of important ethical questions that have arisen (or will likely arise) in the wake of technological change. Should a self-driving car be programmed to drive into a group of pedestrians in order to protect the lives of its passengers? Do parents have a right to genetically modify their children? Should we create robot soldiers to fight our wars? Should legal punishment be taken out of the hands of humans and be given to computers? Students will focus on developing the philosophical skills needed to carefully think through these questions and more. Towards the end of the semester we will discuss some (possibly) more speculative topics such as existential risk scenarios, Artificial Intelligence and whether a life lived in a simulation would have value.

341-1   Contemporary Moral Issues

9:30-10:45 TR
Hausman

This course will give us the opportunity to think deeply about four controversial and difficult moral issues: 1) surrogate motherhood, 2) abortion, 3) inequalities of income, wealth, and health, and 4) health care. In addition, to provide some perspective and depth in our consideration of the particular issues, we shall spend some time with ethical theory.

Course requirements will include homework (10%), midterm (15%), Introductory Paper (10%), Term Paper (40%), Final examination (25%). There will also be an opportunity to rewrite your term paper, should you choose to do so, and there will be extra credit for section attendance and participation.

341-2   Contemporary Moral Issues

2:30-3:45 TR
Lecturer

A philosophical study of some of the major moral issue in contemporary society, such as those concerning abortion, euthanasia, punishment, property, politics, sex, nuclear disarmament, and world hunger.

341-3   Contemporary Moral Issues

11:00 MWF
Lecturer

A philosophical study of some of the major moral issue in contemporary society, such as those concerning abortion, euthanasia, punishment, property, politics, sex, nuclear disarmament, and world hunger.

341      Contemporary Moral Issues (Fulfills Comm B requirement)

Lec. 91            9:55 MTWR
Lec. 92            11:00 MTWR
Lec. 93            12:05 MTWR
Lec. 95            12:05 MTWR

A philosophical study of some of the major moral issue in contemporary society, such as those concerning abortion, euthanasia, punishment, property, politics, sex, nuclear disarmament, and world hunger. (Fulfills Comm B requirement).

430      History of Ancient Philosophy

Metaphysics and Epistemology in Ancient Greek Philosophy: From Thales To Aristotle

9:55 MWF
Gottlieb

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.

440      Existentialism

9:55 MWF
Southgate

Feeling like life is absurd, that existence is meaningless? Worried that you aren’t living authentically? Then a course in Existentialism is just what you need. Study the classic texts of this intellectual movement that expressed despondency about Western civilization, its decadence, and its values. Along the way you’ll meet the likes of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, and De Beauvoir.

454      Classical Philosophers

Friendship and Justice
2:30-3:45 MW
Fletcher

Justice and friendship both have to do with how we to relate other people, but beyond that, they might seem to have little in common. We choose our friends but are always bound by justice. However, ancient philosophers saw these two ideas as tightly intertwined. Aristotle wrote, “if people are friends, they have no need of justice, but if they are just they need friendship in addition; and the justice that is most just seems to belong to friendship.” In this course we will inquire into the nature of justice and friendship, both independently and in relation to one another. Can justice and friendship ever come into conflict, and if so, how? What is the relationship between justice and the law? Does friendship provide a good model for justice? What does justice look like between friends? What are the roles of friendship and justice in a good human life? Readings will be drawn primarily from Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and literature, including works by Plato, Sophocles, Aristotle, Cicero and Seneca.

501      Philosophy of Religion

11:00-12:15 TR
Steinberg

Most philosophy of religion courses focus on the question of whether God exists and they tend to deal solely with “Abrahamic” religious traditions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This course is somewhat non-traditional. We’ll be focusing on what might be called “divine attributes.” We’ll investigate a variety of properties ascribed to God/divine beings with an eye for determining (a) how best to characterize such properties and (b) whether such properties are coherent and consistent. We’ll spend the bulk of the course on Abrahamic doctrines, but we’ll also consider other religious views (including those of Hinduism, Buddhism, Scientology, etc.).

505      Justice and Health Care

9:30-10:45 TR
Kelleher

This course investigates debates in moral and political philosophy concerning social obligations to provide health care coverage to those within a nation’s borders. For the first part of the course, our main task is to understand prominent accounts of social and distributive justice and to evaluate their implications for health policy. We’ll then consider the moral implications of health disparities facing traditionally marginalized sub-populations. Finally, we’ll investigate various methods of health care rationing, which many believe to be an unavoidable requirement of the need to control health care costs.

530      Freedom Fate and Choice

9:30-10:45 TR
Gibson

This is a course on the freedom of the will. We will study the following: classic arguments from fatalism and determinism to the effect that human beings do not have free will; ‘compatibilist’ accounts of the freedom of the will which maintain that we can have free will even if past events and the laws of nature determine exactly what we will do; accounts which tie freedom of the will with the agent’s ability to make rational decisions. We will also examine whether is it possible to give an account of the freedom of the will that can account for all of the cases in which a person intuitively does not do what he/she does of his/her own free will— e.g., cases in which the impediment seems internal and psychological (addiction or phobia), and cases in which the impediment seems external (coercion). We will examine the question of whether cases of coercion really count as cases in which a person does not do what he/she does of his or her own free will. We will study some classical philosophers — Descartes, Locke, Moore — but most of the material will be from more contemporary sources—Peter Van Inwagen, David Lewis, P.F. Strawson, Rogers Albrittion, Gary Watson, Harry Frankfurt and others.

549      Great Moral Philosophers (Fulfills Category B requirement for the major)

2:25 MWF
Gottlieb

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.

565      Ethics of Modern Biotechnology

2:30-3:45 TR
Streiffer

This course is for upper-level undergraduates and graduate students. It is an in-depth study of a selection of ethical issues arising from the application of modern biotechnology to microorganisms, plants, non-human animals, and human beings. Topics vary but will typically include: intrinsic objections to genetic engineering (GE); doomsday arguments and the precautionary principle; political philosophy and the regulation of GE foods; the ethics of labeling GE food; environmental ethics and GE crops; the humanitarian argument for agricultural biotechnology; animal welfare, animal rights, and GE animals; human/animal chimeras; human cloning; human enhancement; and intellectual property and biotechnology. We will aim at a discussion that is informed both by empirical research and by work done in ethical theory, political philosophy, and other relevant disciplines, and whose character is rigorous, clear, nuanced, and unbiased.

571      Mathematical Logic

9:30-10:45 TR
Soskova

701      Reading Seminars (combined with Graduate Seminars)

Instructor Consent

835      Advanced History-Philosophy

Hume or Kant?
4:00-6:00 T
Messina

Kant’s Critical Philosophy is, at least in part, a reaction to Hume, whom he famously credits with waking him from his dogmatic slumber. In this seminar, we will compare and contrast their views on a variety of topics, such as a priori knowledge, causality, laws of nature, the nature of the self and self-awareness, freedom, philosophical methodology, skepticism, the possibility of metaphysics, God, and (time-permitting) ethics and moral psychology. On the points where they diverge, we will try to locate the ultimate sources of their disagreement, and we will consider whether there are good reasons for favoring one account over the other – that is, whether we should go with Hume or Kant (or perhaps none of the above).  This will involve, but not be limited to, considering Kant’s official “response” to Hume, to the extent that such a thing even exists. Our readings will include, among other things, selections from Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature and Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, and Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics.

902      Proseminar in Philosophy

4:00-6:00 R
Masrour

Provides the core material (across otherwise diverse specialties) required by all incoming graduate students in philosophy. There will be an emphasis on close reading of texts and writing skills in addition to the content of the course.

916      Seminar-Philosophy of Language

The Philosophy of David Lewis
1:15-3:15 M
Mackay

The seminar will be a survey of the work of David Lewis. Topics will include: Lewis’s semantics for counterfactuals, and his use of counterfactuals in analyzing other notions; his accounts of causation and laws of nature; some of his work on probabilities and chance; his modal realist account of possible worlds; his counterpart theory; his materialist philosophy of mind; his account of de se content; his theory of natural properties; his contextualist epistemology. We will also consider some alternative views and critiques advanced by Lewis’s interlocutors and discuss how contemporary discussion of these themes is shaped by these debates. Note that although the course is numbered 916, the material is spread across metaphysics, the philosophy of language, epistemology, and the philosophy of mind.

951      Seminar-Philosophy of Mind

Embodied Cognition
1:15-3:15 W
Shapiro

We will first trace the emergence of embodied cognition, focusing on its disagreements with computational psychology and its embrace of various principles prominent within ecological psychology and connectionism. We’ll then turn to issues within embodied cognition itself: representational skepticism, dynamical systems explanations of cognition, extended mind, embodied concepts, etc.

955      Seminar-Social and Political Philosophy

Equality and Fairness
4:00-6:00 M
Hausman

In many circumstances, fairness demands equality, and one might reasonably ask whether the contours of egalitarianism and its justification derive from or are grounded in a commitment to fairness. Fairness is, however, not well understood, and its explication is as controversial as is the characterization of egalitarianism.

This seminar will explore the recent literature concerning fair distribution and apportionment and whether it supports or is even consistent with alternative formulations of egalitarianism and prioritarianism.

960      Seminar-Metaphysics

Metaphysics and Logic
1:15-3:15 F
Whittle

This class will consider issues in metaphysics that connect in one way or another with those in the philosophy of logic. Possibilities include the following. There is a recent tradition of organizing metaphysical enquiry around the notion of a fundamental language. Is this the right way to proceed, and if so what features can we expect such a language to have? Will it make only atomic claims, or logically complex ones too? Will it talk about individuals at all? Further, what relationship, if any, must hold between arbitrary truths and fundamental ones? Are the resulting constraints on which truths there are tenable? We might also consider the relationship between logically complex claims and simpler ones, e.g. conjunctions and conjuncts, generalizations and instances. This is often understood in terms of grounding. But are there alternatives to that approach?