Current and Upcoming Courses

Spring 2021 Courses

Jump to: Spring 2021 Graduate Courses

101-1   Introduction to Philosophy

2:30pm – 3:45pm TR
Synchronous – Remote
Martha 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 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.

101-2   Introduction to Philosophy

Asynchronous – Remote
Larry Shapiro

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to philosophical questions and to the strategies 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?,” “When are you morally responsible for your actions?,” “Is abortion morally permissible?”, “What would a just society look like?”.  We will then examine some classical answers to these questions and will evaluate them critically. Graded assignments include five short papers. Attendance and participation will also factor into your final grade.

101-3   Introduction to Philosophy

11:00am – 11:50am   MWF
Synchronous – Remote
John Bengson

This course is an introduction to central problems of philosophy and basic methods of philosophical inquiry. Topics include: the ultimate nature of reality; the possibility of knowledge; the nature of perception and the threat of illusion and bias; the foundation of morality; the identity of persons; the badness (or not) of death, and the goodness (or not) of immortality; the existence (or nonexistence) of God; and the scope of good and evil. Students will learn and practice a variety of skills, including tools for analysis and argumentation, and acquire a body of knowledge, including knowledge of philosophical theories and arguments. Lectures will emphasize clarity and precision, and sections will provide opportunities for active discussion. Readings are drawn from classical and contemporary philosophical texts. Graded assignments include a logic quiz, exams, and weekly short writing assignments.

101-4   Introduction to Philosophy

9:55am – 10:45am     MWF
Synchronous – Remote
Henry 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.

101-5   Introduction to Philosophy

12:05pm – 12:55pm  MWF
Synchronous – Remote
James 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 39 years old the same person I was when I was 16? Do I have an immortal soul, or would my death entail my total annihilation? Would my total annihilation be a misfortune for me? 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 even an objective morality? Is my life meaningful? 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.

141-1   The Meaning of Life

9:55am – 10:45am     MWF
Synchronous – Remote
Anat Schechtman

This course is an introduction to philosophy through one of its best-known questions: What is the meaning of life? We will critically examine a range of attempts to answer this question, from antiquity until today. Some related questions we’ll consider are: Is a meaningful life the same as a happy life? Is it the same as a moral life? Does a meaningful life require faith in God? Is it to be found in loving relationships, or a series of achievements? And, finally, how does our inevitable death affect the possibility of achieving a meaningful life?

210-1   Reason in Communication

Asynchronous – Remote
Farid 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

12:05pm – 12:55pm  MWF
Synchronous – Remote
Peter Vranas

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.

211-2   Elementary Logic

9:55am – 10:45am     MWF
Synchronous – Remote
Elizabeth Bell

Imagine someone says the following to you, “Either I left my phone on the kitchen counter and it is still there, or I left it on the bus. My phone is not on the kitchen counter. So, my phone is on the bus.” Here the speaker is trying to get you to believe the truth of the sentence, “My phone is on the bus” by providing you with reasons to believe the claim. One interesting feature of this argument is that it is structured so that if the reasons provided are true, then the statement, “my phone is on the bus” must also be true. This feature is the type of structural quality we are interested in investigating. We will do so by utilizing formal, symbolic languages that allow us to make the structure of arguments explicit. Further, we will develop some techniques to prove when an argument has this special feature. The formal systems of logic used, which include sentential and predicate logics, will help us identify some good patterns of reasoning.

211-2   Elementary Logic

2:30pm – 3:45pm      TR
Synchronous – Remote
Bruno 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.

241-1  Introductory Ethics

11:00-11:50     F
Synchronous & Asynchronous – Remote
Emma Prendergast
(In addition to the Online Synchronous lecture meeting once per week, students will be expected to complete additional 2 hours Online Asynchronous lecture on Canvas.)

This course is an introduction to moral philosophy. It provides a broad overview of moral reasoning and ethical theory, including virtue ethics, social contract theory, utilitarianism, deontology, and ethics of care. We will consider questions like the following: “What makes an action right or wrong?” “What does it mean to be a good person?” “To whom do we have moral obligations?” We will also consider how ethical theories and moral reasoning apply to particular moral controversies. Students will complete weekly assignments, a group project, a midterm essay, and a final essay. All course readings will be available on Canvas.

 243-1   Ethics in Business

Asynchronous – Remote
Aaron Yarmel

A study of ethical problems in business and the foundations for decisions involving ethical issues. Topics include the following: foundational theories in moral philosophy, sweatshops and other labor practices, corporate social responsibility, sexual harassment, affirmative action, deception, insider trading, environmental justice, and corporate culture.

304-1   Topics in Philosophy

Humanities Ethical and Political Issues in Education
11:00am -12:15 pm     TR
In-Person
Harry Brighouse

This course will ask what kinds of experience children in our society should have in schools, and how those experiences should be distributed. The course is focused on a series of case studies, looking at specific choices that arise in real time for educational decision makers. These case studies have been developed by a team of educators and philosophers in the US, and include decisions about discipline, special educational provision, school district decisions about how to allocate children to schools, and decisions about whether to grant charters to charter schools. We’ll read and discuss the cases, as well as a good deal of philosophical and some empirical literature which will help us to understand the cases better.
Here’s what one new teacher said about the one of the cases we’ll be considering:
“I wish they would give us more readings like those in my school of education, they are much more realistic than most of the readings we do, which are more idealistic… Actually I think that tension is something I struggled with a lot throughout the program-but didn’t fully understand why it was so frustrating to me. In my practicum I would see my teachers facing problems like this one-and the other behavior case every day-multiple times a day. Then in our content classes these very real problems were almost watered down, and approached in terms of ideal theory. We talked about the benefits of all-inclusive classes, being preventative, and reflecting in action. But we never really had conversations about how this looks in imperfect practice”
This class will equip you better to understand, scrutinize, and even to make, difficult moral decisions about education, under time pressure, and with imperfect information. 

304-2 Topics in Philosophy (Honors Only)

Humanities Ethical and Political Issues in Education
2:30 – 3:45pm TR
In-Person
Harry Brighouse

This course will ask what kinds of experience children in our society should have in schools, and how those experiences should be distributed. The course is focused on a series of case studies, looking at specific choices that arise in real time for educational decision makers. These case studies have been developed by a team of educators and philosophers in the US, and include decisions about discipline, special educational provision, school district decisions about how to allocate children to schools, and decisions about whether to grant charters to charter schools. We’ll read and discuss the cases, as well as a good deal of philosophical and some empirical literature which will help us to understand the cases better. Here’s what one new teacher said about the one of the cases we’ll be considering: “I wish they would give us more readings like those in my school of education, they are much more realistic than most of the readings we do, which are more idealistic… Actually I think that tension is something I struggled with a lot throughout the program-but didn’t fully understand why it was so frustrating to me. In my practicum I would see my teachers facing problems like this one-and the other behavior case every day-multiple times a day. Then in our content classes these very real problems were almost watered down, and approached in terms of ideal theory. We talked about the benefits of all-inclusive classes, being preventative, and reflecting in action. But we never really had conversations about how this looks in imperfect practice” This class will equip you better to understand, scrutinize, and even to make, difficult moral decisions about education, under time pressure, and with imperfect information.

341-1   Contemporary Moral Issues

Asynchronous – Remote
Russ Shafer-Landau

This course, which presupposes no prior philosophical background, seeks to provide students with the tools needed to carefully analyze a variety of timely ethical issues. The emphasis throughout will be on respectfully and sensitively appreciating the complexity and the argumentative structure of the various positions on these issues, allowing students to decide for themselves where they stand on these important matters.

341      Contemporary Moral Issues (Fulfills Comm B requirement)

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.

Lec. 91            9:55am – 10:45am     MTWR           Synchronous-Remote
Stephanie Sheintul
Lec. 92            11:00am – 11:50am   MTWR           In-Person
Hubert Marciniec
Lec. 93            12:05pm – 12:55pm  MTWR           In-Person
Jonathon Vandenhombergh
Lec. 94            8:50am – 9:40am      MTWR           Synchronous-Remote
Marcos Picchio
Lec. 95            7:50pm – 8:40pm      MTWR           In-Person
Patrick Cronin

344-1   Food Ethics (Cross-listed with Med History 344)

2:30pm – 3:45pm MW
Synchronous – Remote
Robert Streiffer

There are many ethical issues related to food production, distribution, consumption, and policy, including animal welfare, animal rights, vegetarianism and veganism, environmental impact, treatment of workers, prospects for agricultural reform, ethical responsibilities of corporate and industry actors, and labeling issues surrounding the use of genetically engineered foods. Some are more theoretical, such as which individuals affected by agriculture deserve direct moral consideration. Other are more practical, such as how to feed a growing global population. We will begin with a brief survey of ethical theories and methods of ethical reasoning, and then explore, from both personal and policy perspectives, several food ethics issues. Among the aims of the course are the goals of helping you think critically about the ethically relevant impacts of your own food choices and improving your understanding of ethical issues implicated in food systems.

430      History of Ancient Philosophy

Metaphysics and Epistemology in Ancient Greek Philos: From Thales to Aristotle
9:55am – 10:45am     MWF
Synchronous – Remote
Paula Gottlieb

Unscrupulous politicians, democracy in peril, foreign interference, fake information and the plague.  Welcome to Athens in the fifth century BCE!  The philosopher Socrates, who lived in such turbulent times, 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? Good participation in section is required. There will also be online 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.

432      History of Modern Philosophy

11:00am – 12:15pm    TR
Synchronous – Remote
Martha Gibson

The two greatest periods in philosophy are Ancient Philosophy and History of Modern Philosophy. History of Modern Philosophy is 17-18thCentury philosophy, and it covers philosophers such as Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume and Kant. Work in these two centuries set the questions we still ask and the kinds of theories we advance in contemporary philosophy. Topics will include the nature of perception, belief, and knowledge, the extent of knowledge that we have of ourselves and the external physical world (if there is such a world), whether the world is entirely physical or whether the mind is non-physical, what consciousness consists in, and whether human beings can be free and have free will.

442      Moral Philosophy and the Holocaust (Cross-listed with Jewish 510)

9:30am – 10:45am     TR
In-Person
Adam Stern

Selected moral and philosophical issues raised by the Holocaust such as when and whom to rescue; includes issues arising after the annihilation such as forgiveness and reconciliation.

503      Theory of Knowledge (Fulfills Category A requirement)

1:20pm – 2:10pm   MWF
In-Person
James Messina

In this course, we will examine some topics of current debate in contemporary epistemology. Topics will include some subset of the following: echo chambers and epistemic bubbles; conspiracy theories; the epistemology of testimony; peer disagreement; the proper definition of knowledge (including whether and to what extent the concept of knowledge can and should be defined at all); a priori knowledge; the relation between epistemology and empirical science; and the evidentiary status of philosophical “intuitions” and thought experiments. Our readings will be, for the most paper, journal articles and book chapters by contemporary philosophers.

504      Special Topics in the Theory of Knowledge (Fulfills Category A requirement)

Bayesian Epistemology
4:00pm – 5:15pm      TR
Synchronous – Remote
Michael Titelbaum

Traditional epistemology considers all-or-nothing beliefs: you either believe that it’s going to rain today or you don’t. Bayesian epistemology supposes that individuals assign degrees of belief to propositions: you might be less confident that it will rain, or more confident without being entirely certain. These degrees of belief can be represented by numbers (I’m 70% confident it will rain today), and then subjected to mathematical constraints (if I’m 70% confident that it will rain today, I should be 30% confident that it won’t). We will consider what degrees of belief are, how they relate to actions, what rational constraints on degrees of belief Bayesians propose, and why we should believe those constraints are rationally required. We will then apply Bayesian epistemology to better understand inductive reasoning, confirmation of hypotheses by evidence, and various puzzles and paradoxes. (Assignments include regular problem sets with both mathematical and philosophical questions, and a final paper. Prerequisites are Philosophy 211 or equivalent and a solid ability to work with high school-level algebra.)

512      Methods of Logic

11:00am – 11:50am   MWF
Synchronous – Remote
Peter Vranas

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.

516-1    Language and Meaning (Fulfills Category A requirement)

1:00pm – 2:15pm   TR
In-Person
John MacKay

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.

516-2 Language and Meaning (Honors Only) (Fulfills Category A requirement)

1:00pm – 2:15pm   TR
In-Person
John MacKay

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.

523      Philosophical Problems of the Biological Sciences

1:00pm – 2:15pm    TR
Synchronous – Remote
Elliott Sober

In this course, we will examine philosophical questions concerning the theory of evolution.   What do common ancestry and natural selection mean and how can hypotheses about each be tested?  What does it mean to say that mutations occur “at random”? How should the concepts of fitness and adaptation be understood?  Are there laws concerning natural selection?  How can natural selection cause altruistic behaviors to evolve if altruists are, by definition, less fit than selfish individuals?   We will also consider the conflict between creationism and evolutionary biology.

541-1    Modern Ethical Theories (Fulfills category B requirement)

5:40PM – 7:40PM     W
Synchronous – Remote
Jesse Steinberg

This course will cover several fundamental questions in ethics. Why should one be moral? What is the nature of value? Is morality objective (and, if so, in what sense)? What is the relationship between free will and moral responsibility?  We will primarily cover material from the 19thand 20thCentury, but will spend a bit of time on material from more contemporary philosophers as well.

541-2   Modern Ethical Theories (Honors Only) (Fulfills category B requirement)

5:40PM – 7:40PM     W
Synchronous – Remote
Jesse Steinberg

This course will cover several fundamental questions in ethics. Why should one be moral? What is the nature of value? Is morality objective (and, if so, in what sense)? What is the relationship between free will and moral responsibility?  We will primarily cover material from the 19thand 20thCentury, but will spend a bit of time on material from more contemporary philosophers as well.

543-3   Modern Ethical Theories (Fulfills Category B requirement)

The Ethics of Happiness
9:55am – 10:45am   MWF
In-Person
Steven Nadler

According to Aristotle, ethics is a matter not just of doing the right thing, but of becoming a certain kind of person and leading a good and virtuous life. Moreover, the person who lives such a life experiences “eudaimonia” — flourishing or (as it is sometimes translated) happiness. But what exactly is the relationship between goodness and happiness? Is being a good and virtuous person sufficient for happiness — is a good person guaranteed to be happy? Or is being good only necessary for happiness? Is it, in fact, even necessary — can an evil person nonetheless enjoy happiness? These are among the questions we will discuss as we consider historical texts by Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus, Epicurus, Seneca, Spinoza, Kant, Mill, and recent writings by Susan Wolf, Peter Singer, Julia Annas and others.

549-1    Great Moral Philosophers (Fulfills Category B requirement)

2:30pm – 3:45pm      TR
Synchronous – Remote
Russ Shafer-Landau

This course will consider a number of central moral questions: what is the nature of human flourishing? What is the ultimate standard of rightness? Where does morality come from?–as they are addressed in classic texts by Hobbes, Hume, Kant, Mill, and Ross.

549-2    Great Moral Philosophers (Honors Only) (Fulfills Category B requirement)

2:30pm – 3:45pm      TR
Synchronous – Remote
Russ Shafer-Landau

This course will consider a number of central moral questions: what is the nature of human flourishing? What is the ultimate standard of rightness? Where does morality come from?–as they are addressed in classic texts by Hobbes, Hume, Kant, Mill, and Ross.

558      Ethical Issues in Health Care (Cross-listed with Medical History 558)

11:00am – 12:15pm  T
Synchronous – Remote
Robert Streiffer

Study of ethical issues arising from medical procedures and aspects of health care such as abortion, genetic screening, paternalism, informed consent, prenatal diagnosis, prolongation of life, treatment of severe birth defects, and human subjects research. (This course does meet the UW School of Medicine and Public Health’s requirement for a writing-intensive course as described at https://www.med.wisc.edu/education/md-program/admissions/premedical-requirements/.)

560      Metaphysics (Fulfills Category A requirement)

11:00am – 12:15pm  TR
In-Person
Alan Sidelle

This class is an advanced introduction to various topics in metaphysics.  We will look at classic readings on topics including the nature of physical objects, possible worlds, time, causation, free will and personal identity.  Among the questions we will consider are:
When does some matter constitute a material object?  How does material objects persist through time?  Can more than one material object occupy a given place at the same time? Is there something special about the present?  Or is time best objectively viewed from an ‘eternal’ position, standing outside of time?
What is it for one event to cause another?  Can two possible worlds be exactly alike in their pattern of events, but differ in what causes what?
Can free will co-exist with deterministic laws of nature?  With any laws of nature at all?
Under what conditions will we still be alive tomorrow? That is, what needs to be the case for one of the people living in the world tomorrow to be me? If I am a dualist, does it have to reside in sameness of the soul? If I am a materialist, does it have to reside in sameness of body, or brain?
There will be regular reading responses, 2 papers, and a final exam.

567      Topics in Contemporary Philosophy (Fulfills Category A requirement)

Philosophical Methodology
4:00pm – 5:15pm   MW
Synchronous – Remote
John Bengson

This course focuses on recent work in philosophical methodology, the subfield of philosophy dedicated to questions about how philosophy is done and what it takes to do it well. Philosophers debate the answers to philosophical questions; they also debate how best to approach these questions. We’ll study the latter debates, learning about diverse methods that philosophers employ when plying their trade, and examining the promise and peril of those methods. Topics include: the nature and goal of philosophical inquiry (e.g., truth, understanding, solidarity); specific philosophical tools (e.g., thought experiments) and methods (e.g., conceptual analysis, reflective equilibrium, parsimony); the notion of data in philosophy (e.g., ordinary language, common sense, intuition); and the question of whether philosophy makes progress. Previous experience reading philosophical texts and writing philosophical papers is required.

701      Reading Seminars (combined with Graduate Seminars)

Instructor Consent

701-001 Reading Seminars

Social and Political Philosophy of Language
1:15pm – 3:15pm   W
Synchronous – Remote
John MacKay

701-001 meets with 916. Please see the description of 916 below.

701-002 Reading Seminars

Aristotle’s Ethics
1:15pm – 3:15pm      F
Synchronous – Remote
Paula Gottlieb

701-002 meets with 830.  Please see the description of 830 below. Students in this seminar will be required to do the main assigned readings for 830 and to participate fully in class discussion.  Further work for the course is optional.

701-003 Reading Seminars

Infinity in early modern philosophy
1:15pm – 3:15pm      M
Synchronous – Remote
Anat Schechtman

701-003 meets with 835. Please see the description of 835 below.

701-004 Reading Seminars

Modality and Essence
4:00pm – 6:00pm   T
In-Person
Alan Sidelle

701-004 meets with 960. Please see the description of 960 below.

701-005 Reading Seminars

Bayesian Epistemology
4:00pm – 5:15pm      TR
Synchronous – Remote
Michael Titelbaum

701-005 meets with 504 and 903. Please see the description of 903 below.

830      Advanced History of Philosophy

Aristotle’s Ethics
1:15pm – 3:15pm    F
Synchronous – Remote
Paula Gottlieb

S. Mill praised Aristotle for his “judicious utilitarianism”, recent commentators on Aristotle have tried to find a rapprochement between Aristotle and Kant, and modern virtue ethicists have called their approach to ethics “Aristotelian”. The aim of this course is to see what is distinctive about Aristotle’s approach as a virtue ethicist, and to consider the advantages of such an approach. In particular, we’ll consider the Aristotelian virtues of character and of thought, their relationship to the happy life, and how the good person’s thinking and feeling are in sync.  Further topics will include voluntary action, the role of luck, the importance of friendship, the aesthetic and musical side to being good, and the political context necessary for a good person to thrive.
The main texts for the course will be Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics(translated by T.H. Irwin, Hackett, 3rdedition, 2019) and Eudemian Ethics(translated by A Kenny, Oxford University Press, 2011), but we’ll also read other texts of Aristotle where these are pertinent. Secondary reading will include some classic articles and very recent work in the field, including material from my forthcoming book.
There will be ample opportunity for discussion. There will also be 3 tutorials online.  Class participants will be asked to write a series of 1500-word essays.  They will then come in pairs to “see” the professor for an hour or so, during which time they will read out and discuss their work. Grades will be awarded to the written work.  The point of the tutorial is purely educational and fun.

835      Advanced History-Philosophy

Infinity in early modern philosophy
1:15pm – 3:15pm     M
Synchronous – Remote
Anat Schechtman

The notion of infinity was central to many scientific and mathematical developments in the 17th century (e.g., infinitesimals). This seminar will investigate two very different approaches to infinity in the period. Empirically-minded thinkers, such as Newton and Locke, viewed infinity as applicable to quantities, such as space, time, and number.
Descartes and Leibniz, by contrast, recognized various other, non-quantitative types of infinity. To understand these approaches and how they differ, we’ll look at debates over quantity (e.g., space and time) and quality (e.g., color), the nature of change, and the metaphysics of substance. In addition to the aforementioned figures, we will look at relevant writings of some of their important predecessors (e.g., Aquinas and Scotus) and contemporaries (e.g., Anne Conway and Spinoza). We will also read recent scholarship, and will consider how debates about infinity in early modern philosophy might bear on contemporary work on infinity at the intersection of philosophy, math, and science.

903  Seminar-Epistemology

Bayesian Epistemology
4:00pm – 5:15pm      TR
Synchronous – Remote
Michael Titelbaum

Traditional epistemology considers all-or-nothing beliefs: you either believe that it’s going to rain today or you don’t. Bayesian epistemology supposes that individuals assign degrees of belief to propositions: you might be less confident that it will rain, or more confident without being entirely certain. These degrees of belief can be represented by numbers (I’m 70% confident it will rain today), and then subjected to mathematical constraints (if I’m 70% confident that it will rain today, I should be 30% confident that it won’t). We will consider what degrees of belief are, how they relate to actions, what rational constraints on degrees of belief Bayesians propose, and why we should believe those constraints are rationally required. We will then apply Bayesian epistemology to better understand inductive reasoning, confirmation of hypotheses by evidence, and various puzzles and paradoxes. (Assignments include regular problem sets with both mathematical and philosophical questions, and a final paper. Prerequisites are Philosophy 211 or equivalent and a solid ability to work with high school-level algebra.)

916 Seminar-Philosophy of Language

Social and Political Philosophy of Language
1:15pm – 3:15pm   W
Synchronous – Remote
John MacKay

The seminar will cover applications of the philosophy of language to social and political themes. Topics will include (among others, potentially): propaganda; code words and dog whistles; slurs and pejoratives; generics and essentializing language; silencing; originalism and textualism in legal interpretation; free speech and hate speech. In the first few weeks, we will go over classic readings in pragmatics and speech act theory from Austin, Grice, Stalnaker, and Roberts. This will give us a foundation to consider the ways in which speech of social significance might take the form of speech acts other than assertion, and occur in contexts that might diverge from the classic model in which speakers share presuppositions in common. We will then turn to contemporary readings on the topics listed above.

960   Seminar-Metaphysics

Modality and Essence
4:00pm – 6:00pm   T
In-Person
Alan Sidelle

The concepts of necessity and essence are ubiquitous and central to all areas of philosophy.  This seminar will explore both these notions themselves, and their connections/applications to other matters, including our understanding of objects and properties.  We will start with a (broadly speaking) historical approach, looking at views of modality and essence, where essence is thought of basically in terms of necessity: being F is essential to being G (or being a) just in case it is impossible for be F (or a) without being G.  We will look at Locke’s nominal essentialism and the shift to realism prompted by the work of Kripke and Putnam in the 70’s, and consider the interrelation between views in metaphysics and in philosophy of language.  We will look at how issues about necessity are also deeply intertwined with other matters – in particular, our views about (material) objects, and will look a bit at Lewis’ modal realism (his notorious view about possible worlds) and counterpart theory. Conventionalism will be discussed – reviving Locke in the era of the necessary a posteriori.  We will then look at some of Kit Fine’s work on essence as not a modal concept.  We will consider this both on its own, and also in connection with the realist/anti-realist discussions above.  And we will look at the recent development of Dispositional Essentialism (roughly the view that properties – at least fundamental ones – essentially have the causal powers they do) and the view that laws of nature are metaphysically necessary.