Current and Upcoming Courses

Fall 2020 Courses

Jump to: Fall 2020 Graduate Courses

101-1   Introduction to Philosophy

9:55 – 10:45    MWF (Online)
Anat Schechtman

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.

101-2   Introduction to Philosophy

11:00 – 11:50 MWF (Online)
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.

101-3   Introduction to Philosophy

Online Asynchronous
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?,” “Do your intentions matter to the morality of your actions?,” and “Is abortion morally permissible?”.  We will then examine some classical answers to these questions and will evaluate them critically. Graded assignments include three exams and three short papers. Attendance and participation will also factor into your final grade.

101-4,5   Introduction to Philosophy

11:00 – 12:15 TR
2:30 – 3:45 MW
Alan Sidelle

Philosophy is both an area, with its own questions and history of discussion of these questions – What is knowledge? What goes into making an action right or wrong? What is it to live a happy (good/worthwhile) life?  What is it to act rationally?  Can we ever be responsible for our behavior?  What is it for a sign to have meaning?  Is having a mind the same thing as having a brain? – as well as a certain critical way of looking at things, approaching issues, clarifying concepts, and evaluating positions and arguments.  The methods philosophers use in generating and conducting investigation in their own particular subject matter, as well as many of the issues philosophers concern themselves with, can be relevant to all sorts of subject matters, which are not, of themselves, particularly philosophical.  Drawing distinctions, identifying underlying assumptions, generating puzzles, coming up with arguments and evaluating them, seeing what a disagreement is really about, distinguishing the letter from the spirit of positions, are among the many tools of philosophy, which can be used in other areas not only in critical evaluation, but in seeing possible issues and questions to raise.  In this course, we will look at some quite general and fundamental philosophical issues, as well as some that are more particular, such as the rationality of emotions. We will be particularly concerned to bring out various sorts of philosophical tools and distinctions which are relevant not only to philosophy, but to philosophical reflection or consideration about other areas, and also to see how philosophical assumptions or claims may be present even when one is not ‘doing philosophy’.

101-091,092 Introduction to Philosophy

6:45pm – 7:35pm MW (in-person and online components)
7:50pm – 8:40pm TR (in-person and online components)

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.

104-1   Spec Topics in Philosophy for Freshmen (Honors only)

Altruism and Selfishness
1:00 – 2:15 TR (Online)
Elliot Sober

This seminar will study work in evolutionary biology, cognitive science, and philosophy on altruism and selfishness.  Is the human mind wired so that we care ultimately only about our own well-being, and consider the well-being of others only in so far as it affects our own well-being?  Is natural selection always a process in which selfish traits increase in frequency in a population and altruistic traits decline?   These scientific questions are fascinating in their own right, and they also raise a host of philosophical questions.

210-1   Reason in Communication

Online Asynchronous
Farid Masrour

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. Prerequisites: Sophomore Status.

211-1   Elementary Logic

Online Asynchronous
John 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

11:00 – 11:50 MWF (Online)
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.

211-3   Elementary Logic

11:00-12:15 TR (Online)
Michael 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.

220-1   Philosophy and the Sciences

11:00 – 12:15 TR (Online)
Hayley Clatterbuck

In this introduction to the philosophy of science, we will discuss what science is and how it works via in-depth investigations of several controversial issues in science today. By examining legal decisions regarding the teaching of intelligent design in schools, we will consider what, if anything, distinguishes science from other ways of understanding the world. By examining the replicability crisis in medicine and other fields, we will seek to understand the tools that scientists use to design experiments and evaluate data, asking whether these tools are flawed and whether they should be replaced with others. By examining incredible theories in contemporary physics, we will consider whether we ought to believe in the unobservable entities postulated by our best scientific theories. Lastly, we will investigate the role that values play in science by examining ethically controversial scientific projects.

241-1,2,3   Introductory Ethics (fulfills category B requirement for the major)

Online Asynchronous

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

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

LEC 091: 7:50pm – 8:40pm MW (in-person and online components)
LEC 092: 1:20 – 3:15 S (in-person and online components)
LEC 093: 7:00pm – 8:15pm TR (in-person and online components)
LEC 094: 8:30pm – 9:45pm MW (in-person and online components)
LEC 095: 8:30pm – 9:45pm R, 9:30 – 10:45 S (in-person and online components)

243-1 Ethics in Business

Online Asynchronous

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

341-1,2,3,4 Contemporary Moral Issues

Online Asynchronous
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- SCF 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 091: 9:55 – 10:45  MTWR (Online)
LEC 092: 11:00 – 11:50 MTWR
LEC 093: 12:05 – 12:55 MTWR
LEC 094: 6:45pm – 7:35pm MTWR
LEC 095: 7:50pm – 8:40pm  MTWR
LEC 096: 8:55pm – 9:45pm MTWR

432-1   History of Modern Philosophy

1:20 – 2:10 MWF (Online)
Anat Schechtman

This course offers a systematic study of some of the most influential philosophers in the 17th and 18th centuries, such as René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, John Locke, and David Hume, among others. Topics we’ll discuss include knowledge and skepticism, the relation between mind and body, free will, the existence of God, and human happiness.

440      Existentialism

9:55 – 10:45  MWF
Henry 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.

503-1   Theory of Knowledge

Truth and Bias
4:00 – 5:15  MW (Online)
John Bengson

This course is about problems concerning the nature, sources, and limits of human knowledge and understanding, with special focus on recent work on truth and bias. What are the character traits, attitudes, or thinking styles that prevent us from gaining, keeping, or sharing knowledge, and how can we counteract them? What is the rational response to intellectual conflict or disagreement? Who are the experts, and should we always defer to their testimony? How can we tell when our controversial beliefs are unjustified? What is the aim of belief, the goal of inquiry—to be reasonable, to be effective, or to be right? Previous experience reading and writing philosophical papers is required.

511      Symbolic Logic

2:30 – 3:45  TR (Online)
Bruno Whittle

This class is a continuation of 211, and will assume a thorough knowledge of that material (but not anything beyond this). 211 is principally about what follows from what, i.e. which claims are logical consequences of which others. In this class we will take things up a level, and ask questions about the nature of logic itself, and also about its limits. Although these questions are deeply philosophical, they are tractable by precise formal methods, and that is the approach we will take in this class. For example, we will look at different ways of understanding the notion of logical consequence. Thus, we might say that P is a logical consequence of a set of claims X if P is true in any possible situation in which the members of X are. Alternatively, though, we might think that P is a consequence of X if there is a proof of P from X. These understandings of the notion of consequence seem quite different. We will establish, however, that they are in fact equivalent. We will also study results to the effect that logic and language are limited in certain surprising ways.

516      Language and Meaning

2:30 – 3:45     MW
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.

522      Special Topic

4:00 – 5:15      TR
Hayley Clatterbuck

The question of what it means to be human has presented some of the most interesting and trickiest problems in philosophy. It was further complicated after the work of Darwin, who placed us in evolutionary relationships with non-human animals and with one another. In this course, we will examine metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical questions that arise when we consider our identity as human animals. What distinguishes us from other animals? What are race and gender, and are they real at all? Are humans naturally egoistic or altruistic? Does evolution undermine morality?

530      Freedom Fate and Choice

8:05pm – 10:05pm    W
Jesse Steinberg

In this course, we will study some of the recent philosophical literature related to questions like: What exactly is free will? Is the universe physically determined? If so, does this rule out our being free? If the universe is not physically determined, does this help in making sense of our being free? If we are not free, does this threaten our being morally responsible for what we do? In addition to focusing on central issues like these, we will spend some time discussing related issues involving topics like addiction and mental illness. For example, we will consider whether an addict or a person suffering from a mental illness is free/morally responsible for what he or she does.

534      Ethics and the Brain

1:00 – 2:15      TR (Online)
Karola Kreitmair

What is the mind? Today, most philosophers and neuroscientists believe it is, in one way or another, just the brain. Brain research is progressing at a staggering pace. Neuroimaging technology seems to be closing in on ‘thought identification’, i.e. determining an individual’s thought content merely by scanning the brain. Do we have a right to keep our thoughts private or is it permissible to use imaging technologies, perhaps in judicial settings, to identify someone’s thoughts? What happens to our concepts of moral responsibility when a brain scan reveals abnormalities in the brain? Do these findings have bearing on our understanding of free will? Simple drugs can prevent the forming of memories of painful events. Should we take these drugs to shield ourselves from traumatic memories or is it good for us to remember unpleasant events in order to learn and grow from them? Neurotechnology and pharmacology that enhances cognition is advancing rapidly. Is manipulating our brains into smarter, more efficient ones ethical? Neurowearables allow us to track and interfere with brain activity. What does this mean for how we live our everyday lives? And what happens to the massive amounts of brain data generated? Patients are surviving severe brain injuries with massive neurological damage and unclear levels of preserved conscious experience. What is the ethically appropriate decision regarding the use of technology and life-sustaining treatments for these individuals? Armed with a foundation in ethical theory and philosophical methodology, we will consider these questions and others like them. While this course requires no previous knowledge of philosophy or neuroscience, it is designed for advanced undergraduates and graduate students.

541      Modern Ethical Theories (fulfills category B requirement for the major)

2:30 – 3:45  TR
5:40pm – 7:40pm  W
Harry Brighouse

This course is an advanced introduction to contemporary thinking about ethical theory. It is impossible to understand the concerns of contemporary ethicists without some understanding of the two main kinds of ethical theory developed in the 18th and 19th centuries, consequentialism and deontology, so we spend some time looking at the most important developers of the variants of these kinds of theory, Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill. In the rest of the course we shall look at various moral problems, such as the conflict between impartial demands and the intuition that we are entitled to favour our nearest and dearest, whether it would be good for us to be saints, the nature of friendship, and the value of love. We shall also read a book by a contemporary philosopher arguing that life is just awful and that we have an obligation to seek the extinction of the human race.

549      Great Moral Philosophers (fulfills category B requirement for the major)

3:30 – 5:25   T
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 Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant, Mill, and Ross.

551      Philosophy of Mind

11:00 – 12:15 TR
Larry Shapiro

Minds are curious things. They seem unlike other objects of scientific study, e.g. stars, atoms, mountains, oceans, and insects. Setting minds apart from these other things might be the apparent fact that one has direct access only to one’s own mind – I cannot directly observe others’ minds. This would seem to make any investigation of minds entirely subjective. But minds also display unique properties. Minds are capable of thought, and thoughts can be about pretty much anything at all – concrete objects, like staplers; abstract objects, like numbers; and imaginary objects, like unicorns. How are minds able to connect themselves to such an array of objects? Another puzzling property of minds is their capacity for phenomenal experience. Minds have experiences of colors, odors, and sounds. There is something it is like to be seeing the redness of a rose and smelling the sweetness of its scent. Obviously, things that lack minds, such as sofas, cannot partake in such experiences. What gives minds this special capacity? In this class we will be examining the philosophical questions that reflection on the nature of minds raise. Requirements include four papers, attendance, and participation.

565      Ethics of Modern Biotechnology

2:30-3:45 MW (Online)
Rob 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.

701      Reading Seminars (combined with Graduate Seminars)

Instructor Consent

835      Advanced History-Philosophy

1:15 – 3:15 W
Steven Nadler

In this seminar we will focus on epistemological and metaphysical topics in Descartes’s Meditations, the “Objections and Replies” and his correspondence.

902      Proseminar in Philosophy

4:00-6:00 M
Farid Masrour

This proseminar serves as an advanced introduction to fundamental texts and concepts in analytic philosophy.  We will start with Frege and Russell, working our way to Kripke and Putnam, with various other classics along the way.   There will be weekly short writing assignments and discussion is strongly encouraged.  There will also be occasion discussions of topics of graduate student life and professionalization. (for 1st year philosophy graduate students only)

920 – Seminar-Philosophy of Science

4:00 – 6:00 R (Online)

The principle of parsimony, aka “Ockham’s Razor” says (roughly) that theories that postulate fewer entities, processes, or causes are better than theories that postulate more.  This seminar will be about what justification, if any, this principle has.  The seminar will mainly consider parsimony arguments in science, though there will be some attention to parsimony arguments in philosophy. After a brief historical overview of attempts to justify the principle of parsimony before 1900, we will consider 20th century attempts to formulate and justify the principle of parsimony in a probability framework. To do this we’ll need to look at the ABCs of probability theory. Then, we will examine two case studies from contemporary science: the use of parsimony in evolutionary biology to make phylogenetic inferences and the role of parsimony in the controversy in cognitive psychology over whether chimpanzees form mental representations of the mental states of others.  After that, we’ll turn to the subject of how parsimony is and ought to be used in philosophical argumentation. This will encompass a variety of philosophical topics – for example, the argument from evil, the mind/brain identity theory, Platonism about mathematics, realism in meta-ethics, mental causation, and solipsism.  One of the readings for the seminar will be my 2015 book, Ockham’s Razors (Cambridge University Press).

960-1   Seminar-Metaphysics

Free Will
1:15 – 3:15 M
Martha Gibson

The seminar will focus on accounts of free will, classic accounts given by Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, G.E. Moore, but mostly on more contemporary accounts of various forms, e.g., compatibilist, reason-responsive accounts, dispositional ones, etc..  We will examine whether any account can explain our intuitions about when an act is or is not done of our own free will. We will look at skeptical arguments against the possibility of free will (fatalist and incompatibilist), at accounts of free will and their relation to coercion. Below is some material in the canon I expect to cover in the first part of the the course, with the later part of the course being filled out with more recent literature e.g., Carolina Sartorio’s recent book as well as Kadri Vihvelin’s dispositional analysis.

G.E. Moore’s chapter called “Free Will” in his book Ethics
Locke’s account of ‘Liberty’
Van Inwagen “An Argument for Incompatibilism”
David Lewis, “Are We Free to Break the Laws”
L. Austin, “A Plea for Excuses” or “Ifs and Cans”
Peter Strawson, “Freedom and Resentment”
Descartes on ‘the Infinity of the Will’
Rogers Albritton, “Freedom of the Will and Freedom of Action”
Harry Frankfurt, “Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility”
“Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person”
Gary Watson       “Free Agency”
Reason-responsive accounts —

960-2   Seminar-Metaphysics

Topic: Time Travel
1:20 – 3:15 S
Peter Vranas

If you believe that time travel is a frivolous topic, good for science fiction but not for rigorous scientific or philosophical investigation, think again. The physical possibility of time machines has recently become the subject of an active debate in leading physics journals like Physical Review and Classical and Quantum Gravity. Concurrently, the philosophical literature concerning the metaphysical issues related to time travel has burgeoned. This seminar examines the physics, the metaphysics, and the paradoxes of time travel. No knowledge of physics is presupposed. The readings never exceed 45 pages per week.