Current and Upcoming Courses

Spring 2024 Courses

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101-1   Introduction to Philosophy
             Instructor: Roberts
A remarkable feature of many central questions of philosophy is that they can be stated in particularly simple terms. Does God exist? Do we have free will? When is an act right or wrong? What are we able to know about the world? However, as we will see in this course, these easily statable questions are far from easy to answer. To attempt to determine their answers, we will study and critically evaluate some of the most influential arguments in the history of philosophy. Throughout the course, students will become acquainted with the distinctive methods of philosophy. In the graded assignments, which will include short papers and exams, students will be expected to apply these methods in justifying their own answers to philosophical questions.

101-2   Introduction to Philosophy
              Instructor: Gibson
Introduction to various philosophical questions and to the strategies that philosophers use to address these. Prerequisites: Open to Freshmen Sophomores who have had no previous philosophy courses other than 210, 211, 253 or 254. Not open to juniors.

101-3   Introduction to Philosophy
              Instructor: Lecturer
Introduction to various philosophical questions and to the strategies that philosophers use to address these. Prerequisites: Open to Freshmen Sophomores who have had no previous philosophy courses other than 210, 211, 253 or 254. Not open to juniors.

  101-4  Introduction to Philosophy
              Instructor: 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. Your final grade will be based on several short papers and in-class quizzes, as well as attendance and participation.

 101-5   Introduction to Philosophy
              Instructor: Lecturer
Introduction to various philosophical questions and to the strategies that philosophers use to address these. Prerequisites: Open to Freshmen Sophomores who have had no previous philosophy courses other than 210, 211, 253 or 254. Not open to juniors.

101-6   Introduction to Philosophy
              Instructor: Loets
Many people ask themselves philosophical questions from time to time. If God exists, why is the world so messed up? What is beauty? Am I justified in believing the experts? Does anyone ever truly have a choice? Would it be wrong to get an abortion? Philosophers don’t merely ask themselves such questions, but they aim to provide general and principled answers to them and to support these answers by rational argument. The aim of this class is to introduce you to a wide range of influential philosophical arguments and get you started on crafting good arguments of your own. If you do the work, this class will teach you how to think, speak, and write more clearly, and how to employ these skills in pursuing the questions you care about, whether philosophical, or not.

 141-1   The Meaning of Life
              Instructor: Lecturer
Introduces the subject of philosophy through a question that is familiar to nearly every person: What is the meaning of life?  This question will be approached through reading both classical philosophical works and the works of contemporary philosophers.

210-1   Reason in Communication
              Instructor: 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: MATH 96 or placement into MATH 141 or consent of instructor.

211-1   Elementary Logic
             Instructor: 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
             Instructor: 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
             Instructor: Mackay
This course is an introduction to formal logic, the study of valid reasoning. An argument is valid if its conclusion follows from its premises. We will study methods for proving that an argument is either valid or invalid. Much of the class will involve working 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.

241-1  Introductory Ethics  (Honors Only)                       (Fulfills Category B requirement)
            Instructor: Southgate
An introduction to the four branches of ethical theory, touching on questions concerning the 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)
              Instructor: Lecturer
The course will examine a number of prominent moral theories including utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, and virtue theory.  We will attempt to understand and evaluate their various claims about what has fundamental value as well as their approaches to moral reasoning and recommendations for right action

241-3   Introductory Ethics                                                  (Fulfills Category B requirement)
              Instructor: Gottlieb
In everyday life, we make a variety of ethical judgments, for example, that it is kind to help others or that it is wrong to break promises.  What justifies us in making such judgments, can such judgments be objective, and why and how should we live up to them?   To answer these questions we shall examine various representative moral theories including Utilitarianism, Kantian Theory and Virtue Ethics, and we shall also consider the views of human nature that underlie them.  The main readings for the course will be recognized classics from the history of ethics.  However we shall also be considering these in the light of contemporary philosophical developments and concerns, including those of African American philosophers and feminist thinkers.

241-4   Introductory Ethics                                                  (Fulfills Category B requirement)
              Instructor: Lecturer
The course will examine a number of prominent moral theories including utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, and virtue theory.  We will attempt to understand and evaluate their various claims about what has fundamental value as well as their approaches to moral reasoning and recommendations for right action

 243-1  Ethics in Business
              Instructor: Lecturer
Case studies of moral issues in business; types or reasons appealed to for settlement.

243-2   Ethics in Business
               Instructor: Lecturer
Case studies of moral issues in business; types or reasons appealed to for settlement.

341-1   Contemporary Moral Issues
              Instructor: Brighouse
This is a course in applied ethics. We shall discuss topics such as the morality of abortion, whether parents should be licensed, whether chemical and genetic enhancements of human beings should be permitted, and how, if at all, higher education should be reformed. The format is lecture/discussion, and the lecture time will be highly interactive, involving considerable amounts of discussion.

 341-2   Contemporary Moral Issues
               Instructor: Watkins
This course examines several topics in applied ethics through the lens of feminist philosophy, including sex ethics, data ethics, bioethics, and environmental ethics. All of these topics are contentious, and students will come to learn to articulate the various views and arguments for/against those views on each subject, as well as develop their own views on these topics.

 341-3   Contemporary Moral Issues
               Instructor: 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.

341-4   Contemporary Moral Issues
              Instructor: 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            Only sections 91-95 fulfill 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             Instructor: Lecturer     (Fulfills Comm B requirement)
Lec. 92            Instructor: Lecturer     (Fulfills Comm B requirement)
Lec. 93            Instructor: Lecturer     (Fulfills Comm B requirement)
Lec. 94            Instructor: Lecturer     (Fulfills Comm B requirement)
Lec. 95            Instructor: Lecturer     (Fulfills Comm B requirement)   

430-1  History of Ancient Philosophy
             Instructor: Fletcher
In this course, we will examine how ancient Greek philosophers approached fundamental questions about knowledge and reality. What is the nature and origin of the world? Did it come to be by chance, intelligence or some other cause? How do the senses and reason contribute to our understanding of the world? Is it possible to be certain about anything at all? What is the connection between language and reality? We will focus on Plato and Aristotle, but we will also study some of their philosophical predecessors, such as Parmenides and Heraclitus, as well as the post-Aristotelian philosopher Epicurus.

432-1   History of Modern Philosophy
              Instructor: Messina
We will be reading selections from the works of a number of 17th and 18th century philosophers: Rene Descartes, Princess Elisabeth, Nicolas Malebranche, Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Lady Masham, Isaac Newton, John Locke, George Berkeley, Lady Mary Shepherd, Emilie du Châtelet, and David Hume. These thinkers explore, among other things, knowledge and its limits; matter, space, and time; the mind and its relationship to the body; causation; substance; free will and free action; the existence and nature of God; the perfection/imperfection of the world and humans; and the prospect of an afterlife.  They develop their views in dialogue with one another, and with an eye towards science (whose foundations and implications they probe) as well as religion. Though their philosophical views often diverge widely from one another and sometimes from common sense, they helped to shape philosophy as it is practiced today.

454-1   Classical Philosophers
              Instructor: Messina
              Topic: Immanuel Kant’s Philosophy
Initially attracting little notice, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason exploded like a bombshell on the philosophical landscape. This work led Moses Mendelssohn to describe Kant as “all-destroying.” He wasn’t exaggerating. The Critique of Pure Reason, along with the two other Critiques that Kant published shortly thereafter, dealt a devastating blow to traditional “dogmatic” philosophy, whose proponents thought, among other things, that it was possible to provide proofs of the immortality of the soul, the existence of God, and the reality of human freedom. In place of these (now quaint-sounding) pretensions, Kant offered a revolutionary critique of traditional metaphysical, epistemological, and methodological views. In this class, we will focus especially on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, but we may also delve into ideas from his second and third Critiques, which deal, respectively, with morality, and with aesthetic and teleological judgment. If you are finally ready to wake from your dogmatic slumber, this is the class for you!

503-1   Theory of Knowledge                                              (Fulfills Category A requirement)
              Instructor: Titelbaum
We will survey epistemology by focusing on three large epistemological problems and considering the issues that arise in attempting to resolve them. Readings will primarily be from academic articles written by contemporary philosophers. Topics covered will include: knowledge (what does it take to know something?), justification (how can our beliefs be justified?), skepticism (do we know a material world exists?), closure (do I know everything that’s entailed by what I know?), internalism vs. externalism (does the justification of my beliefs depend on anything besides my other beliefs?), and disagreement (should any two people with the same evidence draw the same conclusion?). Previous experience reading and writing philosophical papers is required.

512-1   Methods of Logic:
             Instructor: Vranas
             Topic: Modal Logic
If mathematicians are necessarily rational but cyclists are not, is an individual who is both a mathematician and a cyclist necessarily rational or not? This is just one of the numerous puzzles associated with the notions of necessity and possibility, the notions that form the subject of modal logic. This course is a continuation of Philosophy 211 (Elementary Logic) and presupposes thorough familiarity with 211. The main object of the course is to enable students to (1) translate into logical notation English arguments involving the notions of necessity and possibility, and to (2) easily determine whether the translated arguments are valid or not. There is also a lot of philosophical discussion of issues related to modal logic.

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

530-1   Freedom Fate and Choice                                        (Fulfills Category A requirement)
              Instructor: 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 what we do; accounts of the freedom of the will which tie freedom to the agent’s ability to make rational decisions; whether is it possible to give an account of the freedom of the will that can account for all of the cases in which people intuitively do not do what they do of their own free will— e.g., cases in which the impediment seems internal and psychological, (e.g., addiction or phobia), and cases in which the impediment seems external (coercion). 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, Susan Wolf and others.

541-1   Modern Ethical Theories                                         (Fulfills Category B requirement)
             Instructor: Shafer-Landau
This course will consider seminal work in each of the three major areas of moral philosophy: value theory, normative ethics, and metaethics. In the section on value theory, we will consider what makes for a good life, and what is intrinsically valuable. In normative ethics, we will read about various efforts to unify moral thought by reference to a supreme moral principle, such as the Golden Rule, the Principle of Utility, or Kant’s Principle of Universalizability. Finally, we will consider certain metaethical questions regarding the status, rather than the content, of morality. Here we will focus on issues of the objectivity of morality and its rational authority

549-1   Great Moral Philosophers                                        (Fulfills Category B requirement)
              Instructor: Gottlieb
We will discuss the work of several great moral philosophers, for example, 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.
The class will be run like a seminar, with a great deal of discussion. There will also be three tutorials. 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.

551-1   Philosophy of Mind                                                   (Fulfills Category A requirement)
             Instructor: Shapiro
This course is a survey of classical and contemporary issues in philosophy of mind. Among these issues are: physicalism (Is the mind composed of physical stuff? If not, what is it?); mental causation (can minds cause things?); conscious experience (Why is an analysis of consciousness so hard?); computationalism, (Is the brain a computer and the mind its software?); artificial intelligence (Will computers ever be capable of thought?); representationalism (What is it for a belief to be about something, and how does it come to be about something?). Assignments will include four papers (roughly 3-4pp. in length). Classroom attendance and participation is mandatory.

557-1   Issues in Social Philosophy                                    (Fulfills Category B requirement)
             Instructor: Brighouse
             Topic: Higher Education: Aims and Justice
About 60% of Americans enter higher education, and about 2/3rds of them get degrees. The government pays much more (on average) for students in higher education/year than it does for students in k-12 (about $17k, versus about $12k), even though it is not only not universal, but participation tilts heavily to the more socioeconomically advantaged. What could possibly justify that kind of public investment?
In this class we’ll look at questions about what higher education should aim for (what educational goods should it produce for the students and what kind of students should it produce for society), how universities and colleges should treat students while they are enrolled, how higher education should be distributed (and, possibly, how it should be funded), and how students should conduct themselves while they’re there. We’ll read a fair amount of literature that is straightforwardly empirical (economics and sociology) to learn more about how higher education actually works in the US, and a good deal of philosophical literature aiming to answer the questions just posed. It’ll be reading heavy, but it will also be discussion heavy. You’ll learn a lot.

558-1   Ethical Issues in Health Care                               (Cross-listed with Medical History 558)
              Instructor: 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

560-1  Metaphysics                                                               (Fulfills Category A requirement)
             Instructor: Roberts
             Topic:  Metaphysics
In this advanced introduction to metaphysics, we will study some of the central questions of contemporary metaphysics. Many of these questions will concern the material world. For example, we will study debates about the nature of persons, how individuals persist through time, and the existence of composite objects. But in addition to this we will also look at metaphysical questions about abstract objects, such as the number zero and the directions of lines. As will emerge during the course, to answer these questions we will have to reflect on and scrutinize the linguistic resources we use to represent the world.

 562-1   Spec Topics in Metaphysics                              (Fulfills Category A requirement)
               Instructor: Masrour
               Topic: Consciousness
This course will focus on consciousness and its place in the world. Some of the topics that we will cover include whether consciousness can be understood in a materialist framework, whether consciousness is a fundamental building block of reality, the unity of consciousness and its relation to personhood, as well as scientific theories of consciousness.

 562-2   Spec Topics in Metaphysics                                    
               Instructor: Gallow
               Topic: The Philosophy of Time
In this course, we will try to figure out how to best understand time, persistence, and change.  We will ask: are the past and future just as real as the present?  Or is the present real in a way that the past or the future are not?  It seems as though we move through time in one direction and not the other.  It seems that we move from the past to the future, and that we don’t move from the future to the past.  How can we account for this felt ‘flow’ of moving through time?  And is it possible to travel backwards through time, from the future to the past?  What does the theory of relativity teach us about the nature of time?

Spring 2024 Graduate Courses

701      Reading Seminars (combined with Graduate Seminars)
             Instructor Consent required

             701-001 Reading Seminars              Topic:  Leibni                                               Instructor: Nadler
             Please see the description of 835 below ( 701-001 meets with 835)

             701-002 Reading Seminars            Topic:  Epistemic Rationality                  Instructor:  Titelbaum
             Please see the description of 903 below (701-002 meets with 903)

             701-003 Reading Seminars            Topic:  Action and Ability                         Instructor: Loets
             Please see the description of 916 below (701-003 meets with 916)

             701-004 Reading Seminars           Topic:  Should the Numbers Count?    Instructor: Goodrich
             Please see the description of 941-1 below (701-004 meets with 941-1)

            701-005 Reading Seminars           Topic:   Aesthetics                                          Instructor: Whittle
            Please see the description of 941-2 below (701-005 meets with 941-2)

            701-006 Reading Seminars            Topic:  Belief                                                   Instructor: Steinberg
            Please see the description of 960 below (701-006 meets with 960)

835-1  Advanced History of Philosophy
             Topic:   Leibniz         
             Instructor: Nadler
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was the great polymath of the seventeenth century. In philosophy alone, his writings extended broadly across numerous areas: metaphysics, physics (natural philosophy), logic, language, epistemology, philosophical theology, and philosophy of mind. In this seminar, we will focus on Leibniz’s metaphysics and its development from the 1670s, when he was in Paris, to the end of his career (he died in 1716). Topics to be covered include the nature, extension and reality of substance(s); the relationship between his metaphysical views and both his theories about logic and language and his physics; his efforts to reconcile determinism and freedom; and his various theodicean attempts to address the problem of evil.

903-1  Seminar – Epistemology
             Topic: Epistemic Rationality            
             Instructor: Titelbaum
We will read very recent work on rationality in epistemology.  Topics will include substantive versus structural rationality, the centrality of rationality to epistemic normativity, and the relation of rationality to such other notions as reasons, rational capacities, etc.

916-1   Seminar – Philosophy of Language
             Topic: Action and Ability     
             Instructor: Loets
Much work on ability emerged in the context of the free will debate: what exactly has to be the case for someone to have the ability to do otherwise? Or, ascending semantically, on what reading of ‘can’, if any, is it true that free agents are such that they can do otherwise? Following the study of natural language modals in the past fifty years, there has recently been a surge of renewed interest in the semantics of ability ascriptions. This class will introduce students to the basics of modal semantics as developed by Angelika Kratzer, cover challenges to the idea that ability modals are ordinary possibility modals, and then look at other puzzling data surrounding ability ascriptions, as well as the relation between action, ability, and know-how. The bulk of the reading will be recent or forthcoming papers on ability and action.          

941-1   Seminar – Ethics
             Topic: Should the Numbers Count?
             Instructor: Goodrich
A spectre is haunting moral theory – the spectre is John Taurek. Suppose you can save either ten strangers or one from drowning. Are you morally required to save the ten? Of course, you are!  …right?
In the only article published in his lifetime, “Should the Numbers Count?,” John Taurek disagreed. He argued that you are never under a moral requirement to save the greater number. While few have endorsed Taurek’s counterintuitive thesis in the nearly fifty years since it was penned, journals keep publishing papers about it. But why? How did Taurek cement his legacy in just twenty-two pages, defending a claim that hardly anyone believes? What’s so alluring (or threatening!) about Taurek’s arguments? Why is his article that ex moral philosophy just can’t stop thinking about?
In this seminar, we will begin with Taurek’s influential article and its immediate aftermath. This will send us on a journey through paradoxes of aggregation that will call into question the very nature of value. From there, we will grapple with the role of luck of in our lives, ponder the nature of love, and question whether there’s any room left for you and I in the moral universe.

 941-2   Seminar – Ethics
             Topic:  Aesthetics
             Instructor: Whittle
This class will consider a range of philosophical questions about art. The focus will be on questions that emerge naturally from engagement with art (pictures, movies, TV shows, novels etc.); questions you might expect someone to be interested in, if you know they are interested in art; as opposed to philosophical questions that just happen to take art as their object. For example, questions about the point of art, about its value to us, or consideration of general schemes for thinking about how art works. Most of the readings will probably be more or less recent works of analytic philosophy. But some might be less academic writings by philosophers, or even works by critics, novelists etc. that can (it is hoped) be treated philosophically.

960-1   Seminar-Metaphysics Seminars
:   Belief
              Instructor: Steinberg
This will be an extremely broad survey of various philosophical issues related to belief. We will consider issues in metaphysics, philosophy of mind, epistemology, philosophy of action, and philosophy of language. Some of the questions we will consider include: What are beliefs? Under what conditions is it appropriate to ascribe a particular belief to an agent? How are beliefs different from other mental attitudes like desires and intentions? Can non-linguistic creatures have beliefs? How should we characterize the content of beliefs and what determines the content of a particular belief? Can beliefs be motivating? How is belief related to knowledge? Are there different types of belief (e.g., de re/de dicto and occurrent/dispositional) and how might such distinctions be philosophically useful?