Jump to: Spring 2015 Graduate Courses
101-2: Introduction to Philosophy
The aim of this course is to introduce the student to philosophy, both the subject matter and the method. We will study some different areas in philosophy and the problems and questions addressed in those areas.But we will also study how philosophers go about answering these questions–what kinds of arguments they give, what reasons led them to their views.We will evaluate whether their arguments are good ones, and try to understand what work needs to be done to build adequate theories. The different areas of philosophy we will study include the following : Epistemology or the theory of knowledge which is concerned with questions about the nature and extent of Knowledge; Philosophy of Religion, where we will examine arguments for and against the existence of God; Ethics, where the focus will be on whether there really is such a thing as right or wrong, and if so, what makes something right or wrong; and finally, Free Will, where we will examine whether human beings can have freewill if their actions are a part of the natural, causal order.
101-4: Introduction to Philosophy
This course is an introduction to philosophical questioning and the Western philosophical tradition. Through reading classical and contemporary texts, we will be examining central topics in this tradition: proofs for the existence of God, the meaning of life, the nature of art and beauty, and the nature of morality. 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
This course aims to introduce students to the general methodology of philosophical inquiry, through reflection on some of the classic questions in philosophy. What, if anything, can we know about the external world? Is there a single objective morality, or are moral codes simply social constructions that are true only relative to times and places? Is there any meaningful sense in which we have free will? What makes someone count as the same person over time? What is it to have a mind? We will read both classical and contemporary selections on these topics, and through our investigations, learn how to formulate rigorous philosophical arguments of our own and to critically evaluate those of others. Above all, the emphasis will be on questioning our assumptions and articulating reasons (if we can) for things we might already believe without knowing why.
101-6: Introduction to Philosophy
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? – and 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 in some central areas of philosophy; it is important to realize that there are many other areas of philosophy, many other topics within these areas, and that even of the more particular issues we look at, we will only be making a start. We will be particularly concerned to bring out various sorts of philosophical tools and distinctions, 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’. By the end of the course, the hope is that you will have both an interest in and ability to think interestingly, critically and productively about not only the issues we discuss, but most anything.
101-7: Introduction to Philosophy
104-1: Philosophical Issues of Self and Others – Honors Introduction to Philosophy
Among the fundamental features of our lives are: Each of us is a person, with a distinctive perspective on the world; there are various things that we care about, ways we would prefer our lives to go, things we try to bring about and avoid; the things we do have impacts upon other people; we (hopefully) live for an extended period of time (obviously, there are plenty more). Philosophy looks at fundamental features of ourselves and the world and tries to ask probing questions about them, aiming at deeper understanding. Some of the questions that we will look at are: What makes a life go well? Is it just a matter of how you feel, or is there more to it? What makes an action right or wrong? Is all human behavior, by its very nature, selfish? Are we capable of acting freely? What is it to know something? What is it for a person to exist both now, and in the future? We will pay special attention to philosophical method: drawing distinctions, carefully formulating views, developing and evaluating arguments, looking for hidden assumptions, and more. We will read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World early in the semester, as something of a prompt and data point for raising and thinking about some of these questions.
210-2: Reason in Communication
The aim of this course is to help you develop your critical skills in recognizing, comprehending, evaluating, and engaging in contemporary forms of reasoning. We will be paying special attention to reasoning in mass communication media. There are no pre-requisites for this course.
211-1: Elementary Logic
No description available.
211-2: Elementary Logic
A hotel manager put up a sign reading: “No one is permitted on these premises unless accompanied by a registered guest”. Apparently the manager failed to realize that from the statement on the sign it follows that no unaccompanied registered guest is permitted on the premises! In general, the question of which statements follow from other statements is quite tricky. This course addresses this tricky question by (1) introducing a symbolic language into which one can translate a great many ordinary English sentences and almost all mathematical sentences, and by (2) using an automated proof procedure to show that certain sentences follow from other sentences.
241-1: Introductory Ethics (fulfills category B requirement for the major)
This course introduces students to ethical theory through key works by four of the most influential philosophers in the history of moral philosophy: John Stuart Mill (19th C), Immanuel Kant (18th C.), Aristotle (4th C. BCE), and Nietzsche (19th C.) with brief selections from such lesser lights as Jeremy Bentham and Bishop Joseph Butler and some contemporary reflections from feminist and African American philosophers. Questions addressed by these writers range from “What is the good life?” and “What is the difference between right and wrong?” to “Is everyone basically selfish?” and “What is the importance of ethics, anyhow?” Course objectives are to offer a solid foundation in ethical theory for students who may wish to do further work in this or a related area and to develop skills in ethical reasoning for everyone who takes the course. No prior philosophy is presupposed. There will be three bluebook essay exams (review questions distributed in advance)
241-2: Introductory Ethics
No description available.
341-1: Contemporary Moral Issues
The purpose of 341 is to acquaint students with rigorous forms of reasoning concerning live contemporary moral issues, and to help them develop the skills necessary to evaluate and intervene in public debates in a way that is intellectually honest and well-informed. This section of 341 focuses mainly on issues relating to childhood, family life, and education; among the issues we discuss are the morality of abortion; the permissible regulation of parenthood; cloning human beings for reproductive purposes; the morality of school choice; the morality of educational inequality, and whether parents should enroll their children in sports leagues(!). Attendance of discussion section is mandatory. Assessment of students’ work will be by papers, essay exams, and some short tests.
341-2: Contemporary Moral Issues
When are we justified in forcing people to do things that they might not want to do? In the first five weeks of this course, we will critically examine several “liberty–limiting principles” ideas which, if they are true, will tell us when it is right to use force. during the remainder of the course, we will apply these principles to contemporary issues in which the use of coercion is involved, including: abortion, gun ownership, legalizing drugs, the redistribution of wealth, and censoring hate speech. The point of the course will be to help the student to do his or her own thinking on these issues.
341-3: Contemporary Moral Issues
This writing intensive course (that does not qualify for Comm-B credit) will address four controversial and difficult moral issues: 1) surrogate motherhood, 2) abortion, 3) income and wealth inequalities, and 4) public provision of health care. In addition, to provide some perspective and depth in the consideration of the particular issues, the course will discuss some ethical theory. There will be two papers, a quiz, a midterm, and a final.
430-1: History of Ancient Philosophy
Metaphysics and Epistemology in Ancient Greek Philosophy: From Thales to Aristotle.
We’ll be studying in depth, and with close attention to the primary texts, ancient Greek philosophers’ answers to the following questions: What sorts of things are there in the world? Is a world of change consistent with a world of substances? 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’s the difference between the philosopher and the sophist?
There will be three tutorials. Class participants will be asked to write a series of 1500- word essays answering specific and challenging questions on assigned texts or particular topics. They will then come in pairs to see the professor or TA 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.
512-1: Methods of Logic
If mathematicians are necessarily rational but cyclists are not, is an individual who is both a mathematician and a cyclist necessarily rational or not? This is just one of the numerous puzzles associated with the notions of necessity and possibility, the notions that form the subject of modal logic. This course is a continuation of Philosophy 211 (Elementary Logic) and presupposes thorough familiarity with 211. The main object of the course is to enable students to (1) translate into logical notation English arguments involving the notions of necessity and possibility, and to (2) easily determine whether the translated arguments are valid or not. There is also a lot of philosophical discussion of issues related to modal logic. Detailed information about the course is available at http://mywebspace.wisc.edu/vranas/web/teaching.htm
515-1: Public Health Ethics
This course focuses on ethical issues implicated in a population-level approach to disease prevention and health promotion. Students will explore prominent theoretical approaches to public health ethics and will engage with several ethical tensions. Issues discussed include: the use of coercive or intrusive public health interventions that restrict individual freedom, infringe upon individual privacy, and/or invite individual harm (or risks of harm); the justification of paternalistic measures in societies or sub-populations that seemingly indulge in pleasurable yet unhealthy behaviors; the extent to which societies should hold individuals responsible for their health conditions; the need to choose between the identifiable victims we can save with expensive measures here and now and the more numerous unidentifiable victims we could save in the future with the same monetary investment; the trade-offs between maximizing aggregate health benefits and addressing the special needs of vulnerable social sub-groups and individuals; climate change and intergenerational justice; ethical issues in international pharmaceutical research; and the health-equity implications of prominent social determinants of health.
516-1: Language and Meaning
No description available
521-1 Philosophy of Social Sciences
The material this course covers falls under three headings. First, there will be discussion of general topics in the philosophy of science, such as explanation, causation, and confirmation. These topics are as relevant to the social sciences as they are to the natural sciences. Second, we shall be reading some ambitious and influential social scientific theories in which we will be able to see methodological issues in action, as it were. The authors whom we will read are Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Émile Durkheim. Third, we will discuss some of most controversial issues in contemporary social science, such as individualism, functionalism, and rational choice theory. There will be two papers, a midterm, and a final examination.
541-1: Modern Ethical Theories
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 start by looking at the historically most important developers of the variants of these kinds of theory. We shall also look at the work of one 20th century thinker, whose work responds in both Kant and Mill, John Rawls. In the rest of the course we shall look at various problems in moral theory, 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, the meaning of life, and the value of love. We shall also look at an argument that we are obliged not to have children and, in fact, to attempt to bring about the extinction of the human race.
549-1: Great Moral Philosophers (fulfills category B requirement for the major)
This is a survey course in the history of moral philosophy that begins with ancient Stoics, Epicureans, and Aristotle, then moves to modern European classics (Hobbes, Butler, Kant, Mill) and concludes with highlights from the 20th century (John Rawls’s theory of justice, Simone de Beauvoir’s existentialist ethics, and Harlem Renaissance philosopher Alain Locke). For each philosopher, we will be concerned first to undertstand them and then to evaluate them, asking what remains of value today, what you think they were right about and why, what wrong and why, and what may be unclear. This is a Writing Intensive course and also a Writing Fellow course (two of your papers to be rewritten after consultation with a peer Writing Fellow, assigned to the course). There will be several short papers, a mid-term (required of everyone), and a final (required only of those who didn’t get the required papers in on time and receive at least a B average on the papers and a B on the midterm).
551-1: Philosophy of Mind
We see ourselves as rational agents: we have beliefs, desires, intentions, wishes, and hopes. We also have the ability to perform actions, seemingly in light of these beliefs, desires, and intentions. Is our conception of ourselves as rational agents consistent with our scientific conception of human beings as biological organisms? We think the mind bears some relation to the brain, but is it really nothing over and above physical brain processes – and if so, is it impossible for computers or Martians to have minds? How can the conscious experience of the taste of brussel sprouts be a purely physical thing? We will also investigate how mental states get their content. How can we explain how you and I can both think about the same city of Istanbul, when we’ve never been there, or Diogenes’s Honest Man, who does not exist? What kind of knowledge do we have of our own minds, and how do we get it? How do we know whether other people even have minds? Readings primarily from contemporary sources.
555-1: Political Philosophy
This course will be an examination of the sort of liberalism that traces its lineage back to John Locke. This is a tradition that generally assumes that the basic question for political philosophy is whether the state is an institution that can be justified at all, and generally concludes that the only states that can be justified are ones that recognize limits on their just powers. Thus a just state must guarantee its subjects some measure of freedom. We will begin by spending two or three weeks reading Locke’s Second Treatise and possibly his essay on reforming the “poor laws.” We will then read Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia. We will end by reading various critics of Nozick or Locke, including Michael Otsuka and G.A. Cohen. Requirements of the course will include two papers (one about five pages long and the other about ten) and a final exam.
558-1: Ethical Issues in Health Care
No description available
562-1 Special Topics in Metaphysics
In this course, we will focus on issues regarding whether consciousness can be accounted for in a purely physical world. We will begin studying classical and contemporary arguments for dualism and physicalism. Then we will spend some time studying accounts of mental representation and content. In the last section of the course, we will look at accounts of consciousness that understand the ‘seeming’ or ‘awareness’ that is distinctive of conscious states in terms of a certain kinds of representational states. We would study both ‘first order’ theories (Dretske’s and others) and second order theories (e.g. Carruthers’), which take consciousness to require a kind of apperceptive state wherein one is aware of one’s representational states.
565-1 Ethics of Modern Biotechnology
This course is for graduate students and upper–level undergraduates. It is an in–depth study of a selection of ethical issues arising from the application of modern biotechnology to microorganisms, plants, animals and humans, and examines both agricultural and medical uses of biotechnology. In contrast to much of the public, academic, and industry discussion on these issues, we will aim at a discussion that is informed both by scientific research and by work done in ethical theory, political philosophy, and other relevant disciplines, and whose character is rigorous, clear, nuanced, and unbiased. I do not consider myself either generally for or generally against biotechnology. As a philosopher, however, I am against bad arguments wherever they are found.
830-1: Advanced History of Philosophy (Aristotle)
Aristotle’s ethical works cover a broad range of topics including happiness, voluntary action, deliberate choice, virtues of character (for example, generosity and truthfulness), virtues of thought (for example, thoughtfulness (phronēsis) and sympathetic judgment), types of justice and decency, and friendship. We’ll be discussing these topics in the light of the overarching theme of thought and its relationship to feeling. What are feelings, according to Aristotle? How are they integrated with the good person’s thinking? What counts as good practical thinking, according to Aristotle? How plausible is Aristotle’s account of thought and feeling compared with more recent Humean and Kantian accounts? Is Aristotle’s good person a real possibility or an unattainable ideal? Is there an aesthetic side to the good person’s motivation, and is it correct to say that the good person aims at the common good?
The main texts for the course will be Aristotle’s Nicomachean and Eudemian Ethics in translation, but we’ll also read passages from his other works where these are pertinent. Secondary reading will include some classic articles and very recent work in the field. The primary texts are most important. These are short, but require careful reading.
There will be ample opportunity for discussion. There will also be three tutorials. Class participants will be asked to write a series of 1500-word essays. 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.
941-1: Seminar: Ethics (New Work on Moral Realism)
In this seminar we will consider recent work in moral epistemology, moral metaphysics, and moral reasons in an effort to assess new trends in metaethics.
941-2: Seminar: Ethics (New Work on Moral Realism)
In this seminar we will consider recent work in moral epistemology, moral metaphysics, and moral reasons in an effort to assess new trends in metaethics.
951-1 Seminar-Philosophy of Mind (Perception)
This seminar is a survey of some central questions in recent philosophy of perception. Some of these questions are: What is perceptual experience? Is it a matter of representing the world around us? Does it involve the body or action? How does it relate to cognition? We will review answers that are motivated by theoretical arm chair considerations as well as those that draw on psychology and neuroscience.
960: Metaphysics Seminar (Dispositions)
Paradigmatic dispositions include fragility, elasticity, and solubility, but discussions of dispositions occur in a wider range of theories than these examples may suggest. Dispositions (also called “powers,” “propensities,” “capacities,” and “tendencies”) have been employed in, for example, analyses of free will, color properties, mental states, value, meaning, natural laws, and causation. We’ll spend the first part of this seminar on some of the more fundamental questions regarding dispositions. What, if anything, are they? How do they relate to non-dispositional properties (so-called “categorical properties”)? Could there be “bare dispositions” or powers that do not have any “causal base”? What relationship (if any) is there between dispositions and subjunctive conditionals? Do dispositions cause their manifestations? Once we’ve marched through these fundamental issues, we’ll consider various ways dispositions have been employed in philosophical theorizing. For example, we’ll discuss the merits of dispositional accounts of free will, mental states such as beliefs, modality, and causation.