Jump to: Spring 2018 Graduate Courses
101-2: Introduction to Philosophy
This course is an introduction to central problems of philosophy and basic methods of philosophical inquiry. Students will learn and practice a variety of skills, including tools for analysis and argumentation. They will also acquire a body of knowledge, concerning philosophical questions, as well as possible answers to them. Topics include: the ultimate nature of reality; the possibility of knowledge; the threat of illusion and bias; the foundation of morality; the identity of persons; the badness (or not) of death; the existence (or nonexistence) of God; and the scope of good and evil.
101-3: 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 free will if their actions are a part of the natural, causal order.
101-5: Introduction to Philosophy
The purpose of this course is to give you a better sense of what philosophy is, how it relates to other disciplines, and what it is good for. We will proceed by considering possible answers to a number of key philosophical questions: e.g. Do we have free will? What is knowledge and what sorts of things can we know? What is the fundamental nature of reality? Does God exist? Is truth relative or objective? Is life absurd and meaningless? What, if anything, determines that an action (for instance, intentionally killing an innocent person) is morally wrong? As will soon become clear, much of philosophy consists in formulating and evaluating arguments. Assuming you do the work, you can expect to emerge from this class with improved analytical skills and with an understanding of some fundamental philosophical issues.
101-6: 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.
101-8: Introduction to Philosophy
An introduction to some of the major problems and methods of philosophy. We will consider topics from ethics/moral philosophy, political philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology, and the philosophy of religion. Among the questions we will discuss are: What is good and bad? What makes an action right or wrong? What is happiness? Are we obliged to obey the state and its laws? What is reality? What is knowledge and how do we acquire it? Are human beings free? Is the belief in God rationally justified or only a matter of faith? Would immortality be desirable? And, of course, what is the meaning of life?
The readings include Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus, Epicurus, Descartes, John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant, Jean-Paul Sartre, and a number of contemporary philosophers.
101-9: Introduction to Philosophy
The goal of this class is to teach you how to think critically about fundamental issues. The issues we will discuss concern justification for our claims to knowledge, belief in God, free will and moral responsibility, ethics, and justice.
Thinking critically about these issues will be hard for many of you. This is because, first, they are of the sort that tend to draw strong opinions. Many of you probably believe in god, think that it is ok to accept claims on the basis of faith, are confident that knowledge is possible, believe that you have free will, and have views about what makes a society just or whether abortion is permissible. If you are like most people, you have not thought critically about these things. In fact, I bet that most of you believe in the god that your parents believe and for no other reason than that your parents raised you to accept their beliefs (and, in turn, they followed their parents). This would certainly explain why children of Christians, Muslims, and Jews tend to be Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Likewise, the best predictor of your views on justice and abortion are probably the views of your parents or peers. This brings us to the second reason why critical thought about fundamental issues is difficult: it requires that you suspend your belief in ideas that have probably seemed natural to you for so long.
But, finally, critical thinking is hard just because it’s hard — regardless of the issue under analysis. Critical thought requires examining assumptions that you may not realize you have made, it requires imagining alternatives that may be far from obvious, and it requires an ability to assess the soundness of arguments.
141-1: The Meaning of Life
This course is an introduction to philosophy through one of the best-known philosophical questions: what is the meaning of life? We will discuss the question itself (for example, what would it even mean for a life to have a meaning?) and various classical and contemporary attempts to answer it. Assignments may include short papers and exams. No prior background in philosophy is required.
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.
211-1: Elementary Logic
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
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)
In everyday life, we make a variety of ethical judgments, for example, that it is kind to help others or that it is right to keep 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.
241-2: Introductory Ethics (fulfills category B requirement for the major)
In this course we will investigate the ethical dimension of human life. What makes an action right or wrong? What obligations do we have to other people or the community and what do we do when these obligations conflict? What makes someone a good or bad person? How do we make ethical judgments and can they be objective? We will examine three historically important theoretical approaches to ethics (virtue ethics, utilitarianism and Kantian ethics), as well as objections that have been raised against each of them.
304-1: Topic in Philosophy-Humanities
Philosophy of Sport
Sports often play a significant role in people’s lives. Most have participated in some form of sporting activity or have at least had the chance to watch and root for their favorite teams on TV. Sport is a multibillion dollar international industry that shapes everything from our communities to our politics. That being said, sport has gained little attention within philosophy, despite it raising many important philosophical issues. This course serves as an introduction to the study of the philosophy of sport, particularly with regard to metaphysical, epistemic and ethical questions that have arisen in recent decades. We will attempt to answer questions like, What is sport? Is it right to separate sports according to sex? Are dangerous sports valuable? What does it mean for a game to be fair? What’s wrong with doping? and many others.
304-2: Topic in Philosophy-Humanities
Values, Justice, & Education (Honors Only)
As a society we decide to subject children to around 18000 hours of schooling; and schools determine to a large extent both what sort of educational experiences children will have and what how those experiences will be distributed.
This course will ask what kinds of experience children in our society should have in schools, and how those experiences should be distributed. For the first half of the course we shall read the best philosophical literature in these two debates: asking what knowledge, skills, attitudes and dispositions society should be using education to develop in children, and asking to what extent, if at all, social resources should be allocated to offset background disadvantages; and we shall also read as much empirical literature as is needed to get a good working understanding of the structure of the US schooling system.
The second half of the course will focus 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 explore the cases together, and will interview educators and administrators about their views about the cases.
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.
304-3: Topic in Philosophy-Humanities
Time Travel, Teleportation, and Other Future Tech: Philosophy in Science Fiction
How do I know what’s real? Am I real? Does it matter how I treat my Roomba? What if I could live forever? Science fiction is like philosophy in motion. It breathes life into the kinds of thought experiments philosophers so often deploy in the service of clarifying particularly opaque problems, or wrestling with their possible solutions. The aim of this course is to use science fiction (in literature, television, and film) as a vehicle for grappling with difficult philosophical issues from the nature of reality to facing your own death. We will contemplate time travel, artificial intelligence, extraterrestrial life, disembodied minds, virtual reality, and more to illuminate topics in skepticism, freedom of the will, personal identity, ethics, and existentialism. Though challenging, and at time unsettling, it should make for a memorable experience, and give students a novel and inviting vantagepoint from which to engage with some of the most puzzling and difficult issues in philosophy.
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.
341-3: Contemporary Moral Issues
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.
341-5: Contemporary Moral Issues
A philosophical study of some of the major moral issues in contemporary society, such as those concerning abortion, euthanasia, punishment, property, politics, sex, nuclear disarmament, and world hunger. Prerequisites: Sophomore Status or consent of instructor.
341: Contemporary Moral Issues (fulfills Category B requirement for the major)
Lec. 93 9:55 MTWR
Lec. 94 11:00 MTWR
Lec. 95 12:05 MTWR
A philosophical study of some of the major moral issue in contemporary society, such as those concerning abortion, euthanasia, punishment, property, politics, sex, nuclear disarmament, and world hunger. Prerequisites: Sophomore Status or consent of instructor. (Fulfills Comm B requirement).
432: History of Modern Philosophy
In this course, we will read and discuss selections from the works of some influential 17th and 18th century philosophers: Galileo, Descartes, Princess Elisabeth, Malebranche, Spinoza, Leibniz, Lady Masham, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. Though these thinkers are a diverse bunch, one thing that unites them is their preoccupation with a set of philosophical issues connected with the scientific revolution ushered in by scientists like Galileo and Newton. The scientific revolution, which was closely associated with the so-called mechanical philosophy, raised troubling questions about free will, the mind-body relationship, God’s place in nature, the sources and limits of knowledge, and the ultimate nature of reality. The modern philosophers we will study in this class thought deeply about these questions, and though their answers often diverge widely from one another (and sometimes from common sense), they helped to shape philosophy as it is practiced today.
435: Jewish Philos: Antiquity-17c (cross-listed with Jewish Studies)
This course will offer a survey of major philosophers and philosopical problems in the Jewish tradition from antiquity through the medieval and early modern periods. We will read from the Book of Job, Philo of Alexandria, Saadya ben Joseph, Maimonides, and Spinoza. The topics we cover will be divided into two main sections: (1) The Problem of Evil. Why is there evil, sin and suffering in a world supposedly created by an all-powerful, all-knowing, wise, just and good God? Why do bad things happen to good people. How, according to these thinkers, does God’s providence work? (2) The Law. How do we know what is and is not commanded by God? What is the difference between revealed law and natural law? Is the Law revealed to Moses by God “rational”? In what sense? Why should one follow the Law?
Feeling like life is absurd, that existence is meaningless? Worried that you aren’t living authentically? Then a course in Existentialism is just what you need. Study the classic texts of this intellectual movement that expressed despondency about Western civilization, its decadence, and its values. Along the way you’ll meet the likes of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, and De Beauvoir.
454: Classical Philosophers
In this course, we will undertake a comprehensive study of Plato’s Republic. The stated topic of the dialogue is the nature and value of justice; however, the conversation that ensues touches on important questions in every major area of philosophy. What is human nature? How are human beings shaped by culture and education? What is the best political system? What are the most real things, and how can we distinguish between reality and illusion? The Republic challenges us to think about how what we usually consider distinct areas of philosophy are inextricably connected.
481: Meets with 435
482: Meets with 454
504: Special topics-Theory of Knowledge
This course examines the nature of perception and will put traditional issues in the philosophy of perception in dialogue with new findings in the Cognitive Sciences. Some of the questions that we will focus on are: How could perception be a source of knowledge? Does perception depend only on what happens in our brains? Is perception a skill? How does perception guide action? Is perception shaped by our conceptual frameworks, beliefs, desires, or goals? Does perceptual learning happen and what is its philosophical significance?
512: 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.
541: Modern Ethical Theories
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 19th and 20th Century, but will spend a bit of time on material from more contemporary philosophers as well.
558: Ethical Issues in Health Care (cross-listed with Medical History and Bioethics/Law 905)
This course offers a survey of ethical issues that arise within the context of modern medicine. Topics discussed may include: autonomy, informed consent, and the doctor-patient relationship; research involving human subjects; contraception and abortion; reproductive technologies and surrogacy; genetic screening; physician-assisted dying; the treatment (and non-treatment) of severely disabled newborns; and rationing and the allocation of scarce health care resources. The course will be conducted in a traditional lecture/discussion section format, with lectures delivered by bioethics experts from the UW-Madison community. Readings will be drawn from diverse disciplines but will routinely include articles from medical ethics, philosophy, history of medicine and science, legal scholarship, and judicial decisions.
Modality and Persons
In this class, we will be looking at a number of related issues in metaphysics, under two major headings: (1) Possible Worlds/Modality and (2) Personal Identity. (1) The first part starts from the idea that philosophy tends to be concerned with necessary truths and essential properties. Philosophers often describe and explain such matters in terms of possible worlds. What are we committed to with this possible world talk? Additionally, we particularly use possible worlds to talk about possibilities and essences for individuals –but this seems to involve/require that individuals exist in multiple possible worlds. What are the conditions for a given object to exist in another world? Do we need an account of this, to understand talk about alternative possibilities for given things, like ‘Joe might have gone to tech school?’ or ‘Would that apple have turned brown if you had put lemon juice on it?’? One particular idea that has been extensively discussed is whether a given object could have existed without the particular origin it actually had – perhaps you had to have the (biological) parents you had. We will look at some arguments for this view and puzzles that arise. (2) Personal identity through time – Each of you was once in the first grade: What makes it true that that first grader has persisted, is not dead? Under what conditions does a person continue, or cease, to exist? Various things of importance seem to hinge on facts about personal identity: desert or punishment for some earlier deed seems to require that you – not someone else – performed that deed. We seem to have special concern for our own future selves, but not necessarily for others. It seems to be irrational for me to do things that will make things worse for myself later on, like gambling away my retirement money, but if I do this with your money, it seems not irrational, but instead immoral. We will focus on theories of personal identity, and then move to Derek Parfit’s recent work which challenges the tie between personal identity and these other matters that seem to depend upon it. We will look at Eric Olsen’s recent work, which argues, against prevalent psychological views, that persons are essentially animals.
562: Special Topics in Metaphysics
Agency and Action
What is left over if I subtract the fact that my arm goes up from the fact that I raise my arm? It seems there must be some remainder, for not all events of arm-risings are intentional arm-raisings. Something must make some of the physical events in the world into intentional actions. In this course, we will begin by asking what that remainder is: what is it to be an agent? Is agency a matter of some special psychological cause preceding those events that are intentional actions? Or is there some other feature of the agent’s relationship to the event in virtue of which it counts as intentional: the ability to provide a justifying reason for so acting, or the possession of a special kind of knowledge of the action? We will also investigate the nature of intention: what is it to intend to do something? How are intentions related to acting for reasons? Does agency have a “constitutive aim,” or built-in goal, such as achieving the Good, acquiring self-knowledge, or constructing a Self? What does it mean for you and me to act together? Readings from contemporary sources
581 Meets with 560
582 Meets with 541
701: Reading Seminars
830: Advanced History of Philosophy: Aristotle’s Metaphysics
We’ll study Aristotle’s metaphysics, from the Categories to the central books of the Metaphysics, paying special attention to the way in which Aristotle aims to combine ontologies of change and of substance. Topics will include substance and essence, particulars vs. universals, stuff, structure, function, identity, and the principle of non-contradiction. How much time we spend on each topic will depend on the interests of the participants.
The main texts for the course will be Aristotle’s own works in translation. 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 3 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.
835: Advanced History of Philosophy
This seminar will consist in an in-depth investigation of central metaphysical notions in the early modern period, such as substance, qualities, essences, natural kinds, and causation. Figures to be discussed include Descartes, Spinoza, Malebranche, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. Of special interest will be how demise of medieval philosophy and the rise of modern philosophy and science affected what it means to engage in metaphysics—and in philosophy more broadly—during this period.
916: Seminar-Philos of Language
Propositions are commonly postulated in philosophy as the meanings of sentences and of mental states like belief. But what is a proposition? What sort of thing is it, and how can an abstract object confer meaning on a representation? And should we believe in such things at all? In this seminar, we will examine different theories about the nature of propositions and that the role they play in the philosophy of language and mind. We’ll start with some classic readings from Frege and Russell on the nature and structure of propositions and the reasons for postulating them. We will then move on to various more contemporary authors and debates. Topics will include: whether propositions can be identified with sets of possible worlds; whether propositions have structure, and if so how finely grained that structure is; whether propositions’s truth-conditions ground sentences’ truth-conditions, or the other way around; and whether propositions exist independently of minds and languages.
The Moral Universe
Shafer-Landau and Bengson
This seminar will investigate methodology, essence, and intuition in metaethics, drawing upon recent advances in methodology, metaphysics, and epistemology. The focus of the seminar will be a book manuscript that we two are writing with a colleague from Vermont, Terence Cuneo. The manuscript develops a non-naturalist, intuitionist, and essence-based version of moral realism. We will also read works by, among others, Robert Audi, David Chalmers, David Enoch, Kit Fine, Allan Gibbard, Christine Korsgaard, Gideon Rosen, Mark Schroeder, Sharon Street, and Timothy Williamson.
Specific topics include philosophical methodology and intellectual progress in metaethics (and beyond); the nature and source of data in philosophy (esp. metaethics); the status of philosophical taxonomies (e.g., naturalist vs. nonnaturalist); the essences of moral properties and concepts; whether some moral truths are conceptual truths; the supervenience of the moral on the non-moral; categorical reasons; and the nature and epistemic status of moral intuition. Depending on time and interest, we may also cover debunking arguments, moral disagreement, and various questions in action theory as they relate to issues of moral action and moral motivation.
951: Seminar – Philosophy of Mind
This seminar will focus on Mental Content: the topics we will consider will, in part, depend on the interest of the participants in the seminar. But these are some of the things we will study: an account of the content of judgment and belief (e.g. Russell’s account of belief, Kant’s account of judgment), the relation of mental content to the ‘unity of consciousness’; the nature of belief, desire, and intention; and accounts of the causal efficacy of mental content: e.g., how can mental content cause behavior.