Jump to: Spring 2019 Graduate Courses
101-1 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. Students 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.
101-2 Introduction to Philosophy
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. Graded assignments include a logic quiz, three exams, and three short papers.
101-6 Introduction to Philosophy
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. Assignments include short papers and two exams. Class attendance is mandatory.
101-8 Introduction to Philosophy
In this course, you will gain a sense of what philosophy is, what it is good for, and how it is done. We will proceed by considering answers to philosophical questions like the following: What, if anything, makes me at 37 years old the same person I was when I was 16? Do I have an immortal soul? If death is the total and permanent annihilation of my existence, what attitude should I have towards it? Do I have free will? Does God exist? What is knowledge and what can be known? What kinds of actions are morally right and morally wrong? Is there even an objective morality? Is my life meaningful? Is it better to exist or not to exist? We will be reading a mixture of historical and contemporary sources. As will soon become clear, much of philosophy consists in formulating and evaluating arguments. Assuming you do the work, you can expect to emerge from this class with improved analytical skills and with an understanding of some fundamental philosophical issues.
101-9 Introduction to Philosophy
This course is an introduction to philosophical thinking and the Western philosophical tradition from antiquity to modernity. Through reading classical and contemporary texts, we will be examining central topics in this tradition: proofs for the existence of God, the nature of morality, the meaning of life, and the nature of art and beauty. By exploring these topics and works, students will develop a conception of what philosophy is, become familiar with its history, and acquire the skills needed to identify, evaluate, and construct arguments. In so doing, they will be laying the foundations for a fruitful engagement with philosophy and for critical thinking generally.
104-1 Spec Topics: Philos-Freshmen
Goodness and Happiness
In one of Plato’s early dialogues, the Apology, the seventy-year old Socrates stands before the Athenian jury that is about to condemn him to death and defends the life he has led. In one of the most famous sayings in the history of philosophy, he tells his judges, who were annoyed by his constantly questioning the values and beliefs of his fellow citizens, that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. But what exactly is it to lead an “examined life”? What are the things that are supposed to be “examined” in such a life, and how are we supposed to examine them? And how do you know whether or not you are, in fact, leading an examined life?
In this philosophy seminar, we will look closely at what Socrates had in mind—and, more generally, at what philosophy is all about and the different ways of investigating the values that can inform a person’s life. There is no better way to do this than by studying some of history’s greatest philosophers as they inquire into the nature of goodness and happiness, and especially the relationship between the two. What is it to be good or to lead a good life? (Correlatively, what is evil?) What is a right action and what makes it right? What is happiness? Does being a good person insure that your life will be a happy one? We will read selections from ancient, modern and contemporary philosophers, including Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Epictetus, Kant, John Stuart Mill, Jean-Paul Sartre, and others.
210-1 Reason in Communication
The aim of this course is to help students develop their critical skills in recognizing, comprehending, evaluating, and engaging in reasoning. The course pays special attention to reasoning in mass communication media. Throughout the course the students will learn to recognize and analyze reasoning as it occurs in everyday discourse, to recognize and analyze the effect of rhetorical devices in everyday discourse and distinguish them from reasoning, and to follow basic logical principles and avoid common logical fallacies.
211-1 Elementary Logic
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.
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)
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 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.
304-2 Topic in Philosophy-Humanities
Appearance and Reality
This course examines the relation between appearance and reality. How things appear often diverges radically from how things really are. But how can we tell the difference? And what is the difference? To address these questions, we’ll discuss the nature of perception and the possibility of knowledge; the distinction between truth and falsity, or fact and fiction, as well as lies and bullshit; and the relation between “commonsensical” views of objects, people, and morals and the “modern scientific” conception of these things.
304-3 Topic in Philosophy-Humanities
Borders and Belonging: Immigration and Global Justice
In the U.S. and around in the world, questions about immigration and global justice are matters of great political controversy. Some of this political controversy reflects deep moral disagreements. In the first half of this class, we will use the tools of contemporary moral philosophy to formulate and evaluate arguments in support of various positions on immigration policy. We will examine such questions as:
1. May governments, if they wish to, refuse to admit any immigrants at all (even refugees or asylum-seekers)?
2. May governments select which immigrants to admit on the basis of their ability to make an economic contribution?
3. May governments deport immigrants who enter the country illegally?
4. May governments institute ‘guest worker’ programs (i.e., programs which allow immigrants to enter only for defined periods of time, without any possibility of becoming citizens or permanent residents)?
A country’s immigration policies are just one aspect of its relationship with non-citizens. Thus, in the second half of the class, we will zoom out to examine some related questions about global justice—i.e., the part of political philosophy that concerns justice among (rather than within) countries. We will examine such questions as:
1. Is it permissible to have a system of coercively enforced borders between countries?
2. Is it permissible for a wealthy country to give certain kinds of aid to other countries, rather than admitting immigrants from those countries?
3. What obligations, if any, do wealthy countries have towards poorer ones, and what is the basis of those obligations?
Students will graduate this class with a deeper understanding of the moral and political issues raised by immigration and global justice—and better able to formulate and evaluate moral and political arguments about these issues.
304-4 Topic in Philosophy-Humanities
Philosophy Through Science Fiction
Science fiction is a popular genre of storytelling that has entertained millions. Yet the value of science fiction does not stop at its ability to entertain, it can also be used to help highlight and explain important philosophical issues. In this course, we will examine some core philosophical questions by looking at some of these same issues raised in popular science fiction media. Some of the questions we will focus on include:
(1) Is time travel possible? If so, can you really change the past?
(2) How can I know that I am not in a computer simulation?
(3) Am I the same person I was 5 years ago? Is it possible to survive being sent through a transporter?
(4) Is it possible to develop artificial conscious beings? If so, would these beings have same rights as me?
Each of these questions will be examined by looking at central academic texts while exploring some of the science fiction stories that struggle with these interesting philosophical questions.
341-1 Contemporary Moral Issues
This course will give us the opportunity to think deeply about four controversial and difficult moral issues: 1) surrogate motherhood, 2) abortion, 3) inequalities of income, wealth, and health, and 4) health care. In addition, to provide some perspective and depth in our consideration of the particular issues, we shall spend some time with ethical theory. The last weeks of the course will put the skills developed in to the course to work in brief treatments of several other issues, to be chosen by the members of the class.
Course requirements will include homework (5%), quizzes (20%), Introductory Paper (10%), Term Paper (40%), Final examination (25%). There will also be an opportunity to rewrite your term paper, should you choose to do so, and there will be extra credit for section attendance and participation.
341-3 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 Contemporary Moral Issues (fulfills Comm B requirement)
Lec. 91 11:00 MTWR
Lec. 92 9:55 MTWR
Lec. 93 9:55 MTWR
Lec. 94 11:00 MTWR
Lec. 96 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-Modern Philosophy
This course covers such major philosophers from the 17th and 18th centuries as Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume and Kant. This is one of the two greatest periods in philosophy, and work in these two centuries set the questions we still ask and the kind of theories we advance in contemporary philosophy. Topics will include the nature of perception, belief and knowledge, the extent of the knowledge we have of ourselves and of the external world (if there is an external world), whether the world is entirely physical or whether the mind is non-physical, what consciousness consists in, and whether humans can be free and have free will.
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.
441 Environmental Ethics
The primary goal of this course is to prepare students to understand and critically evaluate various ethical perspectives on human beings’ interactions with nature and these perspectives’ applications to environmental issues. A secondary goal of the course is to familiarize students with the historical sources of these perspectives and with contemporary manifestations of them in the political arena. The principal ethical perspectives studied will usually include anthropocentrism, animal welfare and animal rights views, biocentric individualism, and environmental holism. We will study representative descriptions and defenses of these perspectives and consider their application to contemporary environmental issues such as hunting, the preservation of endangered species, the use of biotechnology, wilderness preservation and management, anthropogenic global climate change, and the place of the poor and the third world in the environmental movement. P: 3 cr. Philosophy envir studies, or Grad st. in IES.
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.
464 Classical Philosophers
Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason
Immanuel Kant is perhaps the most important philosopher since Aristotle. His Critique of Pure Reason dealt a death blow to traditional “dogmatic” philosophy, whose proponents thought that it was possible to provide proofs of the immortality of the soul, the existence of God, and the reality of human freedom. In addition to denying the possibility of proving these specific claims, Kant went further by denying us any knowledge of reality in itself. This “negative” (i.e. depressing) aspect of the Critique earned Kant the moniker “the all-destroyer.” And yet, Kant also saw his philosophy as constructive – indeed, he thought he was saving Reason and the Enlightenment. In this course, we will study Kant’s seminal book and the crucial philosophical issues raised by it. We will also consider some related texts, including works criticizing Kant’s claims.
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.
515 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 can include: rival concepts of health equity and their implications for public health priority-setting; 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; choosing 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; ethical issues in international pharmaceutical research; ethical issues involving vaccination; and a special topic selected each semester. (Likely Spring 2019 special topic: public health, future generations, and climate change policy).
520 Philosophy of Science
The sciences (and particularly the natural sciences) appear to be by far the greatest human cognitive achievements. The range of the knowledge science has provided and the contribution the findings of science have made to human betterment stagger the imagination. Yet science is despised or ignored by many both here in the U.S. and around the world. Some of that contempt reflects the fact that science may threaten traditional beliefs; a great deal also derives from a failure to understand how science works and what it can achieve.
Philosophy 520 aims to give an overview of the methods of knowledge acquisition that characterize the sciences. We will accordingly consider the goals of the sciences, their conceptual structure (especially the roles of probability, causality, and mathematics), their modes of explanation and prediction, their testing and confirmation, their ability to transcend naive observation, and their limits. Examples to illustrate these discussions will be drawn largely from the history of physics and will not require any background in mathematics or the sciences.
Course requirements will include an introductory paper (10%), a term paper (40%), a midterm (15%), homework assignments (10%) and a final examination (25%).
551 Philosophy of Mind
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?); extended minds (Can parts of a mind exist outside the head?); and artificial intelligence (Will computers ever be capable of thought?). Assignments will include four papers (roughly 3-4pp. in length). Classroom attendance and participation is mandatory.
558 Ethical Issues in Health Care (cross-listed with Medical History and Bioethics/Law 905)
Study of ethical issues arising from medical procedures and aspects of health care such as abortion, genetic screening, paternalism, informed consent, prenatal diagnosis, prolongation of life, treatment of severe birth defects, and human subjects research. (This course does meet the UW School of Medicine and Public Health’s requirement for a writing-intensive course as described at https://www.med.wisc.edu/education/md-program/admissions/premedical-requirements/.)
This class is an advanced introduction to various topics in metaphysics. We will look at classic readings on topics including the nature of physical objects, possible worlds, time, causation, free will and personal identity. Among the questions we will consider are:
When does some matter constitute a material object? How does material objects persist through time? Can more than one material object occupy a given place at the same time? Is there something special about the present? Or is time best objectively viewed from an ‘eternal’ position, standing outside of time?
What is it for one event to cause another? Can two possible worlds be exactly alike in their pattern of events, but differ in what causes what?
Can free will co-exist with deterministic laws of nature? With any laws of nature at all?
Under what conditions will we still be alive tomorrow? That is, what needs to be the case for one of the people living in the world tomorrow to be me? If I am a dualist, does it have to reside in sameness of the soul? If I am a materialist, does it have to reside in sameness of body, or brain?
There will be regular reading responses, 2 papers, and a final exam.
701 Reading Seminars (combined with Graduate Seminars)
Logic and Epistemology
We’ll look at a number of overlapping ways in which logic intersects with epistemology. Topics considered will include: (1) Do truths of logic have any special significance for epistemology? (Are they more significant than truths of physics, of biology, of baseball?) (2) Should our beliefs be closed under logical entailment? (3) Does rationality require logical omniscience? (4) How do we come to know truths of logic? Readings will be almost entirely from the epistemology literature of the past 30 years.
951 Seminar-Philosophy of Mind
Reason and Mind
This seminar focuses on the intersection between epistemology and philosophy of mind. The seminar is divided into two parts. Part one reviews some recent debates in philosophy of mind such as the internalism/externalism debate about mental content, the debate over the nature of perceptual experience and its content, the debate about the perception/cognition divide, and a related debate about the nature of concepts and animal cognition. The second part focuses on the epistemic implications of these debates. We will explore whether and how one’s position with respect to the topics discussed in the first part might have implications for issues concerning self-knowledge, rationality, skepticism and the role of perception in justifying beliefs.
955 Seminar-Social and Political Philosophy
Justice and Equality
This course will focus on contemporary philosophical literature about equality and distributive justice. We’ll do a crash course on Rawls’s theory of justice, and look at two kinds of criticisms: criticisms that the difference principle is insufficiently egalitarian, and criticisms of Rawls’s conceptualization of the subject of justice, the basic structure. . The remainder of the course will look at issues in ‘non-ideal’ theorizing: and will focus in part on what beneficiaries of structural injustice owe to victims of the injustices from which they benefit, when eliminating those injustices are not a realistic prospect.
Paradigmatic dispositions include fragility, elasticity, and solubility. Character traits like being humorous, affable, or short-tempered also seem to be dispositions. Philosophical discussions of dispositions occur in a wide range debates. 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–what some call, “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.