Fall 2014 Upper Level Courses

PHL205: Science & Culture
TR 8:30-9:50 am - William McKenna

The course will study the influence of modern science on Euro-American culture. The study will be historical, starting with the Middle ages in Europe, through the rise of modern science in the 16th and 17th Centuries and the professionalization and institutionalization of science in the 19th century, and then on up to its penetration in all aspects of culture at the present time. Of particular interest will be the conflicts between religion and modern physics over knowledge of the world, between religion and the theory of evolution over knowledge of human beings, and the influence of science on political life in the formation of secular states.

PHL221: Problems of Metaphysics and Knowledge
TR 2:30-3:50 pm - William McKenna

Critical examination of the nature of reality and our knowledge of it. Sample topics include relation of mind to body, freedom and determinism, whether the world is fundamentally material or mental, nature and extent of our knowledge of the world.

PHL273: Formal Logic
MWF 10:00-11:15 am - Michael Hicks

Formal logic abstracts away from the content of arguments and instead focuses on the form and structure of arguments along with the rules that govern inferences. In this course, several systems of formal logic will be studied, such as Aristotelian, Boolean, and quantified logic, as well as some issues in the philosophy of logic. Additionally, this course will cultivate your ability to quickly and precisely analyze arguments for their validity along with honing your analytical reasoning skills, both of which are valued by employers and are essential for doing well on standardize exams like the LSAT.

PHL301: Ancient Philosophy
TR 12:00-1:50 pm - Pascal Massie

To be concerned with ancient Greek philosophy is to be concerned with philosophy’s ‘beginning.’ It is commonly acknowledged that philosophy (as understood in the Western tradition at least) finds its origin in Greece, about 2,600 years ago. Our task, however, is to move beyond this commonplace and think about the problem raised by the ascription of such a beginning. The Greeks themselves thought of ‘beginning’ (or ‘principle’) as ‘archē’ - something that is not simply a starting point left behind in subsequent developments (thus, something that is precisely not merely archaic, or primitive), but rather that constitutes the source, the basis, and the form that endures throughout what has grown out of it.

The leading question throughout this course will be: ‘what is philosophy?’ In order to articulate it, we will begin with the Pre-Socratic conception of the cosmos and being raised by Parmenides and Heraclitus in particular; then, we will focus on the works of Plato and Aristotle (the main part of the semester) and conclude with Stoicism.

PHL331: Political Philosophy
TR 1:00-2:20 pm - Emily Zakin

The course will focus on major figures and texts from the 17th to the 20th centuries and explore a variety of fundamental questions, problems, and themes of political philosophy, including: the sources of political life and the legitimation of government; the relation between individual and collective self-determination; the development of ideals of reason, dignity, and autonomy; the connection or conflict among values of freedom, equality, community, and security; the meaning of sovereignty; the sometimes divergent and sometimes convergent trajectories of democracy and liberalism; and the way concepts of human nature inform ideas about the power of the state. The emphasis of the course will be on a close reading of primary texts, including writings by Hobbes, Rousseau, Kant, Marx, Nietzsche, and Arendt. Our aim will be to cultivate a deeper understanding of the way that political concepts, structures, and relations permeate human life.

PHL335: Philosophy of Law
MWF 1:00-2:15 pm - Chris King

It is often said that persons living in constitutional democratic societies are unique insofar as they rule themselves by law. Yet, such societies manifest deep conflicts about which laws are correct, what their guiding constitutional laws mean, and whether or not persons have a duty to obey them. In short, citizens do not agree about what the laws should be, whether or not they are authoritative and legitimate and what would make them so if they are. This course in the philosophy of law aims to shed light on these conflicts by examining the nature and content of law, the relationship between law and morality, and constitutional interpretation among other things. After examining the main theoretical proposals on these topics (e.g. natural law theory versus conventionalism) we will examine and practice instances of legal reasoning.

PHL360.A: Confronting Death
MWF 11:30-12:45 am - Michael Brodrick

This course will offer a semester-long confrontation with death. While our particular knowledge of death gives our life and our living a special significance, it also produces our most troubling existential dilemmas. As such, this course we will look at different approaches to death and how people regard their deaths and the deaths of others. Issues such as immortality, funerals, grief, and suicide, will be discussed.

PHL430/530: Plato’s Republic
TR 4:30-6:10 pm - Pascal Massie

Plato (427-347 BCE) is acknowledged as one of the most astounding writers in Western civilization and one of the most influential thinkers in the history of philosophy. This claim should not be understood merely as a matter of acknowledging his (undeniable) influence on the subsequent development of thought but of recognizing in his work a fundamental determination of the essence of philosophy; thus, as something that is at stake every time we try to philosophize.

Plato’s works is rooted in its proper historical horizon; as such, it gives to the Ancient Greek experience of being its most profound expression. Yet, the questions Plato raises and the strategies he uses for tackling them indicate an essential task for today. Plato’s work is not an object of antiquarian’s curiosity but an invitation for us to question our own historical experience at the deepest level we are capable of.

This seminar’s purpose is to attempt to do this through a careful reading of a founding text of Western philosophy, The Republic. In this text more than any other we can see the birth place of what will become “Platonism;” yet our reading should not assume any prejudged determination of what it means and will, in particular, take seriously its dialogical form, its dramatic, and its mythic dimensions. We will also consider other dialogues and well as some major interpretations, e.g., Plotinus and Proclus (the Neoplatonic reception of Plato) the commentaries of Averroes, a.k.a. Ibn Rushd (a Medieval Muslim philosopher), Marsilio Ficino (a Platonist of the Renaissance), Hegel, Heidegger, Popper, The Tübingen School, and Badiou’s hyper- translation.

PHL440/540: Selfhood and Illusion in Early Modern French Philosophy
W 4:00-7:40 pm - Keith Fennen

This course is a conceptual and historical study of selfhood and illusion within the works of several early modern French thinkers. We will examine (1) the degree to which forces unknown to the agent can determine his or her thoughts and actions, which in turn give rise to an illusionary notion the self, and (2) to what degree such an illusion can be overcome. Such unknown forces include, but are not limited to, the physiological, social, and emotional. In conjunction with this, we will consider the metaphysical and theological positions that give rise to illusion and opacity while paying particular attention to the position that each thinker advocates with respect to eternal truths and their dependency, or lack thereof, on a creator. We will primarily focus on Descartes, Pascal, and Malebranche but will have several background readings to frame these texts.

PHL496/596 : Social Epistemology
TR 2:30-4:20 pm - Gaile Pohlhaus

Traditional accounts of knowledge have treated knowers as generic individuals who can be said to know when they have met certain universally valid criteria. This approach to epistemology has been criticized from a variety of perspectives for its individualist bias and for its lack of attention to relations of power in knowing. For example, feminist philosophers have questioned whether traditional accounts do not in fact privilege certain kinds of knowing associated with particular social positions (i.e. white upper class men), thereby privileging persons in those social positions as ideal knowers. Critical race philosophers have argued that attention to nonideal conditions brings into focus certain epistemic formations, such as systemic and systematic ignorance, that are masked or made invisible by traditional accounts. This kind of scrutiny and attention raises important questions about the relationship between epistemic, political, and ethical normativity. In this seminar we will examine recent work on the social dimensions of knowing from a range of feminist, critical race, and decolonial philosophers with particular attention to epistemic injustice, epistemic interdependence, and epistemic resistance.