Fall 2015 Upper Level Courses

PHL 205: Science & Culture

TR 11:30 am – 12:50 pm – 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.

PHL 263: Informal Logic

TR 2:30 pm – 3:50 pm – William McKenna

This course is devoted to developing attitudes and skills for critical thinking. Students will learn theories, concepts and methods pertaining to understanding and producing reasoned discourse. They will learn how to analyze and access the strengths and weaknesses of speech and writing from a logical point of view. They will develop the ability to construct good arguments and learn how to best communicate them to others. Throughout the course the emphasis will be on practice, practice in applying the methods of interpreting and producing arguments.

PHL 273: Formal Logic

MWF 11:30 am—12:45 pm – Michael Hicks

It is tempting to characterize a really good argument this way: if you accept its premises you must accept its conclusion. This course begins by analyzing this “must”—in what sense can one be logically compelled? What is it for an argument to be valid? A simple trick called “formalization” allows us to focus on certain structural features that are often relevant to the validity of an argument. In this course, we consider two formalizations, sentential logic and a first-order quantification-theory that builds on it, and figure out how to use them to show the validity of arguments. The primary task will be to master these mathematical representations of argument. As such this class is very different from other philosophy classes: homework will often be pseudo-mathematical, and there is very little writing.

PHL 301: Ancient Philosophy

TR 10:00 am – 11:50 am – Pascal Massie

To be concerned with ancient Greek philosophy is to be concerned with philosophy’s beginning. It is commonly acknowledged that philosophy, as it developed in the Western tradition, originated in Greece, about 2,400 years ago. Our task, however, is to move beyond this commonplace in order to think about the problem raised by the ascription of such a beginning. The Greeks themselves understood the beginning as archē. In this sense, a beginning is not a starting point left behind in subsequent developments, nor does it refer to some archaic, primitive or outdated stage of thought; rather, archē constitutes the living source, the basis, and the guiding principle that endures throughout what has grown out of it. Thus, to study ancient philosophy is to be concerned with what initially and still today motivates philosophy. 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 a representative text from the Hellenistic period (Epicureanism, Stoicism, Skepticism). In this course students will spend the semester investigating the meta-philosophical question: “What is Philosophy?” Meta—philosophy has the strange peculiarity of being both a branch of philosophy (alongside epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, etc.,) and an overarching inquiry that takes the very nature of philosophy into consideration independently of its traditional branches.

PHL 335: Philosophy of Law

MWF 1:00 pm – 2:15 pm – Chris King

It is often said that 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 they have a duty to obey them. In short, citizens do not agree about what the laws should be or gives them authority and legitimacy. Philosophers and theorists have tried to make these disputes tractable by addressing very basic questions like “What is a law?” or “What is the basis for a so called ‘legal system’?” This course in the philosophy of law aims to shed light on the more evident conflicts by shedding light on the nature and content of law, the relationship(s) between law and morality, problems of constitutional interpretation, the nature of rights, and source(s) of legal authority. We will examine the main theoretical proposals on these topics and we will examine and practice instances of legal reasoning in applying them.

PHL 360A: Confronting Death

MWF 2:30 pm – 3:45 pm – Scott Clifton

No one denies that we all die, but what that means for how we should live is an open question. This course explores human finitude as it relates to living well. Topics range from suicide and grief to the immortality of the soul. These are explored through careful study of philosophical, religious, literary, and historical sources. Weekly discussions in small groups create a vibrant community of inquiry, while student-driven projects enable creative engagement with ideas. Join us for a serious look at human limits and how we can flourish in spite of them.

PHL 376: Environmental Philosophy

MWF 10:00 am – 11:15 am – Suzanne McCullough

Critical study of metaphysical, epistemological, and moral problems associated with questions of ecology and humankind’s relation to the natural environment. Considers such issues as conceptions of nature, character and impact of various forms of technology, relations of environment and economics, environmentalism and justice, and environmental ethics.

PHL 410G/510G: Leibniz

MW 4:30 pm – 6:20 pm – Keith Fennen

This seminar centers on the thought of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and its reception. While the readings will cover the breadth of Leibniz’s thought, including his political writings and his physics, the central and unifying themes of this seminar include the idea of particularity and singularity, the infinite and its presence within the finite, and Leibniz’s foundational principles, e.g. the principle of sufficient reason and the law of continuity. We will start the semester with an in-depth analysis of Leibniz’s foundational principles, then work through their importance in his physics (especially with respect to force) and his metaphysics, then look to his overarching philosophical system, including his politics and theodicy. Interwoven throughout the semester will be readings from Leibniz’s correspondence, his critics, and 20th century thinker Gilles Deleuze.

PHL 420W/520W: Wittgenstein

TR 2:30 pm – 4:20 pm – Gaile Pohlhaus

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) is perhaps one of the most influential and enigmatic philosophers of the early twentieth century. Claimed by philosophers working in all three major philosophical traditions of the West and said to have affinities with the practices of both Buddhism and psychoanalysis, Wittgenstein is a hard figure to pin down. Indeed, his later work, which will be the primary focus of this seminar, does not really say anything, but rather demonstrates a kind of method or series of methods. Moving through areas such as philosophy of mind and language, metaphysics and epistemology, Wittgenstein sought in his later work (and arguably in his earlier work as well) to release us (and himself) from quandaries that plague the philosophical imagination, but how exactly he does that what the implications are of such a project are disputed among readers of his work.

We will focus our efforts in this seminar on reading Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigation. Written as a series of numbered paragraphs that treat a range of ideas and thought experiments, the Investigations poses a great deal of difficulty for the reader, and for the reader of philosophy in particular. For example, it is not clear at all how we are to understand these paragraphs (both individually and in relation to one another) and at times the text appears to wrestle with itself, calling itself into question and re-figuring its own language in a variety of ways. Seminar participants will be expected to work through the text line by line, semicolon by semicolon, in order to develop the ability to practice the method(s) demonstrated therein. Seminar participants are encouraged to read Ray Monk’s biography Ludwig Wittgenstein: the Duty of Genius over the summer break in preparation for the work of the seminar.

PHL 440K/540K: Seminar in Modern Philosophy—Kant

TR 4:30 pm – 6:20 pm – William McKenna

The writings of Immanuel Kant have had a profound influence on the context and method of philosophical thought. We will study the influence of his Critique of Pure Reason on epistemology and metaphysics. The status of these disciplines prior to Kant will be outlined, with emphasis on certain aspects of the philosophies of Aristotle, Leibniz, and Hume. Class sessions will involve in-depth analysis and discussion of key passages in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.