Cornel West
Cornel West

Fall 2016 Upper Level Courses

PHL 241: Philosophy of Art

MF 11:30 am – 12:50 pm – Elaine Miller
In this course we will read historical and contemporary texts in the philosophy of art and consider such questions as: What counts as a work of art? What distinguishes art from craft?  Why do we have/need art at all? What does it mean to call something beautiful? Is there a proper way to appreciate beauty in nature and art? What philosophical criteria can be used to interpret and judge works of art? Does art need to be beautiful? Is THAT really art, and why? (usually asked of contemporary art, and maybe answerable by philosophy) Finally, we will consider some individual artists and artworks and the ways in which they are considered in philosophical arguments about art.

PHL 263:  Informal Logic

TR 2:30 pm – 3:50 pm – Suzanne McCullagh
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 assess 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 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 itself or more precisely, with its beginning. It is commonly acknowledged that philosophy, as it has developed in the Western tradition, finds its origin in Greece about 2,500 years ago. This claim has become an empty clicheé and our first task is to move beyond its repetition and to consider the philosophical problem raised by the ascription of such a beginning. The Greeks themselves had a striking understanding of what they called ‘archē’¬ a word usually translated as “beginning” (or in a more technical form as “principle”). What they call archē designates something that is precisely not just a starting point, not what is left behind by subsequent developments, like starting blocks are left behind the runner when the race is ongoing. Archē is not “archaic” or “primitive” either. Rather, archē’ designates the source, the basis (these are other possible translations of the same word) that determines the form that endures throughout what has grown out of it. This is why it is also translated as “principle,” i.e., the governing source of a process. A true beginning is not what is left behind but what persists, what still animates future developments and give them their fundamental orientation. Yet, with the passing of time archē’s presence tends to become imperceptible and we forget the source from which our questioning originates. This is why the beginning needs to be properly remembered not as what belongs to a past that is behind us, but as the invisible guide that can point to what is ahead of us.  

This class is concerned with the history of philosophy; this is not to say that we will be concerned with ancient thinkers for the sole purpose of keeping afloat an old tradition. Inasmuch as we are what we have become, to be concerned with history entails a constant concern for self-understanding. We will seek in ancient thinking something of philosophy itself and take into consideration the engagement of modernity (in particular Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger) with Greek thought.

The leading question throughout this course is: ‘what is philosophy?’ In order to articulate this question, we will begin with the Pre-Socratic conception of Being and the cosmos, then focus on the works of Plato and Aristotle (the main part of the semester) and conclude with Stoic philosophy.

PHL 311: Ethical Theory

MWF 10 am – 11:15 pm – Facundo Alonso
Topical and historical in-depth study of classical and contemporary ethical theories. Addresses such questions as the following: What are the fundamental principles of moral action? Can such principles be justified? What moral theories are most adequate and why? What constitutes the well-lived life? Are persons moral agents? What is the relationship between morality and happiness? What is the relationship between freedom and morality? Why be moral?

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 what 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 the 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 402/502:  19th Century Philosophy

M 2:30 pm – 6:10 pm – Elaine Miller
We will begin the course by reading texts from German Idealism, including Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit and Schelling's Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom. We will then read texts from Marx and Engels, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche, focusing on engagements with/critiques of German Idealism.

PHL 440D/540D:  Descartes and Spinoza

T 2:30 pm – 6:10 pm – Keith Fennen
This course will focus on the themes of transcendence and immanence in the thought of Descartes and Spinoza. As a way into these themes, the course will begin by investigating Descartes’ remarks on the creation of the eternal truths and the implications his stance has for how to approach his corpus and topics such as agency, materiality, and political association.  We will then turn to Spinoza and consider how he inherits and augments aspects of Cartesian thought with the aim of seeing how these changes affect not only his positions on transcendence and immanence but also the themes articulated above (agency, materiality, and political association).  Interwoven throughout the semester will be readings from several 20th century and contemporary figures, which will likely include Marion, Deleuze, and Negri, among others.

PHL 450F/550F:  Feminist Epistemology

TR 4:30 pm – 8:10 pm – Gaile Pohlhaus
In what senses might knowing be an activity that we engage with others? In other words, in what ways is knowing a distinctly social activity? And how might the social aspects of knowing be imbricated with power so that knowing itself might be understood to be a political activity we engage with and in relation with others? Feminist epistemologists have long brought these kinds of concerns to their study of what it means to know, asking such questions as: Does one’s social position determine what one knows? Can a person know independently of any social group whatsoever? Can a social movement (in particular, feminism) have a positive causal effect on the development of knowledge? Is all knowing necessarily intertwined with social values? Might encouraging certain social values be beneficial to knowing? Do our current theories of knowledge obscure the epistemic labor of those in particular social positions? And do our current theories of knowledge re-inscribe certain social hierarchies? We will begin the semester with an overview of some of the major developments in feminist epistemology over the last 30 years and then focus on recent developments in feminist epistemology paying particular attention to the various types of sociality highlighted in feminist epistemological work.

PHL 620F: Foucault

R 2:30 pm – 6:10 pm – Emily Zakin
This course will be devoted to the study of the work of twentieth century French philosopher Michel Foucault. Foucault’s writings are often divided into 3 periods, the earlier archaeological work on discourse and the production of knowledge, the middle genealogical work on power and the production of individuals, and the later ethical work on subjectivation, freedom, and care of the self. We will be reading writings (and some lecture courses and interviews) that represent all 3 of these methodological and theoretical approaches. A major focus for us will be the birth of forms of knowledge, especially medical and diagnostic knowledge, and the concomitant formation of categories of normalcy and deviance. Other themes of import will include Foucault’s response to both humanism and the Enlightenment, his understanding of history, and his dispute with psychoanalysis over the status of sexuality.