Spring 2014 Upper Level Courses

PHL263: Informal Logic
MWF 11:30-12:45 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 302: Modern Philosophy
WF 12:00–1:50 pm - Keith Fennen

Philosophic activity in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries is generally referred to as Modern Philosophy. During this time, philosophic activity, both in terms of the critique of traditional concepts (philosophic, scientific, religious, etc.) and the development of new ideas, was exceptionally high. New conceptions of science, nature, political association, morality, for example, were put forth. In this course we will study works by Descartes, Pascal, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, and Kant. While we will discuss each thinker’s overall philosophical system, the guiding themes throughout the seminar will be human agency, judgment, action, and the promotion of the good of others.

PHL 355, Feminist Theory
WF 1:00–2:20 pm - Gaile Pohlhaus

In this course we will investigate feminist theories not as one comprehensive system, but rather as varying ways in which feminists have attempted to speak about the category, position(s), and treatment of women given particular social and historical contexts. What does it mean to be a woman? Is it a biological concept? A cultural one? A political position within the social? What happens to the concept when we take into account other ways in which people are positioned in society such as race, class, sexuality, and nation? Is sex/gender a conceptual system we can do without? Emphasis will be placed on the dialogue and critique among a wide spectrum of feminist theorists. Throughout the semester we will return to questions regarding the role of theory for feminist politics as well as what the effects of bringing feminism to theory may have on the very nature of theory itself.

PHL 375: Medical Ethics
TR 4:30- 6:20 pm - Michael Brodrick

The goal of this course is to think together in an informed and critical manner about selected issues in health care. An attempt will be made with each issue addressed to consider the distinctive interests and perspectives of physicians, nurses, patients and the public. Issues considered include physician/patient relationships; lying, truth-telling, paternalism and trust; death and dying, including suicide, euthanasia, and the treatment of defective newborns; treatment of mental illness and patient rights; allocating scarce resources; the nature of health and the purposes of medicine.

How moral decisions are made in medicine—by what procedures, values, principles and parties—will be considered, mostly through examining a number of case studies. Students will be largely responsible for the presentation and case analysis, if not the selection. A previous course in philosophy, preferably PHL 131, is strongly advised.

PHL 390, Existentialism
MWF 1:00–2:15 pm - Chris King

This course will explore the way in which the concept of human ‘existence’ becomes a distinct theme for philosophical reflection in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The general question of the school of thought that came to be known as Existentialism, ‘what it means to be,’ will drive our own inquiry. In considering the religious, philosophical, political, and aesthetic dimensions of the existentialist critique of the Enlightenment faith in reason, we will be attentive to the resources within the history of philosophy from which existentialism draws its ideas and inspirations. We will focus on various themes, e.g. The precedence of existence to essence, the meaning of human freedom, and the terrible truths of existence. About half of the class will be spend on the 19th century precursors to existentialism, e.g. (but not limited to) Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. In the second half of the course we will study some more recent manifestations of the existential thought, looking at how the above issues were taken up and reworked by 20th century philosophers, e.g. (but not limited to) Sartre and Camus.

PHL404: What is Philosophy? Senior Capstone Seminar
R 4:00–7:40 pm - Gaile Pohlhaus

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.

Examples of meta-philosophical questions include: Is philosophy a kind of knowledge? Are philosophical claims cognitive in the sense that they can be said to be true or false? If philosophy is cognitive are the apparent disagreements between philosophers a sign of failure? Are the various methodologies practiced by different philosophers attempting to achieve the same goal? And what is the relationship between philosophy and other kinds of pursuits (both intellectual and practical)?

This course aims to engage students on two different (but related) levels: a meta-level of reflection on the nature of philosophy and a concrete level of thinking about how philosophy might matter in relation to the world in which we live. In doing so, it should help students to reflect not only on the liberal education they have completed so far, but also to develop the capacity to continue to bring philosophical thinking to their lives long after they have left the classroom.

You can take this class for credit, but in order to take it as a senior capstone; you must have senior status at the time of enrolment.

Prerequisite: minimum of 9 hours in philosophy or permission of the instructor.

PHL 411/511: Advanced Ethical Theories: “The Idea of Perfection"
MW 2:30-4:20 pm - Kristina Gehrman

”Ethical theories usually try to do two things. First, they give a comprehensive explanation of what makes actions right and wrong. Second, they usually give some sort of guide to deliberation: a reliable method for reaching the morally right decision, and acting on it. But in addition to serving these important functions, ethical theories often also articulate compelling ideals of human practical perfection. By presenting us with a powerful vision of the ideal human life, an ethical theory can inspire us to strive to be a certain kind of person, or to believe that certain things in life are worth struggling for; perhaps even worth dying for.

In this seminar, we will be thinking about the role that ideals, exemplars, paradigms, and other ideas or models of perfection play in ethical theory. We’ll be looking at different, sometimes incompatible ideas of human perfection, that arise in the context of different ethical theories. And we’ll be asking whether ideas of perfection belong in ethical theories. For human beings are, after all, “only human”, and most of us can’t be perfect. So you might wonder whether it’s fair for morality to ask us to be perfect. After all, perfection is probably humanly impossible.

PHL 430/530 - Seminar in Ancient Philosophy The Presocratic Thinkers and their Interpretation
T 4:00-7:40 pm Pascal Massie

The term “Presocratic” is relatively recent. Although it was coined in the 19th century, it became popular only in the 20th century after Hermann Diels published his major work: The Fragments of the Pre- Socratics in 1903. The label “Presocratic” is not purely a matter of chronology (Democritus is regarded as a Presocratic thinker even though he was younger than Socrates and outlived him). Rather it suggests a form of early philosophizing from which Socrates would have departed. Insofar as the Presocratics are understood as the origin of Western philosophy, to investigate their work is to question philosophy itself with respect to its beginning at the intersection of mythology and natural investigation, of logos and of being.

While most of them wrote books, none of the texts has survived in complete form. All that is available are quotations by later philosophers and, occasionally, textual fragments. Thus, any work on the Presocratics entails simultaneously a great deal of attention to the hermeneutical principles we adopt.

The seminar will focus on some of the most notable figures among the Presocratics: Heraclitus, Parmenides, Zeno, Anaxagoras, Empedocles, the Atomist school and the Sophists (particularly Gorgias). It will also engage some of their most significant interpreters: Hegel, Nietzsche, Barnes, Karl Popper, Heidegger, and Gregory Vlastos.

PHL 440.K/540.K: Seminar in Modern Philosophy - Kant
MW 4:30–6:20 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, Leibnitz, and Hume. Class sessions will involve in-depth analysis and discussion of key passages in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.