Spring 2016 Upper Level Courses

PHL 221:  Problems in Metaphysics and Knowledge

WF 10:00 am – 11:20 am – William McKenna
A critical examination of the nature of reality and our knowledge of it. Sample topics include relation of mind to body, freedom and determinism, the question of whether the world is fundamentally material or mental, theories of knowledge, and the nature and extent of our knowledge of the world.

PHL 245:  Writing Philosophy

WF 1:00 pm - 2:20 pm – William McKenna
This course provides philosophy majors with the reading, writing, and reasoning skills necessary for the successful presentation of philosophical ideas in written work, with writing oriented toward both specialized (philosophically experienced and disciplinarily appropriate) and non-specialized (non-philosophical) audiences. The course will be writing intensive. The topic of this year's course will be truth and objectivity. Readings will come from these topics and they will be the subject matter of the writing.

PHL 273:  Formal Logic

MWF 10:00 am – 11:15 am – 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 302: Modern Philosophy

TR 10:00 am–11:50 am - 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 and the development of new ideas, was exceptionally high.  New conceptions of science, nature, political association, and morality, for example, were put forth.  In this course we will mainly study works by Descartes, Pascal, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, and Kant but we will also read brief excerpts from other thinkers. While we will discuss each thinker’s overall philosophical system, some guiding themes throughout the semester will be the self and its constitution, self-knowledge, judgment, agency, immanence, and transcendence.

PHL 355:  Feminist Theory

TR 10:00 am – 11:20 am – Suzanne McCullagh
This course will explore the politics from which feminist theory emerged and to which it responds by carefully examining the concepts that it provides in thinking about sexual/gendered inequalities and differences. We will examine some core elements feminist political theory that give us resources for thinking about domination, subordination, and oppression generally, as well as struggles to overcome the oppression of women socially and politically. We will then turn to how feminist theorists have analysed sex and gender differences and the implications of this difference in discourse and politics. With the help of feminist epistemology we will analyse how power is operative in knowledge practices and consider approaches to knowledge that embrace, rather than eschew, ethical and political values.  In the final sections of the course will turn to feminist ethical theories and take an in depth look at how the concept of vulnerability is currently theorized in contemporary feminist discourse. We will read a wide range of feminist theorists in this course, including, but not limited to, Simone de Beauvoir, Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, Judith Butler, Donna Haraway, and Chandra Talpade Mohanty, and Adriana Cavarero.

PHL 373:  Symbolic Logic

MWF 1:00 pm – 2:15 pm – Michael Hicks
This course is an examination of the acceptability and usefulness of various logical systems, with attention to the question what it could mean to criticize or think about logic itself.   We'll focus especially on first order predicate logic, and conclude with an outline of Godel's first incompleteness theorem.  (Though this course does not have official prerequisites, students who have not taken PHL 273 are advised to consult with Prof. Hicks before registering.)

PHL 375:  Medical Ethics

MWF 2:30 pm – 3:45 pm – Scott Clifton
In this course, we consider several ethical issues related to medicine and healthcare, from both theoretical and practical perspectives. We investigate what our moral obligations are in the context of sex selection, prenatal genetic testing, genetic enhancement, eugenics, cloning, truth-telling, and informed consent. Moreover, we try to determine where the limits are in human testing (as we read the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) and explore ways to address injustice in healthcare. Finally, we discuss end of life issues, such as whether it’s morally permissible to engage in acts of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

PHL 390:  Existentialism

WF 10:00 am – 11:50 am – Suzanne McCullagh
Existentialist philosophies approach human existence as a unique problem in the world and prompt us to reflect upon the human condition and the nature of human existence. In this course we will read existentialist philosophers that explore what human freedom is in relation to objective and situational limits, the problem of self-creation, and the necessity and role of action in becoming who one is. We will examine the existentialist concern that the mass and the crowd pose a danger for the individual and the significance of certain emotions (such as anxiety, guilt, and despair) in individual life. Lastly, we will consider the ethical and political implications of existentialist thinking. In this course we will read works by Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Jaspers, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and Hannah Arendt.

PHL 404: What is Philosophy? Senior Capstone Seminar

TR 11:30 am – 12:50 pm – Pascal Massie
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.

Anyone can take this course, but in order to take it as a senior capstone; you must have senior status at the time of enrollment.

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

PHL 420/520:  Arendt

R 2:30 pm - 6:10 pm – Emily Zakin
This seminar will be devoted to an in-depth and comprehensive study of the work of Hannah Arendt, one of the most influential political theorists of the twentieth century. We will read many of her major works, including Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Condition, On Revolution, Eichmann in Jerusalem, and Life of the Mind, as well as a variety of her collected essays and lectures. By grappling with the various distinctions she makes, between, for instance: human rights and citizens’ rights; the political and the social; public and private; action and work; freedom and happiness; and power and violence, we will aim to understand her critique of modernity and its political impasses. We will also make some effort to situate Arendt with regard to various precursors, interpreters, and interlocutors, including perhaps some but not all of the following: Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin, Claude Lefort, Jacques Ranciere, and Julia Kristeva.

PHL 430/530  Aristotle’s Metaphysics

T 2:30 pm - 6:20 pm – Pascal Massie
“There is a science that studies being qua being, and also the properties of being in its own right. It is not the same as any of the so-called special sciences” (Metaphysics IV, 1003a1-3).

When Aristotle articulated the central question of the group of writings we know as his Metaphysics, he said that the question concerning being would never cease to raise itself.  The science that concerns itself with this question he called “first philosophy” (by which he meant philosophy properly speaking) but it came to be known as “metaphysics.” In our time this question is for the most part hidden. The purpose of this course is to take Aristotle’s work as our guide in order to raise it anew. To do so we will focus on the basic concepts of Aristotle’s ontology (e.g., substance, form, end, essence, potentiality and actuality, nature, and principle). This will lead us to consider: logic, ontology, theology, epistemology, and philosophy of language.

To understand the project of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, we will begin with the Categories and De interpretatione. Although placed among his logical works these treatises are concerned with a general account of the things there are (ta onta). We will also read sections of the Physics and take into account some major interpretations of Aristotle’s metaphysics (e.g., Avicenna, Aquinas, and Heidegger).

Some acquaintance with ancient philosophy (PHL 301) is recommended.

PHL 450/550  French Feminism

MW 4:30 pm – 6:20 pm – Elaine Miller
This course is an introduction to what is known as “French Feminism,” including the philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir, and the psychoanalytically informed work of Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva. The phrase “French Feminism,” while a common nomenclature, is used cautiously, since although all these philosophers write in French, they do not share a common identification with either France or with feminist movements. The writings of these three thinkers have become important to philosophical work in both the Continental and Analytic traditions of Anglo-American philosophy.  This course will familiarize students with some of their most influential texts, focusing in particular on their engagement with and critique of canonical ideas and thinkers from the history of Western philosophy.