Rene Descartes
Rene Descartes

Spring 2017 Upper Level Courses

PHL 205:  Science & Culture

TR 2:30 pm – 3:50 pm – Suzanne McCullagh
This course will explore the relationship between science, technology, and culture through philosophical texts that variously consider science and technology as an expression of human greatness, the means of human progress, a mode of social decline, and a dangerous or problematic attitude towards the world. We will analyze how science has shaped culture and society, the ways that culture shapes science, and the existence of scientific cultures. Throughout the course we will critically analyze the conceptual distinctions between humans, animals and machines, the problematic significance of conceiving of matter as passive, and the ideals of rationality, objectivity, progress and efficiency that permeate thought about science and technology. We will put the ideas we study to work in analyzing historical and contemporary depictions and expressions of science and technology in painting, film, literature, and music.

In the last part of the course we will consider the contemporary emergence of the idea that we are post-human and live in the age of the Anthropocene where humanity has become a force of nature. We will read excerpts from many of the following thinkers: Francis Bacon, Renee Descartes, G.W. Leibniz, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Samuel Butler, Sigmund Freud, Friederich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Paul Feyerabend, Ortega y Gasset, Marshal McLuhan, Thomas Kuhn, Donna Haraway, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Val Plumwood, Michel Serres, and Isabelle Stengers.

PHL 221: Problems in Metaphysics and Knowledge

WF 1:00 pm – 2:20 pm – 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

MW 2:30 pm - 3:50 pm – Keith Fennen
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 selfhood and illusion. 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 331.  Political Philosophy

MW 10:00 am – 11:20 am – Christopher King
Political institutions can seem at once remote with respect to daily life and as powerfully influential in shaping what human lives are like in the present and in the future. Indeed, they guarantee this influence by claiming a right in some circumstances to take our lives, our liberties or our property. Sometimes they even claim a right to “educate” us in certain ways. It is natural to ask, then, about whether political institutions are justified and whether or not persons should resist them in some way or acquiesce. What, if anything, makes them authoritative (capable of creating duties), legitimate (permitted to enforce their requirements), and stable (capable of persisting under a variety of conditions including moral error)? This course examines the nature of political institutions by answering these questions from a variety of philosophical perspectives. In the end, the course aims to identify what kind of political institutions we do have and what kind we should.

PHL 355:  Feminist Theory

WF 11:30 am – 12:50 am – Gaile Pohlhaus
Feminist theory within a philosophical context offers us the opportunity to think about the conceptual schemas that organize our social lives as gendered and sexed beings. Moreover, because the concepts of sex and gender are simultaneously inflected with other categories such as race, sexuality, (dis)ability, and class, feminist theorists must consider how these ways of organizing the world make a difference in the lives of women as well as our understanding of the category to which they are said to belong. In this class we will take the conceptual as our focus—how have feminist theorists understood ‘women’ as a conceptual category as well as other concepts such as ‘equality,’ ‘difference,’ ‘freedom,’ and/or ‘solidarity’? And what difference does our understanding of these concepts make with regard to both theory and activism? There is no one agreed upon answer to these questions among feminists. Throughout the course of the semester we will spend time differentiating among a number of views articulated in historical and contemporary work by feminists. In addition students will have the opportunity to consider the implications of how we understand particular concepts in relation to feminist theorizing and activism.

PHL 375:  Medical Ethics

MWF 1:00 pm – 2:15 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 404: What is Philosophy? Senior Capstone Seminar

TR 11:30 am – 12:50 pm – Pascal Massie
This course investigates the metaphilosophical question: “What is Philosophy?” Metaphilosophy 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 metaphilosophical questions could be: 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? To what extent are philosophers such as Plato, Nietzsche, and Marx responsible for the subsequent use (and misuse) of their works? How can we tell whether a particular philosophy is “good”? Do the criteria we assume come from the philosophy we are judging? (Note: whether you answer yes or no, a paradox occurs…).

The aim of this course is to take students to a ‘meta-level’ of reflection by analyzing various philosophical understanding of what it means to philosophize and on the way philosophy relates to other disciplines and practices (e.g., science, art, and literature).

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

T 2:30 pm - 6:10 pm – Facundo Alonso
Philosophy of Action: In this course we will reflect on the basic philosophical questions about agency. These include: What is it for one to be an agent? Is being an agent merely a matter of being a locus of causal forces that move one to act? What is it to act intentionally? What is it to act for a reason? Are the reasons for which one acts causes of one’s action? What is intention? Is intention a special kind of belief? What kind of knowledge, if any, does one have about one’s own actions? What is it for one to be an autonomous or self-governing agent? The aim of this course is to introduce students to the basic philosophical issues about agency and to recent debates on the topic.

PHL 420C/520C:  Philosophy of Language

MW 2:30 pm - 4:20 pm – Michael Hicks
While language has always been a topic of philosophical interest, in the twentieth century it came to play an especially central role in philosophical activity. This development is the central concern of this class. Thus, we begin with the work of the two men (Frege and Russell) who, more than any, set the stage for “linguistic philosophy”, and pursue the questions they raised through the twentieth century literature. This tradition did, eventually, lead back to general questions about the nature of language, and we will conclude by employing the resources developed over the course of the semester to investigate one or more topic of contemporary interest.

PHL 430D/530D  The Pre-Socratics

MW 4:30 pm - 6:20 pm – Pascal Massie
The term “Pre-Socratic” is relatively recent. It was coined in the 19th century but became popular only in the 20th century after Hermann Diels published his major work: The Fragments of the Pre-Socratics in 1903. The term is not purely a matter of chronology (Democritus is regarded as a Pre-Socratic 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 Pre-Socratics 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 Pre-Socratics entails a great deal of attention to the hermeneutical principles one choses to adopt.

The seminar will focus on some of the most notable figures among the Pre-Socratics: Heraclitus, Parmenides, Zeno, Anaxagoras, Empedocles, the Atomist school and the Sophists (particularly Gorgias). It will also engage some of their most significant interpreters, notably: Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.