Spring 2018 Upper Level Courses

PHL 205: Science & Culture

WF 11:40 am – 1:00 pm – Michael Hicks
What is the (proper) position of the scientist in culture? This depends of course on what a scientist is. The word scientist only comes from the 19th century, but surely there were scientists before then. Indeed, though we put a lot of emphasis on the "scientific revolution" there is recognizably scientific activity going back to antiquity. So what exactly was the scientific revolution? And has our estimation of the value of science changed since, say, the condemnation of Galileo? Has it changed for the better? Is science intrinsically opposed to religion, so that one has to choose between them? What about ethics?

This course is an exploration of questions like these about the cultural significance of scientific activity. We shall acquaint ourselves with both the history of scientific achievement and a fair amount of philosophy of science. Students will engage in the philosophical analysis of historical events, and come away with a more nuanced view of science and its relationship to culture.

PHL 221:  Problems in Metaphysics and Knowledge

MW 11:40 am – 1:00 pm – Pascal Massie
This class offers a critical examination of the nature of reality and our knowledge of it. Sample metaphysical topics include freedom and determinism, time, change and identity, possibility and actuality. Epistemology is concerned with the nature and extent of our knowledge of the world. Sample epistemological topics include knowledge and opinion, truth, skepticism, sensation, and justification.

PHL 245:  Writing Philosophy

TR 10:05 am - 11:25 am – Elaine Miller
This course will explore and practice the reading, writing, and reasoning skills necessary for philosophy majors in achieving the successful presentation of philosophical ideas in written work.  Students will practice writing oriented toward both specialized (philosophically experienced and disciplinarily appropriate) and non-specialized (non-philosophical) audiences. The topic of this year's course will be aesthetics and the philosophy of film; readings will be structured in such a way as to give exposure to all traditions of philosophy, and the course will be writing intensive.

PHL 263:  Informal Logic

WF 2:50 pm – 4:10 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 1:15 pm – 2:30 pm – Suzanne McCullagh
This course will focus on the patterns of reasoning that characterize good arguments. Since it is a course in formal logic we are primarily concerned with understanding good in terms of logical validity. A valid argument is one where if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. In other words, if the premises are true the conclusion is necessarily true. We will begin this course by developing an understanding of why this is necessary and then learning the tools that enable us to focus on the formal dimensions of arguments. One of these tools is symbolization, the translation of sentences into symbols so that we can focus on the form of arguments (rather than their content). A major aspect of this course will be working with symbols, argument forms, and rules in doing proofs to show the validity of arguments.

PHL 302: Modern Philosophy

TR 10:05 am–11:55 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 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, judgment, agency, immanence, and transcendence.

PHL 312.  Contemporary Moral Problems

MWF 10:05 am – 11:20 am – Facundo Alonso
This course will engage with contemporary theoretical problems at the intersection of ethics and philosophy of law. Our focus will be on the concepts of obligation, rights, and responsibility, as these are understood in morality and in the law. Some of the questions we will investigate include: What are the normative foundations for moral obligations and rights? Are legal rights and obligations special kinds of moral rights and obligations? What are the parallels between promises and legal contracts, and why do they generate obligations? Do other types of voluntary interactions between individuals (such as doing things with others, pursuing personal relationships, and expressing our opinions in public) generate obligations? Are we ever criminally responsible for an action without also being morally responsible for it? Are we morally and/or legally responsible for the non-intended side-effects of our actions? In this course we will discuss how different moral and legal theories try to answer such questions, with a special emphasis on contemporary approaches.

PHL 355: Feminist Theory

MW 1:15 pm – 2:35 pm – 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 2:50 pm – 4:05 pm – Katherine Davies
This course considers a range of ethical issues in their intersection with the medical field and conceptions of health, broadly construed. In exploring theoretical texts, case studies, literature, and film, we will discuss topics such as the moral principles of Bioethics, patient autonomy, informed consent, truth-telling, confidentiality, care at the beginning of life, issues surrounding the end of life, disability, medicine and gender, distributive justice, and the increasing role of technology in diagnostic contexts. Through these discussions, we will especially work toward understanding the role and limits of empathy through reading Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, how pain makes and unmakes our worlds in Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain, and how people die in the contemporary medical system in the U.S.A. in Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.

PHL 404: What is Philosophy? Senior Capstone Seminar

TR 1:15 pm – 2:35 pm – Christopher King
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 430/530: Hellenistic Philosophy

MW 4:40 pm - 6:30 pm – Pascal Massie
The term ‘Hellenistic’ refers to the Greek and Greaco-Roman civilization as it developed from the death of Alexander the Great (323 B.C.E.) to the victory of Octavian over Mark Anthony at Actium in 31 B.C.E. (these dates are conventional and do not represent any absolute milestones). During these centuries while Platonism and the Peripathetic tradition were still alive, the center stage of Ancient Philosophy was occupied by three schools: Epicureanism, Stoicism, and Skepticism. The seminar is intended as a systematic exploration of these schools. While great advances were made in astronomy, physiology and philology, philosophy underwent two main changes:

First, philosophy comes to acquire some of its modern connotations with a tripartite division between logic, the investigation of ‘nature’ (metaphysics), and ethics. The Hellenistic philosophers insist on the organic unity of these branches and on the priority of practice (we inquire into nature in order to free ourselves from the fear and superstition generated by ignorance). In this respect, the later Stoics payed close attention to issues that could be perceived as non-philosophical (e.g., what we eat and drink, the way we dress, talk, walk or sleep…)

Second, Hellenistic philosophers do philosophy on the background of a certain anxiety concerning the very possibility of attaining wisdom and express grave doubts about an intelligible realm transcending the physical world. At the turn from the second to the first century, it appears that philosophy has not reached any consensus on the questions it deems crucial. Philosophers do not seem nearer the good life than non-philosophers. This crisis calls for a diagnosis and a remedy.

Prerequisite: PHL 301 or permission of the instructor.

PHL 470/570: Advanced Aesthetics

T 2:50 pm - 6:30 pm – Elaine Miller
This course will begin with a close reading of Kant's Critique of Judgment, which inspired German Idealism and arguably continental philosophy as a whole, as well as remaining a core text of philosophical aesthetics. From there, we will read works by later philosophers that draw on Kant's ideas, including texts by Hegel, Arendt, Benjamin, and Adorno.

PHL 494/594 Philosophy of Mind

MW 2:50 pm - 4:40 pm – Michael Hicks
This is an advanced seminar in the philosophy of mind, centered around a critical reading of a contemporary classic, John McDowell's 1994 Mind and World. The guiding question is: why is the mind of such interest? (Why, for instance, not the foot, or digestion?) Part of the answer has to do with perplexities involved in thinking about mind, including the nature of consciousness, the relationship between mind and body, freedom of the will, the status of non-human intelligence, and the role of language in thought. We will consider all of these topics over the course of the semester, trying to understand what about them seems paradoxical. According to McDowell, apparent paradox is evidence of a hidden error, so such problems are better dissolved than solved. Blending themes from Wittgenstein, Kant, Gadamer, and Aristotle, he conceives mindedness as a reflection of our “second nature” and thus as philosophically unproblematic. In addition to evaluating McDowell's specific arguments, we will ask whether his strategy can address everything that matters about the mind.