Philosophy Courses Offered in Fall 2023
The Philosophy Department offers a wide range of courses in line with the diverse areas of specialization of our faculty. Students in many departments will find cognate courses for their majors, including ancient philosophy, political philosophy, philosophy of religion, philosophy of the fine arts, and medical ethics. In addition to regularly offered Miami Plan courses, the department's upper-level courses change in content from semester to semester. Upper-level (undergraduate and graduate) course descriptions for the current and upcoming semesters will be updated on a regular basis.
PHL 245: Writing Philosophy
TR 10:05am – 11:25am – Dr. Keith Fennen
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 that is oriented toward both specialized (philosophically experienced and disciplinarily appropriate) and non-specialized (non-philosophical) audiences.
PHL 273/273H: Formal Logic
MWF 10:05am – 11:20am – Dr. Michael Hicks
It is tempting to characterize a really good argument this way: if you accept its premise, 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. (Philosophy and Law minor)
PHL 301/301H: Ancient Philosophy
MW 11:40am – 1:30pm – Dr. Pascal Massie
To be concerned with ancient Greek philosophy is to be concerned with philosophy’s beginning. It is commonly acknowledged that philosophy, as it developed in the Western tradition, originated in Greece, about 2,400 years ago. Our task, however, is to move beyond this commonplace in order to think about the problem raised by the ascription of such a beginning. The Greeks themselves understood the beginning as archē. In this sense, a beginning is not a starting point left behind in subsequent developments, nor does it refer to some archaic, primitive, or outdated stage of thought; rather, archē constitutes the living source and guiding principle that endures throughout what has grown out of it. Thus, to study ancient philosophy is to be concerned with what initially and still today motivates philosophy.
The leading question throughout this course will be: ‘what is philosophy?’ In order to articulate it, we will begin with the Pre-Socratic conception of the cosmos and being raised by Parmenides and Heraclitus in particular; then, we will focus on the works of Plato and Aristotle (the main part of the semester) and conclude with a representative text from the Hellenistic period (Epicureanism, Stoicism or Skepticism).
PHL 310F/310H: Action and Responsibility
TR 1:15pm – 2:35pm – Dr. Facundo Alonso
In this course we will reflect on key philosophical questions about agency. These include: What is it for one to act intentionally? What is it to try to act? Is one responsible (only) for one’s intentional actions? What is it to act for a reason? Are the reasons for which one acts the causes of one’s action? What is intention? Is intention a special kind of belief? What kind of knowledge, if any, does one have of one’s own actions? When are one’s intentions and actions rational? What is weakness (or strength) of will? What is it for one to be an autonomous or self-governing agent? In addition, we will discuss how these questions about agency bear on foundational issues in the law, such as the relation between mens rea and criminal responsibility, completed v. attempted crimes, accomplice liability, and more. (Ethics, Society, and Culture minor; Philosophy and Law minor)
PHL 335/335H: Philosophy of Law
MWF 1:15pm – 2:30pm – Dr. Max Racine
It is often said that constitutional democratic societies are unique insofar as they are ruled by laws, not by persons. Yet such societies manifest deep conflicts motivated by differing views about morality, religion, the significance of economics, et. al. From these conflicts stem disputes about the nature of law, its proper interpretation, the relation between morality and law, the conditions under which it is legitimate, and whether there is a duty to obey. This course in the philosophy of law aims to discuss ways in which philosophers have tried to make these conflicts tractable by shedding light on the nature and content of law, the relationship(s) between law and morality, problems of constitutional interpretation, and the nature of rights. We will examine the main theoretical proposals on these topics, and we will practice applying them to particular cases. (Ethics, Society, and Culture minor; Philosophy and Law minor)
PHL 376/376H: Environmental Philosophy
MW 2:50pm – 4:40pm – Dr. Clayton Alsup
This course will consider a range of philosophical questions that arise when thinking about and engaging with the environment. To begin with, we will consider what is meant by ‘the environment’. Is an urban environment ‘the environment’? If not, why not? Is there a distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ environments? Why should human cities be understood as any less natural than termite nests or beaver dams? We will then go on to consider the historical development of philosophical conceptions of nature. As the class continues, we will shift our focus to ethical questions and the various possible responses to environmental degradation. Readings will include important early works of conservationism, more contemporary concerns about the applicability of conservationism as a global approach, and arguments for and against direct action in defense of the environment.
PHL 410S/510S: A History of Skepticism
MWF 11:40am – 12:55pm – Dr. Michael Hicks
In contemporary epistemology the “skeptic” is a (mostly fictional) character who thinks that for all I know I might be in some skeptical scenario: I might be a brain in a vat (or in the matrix), or the people around me might be robots, or God might have created the world as is, with all “memories” intact, just ten minutes ago. A major concern of contemporary epistemologists is to rebut the skeptic, to show that she is wrong. This skeptic is a kind of bogeyman in contemporary thought, and it is very rare to see skepticism as a live option. It is ironic, then, that skepticism has its roots in an historical movement, Pyrrhonism (traced to a contemporary of Aristotle, Pyrhho of Elis), that offered skepticism as a way of life. Early modern authors like Montaigne revitalized the tradition with this same practical goal. In tracing this history, I mean to ask whether they are right: is skepticism “liveable”? We’ll conclude by considering some contemporary philosophers like Stanley Cavell who see a significant cost in refusing to conceive of skepticism as a live option.
PHL 420E/520E: Foucault
R 2:50pm – 6:25pm – Dr. Emily Zakin
How does power work? What are the conditions for knowledge? In what ways is subjectivity a practice of freedom? How does surveillance organize our relation to institutions, others, and ourselves? How are forms of ‘normality’ and ‘abnormality’ produced by social and scientific institutions and practices? This course will address these questions by studying 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 subjectivity, freedom, and care of the self. We will be reading writings (and selections from lectures, courses, and interviews) that represent all 3 of these methodological and theoretical approaches. A major point of reference for us will be the transition (from genealogy to ethics) that marks the move from the first to the second volume of the History of Sexuality. Significant themes will include the relations between truth, power, and freedom; the connection (and distinction) between Enlightenment and critique; forms of governmentality; technologies of the self; and Foucault’s development of the Greek ideas of ascesis and parrhesia.
PHL 430E/530E: Medieval Philosophy
MW 2:50pm – 4:40pm – Dr. Pascal Massie
After a brief introduction designed to acquaint you with the historical conditions that presided to the transmission of Greek philosophy to the Latin West (via Muslim and Jewish sources) we will proceed in a thematic (rather than chronological) order along four units.
The emphasis of this class is on issues of metaphysics that have been central to Medieval thinkers, such as: how can we understand ‘coming into being’ (genesis) as ‘creation out of nothing’? How does a ‘philosophical theology’ relate to ‘revelation’ and ‘faith’? How can we articulate time and eternity? What difference is there between ‘will’ and ‘nature’?
We will focus on three philosophical traditions: Muslim, Jewish, and Christian.
PHL 440B/540B: Self and Action (Early Modern)
T 2:50pm – 6:25pm – Dr. Keith Fennen
This course is a conceptual and historical study of self and action in early modern philosophy. We will read works by Montaigne, Descartes (focus on Passions of the Soul), and Pascal, likely along with selections from a few other thinkers. We will examine the nature of the self, and action, how physiological, social, and emotional forces determine thought and action, the degree to which such forces can be known and overcome, and freedom. (Ethics, Society, and Culture minor)
To view courses offered during previous Miami academic terms, visit the Course Bulletin.