Courses

FYS 258 Law and Justice

What is the nature of law and what is the relationship between law and justice? What is the nature of judicial reasoning and how is it related to moral reasoning? What are the functions and limits of a legal system? This seminar approaches these questions on philosophical, constitutional, and practical levels. Substantive questions include the justification of incarceration and the death penalty, racial and economic justice,property rights, liberty and privacy rights, and freedom of speech and expression.

FYS 362 Biomedical Ethics

The rapid changes in the biological sciences and medical technology have thoroughly transformed the practice of medicine. The added complexity and power of medicine has in turn revolutionized the responsibilities and duties that accompany the medical professions. This course explores the values and norms governing medical practice from multiple perspectives, including Asian and Islamic approaches. Topics include the rights and responsibilities of health care providers and patients; the justification for euthanasia; and the problems of access, allocation, and rationing of health care services.

FYS 429 Thinking and Feeling

Doing philosophy involves putting your beliefs up to rational scrutiny and examining your reasons for holding them. But our mental lives involve not just thinking and reasoning, but also feelings. These feelings can influence how we think, sometimes without us realizing that they do. In this course students ask what good reasoning is, examine when and how feelings impact our reasoning, and what we ought to think about this influence.

FYS 479 Ethics and Environmental Issues

A study of issues in environmental ethics, including questions about whether nonhuman organisms have value, what sort of moral concern is owed to the natural world, whether and why it’s a bad thing when species go extinct, and whether it’s acceptable to subject the environment to capitalist market norms. The course explores debates currently taking place among environmental thinkers regarding our moral obligations to other persons, to other animals, to ecosystems, to species, and to the Earth itself.

FYS 503 Making Moral Minds: Nature, Nurture, and the Sources of Morality

This course examines the origins and mechanisms of moral judgment and decision making. How much is our moral cognition shaped by culture as opposed to evolved nature? How much is it shared with nonhuman animals? What motivates us and drives our evaluations? What weaknesses, limitations, and biases might we face? In addressing these questions, students read classic philosophical texts, recent philosophical publications, research in psychology, and popular science writing. Along the way, they attempt to glean practical lessons for how we think about ourselves, our decisions, and our moral community.

FYS 539 Film, Food, and Games: Philosophy of Art

Humans seek out aesthetic experiences; these experiences can be beautiful, engaging, appetizing, or moving. Indeed, such experiences are so important to us that we are willing to invest a lot of time and money into them. But why? What’s the point of any of this? This course takes up these questions by thinking about the aesthetic significance of film, food, and games. Students engage with what philosophers have written on these subjects while viewing particular films, making food, and playing games.

PHIL 150 Philosophies to Live By

This course is dedicated to the proposition that philosophy can make life better. It can provide wisdom to guide choices and clarify values. It can offer new perspectives and new worldviews. And it can provide the insight necessary for self-knowledge and growth. In this course, students read works by philosophers, both ancient and contemporary, concerned with the question of how to live meaningful lives. The goal is to find ways to apply those philosophies anew so that our own lives are enriched.

PHIL 195 Introduction to Logic

PHIL 210 Philosophy of Cognitive Science

Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary study of the mind, including psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, computer science, and philosophy as its core. This course examines the conceptual foundations of cognitive science, and different approaches to integrating findings and perspectives from across disciplines into a coherent understanding of the mind. Students also consider issues in the philosophy of science, the nature of mind, self, agency, and implicit bias. Prerequisite(s): one course in philosophy, psychology, or neuroscience.

PHIL 211 Philosophy of Science

Science has become our model for what counts as knowledge. This course examines that model and discusses how far its claims are justified in light of the nature and history of science. Topics include scientific explanation, scientific reasoning, the role of values in science, social construction and objectivity, scientific progress, similarities and differences among scientific fields, and science’s relations to society and to other views of the world. Readings include traditional and contemporary work in the philosophy of science.

PHIL 213 Biomedical Ethics

Rapid changes in the biological sciences and medical technology have thoroughly transformed the practice of medicine. The added complexity and power of medicine has, in turn, revolutionized the responsibilities and duties that accompany the medical professions. This course explores the values and norms governing medical practice; the rights and responsibilities of health care providers and patients; the ethics of organ transplants and the determination of death; the justification for euthanasia; and problems of access, allocation, and rationing of health care services. In addition to Western bioethics, this course typically includes Confucian, Buddhist, and Islamic approaches to bioethics. Not open to students who have received credit for FYS 362 or PHIL s26.

PHIL 233 Making Moral Minds: Nature, Nurture, and the Sources of Morality

This course examines the origins and mechanisms of moral judgment and decision making. How much is our moral cognition shaped by culture as opposed to evolved nature? How much is it shared with nonhuman animals? What motivates us and drives our evaluations? What weaknesses, limitations, and biases might we face? In addressing these questions, students read from classic philosophical texts, recent philosophical publications, research in psychology, and popular science writing. Along the way, they attempt to glean practical lessons for how we think about ourselves, our decisions, and our moral community.

PHIL 235 Philosophy of Mind

Our minds are simultaneously the most intimately familiar things imaginable and the most mysterious. We live every minute in and with our minds, and we only experience the world through them (perhaps, we even are our minds), and yet we may not know them as well as we think. Despite recent progress in the sciences of the mind, it even remains difficult to place the mind in the physical universe. In light of these puzzles, this course asks: How should we relate to our minds and their operations? How do our thoughts and experiences connect to the external world? How could a conscious, first-person perspective arise in a physical universe?

PHIL 236 Theory of Knowledge

PHIL 245 Metaphysics

This course introduces students to some of the central issues in metaphysics. Questions considered may include: Which kinds of things exist? What is one saying when one says that something “exists”? What does it mean to say that something causes something else? What is one saying when one says that something might possibly be other than it is? What does it mean to say that something is the same identical thing at one time that it is at another?

PHIL 255 Human Nature, Politics, and Morals

What is the essence of human nature? How does human nature inform our understanding of the difference between right and wrong? Which political institutions are appropriate for creatures like us? This course considers answers to these questions offered by philosophers throughout history as well as contemporary attempts to address these questions from a post-Darwinian perspective.

PHIL 256 Moral Philosophy

An introduction to moral theory and moral principles, including egoism, utilitarianism, Kantian deontology, and virtue theory. The course considers whether morality is a matter of custom, convention, or individual preference, and asks how we can determine what is morally right and what is morally wrong. Topics include the relationship between morality and religion, the ethics of patriotism and cosmopolitanism, the nature of justice, race and justice, Confucian conceptions of self-cultivation, Buddhist virtue ethics, and finding meaning in life.

PHIL 257 Moral Luck and Social Identity

Our lives are deeply subject to luck. This course provides an introduction to philosophical analysis and the moral philosophies of Aristotle and Kant. The course also considers social luck: luck in one’s identity and how that identity is regarded by one’s culture. The course focuses on racism, with particular attention to the Holocaust in Nazi Germany and slavery in the United States. Students examine ongoing white supremacy in the United States and consider racism as a kind of social and moral luck. Topics also may include moral responsibility for implicit bias, the nature of evil, and responsibility and reparations for slavery.

PHIL 258 Philosophy of Law

What is law? What are the relationships among law, justice, and morality? What is the nature of judicial reasoning? Particular legal issues include the nature and status of liberty rights, the legitimacy of restrictions on speech and expression, and the justification of incarceration and the death penalty. Readings include contemporary legal theory, case studies, and court decisions.

PHIL 260 Philosophy of Religion

A consideration of major issues that arise in philosophical reflection upon religion. Particular issues are selected from among such topics as the nature of faith, the possibility of justifying religious beliefs, the nature and validity of religious experience, the relation of religion and science, and the problem of evil.

PHIL 262 Feminist Philosophy

What is gender? What is race? What is oppression? What does it mean to experience discrimination or oppression? Feminist philosophy uses philosophical methods to think carefully about gender, the way gender intersects with other identities, the lives of historically marginalized voices, and the concepts employed in feminist political movements and similar social movements such as those centered around race, class, sexual identity and orientation, and disability. Additional areas of study may include science and society; gender and science; sex and sexuality; reproduction; family; gender in popular culture; and the body and appearance.

PHIL 268 Capitalism and Its Critics

Some consider a capitalist economy an environment ideally conducive to human flourishing, while others consider it a significant threat. Debates over the merits of capitalism have raged among philosophers for generations. This course considers some of capitalism’s most able defenders, as well as some of its most incisive critics. The course also examines some hybrid views, which attempt to harness capitalism’s capacity for good, while mitigating its ability to harm.

PHIL 271 Ancient Philosophy

What’s the best way to live? For pleasure or for virtue? For oneself or for others? By the conventions of one’s time or by some timeless truths? The fascination the ancient Greeks had with these questions was inextricably linked with others: What is the nature of the universe in which we live? What is the status of our knowledge of this universe? How can we understand the processes of change we see everywhere, including in ourselves? And what is the nature of philosophy itself? The course begins with the person who most famously asked these questions, Socrates, and on the writings in which he is most vividly portrayed, the dialogues of his student Plato. Students continue to pursue these questions through the writings of Aristotle as well as the famous schools of ancient philosophy, the Stoics, the Epicureans, and the Skeptics. No prior familiarity with philosophy is assumed; this is a perfect place to begin one’s study of philosophy.

PHIL 272 Philosophy in the Modern Era (1600-1800)

In this course students discuss problems surrounding knowledge, mind, reality, and reason as they developed from the birth of modern philosophy until their culmination in Kant. The course considers thinkers such as René Descartes, Princess Elisabeth, Margaret Cavendish, John Locke, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant. It also takes up non-Western thinkers from the period who are interested in related issues.

PHIL 273 Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century

The course follows the development of modern thought from Kant, through the rise and breakup of Hegelianism, to the culmination of nineteenth-century thought in Nietzsche. The impact of science, the relation of the individual and society, and the role of reflection in experience are examined in readings drawn from among Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Feuerbach, Marx, Mill, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard. Recommended background: two courses in philosophy or PHIL 272.

PHIL 310 Buddhist Philosophy

This course explores Buddhist philosophy with a special emphasis on moral and political philosophy. Philosophical topics include the Four Noble Truths, the doctrine of impermanence and codependent arising, the doctrine of no-self, and the concept of emptiness. The relationships among Buddhist philosophy, insight meditation, and moral virtue are a primary focus of the course. Prerequisite(s): two courses in philosophy.

PHIL 314 The Environment and What We Owe to Each Other

As we use and deplete natural resources and alter the global environment, the consequences do not respect national borders, the boundaries among generations, or species distinctions. This course takes up questions about the nature and scope of justice as it pertains to the environment. Specifically, it considers what we owe to our fellow citizens, to the global community, to future generations, and to nonhuman animals, as we change the environment. Prerequisite(s): ES/PL 214; or two courses in philosophy; or one course in philosophy and one course in environmental studies.

PHIL 321 Seminar: Topics in the Contemporary Philosophy of Mind and Language

PHIL 321J Self-Knowledge

We seem to know our own minds — our beliefs, desires, intentions, feelings, and sensations — in a distinctive and particularly secure way. But although introspective self-knowledge is so familiar, it is difficult to account for. This course examines a range of philosophical problems associated with self-knowledge: What (if any) are the differences between self-knowledge and other knowledge, such as knowledge of other people’s minds? Can plausible accounts of the process of introspection be reconciled with plausible accounts of the objects of self-knowledge (i.e., mental states and their contents)? Do we even have knowledge of our own minds? Prerequisite(s): one 200- or 300-level course in philosophy.

PHIL 321K Philosophy of Animal Minds

Nonhuman animals seem like us in many ways, and unlike us in many others. Sometimes they are studied as models of human minds; other times, they are studied to discover what (if anything) makes human minds unique. Beyond these questions, the cognitive abilities of animals like great apes, corvids, and octopuses are fascinating in their own right, and the task of understanding other minds presents a deep and complex challenge to science. Students discuss these issues from an interdisciplinary perspective including philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology. Prerequisite(s): two courses in philosophy, or one course in philosophy and one course in neuroscience or psychology.

PHIL 321L Topics in Contemporary Mind and Language: Language and Power

Language helps us communicate and create important connections with others. Yet it can be used to disparage, marginalize, or subordinate people. With the help of classic ideas from the philosophy of language, students analyze a number of contemporary issues around power and the effects of social discourse. Topics may include: free speech; the impact of hate speech, pornography, slurs, and other harmful speech; generalizations (so-called generics); propaganda and ideology; the representation of gender, race, and other social categories in language; the relationship between our social position and the effect of our speech; and resistance to harmful speech. Prerequisite(s): two courses in philosophy.

PHIL 322 Seminar: Topics in Contemporary European Philosophy

PHIL 323 Seminar: Topics in Metaphysics and Epistemology

This course focuses on advanced issues in the theory of knowledge and in the theory of ultimate reality.

PHIL 323C The Metaphysics of Action

Some of the most exciting work in contemporary metaphysics seeks to better understand the nature of action. The work is compelling not only because it is fascinating in its own right, but also because it has deep implications for the philosophy of mind, ethics, philosophy of law, and epistemology. This course takes up questions such as: When agents act, what is the relationship between their bodily movements and what goes on in their minds? What does it mean to act intentionally? How do agents know what they’re doing? Can multiple persons form a collective agent to which actions may be attributed? Prerequisite(s): two philosophy courses.

PHIL 323D Feminist Epistemology

In this course, students read feminist accounts and critiques of how we know what we know as well as how and what we value, and why. Students consider questions such as: Is rationality gendered? Are conceptions of philosophy “masculine”? What role do “subjects” play in knowledge production? What epistemic role does ignorance play in knowing and unknowing? What role does epistemic responsibility play in being justified? What is epistemic injustice and how can such injustice be addressed? Prerequisite(s): two courses in philosophy; or two courses in gender and sexuality studies; or one course in philosophy and one course in gender and sexuality studies. Recommended background: PHIL 236 and GS/PL 262.

PHIL 323E Philosophy of Evolution

Evolutionary theory raises many deep and complicated philosophical issues as well as questions about how science operates: Are concepts like function, selection, and optimality scientifically legitimate? How do we make inferences about the unobserved past? Can thinking about the evolutionary past help us understand how biological processes, such as the mind, work today? It also raises questions about who we are and where we come from: How do we relate to other species? Can we better understand our moral and intellectual strengths and weaknesses by looking to evolution? In this course, students approach these questions from an interdisciplinary perspective, including philosophy, biology, and the cognitive sciences. Prerequisite(s): one of the following: PHIL 211; two courses in philosophy; or one course in philosophy and one course in biology.

PHIL 324 Seminar: Topics in Ethics

This course focuses on important issues in ethics and political theory.

PHIL 324E Virtue and Emotions

Virtue ethics emerged as an important kind of moral theory during the last half of the twentieth century. There are many virtue theories, but they share a focus on the morality of character rather than the morality of individual actions. Many seek an answer to the question, “How shall I live?” rather than, “What should I do?” This course explores both the historical roots of virtue theory found in Aristotle and, according to some scholars, Kant. It also examines several contemporary theories of virtue as well as critics of this approach to moral theory. Prerequisite(s): two courses in philosophy.

PHIL 324F I and Thou: Recognition and Second-Personal Morality

Morality requires that we treat persons not simply as objects to be planned around or manipulated, but as beings with a special status that we ought to recognize or acknowledge. It is this status to which we gesture when we talk about owing a duty to someone. Philosophers have long sought to understand the relationship that holds between persons who recognize one another’s status as morally significant beings. Participants in this seminar seek to understand this as well. Readings include both historical philosophical texts and contemporary works. Prerequisite(s): one course in philosophy.

PHIL 325 Seminar: Topics in Metaethics

These courses consider a broad range of issues, both historical and contemporary, in metaethics and moral epistemology.

PHIL 325C Moral Realism and Irrealism

This course examines contemporary views on the meaning of moral language, the possibility of moral knowledge, the possibility of moral facts, the nature of moral arguments, the relationship among morality, emotion, and reason. Some background in moral or political philosophy is recommended. Prerequisite(s): Two courses in philosophy..

PHIL 332 Moral Psychology

Facts about how people actually do choose and judge actions seem to matter for how we understand morality. But any attempts to trace these connections face the famous gap between “is” and “ought,” claims about how the world is versus how it ought to be. The last two decades have seen an explosion in work at the intersection of philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience attempting to make these connections explicit. In this course, students attempt to bridge the is-ought gap to better understand our selves, our well-being, our duties, our valves, and our biases and limitations. Prerequisite(s): two courses in philosophy, or one course in philosophy and one course in neuroscience or psychology.

PHIL 350 Seminar on Major Thinkers

The course examines in depth the writings of a major philosopher. Thinkers who may be discussed include Anscombe, Aristotle, Beauvoir, Butler, Descartes, Foot, Hume, Kant, Kierkegaard, Marx, Merleau-Ponty, Mill, Nagarjuna, Nietzsche, Nussbaum, Plato, Rawls, Rousseau, Santideva, Sartre, Spinoza, Vasubandhu, Tu Weiming, and Wittgenstein.

PHIL 360 Independent Study

PHIL 365 Special Topics

PHIL 365D Reparations and Responsibility

Colonialism, the genocide of native and Indigenous peoples, and the enslavement of Africans and African Americans, are foundational wrongs in the United States. It is essential to ask whether the United States-as a society, as a government, or as individuals-must pay reparations to Black and brown people and to Indigenous people for these wrongs. This course examines what it means to make reparations, whether and under what circumstances humans in the present can repair wrongs done by others, and done in the past. The course considers the difference between paying reparations for past wrongs and ending ongoing injustices. Finally, the course asks what the goal of reparations is, whether it is morally required to pay them, and morally justified to demand them. Prerequisite(s): two courses in philosophy.

PHIL 457 Senior Thesis

Students register for PHIL 457 in the fall semester. Majors writing an honors thesis register for both PHIL 457 and 458.

PHIL 458 Senior Thesis

Students register for PHIL 458 in the winter semester. Majors writing an honors thesis register for both PHIL 457 and 458.

PHIL S17 The Ethics of Care

PHIL S20 Film as Philosophy

Some philosophers have argued that movies may be approached as works of philosophy, asking philosophical questions that they themselves go on to answer. In this course, students watch films from a number of genres (westerns, science fiction, thrillers, comedies of remarriage, etc.) and then attempt to discern their philosophical contributions to questions about knowledge, politics, love, embodied agency, race, and feminism.

PHIL S23 Reparations

Colonialism, the genocide of native and Indigenous peoples, and the enslavement of Africans and African Americans, are foundational wrongs in the United States. It is essential to ask whether the United Statesas a society, as a government, or as individualsmust pay reparations to Black and brown people and to Indigenous people for these wrongs. This course examines what it means to make reparations, whether and under what circumstances humans in the present can repair wrongs done by others, and done in the past. The course considers the difference between paying reparations for past wrongs and ending ongoing injustices. Finally, the course asks what the goal of reparations is, whether it is morally required to pay them, and morally justified to demand them.

PHIL S28 Homelessness

Homelessness raises special questions for social and political philosophy, for to be homeless is not simply to lack an important resource, but to live in a particular condition and social status. This course takes up questions such as: Is a home necessary for human dignity? Are laws regulating where the homeless can dwell unjust? How does homelessness affect a person’s ability to be a full member of their community? Is housing a human right, and should it be subject to market norms? Philosophical readings are supplemented with first-person narratives, policy proposals, journalistic reporting, and legal scholarship.

PHIL S29 Logic: Possibility, Proofs, and Paradox

Building on PHIL 195 (Introduction to Logic), students consider the relationship between logic and reasoning, learn about modal logic (the logic of possibility and necessity), Turing machines, and alternative logics, prove some surprising metalogical results, and puzzle through some logical paradoxes. Prerequisite(s): PHIL 195.

PHIL S32 Teaching Philosophy: Course Design and Classroom Instruction

The line between practicing philosophy and teaching it has always been a blurry one, enough so that being a philosopher is often thought to involve being a teacher. In this course, students assume the role of philosophy instructor. The course covers works by a number of contemporary authors writing on course design and innovative teaching methodology, and students design a week-long introductory philosophy mini-course targeted at high school students. Prerequisite(s): three philosophy courses.

PHIL S34 What is Philosophy?

What is philosophy? Philosophy departments typically offer a reply to this question. Do these characterizations of the nature of philosophy capture the diversity of philosophical methods and questions? This seminar explores this question by considering common criticisms of philosophy, non-Western philosophy, and empirically informed approaches to the study of philosophy. The course is designed for philosophy majors and minors to study the diversity and unity of the philosophical enterprise. Prerequisite(s): Four courses in philosophy.

PHIL S50 Independent Study