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Fall 2020

PHIL 100: Problems of Philosophy

Devin Curry

In this course, we will take a whirlwind tour of philosophical inquiry. We'll begin by acquiring some of the basic tools of logical thinking, and sharpening those tools by debating ethical vegetarianism and identifying good and bad arguments in a 2020 US presidential debate. We'll then bring our critical tools to bear on the work of two of the greatest philosophers of the Western tradition: Plato and René Descartes. Finally, we'll read and discuss recent essays on consciousness, science and religion, and the meaning of life, amongst other topics. By the end of the course, we will have studied many (though not nearly all) of the big questions that make up the subject matter of philosophy. We may not walk away with satisfactory answers to all of these questions, but we will develop a deeper understanding of both the questions themselves and various possible ways of answering them. By immersing ourselves in Plato's 4th century BCE dialogues, Descartes's 17th century Meditations, and various 20th and 21st century essays, polemics, and analyses, we will also come to appreciate several distinctive ways of doing philosophy.

PHIL 100: Problems of Philosophy (Honors)

Scott Davidson

The TV series “The Good Place” begins with a cast of characters who find themselves wrongly assigned to a place in heaven that they have not deserved. In that context, they become concerned with the question of how to become a good person and turn to the study of philosophy. But we don’t need to wait that long. This course will examine the philosophical ideas brought up in “The Good Place” and explore many of the show’s philosophical references in greater detail. What is the good life? Can we do good in a complex world? Is anyone as bad as their worst deed? And if there really a “good place,” should we be striving to get there? This course will use scenes and themes from the television series as a vehicle of reflection on these questions in the context of our own lives.


PHIL 130: Current Moral Problems

David Hoinski

This course aims to highlight and criticize a misguided sense of entitlement that results in the abuse of other human beings and of nature as a whole. Over the course of the semester, we will focus on some of the most characteristic and harmful effects of this selfish attitude, attending in particular to how it contributes to the abuse of farmland, farmers, women, and humans in general, as well as the earth and its atmosphere. We will read and study books by Wendell Berry, Kate Manne, and Bruno Latour in order to highlight these problems. Our primary goal will be to explore how philosophical ethics can counter, and provide an alternative to, the misguided sense of entitlement that has characterized much of modern human history. We will conclude the course by considering the presently unfolding climate change crisis and the possibility of responding to this emergency with both a new politics of the earth and a different way of humanliving.


PHIL 147: Philosophy and Film

David Cerbone

This course provides an introduction to philosophical questions and problems using the medium of film. We will be viewing a variety of films over the course of the semester to consider how they frame, develop, and enact philosophical ideas pertaining to the nature of reality and our experience of it, the nature of the self and the self’s relation to others, the character of contemporary society and technology, and the meaning and value of life (and death). Films include work by the Wachowski brothers, Ridley Scott, Spike Jonze, Ingmar Bergman, Lars von Trier, and Akira Kurosawa. Readings are drawn from throughout the Western philosophical tradition and include selections from Plato, Descartes, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein.           

PHIL 170: Introduction to Critical Reasoning

Andy Pintus

Want to win arguments? Want to be convincing and formulate powerful and creative ideas? Critical Reasoning provides the tools and concepts for students to build their reasoning skills. If it is the information age that you live in, then the ability to analyze and evaluate information is essential to successful living. This course is designed to introduce students to the art and science of reasoning.  You will learn to recognize arguments, identify different kinds of arguments and evaluate their merits and deficiencies. Developing these skills can enhance your academic career while a student as well as improve your interaction with other reasoning beings. The semester will be comprised of lectures and discussion designed to develop an understanding of different “patterns of reasoning.” Exercises will be assigned that will help students learn to evaluate those “patterns” in terms of their strengths and weaknesses. The goal of the course is to provide students with a systematic approach for evaluating arguments, the evidence they assert, and the conclusions drawn from them. The course will examine a range a topics, including the language of arguments, argument structures, logic, inductive and deductive reasoning, causal reasoning, scientific reasoning, as well as common fallacious argument forms. Intro. to Critical Reasoning will fulfill GEC 4 and GEC 6.  Students will be presented with many issues in contemporary society in areas of science, philosophy and religion.  They will be required to apply critical reasoning skills in evaluating some of the most important arguments in these fields of thought.  Students will also be confronted with the influence and importance of the ‘individual in society’. The course will examine many arguments from important thinkers such as Aristotle, Ptolemy, Copernicus, Pascal, Galileo, and Newton, David Hume, Charles Darwin, and J.S. Mill to name a few. 


PHIL 212: Philosophy of Sport

Andy Pintus

Compare and evaluate issues, ideas and arguments on the Nature of Sport, Aesthetic value in Sport, and Ethics in Sport. The course also explores the history and language of sport as it relates to understanding Sport.


PHIL 244: History of Ancient Philosophy

Megan Hungerman

In this course we will cover the philosophy of Ancient Greece from the Presocratics through Plato and conclude with an introduction to Aristotle. Among the topics that will be addressed are: the problem of change, appearance vs. reality, knowledge and human excellence, and the being of natural organisms. We will be reading the original texts and coming to our own conclusions about their significance. In particular, we will focus not only on what the philosophers are saying but also on how well their theories stand up to critical scrutiny.


PHIL 248: History of Modern Philosophy

David Hoinski

One of the primary traditions of modern “western” philosophy is empiricism, which may be broadly characterized as the belief that all of our knowledge about the world derives from experience, and consequently that experience is the ultimate criterion by which to evaluate every human claim to know. But what is experience? To what extent is it identical with sense-perception, and what might it involve beyond sense-perception? How is it possible to build up the whole human intellectual repertoire—including math, logic, the natural sciences, and philosophy—from exclusively empirical foundations? How are general or universal ideas like “being” and “one” possible? And finally, does it make sense to talk about a mind-independent reality, since after all we never have any experience of this? In this installment of PHIL 248, we will explore these and other questions through a careful study of some of the classic empiricist works of modern philosophy: John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding, George Berkeley’s Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, and Thomas Reid’s Essays on the Intellectual Powers. These works set the agenda for an empiricist philosophy that continues to be highly relevant today, in particular to the way many people think about knowledge and science. Although it has been and still is the subject of numerous criticisms, empiricism remains a lively philosophical and scientific option. Hence the goal of this course will be to gain an educated view of empiricism, becoming aware of both its strengths and its limitations as a means of understanding our world.


PHIL 260: Introduction to Symbolic Logic

Geoff Georgi

This course is an introduction to contemporary formal (or symbolic) logic. Historically, the study of logic originated with Aristotle and the Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece. Discoveries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, led to a far more sophisticated understanding of logic. Thanks to these developments, formal logic is now central to many disciplines, including computer science, linguistics, mathematics, and philosophy. More generally, an understanding of the basic concepts of formal logic is indispensable for reasoning critically on any topic.


PHIL 302: Theory of Knowledge

Geoff Georgi

Philosophical inquiry into the nature of knowledge goes back at least as far as Plato. In his classic dialogue Meno, Plato raised several questions that still exercise philosophers, including (i) what distinguishes knowledge from mere true belief or opinion? and (ii) how do we come to have knowledge? But it was Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy that has had the largest influence on epistemology—the contemporary study of knowledge. Descartes asked us to imagine that we are being deceived by an evil demon, so that not only our senses, but reason itself, is unreliable. By raising the possibility of such systematic doubt, Descartes confronts us with the question (iii) is it possible for an individual to know anything? More recently, many philosophers have come to think that Descartes’s focus on individual knowers fails to do justice to the fundamentally social aspects of knowledge. Thus contemporary philosophers also ask (iv) what social practices promote knowledge and understanding? and (v) how does our social standing affect what we can know about ourselves and the world around us? Starting with the Meno, this course will introduce students to contemporary epistemology by focusing on these five basic questions about knowledge.


PHIL 308: Philosophy of Religion

Sharon Ryan

In this course, we will analyze various mind-boggling philosophical questions and problems that arise in the philosophy of religion. The course will be divided into three main sections. We will begin the course with a brief review of the methods of philosophical analysis, focusing on argument analysis and evaluation techniques. After solidifying the methods and terminology for argument analysis, we will begin to articulate some of the possible characteristics of a divine being who is worthy of human worship and consider a puzzle about the vices and virtues of worship. We will analyze arguments about whether it is possible for us to know, or believe rationally, that a divine being who is worthy of worship exists. What is faith? Is faith a route to knowledge? What should we rationally conclude when we notice that equally reasonable people come to opposing views about religious claims? In the second section of the course, we will unravel several puzzles about the nature of the Abrahamic conception of God. We will consider problems about petitionary prayer; divine forgiveness; metaphysical claims about incarnation; questions about omniscience and free will; and the viability of concepts of the afterlife, heaven, and hell. In the final section of the course, we will study carefully the problem of suffering and evil. We will also face the challenge of the mysteriousness and hiddenness of God for theistic religions that emphasize a personal god of love and fellowship.

PHIL 310: Philosophy of Science

Devin Curry

The scientific revolution began with narrowly focused attempts to understand the movements of planetary objects and animal bodies. 400 years later, we know the age and constitution of the universe and the basis of heredity. We can predict short-term weather patterns and long-term climate change, make and break chemical bonds, and identify the neural basis of the human capacity to recognize faces. By all appearances, science seems to have made substantial progress and earned its reputation as humanity’s most reliable means of understanding the world. This course is about how science has generated this understanding, and whether it has been as progressive, reliable, and unified as it seems. By way of examining case studies from across the natural and social sciences, we will study topics including the diverse sources of scientific knowledge, the purported objectivity of scientific theories, the ontological status of laws of nature, tensions between mechanical and teleological conceptions of nature, and the multifarious roles that values play in scientific research.


PHIL 321: Ethical Theory

Daniel Miller

This course involves examination and critique of competing theories of rightness and goodness, including consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics. Central questions include: What makes right acts right? Is the only relevant factor the amount of good an act produces, or are other considerations also relevant? What is it for something to be good or valuable? Can anything be intrinsically good or bad beyond what we subjectively experience? Are genuine moral dilemmas possible? The course also explores metaethical questions: Do we have good reason to be moral even when it’s not in our own self-interest? Do moral judgments make claims that can be true or false? If so, what sorts of evidence could there be for them? Are moral judgments the products of reason or of feeling?


PHIL 325: Philosophy of Law

Scott Davidson

What is law? When philosophers turn their attention to the study of law, they want to know what features are distinctive to law as law. The course thus begins with the study of some of the most influential theories of law, such as natural law, legal positivism, feminist jurisprudence, and so on. Through the lens of those theories, the course will turn to some fundamental questions concerning the application of law: What, if any, connection exists between the rule of law and morality? When, if at all, should law be used to restrict the liberty of individuals? What, if anything, justifies the infliction of punishment on those who violate the law? These questions will be examined through landmark court cases in which the main theories and principles of law are put to the test.

PHIL 331: Health Care Ethics

Daniel Miller

The course provides a framework for the ethical principles and concepts at work in medical decision-making, including the nature of rights, autonomy, justice, benefit, and harm. It explores difficult and controversial issues that arise in healthcare ethics, including autonomy and informed consent, life-sustaining treatment, reproduction, conscientious objection, justice and health care, organ donation, and emerging technologies. Questions include: What does consent involve, and to what extent must a patient be informed about what they consent to? How can we balance competing rights among patients, their families, and health care providers? How should we deal with cases of advance directives where a patient met the standards of competency at one point but later fails to meet those standards? To what degree should we prioritize the life of a fetus? Is healthcare a moral right? Should vaccines be mandatory? We will examine these issues from both a theoretical perspective and through realistic case studies.


PHIL 355: Existentialism

David Cerbone

The term “existentialism” has come to be associated with a broad array of works and ideas in literature, psychology, drama, and film, but its original home is within philosophy. The aim of this course is to provide an introduction to the collection of philosophical views commonly labeled “existentialist.” We will begin by considering two texts, from Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, which articulate in broad brushstrokes a philosophical outlook or attitude often associated with existentialism. Both texts may be understood as responding to the felt absence of meaning or value in the world, what Nietzsche refers to as “the death of God.” We will consider both the points of commonality and divergence between these two views, and use them as a basis for working our way through further and, in many cases, more difficult texts. The second part of the course will be devoted to a careful reading of selections from the four most prominent philosophers associated with the existentialist tradition: Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and, again, Jean-Paul Sartre


PHIL 393A: Aristotle

David Hoinski

Although it may seem especially relevant in 2020 with the upcoming US presidential election, the study of Aristotle’s Politics and Art of Rhetoric concerns a topic of perennial importance to the philosopher, namely, how to organize the political community in order to realize the human good. Aristotle saw that a philosopher has two primary concerns: to seek truth and to promote the best life for human beings. Indeed, for Aristotle practical philosophy aims not only to know the best political order but even more to make this knowledge effective by actually reforming political life in accordance with the truth about human beings. In Aristotle’s famous phrase, a human being is a “political animal” (politikon zōon), and practical philosophy addresses this social character of humanlife through ethics and political science. In contrast to ethics, however, political science (in Aristotle’s sense) focuses on the good of the political community as a whole, and because philosophers are dedicated to the good of the community, they must know how political regimes are made and maintained. The philosopher, in other words, must study to become a statesperson, who possesses the knowledge required to make and govern the political community. For the statesperson, moreover, knowledge of persuasive speech or rhetoric is crucial, especially if Aristotle is correct that many people are not moved by philosophical argument. Philosophers must then not only know the truth but also be able to persuade non-philosophers to act properly for the sake of the whole community. Accordingly, in this course we will conduct a careful study of Aristotle’s Politics and Art of Rhetoric for the sake of making ourselves knowledgeable and effective engineers of the human good or, in a word, statespersons.