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Spring 2020

PHIL 100: Problems of Philosophy

Megan Hungerman

Problems of Philosophy is designed to introduce students to basic philosophical questions, with which people and philosophers have struggled for thousands of years. We will examine several philosophical problems. In our discussion of these areas we will do multiple readings for each topic. These readings are designed to give students both different ways of approaching the central question(s), and possible solutions or ways of examining the issue. Authors will span a wide range of history and backgrounds. The point is not to solve any of these problems, but instead to introduce them, learn what is at stake with each, and to talk about possible solutions. Students must decide for themselves which approaches they think best answer the questions at hand.

PHIL 130: Current Moral Problems

Daniel Miller

We make decisions of moral importance every day. Since we are moral agents, these decisions present a challenge: what is the morally right thing to do? What is the morally right position to adopt? This course examines a number of relevant contemporary moral issues from a philosophical perspective, including: Do animals have rights (and if so, is eating meat morally wrong)? Is there a moral difference between active and passive euthanasia? Is abortion ever morally permissible (if so, under what conditions)? Are laws against recreational drugs unjust? What obligations, if any, do we have to the global poor? Is health care a moral right? Along the way, we will touch upon various ethical theories to see what they imply about the issues we discuss.

David Hoinski

This course aims to highlight and criticize the dark side of the characteristically modern, “western” attitude of domination, focusing on some of the most characteristic and harmful effects of this attitude. We will attend in particular to how this attitude results in the abuse of land, farmers, nonhuman animals, and women, as well as the earth and its atmosphere. We will read and study books by Wendell Berry, Kate Manne, Carol J. Adams, and Bruno Latour in order to highlight problems of domination. Our primary goal will be to explore how philosophical ethics can counter and provide an alternative to the attitude of domination and the myriad abuses that flow from it. We will conclude the course by considering the presently unfolding crisis of climate change and the possibility of responding to this crisis with a new politics of the earth, which is a different way of life.

Gary Ciocco

The course is an introduction to ethics via its perennial and current issues, theories and dilemmas.  We will begin with a brief foundation in ethical theories, then move on to a multitude of current ethical issues. The following issues are just some of those we will be covering:  the death penalty, abortion, drugs, and human cloning.


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, David Lynch, 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. 


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

This course will exam the history of ancient philosophy, beginning with the pre-Socratics, covering Plato and Aristotle, and ending with an examination of the Hellenists and Roman philosophers. Students should learn about the basic philosophical movements within the ancient period, as well as become familiar with some of the key philosophers. While the course cannot hope to cover every development, or major work, within ancient philosophy, we will do our best to cover as much as we can. Ancient philosophy creates the base for all subsequent philosophy and philosophical thought within the Western world. By learning about this period within philosophy, students will also expand their knowledge of the history of philosophy in general.


PHIL 248: History of Modern Philosophy

David Hoinski

One of the primary distinguishing features of modern (“western”) philosophy is its emphasis on consciousness as the ground of human experience and knowledge. Although early modern philosophers like Descartes and the British empiricists anticipate and to some extent initiate the modern turn to consciousness, it is arguably the so-called Critical Philosophy of Kant that brings consciousness to the forefront of philosophical concern. This course will focus on the philosophy of consciousness as it emerges in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and as it is developed by Hegel in his Phenomenology of Spirit. In so doing, we will explore a number of topics including the relation of consciousness to time and history; the nature of personal identity; the difference between consciousness and self-consciousness; and the essence of knowledge in light of the distinction between subjectivity and objectivity that consciousness seems to involve. We will also focus on the social, intersubjective dimension of consciousness and self-consciousness as this comes to light in Hegel’s account of the (historical) development of consciousness from the early stages of sense-certainty and perception, to the master-slave dialectic, and all the way up to intersubjective recognition, true community, and absolute knowledge. 


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 301: Metaphysics

Geoff Georgi

This course is an introduction to contemporary analytic metaphysics. Metaphysics deals with some of the oldest and most basic questions in philosophy: what kinds of things exist? What is the status of the categories we use to sort things that exist? What is the nature of time and space? What is change? What is it for one thing to cause another? What is it for something to exist necessarily, while other things exist only contingently? Analytic metaphysics approaches these classic questions using the tools of rigorous argument, analysis, and intuition.


PHIL 308: Philosophy of Religion

Sharon Ryan

This course is a fascinating investigation into some perplexing questions and puzzles in the philosophy of religion. In Spring 2020, our focus will be on theistic religions and the following questions:  Could we ever really know whether God exists?  What is faith?  Can faith be epistemically rational? What would make a being worthy of worship? Does the attitude of worship leave room for the kind of personal autonomy that is required for moral responsibility? Does being rational require that we lower our confidence in our religious beliefs when we discover that an intellectual peer disagrees with us? What is the point of petitionary prayer if God is all-knowing, all-loving, and able to do anything? How could your petition make any difference to such a being? If forgiveness involves letting go of resentment, is it even possible for a morally perfect being to forgive?  If God knows everything, including knowing exactly what will happen in the future, is it possible for human beings to have free will?  Is it possible for a person to be fully human and fully divine?  Are our concepts of heaven and hell viable?  Would immortality be a good thing?  Can religious life have meaning if there is no life after death? Is the existence of evil compatible with the existence of God?

Alyssa Beall

Examines questions of belief in God's existence, life after death, the problem of evil, determinism and divine foreknowledge, or other topics bearing upon the nature of a religious orientation to life.


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 323: Social and Political Philosophy

Scott Davidson

This course will investigate one of the central questions of philosophy: How should we, as human beings, live together?  That is to say, given that social and political institutions both shape us and are shaped by us, what institutions should we adopt so that we might best fulfill our natures as individual and social beings? One influential answer to this question is provided by political liberalism, which can be summed up by two basic ideas: 1) that individuals are endowed with a set of basic human rights and freedoms; 2) that the role of government is to protect those rights and freedoms. A key feature of liberalism is the notion of neutrality, or the view that government ought to refrain from promoting any particular set of opinions or lifestyle. This course will examine the historical precursors to political liberalism and then test its basic intuitions through a critical reflection on the question of whether political liberalism provides an adequate way of living together with others in an increasingly multicultural and global world. 


PHIL 325: Philosophy of Law

Scott Davidson

This course will consider the question not “what is law?” but “what should the law be?” and “what is the purpose of law?” In pursuit of these questions, we will examine some influential doctrines of constitutional interpretation and survey contemporary debates within specific areas of law, such as contract law, criminal law, and tort law. In each case, we will consider the extent to which various legal doctrines are philosophically and morally defensible. As we will see, the law is often forced to make decisions that have the effect of picking sides with regard to fundamental questions of freedom, moral responsibility, autonomy, and a host of other issues.


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?


PHIL 360: Truth, Proof, and Possibility

Geoff Georgi

The development of mathematical logic in the first half of the twentieth century, and of modal logic in the middle of the century, led to revolutions in mathematics, linguistics, philosophy, and computer science. This course covers some of the basic concepts, proofs, and tools in mathematical and modal logic, with a focus on how they led to profound changes in the role of logic in philosophy. We will discuss several different advanced topics in logic, but no one topic will provide the main focus for the semester. Thus this is not strictly a course in mathematical logic, though we cover some fundamental topics of mathematical logic in the first half of the course (in particular, the metatheory for propositional logic). Nor is it strictly a course in philosophical logic or the philosophy of logic, though we will discuss some basic philosophical issues in logic in the second half of the course (including the liar paradox, intuitionistic logic, and the necessity of identity). Rather, the goal of the course is to convey to students the richness and diversity of contemporary work in logic, by introducing some of the different ways in which logic is used and studied by both philosophers and logicians.


PHIL 393B: Great Philosophers (Spinoza)

David Hoinski

Since his death in 1677 and the posthumous publication of his magnum opus Ethics, Benedictus de Spinoza (1632-1677) has increasingly gained recognition as one of the most important philosophers of the modern era. Spinoza’s Ethics presents a complete account of reality with special emphasis on humanity’s place within the order of nature. Starting from traditional metaphysical concerns about the nature of beings, Spinoza proceeds in this work to discuss issues in the philosophy of mind (including a novel and important take on the mind-body problem) and human psychology (including an extensive discussion of the passions), before concluding with a discussion of the greatest good for human beings and how this is to be achieved. Spinoza seeks to show that everything is governed by “the common power of nature,” and his philosophy thus confronts us with a thoroughgoing naturalism that eschews transcendence, i.e., the idea that god and/or human beings transcend the natural order. In this course we will engage in a careful study of Spinoza’s Ethics, supplemented by study of some of Spinoza’s letters as well as his early (unfinished) work, Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect. We will also take into account some of the vast scholarly and philosophical literature on Spinoza. Although our approach will be critical, our overarching goal will be to gain the capacity to view and think about reality as Spinoza does.


PHIL 480: Capstone Seminar (Human Finitude)

David Cerbone

Human beings are undeniably finite beings in many respects.  We are all limited to varying degrees in terms of both our bodily and mental capacities.  Each of us has only finite physical abilities:  I can only lift so much, walk for so long, and so on, and even though the range of these abilities may be expanded through discipline and training, they remain nonetheless finite.  Moreover, each of us enjoys only finite perceptual and cognitive capacities, which again may be expanded to varying degrees while remaining finite all the same.  Most notably, and most distressingly, each of us is alive for only a finite period of time:  there was a time when each of us came to be (and so a time prior to our existence) and, sadly, there will be a time, inevitable though indefinite, when each of us will cease to be (at least as far as being around here is concerned). 

In this seminar, we will explore the theme of human finitude primarily through this last and most distressing aspect of it:  our mortality.  How are we to think about the fact of our own mortality?  Is death something to fear?  What role does death play in contemplating the question of life’s meaning?  Does the fact that I will die in some way deprive my life of meaning?  In what ways does the continued existence of others after my death affect the meaning of my life?  Would living forever make my life more or less meaningful?  And is living forever an idea that really makes sense?  This last question more than the others encourages us to consider the status of our finitude:  is it merely a contingent feature of our existence or is it rather in some way essential or constitutive of being the kind of beings we are?  We will consider these questions through a variety of readings from classical sources such as Epicurus and Lucretius, the continental tradition (Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, and Camus), recent and contemporary work in Anglo-American (or analytic) philosophy (Bernard Williams, Thomas Nagel, John Fischer, Samuel Scheffler), as well as more “hybrid” approaches (Todd May, Martin Hägglund).