Course Descriptions – Fall 2013

Philosophy 101, Introduction to Philosophy: God, Mind, and Mortality (HU)

LEC 402, MW 12:00–12:50, BOL 150
LEC 403, MW 1:00–1:50, BOL 150
Instructor (402/403): Luca Ferrero,
Enrollment in one of the large lectures (LEC 402/403) also requires enrollment in a corresponding discussion section.

A distinctive feature of human existence is our capacity to raise basic questions about the nature and meaning of our lives and our place in the universe. In this course we will examine several such questions: Is there any basis for belief in God? If God is good, why is there so much evil in the world? Can we have genuine knowledge of the reality we live in or could our experiences be like a dream with no external world around it? What is it to have a mind? How is the mind related to the body? Might computers really think? Do we have free will? Can we make sense of survival after death? Should we fear death?

Philosophy 101, Introduction to Philosophy: Selected Topics and Issues (HU)

LEC 001, T 6:00 – 8:40, CRT 309
Instructor (001): TBA

We will look at a representative selection of topics from the history of philosophy and current philosophical debates: ethics, social and political philosophy, the scope and nature of our knowledge of the world, the nature of the self and mind.

Philosophy 111, Informal Logic - Critical Reasoning (HU)

LEC 001, MW 11:00 – 12:15, NWQ G544
LEC 002, MW 2:00 – 3:15, LUB S250
LEC 203, Online Web
Instructor: Matthew Knachel,

There’s an ancient view, still widely held, that what makes human beings special—what distinguishes us from the “beasts of the field”—is that we are rational. What does rationality consist in? That’s a vexed question, but one possible response goes roughly like this: we manifest our rationality by engaging in certain activities, chief among them the activity of making claims and backing them up with reasons—that is, constructing arguments.

This reasoning activity can be done well and it can be done badly—it can be done correctly and incorrectly. Logic is the discipline that aims to distinguish good reasoning from bad.

Since reasoning is central to all fields of study—indeed, since it’s arguably central to being human—the tools developed in logic are universally applicable. Anyone can benefit from studying logic by becoming a more self-aware, skillful reasoner.

It is possible to approach the study of logic more or less formally. A more formal approach abstracts from natural language and develops sophisticated artificial symbol-languages within which it’s possible precisely to identify the logically relevant features of arguments. This approach has many virtues, but it is only one among many, and it focuses on only one kind of argument (deductive). In this class, we explore a diverse collection of methods and principles for evaluating many different kinds of arguments. We take a very brief look at the formal techniques mentioned above, but spend most of our time studying arguments presented in natural language, as they occur in everyday reasoning.

Philosophy 192: First Year Seminar: Happiness, Meaning, and the Good Life (HU)

SEM 001, MW 12:30 - 1:45, CRT 607
Instructor: Stan Husi,

What is happiness? What makes our lives meaningful and go well? Is it possible to investigate such subjects objectively? In the seminar, we are going to look at some recent work in philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and the social sciences to help us better understand these puzzling phenomena. Among the questions we discuss are: which factors leave an enduring impact on our happiness, and which ones do we adjust to so quickly as leaving hardly any trace at all (the so-called hedonic treadmill)? What is pleasure, what explains its fluctuations, and how central a role does it play for overall happiness? Are there universal patterns in what contributes to the meaningfulness of people’s lives? Why do our forecasts about what will make us happy in the future so often turn out poor predictions? What lessons can we draw for how to lead our own lives? The last decade has witnessed a lot of fascinating research answering questions such as these and others, nicely and accessibly presented in recent bestsellers such as Jonathan Haidt’s 'The Happiness Hypothesis', Paul Bloom’s 'How Pleasure Works', and Paul Thagard’s 'The Brain and the Meaning of Life'. Reading through those fun texts together will give us ample material to talk about in the seminar.

Philosophy 204, Introduction to Asian Religions (HU)

Instructor: Michelle Mahlik,

This course will examine the central themes of the philosophical thought of the Asian religious traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism. We will explore the metaphysical dimensions of these traditions with particular attention to the nature of Ultimate Reality, the difference between appearance and reality, the nature of the human self, the morally “good" life, and the role of reason in human religious life. The intent of this course is to acquaint the student with these topics as well as to assist the student in formulating independent opinions and beliefs about these issues. No philosophical background is necessary.

Philosophy 207, Religion and Science (HU)

LEC 001, TR 12:30—1:45, CRT 309
Instructor: Margaret Atherton,

Is it "Science AND Religion" or "Science OR Religion?" The juxtaposition of the two terms, ‘science’, ‘religion’ has often assumed an implacable conflict. But why should these two central areas of human endeavor be taken to be incompatible or to be enemies of one another? What does a closer scrutiny reveal about the relations between the two? Are there further issues that cloud and confuse these debates? What do the terms, ‘science’ and ‘religion’ describe, anyway? Do discussions of the relations between them do justice to the diversity of practices and institutions included under the rubrics of science and religion? In order to examine such questions, we will undertake a series of case studies into some notorious episodes in the history of science and religion, as, the trial of Galileo, the role of religion in the Scientific Revolution, the appearance of Darwin’s The Origin of Species, the Scopes trial, and the recent debates about Intelligent Design. We will also explore the emotive underpinnings of such episodes in works of fiction, as Brecht’s Galileo and the movie, Inherit the Wind.

Philosophy 211, Elementary Logic (HU, QLB)

LEC 001, T 6:00 – 8:40, CRT 124
Instructor: TBA

LEC 403, MW 10:00 – 10:50, CRT 175
LEC 404, MW 12:00 – 12:50, CRT 175
Instructor: Michael Liston,
Enrollment in one of the large lectures (LEC 403/404) also requires enrollment in a corresponding discussion section.

Humans are reasoning animals, and logic is the study of the rules and principles of correct reasoning, the science of what follows from what. Logic know-how is a skill, one of the most important skills you will ever develop, both for your college and later career and for your everyday life. It teaches you how to analyze concepts, ideas, arguments, and break them down into their simplest components. You are then in a position to recognize the relationships between those components, to see how they are connected together (or not), and thereby to understand how and why one thing follows from another. At the same time, it teaches you how to construct ‘paths of reasoning’, how to get from one idea to another, how, for example, to determine what is the best course of action in a particular situation.

Apart from its application in virtually every field of study, the study of logic will help you develop your analytical and quantitative skills, your writing skills, your communication skills, and your day to day reasoning. You’ll become a better thinker and a better reasoner (a better human?). You may not be aware that you are doing so, but you’re using logic now, and you’ll use it every day, for the rest of your life.

This is an introductory course intended for students who have had no previous work in logic. There will be 3 exams and weekly homework assignments. The course satisfies General Education Humanities and QLB requirements. The course also satisfies the L&S Formal Reasoning Requirement for the B.A. degree.

Philosophy 211, Elementary Logic (HU, QLB)

Instructor: Matthew Knachel,

There’s an ancient view, still widely held, that what makes human beings special—what distinguishes us from the “beasts of the field”—is that we are rational. What does rationality consist in? That’s a vexed question, but one possible response goes roughly like this: we manifest our rationality by engaging in certain activities, chief among them the activity of making claims and backing them up with reasons—that is, constructing arguments.

This reasoning activity can be done well and it can be done badly—it can be done correctly and incorrectly. Logic is the discipline that aims to distinguish good reasoning from bad.

Since reasoning is central to all fields of study—indeed, since it’s arguably central to being human—the tools developed in logic are universally applicable. Anyone can benefit from studying logic by becoming a more self-aware, skillful reasoner.

In this course, we introduce formal deductive logic. This is the branch of logical inquiry that develops sophisticated techniques for evaluating reasoning based on the idea that one can best isolate arguments’ logically important features by abstracting from the natural language in which they are originally presented, rendering them instead in a formal symbol-language more amenable to rigorous analysis. This move allows us to elaborate a variety of principles and tools whose usefulness extends beyond the logical task of evaluating arguments: they provide the medium for proofs of scientific and mathematical propositions; they allow for the identification and classification of central concepts in linguistics; they constitute the underlying structure of both computer hardware and software; and they can even help you solve those diabolical puzzles you find on standardized tests like the LSAT—you know, where they tell you, for example, that a grocer is arranging his produce section, but must do so according to certain restrictions: apples must be on one of the ends, bananas can’t be to the right of any citrus fruits, oranges must be between apricots and kiwis, and so on; then they ask you questions like “If the grocer puts the grapefruits to the left of the kumquats, where do the peaches go?” Studying logic makes those things a lot easier.

The course satisfies General Education Humanities and QLB requirements. The course also satisfies the L&S Formal Reasoning Requirement for the B.A. degree.

Philosophy 215, Belief, Knowledge, Truth: An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge(HU)

LEC 001, TR 2:00—3:15, LUB S233
Instructor: Elizabeth Silverstein,

This course is an introduction to epistemology, the branch of philosophy that concerns itself with knowledge. The course will introduce students to discussions of fundamental questions about knowledge including the idea of a theory of knowledge, problems with the philosophical conception of knowledge, and the relation of knowledge to skepticism.

Philosophy 232, Topics in Philosophy: Philosophy and the Media (HU)

LEC 001, MW 12:30-1:45, CRT 309
Instructor: Edward Hinchman,

We get most of our information and form most of our attitudes about the world through the influence of total strangers using electronic media to address us as if we were old friends. Why do we trust these people? Should we trust them? This course will confront issues in several areas of philosophy: the epistemology of testimony, the reason-givingness of social influence, the pragmatics of speech acts (telling, advising, arguing, bullshitting), and the ethics and politics of trust. We’ll try to understand both why we go in for such ‘mediated’ influences and to what extent we really should. In the second half of the term we’ll consider some specific forms of mediation beyond the mere exchange of information. We'll ask why we go in for and what we get out of sports, narrative, metaphor, comedy, and the search for meaning in life.

Philosophy 241, Introductory Ethics (HU)

LEC 401, MW 11:00 – 11:50, END 107
Instructor: Julius Sensat,
Enrollment in Philosophy 241 also requires enrolling in a corresponding discussion section.

We’ll study three basic approaches in moral philosophy: ethical rationalism, which takes moral principles to describe an independent order of values fixed in the nature of things, the ideal-spectator approach, which takes morally wrong actions to be those an impartial sympathetic observer would disapprove of, and contractualism, according to which the correct moral principles are those which would be agreed to by all reasonable beings as a basis for their community. We’ll see how the second approach leads naturally to utilitarianism, while contractualism has important sources in Immanuel Kant’s moral philosophy. We’ll see how the three basic approaches get reflected in theories of social and economic justice.

Philosophy 243, Moral Problems (HU)

LEC 201: Abortion, Online Web (9/3-10/5)
LEC 202: Global Poverty & Our Moral Responsibility, Online Web (10/7-11/9)
LEC 203: Same-Sex Marriage, Online Web (11/11-12/12)
Instructor: Miren Boehm,

Note: LEC 201, 202, & 203 are worth one credit each. You do not have to enroll for all three sections.

243-201 – Abortion: What would it mean for abortion to be morally wrong? What is the moral status of the fetus? Does it have a right to life? What is the concept of a person? What does it mean to have a right to one’s body? What does feminist theory say about abortion? What does religion have to say about the ethics of abortion? In this course we will address these and other difficult philosophical questions.

243-202 – Global Poverty & Our Moral Responsibility: This course raises some fundamental questions regarding the nature of our relation to the less fortunate and to the victims of discrimination. It raises questions about our individual obligations to others and our collective obligations to others. We shall examine and question our conceptual, moral schemas, starting with our distinction between obligation and charity. We discuss the topics of the distribution of responsibilities in a world swamped in suffering, the population problem, the problem of gender inequalities across the world, and the rights of individuals in the global community.

243-203 – Same-Sex Marriage: In this course we explore the legal, emotional, moral and religious dimensions of one of the most heated social questions of our society. We shall read from the Goodridge legal case as well as George W. Bush’s call for a Constitutional Amendment Protecting Marriage. We look at real, first personal accounts of gays and lesbians in order to understand their perspective better. We discuss philosophical arguments concerning the concept of marriage and the morality of same-sex marriage. Finally we look at what religion has to say about the morality of same-sex marriage.

Philosophy 244, Ethical Issues in Health Care: Contemporary Problems (HU)

LEC 001, R 6:00 – 8:40, HLT 180
LEC 202, Online Web
Instructor: Kristin Tym,

This course will provide a general overview of many of the challenging ethical issues faced in health care delivery today. We will begin the course with an introduction of ethical theories and other approaches to moral decision-making. These theories and approaches will then be applied to ethical problems currently confronting health care providers, patients and their families, and society at large. Issues we will consider include informed consent and confidentiality, futility and withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment, euthanasia and assisted suicide, assisted reproduction, genetics, allocation of scarce resources and research ethics.

Philosophy 303, Theory of Knowledge

LEC 001, MW 9:30 – 10:45, CRT 309
Instructor: Edward Hinchman,
Prereq: jr st; Philos 101(P), 201(P), or 215(P).

This course covers some interrelated issues in modern and contemporary epistemology. We'll read some works, most of them written recently, that set or develop the framework for current work in the field. Our special focus will be on perceptual knowledge, conceptual knowledge, skepticism, self-knowledge, epistemic responsibility, epistemic constraints on belief, and the dialectic between epistemic autonomy and sociality.

Philosophy 317, Metaphysics

LEC 001, TR 2:00 – 3:15, CRT 309
Instructor: Joshua Spencer,
Prereq: jr st & 3 cr in philos.

Metaphysics is the study of the fundamental nature of reality (or something like that). In this class, I propose that we learn what metaphysics is by doing metaphysics. We’ll seek answers to some of the following question: What is it for something to exist? What is space? What is time? What is possibility? And what are they all like? What is causation and what are the laws of nature? How, exactly, do we fit into the world? Are we just another body governed by the laws of nature and if so do we ever act freely? We’ll explore answers to these questions by reading and discussing recent work in metaphysics.

Philosophy 337, Environmental Ethics

LEC 001, TR 11:00 – 12:15, NWQ G544
Instructor: Elizabeth Silverstein,
Prereq: jr st.

Have you ever asked yourself any of the following questions: Why should I care about the environment? What is my relationship to the natural world? What is my responsibility to the environment?

The course will cover major theories of environmental ethics and their practical applications. We will cover various theoretical approaches to environmental ethics including: Animal rights, the Land Ethic; deep ecology; social ecology; ecofeminism; and rethinking the good life. This will include discussions about the moral value of non-human life and nature; human responsibility to the environment; and various contemporary moral issues related to the environment including: wildlife conservation; poverty as an environmental problem; the ecology of property rights; cost-benefit analysis and environmental policy; and environmental activism. By the end of this course you will be acquainted with concepts and methods of philosophical ethics that apply to issues regarding humankind's dealings with the natural world; be able to critically assess alternative approaches to, and defenses of, a code of responsibility to nature; have a repertory of resources and skills with which to formulate your own environmental ethic; and be able to articulate and defend your own ideas with clarity, consistency and coherence.

Philosophy 355, Political Philosophy

LEC 001, MW 2:00 – 3:15, CRT 309
Instructor: Blain Neufeld,
Prereq: jr st; Philos 242(P) or a course in ethics

This course will look at the great Enlightenment social contract theories that helped to shape the rise of liberal democratic ideals and institutions in the West (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant), and some of the most significant criticisms of those theories from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Hume, Marx). We will also consider the main alternative approach to liberal political thinking in the West during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, namely, utilitarianism, and in particular the views of J.S. Mill. The course will conclude by considering the recent revival of the social contract approach in political philosophy over the past few decades in the work of John Rawls, as well as some important criticisms of Rawls’s views.

Philosophy 430, History of Ancient Philosophy

LEC 001, MW 3:30 – 4:45, MIT 195
Instructor: Richard Tierney,
Prereq: jr st & 3cr in philos

In the thought of Ancient Greece we uncover a remarkable phenomenon. The Ancient Greeks, starting from an essentially myth-making way of understanding the world and the human place in it, as found in the work of Homer and Hesiod, developed their ideas to a culmination in a theory of the natural world and of human nature and human contact put forward by Aristotle, which dominated human thinking for many hundreds of years and is still said to capture human “common sense” beliefs about the world. How did this transition come about? We will look at the changing questions asked by the Presocratics, Plato and Aristotle, in order to understand how their ideas and theories about the natural world and human nature resulted in the development of natural science, ethics and metaphysics.

Philosophy 511, Symbolic Logic

LEC 001, TR 2:00 – 3:15, CRT 607
Instructor: Stephen Leeds,
Prereq: jr st, either Philos 212(P) or 6 cr math at the 300-level or above; or grad st.
Jointly-offered w/& counts as repeat of CompSci/Math 511.

The main goal of this course is to prove the famous theorem, discovered by Kurt Gödel in the 1930’s, that any consistent set of axioms for mathematics will be unable to prove or disprove certain mathematical claims, among these the statement that the set of axioms is consistent. On the way to deriving this, we will review some elementary logic and learn something about computability and about the branch of logic known as model theory. Afterwards, we will branch off into related subjects, including as much set theory as we have time for.

Philosophy 532, Philosophical Problems: Mind, Meaning, and Matter

LEC 001, TR 3:30 – 4:45, CRT 607
Instructor: Robert Schwartz,
Prereq: jr st & 3 cr in philos

The relationship between mind, meaning, and matter lays at the heart of major issues in metaphysics, such as the mind body problem, the distinction between mental states and physical states, and questions about machine intelligence and consciousness. It is similarly central to epistemic issues concerning rule following, the role of language in thought, whether perceiving and thinking require concepts, and if and how intentional states of mind can provide access to the realities of matter. This course will explore the implications of recent work in philosophy and cognitive science to solving or dissolving these problems.

Philosophy 532, Philosophical Problems: Contemporary Metaethics

LEC 002, MW 9:30 – 10:45, CRT 607
Instructor: Stan Husi,
Prereq: jr st & 3 cr in philos

Contemporary metaethics confronts a wide range of philosophical issues about the status of ethics and morality: the meaning of ethical statements, the existence of moral truth, the objectivity of morality, the possibility and methods of acquiring ethical knowledge, the relation between moral conviction and motivation, the absolute or relative standing of moral assertions. In the course, we will be discussing the major attempts to deal with these issues: moral realism, both of the naturalistic and non-naturalistic variety, expressivism and non-cognitivism, error-theory, constructivism, subjectivism and relativism. We will be reading both introductory texts and contributions to the current debate.

Philosophy 562, Special Topics in Ethics and Social and Political Philosophy: Political Conceptions of Freedom

LEC 001, W 3:30 – 6:10, CRT 607
Instructor: Blain Neufeld,
Prereq: jr st, 3 cr philos.

This course introduces the debate on freedom as it features in recent and contemporary political philosophy. Freedom is a central value in contemporary political thought, but freedom is also a complex idea, both conceptually and normatively, and political philosophers continue to debate its main properties. The course first discusses some core conceptual issues, namely, the positive/negative freedom distinction, and the difference between freedom and autonomy. We then will explore how freedom features in four important traditions in contemporary political philosophy: (a) ‘high’ (or ‘egalitarian’) liberalism; (b) ‘right’ libertarianism; (c) ‘classical’ liberalism; and (d) ‘civic’ (or ‘neo-’) republicanism. We also will consider some criticisms of these traditions from socialist and feminist authors.

Philosophy 681, Seminar in Advanced Topics: Kant's Practical Philosophy

SEM 001, MW 2:00—3:15, CRT 607
Instructor: Julius Sensat,
Prereq: sr st & 12 cr in philos at 300-level or above; or grad st.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is generally regarded as the most important philosopher of the modern period. Certainly one cannot achieve an adequate understanding of developments in nineteenth and twentieth century philosophy, whether in metaphysics, epistemology, moral or political philosophy, without a grasp of Kant’s ideas.

The course will focus on Kant's practical philosophy and on Kant's attempts to unify theoretical and practical reason. We'll read The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, Critique of Practical Reason, extensive selections from The Metaphysics of Morals and Religion Within the Bounds of Reason Alone, and Kant’s popular political essays. We'll also read shorter selections from Critique of Pure Reason and other theoretical writings, as needed.

Philosophy 758, Seminar in Major Philosophers: Hume's Philosophy of Science

SEM 001, M 3:30 – 6:10, CRT 607
Instructor: Miren Boehm,
Prereq: grad st; cons instr. Retakable w/chg in topic to 9 ct max.

The project Hume envisions in his Treatise of Human Nature is to establish a new science, his science of man, to serve as the foundation for the other sciences. In this class we discuss the meaning of this project. We focus on Book I of the Treatise, but we will also read the first Enquiry. We will discuss the basic elements of Hume’s science of man/mind, his views on space and time, his account of knowledge and his treatment of causation and causal reasoning. At the end of the class we will examine the phenomenon of skepticism is his works: why does skepticism arise? And what are the implications for Hume’s foundational project?

Philosophy 790, Advanced Topics in Philosophy: Graduate Student Writing Workshop

LEC 001, R 5:00 – 7:40, CRT 607
Instructor: Joshua Spencer,
Prereq: grad st; add'l prereqs depending on topic.

In this workshop, graduate students will present their work in progress and receive peer comments on their work and writing. Students will have the opportunity to hone their presentation skills, sharpen their writing, and develop their philosophical ideas.

Philosophy 941, Seminar in Ethics and Social and Political Philosophy: Blame and Responsibility

SEM 001, T 11:00 – 1:40, CRT 607
Instructor: Andrea Westlund,
Prereq: grad st & cons instr.

What is it to be morally responsible for an action? When is one appropriately subject to praise or blame for what one has done? Though there is a long history of philosophical reflection on these questions, we will focus on major developments in the field since P. F. Strawson’s landmark paper “Freedom and Resentment”. We will pay special attention to the role of reactive attitudes, such as anger, resentment and forgiveness, in our practices of holding responsible. We will also ask whether we are right to treat moral responsibility as a unitary concept, or if we ought instead to distinguish between two or more related concepts, such as attributability, answerability, and accountability. Readings will include selections from Stephen Darwall, T. M. Scanlon, David Shoemaker, Angela Smith, P. F. Strawson, R. Jay Wallace, Gary Watson, and others.