Course Descriptions – Fall 2014

Philosophy 101, Introduction to Philosophy: Reflections on the Human Condition (HU)

LEC 402, MW 10:00 – 10:50, LUB N146
LEC 403, MW 12:00 – 12:50, LAP N103
Instructor: Edward Hinchman,
Enrollment in one of the large lectures (402/403) requires enrollment in a discussion section.

This course is an introduction to Western Philosophy. Students need not have any background in philosophy, or any plans for further study. The course has three broad aims:

  1. to introduce students to the tradition of philosophical argument in the West via primary texts,
  2. to teach students how in general to make and evaluate philosophical arguments,
  3. to demonstrate to any student who cares to participate actively how exciting and even fun philosophy can be.

Since philosophy is simply informed public reflection on what we're up to as we try to do and believe what we ought to do and believe – as Socrates put it, "What we are talking about is how one should live" – I hope that by the end of the term the third aim of the course will have taken priority over the other two.

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, CRT 109
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: Should I Eat My Pet? And Other Moral Problems (HU)

SEM 001, MW 11:00 - 12:15, CRT 607
Instructor: Michelle Mahlik,

This course will explore the moral concerns of modern living. What is “the good life” and is there a relationship between happiness and morality? Are there universal moral laws, or should we evaluate moral action only on the basis of the consequences of an action? Is selfishness really so bad, or could it be a virtue? This course will examine traditional moral theories and apply them to contemporary questions of privacy, animal rights, global economics, consumerism, environmental issues, and other concerns. This course will be run in a seminar format and students will be encouraged to openly share their own views and evaluate the foundations of their moral beliefs.

Global 201, Introduction to Global Studies II: Economics and the Environment (SS)

LEC 001, MW 12:30 - 1:45, LAP N101
Instructor: Stan Husi,

This course aims at an ethical assessment of the global human situation that is philosophically as well as empirically informed. The chief focus will be on global distributions of wealth and poverty, or welfare, as affected by current economical dynamics and by climate change. What explains these distributions, and what are the criteria for their assessment? What are the implications for our individual as well as collective moral responsibilities? What policy choices are advisable as we tread forward into a somewhat precarious future? To tackle these questions, we must attain an understanding of the main controversies and arguments in ethical theory and public policy, ranging from disagreements about principle, about the proper level of enthusiasm about market-based or government-based approaches, to the nuts and bolts of policy-making in a political system such as ours. To foster the intended lively debate, we will be reading contemporary statements of clashing ethical and economic assessments of the global human situation.

Philosophy 204, Introduction to Asian Religions (HU)

LEC 401, MW 9:00 - 9:50, BOL B56
Instructor: Michelle Mahlik,
Enrollment in Philosophy 204 also requires enrolling in a corresponding discussion section.

This course is an introduction to the philosophical traditions of major Asian religious traditions, including Hinduism in India, Taoism and Confucianism in China, and Buddhism as it has evolved in both India and China. Philosophical issues of metaphysics, causality, knowledge, and ethics are emphasized as well as the nature of "reality", the Divine, and the individual human being engaged in the process of self-realization and enlightenment.

Philosophy 211, Elementary Logic (HU, QLB)

LEC 001, T 6:00 – 8:40, CRT 209
Instructor: TBA

Instructor: Matthew Knachel,

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

LEC 001, TR 11:00—12:15, CRT 309
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 217, Introduction to Metaphysics (HU)

LEC 001, MW 2:00-3:15, AUP 191
Instructor: Joshua Spencer,

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 some metaphysics. Specifically, we’ll do the metaphysics of human persons. We’ll seek answers to some of the following question: Do we exist? What kind of thing are we? Do we persist through time? 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? By investigating these questions, we’ll be able to touch on a wide range of metaphysical issues that go beyond the metaphysics of human persons. We’ll explore answers to these questions by reading and discussing recent work in metaphysics.

Philosophy 232, Topics in Philosophy: Existentialism (HU)

Instructor: William Bristow,

The French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre argues that we human beings are “condemned to freedom”, by which he means that human beings cannot escape the responsibility of defining themselves and their fundamental values, even though we often try to cast our responsibility for self-definition onto external authorities, such as God or the state. Existentialist thinkers, writers, film-makers explore the human condition, as defined by this fundamental freedom and self-responsibility. All existentialist thinkers are struggling against a common set of threats that the modern western world makes pressing for human beings: the threats of meaninglessness, of despair, of nihilism, of pessimism, of the loss of self in “inauthenticity” or “conformity”. This course is an introduction to the varieties of existentialist interpretation of the human condition through study of both philosophical and artistic works. We will read literary and philosophical works of some of the main twentieth century French existentialists, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, as well as works by the nineteenth century precursors, such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Søren Kierkegaard. We will also study two existentialist films. 

Philosophy 241, Introductory Ethics (HU)

LEC 401, MW 11:00 – 11:50, BOL B56
Instructor: Nataliya Palatnik
Enrollment in Philosophy 241 also requires enrolling in a corresponding discussion section.

Most people agree that morality involves standards that should be taken seriously in guiding conduct and assessing our claims against others. Yet various moral philosophers have offered very different accounts of what morality is and why we should care about it. We will study four basic philosophical approaches to morality and consider how they have shaped the history of ethical thought as well as their influence on moral philosophy today. We will first consider ethical rationalism, which takes moral principles to describe an independent order of values fixed in the nature of things, and the ideal-spectator approach, which takes morally wrong actions to be those an impartial sympathetic observer would disapprove of. We will then turn to Immanuel Kant’s moral philosophy, which grounds morality in rational principles which all reasonable agents possess in common in virtue of their status as rational beings, 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 shall see how these basic approaches get reflected in theories of social and economic justice.

Philosophy 243, Moral Problems (HU)

LEC 201: Abortion, Online Web (9/2-10/4)
LEC 202: Same-Sex Marriage, Online Web (10/6-11/8)
LEC 203: Global Poverty, Online Web (11/10-12/11)
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 – 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.

243-203 – Global Poverty: 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.

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

LEC 001, R 6:00 – 8:40, LAP 250
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 324, Philosophy of Science

LEC 001, MW 11:00 – 12:15, CRT 309
Instructor: Robert Schwartz,
Prereq: jr st & 3 cr in philos

This course will explore the nature of scientific inquiry, as well as consider what, if anything, is special about the scientific enterprise. We will start by trying to get a firm understanding of such core notions of scientific methodology as: explanation, cause, laws, and probability. Next we will explore how concepts and hypotheses of science get their empirical meaning. This study will lead us to consider questions about the relation of theoretical terms to "reality" and to problems concerning how science can or cannot test its theories. The last third of the course will focus on recent challenges to both the "objectivity" of science and the "rationality" of scientific practice.

Philosophy 337, Environmental Ethics

LEC 001, TR 9:30 – 10:45, CRT 209
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, TR 2:00 – 3:15, CRT 309
Instructor: William Bristow,
Prereq: jr st; Philos 242(P) or a course in ethics

What is the state (the polis) and what are its most fundamental functions? What are the basic kinds of states, and which are best, and why? What can justify (if anything) the employment of force by a state against its citizens? What is the fair or just way to distribute the benefits or goods of society among society’s members, and how is the just distribution best determined? What rights and privileges do individuals retain in relation to their government, and which are or can be ceded to the government? Do people always retain the right to revolt against the political order when there are abuses of power? How is the political unit related to other social organizations, such as the civil society and the family? -- In this course we examine these and related questions by reading classic texts in the history of political philosophy (eg., Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau) as well as contemporary political theorists (eg., Rawls, Nozick). We will apply the theories we study to contemporary questions of justice.

Philosophy 430, History of Ancient Philosophy

LEC 001, MW 12:30 – 1:45, MIT 191
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 522, Special Topics in the Philosophy of Science: Philosophy of Physics

LEC 001, TR 2:00 – 3:15, CRT 607
Instructor: Stephen Leeds,
Prereq: jr st.

The first part of the course will be on the Theory of Relativity, Special and General; the implications of these theories for our conceptions of Space and Time (and spacetime). The second part will be on Quantum Mechanics, particularly the Measurement problem. If there is time at the end, we may discuss some issues in Statistical Mechanics. No specific requirements, but it would be helpful to know elementary calculus and some linear algebra.

Philosophy 535, Philosophical Topics in Feminist Theory: Gender and Social Construction

LEC 001, TR 3:30 – 4:45, CRT 607
Instructor: Andrea Westlund,
Prereq: jr st; a course in philos or women's stds. Philos 535 & WMNS 535 are jointly offered; with same topic, they count as repeats of one another.

Many feminist philosophers have argued that gender is a social construct. In this course, we will explore this thesis in detail. What is a social construct? In what sense(s) might gender and other identity categories (race, disability, etc.) be socially constructed? How is gender related to sex? What is gender essentialism? What are the moral and political implications of our answers to these questions? Our focus will be on recent work in feminist metaphysics and gender theory, with some attention to related work in feminist epistemology, philosophy of language, and ethics. Readings will include selections from philosophers such as Linda Alcoff, Miranda Fricker, Sally Haslanger, Jennifer Saul, Rae Langton, and Charlotte Witt, among others.

Philosophy 554, Special Topics in the History of Modern Philosophy: Reality and Representation

LEC 001, M 3:30 – 6:10, CRT 607
Instructor: Miren Boehm,
Prereq: jr st; 3 cr in philos; Philos 432(R); or cons instr.

The central questions of this class concern our conception of the nature of objectivity and our conception of the nature of mind and experience. What is “reality as it exists in itself”? And is the mind an instrument for knowing reality that at the same time distorts our view of reality? Can we subtract the features the mind contributes to experience to get at as pristine a view of reality as possible? We consider the historical development of these ideas: Descartes, Locke, among others. And we also engage with more contemporary discussions: Hilary Putnam, Bernard Williams’ “Absolute conception of reality”, Thomas Nagel’s “View from nowhere” and Barry Stroud’s “Quest for reality” among others.

Philosophy 681, Seminar in Advanced Topics: Desire, Well-Being, and Death

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

Desire looms large in the theory of value. Many theories revolve entirely around it. In this class, we are going to investigate desire-based theories of value and well-being, assessing them in their diverse forms of involving various degrees of idealization, hierarchical levels of desire, coherent webs of desire, etc. The class’ first third will be devoted on the classical readings on this subject, by D. Lewis, D. Parfit, H. Frankfurt, M. Smith, J. Griffin, among others. After that, we are going to turn to recent work in moral psychology and the just released monograph ‘In Praise of Desire’ by N. Arpaly and T. Schroeder. In the final section, we are going to discuss various temporal aspects of desire and value, such as the question of whether factors occurring after death can contribute to people’s well-being in virtue of satisfying some of their lifetime desires. Answers to such questions have larger implications for desire-based theories, in addition to being fascinating in their own right. Ben Bradley’s superb recent monograph ‘Well-Being and Death’ shall be our guide for this last section.

Philosophy 758, Seminar in Major Philosophers: Berkeley's Immaterialism

SEM 001, T 11:00 – 1:40, CRT 607
Instructor: Margaret Atherton,
Prereq: grad st; cons instr.

George Berkeley has had a long standing but ambiguous reputation. The poet, William Butler Yeats, said that Berkeley expressed the Irish temperament when he “proved all things a dream” but Berkeley’s editor, A.A. Luce said that Berkeley aligned “we Irish” with common sense. Many have supposed that the claims Berkeley is most closely associated with—that there is no matter and that the only things that exist are ideas and minds that have them-- are totally ludicrous. But others are convinced that it is possible to find Berkeley siding with common sense. Still others question whether Berkeley ever intended to ally himself with common sense. At the heart of these disagreements is a central puzzle: What are the principles for which Berkeley is arguing? Is he an idealist? An immaterialist? Or something else? Berkeley’s most famous claims appear only in two of his works, Principles of Human Knowledge and Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous. If the denial of matter constitutes the main tenet of Berkeleianism, why did Berkeley suppress all mention of it in his other works? We will try to gain answers to these questions by following Berkeley’s own advice and reading through these two works in turn from beginning to end, although, as he also suggested, we will begin with the “non-immaterialist” work which he prepared at the same time as the later two, Essay towards a New Theory of Vision.

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

LEC 001, MW 6:30 – 7:45, 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 960, Seminar in Metaphysics: Self, Time, and Narrative

SEM 001, W 3:30 – 6:10, CRT 607
Instructor: Luca Ferrero,
Prereq: grad st & cons instr.

In this seminar we discuss the relation between personal identity and narrative. Many contemporary philosophers have argued that the notion of a narrative helps explain both the nature and structure of our temporally extended existence and agency.

We first discuss the nature of narrative descriptions and explanations. We will then consider in which ways they can bear on the understanding of the notion of 'self' and our identity over time. We will assess the debate between those philosophers who argue for the central role played by narrative (such as Dennett and Velleman) and those who resolutely deny it (such as Williams and Strawson).

In the last portion of the seminar, we explore the implications that a narrative structure of identity and agency might have for diachronic rationality. How does the temporal structure of our existence bear on the norms of diachronic rationality, both in the cognitive and practical domains? For instance, could our epistemology just be of the 'time-slice' sort, in that it applies equally well to subjects with no temporal extension? Likewise, are there genuinely diachronic pressures of practical rationality? If so, how do they relate to the narrative structure of identity?