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 Topical Studies

What is knowledge? How ought we to live? Does God exist? Do we have free will? What  is the nature of consciousness? You’ve likely spent at least some time thinking about such questions; if so, then you’ve already thought about some of the subject matter that philosophers have pondered for millennia. Philosophy is the most fundamental academic discipline, in the sense that it is concerned with answering the most fundamental questions concerning the nature of reality and human existence. Philosophy One is designed to help you think about these questions in a rigorous and systematic manner, by introducing you to some of the most influential thinkers and ideas in the Western philosophical tradition. updated 11/1/23.

This course provides an introduction to philosophy focused on the metaphysical, ethical, and value questions, What (who) are we? What should we do? and What makes life meaningful? Answers from various figures in Western thought will be explored, compared, and evaluated, providing a basis for further study of these in upper level courses.

 This course is a continuation of PHIL 10103(Mind, Meaning, and Morality I) and provides an exploration of various conceptions of freedom, determinism, and objectivity, particularly as they emerge out of ancient and modern explanations of human agency and purpose into 19th and 20th Century attitudes towards the self, moral responsibility, socio-political organization, scientific knowledge, and the natural world.
 Students will examine and critically evaluate important philosophical ideas as they are expressed in film. Students will watch films and read accompanying philosophical texts that deal with perennial philosophical questions.

In this course, students will be introduced to the philosophical investigation of the socially and politically fraught ways people can use language. Topics will include bad words, e.g. swears, slurs, dog whistles, and dehumanizing terms, as well as bad discourse, e.g. subordinating expression, epistemic injustice, epistemic isolation, and gaslighting. Topics will also include some of the ways that language can be used to counteract such bad uses, through e.g. linguistic reclamation and counter-expression. Through the exploration of these topics, students will gain familiarity with several central topics in the philosophy of language, social epistemology, feminist philosophy, and the philosophy of race. Previous familiarity with these areas will not be presupposed.  Updated 11/1/23.

 An examination of contemporary moral issues. Typical topics include abortion, euthanasia, discrimination, preferential hiring, the enforcement of community standards, the morality of war, punishment, the rights of distant peoples and future generations, and environmental ethics.
 In this class we will explore some of the classic metaphysical and moral problems that surround the topic of death. Some of the questions the class may discuss include: What is death? Do we have a soul? Is death a harm? Is life a benefit? Is euthanasia morally permissible? Is abortion morally permissible? Is it morally permissible to kill animals so that we may eat them? May we sacrifice the lives of some in order to save the lives of others?
 An examination of some of the ethical issues that arise in the field of medicine. Topics typically include the moral status of abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research, informed consent, cloning, and the just distribution of scarce medical resources.
 This course surveys several contemporary approaches for understanding our moral obligation to the environment, including intuitionism, utilitarianism, deontology and feminism. By applying these approaches to concrete environmental issues, the course illustrates how efforts to preserve the environment raise special difficulties for traditional moral categories, such as intrinsic and instrumental value. The course also explores the peculiarly aesthetic dimension of environmental ethics, including claims about the value of natural beauty and unspoiled wilderness.
 This course explores several conceptions of mind, consciousness, and self within both the Western and Eastern traditions. These conceptions are similar in their rejection of the view that cognition and consciousness reside exclusively (or in any way) within a thinking substance or ego, or are somehow uniquely enskulled or brainbound. Topics we will consider include attention and awareness, extended cognition and mind, embodiment, situatedness, self-consciousness, interpersonal neurobiology, animal minds, neurotechnology, personal identity, boundaries of self, not-self or selflessness, the evolutionary self, and the ecological self.
 An introduction to some basic issues in the philosophy of music. What is the difference between music and noise? What is a work of music? Are works of different traditions fundamentally different kinds of entities? What is a musical performance, and what is it for a performance to be accurate or authentic? What are the relevant social, cultural, economic, and ethical considerations when playing or otherwise engaging with certain kinds of music? Readings will be a mix of classic and contemporary papers by leading philosophers of music.
 Prerequisite: Permission of instructor.
 A systematic examination of the central issues in metaphysics. Topics include the nature of possibility and necessity, persistence through time and change, material constitution and composition, and criteria of ontological commitment. A portion of the course will also focus on methodological issues pertaining to the nature of metaphysical questions and claims. Readings will be a mix of classic and contemporary papers by leading metaphysicians.
 A systematic treatment of basic issues in moral theory, critically examining such issues as the possibility of providing rational foundations for moral belief, and the nature of moral judgments and moral reasoning, focusing on the work of major historical and contemporary figures.
 Philosophy of Religion today is centrally concerned with issues relating to the rationality and justification of religious convictions. There is also an interest in the coherence of religious concepts. In this course various philosophical models for understanding and evaluating religious convictions and practices are examined and applied.
 This course introduces students to the myriad ways in which sexual desire and sexual activity are structured by social relations and to the ways that sexuality, sexual practices, and sexual identities vary in time and space. We will also consider how those social relations and sexual identities influence ethical judgment regarding various sexual practices and attitudes. Social science and philosophical theories of sexuality will be considered and cross-cultural and historical accounts of sexual practices will be reviewed.
 An introduction to the classical systems and central issues in political philosophy. The approach is largely historical, and selected major thinkers of most recent four centuries form the focus of the course.
 This course offers students an opportunity to reflect on such topics as the search for meaning, being, freedom, the self, embodiment, authenticity, love, and ethics as they are dealt with in texts by major writers in the 19th and 20th century movement known as existentialism.
 This course will focus on Philosophical issues foundational to Psychology. Specifically, it will involve an interdisciplinary exploration of the nature, mechanisms, and architecture of cognition. Topics include: models of psychological explanation, the nature of commonsense psychology and the relationship between rationality and mental causation, functionalist approaches to cognition, computational vs. neural network models of mind, and the relationships between perception, action, and cognition.
 A survey of past and present accounts of human mentality. Beginning with the classical ideas of the soul the course concentrates on the major theories of mind advanced by Western philosophers in the last four centuries.
 An examination of the basic issues in Legal Theory. Topics typically include the nature of legal reasoning, the relationship between law and morality, and classical theories of law.
 A systematic examination of the central issues in epistemology (e.g., the nature and structure of knowledge, and external-world skepticism), focusing on a series of papers by leading philosophers in epistemology.
 A systematic examination of the central issues in the philosophy of science (e.g., theory confirmation in science, and scientific explanation), focusing on a series of papers by leading philosophers in the philosophy of science (for instance, Carl Hempel and Thomas Kuhn).
 While we praise, blame, and punish people for their actions, we don't hold everyone responsible for everything they do. Moral responsibility looks to be intimately tied to a person's free will. We will discuss a range of views on what's required for agents to be free, and therefore morally responsible for their actions.

This course explores various conceptions of mind, consciousness, and self with particular attention to the interdependence of mind, body, and environment. Topics to be considered include attention and awareness, mindfulness, embodiment, interdependence, equity/inequity, planetary health, flourishing, and global sustainability. 

Mind Body Ecology embraces the principles and practices of what I term “experiential philosophy.” In addition to the intellectual content of the course, students engage in a variety of experiential exercises grounded in evidence-based mindfulness practice that aid in enhancing awareness of self, embodiment, and interdependence. We explore various evidence-based meditation techniques and nature-centered mindful movement exercises.  *Honors section is offered. Updated 11/1/23.
 The aim of this course is to focus on philosophical principles that are implicitly assumed in standard" Cognitive Science."

 *See PHIL 20223 Social and Political Philosophy of Language for Spring 2024 course and description.

Topics vary as announced. May be repeated for credit. 1-6 hours.

 Permission of instructor. 1-3 hours

Many different branches of philosophy invoke the notion of a “natural kind”, i.e., the idea that some of the ways we classify and group objects together are more natural than others. Philosophers regularly assume that some classifications and groupings reflect the nature of reality itself rather than the interests, ideas, priorities, or purposes of particular human beings. In this course, we will investigate the plausibility of this idea, exploring how different philosophers have analyzed and defended the notion of a natural kind, as well as some of the most serious problems and objections that have been posed by different sorts of natural kind skeptics. Along the way we will also consider how the notion of a natural kind shows up in different branches of philosophy, e.g., in the philosophy of science, the philosophy of language, and in social and political philosophy. Updated 11/1/23.  

 A close examination of advanced issues in value theory. Topics may include the views of major historical figures such as Bentham, Hume, Kant, Locke, and Sidgwick, the moral realism-antirealism, debate, topics in moral psychology, and moral epistemology.
 An examination of advanced issues in philosophy of science, for example, issues concerning theory confirmation and issues concerning explanation.
 Philosophy of Law and Economics asks students to consider economics as a justification for legal decision-making. Different perspectives regarding the nature of law are juxtaposed against different perspectives regarding the nature of economics. Students develop their own synthesis by examining landmark legal cases from various perspectives.
 A rigorous examination of specific issues in legal theory and jurisprudence. Topics may include the nature of law, legal adjudication, law and economics, theories of punishment, and legal responsibility and obligation.
 A philosophical analysis of some selected topics that are central to political philosophy. Topics may include analyses of the nature of human rights, political authority, the moral duty to obey the law, freedom, or justice.
 Moral psychology is precisely what it sounds like - the intersection of the study of morality (typically the domain of philosophy) and the study of our mental processes (typically the domain of psychology). It is an area in which we ask fundamental questions about the moral nature of human beings, and purse the answers to these questions via a constant exchange between philosophical theory and empirical data.
 Philosophical theories are presented regarding the nature of art and aesthetic experience. The concepts of representation, expression, formalism, the work of art, intention, meaning, truth, and criticism are discussed along with how they contribute to answering the question, What is art?"
 Critical analysis of contemporary theories of human nature advanced by philosophers, psychologists, biologists, cognitive scientists and others. The thinkers under consideration will vary but examples would include E. O. Wilson, B. F. Skinner, Sigmund Freud, John Searle and Daniel Dennett.
 An examination of advanced issues in epistemology, for example, issues concerning rational degrees of belief, issues concerning the intersection of epistemology, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind, and issues concerning epistemological methodology.
 Prerequisite: Permission of instructor.


Historical Studies 

A survey of major intellectual traditions of Asia, including Indian, Chinese, and Japanese philosophies. Topics include social and political philosophy, concepts of the individual and Nature, and the nature of reality and knowledge.

A survey of the major figures in Western thought between the sixth century BCE and fifth century CE. Among those included are the Presocratics, Plato, Aristotle, and the Hellenistic philosophers. This course also applies to the minor in Classical Studies minor.

 An historical study of one or more philosophical movements in the twentieth century. Topics vary and include analytic, existential, or phenomenological philosophy. May be repeated for credit. (3-6 hours).
In this course we will survey the Modern Era of Philosophy -- beginning with the early modern philosophers, such as René Descartes and Thomas Hobbes in the 17th century, and concluding with Immanuel Kant in the late 19th century. The emphasis will be on these philosophers' contributions to metaphysics and epistemology, though attention will also be given to their contributions to ethics and political philosophy -- as well as to the general historical context in which they wrote. By studying the era immediately that preceded it, students will come away from the course a richer and more complete understanding of contemporary philosophy -- and of the possible answers to the perennial questions of philosophy (e.g., "What is knowledge?", "What is the nature of the mind?", "What is the nature of fundamental reality?", "Does God exist?", "Do we have free will?", etc.) with which the great modern philosophers grappled. Updated 11/1/23.
 The philosophical tradition after Kant developed in different ways in Continental Europe from the ways it did in English speaking countries. This course examines those developments, especially in Germany and France. Such thinkers as Hegel and the German Idealists, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, Husserl and Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, Gadamer, Ricoeur and Derrida are discussed.
 A historical study of either the analytic or pragmatic tradition. Such figures as Carnap, Neurath, Schlick, Moore, Russell, and Ayer; or Royce, Peirce, Mead, James, Dewey, and Quine; or a combination of philosophers are studied.
 A philosophical study of one or more philosophers or philosophical movements of the ancient, medieval, or modern periods. Course content will vary by semester. Course may be repeated for credit.
 This course is a survey of the philosophy of Socrates and the development of his ideas in Plato and Aristotle. Students will read various Socratic dialogues and a few of Plato's middle dialogues that show significant Socratic influence. The course will conclude with a brief survey of Aristotle's conception of language, thought, reality, and virtue.


Logical Studies 

How to detect, analyze, and critically evaluate reasoning in ordinary language and its technical counterparts found in business, economics, etc. The course is designed to enhance skills for handling arguments in a variety of texts. Understanding the arguments and theories encountered in one's situations is stressed, along with how one can improve one's own expression of arguments and theories, especially in writing. Topics include techniques of reconstruction and evaluation in a process of self-editing, detection of fallacies, and distinguishing correct from incorrect reasoning.

An introduction to the scope and limits of modern logic. The nature of logical systems and the various areas of logic are discussed. Alternative proof- procedures in propositional logic and predicate logic are presented.

 A continuation of 30133, with an emphasis on predicate logic, nonstandard logic, and metalogic.

Advanced topics in logic. Spring 2024, the course will focus on various kinds of non-truth-functional propositional logic, for example, propositional modal logic (which concerns possibility and necessity) and propositional deontic logic (which concerns obligation and permission). Hence no predicate logic (which is covered in the second half of Symbolic Logic I). Truth-functional propositional logic will be covered briefly at the beginning as a base, with a focus on derivations (as opposed to truth-tables). Updated 11/1/23.

NOTE:  The official prerequisite for the course is going to be changed soon from Symbolic Logic I to Critical Reasoning or Symbolic Logic I

*Course content to vary by semester and will include areas such as formal languages, mathematical logic, deontic logic, modal systems, and philosophy of language.