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Spring 2019 Courses

Find information about upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses within the Philosophy Department on this page.

Upper-Level Undergraduate Courses

PHIL 3304: History of 17Th Century Phil (Class #15232)

Prof Hattab
TuTh 10:00AM - 11:30AM, Room: AH 302

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The main goal of this course is to understand and critically examine the philosophical origins of modern thought. To this end we will begin by studying the works of philosophers who spearheaded the scientific and philosophical developments of the early seventeenth century, most notably, Francis Bacon, Galileo Galilei and René Descartes. We will pay special attention to their distinct contributions to scientific method before examining Descartes’ attempt in his Meditations to ground the new science in a new metaphysics and epistemology. Next we will consider various responses to Descartes’ philosophy, including the controversial results of Benedict de Spinoza’s application of the geometrical method to all of philosophy in the Ethics, and the theoretical philosophies developed by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Once we have familiarized ourselves with the foundations of these philosophical systems, we will examine their implications for conceptions of human nature and the good life as found in Descartes’ Passions of the Soul, Spinoza’s Ethics and Hobbes’ Leviathan.

PHIL 3332: Philosophy of Language (Class #15233)

Prof. Buckner
TuTh 10:00AM - 11:30AM, Room: AH 304

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This course is an introduction to the philosophy of language. This is a large area that encompasses many topics, including meaning, truth, the relationship between logic and language, and the distinctions between syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. In the first half of the course, we will review some classics in this area by Frege, Russell, Tarski, Quine, Wittgenstein, Austin, Grice, Kripke, Putnam, Davidson, and Evans. We will consider how these issues intersect in some of the central "problems" of philosophy of language, such as vagueness and language learning. In the final section of the course, we will explore more recent interdisciplinary work on the way that language evolved from the protolinguistic communication systems of non-human animals, including views such as that of Dorit Bar-On and Tecumseh Fitch.

PHIL 3335: Theory of Knowledge (Class #12338)

Prof. Oliveira
TuTh 2:30PM - 4:00PM, Room: AH 201

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Epistemology is the philosophical study of human knowledge. Philosophers working in this area (epistemologists) ask questions such as: What does it take to know something? Do we actually know anything? What is it, exactly, that marks the difference between mere belief and real knowledge? The first part of this course clarifies the traditional approach to these questions and discusses some of its classic difficulties. The second part of this course examines one of the leading approaches to handling these difficulties—what we will call the Internalist Research Program. We here discuss contemporary versions of foundationalism and coherentism, as well as the challenges they each face. The third part of this course examines the other leading approach—what we will call the Externalism Research Program. We here discuss process reliabilism and anti-luck epistemology, as well as the challenges they each face. There will be three short assignments for this class and three take-home exams.

PHIL 3342: Philosophy of Math (Class #15236)

Prof. Garson
TuTh 1:00PM - 2:30PM Room: AH 201

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Throughout history, philosophers have been impressed by the thought that mathematics embodies the highest possible standards for knowledge.  Even our best science might get things entirely wrong, but we will never have to worry that 2+2 isn't 4.  However, events such as the invention of non-Euclidean geometry, the discovery of paradoxes related to infinity, and Godel's demonstration that arithmetic is incomplete have raised deep worries about the foundations of mathematics.  This course will present these and other challenges to confidence in mathematics, and then discuss a number of philosophical theories about how our confidence can be restored.  A main concern will be to understand what accounts for the truth of the claims of mathematics.

            Although the course will cover some technical topics related to logic and infinity, it will assume no special knowledge of mathematics beyond simple algebra.  There will be two quizzes and a final, and occasional homework exercises. We will use Stuart Shapiro's Thinking About Mathematics as our course textbook.

PHIL 3357: Punishment (Class #15243)

Prof. Sommers
MoWe 4:00PM - 5:30PM, Room: AH 304

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What right do we have to punish wrongdoers?  Should we punish only when it benefits society (through prevention and deterrence), or should we focus on giving criminals their “just-deserts”?  To what extent should we take the offender’s background and/or the genetic predispositions into account?   How do theories of punishment fit within the larger social context of a society?  What is connection between revenge and criminal punishment?  What is the role of victims - should they be included in the sentencing processes?  This course addresses these questions and others related to criminal punishment.  We'll examine a range of philosophical theories of punishment, paying close attention to what these theories presume about human agency and responsibility.

PHIL 3358: Classics in the History of Ethics (Class #15238)

Dr. Morrison
MoWeFr 9:00AM - 10:00AM, Room: L 212L

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In this course we will read three of the great philosophers: Aristotle, Hume, and Kant. My basic question will be about the extent to which each thinker provides us with a fundamental and meaningful ethical orientation in our lives. We will think about the philosophical and social environment in which each wrote and read their arguments against this context. How does each thinker go beyond their historical situation in providing us with some way to orient our lives ethically?

PHIL 3371: Depiction, Narration, and Critical Theory (Class #15235)

Prof. Mag Uidhir
TuTh 1:00PM - 2:30PM, Room: C 109

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This course will be topically split into seven sections. The issues to be covered within each section are as follows.

  • The nature and definition of literature with specific attention paid to the notion genre.
  • The notion of the literary work, its relation to the text, and how both relate to literary practice itself.
  • The concept of both fiction and non-fiction as well as the nature of fictional characters and fictional worlds.
  • The nature of literary interpretation and the implications thereof (e.g., critical monism, pluralism, intentionalism, anti-intentionalism, style).
  • The nature of literary emotion both how readers respond emotionally to literature and how such emotions themselves are characterized or even possible.
  • The role of metaphor in literature and how we engage with it imaginatively.
  • Whether we can come to know substantive moral or psychological truths about the world through literature.

PHIL 3382: History of Ancient Philosophy (Class #12372)

Prof. Freeland
TuTh 2:30PM - 4:00PM, Room: AH 304

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This course is an advanced survey of ancient Greek philosophy from the presocratic period through to the Hellenistic period, focusing on the development of Greek views of the cosmos, the soul, and the virtuous life.  Requirements: two ten-page papers and weekly short informal papers.

Required Text: Ancient Greek Philosophy, from Thales to Aristotle (Fourth Edition, Edited by S. Marc Cohen, Patricia Curd, and C.D.C. Reeve (Hackett 2011); ISBN# ISBN-10: 1603844627 or ISBN-13: 978-1603844628). Earlier editions are useable but the pagination will be different.

PHIL 3387: History of American Philosophy (Class #15229)

Prof. Freeland
TuTh 11:30AM - 1:00PM, Room: C 109

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This class will examine the distinctly American philosophical movement known as Pragmatism, focusing on Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. The primary topics will be pragmatism’s distinctive theory of truth and its moral and social theory. We will also consider key predecessors to this movement (Emerson and Thoreau) as well as philosophers influenced by it (Goodman, Putnam, and Rorty), in addition to related theorists of race and gender (Alain Locke, Jane Addams, Cornel West).  Assigned work will include a combination of take-home essays and short reaction papers.


Required Text: Susan Haack, ed., Pragmatism, Old & New (Prometheus Books, 2006). ISBN 978-1591023593

Recommended Text:  Russell B. Goodman, ed., Pragmatism: A Contemporary Reader (Routledge, 1995).  ISBN 415909104 .

PHIL 3395: Selected topics in Philosophy (Class #18440)

Prof. Zaretsky
TuTh 11:30AM - 1:00PM, Room: TBA

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The American writer Flannery O'Connor described nihilism as "the gas we breathe." This course will try to analyze this gas, and consider possible responses, by exploring a range of literary and philosophical works. Among the writers we will read are Ivan Turgenev, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Joseph Conrad, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Flannery O'Connor, and Todd May.

Graduate Courses

PHIL 6395: The Hard Problem of Consciousness (Class #15226)

Prof. Weisberg
We 2:30PM - 5:30PM, Room: AH 512

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The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of explaining why any physical state is conscious rather than nonconscious.  The challenge arises because it does not seem that the subjective and qualitative aspects of conscious experience fit into a physicalist ontology, one consisting of just the basic elements of physics plus structural, dynamical, and functional combinations of those basic elements.  It appears that even a complete specification of a creature in physical terms leaves unanswered the question of whether the creature is conscious. 

The problem is a major focus of research in contemporary philosophy of mind, as well as a considerable body of empirical research, in psychology, neuroscience, and even quantum physics.  The problem touches on issues in ontology, on the nature and limits of scientific explanation, and on the accuracy and scope of introspection and first-person knowledge, to name but a few.  Reactions to the hard problem range from an outright denial of the phenomenon causing the trouble to naturalized reduction to panpsychism and full-blown dualism.

In this course, we’ll consider the hard problem in detail, and survey some of the more important reactions to it.  All course readings will be available on the course website.  Students are required to write a seminar paper (15-20 pages) on a topic approved by the professor.

PHIL 6395: Special Topics in Philosophy (Class #18894)

Prof. Coates
We Tu 2:30PM - 5:30PM, Room: TBA

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No further information is available at this time.

PHIL 6396: Descartes (Class #15227)

Prof. Hattab
Mo 2:30PM - 5:30PM, Room: AH 512

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René Descartes (1596-1650) is best known among philosophers for his method of doubt and the cogito, which laid the ground for the apparent substance dualism articulated in his Meditations on First Philosophy. Consistent with his professed method, Descartes is thought to have broken completely with the prevailing Aristotelian philosophy marking the start of modern philosophy. He is thus often blamed for various ills of the modern world, most notably the alienation of mind from body, individual from world, thought from action and theory from practice. Though such criticisms are somewhat justified, the historical Descartes lies buried under layers of interpretation added by subsequent philosophers. Some of what appear as novel problems unique to Cartesianism took center stage due to subsequent readings of Descartes’ works, while the ways in which he merely responded to and drew out implications of prior theories and arguments receded into the background. Our aim will be to penetrate beyond the mythology surrounding Descartes’ contribution to our discipline to make sense of his philosophical enterprise on its own terms and within its historical context. To this end, we will not just read his Meditations, but we will situate them, along with the Objections and Replies within the context of his equally important works on scientific method, natural philosophy and the passions of the soul. To arrive at a more accurate understanding and appreciation of Descartes’ works, we will also, to the extent that they are available in translation, read extracts from prior and contemporaneous philosophical works that inform Descartes’ approach to the philosophical questions of his day. Seminar participants will thus gain a broad foundation in the origins of modern philosophical thought as well as learn general methods for interpreting any historical philosophical text.