campus during spring

Courses

In addition to PHIL 100 (Introduction to Philosophy), PHIL 102 (Ethics), and PHIL 106 (Logic), the following courses are offered in the Spring of 2020 by the Department of Philosophy. (For more information, see NEST.)

Spring 2020 Philosophy Courses

Phil 204-01 Philosophical Issues in Biomedical Ethics
Baxter
T 5:30–8:00
In this course, we will learn about the fundamental moral principles relevant to medical ethics—including patient autonomy, beneficence, veracity, fidelity, and justice. We will apply ethical theories—including deontology and utilitarianism—to issues healthcare professionals face. We will compare these theories’ ability to recommend an appropriate course of action for the healthcare professional when fundamental moral principles conflict with each other. We will also contrast these theories with non-Western alternatives such as Buddhist ethics. Topics may include: just allocation of scarce medical resources, informed consent, stem cell research, genetic engineering, surrogate motherhood, abortion, and euthanasia. We will also study the history of medicine from a philosophical perspective, examining instances of medical personnel’s abuse of power –such as the Holocaust and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. We will then analyze the dynamics of power in contemporary medicine—such as pharmaceutical and insurance corporations’ influence on healthcare policymakers. How do these influences affect patients’ access to healthcare, the quality of care received, and the confidentiality of patients’ medical data? Our investigation of medicine and power will also illuminate disparities based on race, gender and class.
Phil 204-02 Philosophical Issues in Biomedical Ethics
Richmond
M 2:30–5:00
Phil 212 Social and Political Philosophy
Robison
W 5:30–8:00
Philosophical Perspectives on Power. Today, the term ‘political’ often has a pejorative meaning thanks to a common assumption about its relation to power. When someone is described as doing something for ‘purely political’ reasons what is usually meant is that he or she did it for personal gain and not for the benefit of a particular group or society as a whole. But is this the only way that power can take shape politically? Taking this question as our jumping-off point, in this class we will explore various philosophical perspectives on power and its relation to a constellation of other concepts such as force, authority, equality, reason, autonomy and responsibility. The course will be organized in two parts. In the first, we will read works by some of the most influential philosophers of power, including Machiavelli, Hobbes, Marx, Weber, Arendt, and Foucault. Then, in the second part, we will examine power in connection to specific issues which are particularly pressing today, such as gender, race, immigration, climate change, digital information and social media.
Phil 239 Existentialism
Bernstein
M 5:30–8:00
Existentialism, as a movement in philosophy, literature, theology, drama, art, and psychology, was not named as such until the 1940s, but its explosive influence had already been felt in virtually all regions of culture since the 19th century. In this class, we will explore and interrogate one of the most important and controversial intellectual currents of the modern world—one which is often credited with (or blamed for) the rise of the “post-modern.” Existentialism is notoriously hard to define, but some recurrent concepts we will discuss include: truth and meaning as arising from within and between human beings, not from the outside; the importance of “authenticity” and “freedom” in cultivating one’s being; and challenging those rules, structures, and traditions in the world which at first seem “natural” or unquestionable, but may in fact need to be toppled or deconstructed. Authors we will read may include, but are not limited to, Friedrich Nietzsche, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Simone de Beauvoir, Søren Kierkegaard, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Michel Foucault.
Phil 270 Philosophy of Mind
Morgan
MW 1:00–2:15
Mental states are puzzling. On the one hand, it’s as obvious as anything that we undergo them. On the other hand, we also live in world that seems to be entirely physical, and so it seems that mental states must be physical states of a some sort. But just what sort of physical states could they be? Are they electrochemical states of our brain? Or are they more like computational states––‘software’ that runs on the ‘hardware’ of our brains? If not, what could they be? And, moreover, what is the relationship between our mental states and physical states in the external world? Do we directly perceive the physical world? If not, how could we know anything about it? In this course, we explore possible answers to these and related philosophical questions about the nature of mental states and their place in the physical world.
Phil 288 Introduction to Cognitive Science
McElhaney
W 10:00–12:30 (Phil 288-01)
F 10:00–12:30 (Phil 288-02)
An introduction to the multidisciplinary field of cognitive science. Topics include: the mind-body problem, thought as computation and the computer model of the mind, the role of representation in mental activity. Emphasis will be upon the methodological approaches found in artificial intelligence, cognitive psychology, cognitive anthropology, cognitive neuroscience, linguistics, and philosophy.
Phil 390 Fields of Phil:  Thought Experiments
McDermid
TR 10:00–11:15
Can just thinking about an imaginary or even impossible situation help us know how the world actually is, or how it ought to be? Philosophy is full of “thought experiments” that some claim help us learn real facts about the real world (or how it ought to be); things we could not know otherwise — the trolley problem, the veil of ignorance, philosophical zombies. Likewise, science has notable instances of thought experiments — Schrodinger’s Cat, Maxwell’s demon, Einstein’s 1905 simultaneity argument. Are these related? How are they related to actual experimentation done in the sciences? Do we learn objective facts from them, or just reinforce pre-existing (and perhaps mistaken) intuitions? The aim of the course is not just to become familiar with a variety of thought experiments, but to ask about their usefulness and status as tools of inquiry in philosophy and the empirical sciences.
Phil 424 Seminar:  Aesthetic Experience
Roholt
T 1:00–3:30
Is aesthetic experience different from ordinary experience? In this seminar we will examine different accounts of aesthetic experience by focusing on thinkers such as John Dewey, Edward Bullough, Jerome Stolnitz, Pierre Bourdieu, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. We will also consider the effects of modern technology upon our aesthetic experiences.

Previous Semesters

Fall 2019 Philosophy Courses

Phil 264 Critical Reasoning and Arguments
Bernstein
T 5:30–8:00
This is an intermediate-level course concentrating upon argumentation and rhetorical devices as they function in everyday conversation, philosophical discussion, and philosophical writing. Arguments will be examined with an eye to penetrating purely formal structure and discovering the underlying dynamics which contribute to cogency in a given context.
Phil 266 Philosophy of Science
McDermid
TR 10:00–11:15
The epistemological character of scientific thought and the relevance of scientific findings for the clarification and eventual resolution of traditional philosophical issues.
Phil 290 Fields of Phil: Feminist Philosophy
Robison
W 5:30–8
When it was first employed nearly two centuries ago, the term “feminism” referred to “qualities of females.” By the mid-nineteenth century, feminism became critical, that is, it became a philosophical movement that interrogated these so-called “feminine” qualities and how they came to be established as such. Our course will track the critical feminist turn in philosophy since its beginning in Simone de Beauvoir and the path that she initiated. It will have three parts. Taking de Beauvoir’s powerful thought, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” as our starting place, we will begin by closely engaging The Second Sex. In the next part, we will pay close attention to Judith Butler’s response, and examine her influential theory of gender performativity. In the third part, we will examine critical responses to Butler’s theory, such as Martha Nussbaum, Nancy Fraser, and Viviane Namaste. Throughout the course, we will encounter issues surrounding the relationships of sex and gender, nature and culture, mythology and history, desire and power, intercourse and violence. We will ask about what it means to be or, alternatively, become gendered, and the connection between agency and the body that each understanding of gender entails. We will ask about the role of history, class, and culture for defining gender, and the lived experience of its construction. Finally, turning to issues raised in transgender and Gender Nonconforming Identities discussions, we will critically reflect on the possibilities and limitations for thinking personal identity as inseparable from sexuality and gender.
Phil 293 Fields of Phil: The Philosophy of Time
Bartels
M 5:30–8
Is time real or an illusion? Is there a fundamental distinction between “subjective” and “objective” time? Is each “self” spread out over his or her lifetime or does the self only really exist in the present moment? By considering these and other questions, this course will give students a basic grounding in the issues and debates concerning the metaphysics of time in both the analytic and continental traditions. It will also focus on the interrelations between philosophical accounts of time and of the self. Readings will include both historical and contemporary sources. We will read Aristotle, Beothius, Nietzsche, Bergson, McTaggart, Gödel, Putnam and papers by contemporary philosophers; but rather than being a historical survey, this course will be arranged thematically on what philosophers of the past and the present bring to the issues with which time presents us.
Phil 295 Periods and Movements: Pragmatism
Kaye
M 2:30–5
This course will be an introduction to the writing of those American philosophers we’ve come to call pragmatists. As such it will be focused on some of the key issues that animated their thought—namely, truth, justification, the community of inquirers, experience, and the nature of belief. Readings will include texts from Charles Peirce, William James, and John Dewey.
Phil 339 Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Roholt
T 1:00–3:30 p.m.
This course will focus on core movements in the continental (European) philosophical tradition, with some emphasis given to phenomenology. We will examine the ways in which continental philosophers approach issues in various subfields of philosophy such as epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics, and the philosophy of technology. We will read the work of philosophers such as G.W.F. Hegel, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Martin Heidegger, Theodor W. Adorno, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, and Hubert Dreyfus. Continental philosophy stands in contrast to the dominant, Anglo-American, “analytic” philosophical tradition; we will have occasion to consider the methodological differences and similarities between analytic and continental philosophy.
Phil 390 Fields of Phil: Knowing One’s Mind
Morgan
MW 1:00–2:15
You know a lot of things about your own mental life. You know what you believe, what you want, what you feel, etc. Moreover, you seem to be the authority on such things. No one knows your mental life better than you do. In this course, we’ll look at how we come to attain such knowledge–what we might call self-knowledge. Part of our goal will be to investigate the scope of self-knowledge. In particular, we will look at how self-deception is possible and what, if anything, makes self-deception especially bad. Readings may include, but are not limited to, work by David Hume, Thomas Reid, Alex Byrne, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Mike W. Martin, and more.

Spring 2019 Courses

Phil 200 History of Ethics
M 5:30–8:00 p.m.
J. Kaye
The content of this course is a survey of major ethical theories, explored through selections from great works by key figures in the Western tradition of moral philosophy. We will examine the virtue ethics of Plato and Aristotle, the sentimentalism of David Hume, the deontological ethics of Immanuel Kant, the utilitarianism of Henry Sidgwick, the moral skepticism of Friedrich Nietzsche, and, finally, one or more modern-day ethical theories. The course will be focused on the development of important philosophical skills, especially writing.
Phil 204 Philosophical Issues in Biomedical Ethics
K. Baxter
MW 1:00–2:15 p.m.
In this course, we will learn about the fundamental moral principles relevant to medical ethics—including patient autonomy, beneficence, veracity, fidelity, and justice. We will apply ethical theories—including deontology and utilitarianism—to issues healthcare professionals face. We will compare these theories’ ability to recommend an appropriate course of action for the healthcare professional when fundamental moral principles conflict with each other. We will also contrast these theories with non-Western alternatives such as Buddhist ethics. Topics may include: just allocation of scarce medical resources, informed consent, stem cell research, genetic engineering, surrogate motherhood, abortion, and euthanasia. We will also study the history of medicine from a philosophical perspective, examining instances of medical personnel’s abuse of power –such as the Holocaust and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. We will then analyze the dynamics of power in contemporary medicine—such as pharmaceutical and insurance corporations’ influence on healthcare policymakers. How do these influences affect patients’ access to healthcare, the quality of care received, and the confidentiality of patients’ medical data? Our investigation of medicine and power will also illuminate disparities based on race, gender and class.
Phil 233 Contemporary Philosophers: The Philosophy of Technology
T. Roholt
T 1:00–3:30 p.m.
We are steeped in technology. The philosopher David Kaplan puts it this way: “Our world is largely a constructed environment; our technologies and technological systems form the background, context, and medium for our lives.” In our contemporary culture, it has become increasingly clear that our technology progresses faster than our understanding of how best to manage and use it. In this course we will employ the tools of philosophy to examine the ways in which technology affects our interactions with others, and the ways in which technology affects our society (the good and the not-so-good). We will accomplish this by drawing upon principles from ethics and political philosophy. By drawing upon the methodology of existential phenomenology, we will examine the very nature of technology, the ways in which technology shapes our experience of our surroundings, and the ways in which it influences our self-identities.
Phil 331 History of Philosophy: Ancient Philosophy
M. Robison
W 5:30–8:00 p.m.
Phil 390 Selected Topics: Theories of Explanation
K. McDermid
TR 10:00–11:15 p.m.
One definition of ‘philosophy’, as an activity, is to take an ordinary and uncontroversial concept and subject it to examination, often revealing surprising and unexpected complexities packed inside. This course will do that with explanation: explaining is something we do everyday, something we value and demand of others. But what does ‘explaining’ do? What does it mean to explain? What makes an explanation ‘good’, or ‘bad’? What does truth have to do with explanation? Are there things that are (or must be) unexplainable? Is science, as our primary generator of knowledge and method of inquiry, “in the business” of producing explanations too? Is an explanation itself an instance of knowledge, or do explanations not add to our knowledge of the world at all? In the course, students will explore different accounts of explanation and we’ll evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, especially as applied to topics and areas of interest to the class.
Phil 424 Seminar in Philosophy
J. Morgan
M 11:30 a.m.–2:00 p.m.

Fall 2018 Courses

Phil 260 Philosophies of Art
Guetti
W 5:30–8:00 p.m.
Phil 264 Critical Reasoning and Arguments
Kim
M 5:30–8:00 p.m.
Phil 270 Philosophy of Mind
Morgan
M 11:30 a.m.–2:00 p.m.
Philosophical issues arising from the study of mental processes including the relation of a person to the body and the possible reduction of consciousness to a brain process.
Phil 310 Knowledge, Belief, and Truth
McDermid
TR 10:00–11:15 a.m.
The major issues and theories concerning the relationship between knowledge, experience and reality.
Phil 390 Fields of Phil: Philosophies of Self
Roholt
T 1:00–3:30 p.m.
When you say “I” or “me” what are you referring to? There has been much disagreement in philosophy over the nature of the self/subject/person. In this course we will consider the metaphysical complexities of what the self might be, and the epistemological complexities of how we might know it. A secondary aspect of the course will involve considering whether certain conceptions of the self suggest that some ways of conducting our lives are better than others. We will read philosophers from both the analytic and continental traditions of philosophy, such as Descartes, Hume, Locke, Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Wittgenstein, Foucault, Shoemaker, and Parfit.

Spring 2018 Philosophy Courses

Phil 291 Fields of Philosophy: The Philosophy of Race
Bayruns
M 5:30–8 p.m.
The aim of this course is to cover the major debates and areas of inquiry in philosophy of race. Some of the debates concern (1) whether race is real, (2) whether, if so, it is socially real, biologically real or psychologically real, (3) whether society should abolish the use of the idea or category of race because of its relation to racism and racial injustice, (4) whether humans have a natural disposition to categorize by race, (5) how race can affect the flow of knowledge in society, the production of ignorance and the justification of individually held beliefs, and (6) how race affects the distribution of wealth and opportunities in the United States. We will study authors and influential texts from the 15th century to the early 20th century, from theorists such as Bartolomé de las Casas to W.E.B. Du Bois, to Alain Locke. These debates and areas of inquiry in the philosophy of race will be taken up by engaging not only with philosophers of race but also with philosophers of biology, sociologists, metaphysicians, epistemologists, and political philosophers.
Phil 292 Fields of Philosophy: Philosophy in Science Fiction
McDermid
TR 10–11:15 a.m.
Science fiction – in literature, TV, movies and other cultural products – obviously focuses on the impact of current or speculative scientific and technological developments.  But a key part of what makes Sci-Fi interesting is that those speculations allow authors and readers to explore science and technology as a way to ask enduring questions about the human experience: philosophical questions. The fictional possibilities opened up by the real or imagined science often frame classic philosophical issues in newly-engaging or truly novel ways. This course will allow students to explore their favorite science fiction, to develop a deeper understanding of the philosophy it assumes, questions or confronts. Course content will be substantially driven by student interests, as the scope of the subject matter and the philosophy it engages with is too great to fit in one course.
Phil 333 History of Philosophy: Modern Philosophy
Robison
W 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.
Phil 339 Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Roholt
T 1–3:30 p.m.

Fall 2017 Philosophy Courses

PHIL 212 Social and Political Philosophy
Robison
W 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.
This course will examine core issues in social and political philosophy in the western tradition—such as justice, authority, freedom and equality—in order to reflect on the nature of the political state and the relationship between the state and the individual. Taking a broad historical approach, we will examine foundational works in political philosophy by thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau, as well as contemporary thinkers such as Rawls and Foucault. In so doing, we will consider philosophers’ points of disagreement on these issues, and examine their respective underlying reasoning.
PHIL 290 Fields of Philosophy: Happiness and Meaning
Roholt
T 1:00–3:30 p.m.
Is happiness simply maximizing pleasure? Is happiness just getting what you want? Can a person become happy by accumulating wealth? Is being happy the same as living a good life? What is a good life? What makes a life fulfilling? What makes it meaningful? In what ways are the following related to happiness: freedom, ethics, politics, identity, authenticity, technology? In considering these questions, we will read from several different areas of philosophy—existentialism, phenomenology, ancient Greek philosophy, contemporary analytic philosophy, and contemporary continental philosophy. One task in this project is to analyze happiness and related concepts, but we will also continually attempt to describe, to flesh out the underlying phenomenon that philosophers aim to pick out with such concepts. The underlying phenomenon is something like the ultimate goal of life or what Aristotle calls “the chief good.”
PHIL 293 Fields of Philosophy: Philosophy of Biology
McDermid
TR 10:00–11:15 a.m.
This course will be organized around answering one apparently simple question: “Is evolutionary biology a science?” Students will explore this question through independent research, group projects and class presentations, using their own expertise and interests to focus their activity. As we research this, and evaluate alternative accounts (the various creationisms, intelligent design, etc.), some of the issues we will discuss are the demarcation problem (what counts as ‘scientific’?), the nature of scientific knowledge and explanation, the relationship between the sciences and other ways of knowing (such as religion), the role of politics in science and science education, and the value-neutrality or impartiality of science.
PHIL 331 Ancient Philosophy
Kaye
W 5:30–8:00 p.m.

Spring 2017 Philosophy Courses

PHIL 233 Contemporary Philosophers: The Philosophy of Technology
Roholt
T 1:00–3:30 p.m.
We are steeped in technology. The philosopher David Kaplan puts it this way: “Our world is largely a constructed environment; our technologies and technological systems form the background, context, and medium for our lives.” The Philosophy of Technology is a relatively new sub-field of philosophy, which is exciting because the sub-field is still in flux—philosophers of technology are still in disagreement about precisely what should be their focus. The philosophy of technology should at least attempt to clarify what technology is. But is technology a particular domain of human activity? Is it a particular way of knowing? In this course, we will study some of these attempts to make sense of the nature of technology, but we will focus on the ways in which technology affects us—as individual selves, socially, and politically.
PHIL 264 Critical Reasoning and Arguments
Herrera
W 5:30–8:00 p.m.
This course addresses the philosophical side of reasoning, inference and decision-making. The emphasis is on key themes from formal logic, paradoxes, inductive reasoning, probability and rhetoric. The goal will be to develop skills necessary to critically read scholarly, scientific and even political texts. Students will also get practice in logically presenting their views, and challenging those that others express. In this course, the goal is to explore the connection between philosophical theory and practice, in a way that gets at the basic need that we have to make informed choices in a range of disciplines and situations.
PHIL 310 Knowledge, Belief, and Truth
McDermid
TR 10:00–11:15 a.m.
The major issues and theories concerning the relationship between knowledge, experience and reality.
PHIL 424 Seminar in Philosophy: Theories of Action
Robison
M 5:30–8:00 p.m.
Cooperative research seminar in major movements, problems, philosophers or works.

Fall 2016 Philosophy Courses

PHIL 200 History of Ethics
Herrera
W 5:30–8:00 p.m.
This is a survey course of the major developments in moral philosophy. We will trace a selective history, from the ancient Greeks to the 21st century. Along the way, students will become acquainted with the most important theories and concepts in ethics, such as utilitarianism, deontology and natural-law theory. These theories will be set against the parallel history of ethical skepticism. The course will also focus on the improvement of the two main skills in philosophy, reading and writing. In that sense, the class serves as a bridge between Introductory level classes and the more advanced ones that you might take in philosophy.
PHIL 295  Periods and Movements:  Living Machines in Descartes and Hobbes
Robison
M 5:30–8:00 p.m.
Hobbes and Descartes are often criticized for putting forth ‘lifeless’ conceptions of life that reduce living creatures to artificial machines or dead matter. Descartes and Hobbes accept the ‘new’ scientific notion of nature as physical motion governed by universal, causal laws, and reject the ‘old’ approaches which conceive of life in terms of divine purpose or natural teleology. Each elaborates his concept of life with reference to automata or ‘engines that move themselves’, to use one of Hobbes’ formulations. From this ‘machine metaphor’, however, they draw very different conclusions. We will examine these two influential conceptions of life in order to discover the ways that each philosopher conceives of the human being as a living, moving, creature. In so doing, we will explore key issues in early modern philosophy that pertain to the relationship between nature and human experience (such as the connection between the human body and the human mind), and those concerning the free will-determinism debate.
PHIL 312  Existence and Reality
McDermid
TR 10:00–11:15 a.m.
An examination of major philosophical theories concerning the nature of reality.
PHIL 339  Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Roholt
T 1:00–3:30 p.m.
This course will survey the four main movements of the continental (European) philosophical tradition: (1) 19th-century German philosophy, (2) Marxism/critical theory, (3) phenomenology/existentialism, and (4) post-structuralism/post-modernism. This philosophical tradition runs from the 19th Century to the present day. Continental philosophy stands in contrast to the dominant, Anglo-American, “analytic” philosophical tradition. This course gives students the opportunity to examine the ways in which continental philosophers approach issues in the core subfields of philosophy, such as epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, political philosophy and aesthetics. Students will also have the opportunity to explore similarities to and differences from the analytic philosophical tradition.