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Courses

(This list of courses may not be up to date. Please see the latest General Catalog for a complete list of current courses.)

011. Introduction to Philosophy. An overview of answers that philosophers across the world have provided to questions that most of us ask ourselves at one time or another in life, such as: Can we know anything beyond what our senses tell us? Can we even be sure that what our senses tell us is accurate? Is there a God? Is life after death possible? Do we have free will, and hence moral responsibility for what we do? Are we merely selfish beings or can we do things for the sake of others? Are there moral rules that all cultures and people recognize, or should recognize? Do our lives have meaning without God and without some sort of afterlife?

021. Moral Problems. An exploration of some of the "big ticket" moral issues of our time, including, for example: physician-assisted suicide; capital punishment; abortion; animal rights; pornography; the limits of free speech; the legalization and use of drugs; affirmative action; war; torture; civil disobedience; gun control; and the distribution of wealth. The best philosophical arguments on both sides of each issue will be considered, so that each student can decide which positions are most rationally compelling.

025. The Meaning of Life. An exploration of one overall question -- Do human lives have meaning? -- and the answers provided by philosophers, both ancient and modern, across the world. Subsidiary questions include: Is meaning found in this life or in life after death? What makes a life meaningful--is it what we achieve, or the experiences we have, or our relationships, or something else? Is the meaning of life something we make for ourselves or is it provided by some other source, such as God?

027. Fundamentals of Ethics. An  inquiry into the question "How should we lead our lives?" Each student will be asked to reflect on her/his own moral commitments and how she/he makes morally difficult decisions, and then to consider whether there is any coherent, unifying system or procedure underlying this. The course then explores several of the most durable and influential philosophical approaches to moral decision making, including the strengths and weaknesses of each approach and how each might apply to various real-life situations. Additional issues might include: why we ought to take morality's demands seriously; whether moral judgments are mere opinions; and whether it is legitimate to criticize morally the practices of other cultures.

035. Environmental Ethics. An investigation into various environmental problems and the ethical attitudes and principles required to address them. Questions might include: Do animals have rights? Do plants, or whole ecosystems, or future generations of people, have interests, and if so, are we obligated to respect these interests? Are humans part of nature, and is that which is natural always good? Are you required to perform environmentally-friendly actions even in cases where doing so involves some cost to you and you lack assurance that enough others will join you to make a collective difference? Can we can put a "price" on environmental goods like clean water, a species' existence, a beautiful vista, and even a human life -- as economists frequently try to do?

037. Introduction to Logic. An introduction to the basic concepts and methods employed in the analysis of arguments. The course begins with some of the basic concepts of logic, such as truth, probability, validity, soundness, proof, and consistency. Students will learn how to translate arguments into symbolic languages (categorical, sentential, and predicate logics) and evaluate them using various formal techniques. Time may also be spent examining the notion of probability and the character of inductive inference, as well as detecting and explaining common fallacies.

047. Philosopher in Depth. A sustained study of a single, highly important philosophical figure. Typically this will involve looking at this person's views in various areas of philosophy - ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics - and exploring how these views cohere (or fail to cohere). The philosopher will differ from semester to semester, but candidates include such thinkers as: Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, Kant, Mill, or Nietzsche.

053. History of Ancient & Medieval Philosophy. A survey of influential philosophers up to roughly 1500 A.D., such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Hellenistic philosophers (Epicureans, Stoics, Skeptics), Augustine, and Aquinas. Potential topics to be investigated are: What does happiness consist in? Which character traits count as virtues, and how do we become virtuous? What is the origin and nature of justice? Why be moral? What are the aims of government and law? What is the difference between knowledge and opinion? Does a divine being exist, and if so what are its attributes?

055. History of Modern Philosophy. A treatment of central philosophers and issues starting from roughly 1500 A.D. Authors read might include: Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. Examples of questions addressed: Do we have assurance that the "real world" is as we perceive it to be? Is there actually a world that exists independent of our perceptions? When does what we believe count as knowledge? Does God exist? Do we have free will? Do we have souls? How can we best govern ourselves?

061. Philosophy of Science. An examination of the main philosophical issues regarding the nature and methods of science. Among the questions to be considered are: Can we clearly distinguish science from non-science? Is there such a thing as a scientific method? What counts as sufficient evidence for a scientific law? In what sense are new theories better than old ones? Is science converging on the ultimate truth about the natural world? What is it to say that electrons, black holes, or genes really exist? What are scientific explanations and how do they differ from descriptions and predictions? Examples will be drawn from the natural and social sciences. No background in science is needed, though science majors are especially welcome.

093. Special Topics

106. Philosophy of Law. An analysis of the nature and function of law. More specific topics might include: the idea of law as an instrument of social control; whether democratically decided laws can ever be illegitimate; the extent to which we are obligated to obey the law; the justification for punishment, and its permissible forms; the relationship between law, morality, and justice; the appropriate role of legislators, lawyers, and judges; and the role of interpretation, coherence, and precedent in judicial reasoning. Readings are drawn from legal and political philosophy, social sciences, and judicial opinions. Not recommended for first-year students.

121. Philosophy of Mind. An exploration of some of the major issues and debates in recent philosophy of mind and cognitive science. Possible questions include: Are mental states just brain states? Are minds like computers? What are the prospects for artificial intelligence? Can non-human animals think? How essential are the body and external environment to the character of the mind? Can the subjective aspects of experience ever be explained in objective (e.g., physical) terms? Could one person's experience of the world be radically different from another's? How do thoughts get their contents? What is the relationship between thought and action? What can pathological cases teach us about the mental? A previous course in philosophy is recommended.

122. Philosophy of Language. An investigation of the main philosophical issues concerning the nature of language and communication. Questions include: How do words come to have meaning? What exactly do we know when we understand a language? Which comes first, language or thought? What are the functions of language, if not merely to convey information? How do we sometimes manage to communicate so much more than what we literally say? How do metaphor, irony, and other figurative uses of language work? To what do fictional names like Sherlock Holmes refer? A previous course in philosophy is recommended.

124. Philosophy of Religion. A philosophical treatment of questions such as: Does God exist? Is it prudent to believe that God exists, even if one cannot be sure? Is belief without sufficient evidence -- faith, in short -- morally irresponsible? If God is all-knowing, can we actually have free will? Does the existence of evil in the world show that God is either not all-powerful or not wholly good? Do we ever have reason to believe in miracles? Do science and religion make competing claims? Do we have souls that survive our bodily death? Does the very existence of morality depend on God? A previous course in philosophy is recommended.

135. Political Philosophy. An inquiry into issues such as: the justification for and limits on governmental power; the origin and extent of rights; the nature and proper extent of individual liberty; the nature and substantive demands of social, economic, and legal justice; the virtues and vices of various political systems; and tensions between political goods such as freedom, equality, fairness, security, and tradition. Not recommended for first-year students.

145. Biomedical Ethics. An examination of the ethical theories, principles, and concepts that justify decisions in health care and medical science. Topics covered may include: physician-assisted suicide; termination or refusal of life-sustaining treatment; abortion; reproductive technologies such as cloning, in vitro fertilization, and surrogacy; the allocation of scarce medical resources (including transplant organs); genetic manipulation; and experimentation on humans and animals. Not recommended for first-year students.

180. Metaphysics. A philosophical exploration of the ultimate nature of reality. Metaphysical questions include: What is the nature of existence? Of necessity and possibility? What kinds of things are there? In virtue of what is something the very thing it is (rather than something else)? Does an object persist as the same object through time and change? What, if anything, makes you the same person over the course of your life? What is it to be a person at all? To what extent are we genuinely free to choose our actions? If one could not have done other than what one did, then how can one be held responsible for one's actions?  What is the nature of time? A previous course in philosophy is strongly recommended.

182. Theory of Knowledge. A study of the nature, sources, and limits of human knowledge. Questions to be considered include: What is knowledge and how does it differ from belief or opinion? What justifies what I claim to know or believe? How do I acquire knowledge -- via perception, testimony, memory, pure reason, etc. -- and how reliable are these sources? Is all knowledge acquired through experience or are there truths that can be known by pure reason? Does knowledge require certainty? Can we know anything about the future (or the past)? Can I know that there is an external world or that there are other minds? What is the nature of self-knowledge? Do I know myself better than anyone else? Are humans really rational? A previous course in philosophy is strongly recommended.

184. Meta-Ethics: What Is Morality? Questions such as "Which actions are right?" and "Which character traits are virtues?" are first-order ethical questions. Meta-ethics, by contrast, involves second-order questions-that is, reflecting philosophically on the nature of our first-order moral judgments. Questions to be taken up in this course thus might include: What do terms like "good," "bad," "right," and "wrong" mean? Can these attributes be reduced to natural properties, such as the property of being desired, or being conducive to the production of happiness or social harmony? Do moral claims (such as "Lying is wrong") state objective facts, or merely express personal or social approval/disapproval, or what? If there are moral facts, how do we learn them? What is the relationship between judging an action to be right and having reasons or motives to perform that action? What is the relationship between morality and evolution? A previous course in philosophy is strongly recommended.

191. Independent Study Permission of the instructor required.

193. Special Topics