Course Descriptions

 

PHILOSOPHY DEPARTMENT
COURSE DESCRIPTIONS

SPRING 2020

PHIL 2600- Logic
10:55-12:20 MWF
Rellihan

In this elementary introduction to informal and symbolic logic, students will develop their skills for evaluating and constructing arguments. Topics covered include propositional logic (truth-tables and natural deduction), predicate logic, argument analysis, inductive and causal reasoning, and informal fallacies. If you are considering law school, this class is excellent preparation for the LSAT.

PHIL 3030 – Modern Philosophy
2:05-3:30  MWF
Hung

This course traces the development of European philosophy from the 16th to the 18th century. We will study the works of René Descartes (1596-1650), Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673), John Locke (1632-1704), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), Mary Astell (1666-1731), David Hume (1711-1776), and Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), among others. Topics to be covered include (1) the conception of the self as subject of consciousness; (2) knowledge as representation; (3) the person as moral and political category; (4) equality between men and women in the state and within the family; and (5) European philosophy’s encounter with other cultures. Our main objectives are to understand the changes in philosophy that characterize its “modern” phase and the issues that would make it the target of various contemporary critiques and to begin a critical reflection on this “modern” way of understanding ourselves.

PHIL 3330 – Philosophy of Science
12:30-1:55 MWF
Rellihan

This course will introduce students to the central issues and debates in the philosophy of science.  We will take a historical approach, beginning in the early 20th century with the positivist’s project of distinguishing science from pseudoscience and legitimate enquiry from metaphysical nonsense.  We’ll then consider Popper’s criticism of positivism and his contention that falsifiability is the defining feature of scientific investigation.  We’ll next consider the much more serious challenge Kuhn poses to the positivist project and to the scientific project more generally.  Kuhn argues that the history of science is not one of steady progress toward ultimate truth.  Rather science ‘progresses’ by means of revolutionary ‘paradigm shifts’ whereby a prerevolutionary paradigm is displaced by an incommensurable postrevolutionary paradigm due to largely nonrational considerations.  Kuhnian relativism has inspired a number of compelling responses from scientific realists and others, and we will consider several of these.  Foremost among these responses is the simple consideration that the undeniable success of scientific inquiry requires a better explanation than Kuhn can provide.  We will conclude the course with an investigation of a specific science—the science of psychology.  Not only does psychology gives rise to a number of unique philosophical problems—debates over naturalism, materialism, and reductionism are at the forefront—it also acts as a counterexample and counterweight to the many accounts of scientific inquiry that derive primarily from an investigation of the natural sciences.

We will tackle a number of other topics as they arise in the context of our inquiry.  These include the nature of inductive reasoning, the so-called ‘riddles’ of induction, the nature and grounding of scientific laws, the nature of explanation, and the manner in which political and social factors influence the course of science. 

PHIL 3620 – Existentialism
9:20-10:45 MWF
Kidder

This seminar-style course examines key ideas in one of the most influential philosophical movements of the twentieth century, including Søren Kierkegaard's conception of "existence," Heidegger's approach to the question of being, and debates between Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and others over politics and the meaning of human subjectivity.  The course will emphasize the roots of existential theory in classic philosophical questions, but will also explore the movement’s relevance to questions of race, class, and gender, as well as the expression of its themes in works of literature and film.

Readings will include:

Soren Kierkegaard, The Essential Kierkegaard

Martin Heidegger, Basic Writings¸ Revised Edition

Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism

Albert Camus, The Stranger

Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity

 

PHIL 4220 – Virtue Ethics
3:45-5:50 T, Th
Carl

Among the three dominant contemporary approaches in moral theory, Virtue Ethics is both the oldest and the newest. While much of the emphasis in 19th and 20th century moral philosophy concerned utilitarian and deontological theories, Elizabeth Anscombe’s essay “Modern Moral Philosophy” (1958) heralded the renaissance of the Greek, and particularly the Aristotelian, notion of the virtues. This course will begin with a very brief review of the historical development of conceptions of the virtues and vices. We will then consider the contemporary virtue theories developed by Alasdair MacIntyre, Rosaline Hursthouse, Martha Nussbaum, et al. We will also consider some connections between virtue ethics and feminist ethics, examples of important moral virtues, such as justice and humility, and applications of virtue ethics to particular moral problems, such as abortion.

The course will be conducted as a seminar. Your preparation for and active participation in class discussion are essential ingredients in your own success in the course as well as in the success of the seminar as a whole. Each student will make one formal presentation to the class which will be the basis of one of the short papers. You will also do several informal presentations.  Informal presentations include, for example, leading a portion of the class discussion, giving a prepared response to a study question, writing a précis of one of the readings or of a class discussion and reading it to the class.  In addition, there is a major paper (10-12 pages) due at the end of the quarter.

PHIL 4850 – Major Figure: Rawls
10:15-12:20 T, Th
Dombrowski
X: PLSC 4910

The election of Donald Trump has led many scholars to wonder about the long-term prospects of liberal democracy both in the United States and worldwide.  The present course will explore the thought of the greatest philosophical defender of political liberalism. John Rawls, who died at the end of 2002, was also the most influential political philosopher of the twentieth century.  In this course, we will examine extensive selections from his three most important books: A Theory of Justice (1971), Political Liberalism (1993), and The Law of Peoples (1999).  No prior background in Rawls is required of students, only a desire to consider the philosophical problems associated with the following questions: How can free individuals who differ (sometimes uncompromisingly) in the comprehensive doctrines that they affirm live together in a just society?  What decision-making procedure, if any, can get us closest to understanding what a just society would be like, both nationally and internationally?  Can human beings shed themselves of their biases in order to deal with the concept of justice in an objective way?  What are the grounds for hope, if any, that twenty-first-century societies can gradually approximate justice?  The goal is to have the technical vocabulary of Rawls’ political philosophy illuminate responses to these questions.

PHIL 4910 – Contemporary Political Philosophy
3:40-5:45 MW
Olsen
X: PLSC 4590


In-depth analysis of issues, theories, and debates of contemporary relevance. In the spring, this course will explore the quest for community in contemporary political theory in relation to debates about liberalism, diversity, and globalization