Course Descriptions

 

PHILOSOPHY DEPARTMENT
COURSE DESCRIPTIONS

WINTER 2020

PHIL 1000 – Introduction to Philosophy
1:30-3:35 T, Th
Rellihan

This course will introduce students to the methods and fundamental questions of philosophy. We’ll begin with an investigation of metaphysics and epistemology: What is the ultimate nature of reality and can it be distinguished from mere appearance?  What is time?  Does the past exist? Does the future?  What is existence?  Is the existence of the universe necessary?  If not, why did it come to be?  Pondering these questions will lead us into the philosophy of religion: Is there a God and if so what is His nature?  Is God’s existence compatible with the existence of evil in the world?  Is there unambiguous evidence for or against God’s existence?  Could there be?  Does morality depend upon God or does it have some independent source?  We’ll then consider some of the central questions of political philosophy and value theory more generally: Are there objective and universal values?  Can they be known?  What is the nature of political community?  What is its end?  What are human rights and how are they grounded?  We’ll conclude with an investigation into the nature of the good life for human beings: Does life have a purpose?  Is it fundamentally absurd?  How should we think about death?  How should we live in the face of it?  What does it mean to live a life of authenticity?  Is such a life even possible?

We’ll consider these questions and others with the help of classical and contemporary sources. In order to address them with clarity and rigor, students will be introduced to the principles and techniques of sound argumentation and analytical writing.

PHIL 3020 – Medieval Philosophy
12:30-1:55 MWF
Fisher

In this course we will study major philosophical figures and debates from the Christian and Islamic philosophical traditions during the Middle Ages (4th-14th centuries). We will use the works of St. Augustine, Boethius, al Kindi, ibn Sina, al Ghazali, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Christine de Pizan to explore problems of free will; the nature and origins of evil and wickedness; human happiness, suffering, and sorrow; the relationship between ethics and law; the role of gender on medieval notions of virtue and vice; and others. We will focus on the close reading of primary texts, but in class we will also attend to the broader framework of the history of ideas in which we find our authors, and explore the patterns of influence between them. This time-period is remarkable because of the rich exchange of ideas between the Pagan and early Christian Hellenistic traditions from Late Antiquity, the Islamic and Jewish traditions of the Classical Golden Age of the Islamic Empire, and the Catholic intellectual traditions of Latin Christendom in the later middle ages. We find thinkers in each tradition seeking truth and wisdom in the works of their predecessors despite differences in faith, creed, and culture. The questions with which they were concerned are, in many respects, still very relevant for us today.

PHIL 3410 – Buddhist Philosophy
6:00-8:05 T, Th
Wirth

We will begin with some of the classic teachings attributed to the historic Buddha culled from the so-called Pali Canon. After developing a preliminary sense of its origins, we will consider some of its most radical and  provocative developments, including the great Indian master Nāgārjuna (c. 150 - c. 250 CE) and Eihei Dōgen (1200-1253), perhaps the most philosophical of the Japanese Zen masters. We will conclude with a study of contemporary socially engaged Buddhism, including issues like Buddhist feminism and economics. 

PHIL 3910 – Philosophical Questions in Artificial Intelligence
3:40-5:10 MW
Kiyimba

Artificial Intelligence is not only a fact of life, it is imposing itself ever more inexorably upon our very being as humans for better or for worse.  The strides made by AI are ever greater and ever faster.  The boundary between science fiction and reality is becoming more blurred by the day.  It is our natural duty as humans to slow down and think about what this development means for us.  We need not only to understand AI, but also to be able to critique it, to guide it and to engage with it in ways that enhance our humanity.

This course introduces some key philosophical questions that arise with the meteoric dawn of AI.  The course does not presuppose a technical knowledge of AI, nor a deep background in philosophy.  The tools we need are quite accessible: a curious mind, the capacity to formulate a question, the ability to critically analyse a text, and the willingness to discuss deeply about both our readings and our imaginings.

Similarly, the learning outcomes are that participants will have an increased appreciation of the advances of AI and a mindset that asks pertinent questions.  Such understanding should lead further to a more meaningful engagement with the world of AI, as well as making personal choices in the same world. 

Over the five weeks during which this short course will run, the method we shall follow is to read selected relevant texts that introduce or discuss a major area in philosophy with AI in mind.  Thus far, each week (more or less) we shall grapple with questions including:

1.    What did Alan Turing foresee as questions, and how relevant are they today, given the (r)evolutions in AI?

2.    What would constitute computation, and how much computational intelligence have to be central to AI?

3.    Has AI changed our understanding of intelligence?

4.    Is there a type of reality that is generated by AI?  What is the interface between it and our familiar reality?

5.    What is unique about how humans make moral calculations that would distinguish them from similar calculations by AI?

6.    Do machines actually know?  Would we know what they know? 

From the outset, participants should be thoroughly familiar with two key texts:

·         Turing A.M., (1950) “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” Mind 49 433-460.

·         Gonsalves, Tad, (2017) Artificial Intelligence: A Non-Technical Introduction. Tokyo, Sophia University Press.

PHIL 4290 – Philosophy of Oppression & Resistance
10:55-12:20 MWF
Cisneros

What are the most profound and systematic forms of injustice and oppression that have affected our societies? How have people sought to resist and overcome these injustices?

Understanding how oppression works is of central importance in our present political moment. Community organizers and activists, along with other national and international organizations, continue to develop and put forward different—and sometimes contrasting—accounts of what oppression means and what oppression does. With diverse and changing conceptions of oppression itself come different ideas about how oppressive functions of power might be reformed, resisted, or transformed. In this course, we will explore different philosophies of both oppression and resistance.  By investigating a variety of philosophical accounts of how power can function to oppress and/or liberate, we will inquire about how these different perspectives shed light on the possibility of resisting contemporary forms of oppression.

We will engage texts from a variety of philosophical traditions, including Black radical thought, Marxism, poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, queer theory, disability theory, feminist theory, and Latin American and Latinx philosophy. We will examine how the forms of oppression analyzed by these thinkers, including white supremacy, classism, ableism, settler colonialism, gender normalization, and heterosexism intersect with one another in order to critically evaluate how helpful various theoretical frameworks are for practices of liberation or freedom today. Through close reading, class discussion, and written projects we will explore, apply, and critically evaluate these philosophical accounts of oppression and liberation with an eye towards our own roles and responsibilities in the contemporary world.

PHIL 4370 – Philosophy of Mind
3:45-5:50 T, Th
Rellihan

This class will focus on contemporary work on the metaphysics of mind, free will, and personal identity.  Are our thoughts and feelings purely physical phenomena, as materialists believe?  Or do they somehow transcend the physical?  Are our choices and actions truly free?  Must they be if we are to be morally responsible?  And what is the nature of the self?  Are we entirely constituted by our memories and experiences?  Do we even possess a ‘true self’ or is this merely a social fiction?  We will consider a variety of sometimes surprising responses to these and similar questions.  

We will begin by considering contemporary responses to the mind-body problem.  We’ll start by considering substance dualism—the view that the mind is an immaterial substance capable of independent existence.  We will consider a variety of problems with this view and consider a variety of alternatives, which will include a number of different forms of materialism, as well as a number of different forms of dualism.  We will even consider a surprisingly compelling argument for panpsychism—the view that all of nature has at least some rudimentary level of consciousness.  We’ll next consider contemporary work in the free will debate.  Many philosophers believe that our actions are both free and causally determined.  We’ll consider the merits of this position, as well as important objections to it.  We’ll also consider whether free will is necessary for moral responsibility.  Some believe that it is, arguing that if our wills are not free moral nihilism is the inevitable result.  Others, however, believe that we can be responsible even if we are not free.  We’ll consider some compelling evidence for this counterintuitive position.  Finally, we will consider whether and to what extent we possess selves that remain identical over time.  Are we the same person from birth until death?  Are we even the same person from one moment to the next?  If so, what allows for this identity over time given that we are constantly changing?  We will consider a variety of responses to these challenging questions.       

PHIL 4850 – Major Figure: Hannah Arendt
10:15-12:20 T, Th
Risser

This course is devoted to the philosophy and political thought of Hannah Arendt, one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century. Arendt’s writings on power, violence and the moral dimensions of the totalitarian state–made famous in part with her coinage of “the banality of evil” in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem –brought her into public prominence in the 1950s and 60s in America and abroad. Her philosophical project is devoted to the recovery of what she calls “the public sphere”—the space of freedom (in relation to others) and of “action,” which is essential for human flourishing. She identifies this flourishing with “natality”—the ability of humans to make new beginnings.

This course will begin with a focus on her highly influential philosophical works, The Human Condition and The Life of the Mind, the latter published posthumously from her lectures at the New School for Social Research in New York. The second half of the course will focus on her political writings, which include her essays on freedom, authority and truth in politics.

Required texts:

Arendt, The Human Condition, 2nd ed. (University of Chicago Press)

Arendt, Between Past & Future (Penguin/Random House)

Arendt, Responsibility & Judgment (Schocken)

Arendt, The Promise of Politics (Schocken)

Arendt, The Crisis of the Republic (Ingram Book Co.)