Fall 2018 Upper Level Courses

PHL 263: Informal Logic

WF 2:50pm | 4:10pm | Dr. Bill McKenna

This course is devoted to developing attitudes and skills for critical thinking. Students will learn theories, concepts, and methods pertaining to understanding and producing reasoned discourse. They will learn how to analyze and access the strengths and weaknesses of speech and writing from a logical point of view. They will develop the ability to construct good arguments and learn how to best communicate them to others. Throughout the course the emphasis will be on practice, practice in applying the methods of interpreting and producing arguments.

PHL 273: Formal Logic

MWF 10:05am | 11:20am | Dr. Michael Hicks

It is tempting to characterize a really good argument this way: if you accept its premises you must accept its conclusion. This course begins by analyzing this “must"—in what sense can one be logically compelled? What is it for an argument to be valid? A simple trick called “formalization” allows us to focus on certain structural features that are often relevant to the validity of an argument. In this course, we consider two formalizations, sentential logic and a first-order quantification-theory that builds on it, and figure out how to use them to show the validity of arguments. The primary task will be to master these mathematical representations of argument. As such this class is very different from other philosophy classes: homework will often be pseudo-mathematical, and there is very little writing.

PHL 301: Ancient Philosophy

TR 10:05am | 11:55am | Dr. Pascal Massie

To be concerned with ancient Greek philosophy is to be concerned with philosophy’s beginning. It is commonly acknowledged that philosophy, as it developed in the Western tradition, originated in Greece, about 2,400 years ago. Our task, however, is to move beyond this commonplace in order to think about the problem raised by the ascription of such a beginning. The Greeks themselves understood the beginning as archē. In this sense, a beginning is not a starting point left behind in subsequent developments, nor does it refer to some archaic, primitive or outdated stage of thought; rather, archē constitutes the living source, the basis, and the guiding principle that endures throughout what has grown out of it. Thus, to study ancient philosophy is to be concerned with what initially and still today motivates philosophy.

The leading question throughout this course will be: ‘what is philosophy?’ In order to articulate it, we will begin with the Pre-Socratic conception of the cosmos and being raised by Parmenides and Heraclitus in particular; then, we will focus on the works of Plato and Aristotle (the main part of the semester) and conclude with a representative text from the Hellenistic period (Epicureanism, Stoicism or Skepticism).

PHL 311: Ethical Theory

MWF 2:50pm | 4:40pm | Dr. Benjamin Rossi

This course will explore, topically and in-depth, a range of more contemporary ethical theories. Topics may include Phenomenology and Ethics, Existentialist Ethics, Feminist Ethics, Environmental and Animal Ethics, and the Ethics of Aesthetics. Authors we may read include Iris Marion Young, Simone de Beauvoir, Joan Tronto, Virginia Held, Jean-Paul Sartre, Elaine Scarry, Aldo Leopold, Peter Singer, Susan Brison, and Friedrich Nietzsche.

PHL 335: Philosophy of Law

MWF 11:40pm | 12:55pm | Dr. Christopher King

It is often said that constitutional democratic societies are unique insofar as they rule themselves by law. Yet, such societies manifest deep conflicts about which laws are correct, what their guiding constitutional laws mean, and whether or not they have a duty to obey them. In short, citizens do not agree about what the laws should be or what gives them authority and legitimacy. Philosophers and theorists have tried to make these disputes tractable by addressing very basic questions like “What is a law?” or “What is the basis for a so called ‘legal system?” This course in the philosophy of law aims to shed light on the more evident conflicts by shedding light on the nature and content of law, the relationship(s) between law and morality, problems of constitutional interpretation, the nature of rights, and the source(s) of legal authority. We will examine the main theoretical proposals on these topics and we will examine and practice instances of legal reasoning in applying them.

PHL 360A: Confronting Death

TR 2:50pm | 4:40pm | Dr. Suzanne McCullagh

This course begins by considering the significance of death to human life, specifically in terms of the relationship of the individual towards their own death. Is death always an evil? Is death meaningless? Is it because we die that we are able to live well? We will then turn to literature on grief and mourning to consider the significance of the death of others (friends, family, and compatriots) to one’s life and to the constitution of one’s identity. While the first part of the course will focus exclusively on human death, the second part of the course will consider whether or not some of the ways of thinking about human death also apply to nonhuman deaths. Here, we will explore literature on animal mourning practices, the death of languages, and species extinction. Lastly, we will consider contemporary arguments that the extinction of the human species is being hastened by anthropogenic climate change and consider the consequences of this for thinking the relationship between death and the meaning of human life. In exploring ideas about death we will engage with philosophy, film, poetry, and literature.

PHL 410R: Truth and Lies: Telling the Truth and Why it Matters

(Cross-listed with ENG 490)

WF 10:05am | 11:25am | Dr. Emily Zakin/Dr. Theresa Kulbaga

We live in a time of fierce debate over truth and misrepresentation, even as contemporary culture offers extraordinary opportunities for self-representation in memoir, documentary film, and social media. What does it mean to “tell the truth” (about ourselves and the world) and how can we discern it? Do differing conceptions of truth tear at the fabric of a shared social reality—or make it stronger? Students will read widely in theories of truth and truth-telling (including its meaning, value, and possibility), consider the craft and rhetoric of truth in truth-telling genres such as autobiography, memoir, creative journalism, and documentary film, and develop a critical conception of the role(s) of truth and lies in contemporary society. Among the questions we will expore are: What is the value of a truth claim? Who is presumed to have or speak the truth and who isn’t? How do we relate to ourselves and others through the prism of truth and lies? What is the relation between truth and democracy?

PHL 411/511: Advanced Ethical Theories: Philosophy of Action

TR 5:00pm | 6:50pm | Dr. Facundo Alonso

In this course we will reflect on the basic philosophical questions about agency. These include: What is it for one to be an agent? What is it to act intentionally? Is one responsible for one's intentional actions? What is it to act for a reason? Are the reasons for which one acts causes of one’s action? What is intention? Is intention a special kind of belief? What kind of knowledge, if any, does one have of one’s own actions? When are one's intentions and actions rational? What is weakness of the will? What is it for one to be an autonomous or self-governing agent? The aim of this course is to introduce students to the basic philosophical issues about agency and to recent debates on the topic. (Pre-requisites: prior coursework in philosophy, or consent of the instructor.)

PHL 420A/520A: The History of Analytic Philosophy

MWF 1:15pm | 2:30pm | Dr. Michael Hicks

Revolutionary developments in logic and science in the late 19th and early 20th century captured the imagination of philosophers, especially in Cambridge and Vienna, who became convinced that the distinctive task of philosophy had finally been established. Focusing primarily on the so-called Vienna Circle (Schlick, Neurath, and Carnap especially), we will explore four questions: what influences led to the development of analytic philosophy? What is (was) analytic philosophy? How did this tradition understand itself in relation to other traditions, notably Heideggerian phenomenology? And what is the legacy of this revolutionary movement? In regard to this last question, we will close by looking at the work of the American philosopher, WVO Quine, Carnap's great follower, whose essay "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" is often thought to be the death knell of philosophical analysis.

PHL 440K/540K: Seminar in Modern Philosophy | Kant

MW 2:50pm | 4:40pm | Dr. Keith Fennen

It’s hard to overstate Kant’s influence on philosophy. Much of 19th and 20th century philosophy, and various areas of contemporary philosophy, cannot be properly understood unless they are viewed against the background of Kant. This course will be a careful reading of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Our overarching aims will be to understand the problems that Kant seeks to address, his arguments that establish “transcendental idealism," and how he resolves said problems. Topics will include but are not limited to: The nature of space and time, the constitution of experience, the relation between self-knowledge and knowledge of objects, free will and determinism, the relation between appearance and reality, and the possibility of metaphysics. Reading the entire Critique in a single semester isn’t easy. Our aim will be to balance working through the entire book, so that we can see Kant’s unified and complex argument, and an in-depth analysis and discussion of key passages and arguments.

PHL 620A Feminist Epistemology

TR 2:50pm | 4:40pm | Dr. Gaile Pohlhaus

In this course we will examine the relationship between standpoint epistemology, as it is historically conceived by feminist theorists of the late twentieth century, and contemporary issues in feminist and social epistemology such as epistemic injustice, epistemic oppression, epistemologies of ignorance, and epistemic resistance.