Fall 2020 Courses

PHL 245: Writing Philosophy

W F 11:40am - 1:00pm - Dr. Gaile Pohlhaus Jr.

This course will explore and practice the reading, writing, and reasoning skills necessary for philosophy majors in achieving the successful presentation of philosophical ideas in written work. Students will practice writing that is oriented toward both specialized (philosophically experienced and disciplinarily appropriate) and non-specialized (non-philosophical) audiences.

PHL 265: Confronting Death

T  R 11:40am – 1:00pm – Dr. Keith Fennen

We are well aware that all living things will die and we inevitably imagine, even if only vaguely, our own future death. By actively considering the end of life, our own and that of others, we can hopefully lead more thoughtful and satisfying lives. With that in mind, this course will investigate death and dying. Through conversations, writing, and projects that engage philosophy, literature, photography, film, and poetry, we will investigate topics such as grief and mourning, human reactions and attitudes towards death, the practice of burying the dead, suicide, war, and the death penalty. While our focus will be on human death, we will consider some of these topics in the context of nonhuman death. This course aims to foster a classroom space and community where open and honest conversation and careful, serious, and meaningful inquiry are the norm. 

PHL 273: Formal Logic

M W F 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

T R 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 310E: Introduction to Philosophy of Language

M W 1:15pm – 2:35pm – Dr. Michael Hicks

Introduction to philosophical issues in language. In the first half of the semester, we will focus on (20th century) historical issues including the conceptual relationships between thought, reference, and meaning, and how they play out in mid-century discussions of conversational pragmatics. At the end of the semester we will discuss a few “applied” topics, including the theory of metaphor and contemporary debates about the meanings of slurs.

PHL 311: Ethical Theory

T R 12:30 – 2:25 pm – Dr. Facundo Alonso

In this course we will (a) focus on central general questions in normative ethics (What do we have reason to promote or pursue? What are our moral obligations?), (b) investigate the concepts such questions presuppose (What is a normative reason for action? What is it to be morally obligated?), and (c) apply such concepts to the discussion of current moral problems. Special attention will be paid to attempts to integrate the cited concerns in normative ethics and metaethics into a coherent systematic view. 

PHL 335: Philosophy of Law

M W F 1:15pm – 2:30pm – 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 402/502: 19th Century Philosophy: Idealism and its Discontents: Hegel, Marx, and Kierkegaard

W 2:50pm – 6:25pm – Dr. Elaine Miller 

In German Idealist accounts of history, the human and the natural worlds both unfold through the immanent movement of Reason, making explicit and reasonable what was initially implicit and inchoate, just as a tree eventually emerges from a seed. In this course we will consider 19th century philosophical accounts of the dialectical interplay of thinking and being, as well as 19th century philosophical critiques of this view. We will begin by reading J.G. Fichte’s “popular” work The Vocation of Man, followed by selections from G.W.F. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. The second half of the course will focus on Marx and Kierkegaard's critiques of Idealism’s posited identity of thinking and being.

PHL 410A/510A: Political Philosophy of Hannah Arendt

R 2:50pm – 6:25pm – Dr. Emily Zakin

This seminar will be devoted to an in-depth and comprehensive study of the work of Hannah Arendt, one of the most influential political theorists of the twentieth century. We will read many of her major works (or large chunks of them), including Origins of TotalitarianismThe Human ConditionOn Revolution, and Life of the Mind, as well as some of her essays and lectures. By grappling with the various distinctions she makes, between, for instance: human rights and the rights of citizens; the political and the social; public and private; action and work; freedom and happiness; judgment and action; and philosophy and politics, we will aim to develop a nuanced understanding of Arendt’s critique of modernity and its political impasses. We will also make some effort to situate Arendt in the context of selected precursors, interpreters, and interlocutors, in particular with regard to the status of human rights. These might include some, but not all, of the following: Immanuel Kant, Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin, Claude Lefort, Jacques Rancière, and Julia Kristeva.

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

T 2:50pm – 6:25pm – Dr. Keith Fennen

It’s hard to overstate Kant’s influence on philosophy. In fact, much of 19th and 20th century philosophy cannot be properly understood unless it’s viewed against the background of Kant. This course will be a careful reading of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. We will aim to understand the problems that Kant seeks to address and how his “transcendental idealism” is supposed to resolve these problems. Topics will include, but are not limited to, the following: the nature of space and time, the constitution of experience, the relationship between self-knowledge and knowledge of objects, free will and determinism, the relationship 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.