Spring 2020 Courses

PHL 241H: Philosophy of Art

TR 1:15pm -- 2:35pm -- Dr. Elaine Miller

When faced with certain works of art, especially contemporary artworks that defy the expectations of the audience, humans may ask philosophical questions about the role and place of art in our lives. What exactly is art (can we define it)? What is the purpose of making art? Is there a distinctive quality or function that all artworks possess, and which makes them art? What is beauty? Does good art have to be beautiful, or can it also be ugly, or even disgusting or disturbing? Does art have a distinctive kind of meaning, and what determines it? Can art have moral or political significance, and if so, how? How should we evaluate art? There are probably a lot of other questions we could ask, some of which hopefully you will formulate for yourselves. In this class we will read classical and contemporary philosophical texts about art and beauty, and use them to reflect on specific artworks. 

PHL 263: Informal Logic

TR 11:40am – 1:00pm – Dr. Gaile Pohlhaus, Jr.

In this course we will examine the structure of natural language arguments in depth. Students will develop skills for identifying, analyzing, and constructing arguments. Concepts to be covered include: cogency, soundness, acceptability, relevance, grounds, deduction, and induction. This course is especially useful for students interested in careers which require the presentation of reasoned arguments such as law, journalism, and politics. It will also be useful for students who, generally speaking, wish to improve their ability to think carefully through others’ reasoning and to present their own reasoning in its best light. 

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 302: Modern Philosophy

WF 10:05am – 11:55am – Dr. Keith Fennen

Philosophic activity in Europe during the 17thand 18thcenturies is generally referred to as Modern Philosophy. During this time, philosophic activity, both in terms of the critique of traditional concepts and the development of new ideas, was exceptionally high. New conceptions of science, nature, political association, and morality, for example, were put forth. In this course, we will study works by Descartes, Pascal, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, and Kant, but we will also read brief excerpts from other thinkers. While we will discuss each thinker’s overall philosophical system, some guiding themes throughout the semester will be the self and its constitution, judgment, agency, immanence, and transcendence. 

PHL 310B: Special Topics in Ethics

TR 1:15pm – 2:35pm – Dr. Facundo Alonso

In this course, we will investigate the concept of moral obligation and its connection to the concepts of having a right, responsibility, and blame. In doing so, we will pay special attention to how one can incur moral obligations to others by engaging in different forms of interaction with them; e.g., by giving promises, entering into contracts, expressing consent, having a love relationship, and so on. The aim of this course is to introduce students to central philosophical questions about such issues, and to explore recent debates around them. Prerequisites: one prior course in philosophy, or consent of the instructor; PHL 131 is a suitable alternative for students with no prior background in philosophy.  

PHL 355: Feminist Theory

TR 10:05am – 11:25am – Dr. Gaile Pohlhaus, Jr.

Feminist theory within a philosophical context offers us the opportunity to think about the conceptual schemas that organize our social lives as gendered and sexed beings. Moreover, because the concepts of sex and gender are simultaneously inflected with other categories such as race, sexuality, (dis)ability, and class, feminist theorists must consider how these ways of organizing the world make a difference in the lives of women, as well as our understanding of the category to which they are said to belong. In this class we will take the conceptual as our focus – how have feminists theorists understood ‘women’ as a conceptual category, as well as other concepts such as ‘equality’, ‘difference’, ‘freedom’, and/or ‘solidarity’? And what difference does our understanding of these concepts make with regard to both theory and activism? There is no one agreed-upon answer to these questions among feminists. Throughout the course of the semester, we will spend time differentiating among a number of views articulated in historical and contemporary work by feminists. In addition, students will have the opportunity to consider the implications of how we understand particular concepts in relation to feminist theorizing and activism. 

PHL 375: Medical Ethics

MWF 10:05am – 11:20am – Dr. Aleksy Tarasenko-Struc

A discussion of ethical issues that arise within medicine, with a particular focus on the doctor-patient relationship. Our aim will be to clarify the norms and values that inform this relationship, as well as the various particular obligations and prerogatives that doctors, nurses, and researchers have with respect to patients. Topics to be explored will likely include the moral permissibility of abortion and euthanasia; the requirement of informed consent and its justification; the moral status of human cloning and genetic enhancement; the allocation of scarce medical resources; and finally, issues connected with disability, such as prenatal testing and selection. Time permitting, we may also discuss the morality of medical experimentation on human beings and nonhuman animals. 

PHL 376: Environmental Philosophy

MWF 1:15pm – 2:30pm – Dr. Sam Gault

Reflections upon “nature”, our place within it, and our obligations toward it, constitute a rich and dynamic field for thought. Striving to make explicit the crises and opportunities on the horizon of our present moment, environmental philosophy operates at the intersection of numerous traditions, including ethics, the natural sciences, law, and economics. This course will cover a range of major problematics in environmental philosophy (e.g., resource scarcity, human and non-human rights, instrumental and intrinsic values, and climate change). We will approach these themes, on the one hand, through an historical survey of the development of environmental philosophy, from the wilderness preservation movement to eco-phenomenology. One the other hand, we will evaluate and critique the concepts and theories we study by applying them to contemporary case studies (e.g., pipeline projects, green energy initiatives, and extreme weather events). 

PHL 394: Existentialism

TR 11:40am – 1:00pm – Dr. Emily Zakin

This course will explore the ways that the concept of human existence, ‘what it means to be’, becomes a distinct theme for philosophical reflection in the late 19thand early 20thcenturies. In considering the religious, philosophical, political, and aesthetic dimensions of the existentialist critique of the Enlightenment faith in reason, we will be attentive to the resources within the history of philosophy from which existentialism draws its ideas and inspirations. Our inquiry will focus on ideas of singular subjectivity, human freedom, bad faith, ambivalence, alienation, temporality, the tension between immanence and transcendence, and the aesthetic and ethical dimensions of self-creation. The course will begin with 19thcentury precursors to Existentialism, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. We will then move on more recent formulations of existential thought, looking at how the above themes were taken up and reworked by the 20thcentury philosophers Heidegger, Sartre, and Beauvoir (and possibly others). 

PHL 404: What is Philosophy? (Capstone)

MW 1:15pm – 2:35pm – Dr. Michael Hicks

Philosophy is, primarily, an intellectual discipline: it is a peculiar kind of thinking. But most of our coursework is built around reading and writing. That is to say we focus on philosophy as a literary genre. What are the implications of this? In this capstone class we consider what it means to write philosophically, with special attention to the question of whether there are philosophical purposes that might require, for instance, fiction writing or other literary procedures. In addition to reading traditional philosophical essays on these and related topics, we will center our discussion on two very different and problematic texts. In the first half of the semester, we’ll read Plato’s Phaedrus, an extended reflection on love, rhetoric, and Socrates’ principled objections to writing as such. In the second half, we’ll focus on J.M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals, a literary work in which the protagonist appears to defend the claim that poets have a kind of access to animal life that philosophers lack. In this context we conclude with Audre Lorde’s disturbing suggestion that “reason” (and non-poetic discourse in general) is, in some important sense, merely the inheritance of our “European fathers”. Is there something rotten at the core of the literary genre of academic philosophy? 

PHL 410S/510S: A History of Skepticism

MW 2:50pm - 4:40pm – Dr. Michael Hicks

In contemporary epistemology the “skeptic” is a (mostly fictional) character who thinks that for all I know I might be in some skeptical scenario: I might be a brain in a vat (or in the matrix), or the people around me might be robots, or God might have created the world as is, with all “memories” intact, just ten minutes ago. A major concern of contemporary epistemologists is to rebut the skeptic, to show that she is wrong. Thus, the skeptic is a kind of bogeyman in contemporary thought, and it is very rare to see skepticism as a live option. It is ironic, then, that skepticism has its roots in an historical movement, Pyrrhonism (traced to a contemporary of Aristotle, Pyrhho of Elis), that offered skepticism as a way of life. Early modern authors like Montaigne revitalized the tradition with this same practical goal. A central question, then, is whether they are right: is skepticism “liveable”? We’ll pursue this question through historical analysis, considering the roots of ancient skepticism and its development through the modern period to the 20thcentury. We’ll conclude by considering, with Stanley Cavell, the potential costs of refusing to see skepticism as a live option. 

PHL 420E/520E: Foucault

R 2:50pm – 6:25pm – Dr. Emily Zakin

This course will be devoted to studying the work of twentieth century French philosopher Michel Foucault. Foucault’s writings are often divided into 3 periods, the earlier archeological work on discourse and the production of knowledge, the middle genealogical work on power and the production of individuals, and the later ethical work on subjectivation, freedom, and care of the self. We will be reading writings (and selections from lectures, courses, and interviews) that represent all 3 of these methodological and theoretical approaches. A major point of reference for us will be the transition (from genealogy to ethics) that marks the move from the first to the second volume of the History of Sexuality. Other themes of import will include Foucault’s understanding of history; the relations between truth power, and freedom; the connection between Enlightenment and critique; and the ideas of ascesisand parrhesia.

PHL 459/559: Political Philosophy Seminar

Ideal and Non-ideal Theory in Political Philosophy

MW 5:00pm - 6:50pm – Dr. Chris King

In contemporary political philosophy, “ideal theory” is typically taken to refer to a theory whose conclusions (about justice, for instance) are developed under conditions of “strict compliance” by the agents in question. Strict compliance, in turn, refers to a wide variety of epistemic and motivational conditions that are not typically (or ever) satisfied in actuality. But ideal theory is also usually understood as a source of normative claims. In that light, it appears to issue recommendations that persons think or do something. To the extent such recommendations derive from ideal conditions, however, ideal theory seems impotent and useless in actuality. More interestingly, perhaps, some theorists have claimed that ideal theory is not simply useless. Rather, it is an instrument of a social system structured by oppression and domination. To doideal theory is to promote these patterns of oppression and domination. Non-ideal theorizing, then, can seem to be a form of active resistance. This course tries to formulate a conception of ideal theory for the purpose of deciding on its merits (if any) and to assess current and prevalent criticisms of it. 

Also Available:

PHL103: Society and The Individual

PHL105: Theories of Human Nature

PHL131: Introduction to Ethics


Honors Courses:

PHL105H: Theories of Human Nature