Spring 2021 Courses

PHL 205/205H: Science and Culture

TR 1:15pm -- 2:35pm -- Dr. Emily Zakin

This course will examine philosophical questions that arise at the intersection of, and in the fault lines between, scientific conceptions of reality and the everyday experience of reality. Looking at the cultural, ethical, political, and social dimensions of scientific practices, and reading across multiple genres, we will explore a variety of arenas where scientific knowledge and technological development have transformed human experience (including experience with the non-human world), and, conversely, arenas where reflection and insight are necessary to confront and navigate conundrums of meaning, value, and action presented by scientific endeavors. Potential topics might include: the roles of scientific, political, and ethical reasoning in considerations of public health; human/non-human animal relations; climate change and collective agency; and the impact of new media and communication technologies on the boundary between public and private and on the social transmission of (mis-)information. 


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

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

Philosophic activity in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries 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 331: Political Philosophy: Egalitarianism

MW 1:15pm – 2:35pm – Dr. Chris King

Egalitarianism is the view that persons are or should be regarded as equal in some way. One generic way to understand this view is that no one counts for any more or any less than anyone else. Another more specific way might be that persons, at least in some spheres of life, deserve access to the same kinds or amounts of resources. In political philosophy, the appeal to equality is a source for theories of justice, defenses of democracy, and the like. For instance, can inequalities be justified by the fact that some persons are luckier than others? That they work harder? Why prefer democracy at all to other ways of organizing political society? The course examines the idea of equality, its plausibility in light of countervailing facts, and which idea of equality would be relevant for a broadly liberal democracy. What does equality demand of us and of our institutions? And are these demands reasonable? These questions and others will be explored through the careful reading of works by Elizabeth Anderson, Richard Arneson, Thomas Nagel, Robert Nozick, John Rawls, and others.


PHL 355/355H: Feminist Theory

TR 11:40am – 1:00pm – 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

MW 1:15pm – 3:05pm – Dr. Pascal Massie

This course is designed to introduce you to some of the major ethical issues that arise in connection with medical practice and emerging scientific biotechnologies. The goal is to identify and analyze the main issues and positions in a wide range of pressing and timely debates, and to raise and defend philosophical arguments of your own. We will begin by investigating the relationship between healthcare professionals and patients, looking in particular at three medical imperatives: tell the truth, keep confidentiality, and obtain informed consent. We will then investigate the field of political bioethics, which is broadly concerned with promoting and protecting the health of populations through social policy. This raises several questions: Is it permissible to restrict people’s freedom for the sake of their own or others’ health? How are scarce healthcare resources to be distributed? Should there be a free organ donor market? In the third part of the course, we shall explore the ethics of human enhancement, examining issues surrounding for instance prenatal genetic selection, cloning, performance-enhancing drugs, and memory altering.


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 410E/510E: Problems in Metaethics

TR 5:00pm - 6:50pm –Dr. Facundo Alonso

In this course we will reflect on issues at the intersection of metaethics, philosophy of action, and epistemology. Topics include the nature of reasons for action and reasons for belief; the norms of rationality that govern our thought and action; the parallels and contrasts between practical reasoning and theoretical reasoning; and many others. Our focus will be on classical work as well as on recent debates on such topics.


PHL 420C/520C: Philosophy of Language

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

A big question in contemporary philosophy concerns what is sometimes called “conceptual amelioration”, the idea that we can improve our thinking, and perhaps our world, by improving the meanings of our words. In this course, we are going to look at some traditional philosophical debates that bear on this contemporary problem: the publicity of meaning; the relationship between language and culture; the possibility of “incommensurable” conceptual schemes; meaning externalism, and more. Over the course of the term, we will consider several hot button examples (potentially including: “discrimination”, “marriage”, “consent”, “race”, “racism”, “gender”). Our goal, however, is not to figure out what those words mean or ought to mean. Rather, we want to understand how to bring philosophical tools to bear on such questions and understand how (if at all) we can debate what words ought to mean.


PHL 496/596: Epistemology

TR 2:50pm – 4:40pm – Dr. Gaile Pohlhaus Jr.

This course will focus on critical epistemology, which studies the social and political aspects of knowing. It differs from contemporary analytic social epistemology insofar as it begins investigation from the standpoint of knowers who are disempowered and oppressed. We will start the course with some texts that have been shaping the field of critical epistemology for over a decade in order to ground ourselves in the literature. We will then look at some current work pertaining to questions about epistemic trust and trustworthiness.