Spring 2022 Courses

PHL 205/205H: Science and Culture

PHL 205: TR 1:15pm -- 2:35pm -- Dr. Emily Zakin

PHL 205H: TR 2:50pm – 4:10pm – 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 265: Confronting Death

MW 2:50pm – 4:10pm – 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

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: Ideal and Non-Ideal Theory in Contemporary Political Philosophy

TR 1:15pm – 2:35pm – Dr. Chris King

“Wouldn’t it be nice?” sing The Beach Boys. Idealization seems to be a common and malleable response to the world as it is. It can be motivated by regret as much as by hope. In politics, idealizations are often used, sometimes perniciously, to motivate persons to action. In political philosophy, idealization is sometimes deployed not to motivate action but as a tool of inquiry into real and deep social and political problems. For instance, is it possible for persons to be treated as equals in liberal, plural democracies? Under what conditions? What if some of those conditions are unrealistic? In that case, why should anyone engage seriously with states of affairs that do not and may never exist? How does this approach promote democratic equality at all? Some theorists have claimed, in fact, that ideal political philosophy is itself an ideological tool of oppression, domination, or injustice. It is absurd to think, then, that it could promote goals like democratic equality. On this account, ideal theory is akin to those pernicious idealizations aimed at motivating persons to commit political atrocities. Appealing to various works in ideal and non- ideal theory, this course formulates a conception of ideal theory to decide on its merits (if any) and to assess current and prevalent criticisms of it.


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 376: Environmental Philosophy

MWF 11:40am -- 12:55pm – Dr. Tony Chackal

What are the philosophical dimensions of our relationships to the natural environment? This course will examine three such categories: environmental ethics and justice, environmental epistemology, and environmental aesthetics. We will examine environments at the intersection of nature and culture. We begin by explicating our ethical relationships with animals, landscapes, species of flora and fauna, covering obligations to nonhumans (environmental ethics), and the distribution of natural resources for humans across lines of race, class, and gender (environmental justice), and the nature of just relationships with the natural world (ecological justice). We then turn to the ways in which human metaphysics and knowledge are shaped by the natural environment, framing our examination through the concept of place, which concerns the intersection of natural and social environments. The third unit concerns the standard of beauty arising from nature and the proper ways it should be appreciated. Some posit that appreciation of environments should be centered according to categories of the natural sciences while others prioritize embodied engagement, and still others argue for spiritual orientations toward natural beauty.


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 420W/520W: Wittgenstein

TR 5:00pm - 6:50pm –Dr. Gaile Pohlhaus, Jr.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) is perhaps one of the most influential and enigmatic philosophers of the early twentieth century. Claimed by philosophers working in all three major philosophical traditions of the West and said to have affinities with the practices of both Buddhism and psychoanalysis, Wittgenstein’s work is hard to pin down. Indeed, his later work, which will be the primary focus of this seminar, does not really say anything, but rather demonstrates a kind of method or series of methods. Moving through areas such as philosophy of mind and language, metaphysics and epistemology, Wittgenstein sought in his later work (and arguably in his earlier work as well) to release us (and himself) from quandaries that plague the philosophical imagination, but how exactly he does that and what the implications are of such a project are disputed among readers of his work.

We will focus our efforts in this seminar on reading Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. Written as a series of numbered paragraphs that treat a range of ideas and thought experiments, the Investigations poses a great deal of difficulty for the reader, and for the reader of philosophy in particular. For example, it is not clear how we are to understand these paragraphs (both individually and in relation to one another) and at times the text appears to wrestle with itself, calling itself into question and refiguring its own language in a variety of ways. Seminar participants will be expected to work through the text line by line, semicolon by semicolon, in order to develop the ability to practice the method(s) demonstrated therein. Seminar participants are encouraged to read Ray Monk’s biography Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius over the winter break in preparation for the work of the seminar.


PHL 450D/550D: Philosophy of Action

MW 2:50pm – 4:40pm – Dr. Facundo Alonso

In this course we will reflect on recent debates about the connection between mind, action, and rationality. Possible topics include:  What is the relation between intention and commitment? Is forming an intention like giving a promise to oneself? What is the relation between intention and belief? Can one intend to do what one takes to be beyond one’s control?  Are the justification and rationality of intention two separate dimensions of normative assessment of this attitude? What are strength and weakness of will? Are grit and strength of will different phenomena? How does time affect the rationality of one’s decisions and life plans? What is the connection between agency and practical identity? Do we determine who we are by what we do? The aim of this course is to introduce students to debates on such topics. Students will also learn how to develop an independent research project that contributes to such debates. (Ethics, Society, and Culture minor; Philosophy and Law minor)


PHL 470/570: Advanced Aesthetics: Aesthetics and Change

TR 2:50pm – 4:40pm – Dr. Elaine Miller

Avant-garde art has the capacity to envision a future that is not yet conceptualizable.  This class will investigate the idea that art can create something new—proto-concepts—by imagining a state of affairs, and in so doing effecting the possibility of its coming to be. Starting with Kant’s Critique of Judgment, where Kant argues that reflective judgment presents a universally communicable indeterminate conceptualization without a concept, we will move on to read more explicitly political aesthetics from Arendt, Benjamin, Adorno, Kristeva, and Rancière.  We will also read texts from black aesthetics by Crawley, Moten, and Taylor, philosophers who are concerned with art that can activate social change.  PHL 241 is not a prerequisite for this class.