Spring 2023

PHL 205/205H: Science and Culture

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

This course will examine philosophical questions that arise at the intersection of, and in the faultlines 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. Topics will 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 263: Informal Logic

WF 11:40am – 1:00pm – Dr. Clay Alsup

This class will both teach critical reasoning skills as well as engage in philosophical inquiry into the subject matter of informal logic itself. We will begin by discussing what makes a good argument, considering the possibility and features of purely visual arguments, and learning common argumentative fallacies. We will then talk about cognitive biases, stable psychological features of human reasoning that regularly lead us astray in our efforts to reason well. We will then shift to some philosophical discussion of the ethics of belief, considering the classic debate between W.K. Clifford and William James and the respective cases to be made for evidentialism and non-evidentialism. We will also discuss conspiracy theories: what they are, whether they’re intrinsically irrational, and why they are so widely believed. Finally, we will shift our focus to science. We will consider the ways in which science can be done well or poorly, and then engage in philosophy of science, tracing some of the developments in that field regarding what scientific theories are and should be.


PHL 265/265H: Confronting Death 

265 MW 2:50pm – 4:10pm – Dr. Keith Fennen
265H MW 1:15pm -- 2:35pm – 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 premise, 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. (Philosophy and Law minor)


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 312: Contemporary Moral Problems

MWF 10:05am – 11:20am – Dr. Max Racine

This course will examine pressing moral issues facing us today. Some of the course will cover various normative approaches to ethics like virtue ethics, deontology, consequentialism, and care ethics; however, most of the course will be devoted to understanding and evaluating arguments made by philosophers about contemporary moral problems. Topics may include the moral status of non-human animals, climate change and the environment, the carceral system, poverty, and the obligation to fight injustice.


PHL 331: Political Philosophy

MWF 1:15pm – 2:10pm – Dr. Max Racine

This course will examine some of the core concepts, topics, and arguments developed in political philosophy. The course will proceed thematically and bring some of the foundational thinkers in the history of philosophy into conversation with more contemporary figures. Topics may include social contract theory, human rights and civil rights, liberty and freedom, structural injustice and collective responsibility, and narrative and present-day political movements.


PHL 355: Feminist Theory

TR 2:50pm – 4:10pm – 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 2:50pm – 4:05pm – Dr. Clay Alsup

This class will consider a range of issues of ethical significance that arise in the practice of medicine. In the first part of the course, we will examine cases of "medicalization" in history, cases in which arguably non-medical situations are interpreted as being fundamentally medical. These include 18th and 19th century concerns about the health effects of reading novels and later concerns about menstruating women attending universities. We will then look at more recent cases of medicalization and the connection that develops between notions of health and moral character: here we will especially focus on the simultaneous medicalization and moralization of obesity. In the second part of the course, we will consider various ethical debates that emerge in the vicinity of medicine: these will include the extent to which access to health care should be guaranteed by governments, what the appropriate response to the debilitating rise in medical debt should be, and especially various concerns that emerge from the fields of epidemiology and public health, especially in cases of emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.


PHL 404: What is Philosophy? (Capstone)

TR 11:40pm – 1:00pm – Dr. Pascal Massie

This course investigates the metaphilosophical question: “What is Philosophy?” Metaphilosophy has the strange peculiarity of being both a “branch” of philosophy (alongside epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, etc.) and an overarching inquiry that takes the very nature of philosophy into consideration independently of its traditional branches.

Examples of metaphilosophical questions could be: Is philosophy a kind of knowledge? Are philosophical claims cognitive in the sense that they can be said to be true or false? If philosophy is cognitive are the apparent disagreements between philosophers a sign of failure? To what extent are philosophers such as Plato, Nietzsche, and Marx responsible for the subsequent use (and misuse) of their works? How can we tell whether a particular philosophy is “good”? Do the criteria we assume come from the philosophy we are judging? (Note: whether you answer yes or no, a paradox occurs…).

The aim of this course is to take students to a ‘meta-level’ of reflection by analyzing various philosophical understanding of what it means to philosophize and on the way philosophy relates to other disciplines and practices (e.g., science, art, and literature).

In order to take it as a senior capstone, you must have senior status at the time of enrollment. Prerequisite: minimum of 9 hours in philosophy or permission of the instructor.


PHL 411/511: Advanced Ethical Theories

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

In this course we will reflect on issues at the intersection of metaethics, philosophy of action, and epistemology. Our main theme is the nature of practical reason. Possible topics include reasons for action; normative judgment; reasons and motivation; deliberation and action; instrumental rationality; the contrast between justification and rationality; the relations between practical reasoning (reasoning that concludes in intention or action) and theoretical reasoning (reasoning that concludes in belief); autonomous agency and personal identity; and others. Our focus will be on classical work as well as on recent debates on such topics. We will examine how different areas of philosophy –such as those mentioned above—approach the question of the nature of practical reason. (This course counts toward the Minor in Philosophy and Law as well as the Minor in Ethics, Society, and Culture.)


PHL 430M/530M: Aristotle’s Metaphysics

MW 5:00pm – 6:50pm – Dr. Pascal Massie

“There is a science that studies being qua being, and also the properties of being in its own right. It is not the same as any of the so-called special sciences” (Metaphysics IV, 1003a1-3).

When Aristotle articulated the central question of the group of writings we know as his Metaphysics, he said that the question concerning being would never cease to raise itself. The science that is concerned with this question he called “first philosophy” (by which he meant philosophy properly speaking) but it came to be known as “metaphysics.”

In our time, the question of being is for the most part hidden. The purpose of this course is to take Aristotle’s work as our guide in order to raise it anew. To do so we will focus on the basic concepts of Aristotle’s ontology (e.g., substance, form, end, essence, potentiality and actuality, nature, and principle). This will lead us to consider: logic, ontology, theology, epistemology, and philosophy of language.

To understand Aristotle’s project, we will begin with the Categories and De interpretatione. Although placed among his logical works, these treatises are concerned with a general account of the things that are (to onta). In addition to the Metaphysics, we will also read sections of the Physics, Generation and Corruption, and take into account some major interpretations of Aristotle (e.g., Avicenna, Aquinas, and Heidegger).


PHL 459/559: Political Philosophy Seminar

TR 5:00pm – 6:50pm – 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.