Spring 2018 Course Descriptions

102Y: Introduction to Existentialism (Tue/Thu, 11-12:20; Sherman). Satisfies general education requirement—Group IX: Democracy and Citizenship. Although a varied bunch, the existentialists all shared a concern with the fate of the individual in the modern world. We begin with two short novels and an essay by Camus, which frame many of the issues in the course. We then briefly consider Hegel, examine some of the more important writings of the two most important existential philosophers of the 19th century, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, and quickly look at two pieces by Dostoyevsky. We end by examining some of the more important writings of the two most important existential philosophers of the 20th century, Heidegger and Sartre.

110E: Introduction to Ethics. Satisfies general education requirement—Group VIII: Ethics and Human Values. Three sections:

  • Section 01 (Mon/Wed/Fri, 12-12:50; Stenger).
  • Section 02 (Tue/Thu, 2-3:20; Clarke).
  • Section 03 (Tue/Thu, 11-12:20; Strohl).

112E: Introduction to Ethics and the Environment (Tue/Thu, 12:30-1:50; Preston). Satisfies general education requirement—Group VIII: Ethics and Human Values. This class is an introduction to ethics in the western tradition and, in particular, the consideration this tradition has given to animals and the natural environment. In the course of familiarizing ourselves with some of the main ideas in animal and environmental ethics, we will also gain familiarity with the three central traditions in western ethical thought, Kantianism, Utilitarianism, and Aristotelianism. We will apply our reading to contemporary ethical issues of importance such as animal rights, global climate change, environmental justice, endangered species, and wildland preservation.

210: Moral Philosophy (Tue/Thu, 11-12:20; Clarke). Designated writing course. Satisfies general education requirement—Group VIII: Ethics and Human Values. Our objective in this course is to develop an appreciation for three leading approaches to moral philosophy (or three types of moral ‘theory’) through a careful reading of classical texts in the Western tradition.

241H/N: History and Philosophy of Science (Mon/Wed/Fri, 11-11:50; Duwell). Satisfies two general education requirements—Group VI: Historical and Cultural Studies; Group XI: Natural Sciences. This is a survey course of the epistemological and metaphysical development of natural philosophy or science from the Greeks through Einstein, a course in intellectual history. We will outline Greek views on the ultimate nature of reality, with an emphasis on Greek physics. We will pay special attention to the developments in the Scientific Revolution including the metaphysical shift to corpuscularianism and mechanism, and the new emphasis on experimentation. We will look at the ontological change in the conception of space and time after Newton, as well as views about the nature of scientific theories. We will examine the history of evolutionary theory with an emphasis on the kind of evidential support Darwin mustered for his theory. Finally, we will discuss philosophical issues related to the history that we have learned.

262Y: History of Modern Philosophy (Tue/Thu, 2-3:20; Le Bihan). Required for philosophy majors and minors. Satisfies general education requirement—Group IX: Democracy and Citizenship. This course will introduce you to seven of the major figures of 17th and 18th centuries in philosophy: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume and Kant. We will focus on metaphysics (roughly concerned with the question of the nature and structure of reality) and epistemology (roughly concerned with the question of the nature and scope of knowledge), leaving aside moral and political matters. Very little emphasis will be put on the historical and social contexts. The 17th and 18th centuries are centuries of radical changes in the domains of philosophy, science and politics. Most of our modern western culture originates in these times. That said, in studying modern philosophy, you should expect to encounter and to learn to understand worldviews that are also alien to your own. Confronting radically different ways of thinking should shed new light on your own views, methods and prejudices. In analyzing competing views on a subject, you will not only learn some philosophy, but learn to do philosophy.

 316: Emerson and Thoreau (Tue/Thu, 9:30-10:50; Muench). Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau have long been celebrated as writers who helped to establish a distinctively American literature. In the process, however, their significance as philosophers has often been overlooked. In this course we will read Emerson’s Nature and some of his later essays (including “Self-Reliance”) and then undertake a close reading of Thoreau’s Walden. Our goal will be to try to recover the sense in which Emerson and Thoreau are, first and foremost, philosophers who seek to equip their readers with tools for a better life.

 316: Marx (Tue/Thu, 12:30-1:50; Sherman). After the collapse of the Soviet empire roughly 20 years ago and the subsequent adoption of capitalism by even those regimes that claimed to adhere to communist principles (e.g., China), Marx’s teachings were largely taken to be obsolete. During most of this time period, neoliberal capitalism, which purportedly celebrates unfettered markets, was triumphant, even as there was a progressive decline in the real wage of American workers, an increase in the number of hours they worked, and disparities in wealth and income that had not been seen since the Great Depression. However, with the collapse of the world economy in 2008, the critique of capitalism has been renewed, and there are now a fair number of theorists who think that Marx’s criticisms of capitalism might be more trenchant than ever. In this course, we shall do an end run on the orthodox Marxist tradition to return to the works of Marx himself. At issue is the continued relevance of Marx’s most basic theses. From a topical standpoint, the course will be broken down into three parts. The first part will deal with Marx’s early politico-philosophical writings. Special emphasis will be placed on Marx’s relationship to the German philosophical tradition, Hegel most of all. The second part will deal with Marx’s economic writings, especially the first volume of Capital. Among other things, we will consider “the labor theory of value,” “commodity fetishism” (and the problem of reification, more generally), and “the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.” The third, lesser part will deal with revisions to Marxist theory that enable us to make better sense of Marxism at this historical juncture.

 321E: Philosophy and Biomedical Ethics (Tue/Thu, 12:30-1:50; Hanson). Satisfies general education requirement—Group VIII: Ethics and Human Values. This course examines the ethical and philosophical dimensions of medicine. After a review of major ethical theories and approaches to medical ethics, we will explore a variety of contemporary ethical issues, including the doctor-patient relationship, obligations to treat or not-treat, end-of-life decision-making and physician aid-in-dying, the fundamental goals of medicine, procreative choice, emerging biotechnologies such as stem-cell research, human subjects research, and medical resource allocation. Numerous cases and videos are used to highlight moral issues for discussion. Students will also learn skills of medical ethics case analysis.

 445: Central Issues in Philosophy of Science (Wed, 1-3:30; Duwell). Upper-division core course in analytic philosophy. This is a survey course in philosophy of science. The course will introduce students to the main areas of general philosophy of science. Topics include: the demarcation problem (distinguishing science from pseudoscience); the role of rationality, objectivity and values in science; underdetermination of theory by evidence (the Duhem-Quine problem); induction, prediction and evidence; confirmation; scientific explanation; and empiricism and scientific realism. Seminal papers on each of these topics will be read.

 464: Kant (Tue/Thu, 11-12:20; Borgmann). Upper-division core course in history. The intent of the course is to provide students with a thorough knowledge of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and of its philosophical and cultural contexts. In addition students’ knowledge of Kantian ethics will be extended into Kant’s social and international ethics. We will read the following texts: (1) Brittan, Kant’s Theory of Science; (2) Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (Cambridge ed.); (3) Kant, On the Proverb (coursepack). We will read the Critique for the first eleven weeks of the semester and On the Proverb for the last three. On the first eight Tuesdays of the semester, we will use the first part of each session to discuss one chapter each of Kant’s Theory of Science. It will be the students’ obligation to show through participation in the classroom discussions and tests that they are keeping up with the reading assignments and are in command of the material presented class. It will be my obligation to make everyone feel welcome and encouraged to participate.

 467: Kierkegaard (Tue/Thu, 2-3:20; Muench). Upper-division core course in continental philosophy. The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) conceived of himself as the Socrates of nineteenth-century Copenhagen. At the time, Hegelian philosophy had swept across Europe, systematic philosophical treatises had become the norm, and the chief goal of philosophers was to try to perfect the Hegelian “System.” In other words, according to Kierkegaard, something had gone terribly wrong in philosophy. Even as modern philosophers appeared to excel at abstract reflection, they also seemed to have lost track of themselves as ethical and religious beings and to have forgotten the ancient Greek philosophical practice of self-regulation and self-examination. The solution? A return to Socrates and a Socratic manner of doing philosophy. In this course we will examine Kierkegaard’s Socratic response to his age, considering both his conception of Socrates and how he employs a Socratic method in his writings through his use of pseudonyms and what he terms “indirect communication.”

 499: Senior Seminar (Tue/Thur, 9:30-10:50; Strohl). Required for philosophy majors (senior standing). Satisfies upper-division writing requirement. This course will engage with a variety of topics in contemporary aesthetics, including the nature of the aesthetic, the definition of art, emotional response to art, the nature of beauty, and the relationship between moral and aesthetic value.

 502: Philosophy of Law (Tue/Thu, 3:30-5; Le Bihan). This course will explore some of the various philosophical answers to the fundamental question: What is Law? It will begin with a short history of the rule of law as an ideal in the United States. It turns to the development of various theories of law, framed as a continuing debate among competing conceptions of law. It then integrates the application of legal theory to legal practice in several areas of current interest including health care, hate speech, immigration, and climate change. In addition to seminar discussion, students produce short commentaries on current issues and a research paper.

 505: Issues in the Anthropocene (Tue/Thu, 3:30-4:50; Preston). Every drop of the ocean altered, every breath of the atmosphere transformed, every inch of the earth impacted. Welcome to the “Anthropocene”… the so-called age of humans. In the Anthropocene, there is no longer anything “natural” and no longer anything truly “wild.” “Thinking like a mall” (Vogel 2015) is more appropriate than “thinking like a mountain” (Leopold 1949). Environmentalism as a whole must be reexamined. This course dips into one of the most vigorous areas in contemporary environmental philosophy, one that questions the whole idea of a natural world. We will examine several dimensions of the Anthropocene focusing on both the technologies and the thinking that are motivating the current discussion. Topics to be covered include wilderness and rewilding, climate engineering, de-extinction, and synthetic biology.

 510: Philosophy Forum Colloquium (Mon, 3:10-4:30/Wed, 10-10:50; Borgmann). The purpose of the Colloquium is to give graduate students a wider understanding of the professional side of philosophy, of the current issues, the different schools of thought, the leading figures, the conceptions the profession has of itself, and of the profession’s relations to contemporary society and culture.