Courses

  • PHIL 100: Family Values: The Ethics of Being a Family

    Everyone has a family of one kind or another. Whether you love them, hate them, or both at the same time, your family has played a huge role in making you the person you are. That fact raises all kinds of interesting philosophical questions such as: what limits should there be on how parents shape their kids' lives and values? Are there demands of justice that are in tension with the way families are "normally" constituted? What duties do parents have to their children and vice versa? And what makes a person someone else's parent or child in the first place--genetics, commitment, convention? This course will explore all these questions and more.

    6 credit; Argument and Inquiry Seminar, Writing Requirement; offered Fall 2016 · D. Groll
  • PHIL 100: Science, Faith and Rationality

    This seminar will introduce the student to the study of philosophy through a consideration of various epistemic and metaphysical issues surrounding science and religion. What distinguishes scientific inquiry from other areas of inquiry: Its subject matter, its method of inquiry, or perhaps both? How does scientific belief differ from religious belief, in particular? Is the scientist committed to substantive metaphysical assumptions? If so, what role do these assumptions play in scientific investigation and how do they differ from religious dogma (if they do)? Our exploration of these questions will involve the consideration of both classic and contemporary philosophical texts. 6 credit; Argument and Inquiry Seminar, Writing Requirement; offered Fall 2016 · J. Decker
  • PHIL 112: Mind, Matter, Consciousness

    According to a common view of the mind, mental states are nothing more than states of the brain. There are certain features of human intellection, subjective experience, and action which have prompted some philosophers to argue that human mental activity is not reducible to brain activity. Some have gone on to argue that the human mind is immaterial and capable of surviving the death of the body. We will examine variants of these views as well as objections to them, reading selections from such historical figures as Plato, Aristotle, and Descartes, and such contemporary philosophers as Churchland, Nagel, and Searle. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; offered Winter 2017 · A. Moltchanova
  • PHIL 115: Skepticism, God, and Ethical Dilemmas

    If I can't rule out that I'm dreaming, does it follow that I don't know that I'm in Minnesota right now? Are there sound arguments establishing either the existence or non-existence of God? If I can divert a train from one track to another so that only one person loses her life instead of five, am I morally required to do so? In this course we will address questions concerning skepticism, God, and moral dilemmas, and explore some of their interrelations. We will pay close attention to issues of philosophical methodology along the way. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; offered Fall 2016 · D. Marshall
  • PHIL 116: Sensation, Induction, Abduction, Deduction, Seduction

    In every academic discipline, we make theories and argue for and against them. This is as true of theology as of geology (and as true of phys ed as of physics). What are the resources we have available to us in making these arguments? It's tempting to split the terrain into (i) raw data, and (ii) rules of right reasoning for processing the data. The most obvious source of raw data is sense experience, and the most obvious candidates for modes of right reasoning are deduction, induction, and abduction. Some philosophers, however, think that sense perception is only one of several sources of raw data (perhaps we also have a faculty of pure intuition or maybe a moral sense), and others have doubted that we have any source of raw data at all. As for the modes of "right" reasoning, Hume famously worried about our (in)ability to justify induction, and others have had similar worries about abduction and even deduction. Can more be said on behalf of our most strongly held beliefs and belief-forming practices than simply that we find them seductive---that we are attracted to them; that they resonate with us? In this course, we'll use some classic historical and contemporary philosophical texts to help us explore these and related issues. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2016–2017 · J. Decker
  • PHIL 117: Philosophical Problems: Mind, Free Will and Morality

    What is knowledge, and can we know anything at all? What is the mind, and how is it related to the body? What is consciousness? Is there free will? Are there universal moral truths, or is morality subjective? In this introduction to perennial philosophical questions (as well as the goals and methods of philosophy) we will read contemporary and historical philosophical texts.  6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, International Studies; not offered 2016–2017
  • PHIL 118: Ancient Philosophy as a Way of Life: East and West

    How do we live good human lives? How does our individual happiness relate to familial, social and political flourishing? How can we best integrate the various parts of ourselves (and our societies)? What is worth pursuing, and how should we go about pursuing what we pursue? Through an exploration of ancient Greek, Roman and Chinese texts as diverse as Plato’s Philebus, Seneca’s letters and Confucius’s Analects, we will explore these and other questions, with special emphasis on philosophy as a way of life. How did the ancients “live philosophically,” and how might we?

    6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, International Studies; offered Spring 2017 · S. Jansen
  • PHIL 119: Life and Death

    Considered in the context of the universe humankind seems vanishingly insignificant. The entire history of humankind is but a blip on the map of space and time. Moreover, each of our lives is a blip on that blip. So what is the point of it all? In this course, we will look at the notion of "meaning" as it relates to human life, the universe, and the existence of God; whether death is something we should be afraid of; and the connections, if any, between happiness, morality and meaning. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2016–2017
  • PHIL 198: CRISPR and You

    CRISPR is a new genetic engineering technology that, according to a recent article in Gizmodo, "allows scientists to edit genomes with unprecedented precision, efficiency, and flexibility." While offering the promise of revolutionary medical breakthroughs, CRISPR also raises all kinds of knotty ethical issues. The purpose of this discussion course is to understand how CRISPR works and to get to the bottom of some of the ethical issues. Prerequisites: Concurrent registration in Biology 234 or 240 required 1 credit; Does not fulfill a curricular exploration requirement; not offered 2016–2017
  • PHIL 199: Ethics and Digital Ownership

    That song you were listening to last night: how did you get it? Did you buy it? Download it? Legally? Illegally? This course will meet five times throughout the term to discuss Stephen Witt's "How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy." Our discussion will focus not only on the story of how the music industry was transformed by piracy over the last twenty years, but also what that transformation means for us as consumers: are we obligated to get our music in some ways and not in others? Prerequisites: Concurrent registration in Music 126 or 136 1 credit; Does not fulfill a curricular exploration requirement; not offered 2016–2017
  • PHIL 210: Logic

    The study of formal logic has obvious and direct applicability to a wide variety of disciplines (including mathematics, computer science, linguistics, philosophy, cognitive science, and many others). Indeed, the study of formal logic helps us to develop the tools and know-how to think more clearly about arguments and logical relationships in general; and arguments and logical relationships form the backbone of any rational inquiry. In this course we will focus on propositional logic and predicate logic, and look at the relationship that these have to ordinary language and thought. 6 credit; Formal or Statistical Reasoning; offered Fall 2016, Winter 2017 · D. Marshall, J. Decker
  • PHIL 211: Being, Time and Identity

    The aim of metaphysics has traditionally been to identify the nature and structure of reality. The topics of this course are the topology of time, identity of things and individuals, causality, free will, and the referents of general terms. We will read a variety of classic and contemporary texts, which are organized topically. Prerequisites: 100-level Philosophy course or instructor permission 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; offered Spring 2017 · A. Moltchanova
  • PHIL 212: Epistemology

    Do you know that you're not just a brain, floating in a vat, receiving stimulations through electrodes? Or perhaps an immaterial soul being conned by a malicious demon? In this course, we will use these skeptical worries as a launching point for thinking about epistemological issues: What exactly is knowledge? Do we ever have it? If so, when, and how? We will approach these questions through an examination of theories of epistemic justification, including foundationalism, coherentism, internalism, externalism, and virtue epistemology. We will then consider some critiques of traditional epistemology, including feminist epistemology and naturalized epistemology. Prerequisites: 100-level Philosophy course or instructor permission 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; offered Winter 2017 · J. Decker
  • PHIL 213: Ethics

    How should we live? This is the fundamental question for the study of ethics. This course looks at classic and contemporary answers to the fundamental question from Socrates to Kant to modern day thinkers. Along the way, we consider slightly (but only slightly) more tractable questions such as: What reason is there to be moral? Is there such a thing as moral knowledge (and if so, how do we get it)? What are the fundamental principles of right and wrong (if there are any at all)? Is morality objective?

    6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, International Studies; offered Winter 2017 · D. Groll
  • PHIL 221: Philosophy of Law

    This course provides students with an opportunity to engage actively in a discussion of theoretical questions about law. We will consider the nature of law as it is presented by natural law theory, legal positivism and legal realism. Then we will deal with responsibility and punishment, and challenges to the idea of the primacy of individual rights from legal paternalism and moralism. We will next inquire into the explanations of why individuals should obey the law, and conditions under which civil disobedience is justified. Finally, we will discuss issues raised by feminist legal theory and some theories of minority rights. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, Intercultural Domestic Studies; not offered 2016–2017
  • PHIL 222: Topics in Medical Ethics

    Over the past forty years, the idea that competent patients have the right to make decisions about their own care has become paramount in medical ethics and medical practice. But the primacy of patient autonomy as a value raises a host of interesting questions: What can (or should) clinicians do when patients make poor decisions? What does it mean for a patient to be competent? Who should make decisions in those cases where the patient is deemed incompetent or too young to make decisions for herself? This course examines these questions and, depending on interest, larger policy questions (like debates about organ markets) that revolve around the relationship between autonomy and paternalism. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; offered Fall 2016 · D. Groll
  • PHIL 223: Philosophy of Language

    In this course we will look at how philosophers have tried to understand language and its connection with human thought and communication. The course will be split into two parts: Semantics and Pragmatics. In the first part, we'll look at general features of linguistic expressions like meaning and reference. In the second part, we'll look at the various ways in which speakers use language. Topics to be considered in the second part include speech acts, implicature, and presupposition. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2016–2017
  • PHIL 225: Philosophy of Mind

    What is the relationship between the mind and the brain? Are they identical? Or is there mental "stuff" in addition to physical stuff? Or perhaps some physical stuff has irreducibly mental properties? These, and related questions, are explored by philosophers under the heading of "the mind-body problem." In this course, we will start with these questions, looking at classical and contemporary defenses of both materialism and dualism. This investigation will lead us to other important questions such as: What is the nature of mental representation, what is consciousness, and could a robot have conscious states and mental representations? 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2016–2017
  • PHIL 226: Love and Friendship

    This course will consider various philosophical views on the nature of love and friendship. It will focus on both the history of philosophical thinking about these notions from Plato and Aristotle to the twentieth century and a variety of contemporary views on the meaning of love and friendship that derive their insight from the most recent studies of emotion, agency, action, rationality, moral value, and motivation. We will also look at the variations in the understanding of love and friendship among the members of the same culture and across cultures. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, Quantitative Reasoning Encounter; not offered 2016–2017 · A. Moltchanova
  • PHIL 227: Philosophy with Children

    Children are naturally curious. They want to know about the world and their place in it. In other words, children are naturally philosophical. This course is about helping children explore and develop their nascent philosophical abilities via children's literature. To that end, the bulk of this course is devoted to preparing for, and then making, visits to a first grade class at Greenvale Park Elementary School in Northfield. Along the way, we'll explore the philosophy that can be found in all kinds of kids' books and learn about presenting complicated ideas in simpler form. In consultation with the instructor, this course will count toward either the Practical/Value requirement or the Theoretical requirement in the Philosophy Major for students who elect to write a final research paper.

    Prerequisites: Previous Philosophy course 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, Intercultural Domestic Studies; offered Spring 2017 · D. Groll
  • PHIL 228: Heaps of Liars: Logic, Language, and Metaphysics

    The ancient paradox of the heap (the--sorites--paradox) starts with innocent-looking claims about heaps and grains of sand--claims most of us are eager to accept--and propels us headlong into a blatant and shocking contradiction. A second ancient paradox invites us to comment on--liar sentences--such as "this sentence is false." We quickly find that we have made liars out of--ourselves. Philosophical attempts to solve these puzzles have generated a vast wealth of independently interesting views in the philosophy of language, logic, and metaphysics. In this course, we will look at some of these theories. 6 credit; Formal or Statistical Reasoning, Writing Requirement; not offered 2016–2017
  • PHIL 229: Philosophy of Film and Emotion

    As moviegoers we have all had that wondrous experience of gasping, laughing or sniffling in response to fictional scenarios. However, sometimes we emotionally disengage from a film altogether (e.g., if it is morally offensive). These phenomena raise several philosophical puzzles, to be raised in this class: (1) Why do we care about the lives of purely fictional film characters? (2) Why do we enjoy films which evoke unpleasant emotions, like fear or sadness? (3) Why do we feel suspense even when we know a film's ending? (4) Why do we resist emotionally engaging with morally repugnant films? In exploring these and related questions we will survey various philosophers' views on the subject, relating them to particular films. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2016–2017
  • PHIL 230: Philosophy of Gender

    In this course we will study some of the ways feminist theorists have contributed to our understanding of gender in connection with knowledge, reality, and justice. We will consider both recent work in the field and classic discussions of these questions from the 70s, 80s, and earlier. In the first unit we will ask how a person's gender identity is related to knowledge and experience, particularly through a discussion of standpoint epistemology (according to which the experiences of marginalized and disadvantaged people provide special access to particular kinds of knowledge). In the second unit, we will discuss what gender difference is. This unit will begin with various approaches to the idea that gender is socially constructed, and then consider the connections between gender and other aspects of identity, like race and class. The third unit will ask how gender should inform our understanding of politics by considering a variety of feminist political projects and calls to action. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, Intercultural Domestic Studies; not offered 2016–2017
  • PHIL 231: Punishment and Imprisonment

    This course looks at punishment from two quite different philosophical perspectives. First we'll consider a variety of arguments designed to make sense of the morality of punishment.  We'll consider the big three mainstream candidates (retribution, deterrence, and rehabilitation) and other interesting accounts (e.g. that punishment is primarily communicative). In the second half of the course, we'll change gears; we'll turn to arguments that systems of punishment may call for critique rather than justification. In this second section, we'll take an extended look at mass incarceration in the United States. 6 credit; Social Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2016–2017
  • PHIL 232: Social and Political Philosophy

    We will study several prominent late twentieth century philosophers writing about social and political justice and representing a variety of views, such as liberalism, socialism, libertarianism, communitarianism, feminism and post-modernism. The following are some of the authors we will read: John Rawls, Gerald Cohen, Robert Nozick, Charles Taylor, Iris Marion Young, Seyla Benhabib, Jurgen Habermas, Jean-Francois Lyotard. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, Quantitative Reasoning Encounter, Intercultural Domestic Studies; offered Spring 2017 · A. Moltchanova
  • PHIL 235: Analytic Philosophy's Greatest Hits

    Around the turn of the last century, a movement arose in philosophy which threatened to destroy philosophy itself. It started with a simple conviction that "what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence." This led to calls by analytically-minded philosophers to commit most of philosophy to the flames. After its self-destructive adolescence, however, analytic philosophy developed into something constructive. We'll look at some of the greatest hits from both phases. Authors to be read include Wittgenstein, Carnap, Quine, Anscombe, Goodman, Kripke, and Lewis. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2016–2017
  • PHIL 236: Philosophy of Mathematics: Methodology and Practice

    What is the relationship between a mathematical proof and our understanding of the result that it proves? Do some mathematical proofs manage to explain their results in addition to merely establishing them? How does mathematical knowledge grow? We will begin to address these questions by reading Imre Lakatos's classic text, Proofs and Refutations, along with reactions to Lakatos. We will then examine other philosophical accounts of mathematical thought and understanding sensitive to the history and practice of mathematics. No background beyond high school mathematics is presupposed. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; offered Winter 2017 · D. Marshall
  • PHIL 243: Animal Ethics: The Moral Status of Animals

    In an era of rapid globalization and increasing dominion of humans over the natural world, we are all (often unwittingly) party to practices that seemingly exact grave harm on billions of nonhuman animals. This raises a pressing ethical question: what are our moral obligations (if any) to nonhuman animals, and how might we practically fulfill such moral obligations (if they exist)? Also, what bearing does the latest scientific research on animal behavior have on these questions? In this course we will explore these and related questions, through a study of various philosophers and ethologists. The course will culminate in a class project that addresses animal ethics related issues in the community. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; offered Spring 2017 · S. Jansen
  • PHIL 245: Cosmology and Ethics: Philosophical Visions

    An overview of several prominent Western views, from Plato to the late twentieth century, on the fabric of the universe and the place of human agents within it. We will start with Plato’s views on the body and the soul reflecting the structure of the cosmos. We will then consider the ideas of causation and human freedom as well as the problem of evil. We will discuss the notion of perspective, broadly construed, as the foundation of one’s relationship with the world. This course emphasizes visualization, and several assignments will require either producing images or thinking and writing about images. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2016–2017
  • PHIL 251: Philosophy of Science

    In this course we survey the major developments in the philosophy of science since the 1920's, including: the rise of logical empiricism; Karl Popper's famous insistence that scientific claims must be subjected to possible falsification; Thomas Kuhn's account of scientific revolutions as paradigm shifts; recent attempts to understand scientific activities, including knowledge acquisition, as distinctively social processes. Some of the main questions we will consider: How can we understand the relationship between a scientific claim and the evidence for it? To what extent are the activities of scientists rational? In what sense is there progress in the sciences?

    6 credit; Formal or Statistical Reasoning, Writing Requirement; offered Fall 2016 · D. Marshall
  • PHIL 270: Ancient Philosophy: Goodness, Nature & Politics

    Philosophical traditions founded in ancient times continue to the present day and are an exciting part of our philosophic past. Ancient philosophers tend to differ from contemporary philosophers in the dazzling breadth and systematicity of their philosophies and in their efforts to live (not just think) philosophically. This sampling of ancient philosophy will include some of the choicest Greek, Roman and Chinese classics, with special emphasis on goodness and human nature (especially as these relate to human sympathy and affinity), the natural world and cosmos (especially whether and how goodness is “written in” to the world), challenges to materialism and purposelessness in nature, ideal governance and civic responsibility.

    6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, International Studies; offered Fall 2016 · S. Jansen
  • PHIL 271: Tragedy, Myth and Philosophy

    In ancient Greece philosophy was continuous with poetry. Nevertheless, the modern distinction between the two shapes the way ancient texts are studied: philosophers focus on arguments and concepts, whereas classicists focus on literary and cultural dimensions. This class (taught by a classicist and philosopher) integrates these approaches and asks the following: Are epic and tragic poetry interested in the same questions as philosophy? Were philosophical texts crafted to produce effects similar to those of epic or tragedy? Can dramatic poetry be philosophy? The course culminates in a student production of Plato's Phaedo, as a test of the notions we develop. 6 credit; Arts Practice, Writing Requirement, International Studies; not offered 2016–2017
  • PHIL 272: Early Modern Philosophy

    This course offers an introduction to the major themes in European metaphysics and epistemology during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Key issues to be examined include the scope and nature of human knowledge, the relationship between the mind and the body, God, the physical world, causation, and the metaphysical categories of substance and attribute. We will place a special emphasis on understanding the philosophical thought of Rene Descartes, G. W. Leibniz, Anne Conway, and David Hume. Two particular themes will recur throughout the course: first, the evolving relationships between philosophy and the sciences of the period; second, the philosophical contributions of women in the early modern era. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, International Studies; offered Spring 2017 · D. Marshall
  • PHIL 274: Existentialism

    We will consider the emergence and development of major themes of existentialism in the works of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, as well as "classical" existentialists such as Heidegger, Sartre and De Beauvoir. We will discuss key issues put forward by the existentialist movement, such as "the question of being" and human historicity, freedom and responsibility and look at how different authors analyzed the nature and ambitions of the Self and diverse aspects of subjectivity. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, International Studies; not offered 2016–2017
  • PHIL 301: Irrationality

    Humans can be---and maybe are even systematically---irrational in so many ways. We fall prey to wishful thinking, gullibility, dogmatism, confirmation bias, rationalization, probabilistic fallacies, and formal fallacies (just to name a few of our problematic tendencies). From the epistemic point of view--that is, from the point of view of trying to get to the truth and avoid falsity---this looks lamentable. We might even be led to a general distrust of our ability to properly reason. On the other hand, it might be that "some" of these tendencies are tied to cognitive structures and mechanisms that are in fact good and desirable from the epistemic point of view. Or maybe it's just confused to think there is any such thing as "the epistemic point of view." In this seminar, we will consider these issues from the standpoints of epistemology, meta-epistemology, and cognitive science. Authors to be read include Kahneman and Tversky, Stephen Stich, Richard Nisbett, Edward Stein, and Ruth Millikan. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2016–2017
  • PHIL 302: Purpose in Nature

    We often explain our actions by appeal to goals or ends. For example, to explain why you run, you might state a practical end running serves - e.g., health. Such an explanation is "teleological" in character, in that it appeals to an "end" or "telos" (rather than your particular biochemical makeup). Are there good philosophical reasons for thinking that ends really operate in nature, over and above material processes, or are teleological explanations merely a heuristic or explanatory device helping us make sense of the world (but failing to capture any real feature of the world)? In the absence of a designer agent, how do we make sense of natural ends? What is the scope of natural teleology? Do natural ends operate only locally or more globally? This course explores these and related questions, through tracing the kinds of teleological explanations (and argument for teleology) philosophers, theologians and scientists employ, ranging from Presocratic natural science to contemporary biology, cosmology and philosophy.

    Prerequisites: 12 credits in philosophy or instructor permission 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, International Studies; offered Winter 2017 · S. Jansen
  • PHIL 311: When Art is Not ‘For Art’s Sake’

    A central idea in modernist thinking about the arts is that an artwork is meant to be appreciated ‘for its own sake.’ In this course, we shall challenge this idea and consider art that is not primarily ‘for art’s sake’ in order to explore more general questions about the nature of artworks and of artistic appreciation. We ask, under what conditions are such works artworks? Much of the course will address material in a new monograph upon which Professor Davies is working.

    Prerequisites: One previous Philosophy course 6 credit; Literary/Artistic Analysis, Writing Requirement; offered Spring 2017
  • PHIL 372: Kant's Critique of Pure Reason

    In this course we aim to understand the theories of knowledge and being developed by Immanuel Kant in his monumental Critique of Pure Reason. Although Kant's own text will remain our primary focus, we will also read helpful secondary works by Sebastian Gardner, Paul Guyer, Charles Parsons, and other recent interpreters. The main questions to be addressed include the following: How does the mind represent the world? Can we distinguish the way things are in themselves from the way they appear to us? What are space and time? On what basis do we make causal inferences? What substantive knowledge can we have about the world entirely independent of our experience of it? 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, International Studies; not offered 2016–2017
  • PHIL 399: Senior Thesis

    The planning, preparation, and completion of a philosophical paper under the direction of a member of the department and as part of a seminar group. 6 credit; Does not fulfill a curricular exploration requirement; offered Winter 2017 · S. Jansen
  • PHIL 400: Integrative Exercise

    A colloquium in which seniors defend their senior theses and discuss the senior theses of others. 3 credit; S/NC; offered Fall 2016, Spring 2017