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Courses

  • PHIL 100: Soul: Mind, Morality and Cosmos

    What is the soul? Does it exist? Is it immortal? Divided or undivided? Material or immaterial? Are plants, animals and even the cosmos ensouled? Starting in the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, the western conception of 'soul' (psuche) underwent massive development, in the hands of Greek thinkers like the Presocratics, Plato and Aristotle, and Hellenistic philosophers. Not only was the soul a principle of life, but also a source of motion, a subject of cognition and a bearer of moral qualities. Through our analysis of 'psuche,' this course will substantially intersect with ancient Greek science and moral philosophy. 6 credit; Argument and Inquiry Seminar, Writing Requirement, International Studies; offered Fall 2014 · S. Jansen
  • 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 2014 · J. Decker
  • PHIL 111: Arguing about Politics

    This course introduces students to several classic texts in the history of political thought and provides them with an opportunity to interpret these texts critically by concentrating on argument analysis. Students will also learn to construct and effectively communicate their own arguments about foundational issues in politics. We will discuss justifications of democracy, the challenge of diverse citizenship, the role of deliberation in politics and related questions. We will read works by Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke, de Tocqueville, Mill as well as some contemporary political theorists. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2014–2015
  • 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 Fall 2014 · A. Moltchanova
  • PHIL 113: Killing

    Although we tend not to think about it very often, killing is very much a part of our lives. We confront it whenever we eat an animal, talk about the wisdom of intervention in foreign conflicts, consider federal funding of abortion or ask whether people have the right to terminate their own lives. This course will explore killing in its various guises, with special focus on war, our relationship with animals, abortion and euthanasia. Students will be asked to consider various views on these matters while developing the skills to clearly state and defend, via philosophical argument, their own views. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2014–2015
  • 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; Writing Requirement, Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; offered Winter 2015, Spring 2015 · D. Marshall
  • 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; offered Spring 2015 · 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; Writing Requirement, Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; offered Winter 2015 · D. Groll
  • 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 Winter 2015, Spring 2015 · J. Decker, D. Marshall
  • 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: One 100-level course in Philosophy. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2014–2015
  • 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: One 100 level course in philosophy or permission of the instructor 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry; not offered 2014–2015
  • 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; Writing Requirement, Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, International Studies; offered Fall 2014 · 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 2014–2015
  • 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 2014 · 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 2014–2015
  • PHIL 224: Philosophy of Literature

    This class investigates some intriguing questions that philosophers have considered about literature. Why should a writer who is interested in philosophical issues write a work of literature rather than a philosophical treatise? What is the function or point of literature: to convey the truth, engage in make believe, or present a model for ways to live one's life? In addition we investigate the difference between fiction and non-fiction, interpretation, metaphor, the imagination, and the definition and ontology of literature. Readings will be drawn from philosophy as well as some case materials, including a novel and several films. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2014–2015
    Extended departmental description for PHIL 224

    Course description:
    This class investigates some intriguing questions that philosophers have considered about literature. First, what is the definition of literature? Can we give a definition at all? Second, what is the basic function of literature and why does it engage and affect us so deeply? Does it invent entertaining lies? Does it offer real-life scenarios that are useful for our lives? Third, what sorts of perspectives do readers take on fictional narratives as they engage with them? Do we engage in make-believe? Do we simulate the mental states and feelings of characters? Do we imagine what it is like to be a character? Do we adopt the viewpoint of an “implied author”? Fourth, why should a writer who is interested in philosophical issues write a work of literature rather than a philosophical treatise? What is the difference, if any, between philosophy and literature? Is literature just a storehouse of examples or can it offer philosophical arguments and thought experiments? Can it present profound “truths” about our lives? Readings will be drawn from philosophy as well as some case materials, including several novels, short stories, and several films.

    Course goals:
    Whether you are a philosophy major or new to the discipline, this course will introduce you to some of the methods of philosophy through an examination of the philosophy of literature. You will also get practice in writing philosophy papers as well as in philosophical debating.
    You will learn about three connections between philosophy and literature:
    1. Philosophical approaches to the understanding of literary texts (their definition, function, and how we engage with them)
    2. Philosophy in literature: what are some texts that invoke philosophical themes?
    3. Philosophy versus literature: what is the difference between the methods of philosophy and those of literature? Are there important differences between these disciplines? Or are the differences insignificant?

  • 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; offered Fall 2014 · J. Decker
  • 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 2014–2015
  • PHIL 227: Philosophy of Education & Philosophy in Education

    This course looks at what it means to live an examined life while encouraging elementary school students to develop the skills of philosophical examination. Part of this course is an in-class look at philosophical topics, including self-knowledge, the place of philosophy in education, and connections between philosophy and democracy. The main part of the course involves attending elementary schools to engage young kids in philosophical discussions and activities in the hopes of instilling in them a sense of the power and wonder of philosophy while giving students in the course a greater appreciation of the concepts we'll be reading about. Prerequisites: One prior course in philosophy. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, Intercultural Domestic Studies; offered Spring 2015 · 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 2014–2015
  • 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; offered Fall 2014 · S. Jansen
  • 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 2015 · A. Moltchanova
  • PHIL 234: Aesthetics

    Various issues in aesthetics: the definition of art, the nature of the aesthetic, the description, interpretation, and evaluation of aesthetic objects. Readings will be drawn primarily from the works of philosophers and from case materials. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2014–2015
    Extended departmental description for PHIL 234

    Philosophy 234, Winter 2010

    The central goal of the course is to introduce you to some of the puzzles and problems that philosophers have considered when they have thought about art. After going through the course you will have learned a new way to think about art. You will also learn about philosophical thinking and see how examining art can teach us more about the nature of philosophy.

    We investigate three central topics: (1) The Definition of art: Can art be defined? Could anything, including a pile of bricks, be art?  (2) The experience of art: What is the nature of aesthetic experience? Is beauty a central aspect of how we experience art? What is the difference between the experience and appreciation of nature and the appreciation of art? (3) The value of art: Why is art valuable? What is rewarding about the experience of art? What is the relationship between artistic and moral values? Readings will be drawn from the history of aesthetics, contemporary philosophy of art, and case materials. We will also have a trip to the Walker Art Center and to the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

  • 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; Writing Requirement, Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; offered Winter 2015 · J. Decker
  • 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; Writing Requirement, Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; offered Spring 2015 · 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; Writing Requirement, Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; offered Spring 2015 · 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; Writing Requirement, Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2014–2015
  • PHIL 250: Philosophy of Physics

    A study of the implications that our best current physical theories have for our understanding of the world, as well as the implications that our best philosophical theories have for our understanding of physical theory. We will focus primarily on relativity theory and quantum mechanics. Possible topics include: the nature of causality, the relativity of simultaneity, the twin paradox, hidden variables, the measurement problem, nonlocality, the relationship between quantum theory and relativity theory, and the very idea of scientific truth. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry; not offered 2014–2015
  • PHIL 251: Philosophy of Science

    This course is an introduction to the history and philosophy of science. We will consider enduring philosophical issues such as: What type(s) of knowledge does science produce? What methods does science use in producing these types of knowledge? How do new scientific ideas come about, take hold, and fall away? What is the difference between science and philosophy? We will approach these questions historically, by considering how figures such as Darwin and Newton saw their views and projects in relation to their history. Our goal is to see current philosophical ideas about science in relation to our history. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2014–2015
  • PHIL 270: Ancient Greek Philosophy: Virtue, Reality and Explanations

    This limited survey of ancient Greek philosophy will center around its three most prominent figures (i.e. - Socrates, Plato and Aristotle) and their positions on the following topics: (1) virtue: What is virtue? Why be virtuous? Is/How is virtue taught? (Ethics segment) (2) reality: What are the basic constituents of reality? What is being? (Metaphysics segment) (3) explanation: What are the principles of change? What are the principles of the universe? (Physics and Cosmology segment). When appropriate, we shall also consider how these thinkers' positions compare and contrast to the views of their contemporaries and predecessors. Prerequisites: One 100 level course in Philosophy or permission of the instructor. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2014–2015
  • 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; Writing Requirement, Arts Practice, Writing Requirement, International Studies; offered Winter 2015 · S. Jansen, C. Hardy
  • 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, substances and attributes. We will place a special emphasis on understanding the philosophical thought of René Descartes, G. W. Leibniz, and David Hume. We will also consider the evolving relationships between science and philosophy in the period. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, International Studies; offered Fall 2014 · 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; offered Winter 2015 · A. Moltchanova
  • PHIL 395: The Self: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives

    We will be exploring some of the conceptions of the self and the good life that have appeared in major psychological and philosophical texts over the past 100 years or so. Using On Being Authentic as a key, we will start out by asking, "What is the self I am supposed to be true to when I strive to be true to my own self?" Our explorations will lead us through scientific naturalism (Freud), Romanticism (Jung, Alice Miller), Marxian humanism (Fromm), social constructionism and postmodernism (Clifford Geertz, Foucault), and narrativist views (Jerome Bruner, Guignon). 6 credit; Writing Requirement, Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, International Studies; offered Spring 2015 · C. Guignon
  • PHIL 395: Freedom and Responsibility

    Are our actions entirely determined by our biological make-up and social circumstances or are they, at least sometimes, free? Do collectives have a life of their own? When can we hold agents responsible for their actions? What about collective actions, like waging a war? Are group intentions just aggregates of individual intentions? These and other questions concerning the constitution and actions of agents will be discussed in the context of classic readings on agency and free will and contemporary debates in social ontology. 6 credit; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, Quantitative Reasoning Encounter; offered Fall 2014 · A. Moltchanova
  • 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 2015 · D. Groll
  • 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 2014, Spring 2015 · Staff