Below is a list of courses offered in the current and upcoming semester, together with course descriptions specific to the instructors teaching the course.
For a list of course offerings generated by the university registrar, listing rooms, times, CRNs, and generic course descriptions, please visit the Course Explorer.
For a list of all courses offered by the Philosophy Department, with information about how regularly they are offered, please visit the Course Catalog.
In this course we will pose some of the most fundamental questions we can ask about who we are as human beings, what we have reason to believe, how we should act, whether life really has any meaning, and what should we think about gender. What I hope to show is that much of what we normally think about these sorts of things takes on a different light when we engage in philosophical reflection. With the help of the readings, discussions, and writing assignments, students will learn how to critically engage with philosophical texts and how to craft and evaluate philosophical arguments addressing these apparently simple, but really very challenging questions.
This course fulfills the Advanced Composition general education requirement.
Credit is not given for both PHIL 100 and PHIL 101. Prerequisite: Completion of campus Composition I general education requirement.
As an introduction to philosophy, this course will focus on one of the cornerstone, and one of the most exciting, works in the history of western philosophy, Plato’s Republic. We will read it in its entirety. Republic is a dialogue between Socrates and several of his contemporaries, in which they consider one central question: how ought we to live our lives? In the course of answering this question, the interlocutors find themselves also needing to consider questions such as what is the best political community? What is knowledge? How important is it? What is the best education? What is virtue? What is happiness? What is pleasure? Since Republic presents a conversation, in reading it we will be introduced to a variety of views and voices in response to these questions. We will aim to follow Socrates and his interlocutors through the conversation, to understand the links between these questions, some major issues facing their solution, and the view which Socrates carefully develops by attending to each of these topics. Along the way, we will discover what can be accomplished through sustained argument and investigation, and reflect on what philosophy is and what is its importance.
PHIL 101 – Introduction to Philosophy ~ Currie (Fall 2021)
In this class, we will ask some of the most fundamental questions in philosophy. We will cover some of the main areas of philosophical inquiry: ethics (morality), philosophy of mind (how we think), epistemology (theories of knowledge), metaphysics (what exists), existential philosophy (meaning of life), logic and reasoning, and important topics in social philosophy (concerning justice and social norms). Together, through weekly lectures, group discussion, discussion board posts, group activities, short writing assignments, and close readings, we will learn to think philosophically. At the end of this course, we will be able to better understand, evaluate, and formalize arguments. Additionally, and more generally, we will improve our critical thinking and communication skills using the tools of philosophical analysis and argumentation.
This course satisfies the General Education Criteria for:
Humanities - Hist & Phil
PHIL 101 – Introduction to Philosophy ~ Li (Fall 2021)
This class will introduce you to a number of important problems in philosophy: What is knowledge? How should we understand the mind? What exists? How shall we live? We will look into these questions by reading relevant articles written by classical and contemporary philosophers, extracting the arguments they make, and discussing them together. This course is meant to help you get a better understanding of philosophy and its methodology, and to strengthen your ability of reasoning and critical thinking.
Introduction to the analysis and evaluation of actual arguments, to the practice of constructing logically sound arguments, and to logic as the theory of argument, with an emphasis on arguments of current or general interest. This course’s primary goal is to improve your reasoning. Toward that end, we focus on the primary unit of reasoning, arguments, which we analyze and evaluate, but we also focus on reasoning in other contexts, e.g. explanations, as well as barriers to reasoning well, e.g. bias. This course satisfies the General Education Criteria for: Humanities–Hist & Phil.
This course is structured around the following book: Good ReasoningMatters!, Leo Groarke and Christopher Tindale, Fifth Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.This book is highly recommended but not required. Since the book isn’t required, your main study materials will be extensive handouts.
The first part of the course is an introduction to critical thinking, fallacies in reasoning, inductive inference, and causal inference (Reasoning). Instruction will include a survey of these topics. Classroom time will also be used to help facilitate interactive activities among students to help ensure that students are developing good critical thinking skills. Part two of PHIL 103 is an introduction to classical propositional logic (Logic). During part two students are taught the basics of symbolic logic, they are given the tools to identify deductively valid and invalid arguments. They are taught how to prove that an argument is valid or invalid using various proof-theoretic methods. They are given the opportunity to apply what they have learned during classroom activities (inter alia).
PHIL 104 - Introduction to Ethics ACP* ~ Bojanowski (Fall 2021)
Consider the following dialogue: Anton: “Murder is wrong because I don’t like it.” Bert: “That’s false, for I like it.” If the disagreement between Anton and Bert brings out what moral disagreement essentially comes down to, murder would be at best like sweet red wine; disliked by most people but liked by others. There would be nothing objectively wrong with murder. In this course we will see why this account of ethical judgments is fundamentally flawed. Moral judgments are very different from culinary judgments of taste. This will become transparent when we look at some of the most controversial contemporary ethical issues: Should we abandon privacy online in light of our national security? Do we have a moral obligation to help the famine stricken in poor countries? Is it wrong to eat meat? What types of contents are we allowed to share on social media? Is abortion morally permissible? Should people receive high rewards for outstanding performances if these performances depend on their natural advantages? Giving an answer to each of these questions is difficult. Yet it would be inappropriate to simply flip a coin. Instead, we need to come up with a justification for our answer. As humans we can give and ask for reasons and make our actions dependent on them. These reasons can track more than simply our individual preferences. But what exactly do moral reasons track? What do we mean when we judge that an action is morally permissible or impermissible? What do we mean when we judge that a person’s character is good or evil? Is there a fundamental principle that underlies all our moral judgments? What does our life look like if it is governed by this fundamental moral principle? Is livening a morally good life compatible with living a happy life? We are going to engage with these questions by reading some of the philosophical classics (Aristotle, Hume and Kant) as well as contemporary readings.
*This course satisfies the Advanced Composition General Education Requirement
This course is designed as an introduction to moral philosophy, and by extension to philosophical thinking more generally. We will proceed by considering – through critical engagement with philosophical arguments and each other – the following questions:
- Should we (or can we) think of ethical claims as objective?
- What makes something good? What makes an action right or wrong? What makes a person good?
- How ought we to treat animals? Do we owe them anything at all?
- Can we morally justify criminal punishment?
Because some of the best philosophical theories of justice were developed in the early modern/modern period (17th-18th c.), contemporary theorists often go back to them in developing their own theories and in reflecting upon current legal-political and social affairs. In this course we explore two of these classical theories: Thomas Hobbes’ (1588-1679) legal positivism and John Locke’s (1632-1704) libertarianism. In both, we will pay special attention to questions concerning the nature of enforceable rights, why we need states, and the nature of a legitimate state. We then focus on other theories emerging at this time and in the centuries to come that sought to give explicit legal and political voice to various social groups—women, racialized groups, workers, ethnic groups, and sexual/gender minorities—who suffered injustice before, in, and after this period. We start with Ouobna Ottobah Cugoano (1757-1791) and Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) before moving on to the 19th and 20th centuries, with works from John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), Karl Marx (1818-1883), W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963), Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), and Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986).
Introduction to classic writers and texts in Western religious and social thought from antiquity to the Enlightenment, with emphasis on their social and historical contexts. Same as JS 108, ANTH 108, and PHIL 108.
Survey of the leading living religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; examination of basic texts and of philosophic theological elaborations of each religion.
Same as PHIL 110. This course can be used to fulfill either Western or Nonwestern general education categories, but not both.
Study of selected topics on an individually arranged basis. Open only to honors majors or to Cohn Scholars and Associates.
May be repeated one time. Prerequisite: Consent of departmental honors advisor.
This course is an introduction to formalizing and evaluating (deductive) arguments. In particular, the course will focus on four modules (these terms will become familiar to you as you progress through the course):
• Translating English sentences into sentential logic and testing such arguments for validity via truth tables.
• Evaluating sentential logic arguments through natural deduction.
• Translating English sentences into predicate logic and understanding the basics of predicate logic semantics.
• Evaluating predicate logic arguments through natural deduction.
The first goal in this class is the class-specific goal of becoming proficient at the translational, semantic, and proof-theoretic aspects of sentential and predicate logic. The second goal is broad. Being able to properly evaluate arguments and understand the logical relations between statements is a skill with wide-ranging applications. Arguments appear in many aspects of our lives—not only in philosophy—and the ability to properly evaluate them is a crucial skill for everyone.
The course textbook is free.
The goal of this course is to introduce students to philosophy in the ancient Greek world. While this is not the beginning of philosophy tout court, it is the beginning of what has become the Western tradition in philosophy. What is thought of as the emergence of philosophy in ancient Greece especially involves the development of views about the role of reason in our lives and in the search for truth. Philosophers drew from these views claims about ethics, metaphysics, politics, and natural philosophy, as well as the development of argument forms and standards for reasoning. We will be following some of these themes through the three main periods of ancient Greek philosophy: (1) Early Greek philosophy or so-called “pre-Socratic” philosophy, (2) Plato & Aristotle, (3) Hellenistic philosophy. Since this is a philosophy course, the primary goal of the course is to understand the different philosophical views proposed by these thinkers, and to recognize the problems and ideas they were united in investigating.
Additionally, along the way we will distinguish between the different sources of evidence we have for ancient Greek philosophers’ views, recognizing the difference between fragments, testimonia, a whole or nearly complete works, and noting the difficulty which the transmission of these texts provides to our understanding of them. Recognizing the different sources for these philosophers’ views is important for seeing that while we are engaging with philosophical issues, we are also doing a history of philosophy, and thus take on some of the difficulties of historical research. Furthermore, the analytical skill required by weighing and distinguishing the different sources of evidence is a valuable skill transferable to the present moment.
What is the relation between mind and world? What is the role of reason and of the senses in the attainment of knowledge? What can we know with certainty and how reliable are our scientific explanations? What is the relation between mind and body? How can there be an omnibenevolent and omnipotent God when there is evil in the world? In this course, we will attempt to answer these epistemological and metaphysical questions by focusing on major philosophical figures of the 17th and 18th centuries. The overarching theme of the course is an investigation into skepticism and the nature of human understanding as undertaken by the rationalists (Descartes and Leibniz), the empiricists (Locke, Berkeley, and Hume), and Kant.
There is little disagreement that, in general, we should not kill, lie, or torture and there is also little disagreement that we should not oppress others. Yet our histories and societies are rife with phenomena such as racism, sexism, and heterosexism—and it seems very hard for us, human beings of all walks of life, including philosophers, to overcome these problems of patterned hatred, oppression, and violence. Why is this so: what is it about our kind of being that makes these kinds of wrongdoing so tempting and hard to get rid of? And how do we describe the experiences and the ways in which human beings resist and deal with having been subjected to such violence? In this course we will explore a series of early, pathbreaking writings on these topics, such as those of Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, John Stuart and Harriet Taylor Mill, Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot), Simone de Beauvoir, W.E.B. Du Bois, Fredrick Douglass, Angela Davis, Martin Luther King, Malcom X, and James Baldwin.
In PHIL 214, we will be exploring the ways that methodological and moral principles interact to inform policy choices related to health and society. We will consider several topics of ethical and public policy concern, such as abortion, experimentation on animals, drug and medical device trials, vaccination, and the provision of healthcare. Throughout the course, we will be developing and critically reflecting on formal and quantitative tools relevant to the topics we consider.
In its origin, the theory of computing was driven and guided by philosophers' and mathematicians' foundational questions on human thought and mind. Computer science has now been established as an independent (and huge) discipline, but on its frontiers computer scientists often face the same sort of questions that philosophers have long tackled. This course introduces students to this exciting junction of computer science and philosophy.
Without assuming any prior knowledge of computer science or philosophy, the course will take students to a journey through conceptual ideas that underlie the intersection of the two disciplines, from the origin of computer science to its current frontiers. Students will realize how much inspiration computer science actually receives from philosophers' insights on the one hand, and what new insights computer scientists can provide philosophy on the other.
This course will examine (i) the nature of human minds and brains in light of what we know about machine `minds' and `hardware', and vice versa, and (ii) how the rise of intelligent machines is affecting and reshaping our own society. The course will explore questions like: Could a machine have a mind? What can human minds and brains teach us about how an intelligent machine might work, and vice versa? Can machines learn to master various different domains in ways that simulate and eventually even surpass the astonishing capacity and flexibility of human learning? Could a machine think in the ways humans do? How could we tell? How do machines and our interactions with them influence, affect and enhance how humans think, learn, and reason? What are the promises and perils of our increasing dependence on artificial intelligence, big data, and social networks? How should we, as a society, confront situations in which the underlying processes behind machine `decisions' are not transparent to us? When machines are trained on human generated data such as news corpora, what kinds of human-like social biases---including race and gender---might they re-create/incorporate into their `decisions'? Can we reduce the effect of race, gender, and other social biases in machine learning decisions without degrading their overall performance? From a normative perspective, how can traditional philosophical theories of fairness and justice help us think about machine biases, and understand the relevant trade-offs? What is the nature of our personal identity? Is it a serious possibility that human minds can be transferred to mediums other than biological bodies? What might information processing, integration and flexibility have to do with consciousness? How can we tell if machines become conscious? How should machines that exhibit some non-trivial features of human minds be treated? How should machines treat us?
Faith and Reason
This course is about the reasonableness of belief (and disbelief) in God. We will begin with the question of just what it would mean for God to exist, and how far the idea of God even makes sense. We will then consider what kind of reasons we have (or need) to accept that there is such a being. Does the existence or order of the universe show that God exists? Is God disproved by all the evil and suffering in the world (or must God exist for there even to be such moral facts in the first place? ) Is it reasonable to believe in God just because of the practical benefits of doing so (happiness, solace, hope)? Finally, we will consider whether belief in God really needs any evidence or justification in the first place. What would be wrong with taking religious experience at face value, just as we do our seemingly unjustifiable beliefs in other minds, the past, or an “external” world? To what extent are atheism and agnosticism in better shape than any other kinds of skepticism?
Introduces students to philosophical and theological perspectives and methodologies by focusing on one or two key thinkers, books, or topics. Study and critical assessment will attend to the larger historical context. Same as PHIL 231.
This course takes a broadly philosophical approach to various fascinating debates in biology, psychology and sociology concerning various elements and conceptions of human nature. We will discuss the following topics. What are the prospects and problems of an evolutionary approach to understanding basic human behaviors such as sexuality and altruism? Do we have innate knowledge of specific domains, e.g., knowledge about natural languages or the basic structure of the physical or biological world? What aspects of the human mind separate us from non-human animals? Are there broad human cultural universals, including shared elements in our seemingly diverse conceptions of happiness or suffering? We will also critically examine concepts such as genetic determinism/diversity, as they are used in the scientific study of human nature and applied to current debates about race, gender and health.
Science is our gold standard for gathering knowledge about the empirical world around us. We place tremendous value on findings that result from the ‘scientific method’, and take rationality to demand that our individual and collective beliefs and actions be guided by them. But what actually is science? And what does the scientific method consist in that makes it so special? In this class, we’re going to discuss this and closely related questions. These include: What distinguishes science from non-science or pseudoscience? What’s the special method of science and what, if anything, endows it with special rationality and credibility? What is scientific progress, and how should we incorporate new evidence into our evaluation of scientific theories? What are scientific theories about? Is science purely ‘objective’, and is it problematic if it isn’t? And what is the relationship between scientific investigation, human values, and politics?
Introduction to the theory of meaning for natural language, including techniques for the description of lexical meaning, compositional determination of phrase and sentence meaning, and pragmatic effects on interpretation in context. By the end of the course, students will:
---Understand how the semantic and pragmatic systems of natural languages are organized, and a familiarity with standard analyses of major semantic and pragmatic patterns.
---Demonstrate the ability to think analytically about meaning in language, to present and justify analyses systematically, to support claims with sound arguments and empirical evidence, and to evaluate claims about meaning in language critically.
---Acquire elementary familiarity with the formal tools used in modern semantic and pragmatic theories, including predicate logic, generalized quantifier theory, lambda calculus, and tense logic.
“Ethics and Engineering” is a broad-ranging course in moral theory and practice, open to all disciplines and all majors. The principles studied throughout the semester are applicable to all career paths, and all who are interested are welcome to be members of the class. The course is structured in three interrelated parts — (1) an introduction to the central themes of the course, (2) a focused study of normative ethics, and (3) an exploration of ethical issues in the practice of a profession, applied in the vocational context of the discipline of engineering (including safety and liability, professional responsibility to clients and employers, legal obligations, codes of ethics, and career choice).
As a course in philosophy, one of the primary objectives is to explore the fundamental structure of human personhood, the grounding of moral action, and the development of moral character as a precondition of integral work in a profession — and the essential foundation necessary for our life together in society.
Other course objectives:
-To read and think critically
-To develop moral reasoning skills
-To improve writing skills in an engineering context
-To understand multiple perspectives and respect others of diverse persuasions
The course fulfills credit as an upper-division class in advanced composition, for which the University of Illinois requires twenty to thirty pages of revised writing as a minimum standard. In order to fulfill this requirement, each member of the class must write and revise a personal mission statement reflecting on one’s life work and career path (three pages), followed by two position papers including an initial article analysis (three pages) and a substantive paper on normative ethical theories (five pages), plus a final research paper of one’s own choosing (nine pages or more in length). All members of the course also give a five-minute presentation on their research projects at the end of the semester, concluding with four minutes of questions from the class. The research paper and class presentation function together as the final examination for the course.
Philosophical examination of positions taken on some issues of current concern, including the morality of war, climate justice, reparations for historic injustice, and distributive justice at the state and global levels.
See Class Schedule for current topics. May be repeated with approval.
Readings in selected philosophical topics. Course may be taken by honors students in partial fulfillment of department honors requirements.
May be repeated to a maximum of 6 hours in separate terms. Prerequisite: Open to juniors and seniors with a grade-point average of 3.0 only by prior arrangement with a member of the faculty and with consent of the department director of undergraduate studies or the chair.
This course will survey Islamic philosophy from the 9th century to the 12th century CE. We will focus on Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, and Ibn Rushd. However, we will also discuss the influence of Aristotle and Plato on these thinkers, as well as other Islamic philosophers during this time period, such as Al-Kindi and Al-Ghazali. Working from translations of the primary texts, we will examine the following questions. What is God, according to these philosophers, and how do their conceptions of God differ? How is the natural world structured? What are universals? How is human psychology structured, and how does it operate? What is the self? Required work includes a series of short written assignments, two longer essays, and a class presentation.
If you aspired to a political career in ancient Athens, public speaking was an essential skill. Athens was a direct democracy, which meant that having the ability to win over your fellow citizens was tantamount to political success. Young, ambitious citizens would thus pay handsomely to study with the sophists—wise people, who professed to teach this all-important skill. Plato, however, was famously wary of the sophists and their teachings. In this class, we will read selections from Plato’s dialogues in which many prominent sophists are engaged in discussion with Socrates about the nature of their skill and the content of their teaching. Students will then assume the role of citizens charged with speaking before the Athenian Assembly and in the lawcourts. This will include a recreation of the trial of Socrates, who was himself accused of using sophistry to make the weaker argument the stronger. By examining democracy at its threshold (and the power wielded by sophists within that democracy), this course aims to provide both the context and perspective to consider its later evolution.
Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud
Paul Ricoeur called the three great thinkers of the late 19th (and early 20th) century—Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud—the “masters of suspicion,” since they taught us to regard with suspicion some of our most fundamental conscious understandings of our psychological makeup and social existence: there are causal forces that lay ‘beneath’ the surface and that explain the conscious phenomena, precisely because they expose the latter’s true meaning. In this course, we will examine this idea by discussing not only this triumvirate’s critique of ideology, morality, and religion, but also historical materialism, the genealogical method, conscience, and the relations between the individual and civilization. Of special interest will be the distinction between history and genealogy and between science and critical theory.
Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (the First Critique)
One of the defining features of modern philosophy is the attempt to place knowledge (of reality, of ourselves, of God) on a solid foundation, especially in accordance with the onset of modern natural science. In the wake of what Kant saw as the failures of the rationalism of Descartes and Leibniz, and the empiricism of Locke and Hume, he sought to revolutionize philosophy much in the same way that Copernicus revolutionized science—that is, Kant’s is a philosophy through which we become properly re-oriented, placing knowledge of the broader world and (even more importantly) self-knowledge, on “the secure path of a science.” While he believed himself successful in securing such knowledge, he also undertook to explain the boundaries of our knowledge in a way that overcomes problems with both classical rationalism and empiricism. Thus, the Critique is a book exploring both the scope and limits of human knowledge, specifically through an explication of how knowledge is ultimately dependent upon a form of self-knowledge.
We will carefully read through much of Kant’s masterwork, the Critique of Pure Reason, along with several influential essays by leading Kant interpreters. This course aims at illuminating some of Kant’s important ideas about the following issues: what it means to know objective reality, what the role of the mind is in that knowledge, the nature of space and time as subjective limitations and enabling conditions of experience, the ability of science and mathematics to provide us with knowledge of nature, the possibility of freedom of the will, and whether we are rationally justified in believing in God. We will approach these issues mainly through Kant’s theory of self-consciousness, what it enables us to know, and how it enables us to determine the boundaries of human knowledge.
As academia became more diverse from the 1800s onwards, so did the attention and quality of the philosophical reflections on human tendencies to do evil and other irrational aspects of human being and acting, those that are constitutive of any plausible accounts of historical oppression and violence that target specific social groups. In this course, we look at some of the earlier, more complex theories of this kind, namely those we find in the writings on class conflict and economic relations by Karl Marx (1818-1883), on the subconscious by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), on race by W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963), on totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), and on sexuality and gender by Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986).
Space, Time, and Matter is an advanced and intensive history and philosophy of physics course that aims to: (a) introduce students to the history of both theoretical and experimental physics (more specifically we will travel from scientific thought before Aristotle all the way to the development of the standard model of particle physics), (b) briefly introduce students to the basic formulae and accompanying (sometimes competing interpretations) of classical Newtonian mechanics, classical electrodynamics (both three-vector and four-vector versions), early kinetic theory, thermodynamics, (classical) Boltzmannian statistical mechanics, special relativity, general relativity, the standard L-CDM cosmological model, and both non-relativistic and relativistic quantum mechanics, (c) introduce students to debates in the foundations of physics, and (d) give special attention to philosophical debates concerning scientific realism and anti-realism, the relationship between the manifest and scientific images, and the nature of space and time.
Karl Marx's utopian communism and Nicolo Machiavelli's political realism both hold that ethics and politics have to be separated. Ethics is merely the study of the morally good character. Politics, by contrast, is about the structure of political, social, and financial institutions. For Marx changing people's ethical beliefs will not deliver real political change. This change can only come about by changing the economical structure of the society. Machiavelli's reasons for holding that ethics and politics have to be separated are different. He believed that in politics we often have to get our hands dirty; we have to do what is morally wrong in order to do what is politically right. Hence ethics and politics require very different normative standards. In this course we are going to see why both Marx's and Machiavelli's views are incoherent. Their limitation of the scope of ethics has led to its marginalization. This marginalization is detrimental to political culture. Politics is merely seen as a problem of social engineering and administration. We shall focus on those ethical theories that argue that political thought is fundamentally nothing other than ethical thought.
This course explores central questions regarding evil with the help of the works of or writings inspired by Immanuel Kant and Hannah Arendt. In particular, we investigate questions such as: Why is it tempting for human beings to do bad things to themselves and to others? Why are we responsible for wrongdoing, indeed even in cases where there is much self-deception or other subjectively difficult subjective states involved? How should we describe and face evil whether it comes from other individuals, from society, or from legal-political institutions? How can we capture different kinds and degrees of wrongdoing and heinousness? What are typical institutional kinds of wrongdoing? And what are distinctive features of institutional uses of unjustifiable violence? To investigate these questions, we will engage the resources found in Kant’s practical philosophy, including his own and contemporary Kantian writings on law and politics, history, religion, and anthropology, as well as Hannah Arendt’s writings on politics, including her writings on the human condition, violence, totalitarianism, revolution, and banal evil.
Social stereotypes and bias in minds and machines
When asked, many people would agree with the claim that sexism or racism is wrong, and would probably explicitly state that they, themselves, are not in any way, say, sexist or racist. However, research suggests that our mental representations of social categories implicitly encode biases and stereotypes which can affect our judgments of and behavior towards others. The goal of this class is to explore the ways in which biases can be encoded in human representations of social categories, and their impact on social judgments and behavior. We will also investigate the ways machines use algorithms that seem to reproduce social biases with important consequences for structural injustices. To this end, we will examine prominent psychological and philosophical models of category representation, relate them to the relevant empirical findings about stereotypes and biases in cognitive science, and discuss their limits for providing us with accurate models of human behavior. We will also explore more recent advances in the study of category representation, and examine whether they can provide us with better models for social biases and stereotypes. Against this background, we will then attend to the question of which latent biases are hidden in the data fed to and algorithms generated by machine learners, the ways this can inform our models and intervention techniques for human biases, and the ethical questions this raises for us as a society.
This class surveys a number of central topics in metaphysics – composition, abstract objects, modality, properties, time, persistence, and social ontology. We will use a textbook that offers a nice introduction to each topic and supplement this with articles that deal with some of the specific issues.
PHIL 429 - Value Theory ~ Sussman (Fall 2021)
This course will consider the nature of goodness, and whether there can be objective facts or real knowledge about what’s valuable or important. Different things (people, lives, actions, movies, doughnuts) can be good in different ways for different reasons (pleasure, beauty, health, morality, etc.). Is there anything interesting that all good things have in common? When we call something good, are we making a judgment about some matter-of-fact, or are we just expressing our approval or satisfaction? Are things good because we desire them, or do we desire them because we think that they’re good? Would claims about value have to be defensible in anything like the way that scientific judgments are in order to be objectively true? To what extent (and in what sense) do we need values to be objective for our lives to be meaningful or worth living?
Investigation of issues concerning, for example, the nature and possibility of knowledge; its forms and limits; its relation to belief, truth, and justification; and the nature of truth. 3 undergraduate hours. 3 or 4 graduate hours. Prerequisite: One course in philosophy.
What are the characteristics of a genuinely civilized, enlightened society? Can we hope to create it? Do we have good recipes for wholesale social improvement, or would a civilized society be, not a system created by social engineers, but simply an aggregation of civilized individuals? Does our hope for a more enlightened society lie in "progress" and "development", or have we reached the point where "development" has become degeneration? Does enlightenment entail, not a progressive movement in a forward direction, but rather a return to such neglected riches of our intellectual heritage as "liberty, equality, fraternity"? This course is concerned with two strongly contrasting ways of thinking about enlightenment and a genuinely civilized society. The first way has become hegemonic. Current orthodoxy, especially in Anglophone social philosophy, invites us to think of the ideal society and the freedom of its individual citizens in liberal terms inherited from the early-modern works of Thomas Hobbes and Bernard Mandeville. However, we have also inherited a rival republican way of thinking, originally classical Greek and Roman, but developed in the early-modern works of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This course begins with a survey of the classical arguments of Aristotle and Cicero. Then we trace the early-modern evolution of the rival enlightenments of Hobbes and Mandeville, and of Locke and Rousseau. We conclude by assessing the relative merits of thinking about social improvement in these rival ways. Students are expected to obtain hard (paper) copies of the following works, available for purchase in the Illini Union Bookstore: Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Richard Tuck (Cambridge); Locke, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge); Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees and Other Writings, ed. E.J. Hundert (Indianapolis); and Rousseau, The Discourses and Other Early Political Writings, ed. and trans. Victor Gourevitch (Cambridge).
Philosophy of Law and the State” delves into the foundational texts in philosophy of law in order to examine the social and normative worlds that different theories of law promote and work to construct. This course encourages a critical and analytical examination of the essential qualities, features, and aims of law as they have been imagined across the history of Western philosophy, and particularly those which informed the Founding Fathers’ vision of law for the new United States. To varying degrees, the thinkers in our syllabus explore the following questions: what is law, and from where does it come? Why do we need law? What mode of political organization best upholds the tenets of law? How does or should law govern? Who does law govern?
The course is divided into three historical “stages” or “modules,” so to speak: Classical Antiquity, the Enlightenment Age, and Late Modernity. Each module examines the writings of two to three critical thinkers of the era, many of whom were explicitly in dialogue with one another, while others implicitly draw on the innovations of their predecessors. This spirit of collaboration and contestation exemplifies the discipline of philosophy as a fundamentally social and political enterprise, one which is always, in some way or other, responding to or challenging the historical context in which it is embedded. By the end of the course, the hope is that you will view contemporary law and arguments about law as similarly responsive to (or as challenges against) the broader economic, social, political, and cultural forces that shape it and are shaped by it.
This course will examine various philosophical and foundational topics concerning how natural languages such as English or Spanish enable human minds form and communicate thoughts about the world. Guided by various classic and contemporary texts in philosophy of language, we will discuss questions such as the following. What is linguistic meaning? What are the conditions for successful linguistic communication? What are the basic properties of natural languages so that they can be acquired by finite minds such as ours and yet enable the communication of a seemingly unbounded number of thoughts? What is the relationship between language and the world? What are the expressive limits of natural languages and do they set limits on the expressive power of human thought?
This is an advanced course in symbolic logic. We will focus on some of the fundamental meta-theorems of first-order logic. The first half of the course will cover some basic results and techniques from model theory, including the completeness theorem, compactness theorem, and Löwenheim-Skolem theorems. In the second half of the course, our focus will primarily be on the relationship between computability and logic, covering the theory of recursive functions and the proof of Gödel's incompleteness theorems, among others.
An in-depth, integrative overview of the major themes in the study of Cognitive Science, including cognition as computation, the relation between mind and brain, computability and the role of heuristics in "solving" unsolvable problems, and the logical/mathematical foundations of these themes. Specific topics covered include inverse optics and vision; induction and reasoning; learnability and language; philosophy of minds and brains; evolution; artificial intelligence and computational modeling; information theory; knowledge representation. The emphasis throughout is on the interrelations among these topics as examples of important but fundamentally unsolvable problems.
Contemporary Philosophy of Science for Fall 2020 investigates the history and foundations of the special theory of relativity. Topics addressed include a historical study of the work of Ernst Mach (especially as that work influenced Einstein), Henri Poincaré, H.A. Lorentz, Albert Einstein, and Hermann Minkowski. An intensive discussion of the Michelson-Morley experiment is provided. The postulates of the special theory of relativity are taught as are the Lorentz transformations, special relativistic velocity addition, E = mc2, the nature of Minkowski spacetime, the invariant interval, and the relativity of simultaneity. Various experimental special relativistic effects will be explored, including time dilation and length contraction. Various experimental confirmations of STR will be discussed including the Ives-Stilwell experiments, the Mössbauer effect, particular CERN results, Thomas Precession (briefly), and the Kennedy-Thorndike experiment. The central focus of the course, however, will be the use of the historical and physical discussion to facilitate reflection upon the foundational issues in special relativity including the supposed conventionality of simultaneity, the twin paradox, the nature of space, time, and spacetime, and the neo-Lorentzian interpretation of special relativity.
Philosophy of psychology covers a large range of issues having to do with the study of cognition, mental representation, perception, consciousness, and the methods used to investigate psychological phenomena. In PHIL 477, we will be concerned with several interrelated foundational, conceptual, and methodological issues in psychology, including the goals of psychology, the significance of measurement, nativism and the relative importance of nature and nurture, the status of folk psychology, the relationship between psychology and neuroscience, the nature of (psychological) mechanism, the role of probability in studying human cognition, the replication crisis, severe testing, Bayesianism, causal inference, the contents of mental representations, and the nature of consciousness.
PHIL 499 - Capstone Seminar
Capstone course required for all philosophy majors. Students will explore in depth a specific topic either in the history of philosophy or in contemporary practical or theoretical philosophy and will write a substantial original essay appropriate for a senior thesis. Topics will differ by section and semester. Course Information: 3 undergraduate hours. No graduate credit. Prerequisite: PHIL 202, PHIL 203, PHIL 206, PHIL 222, PHIL 223. For Philosophy Majors with Senior Standing Only.
Title: "Early Modern Women Philosophers"
In this course, we will consider theoretical issues in the works of 17th century philosopher Margaret Cavendish and 18th-19th century philosopher Mary Shepherd. Both philosophers can be seen as responding to philosophical views of others, Hobbes, Descartes, and Van Helmont for Cavendish and Berkeley and the Scottish enlightenment (Hume through Reid) for Shepherd, both should also be seen for putting forth independent metaphysical and epistemological views. Although we will look at a variety of theories (the nature of substance, knowledge, representation, and the notion of the self and personal identity), our underlying investigation will concern the role of causation.
Introduction to formal semantic theory for natural language, with attention to quantification, anaphora, tense, intensionality, and related topics.
One of the philosophically most exciting, so-called “ideal” theories of justice as freedom is found in Immanuel Kant’s “Doctrine of Right,” and this course starts by exploring this theory. It is equally uncontroversial to say that Kant himself failed and the Kantian philosophical tradition has yet to deliver an equally rich “non-ideal theory,” meaning a theory that explains how to apply the principles of justice as freedom to our ever so earthly human condition and historical societies. For example, a plausible theory of justice as freedom must give us philosophical tools with which to understand our temptations to do bad things to one another. Such a theory must also be able to capture the related, historical patterns of violence and oppression against certain social groups—behavior that is often condoned or even carried out by public institutions. In the second part of this course, we therefore bring Kant’s theory of rightful freedom into dialogue with some of the most complex accounts of violence and oppression available, namely those found in the writings of Karl Marx (on economic relations), W.E.B. Du Bois (on racial relations), Hannah Arendt (on modern totalitarian forces), Simone de Beauvoir (on gender relations), and Eva Kittay (on care relations).
In this seminar, we will explore contemporary theories of distributive justice through the lens of luck egalitarianism. Luck egalitarianism is the view that a distribution of goods is unjust if someone is worse off than someone else through no fault of their own. We will challenge three aspects of this view: its methodological basis, its fundamental normative principle, and its consequences for economic justice. In other words, we will consider the extent to which political philosophy can be carried out as “ideal theory” (ad 1). We will discuss the normative principle of luck egalitarianism in light of three main criticisms: relational egalitarianism, libertarianism, and sufficientarianism (ad 2). Finally, we will examine the claim that luck egalitarianism is an (or even the) essential mark of a socialist economy, and whether this economy is desirable (ad 3).
The primary subject of this course is modal logic. Originally a study of the logic of necessity and possibility, modal logic has come to deal with a much broader range of modalities or "modes of truth" that are found in philosophy and other disciplines, such as linguistics, mathematics, and computer science. This course will explore these developments and conceptual issues surrounding them. Within philosophy, special attention will be given to modal logic in epistemology and metaphysics. In the intersection with neighboring disciplines, the topics to be discussed include modalities in natural language semantics, foundations of mathematics, and theoretical computer science.
PHIL 517 - Seminar Philosophy of Science ~ Weaver (Fall 2021)
This course will explore the history and foundations of statistical mechanics. We will pay close attention to the development of Boltzmannian statistical mechanics, the reduction of thermodynamics to statistical mechanics, and the problem of the arrow of time.
PHIL 521 will be a research and writing seminar on the problem of induction and its history. My aim is for the seminar participants to produce a publishable paper together. I will provide a framing for the paper and direct the main line of our collective investigation. Seminar participants will be responsible for writing initial drafts of sections of the paper and helping to refine it as we move along.
We will study the nature of rational decision-making and means-ends rationality. Our primary interest will be in cases where the outcome of your action depends on some external facts about which you're uncertain. The class will start with variations of decision theories that require maximizing expected utility (such as Evidential, Causal, and Functional Decision Theories). After briefly touching on game theory, we'll turn to rivals to EU-maximizing theories and explore issues surrounding the nature of risk. The course will finish with discussions of applications of decision theory to epistemology and ethics.
This class will be on theories of concepts and their application to topics such as conceptual engineering or different phenomena in the philosophy of language and mind. We will discuss the desiderata a theory of concepts should fulfill, and have a look at how classic and more contemporary proposals—ranging from Wittgenstein, Hume, and Frege to contemporary versions of atomist and prototype theories—fare with respect to the desiderata. We will also explore more recent advances in the study of category representation, such as psychological essentialism and causal model theory, and examine whether they can circumvent problems faced by other models. Throughout the seminar, we will investigate how the models in question can help us understand phenomena such as bias, perceptual categorization, or slurs. Finally, we will look into recent research in conceptual engineering and conceptual ethics, and explore questions of how our concepts ought to look like, and what some of the challenges of the implementation of such projects are.