Course Descriptions

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.

PHIL 100 - Intro to Philosophy - ACP ~ Weinberg (Fall 2021)

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.

PHIL 101 – Introduction to Philosophy ~ Reese (Fall 2020 and Spring 2021)

In this course we will pose some of the simplest questions we can ask, which also turn out to be some of the most difficult to answer. We will begin with ethical questions (e.g. What should I do? How should I live?) before turning to consider what living a fulfilling life might amount to—and the role that philosophy, friendship and education might play in that life. This will be followed by an in-depth exploration of questions surrounding personal identity and consciousness (e.g. Who am I? Am I my brain?). Finally, we will take up some questions surrounding the meaning and significance of death. This course will not assume any background in philosophy, but it will push you to understand and communicate clearly about challenging material.

PHIL 102 – Logic and Reasoning (Online Course) ~ Fitts (Fall 2021)

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.

PHIL 103 – Logic and Reasoning  ~ Livengood (Fall 2020 and Spring 2021)

Logic and Reasoning is an introductory logic course. The course takes a more formal, mathematical approach than PHIL 102, and so, it satisfies a level-two quantitative reasoning requirement (QRII). The honors variant of the course includes more discussion of philosophical issues and some essay writing. In this course, we will be concerned with understanding the goodness (or badness) of various kinds of argument. The course will be divided into four units: Zeroth-Order (Sentential) Logic, First-Order (Predicate) Logic, Set Theory and Probability Theory, and Causal and Statistical Reasoning. By the end of the course, students should be able to distinguish valid and invalid deductive arguments, construct truth tables for well-formed formulas in propositional logic, construct simple proofs in a natural deduction framework, apply Bayes’ Theorem to simple probability problems, distinguish between conditioning and intervening, and much more!

PHIL 104 - Introduction to Ethics ACP* ~ Bojanowski (Fall 2020 and Spring 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

PHIL 105 – Introduction to Ethics ~ Bojanowski (Fall 2020)

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.

PHIL 107 - Introduction to Political Philosophy ~ Varden (Fall 2021)

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).

PHIL 108 – Religion & Society in West I

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.

PHIL 110 – World Religions ~

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.

PHIL 191 – Freshman Honors Tutorial ~

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.

PHIL 199 – Undergraduate Open Seminar ~

PHIL 202 - Symbolic Logic ~ Fitts (Fall 2021)

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.

PHIL 203 - Ancient Philosophy ~ Reese (Fall 2020 and Spring 2021)

What is philosophy? How does it differ from science, religion, literature, and other modes of human inquiry? This course traces the origins of philosophy as a discipline in the Western tradition, looking to the thinkers of Ancient Greece and Rome. We will examine how natural philosophers such as Thales, Anaximander, and Heraclitus distinguished their inquiries from the teachings of poets such as Homer and Hesiod; how ancient atomism had its origins in a response to Parmenides’ challenge to the assumption that things change; how Socrates reoriented the focus of philosophy away from the natural world and toward the fundamental ethical question: how shall I live? We will also examine the elaborate philosophical systems developed by Plato and Aristotle, which address the nature of reality, knowledge, and happiness. Finally, we will examine the ways in which later thinkers such as the Epicureans and Stoics transformed and extended the earlier tradition.

PHIL 206 - Early Modern Philosophy ~ Ben-Moshe (Fall 2021)

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.

PHIL 210 - Ethics: Early writings on the philosophy of race, gender, and sex and love ~ Varden (Fall 2020)

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.

PHIL 214 - Biomedical Ethics ~ Livengood (Fall 2020)  

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.

PHIL 222 - Philosophical Foundations of Computer Science ~ Kishida (Fall 2020 and Spring 2021)  

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.

PHIL 223 - Mind & Machines ~ Del Pinal (Spring 2021)  

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?

PHIL 230 - Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion ~ Sussman (Fall 2020)  

This course will consider the rationality of belief (and disbelief) in God (however best understood). Does the existence or order of the universe establish that God exists? What about purported miracles? Does all the evil and suffering in the world show that there is no God, or does morality itself presuppose that God exists? We will also consider what we should do if none of the arguments either for or against the existence of God succeed. Should we just be agnostics, or might we be entitled to believe because of the various kinds of benefits such faith might bring? Perhaps belief in God doesn’t need any evidence or justification at all. What would be wrong with taking religious experience at face value, as we do our seemingly unjustifiable beliefs in the minds of other people or in a world outside of our thoughts? Maybe faith in God need not involve kind of belief at all, but some other attitude more like trust or confidence (would this remove the need for justification, or just change it?).

PHIL 231 - Religion and Philosophy ~

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.

PHIL 250 - Conceptions of Human Nature ~ Del Pinal (Fall 2020)

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.

PHIL 270 - Philosophy of Science ~ Weaver (Spring 2020)

Through a brief survey of the history of physics, PHIL 270 Philosophy of Science starts the semester with the study of examples of scientific theories, their laws, their predictions, their evidences, their models, and their proposed explanations of phenomena. Drawing upon a newly acquired familiarity with important developments in physical theorizing gained through the study of the history of physics, PHIL 270 Philosophy of Science then investigates some of the most important work on the demarcation problem, the problem of underdetermination of theories by their evidence, the nature of prediction and scientific explanation, laws of nature, and the scientific realism/anti-realism debate.

PHIL 307 - Elements Semantics & Pragmatics ~ Del Pinal (Spring 2021)

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.

PHIL 316 – Ethics and Engineering

Course Information: Same as PHIL 316. Letter Grade 3 Credits. Credit is not given for both ECE 316 and CS 210. Junior standing is required. Prerequisite: RHET 105.  See Course Catalog for more details.
Prerequisites: Junior standing and Rhetoric 105. The term “junior standing” means that the course will be taught at the level of an upper-division class in Philosophy and Advanced Composition, and that every enrolled member of the course is willing and able to work at the level necessary to fulfill these University requirements.
Ethical issues in the practice of engineering: safety and liability, professional responsibility to clients and employers, whistle-blowing, codes of ethics, career choice, and legal obligations. Philosophical analysis of normative ethical theories. Case studies.

“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.

PHIL 380 - Current Controversies ~

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.

PHIL 390 - Individual Study ~

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.

PHIL 404 - Medieval Philosophy ~

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.

PHIL 410 - Classical Ancient Philosophers ~ Plato and the Sophists ~ Reese (Fall 2020 and Spring 2021)

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.

PHIL 411 - Nineteenth Century Philosophy ~ Ben-Moshe (Fall 2021)

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.

PHIL 412 - Classical Modern Philosophers ~ Weinberg (Fall and Spring 2021)

Modern Women Philosophers (Spring 2021)

In this course, we will consider philosophical views in metaphysics, epistemology, education, oppression, and bias by women philosophers from the 17th-21st centuries.  Many, if not most, of the historical views have been ignored throughout the history of philosophy, mostly due to the dominance of men in virtually all aspects of intellectual and academic life.  Only very recently has there been a concerted effort in professional philosophy to rediscover the philosophical writings of women during the 17th-19th centuries and to reinterpret the historical philosophical canon to appropriately represent them.  Along with their metaphysical and epistemological views, a recurrent theme in the writings of women philosophers throughout history is the oppression of women.  We will also consider some of these more historical writings as well as recent contributions to analyses of oppression (its causes and results) as well as ways to combat it.  Essentially, the course attempts to do two things: first, we will focus on recovered 17th-19th century metaphysical and epistemological texts by Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia, Margaret Cavendish, and Mary Shepherd as well as an early piece on epistemic bias by Marie de Gourney; second, we will address the question why they needed to be recovered by looking to 20th-21st century texts on oppression and bias by Catherine Mackinnon, Sally Haslanger, Rae Langton, Miranda Fricker, and Kate Manne.

PHIL 414 - Recent Modern Philosophers (Wittgenstein) ~ Sussman (Spring 2021)

Ludwig Wittgenstein is considered by many to be the most important philosopher of the twentieth century, who dramatically reoriented discussions of meaning, justification, and the relation of our “inner” life to the “external” world. Yet it is notoriously difficult to say just what Wittgenstein believes. He never offers much by way of explicit argument or definite conclusions; his notoriously laconic and elusive style is one of personal confession and inner dialogue, relying on metaphors, parables, and jokes. Wittgenstein’s early Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus understood the relation of logic to reality in a way that consigned philosophical questions to the “unsayable,” and so nonsense (if still “important nonsense”(?)). Yet in his subsequent Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein rejects this approach, coming to see questions about the nature of reality, reason, and value to be inseparable from the whole “whirl of organism” in our shared practices, sensibilities, and “forms of life.”  The problem with philosophy is no longer that it wanders off into the unsayable, but that philosophy addresses issues that are so close to us, so open and immediate, that we cannot bring them into clear focus. Instead of advancing any traditional philosophical theses Wittgenstein offers a kind of “philosophical therapy” to reveal the underlying confusions motivating our philosophical questions, and so relieve us of our need to either ask or answer them. The class will consider whether this therapy means that ultimately, philosophy can only “leave everything just as it is,” or whether philosophy might still have real work to do, not just in clarifying our forms of self-understanding, but in changing them.

PHIL/PHYS 419/420 - Space, Time, and Matter ~

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.

PHIL 421 – Ethical Theories ~ Varden (Fall 2020 and Spring 2021)

This course explores four—two classical and two contemporary—ethical theories, namely those of Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, Hannah Arendt, and Simone de Beauvoir. As we work our way through these theories, we will pay special attention to these thinkers’ conceptions of human nature/the human condition and ethics. We start with Aristotle’s related theories as he presents them in the Nicomachean Ethics before looking at Hannah Arendt’s account of The Human Condition. We will then turn to Kant’s accounts of human nature and ethics in Religion within the Boundaries of mere Reason and The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals before finishing up by exploring these themes with the help of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity and The Second Sex.

PHIL 422 – Recent Developments in Ethics: Evil ~ Varden

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.

PHIL 425 - Philosophy of Mind ~ Neufeld (Fall 2021)

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.

PHIL 426 - Metaphysics ~ Saenz (Fall 2020)

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 430 - Theory of Knowledge ~ Livengood (Spring 2021)

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.

PHIL 435 - Social Philosophy ~ Savonius-Wroth (Spring 2020)

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).

PHIL 436 - The Philosophy of Law and the State ~ Varden (Spring 2021)

In this course we explore four classical modern theories and two contemporary theories of the relationship between law and the state. In the first part of the course, we will focus on Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, Jean-Jacque Rousseau’s The Social Contract and Discourse on the origin and foundations of inequality among men, Immanuel Kant’s Doctrine of Right in The Metaphysics of Morals. In the second part of the course, the focus will be on John Rawls’s Justice as Fairness: A Restatement and Hannah Arendt’s On the Origins of Totalitarianism and On the Human Condition. With regard to each theory, we will pay special attention to the issues of whether and why we need states at all and what is the nature of the legitimate state? The course as a whole will familiarize you with some of the most important arguments employed in both historical and contemporary discussions of justice.

PHIL 438 - Philosophy of Language ~ Del Pinal (Fall 2020)

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?

PHIL 454 - Advanced Symbolic Logic ~ Kishida (Spring 2021)

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.

PHIL 458 - Advances in Brain and Cognitive Science ~

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.

Same as PHIL 458. 3 undergraduate hours. No graduate credit. Prerequisite: One of PSYC 224, PSYC 248, PHIL, 202, PHIL 270, or consent of instructor.

PHIL 471 - Contemporary Philosophy of Science ~ Weaver (Fall 2020)

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.

PHIL 477 - Philosophy of Psychology ~ Livengood (Fall 2020)

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 492 - Thesis

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.

PHIL 501 - Seminar on Early Modern Philosophy ~ Ben-Moshe (Fall 2020)

Title: "Nietzsche and Freud on Mind and Morality"

In this course, we will examine central themes in Friedrich Nietzsche’s and Sigmund Freud’s psychology and philosophy and their importance for contemporary philosophical debates. In particular, we will examine these thinkers’ accounts of the mind, conscience, and agency, as well as their genealogical method and understanding of religion, civilization, and morality.

PHIL 507 - Formal Semantics I ~ Lasersohn (Fall 2019)

Introduction to formal semantic theory for natural language, with attention to quantification, anaphora, tense, intensionality, and related topics.

Same as PHIL 507. Prerequisite: LING 407 or consent of the instructor.

PHIL 511 - Seminar Ethical Theory: Persons, Organisms, Things ~ Sussman (Fall 2020)

This seminar will consider recent “constitutivist” attempts to ground morality in the metaphysics of agency. Such constitutivism, inspired by Kant and Hegel, aims to show how recognizably moral principles are preconditions of the possibility of intentional action, at least insofar as such action is distinct from animal behavior or mere causal mechanism. Supposedly, some ethical commitments are an essential aspect of the first-person point-of-view, and so of my being able to make up my mind about what to do (and so immediately know what I’m doing). We will consider if the more specific distinctions between human, animal, plant, and various sorts of inanimate objects are also fundamentally ethical rather than scientific in nature. If so, then constitutivism may provide not just a general grounding of morality, but also a plausible way of situating other beings in our (ethical) world.

PHIL 512 - Seminar Social Philosophy ~ Luck Egalitarianism and Its Critics ~ Bojanowski (Spring 2021)

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).

PHIL 513 - Seminar Philosophy of Logic ~ Kishida (Fall 2020)

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 521 - Seminar Contemporary Problems ~ Livengood (Spring 2020)

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.

PHIL 523 - Seminar Decision Theory ~ Levinstein (Fall 2019)

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.

PHIL 525 - Seminar Philosophy of Language ~ Neufeld (Spring 2021)

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. 

PHIL        583         Individual Topics

PHIL        590         Directed Research

PHIL        599         Thesis Research