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.
This course introduces students to the discipline of philosophy through many of its most important and fascinating questions. Do we know that there is an external world? Is the mind immaterial or material? Could a computer be a thinking thing? Is it possible for there to be an afterlife? Does God exist, or is the existence of evil incompatible with the existence of God? What makes an action right or wrong? Should we be Cultural Relativists about morality? In thinking about these questions, students will improve their abilities to both evaluate and construct arguments of their own.
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.
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.
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.
Required book. This course is structured around the following book:
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 103 – Logic and Reasoning QR II ~ Weaver (Fall 2020)
PHIL 103 Logic and Reasoning QRII for Fall 2020 is composed of two parts. The first part consists of an introduction to critical thinking, fallacies in reasoning, and inductive reasoning. The second half of the course is an introduction to classical propositional logic.
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
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 ~ S-J Savonius-Wroth (Fall 2020)
Political philosophy invites the student to reflect on what is, and what has been, really going on in our society and civilization beneath the surface of routine politics. It is a field of study flanked by moral philosophy, on the one hand, and by inquiry into human nature, on the other. The key task which distinguishes political philosophy from cognate fields is the appraisal of what is politically possible in any concrete historical setting. What ideals are imaginable and seem viable in a particular context? Is there a practical alternative to our existing civilization? How can we make a case in its favor and a case against it? This course begins with Thomas More's Utopia of 1516, a classic work which has entered our culture so deeply that its title has become an accepted term for dreams of a better future. The course then traces the subsequent historical evolution of central concepts: state and revolution, liberty and right, capitalism and communism, political corruption and virtue. There will be weekly reading assignments in selections from works by major thinkers. The required textbook is David Wootton, ed., Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche (2nd edn, Indianapolis: Hackett, 2008).
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.
- Evaluating sentential logic arguments through natural deduction.
- Translating English sentences into predicate logic.
- Evaluating predicate logic arguments through natural deduction.
The first goal in this class is the class-specific goal of becoming proficient at translating and evaluating deductive arguments in 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.
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.
This course provides an introduction to central themes in several major philosophical figures of the 17th and 18th centuries. We will concentrate on epistemological and metaphysical issues having to do with the underlying nature of the natural world and how we know it, including the scientific turn to explanation as mechanistic explanation and relatedly of the nature of causation. We will also consider the nature of what exists and whether it is material, immaterial, or both, and the problems with each view, with particular emphasis on how to explain the interaction of the mind and the body. The overarching theme of this course is an investigation the limits of human understanding in our explanations of the natural world as undertaken in primary texts of Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, 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.
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)
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 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?).
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.
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.
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.
(SAME AS ECE 316)
“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 will be 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 of our journey together will be 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.
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 will write and revise a personal mission statement reflecting on your life work and career path (three pages), two response papers — an initial article analysis (three pages) and a substantive paper on normative ethical theories (five pages) — plus a final research paper of your own choosing (nine pages or more in length). All members of the course will also give a five-minute presentation on their research project at the end of the semester, followed by questions from the class. The research paper and class presentation function together as the final examination for the course. 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.
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.
PHIL 404 - Medieval Philosophy ~ Hensley (Spring 2020)
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.PHIL 411 - Nineteenth Century Philosophy ~ Johnson (Fall 2020)
Freud - Nietzsche - Kafka
Meets with GER 496 and CWL 496
We explore hope and redemption, self and community, and art and life in texts by Freud, Nietzsche, and Kafka. We examine the ways in which psychoanalysis, philosophy, and literature intersect. What are these thinkers' messages for us today? We also consider several related films. At the end of the semester, you will 1) have a rich understanding of how different discourses form our experience of the world at the most fundamental level; 2) understand the essential vocabulary of psychoanalysis; and 3) be able to articulate the significance of philosophy for the arts. Open to undergraduate and graduate students on all levels. Same as GER 496 and CWL 496. Readings and discussions in English. No prerequisites. Graduate students may earn four credits. For more information, mail Laurie Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hobbes and Spinoza are hardly neglected thinkers. But Hobbes is usually studied for only his political thought, even though he was also very important for his natural philosophy and his materialistic conception of the human being. And Spinoza is usually studied for his metaphysics, though he was also very important for his politics. Though both were very skeptical of traditional religion and are considered atheists by some readers, religion is very important to both of their systems of thought. In this class, we will examine the interconnections between metaphysics and natural philosophy, politics and religion in these two thinkers. We will be concentrating mostly on Hobbes's Leviathan and Spinoza's Theological and Political Treatise with some attention to relevant sections of Spinoza's Ethics.
Alvin Plantinga - In addition to making substantial contributions in metaphysics and epistemology, Alvin Plantinga is perhaps the most important philosopher of religion in the 20th century. In this course, we will take a look at his work in the philosophy of religion. In particular, we will look at his work on how we come to have religious knowledge, on the value and substance of arguments in favor of the existence of God, and on how religion and science interact.
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.
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 as well as their distinction between justice and virtue. We start with Aristotle’s related theories as he presents them in the Nicomachean Ethics as well as in Politics before looking at Hannah Arendt’s account of The Human Condition. We will then turn to Kant’s accounts of human nature, virtue, and of right in Religion within the Boundaries of mere Reason, The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, and The Metaphysics of Morals before finishing up by exploring these themes with the help of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex.
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.
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 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 ~ Levinstein (Spring 2020)
This class is an introductory survey of (mostly contemporary) epistemology: the theory of knowledge and rational belief. We’ll discuss a wide range of topics, including: the possibility that we are brains in vats; whether the concept of knowledge can be fully analyzed; what makes a belief rational or justified; the relationship between belief, partial belief, and probability; how rational belief relates to evidence; and whether two fully rational people can ever disagree if they have the same evidence.
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).
Government intervention is part of our lives. It intervenes, for example, by raising taxes, by sending people to prison, by instituting mandatory schooling, or to take a more recent case, by forcing the citizens to stay home in the face of a pandemic outbreak. Government often acts against the actual will of its citizens. Whether this intervention should count as “infringement on people’s liberty” is a difficult philosophical question. It crucially depends on the way in which we cash out the value of liberty. In this course we are going to look at the role that the government ought to play in a state that is not a plutocracy (government of the rich) or a hereditary monarchy but a democracy (government of the people for the people). In particular, we will attempt to answer the following questions: What is the difference between law as a system of norms and other systems of norms? What is the relation between law and morality? What is the role that government ought to play in the distribution of the benefits and burdens in a just society? What is the justification for the institution of punishment? We are going to engage with these questions by reading some of the philosophical classics as well as contemporary readings.
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 2020)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
In this seminar, we will explore the relation between language and highercognition through the lens of one of its most fascinating and increasingly well-understood interfaces: the interface between semantics and ‘natural logic’, i.e., the component of the mind that governs reason and inference. We will focus in particular on two sub-systems of this interface that have been the subject of intense research by semanticists, philosophers and cognitive scientists. (i) The relation between our general reasoning capacities and the semantics of modal terms—such as must, likely, and allowed—which can be used to express what follows, and with what force, from some body of evidence, information or rules. (ii) The relation between the literal or purely semantic meaning of expressions, including modalized ones, and the pragmatic procedures that we us to increase or enrich the information that we draw from their assertion in speciﬁc contexts. Questions we will discuss include: (i) Is there such a thing as a ‘natural logic’, i.e., a kind of automatic, unconscious system of reasoning used by natural language operators? (ii) Is this system domain general—i.e., is it an extension of our non-linguistic reasoning capacities—or does it consist of language-speciﬁc or modular subsystems? (iii) Does the inferential system of language have access to general beliefs/information? (iv) What is the relation between the natural logic used by language and our general capacities reasoning for numerical cognition, reasoning under uncertainty, thinking about counterfactual possibilities, and for common-sense reasoning about the basic properties of kinds of things? (v) Is the natural logic used by language normatively acceptable/correct, or does it generate some systematic patterns of biased or incorrect reasoning?