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Course Descriptions

Below is a list of current courses offered, 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.

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SPRING SEMESTER 2024

PHIL 100 - Introduction to Philosophy - ACP ~ Saenz

This course introduces students to the discipline of philosophy through some of philosophy's most important questions: Does God exist? Is the existence of evil compatible with the existence of God? Is the mind immaterial or material? Can a computer be a thinking thing? Do we know that there is an external world? What makes an action right or wrong? Should we be cultural relativists about morality? In thinking about these questions and their potential answers, students will, among other things, improve their ability to evaluate and construct arguments all while learning what it is that philosophers do.

Course is identical to PHIL 101 except for the additional writing component. Credit is not given for both PHIL 100 and PHIL 101. Prerequisite: Completion of campus Composition I general education requirement.

This course satisfies the General Education Criteria for: Advanced Composition and Humanities - Hist & Phil

PHIL 101 – Introduction to Philosophy ~ Durso

Consideration of some main problems of philosophy concerning, for example, knowledge, God, mind and body, and human freedom.

Credit is not given for both PHIL 101 and PHIL 100.

This course satisfies the General Education Criteria for: Humanities - Hist & Phil  

PHIL 102 – Logic and Reasoning ~ Louzon

Practical study of logical reasoning; techniques for analyzing and criticizing arguments, including dialectic, rhetoric, visualization of arguments, as well as elements of formal logic, induction, and scientific reasoning, with emphasis on assessing the logical coherence of what we read and write.

This course satisfies the General Education Criteria for: Humanities - Hist & Phil

PHIL 103 – Logic and Reasoning QR ~ Kerr

We are inundated with attempts to convince us of all sorts of things.  Politicians try to win our vote and advertisers try to persuade us to purchase their products.  What should we believe? Why? How should we respond to arguments?  If someone asks why one holds a particular belief or attitude, one is likely to give reasons for one’s belief or attitude.  Are they good reasons?  Why?  Logic is the study of arguments and reasons, and it provides a method to reflect on and evaluate reasons for beliefs and other attitudes.  It provides one with the tools to critically examine why one holds the beliefs and attitudes that one holds.  When one studies logic, one learns how to dissect arguments and to evaluate whether they are good ones. 

 Learning to reason better can improve one’s abilities to problem solve in numerous fields. Logic has applications in writing, science, mathematics, computers, linguistics, and day-to-day reasoning—including about how to live, act, and feel. It can help one become a more effective citizen, with the open-mindedness needed to consider arguments from different perspectives and achieve more nuanced understandings of difficult issues. Logic can help one learn to communicate one’s ideas better, including their justifications, both orally and in writing—thus making one a more thoughtful and effective contributor to many areas of life.

Credit is not given for both PHIL 103 and PHIL 102.

This course satisfies the General Education Criteria for: Humanities - Hist & Phil & Quantitative Reasoning II

PHIL 104 – Intro to Ethics-ACP* ~ Bojanowski 

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.  

Course is identical to PHIL 105 except for the additional writing component. Credit is not given for both PHIL 104 and either PHIL 105 or PHIL 106. Prerequisite: Completion of campus Composition I general education requirement.

*This course satisfies the Advanced Composition General Education Requirement*

PHIL 105 – Intro to Ethics ~ Carlson

What does it mean to do the right thing, and how do we know what that is? Why care about it in the first place? In this class, we will explore how the most popular ethical theories, from utilitarianism to deontology, attempt to answer these questions. We will also challenge our own preconceptions and intuitions by looking at specific philosophical debates surrounding controversial issues such as abortion, criminal punishment, and more.

Credit is not given for both PHIL 105 and either PHIL 104 or PHIL 106.

This course satisfies the General Education Criteria for: Humanities - Hist & Phil

PHIL 106 - Ethics and Social Policy ~ Jensen

Examination of the moral aspects of social problems, and a survey of ethical principles formulated to validate social policy.

Credit is not given for both PHIL 106 and either PHIL 104 or PHIL 105.

This course satisfies the General Education Criteria for: Social & Beh Sci - Soc Sci

PHIL 107 – Intro to Political Philosophy ~ Savonius-Wroth

 Is there an alternative to our existing politics? This course begins with a remarkable challenge to immoral politics: we begin 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. Then we trace the later evolution of political philosophy: we study the development of the divide between republicanism and liberalism. Finally we return to More’s challenge and reconsider the relationships between politics and morality, and politics and economy. Should moral principles guide political action—and if so, which principles? Can principles be abandoned in the name of political or economic necessity? Is it always wrong for leaders to lie? Throughout the course, we will be reading short selections from works by major thinkers.

This course satisfies the General Education Criteria for: Social & Beh Sci - Soc Sci

PHIL 201 - Philosophy in Literature ~ Rowe

Consideration of the philosophical themes implicit in a variety of important literary works, both classical and modern; may include such authors as Sophocles, Shakespeare, Goethe, Dostoevsky, and Sartre.

PHIL 202 - Symbolic Logic ~ Lee

This course serves as an introduction to the formalization and evaluation of (deductive) arguments. The ability to evaluate arguments and understand the logical connections between statements is an important skill with broad applications. To cultivate this skill, we will study two basic 'artificial' languages: truth-functional logic (or sentential logic) and first-order logic (predicate logic). You will learn how to translate English sentences into sentences in these languages, and how to test arguments for validity using the tools provided by these languages.    

This course satisfies the General Education Criteria for: Quantitative Reasoning I  

PHIL 203 - Ancient Philosophy ~ Biondi 

This course is a study of Ancient Greek philosophy. We investigate Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle both to understand their ethics, metaphysics, and epistemologies and also to establish a context for understanding the Cynic and Stoic traditions. Some themes include a) the nature of the individual and its relationship to society; b) how to obtain knowledge, including self-knowledge, knowledge of the natural world, and knowledge of justice; and c) the relationship between philosophical inquiry and the good life.

 Same as CLCV 203.This course satisfies the General Education Criteria for: Humanities - Hist & Phil

PHIL 206 - Early Modern Philosophy ~ Biondi

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 about 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 into the limits of human understanding in our explanations of the natural world as undertaken in primary texts of Descartes, Hobbes, Cavendish, Spinoza, Conway, and Leibniz.  

This course satisfies the General Education Criteria for: Humanities - Hist & Phil

PHIL 222- Philosophical Foundations of Computer Science ~ Lee

This course provides an introduction to some of the ideas and issues at the intersection of computer science and philosophy. We will focus on foundational questions related to computer science, discuss why philosophers should engage with certain concepts in computer science, explore philosophical issues regarding knowledge and reality that computer scientists might encounter, and contemplate some ethical concerns associated with the rise of artificial intelligence.

This course satisfies the General Education Criteria for: Humanities - Hist & Phil

PHIL 223 - Minds and Machines ~ Scharp

This course provides an introduction to the study of minds and their relationship to physical reality. In particular, it will focus on two topics: (i) the relation between minds and bodies, as well as (ii) recent developments in artificial intelligence. Students will learn about influential historical and contemporary theories of mind, including materialism, idealism, dualism, functionalism, computational theories, and connectionist theories. Additional topics in philosophy of mind might include the nature of belief, desire, emotions, will, reason, intelligence, rationality, attention, and consciousness. In addition, we will cover machine learning algorithms that display intelligent behavior like chatGPT. Students will learn about the kinds of algorithms (supervised, unsupervised, reinforcement, …) and the difference between artificial general intelligence and artificial narrow intelligences. Additional topics covered include how to explain language produced by machine learning algorithms and how to use machine learning algorithms to test philosophical theses about the mind, as in the Bayesian Theory of Mind programme. Finally, we discuss the potential for superintelligence, how to control something that is vastly more intelligent than any group of humans, and the suggestion that value alignment is the key to control.

This course satisfies the General Education Criteria for: Humanities - Hist & Phil

PHIL 250 - Conceptions of Human Nature ~ Vanderbeek

Comparative examination of important historical and contemporary conceptions of human nature.

This course satisfies the General Education Criteria for: Humanities - Hist & Phil

PHIL 307 - Elements of Semantics & Pragmatics ~ Lasersohn 

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 LING 307. See LING 307.

PHIL 380 - Current Controversies 1 ~ Computation and Humanity’s Future ~ Levinstein

In “Computation and Humanity’s Future,” we traverse the intersection of computer science and philosophy to examine the potential implications of advanced computation on the course of human evolution and society. With a primary focus on Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) and AI alignment, this course explores how our accelerating technological capabilities might redefine the world we inhabit.

Understanding AGI—AI systems that possess the capability to understand, learn, and apply knowledge across a breadth of tasks at least as adeptly as a human—lies at the heart of this exploration. How do we align these potent entities with human values, ensuring their actions result in outcomes beneficial to us?

The course grapples with the inherent complexity and inscrutability of deep learning systems. How can we comprehend and direct systems when their operations elude human understanding? This question invites us to ponder the nature of agency in a world where machines could potentially outpace human cognition.

By looking into the ramifications of AI in policy and governance, the course engages with the societal consequences of rapidly advancing computational capabilities. We also delve into philosophical underpinnings that inform our approach towards AI, including decision theory and moral philosophy.

See Class Schedule for current topics. May be repeated with approval.

PHIL 380 - Current Controversies 2 ~ Sex and Sex ~ Kerr

In “Sex and Sex”, we will explore the intricate philosophical distinctions between sex and gender, as well as an in-depth examination of the nature of sexual activity. Central to our inquiry is a focus on embracing a multitude of diverse perspectives. We delve into the rich tapestry of varying viewpoints regarding sex, gender identity, and sexual activity, recognizing and appreciating the complexities that underlie these concepts. In addition, we critically engage with both historical and contemporary issues at the intersections of gender, sexuality, and technology, enabling students to navigate the evolving landscape of human sexuality. Through rigorous analysis and critique of various philosophical positions, we delve into the ethics of sexual activity, encouraging students to develop a well-rounded understanding of the moral dimensions surrounding this topic. Moreover, this course fosters an environment where students can engage in thoughtful and respectful discussions on controversial and sensitive subjects related to sex, gender, and sexual activity.

See Class Schedule for current topics. May be repeated with approval.

PHIL 411 - 19th Century Philosophy ~ Leland

The 19th century is a particularly dynamic and influential period in the history of Western philosophy.  Prominent philosophical movements of the 20th and 21st centuries – including existentialism, Marxism, phenomenology, and analytic philosophy – originated in the 19th century.  This course offers an advanced introduction to some of the most important philosophical writings of this period, including works by Hegel, Marx, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche, among others.  

3 undergraduate hours. 3 or 4 graduate hours. Prerequisite: One course in philosophy.

PHIL 414 - Major Recent Philosophers ~ Schwenkler

We will read a series of papers by G. E. M. (Elizabeth) Anscombe, a student of Ludwig Wittgenstein who was one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century. The texts will range over metaphysics, the philosophy of mind, ethics, political philosophy, epistemology, and the philosophy of religion.

3 undergraduate hours. 3 or 4 graduate hours. May be repeated with approval, if topics vary. Prerequisite: One course in philosophy.

PHIL 421 - Ethical Theories ~ Biondi

What does a good life look like? How do we go about living well? Ethical theories strive to supply meaningful answers to these questions. This course examines a range of theories and charts their continuities and divergences. Themes include the notion of ‘living in accord with nature’, the status of self or individuality in the good life, and the role of politics in ethics. We consider Ancient Greek Ethics, Daoism, Buddhism, Indigenous Ethics, Environmental Ethics, and Care Ethics.

3 undergraduate hours. 3 or 4 graduate hours. Prerequisite: One course in philosophy.

PHIL 422 - Recent Developments in Ethics ~ Biondi

Specifically titled: The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence 

The ethical questions presented by Artificial Intelligence touch all areas of life. New technologies challenge assumptions in law, politics, art, journalism, economics, conceptions of human nature, and ethical theory itself. This course pairs philosophy with science fiction and current events to examine three sets of questions about the ethics of AI. First, how does intelligent technology change our understanding of automation, the future of work, and the economy generally? What moral questions does the direction of automation present us today? Second, we consider AI as an existential risk. How should we think about the possibility of AI bringing about the end of humanity? Third, we examine the moral status of AI and other technologies. Should AI be given rights? Does this question push us to reexamine our expectations from a moral theory?

3 undergraduate hours. 3 or 4 graduate hours.  Prerequisite: One course in ethics.

PHIL 424 - Philosophy of Religion ~ Saenz

This course covers issues having to do with what we mean by 'God', whether God exists, whether we can know that God exists, attributes of God, the relationship between religious belief and science, and alternative conceptions of God.

Same as REL 424. 3 undergraduate hours. 3 or 4 graduate hours. Prerequisite: One course in philosophy.

PHIL 426 - Metaphysics ~ Weaver

The Spring 2024 iteration of PHIL 426 Metaphysics will be an exploration and discussion of the key ideas and debates in contemporary analytic metaphysics including: metaphysical realism about abstract objects, nominalism, fictionalism about abstract objects, the nature of concrete particulars, the existence and nature of propositions, modality, spacetime, laws of nature, causation, persistence, and anti-realism. Assigned readings will come from two sources: (a) a contemporary introduction by a leading metaphysician, and (b) a collection of classic and current (highly influential) papers on each topic.

3 undergraduate hours. 3 or 4 graduate hours. Prerequisite: One course in philosophy.

PHIL 430 - Theory of Knowledge ~ Leland

This course is an advanced introduction to central questions, concepts, and issues in contemporary epistemology.  Reading and discussing influential articles, we will examine topics, such as the following: the nature of knowledge and justification, skepticism, a priori knowledge, the ethics of belief, disagreement, testimony, and epistemic injustice, among others. 

3 undergraduate hours. 3 or 4 graduate hours. Prerequisite: One course in philosophy.

PHIL 443 - Phenomenology ~ Byrne

What is the meaning of our experience? What is consciousness? How should we understand ourselves and the world that we live in? Increasingly, such questions have been tossed aside by philosophers and philosophy. Thinkers today often engage in abstractions, thought experiments, or formal variable manipulations, which have little to do with what matters to us in our lives. This course, in contrast, impels students to return to examine the everyday world of experience. In this class, we will be introduced to the phenomenological method and we will together employ that method to uncover the frequently overlooked enigmatic and rich nature of conscious experience.

3 undergraduate hours. 3 or 4 graduate hours. Prerequisite: One course in philosophy.

PHIL 454 - Advanced Symbolic Logic ~ Kishida

Completeness, compactness, and Lowenheim-Skolem theorems for first-order logic; incompleteness and undecidability of formal systems; and additional material on proof theory, model theory, or axiomatic set theory as time permits.

3 undergraduate hours. 3 or 4 graduate hours. Prerequisite: PHIL 202 or consent of instructor.

This course satisfies the General Education Criteria for: Quantitative Reasoning II

PHIL 471 - Contemporary Phil of Science ~ Weaver

The Spring 2024 iteration of PHIL 471 Philosophy of Science will be an exploration of the history and foundations of modern cosmology. Starting with the advent of general relativity and relativistic cosmology, the course will survey the early relativistic cosmological models, the key observations that motivated and constrained the space of plausible models including the discovery of the CMBR (inter alia). It will study the development of the standard hot big bang model, the development of the now standard LAMDA-CDM model and so also the inflationary paradigm, dark matter, dark energy, and the various problems of cosmology that come with the standard model (e.g., the initial low entropy problem, the cosmological constant problem, the flatness problem, the cosmological horizons problem, various fine-tuning problems, the anisotropy problem, the missing baryon problem). We will also study various foundational issues (e.g., the existence and nature of singularities, problems of probability measures in cosmology, unique problems of underdetermination in cosmology, the nature of anthropic reasoning, the arrow of time, theories of initial conditions, and philosophical issues surrounding multiverse hypotheses).

3 undergraduate hours. 4 graduate hours. Prerequisite: One course in philosophy.

PHIL 499 -Capstone Seminar ~ Leland

This course uses philosophical tools to make sense of a range of important phenomena in contemporary American politics and political discourse.  We will use recent work in social and political philosophy, epistemology, and philosophy of language to better understand things like political disagreement, polarization, “fake news,” conspiracy theories, truth-defective speech (e.g. lies, misleading assertions, and “bullshit” in the technical sense), hate speech, code words and “dog whistles,” and identity-expressive discourse, among others. 

3 undergraduate hours. No graduate credit. Prerequisite: PHIL 202PHIL 203PHIL 206PHIL 222PHIL 223. Restricted to Philosophy and CS + Philosophy majors with Senior Standing. Philosophy majors (and CS + Philosophy majors matriculated before Fall 2020) are required to have PHIL 202 (or equivalent), PHIL 203, and PHIL 206. CS + Philosophy majors (matriculated after Fall 2020) are required to have PHIL 202 (or equivalent), PHIL 222, and PHIL 223.

PHIL 499 -Capstone Seminar ~ Bojanowski

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.

3 undergraduate hours. No graduate credit. Prerequisite: PHIL 202PHIL 203PHIL 206PHIL 222PHIL 223. Restricted to Philosophy and CS + Philosophy majors with Senior Standing. Philosophy majors (and CS + Philosophy majors matriculated before Fall 2020) are required to have PHIL 202 (or equivalent), PHIL 203, and PHIL 206. CS + Philosophy majors (matriculated after Fall 2020) are required to have PHIL 202 (or equivalent), PHIL 222, and PHIL 223.

PHIL 511 - Seminar Ethical Theory ~ Ben Moshe

What is Conscience?

In this seminar, we will examine the nature of conscience and its normative authority. We will commence by discussing some historical views of conscience--primarily those of Kant, Smith, Nietzsche, and Freud--before moving on to contemporary debates. Among other things, we will discuss conscientious objection in medicine.

Approved for letter and S/U grading. May be repeated. Letter grading applies when offered for 4 hours of credit. For Stage 3 Philosophy PhD students this course is approved for S/U grading when offered for 2 hours of credit. Prerequisite: Consent of instructor for non-philosophy graduate students.

PHIL 513 - Seminar on Philosophy of Logic ~ Livengood

Selected topics in contemporary logical theory.

Approved for letter and S/U grading. May be repeated. Letter grading applies when offered for 4 hours of credit. For Stage 3 Philosophy PhD students this course is approved for S/U grading when offered for 2 hours of credit. Prerequisite: Consent of instructor for non-philosophy graduate students.