Below is a list of courses offered in the current and upcoming semester, together with course descriptions specific to the instructors teaching the course.
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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 the student 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 evaluate arguments 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.
The word “philosophy” originates from an ancient Greek word meaning “love of wisdom”. The philosopher Aristotle claimed that wisdom was knowledge of the most important things in the universe. According to Aristotle’s teacher Plato, if somebody loves something, then they don’t yet possess it; a lover is thus driven to pursue and acquire the object of their desire. According to these definitions, philosophy is the pursuit of knowledge of the most important things in the universe—knowledge that the pursuer currently lacks. As it is practiced today, philosophy is the systematic investigation of important questions that other areas of inquiry, such as religion and science, do not answer definitively. In this class, we will discuss the following questions. Does an all-powerful God exist? Do human beings have free will? What is the nature of the mind? Is it morally wrong to eat meat? Is it morally wrong to have an abortion? Are there any objective moral facts? What is knowledge? Can I truly know anything? What makes it the case that I am the same person that I was when I was younger? Students will investigate these questions through conversations and a series of short writing assignments.
This course is an introductory level survey course that aims to inform students about some of the main philosophical ideas and controversies on various issues in philosophy of religion, ethics, philosophy of science, metaphysics, and so forth. The course includes introductory to intermediate level readings on the central themes of the aforementioned topics. The course will also provide opportunities for students to articulate and defend theses related to the topics addressed in the readings or lectures by way of authoring one short paper (1000 words max.) and one long paper (2000 words max.). There are also midterm and final exams.
Practical study of logical reasoning. Involves studying informal fallacies and syllogistic logic and assessing the logical coherence of what we read and write. This course is fully online and administered via Learn@Illinois (LAS Moodle) (https://learn.illinois.edu). This section has one or more proctored exams, which may carry additional fees. For ProctorU technical specifications and additional information visit: http://citl.illinois.edu/services/for-students/proctoru.
Much of what we believe is based on argument. This course teaches the student to better identify arguments and to evaluate them as being good or bad through the study of formal logic, informal reasoning, and fallacies. Topics to be discussed include deduction and induction, sentential logic, categorical logic, statistical reasoning, reasoning about causes, probability theory, hypothesis testing, and decision theory.
In this course, we will be concerned with understanding what makes various kinds of argument good or bad, strong or weak. The course will be divided into two parts. The first part will focus on deductive logic and will introduce students to zeroth-order (sentential) logic and first-order (predicate) logic. The second part will focus on inductive logic and will introduce students to probability and statistics.
By the end of the course, students should be able to distinguish valid and invalid arguments, construct truth tables for well-formed formulas in zeroth-order logic, produce simple proofs in a natural deduction framework, apply Bayes’ Theorem to solve simple probability problems, and much more!
PHIL 103 takes a more formal, mathematical approach than does PHIL 102, and so, it satisfies a level-two quantitative reasoning general education requirement (QRII). It also satisfies a humanities general education requirement (historical and philosophical perspectives).
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 order to defend 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 justifications for our answers. As humans we can give and ask for reasons and make our actions depend on them. These reasons track more than mere 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 living 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 works by contemporary authors.
*This course satisfies the Advanced Composition General Education Requirement
How should we approach debates, for instance, about the status of refugees, unborn children, or prisoners? Do we have duties towards the environment, animals, natural or artificial beings (robots)? If we do, what exactly are the issues at stake and what are the most persuasive arguments for resolving the moral puzzles that the world currently faces?
This course aims to provide a broad understanding of classical ethical theories that have deeply influenced Western thought and how these theories can be applied to contemporary moral problems. To that end, the course will explore conceptions of ethics as presented in J. S. Mill’s Utilitarianism, Immanuel Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, and Bernard Williams’ Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. Critical reading of these texts will provide students with competing conceptions of how we ought to live our lives and how we should face many of the moral dilemmas that have arisen in recent years. The course will then ask students to apply the theories studied in class to contemporary problems to illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of the various arguments typically put forth in public discussions. In addition to lectures, the course will emphasize the individual development of persuasive academic writing and discussion skills. Through a variety of writing assignments, each student will have the opportunity to learn and practice how to describe, analyze and construct philosophical arguments concerning contemporary moral problems. Students will also develop the necessary skills to have thoughtful and meaningful discussion about these topics.
Because some of the best philosophical theories of justice were developed in the early modern/modern period (17th-18th c.), contemporary theorists go back to them in developing their own theories and in reflecting upon current legal-political and social affairs. In this course we will explore four of these great classical theories: Thomas Hobbes’ legal positivism; John Locke’s libertarianism, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s democratic republicanism, Immanuel Kant’s liberal republicanism, and Mary Wollstonecraft’s feminist liberal theory. More specifically, we will be exploring nature of political obligations and of political legitimacy through a close study of Hobbes’s Leviathan, Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, Rousseau’s The Social Contract and Discourse on the origin and foundations of inequality among men, Kant’s “Doctrine of Right” in The Metaphysics of Morals, and Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. In each case, we will pay special attention to questions concerning the nature of enforceable rights, why we need states, and the nature of a legitimate state. Exploring these questions through the lenses of these thinkers gives us invaluable tools with which to think through many contemporary issues – from very general ones, such as the complementary role of the legislative, judiciary, and executive powers of the state – to more specific ones, such as private property, (public) education, (public) health care provision, sexual oppression, (same-sex) marriage, abortion, and poverty relief.
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.
We all reason, sometimes well, sometimes badly, but almost always without being self-conscious. This course aims to teach people to be self-conscious about certain aspects of their reasoning. It will concentrate on elementary reasoning involving the so-called Boolean connectives such as "and", "or", "not", and "if-then", and the so-called quantifiers such as "all" and "some". We will not treat probabilistic reasoning, but only reasoning in which there is a claim that the conclusion follows with dead certainty. Various methods will be developed in order to test or establish such claims, e.g., the so-called methods of truth tables and natural deduction. At the same time, learning about these methods will develop students' skills in abstract reasoning; reasoning about concepts and (simple) theoretical ideas. Logic is a theory of reasoning, and in learning it, students will get a feel for how theories work. This theory is a spectacular creative discovery. It provides a way to obtain a deep understanding of reasoning by simplifying actual reasoning processes in just the right way.
In 399 BCE, an Athenian man named Socrates was put on trial for impiety and corrupting the youth. Plato, Socrates' friend, describes this trial, its context, and its aftermath in a series of dialogues. We will use these dialogues as our starting point for examining the history of philosophy in ancient Greece. We will focus on the philosophy of Plato's character Socrates, Plato himself, Plato's student Aristotle, and the later Hellenistic philosophers—Epicurus and the Stoics. The following questions will occupy our time. What is love? How do we define ethical qualities such as piety, justice, and goodness? What is Plato's theory of forms? What is knowledge? What is causation? What character traits should a good person possess? Is death a bad thing? What is valuable? Students will investigate these questions in a series of short writing assignments and two medium-length essays, and they will learn the ability to read, comprehend, and explain interesting and dense philosophical texts.
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.
This class will explore special moral and metaphysical problems that arise in medical contexts, often as a result of new technologies and scientific understandings. Many of these problems concern the beginning, end, and value of a human life. We will consider when and why a being has moral significance, and how different answers to these questions bear on the ethical and legal status of contraception, in-vitro fertilization, abortion, and infanticide. We will also look at arguments about how to distribute scarce medical resources, especially organs for transplant. Are people entitled take their organs to the grave, or to sell them to the highest bidder? When deciding who should receive an organ, should we take into account the expected “quality-of-life” of a potential recipient, or the extent to which they are responsible for their medical predicament? Turning to end-of-life issues, we will investigate when, morally speaking, a person’s life ends, and just what, exactly, is so bad about death in the first place. Could a person ever be better-off dead, and do we have any moral obligations to those who have died? Is physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia ever morally permissible: and if so, under what conditions? How should we respond to the needs, wishes, and advance directives of those suffering severe forms of dementia and memory loss? These issues will involve reflection on the nature of impairment and disability more generally. To what extent should disabilities be seen as disorders to be cured, or rather as conditions to be accepted and accommodated as parts of normal human diversity? Would there be anything wrong with using genetic technologies to prevent such disabilities, or to “enhance” our children in various other ways?
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 explores four important theories of human nature in the history of philosophy, those of Aristotle, Simone de Beauvoir, Hannah Arendt, and Immanuel Kant. We will examine how these accounts explain emotions, self-consciousness, evil, and moral (ethical and legal) responsibility, all crucially relevant aspects of human nature. We will also pay attention to the way in which these theories are such that, or explain how different groups of human beings end up unequal in various ways. Along the way of exploring these historical accounts, we will also look at contemporary discussions of diversity and dehumanization, namely sexism, racism, and aggression against members of the LGBTQIA community.
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-Galazi. 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.
This course will be divided into two unequal units. For roughly 2/3 of the semester, we will use ancient accounts of Socrates’ trial to structure our investigation into the historical figure of Socrates and his cultural/philosophical milieu. The last 1/3 of the semester will be largely devoted to a look at some of Plato’s so-called “Socratic” dialogues and key issues in the “philosophy of Socrates” as represented therein. If time permits, we will also look briefly at the reception of Socrates by a selection of later philosophers.
Intellectual Virtue in the Early Modern Era and Beyond
In this course, we will explore the nature of intellectual virtue along with its challenges and consequences. We’ll begin with a brief look at Stoic epistemology and skeptical challenges to it before moving on to the seventeenth century in order trace possible Stoic influences in later thought. We’ll tackle readings from Descartes’ Meditations and Passions of the Soul, from Locke’s Essay concerning Human Understanding, Conduct of the Understanding, Letter on Toleration, and other writings in religious epistemology, and from Spinoza’s Ethics and Theological and Political Treatise. We will then move on some contemporary readings in virtue epistemology and epistemic injustice. The arc of the course is an investigation into the relationship between good intellectual practices (intellectual virtue) and skepticism, freedom, and what it means to be an upstanding member of a community of knowers.
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.
Karl Marx's utopian communism and Nicolo Machiavelli's political realism both hold that ethics and politics have to be separated. Ethics is merely the study of the morally good character. Politics, by contrast, is about the structure of political, social, and financial institutions. For Marx changing people's ethical beliefs will not deliver real political change. This change can only come about by changing the economical structure of the society. Machiavelli's reasons for holding that ethics and politics have to be separated are different. He believed that in politics we often have to get our hands dirty; we have to do what is morally wrong in order to do what is politically right. Hence ethics and politics require very different normative standards. In this course we are going to see why both Marx's and Machiavelli's views are incoherent. Their limitation of the scope of ethics has led to its marginalization. This marginalization is detrimental to political culture. Politics is merely seen as a problem of social engineering and administration. We shall focus on those ethical theories that argue that political thought is fundamentally nothing other than ethical thought.
This class will investigate ethical issues concerning non-human life and living systems. We will consider whether being a member of the human species is itself morally significant, or if such “speciesism” is a prejudice akin to racism or sexism. Do any non-human beings have moral rights, or do they matter morally in some other way? How should we act when the interests of such beings come into conflict with our own? A central question will be how far a concern for the environment should be grounded in human interests (and perhaps those of animals), or if we might have moral obligations to plants, ecosystems, or even nature as a whole. Should wild animals be any more (or less) important to us than domesticated ones, or members of invasive or non-indigenous species? Is there anything inherently bad about a species becoming extinct? Should we try to return ecosystems to their condition prior to human interference, or does the desire to preserve and restore the environment depend, to some extent, on an obsolete metaphysics or an objectionable misanthropy?
This course will explore several foundational questions about the nature of the mind and higher-cognition raised by recent advances in the cognitive sciences. The course will revolve around three main themes: (i) What are the empirical and philosophical advantages and disadvantages of the major ways of modeling the "mind as a computer", i.e., as an information processing system? (ii) Is there a language of thought---i.e., a representational system that enables `thinking'---and if so, what are its basic architectural properties? Does the language of thought differ across cognitive domains such as linguistic vs spatial cognition? (iii) What can we learn about the computational architecture of the mind, and the properties of the language(s) of thought, from recent findings about how human learning in specific domains such as learning natural languages, numerical cognition, and information about the physical world?
PHIL 426 - Metaphysics ~ Saenz (Spring 2020)
This class will survey some of the main topics in metaphysics – composition, abstract objects, modality, properties, time, persistence, causation, and free will. 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).
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 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.
Philosophy of psychology covers a large range of issues having to do with the study of cognition, mental representation, perception, and consciousness. In this course, 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 replicability crisis and related issues having to do with probability, hypothesis testing, Bayesianism, and causal reasoning, the contents of mental representations, and the nature of consciousness.
In this course, we will consider issues in the philosophy of mind, epistemology, and their intersection primarily in Locke, but also in other early modern figures. First, we will investigate the nature of consciousness in relation to other perceptual acts in Descartes, Arnauld, Malebranche, and Locke, as well as problems and solutions in the intersection of the logic of ideas, signification, and knowledge in Descartes, Locke, and the Port Royal logic. Second, we will investigate the nature of testimony both in terms of the natural and religious epistemologies in Locke, Hume, and Reid. In both cases, we will look to later and contemporary views to better understand what the early modern figures might have been thinking.
(Although I do not see the overall issues in the course changing dramatically, I will be working out the details over the summer. Thus, it may evolve somewhat from what is here. Please feel free to contact me later in the summer to find out more, if you are interested.)
Introduction to formal semantic theory for natural language, with attention to quantification, anaphora, tense, intensionality, and related topics.
This course explores central questions regarding evil with the help of the works of 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 institutional unjustifiable violence? To investigate these questions, we will engage the resources found in both Kant’s practical philosophy, including his 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, the mind and thoughtlessness, and Eichmann and the banality of evil.
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?