Graduate Course Descriptions

Below is a list of courses offered in the current and upcoming semester, together with course descriptions specific to the instructors teaching the course.

For a list of course offerings generated by the university registrar, listing rooms, times, CRNs, and generic course descriptions, please visit the Course Explorer.

For a list of all courses offered by the Philosophy Department, with information about how regularly they are offered, please visit the Course Catalog.

For a list of previous seminars offered to our graduate students, please visit Previous Graduate Seminars.

 

SPRING SEMESTER 2022

PHIL 414 - Recent Modern Philosophers ~ Weinberg (Spring 2022)

Critical philosophy can be seen as a form of philosophy that undertakes to illuminate the conceptual or structural elements, generally of power, that are often determining for our political, social, economic, and scientific theories yet are not readily evident on the face of them. It is a kind of philosophical critique of theory itself. Mostly, this form of critique has centered on political and social theories. In this course, we will look more broadly to other areas of inquiry. We will begin with what many think is the beginning of critical theory with Marx’s critique of the structures of power inherent in economic, class, and ideological systems. We will then consider the nature of conceptual critique with Michel Foucault’s illumination of the underlying structures of power in social concepts and meanings, which will be followed by Thomas Kuhn’s critique of the development of scientific theories and of the structures underlying the rejection of one theory and the adoption of another. We will also consider a feminist critique focusing on the ontology of gender with works by Catherine MacKinnon, Sally Haslanger, and Rae Langton.  Given enough time, we might also consider a philosophical critique of environmental or ecological theory.

PHIL/PHYS 419/420 - Space, Time, and Matter ~ Weaver (Spring 2022)

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, 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 matter, space, time, and spacetime.

PHIL 426 - Metaphysics ~ Saenz (Spring 2022)

This class surveys a number of central topics in metaphysics – composition, abstract objects, modality, properties, time, persistence, and being. 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 435 - Social Philosophy ~ Bojanowski (Spring 2022)

Selected topics from the nature of social organization, nature and convention, utility, justice, equality, liberty, rights, and duties. 3 undergraduate hours. 3 or 4 graduate hours. Prerequisite: One course in philosophy.

PHIL 443 - Phenomenology ~ Ellis (Spring 2022)

Considered to be one of the most important books in the history of philosophy, and certainly of the 20th century, Heidegger’s Being and Time represents a monumental shift in focus from the question of the connection between human subjectivity and being, which had dominated philosophy for some time, toward the question of the meaning of being itself. To fully grasp and then hopefully answer this question, Heidegger thinks, we cannot simply ask what beings belong to the realm of human knowledge. We must go further and ask how the being of these beings can be so much as intelligible to us. This requires an examination into our human being, or what Heidegger calls Dasein. Through Heidegger’s text, we will examine Dasein with an eye to understanding how its form of being might reveal to us the structure of being more generally. Through this analysis, we will try to understand Heidegger’s views about the nature of philosophical methodology, truth and knowledge, space and time, the relation between death and human finitude, and the way that human beings exist in the world such that they can make sense of these phenomena as well as the possibility of living authentically in the face of them. 

PHIL 454 - Advanced Symbolic Logic ~ Fitts (Spring 2022)

This is an advanced course in symbolic logic.  We will focus on some of the fundamental meta-theorems of first-order logic.  The first half of the course will cover some basic results and techniques from model theory, including the completeness theorem, compactness theorem, and Löwenheim-Skolem theorems.  In the second half of the course, our focus will primarily be on the relationship between computability and logic, covering the theory of recursive functions and the proof of Gödel's incompleteness theorems, among others.

PHIL 477 - Philosophy of Psychology ~ Neufeld (Spring 2022)

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 debates between Rationalist vs. Empiricist accounts of human learning both in general and across specific domains such as acquisition of natural languages, numerical knowledge, and ‘intuitive' physics?

PHIL 501 - Seminar on the History of Philosophy: ~ Kant's Ethical Metaphysics ~ Sussman (Spring 2022)

This seminar will consider Kant’s attempts to ground recognizably moral principles in a non-naturalistic account of rational agency and personhood. Kant’s ethics have often been criticized for resting on a wildly extravagant metaphysics, where moral agents are essentially members of a “noumenal world” outside of space, time, and natural laws (and so, outside of the possibility of scientific investigation or knowledge altogether). In the seminar, we will examine the merits of this charge. To what extent can Kant’s conception of our “intelligible vocation” accommodate basic facts of human embodiment, empirical psychology, and historical situatedness? Is Kant's account of the autonomy of the will consistent with the critical strictures fundamental to his overall “transcendental idealism”?  Of particular interest here will be Kant’s understanding of “moral feeling,” the “radical evil in human nature,” and the moral grounds for what Kant calls “rational faith” in the existence of God, the freedom of the will, and the immortality of the soul. We will also consider some challenges from Schopenhauer and Hegel to Kant’s ethical metaphysics: in particular, the worry that Kant’s moral theory avoids incoherence only at the price of vacuity.

PHIL 513 - Philosophy of Logic ~The Problem of Induction, Part Two: Progress From 1970 to the Present ~ Livengood (Spring 2022)

In this course, we will look at normative work on the problem of induction from roughly 1970 to the present. The course will have several formal elements, including formal tools and techniques from probability theory, statistics, decision theory, non-monotonic logic, and formal learning theory, but we will also read and discuss informal work that might be thought of as more traditionally "philosophical" in character. Although the course is in some sense a continuation of a previous course that looked at work on induction from 1750 to 1970, this course will be self-contained. No familiarity with the formal tools will be presupposed beyond working knowledge of introductory-level logic and probability theory.

PHIL 521 - Contemporary Problems Seminar: ~ The Human Theory of Reasons ~ Ben-Moshe (Spring 2022)

According to the Humean Theory of Reasons, p is a reason for A to ϕ only if A has a desire that would be furthered by ϕ-ing. This theory is both theoretically simple—as it explains intentional action via an agent’s practical reasons, which are explained via the agent’s psychology—and congruent with our contemporary naturalistic understanding of the world. In the first half of the course, we will discuss Bernard Williams’s Humean theory and some of the criticisms of it, as well as developments of the Humean theory by Michael Smith, Sharon Street, and Mark Schroeder. The problem of the seminar is that, since it rules out reasons that do not further one’s desires, the Humean Theory of Reasons cannot account for the existence of agent-neutral reasons. This worry is especially troubling when trying to account for “moral reasons,” namely, overriding reasons to act on moral demands regardless of one’s desires. In the second half of the course, we will examine whether David Hume’s and Adam Smith’s moral philosophy can aid in solving this problem. We will also examine the relations between reasons and “humanity,” as well as the prospects of a Smithian account of reasons & humanity.

 

FALL SEMESTER 2021

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

Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud:

Paul Ricoeur called the three great thinkers of the late 19th (and early 20th) century—Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud—the “masters of suspicion,” since they taught us to regard with suspicion some of our most fundamental conscious understandings of our psychological makeup and social existence: there are causal forces that lay ‘beneath’ the surface and that explain the conscious phenomena, precisely because they expose the latter’s true meaning. In this course, we will examine this idea by discussing not only this triumvirate’s critique of ideology, morality, and religion, but also historical materialism, the genealogical method, conscience, and the relations between the individual and civilization. Of special interest will be the distinction between history and genealogy and between science and critical theory.

PHIL 412 - Classical Modern Philosophers ~ Ellis (Fall 2021)

Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (the First Critique)

One of the defining features of modern philosophy is the attempt to place knowledge (of reality, of ourselves, of God) on a solid foundation, especially in accordance with the onset of modern natural science. In the wake of what Kant saw as the failures of the rationalism of Descartes and Leibniz, and the empiricism of Locke and Hume, he sought to revolutionize philosophy much in the same way that Copernicus revolutionized science—that is, Kant’s is a philosophy through which we become properly re-oriented, placing knowledge of the broader world and (even more importantly) self-knowledge, on “the secure path of a science.” While he believed himself successful in securing such knowledge, he also undertook to explain the boundaries of our knowledge in a way that overcomes problems with both classical rationalism and empiricism. Thus, the Critique is a book exploring both the scope and limits of human knowledge, specifically through an explication of how knowledge is ultimately dependent upon a form of self-knowledge.

We will carefully read through much of Kant’s masterwork, the Critique of Pure Reason, along with several influential essays by leading Kant interpreters. This course aims at illuminating some of Kant’s important ideas about the following issues: what it means to know objective reality, what the role of the mind is in that knowledge, the nature of space and time as subjective limitations and enabling conditions of experience, the ability of science and mathematics to provide us with knowledge of nature, the possibility of freedom of the will, and whether we are rationally justified in believing in God. We will approach these issues mainly through Kant’s theory of self-consciousness, what it enables us to know, and how it enables us to determine the boundaries of human knowledge.

PHIL 414 - Major Recent Philosopher ~ Varden (Fall 2021)

Intensive study of one or two important philosophers of the present century, e.g., Wittgenstein, Dewey, Heidegger, or Quine. Topics vary; see Class Schedule. 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 ~ Bojanowski (Fall 2021)

Systematic study of selected classics in moral philosophy by such philosophers as Aristotle, Hume, Mill, Kant, and Nietzsche. 3 undergraduate hours. 3 or 4 graduate hours. Prerequisite: One course in philosophy.

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

Social stereotypes and bias in minds and machines:

When asked, many people would agree with the claim that sexism or racism is wrong, and would probably explicitly state that they, themselves, are not in any way, say, sexist or racist. However, research suggests that our mental representations of social categories implicitly encode biases and stereotypes which can affect our judgments of and behavior towards others. The goal of this class is to explore the ways in which biases can be encoded in human representations of social categories, and their impact on social judgments and behavior. We will also investigate the ways machines use algorithms that seem to reproduce social biases with important consequences for structural injustices. To this end, we will examine prominent psychological and philosophical models of category representation, relate them to the relevant empirical findings about stereotypes and biases in cognitive science, and discuss their limits for providing us with accurate models of human behavior. We will also explore more recent advances in the study of category representation, and examine whether they can provide us with better models for social biases and stereotypes. Against this background, we will then attend to the question of which latent biases are hidden in the data fed to and algorithms generated by machine learners, the ways this can inform our models and intervention techniques for human biases, and the ethical questions this raises for us as a society.

PHIL 429 - Value Theory ~ Sussman (Fall 2021)

This course will consider the nature of goodness, and whether there can be objective facts or real knowledge about what’s valuable or important. Different things (people, lives, actions, movies, doughnuts) can be good in different ways for different reasons (pleasure, beauty, health, morality, etc.). Is there anything interesting that all good things have in common? When we call something good, are we making a judgment about some matter-of-fact, or are we just expressing our approval or satisfaction?  Are things good because we desire them, or do we desire them because we think that they’re good? Would claims about value have to be defensible in anything like the way that scientific judgments are in order to be objectively true? To what extent (and in what sense) do we need values to be objective for our lives to be meaningful or worth living? 

PHIL 430 - Theory of Knowledge ~ Livengood (Fall 2021)

Investigation of issues concerning, for example, the nature and possibility of knowledge; its forms and limits; its relation to belief, truth, and justification; and the nature of truth. 3 undergraduate hours. 3 or 4 graduate hours. Prerequisite: One course in philosophy.

PHIL 433 - Evolutionary Neuroscience ~ Rhodes (Fall 2021)

Current methods, tools, and progress in evolutionary biology and quantitative genetics of brain and behavior of vertebrates.  3 undergraduate hours. 4 graduate hours. 

PHIL 436 - The Philosophy of Law and the State ~ Ahmed (Fall 2021)

Philosophy of Law and the State” delves into the foundational texts in philosophy of law in order to examine the social and normative worlds that different theories of law promote and work to construct. This course encourages a critical and analytical examination of the essential qualities, features, and aims of law as they have been imagined across the history of Western philosophy, and particularly those which informed the Founding Fathers’ vision of law for the new United States. To varying degrees, the thinkers in our syllabus explore the following questions: what is law, and from where does it come? Why do we need law? What mode of political organization best upholds the tenets of law? How does or should law govern? Who does law govern?

The course is divided into three historical “stages” or “modules,” so to speak: Classical Antiquity, the Enlightenment Age, and Late Modernity. Each module examines the writings of two to three critical thinkers of the era, many of whom were explicitly in dialogue with one another, while others implicitly draw on the innovations of their predecessors. This spirit of collaboration and contestation exemplifies the discipline of philosophy as a fundamentally social and political enterprise, one which is always, in some way or other, responding to or challenging the historical context in which it is embedded. By the end of the course, the hope is that you will view contemporary law and arguments about law as similarly responsive to (or as challenges against) the broader economic, social, political, and cultural forces that shape it and are shaped by it.

PHIL 501 - Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy ~ Weinberg (Fall 2021)

Title: "Early Modern Women Philosophers"

In this course, we will consider theoretical issues in the works of 17th century philosopher Margaret Cavendish and 18th-19th century philosopher Mary Shepherd.  Both philosophers can be seen as responding to philosophical views of others, Hobbes, Descartes, and Van Helmont for Cavendish and Berkeley and the Scottish enlightenment (Hume through Reid) for Shepherd, both should also be seen for putting forth independent metaphysical and epistemological views.  Although we will look at a variety of theories (the nature of substance, knowledge, representation, and the notion of the self and personal identity), our underlying investigation will concern the role of causation.

PHIL 511 - Seminar Ethical Theory: Freedom, Violence, and Oppression ~ Varden (Fall 2021)

One of the philosophically most exciting, so-called “ideal” theories of justice as freedom is found in Immanuel Kant’s “Doctrine of Right,” and this course starts by exploring this theory.  It is equally uncontroversial to say that Kant himself failed and the Kantian philosophical tradition has yet to deliver an equally rich “non-ideal theory,” meaning a theory that explains how to apply the principles of justice as freedom to our ever so earthly human condition and historical societies. For example, a plausible theory of justice as freedom must give us philosophical tools with which to understand our temptations to do bad things to one another. Such a theory must also be able to capture the related, historical patterns of violence and oppression against certain social groups—behavior that is often condoned or even carried out by public institutions. In the second part of this course, we therefore bring Kant’s theory of rightful freedom into dialogue with some of the most complex accounts of violence and oppression available, namely those found in the writings of Karl Marx (on economic relations), W.E.B. Du Bois (on racial relations), Hannah Arendt (on modern totalitarian forces), Simone de Beauvoir (on gender relations), and Eva Kittay (on care relations).

PHIL 514 – Seminar in Cognitive Science ~ Hummel (Fall 2018)

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 517 - Seminar Philosophy of Science ~ Weaver (Fall 2021)

This course will explore the history and foundations of statistical mechanics. We will pay close attention to the development of Boltzmannian statistical mechanics, the reduction of thermodynamics to statistical mechanics, and the problem of the arrow of time.