Fall 2008

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Course Descriptions


Rationalism (Phil 421)

Alan Nelson
This will primarily be a close reading of Descartes’ Meditations, much of Spinoza’s Ethics, and Leibniz’s Monadology.  We will also need to consult some supporting texts and secondary materials.  Some attention will be devoted to ancient and recent rationalisms and competing empiricisms, but our main goal will be to fruitfully compare and contrast the “big three” canonical Rationalists.  There will be take-home essay examinations and mandatory postings on BLACKBOARD.

This course meets on Wednesday from 4:00-6:30.

Symbolic Logic (Phil 455)

Keith Simmons
Symbolic logic has proven to be extremely influential in a variety of 20th century disciplines, like philosophy, linguistics, the foundations of mathematics, and computer science. This course is an introduction to the main topics and results in formal logic. We will first cover the syntax and semantics of various formal languages and a selection of proof systems for them. Then, we will discuss and prove some of the central results in the meta-theory of first order logic: completeness, compactness, the Löwenheim-Skolem theorems, complete theories, notions inexpressible in first order logic, and some applications to first order mathematical theories, like non-standard models of arithmetic. Finally we will discuss the syntax and a variety of semantics for second order logic, the meta-theory of second order logic, and a selection of intentional systems, like modal logic.

This course meets on Monday and Wednesday from 10:00-11:15.

History of Moral Philosophy (Phil 460)

Tom Hill
In this course we will examine some classic works in moral philosophy from the modern period. Readings will be selections from the work of Thomas Hobbes and Joseph Butler, and will include some major works of David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and John Stuart Mill. The topics include: aspects of human nature that underlie moral practices, ideas of justice and injustice, reason vs. sentiment as the source of moral requirements, and the extent to which consequences determine what is right. The aim is to understand, compare, and discuss critically the central ideas in these texts at a higher level than is possible in more introductory courses. The course is open to both advanced undergraduates and graduate students.

This course meets on Thursday from 4:00-6:30.

Contemporary Moral Issues: Free Will and Responsibility (Phil 462)

Susan Wolf
What kind of control over our actions do we need in order to be responsible for them?  What kind of freedom do we need?  Are the right kinds of freedom and control compatible with determinism?  Are they even conceptually coherent?  The course will pursue these questions through a study of contemporary classics and other important work on the subject, including selections by Roderick Chisholm, P. F. Strawson, Harry Frankfurt, and Gary Watson. There is a prerequisite of at least one college-level philosophy course.  The course is designed for graduate as well as undergraduate students.

This course meets on Tuesday from 6:30-9:00.

Contemporary Moral Social Problems (Phil 463)

Douglas MacLean and Rebecca Walker
This course will examine the role of status or standing in ethics.  To have standing in law is to be capable of being harmed by others and to have interests sufficient to require being taken into account in legal action.  Standing is the ground of legal rights.  Similarly, to have moral standing is to have interests or rights that other agents must take into account in reasoning about what they are obligated or permitted to do.  Beings with standing are thus members of the moral community.  The paradigm of an individual with standing is a normal adult human being.  What is it about normal adult humans that give them standing?  Is it membership in a community, or in a species?  Is it properties such as rationality, or sentience, or being alive, that normal adult humans possess?  If standing is grounded in such properties, then it might extend to other individuals, such as non-human animals, trees, or species.  And if standing is grounded in such properties, it raises questions about the moral standing of “marginal” cases – such as human embryos, newborn infants, and adults with seriously diminished intellectual capacities or patients in permanent vegetative states, which might lack the necessary properties or possess them only in a much diminished sense.  What are the implications for the ethical treatment of these beings?  Some related questions include: Can status be indirect as well as direct?  Can there be ‘partial’ moral status?  How is approaching a moral question through examining moral status similar or different from approaching these questions through traditional moral theories?  This course will assume familiarity with core ethical theories.

This course meets on Tuesday from 1:00-3:30pm.

Origins of Modern Political Philosophy (Phil 474)

Gerald Postema
This course is meant as the first of a two-course sequence (the second to be offered in Spring, 2009) which explores the foundations of contemporary political philosophy. The courses pivot on the work of Hobbes and Locke in the seventeenth century. This course will survey political philosophy up to and, to an extent, including Hobbes and Locke, while the spring semester course will consider political philosophy from Hobbes and Locke to Kant. The fall semester course will highlight key doctrines of Hobbes’s and Locke’s political philosophy—authority, law, rights, property, justice, consent, the idea of commonwealth/political community, and constitutionalism,and seek to enrich our understanding of these ideas by tracing their development in medieval, renaissance, and seventeenth century political philosophy. Philosophers to be considered will include: Aquinas, Marsilius of Padua, Ockhem, Althusius, Suarez, and Grotius.

This course meets on Tuesday from 4:00-6:30pm.

Philosophy of Mind (Phil 740)

Jesse Prinz & William Lycan
We shall examine four solutions to the mind-body problem, the standard competing theories of mind: Dualism, Behaviorism, the Identity Theory, and Functionalism.  Then we shall take up some special topics: problems of the “aboutness” of mental states, their having distinctive objects or contents; and problems of consciousness, subjectivity, and the qualitative character of sensory experience.

This course meets on Tuesday from 1:00-3:30..

Pragmatists versus Frege: from Berkeley to Putnam (Phil 805)

Simon Blackburn
The seminar will contrast two approaches to philosophical theory. One, represented here by Frege, concentrates upon notions such as content, truth-conditions,   ontology and metaphysics. Pragmatism substitutes genealogy, anthropology, practice, and action. I want to see how some pivotal issues in philosophy look if we approach them in the light of this opposition.

This course meets on Thursday from 1:00-3:30pm.

Philosophy of Science (Phil 850)

John Roberts
This course will be a seminar on some recent research on the topic of laws of nature.  Readings will include recent work, some published and some unpublished, by philosophers such as (but not necessarily restricted to) Ned Hall, Tim Maudlin, John Foster, Alexander Bird, John Carroll, Marc Lange and maybe John Roberts.

Most of the work we read will be in the intersection of general philosophy of science, metaphysics, and philosophy of physics.  Equations, and technical concepts from physics, will probably appear from time to time.  But philosophers with no background in mathematics or physics should not be afraid.  Honest.  The rare bits that you won’t understand will not be essential to the main content of the course.

The course has no specific pre-requisites, but is restricted to graduate students in Philosophy.

This course meets on Wednesday from 1:00-3:30pm.

Logic (Phil 855)

Keith Simmons

This course meets on Monday from 4:00-6:30pm.

Current Research Reading Group: Adam Smith’s A Theory of Moral Sentiments (Phil 990))

Geoffrey Sayre-McCord
This course will concentrate on Adam Smith’s A Theory of Moral Sentiments with the hope primarily of understanding Smith’s theory but with a constant concern to relate that theory to cotemporary work in moral psychology.

This course meets on Monday from 4:00-6:30pm.

HA – History of Ancient Philosophy

HM – History of Modern Philosophy

VT – Value Theory (e.g., ethics, political philosophy, or aesthetics)

ME – Metaphysics and Epistemology

LS – Logic and Philosophy of Science

NA – This seminar does not satisfy a distribution requirement