PHIL 397.001 – Colloquium for Philosophy Majors

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Instructor: Thomas E. Hill, Jr. This course meets M 3:00 – 5:30 p.m. in CW 213.

This course is a colloquium rather than a traditional lecture course. It is meant to be more like a graduate seminar or professional association meetings, not so much in its standards or expectations as in how we will proceed. The idea is that each participant will present short papers and comment on the papers of others. The major requirements will be active participation, short papers and commentaries, and a main term paper. We aim to not only to understand our readings but also to practice sharing ideas on an important philosophical text in a respectful but disciplined manner. As Socrates taught, we will try to learn from each other as we take up some deep questions, form our own ideas, and engage with the critical comments of others.

The particular focus of the course is John Rawls’ classic work, A Theory of Justice. This is a work that has been immensely influential in political philosophy, ethics, economics, and law. The topics range widely: for example, philosophical methods of argument, distributive justice, obligations and duties of individuals, principles of rational choice, moral psychology (feelings of guilt, love, a sense of justice, self-respect), and an argument why in a well-ordered society for most people a life of justice would also be also a happy life. For those with time for further study there are endless relevant readings, including criticisms and Rawls’ life-long efforts to make appropriate revisions, but the aim of our course is to master as best we can a classic text in philosophy and to use this as a spur to our own thinking. Critical commentaries and further readings of Rawls’ works will be cited but (perhaps with a few exceptions) not required.

My hope is that even those advanced philosophy majors who are not primarily into moral and political philosophy or intending to do graduate work will consider the colloquium as potentially valuable as a seminar experience, a serious study of a classic text, and an opportunity to think with others about the topics that Rawls addresses.