SP22 PHIL496/596

Special Topics: Values in Science (PHIL496/596)
Dr. Alysha Kassam
Tuesdays & Thursdays  ·  2:00pm–3:15pm  ·  room tbd

Scientific practice has long portrayed itself as objective, in the sense that it is guided by epistemic values that are independent of ethical, social and political thought. The worry scientists have long had is that moral or political reasoning undermines science, as it contaminates the search for truth with social, political and ethical priorities and motives. However, there are many ways in which science is responsible to society, as the fruits of science are often used in value-laden settings. For instance, consider how science bears on the distribution of resources, or the evaluation of risks, or how it shapes the material conditions of our lives. When one considers this more seriously, a clear separation between science and social concerns starts to seem less plausible. For this reason, feminist philosophers of science have criticized the value-free ideal, pointing out that non-epistemic values (i.e., social, political, ethical values) are not only unavoidable, but also often critical to proper scientific reasoning. Grappling with the notion that non-epistemic values play an important role in scientific reasoning, philosophers have asked themselves: when and how do non-epistemic values serve a permissible role? In this course, we will survey the various responses to this question in the philosophical literature. Additionally, this course will connect the philosophical literature with existing scientific techniques in the hope of illuminating the ethical obligations scientists have to society at large. 

SP22 PHIL413/513

Continental Rationalism (PHIL413/513)
Dr. Marie Jayasekera

Mondays & Wednesdays  ·  12:30pm–1:45pm  ·  room tbd

This course aims to illuminate not only the commonalities but also the significant differences in the approaches and views of some of the representatives of the tradition labeled ‘Continental Rationalism’, which includes René Descartes, Nicolas Malebranche, Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Leibniz, and other less well-known thinkers. We will investigate how members of this tradition understand the view that reason is sufficient in some sense for knowledge, and, along the way, explore their methods for achieving knowledge as well as their views on innate ideas and a priori principles. We will also seek to make clear the similarities and differences in their positions on metaphysical issues central to the tradition—for example, the nature of substance, God and God’s relation to the world, and human agency and the possibility of free will.

FA21 PHIL156

Notes: This course is currently scheduled for synchronous online instruction.

Philosophy and Music (PHIL156 Section 01)
Michael Lara

Mondays & Wednesdays  ·  11:00am–12:15pm  ·  COB–139

This course deals with two topics simultaneously—philosophy and music—and the ways in which they are inexorably intertwined. Over the course of the semester, we will examine possible answers to questions such as: What is music? Is music purely subjective? Can music be good or bad? What roles does music play in personal, cultural, and racial identity? Can (or should) we separate music from the musicians who create it? In trying to answer these questions, we will be picking apart selections of music and lyrics across many genres, from Mozart to Kendrick Lamar and beyond. These selections contain explicit and/or implicit connections to topics often covered in an introduction to philosophy course such as: What is real? How can we evaluate the difference between fact and opinion? Is morality relative? The central goals of this course are to introduce students to the difference between listening to music analytically versus critically and to foster the development of the skills and vocabulary required to analyze music from a philosophical perspective.

This course satisfies GE Arts & Humanities subarea C1.

FA21 PHIL363

Note: This course is currently scheduled for in-person instruction.

Ethical Theory (PHIL363)
Itzel Aurora Garcia

Wednesdays  ·  5:30pm–8:15pm  ·  LA2–120

What makes an action good or bad? When does it make sense to hold people, or groups of people, morally responsible for their actions? Ethical theories attempt to answer these questions, and others, by providing frameworks we may use to analyze human behavior in terms of right and wrong. This course will focus on one such theory—it suggests “goodness” may be traced back to a person’s will—and will critically assess it in light of traditional and contemporary objections, and in light of the view’s influence on approaches to issues of justice.

FA21 PHIL400/CBA400

This course is cross-listed with CBA400, and satisfies the requirement for students in the College of Business
This course is currently scheduled for in-person instruction.

Business Ethics (PHIL400 Section 01)
Alysha Kassam

Mondays & Wednesdays  ·  11:00am–12:15pm  ·  COB–140

Course description coming soon.

FA21 PHIL403

Note: This course is currently scheduled for synchronous online instruction.

Medical Ethics (PHIL403 Section 03)
Cami Koepke

Tuesdays & Thursdays  ·  2:00pm–3:15pm  ·  online

This course involves a careful examination of timely questions in contemporary medical ethics such as:

  • How should limited medical resources be allocated?
  • Should people be held responsible for bad health outcomes that result from personal decisions?
  • When is it permissible to force someone to undergo a health treatment?
  • When is it permissible for medical providers to deny requests for a medical intervention, such as an abortion or a prescription for Plan B?
  • Should research subjects get paid a market rate?
  • Should testing be offered for diseases that lack symptoms or treatments?
  • Do sperm or egg donors incur any obligations on account of donating genetic material?
  • Is it morally permissible for medical providers to lie to patients?
  • Should embryos be treated or enhanced if the technology is available?

To answer these questions, this course will take a deep dive into the normative considerations that bear on practical medical decision-making. We will learn about how ethical theories and principles might inform decisions and actions in clinical and research medicine. We will also explore philosophical topics such as the difference between doing harm and allowing harm; the distinction between therapy and enhancement; the complicated relationship between consent, agency and paternalism; the nature of procreative obligations; and the bounds of personal moral responsibility.

This course is suited for any students willing to think critically about difficult moral questions in medicine. No prior experience with philosophy or medicine is required, although advanced students in both areas will get the chance to expand their knowledge and sharpen their analytical skills in discussion and writing. Be prepared for challenging readings that require focus and attention and for weekly writing projects and an original term paper.

FA21 PHIL491/591

Note: This course is currently scheduled for in-person instruction.

Course: Special Topics in the History of Modern Philosophy (PHIL491/591)
Topic: Free Will
Prof. Marie Jayasekera

Mondays & Wednesdays  ·  12:30pm–1:45pm  ·  COB–139

If everything we do must happen because of events in the past, do we really have a say in what we do? Are we responsible for our choices if they are causally determined by our desires? If God preordains a plan for the history of the created universe down to the smallest details and creates the universe accordingly, are we not mere puppets? And, most importantly, what is our actual predicament: are we free, and if so, how should we understand our freedom?

In this course, we will explore how a number of early modern philosophers—Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Leibniz, du Châtelet, Hume, and Reid—answer these questions. We will seek to identify and understand:

  • their conceptions of freedom
  • the relevant contexts of discussion (e.g., the background intellectual debates; the philosophical commitments that shape and constrain their conceptions of freedom)
  • the particular threats to freedom the thinkers have in mind; and
  • the connections among their views.

As a student in this course, you will work on developing your ability to read historical texts; practice identifying, articulating, and analyzing arguments and positions from those texts; and practice constructing your own arguments about the texts and expressing those arguments in writing and orally during class meetings. You should be prepared to engage actively  in writing and in discussion with the material and the ideas of the other participants in the class.

FA21 PHIL493/593

Note: This course is currently scheduled for some in-person instruction, but will run on a hybrid schedule.

Special Topics in Metaphysics: The Mind and its Environment (PHIL493/593)
Prof. Wayne Wright
Mondays & Wednesdays  ·  11:00am–12:15pm  ·  LA5–149

This course will address the connection between the contents of our minds and those of the world around us. Our primary concern will be visual perception. Roughly the first half of the semester will be spent dealing with color vision, with particular emphasis on whether the colors we encounter when we open our eyes are real properties of mind-independent objects. Besides opening the door to familiar philosophical issues such as the appearance/reality distinction and the status of the so-called ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ qualities, this study should prompt further reflection on what sort of ‘match’ between the world as we experience it and the world as it is in itself, we might expect (hope for, be interested in, etc). In the second half of the semester, we will turn to more general themes regarding the nature of perception and its connection to not just the external environment, but also our cognitive and behavioral capacities. Overall, we will go beyond fairly provincial concerns in the philosophy of perception and the philosophy of mind, and will also take up issues in the philosophy of science and the foundations of empirical research on vision.

No books are required; all course readings will be available as PDFs through the course’s Beachboard page. Our readings will be drawn from both philosophy and science. Some authors likely to be included in the course reading list include Alex Byrne, Hasok Chang, Mazviita Chirimuuta, Patricia Churchland, Noam Chomsky, Andy Clark, Daniel Dennett, Frances Egan, C.L. Hardin, Gary Hatfield, David R. Hilbert, Donald Hoffman, Anya Hurlbert, Kimberly Jameson, Jan Koenderink, Mohan Matthen, Rainer Mausfeld, Kevin O’Regan, Kim Sterelny, Davida Teller, and Mark Wilson.

While plans for the specific format of instruction are still up in the air due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my expectation is that the course will be run in a hybrid format. Ideally, we will meet in-person roughly once per week, with the rest of our interaction taking place at the Discussion Forum of the course’s Beachboard page. My goal is for our meetings to be mostly discussion-focused, although I will certainly do some lecturing at points. Students will be expected to keep up with the assigned readings, to come to class meetings prepared for discussion, and to make (semi-)regular contributions at the course’s Discussion Forum.

FA21 PHIL680

Note: This course is currently scheduled for in-person instruction.

Seminar in Epistemology (PHIL680)
Dr. Charles Wallis

Wednesdays  ·  7:00pm–9:45pm  ·  LA5–149

Course description coming soon.

FA21 PHIL610

Note: This course is currently scheduled for in-person instruction.

Proseminar (PHIL610): Philosophy of Fiction
Prof. Nell Wieland

Mondays  ·  5:30pm–8:15pm  ·  LA5–148

PHIL610 is designed to initiate first-semester graduate students into the program, and, more generally, philosophy as it is practiced at higher levels of professional academic competence. The initiation into advanced philosophy will be achieved by equipping students with the skills in analysis, composition, and research that are appropriate for meeting the expectations of our MA program. Students will be trained in how to conduct themselves in a graduate-level setting, how to analyze texts through presentations and discussion, how to write focused, argumentative papers, how to conduct philosophical research, how to properly cite sources, and other related skills. Students will learn the expectations of the department and its faculty, including the requirements of the program, the department’s basic qualifying examination (BQE), the thesis option and non-thesis comprehensive exams. Students will practice the mechanics of in-class presentation, oral defense, term paper writing, and/or poster presentation.

The primary focus of this seminar is skill development. To that end, we will complete small assignments and exercises on a weekly basis. The content of the course is a vehicle for skill development, and vice-versa. The theme for the proseminar for FA21 is Philosophy of Fiction. We will read and discuss classic and contemporary texts related to this topic.

This course is run as a seminar, not as a lecture. This means that students will be expected to come to every class meeting prepared to discuss the readings and other assignments in a roundtable setting. All students should plan on participating at every class meeting. All students should come prepared with questions, insights, and topics for class discussion for every class meeting. In graduate level seminars the professor serves largely as a facilitator for a course that is run jointly by the professor and students.

Each class meeting will have two components: a skills component and a discussion component. Typically, one half of the class meeting will be devoted to developing skill sets in graduate-level work, and the other half of the class will be devoted to discussing the week’s readings. Sometimes these two components of the class meeting will be integrated with one another (e.g., on student presentation days). We will take a short break at approximately the halfway mark.

More on the FA21 theme: Philosophy of Fiction is an interesting and wide-ranging topic that carries into all areas of philosophy. We will discuss topics including the generation of fictional entities, the ontology of fictions, participating in fictions, fiction and the imagination, the paradox of fiction, the puzzle of imaginative resistance, and understanding narrative. Our primary texts will include Walton’s Mimesis and Make-Believe, Matravers’s Fiction and Narrative, and a number of supporting papers.