Undergraduate Courses

Below is a list of upcoming undergraduate courses with full descriptions (when available) and other specific information. For a full listing of undergraduate-level courses offered by the Department, please see the course catalog. For a complete listing of courses offered in the current and upcoming semester see the schedule of classes.

Upcoming Undergraduate Courses


Autumn Semester 2018

1100 Introduction to Philosophy
Instructor: Eden Lin
UH 14; MW 12:40-1:35

Does God exist? Can we really know anything about the world outside our minds? Are our hopes, thoughts, feelings, desires, and experiences nothing more than states of our brains and bodies, or does the realm of the mental outstrip the physical world? If everything that happens was determined to happen by the initial state of the universe and the laws of nature, do we have free will, and are we morally responsible for our actions? What makes a person’s life go well? What does it take for a life to be meaningful, and is humanity significant in the grand scheme of things? These are some of the central questions in philosophy. In this course, we will attempt to answer them.

GE Cultures and Ideas

1100H Introduction to Philosophy
Instructor: A. Silverman
BO 120; TR 3:55-5:15

Happiness, Goodness and Meaning in Life

Socrates thought the only question that really matters was: How ought one to live one’s life? We shall consider Socrates question from the three vantage points contained in the title of the course: we should live a happy life, a good life, and a meaningful life. What are happiness, goodness and meaningfulness? And what is it to live a life?  Could one, for instance live a good life and still find it meaningless? To help guide in-class discussion of these topics, we will read three short modern classics , Phillipa Foot’s Natural Goodness, Jonathan Lear’s Radical Hope, and Susan Wolf’s, Meaning in Life and Why it Matters.

GE Cultures and Ideas

1100H Honors Introduction to Philosophy
Instructor: J. D'Arms
HN 201; MW 9:35-10:55

This course is a seminar-style introduction to some of the classic issues in Philosophy, such as: How can we have Free Will, or be morally responsible for our actions, if a scientific understanding of our nature and the world is roughly correct?  Is it rational to believe that there is a God? What reason do we have to be moral in cases where we have more to gain by acting immorally? What makes someone the same person over time? How can we know anything about the world outside our minds? Are moral properties objective or subjective? What about colors? What about shapes?

Readings will be drawn from historical and contemporary sources. Class sessions will emphasize discussion and clear expression of ideas. Written assignments will be designed to improve argumentative and critical thinking skills, along with clarity of expression.

This class is intended primarily for first year students in the Honors program.

GE Cultures and Ideas

1300 Introduction to Ethics
Instructor: A. Roth
OR 110; MW 11:30-12:25

This course is an introduction to ethics, the study of how we should conduct ourselves.  One issue that we confront is simply figuring out which actions are right, and which are wrong.  Sometimes an act might obviously count as right or as wrong, but not all cases are so clear.  How in general should we reason about right and wrong?  But even if we think that something is right, we might wonder what makes it right.  Why do some acts count as right, permissible, or good, while others are wrong, impermissible, or bad?  A presupposition of all this is that we care about what morality demands of us.  But why should we?  Is there some reason or motivation for doing the right thing? 

The course starts with considering the relationship between morality and religion.  Does morality depend on religion, or does it have its own standing or authority?  We then ask if principles of right and wrong are objective, or whether they are subjective or culturally relative.  Turning to the issue of moral motivation, we consider whether it make sense for us to do the right thing even when it doesn’t serve our personal interests?  If morality does have a grip on us, how should we figure out what the right thing to do is?  Do we just decide on which action to perform by looking to how good the results are?  Or are we guided by certain principles that define what our moral duties are, irrespective of the consequences?  We will also examine some particular moral issues, such as vegetarianism and the status of non-human animals, abortion, procreation, and the problem of reconciling affluence with famine.  Finally, we consider whether it makes any sense to act out of some moral concern (say about factory farming or climate change) when it is not at all clear that what one person does makes any difference.   

GE Cultures and Ideas

1332 Engineering Ethics
Instructor: P. Turner
MQ 264; TR 4:10-5:05

This course aims to provide future professionals in engineering fields the conceptual tools necessary to grapple with ethical challenges in their profession. We will consider both “macro” issues concerning the role of engineers in society and “micro” issues concerning the obligations of engineers with respect to issues such as confidentiality and conflicts of interest. We will survey major moral theories in the Western tradition and evaluate case studies from various engineering fields.

GE Cultures and Ideas

1338 Ethics and Effective Presentation
Instructor: Staff

An introduction to ethical theory with a special focus on ethical issues that arise in the computing profession. It includes student presentations and feedback to improve discussion skills.

GE  Cultures and Ideas

1500.01 Introduction to Logic
Instructor: Staff

Deduction and induction; principles of clear statement and valid reasoning; fallacies; and the methods by which theories and laws are established.

GE Quantitative Reasoning: Math and Logical Anly

1500.02 Introduction to Logic (Online)
Instructor: Staff

Deduction and induction; principles of clear statement and valid reasoning; fallacies; and the methods by which theories and laws are established.

GE Quantitative Reasoning: Math and Logical Anly

1501 Introduction to Logic and Legal Reasoning
Instructor: Staff
JR 375; MWF 10:20-11:15

An informal introduction to elementary deductive and inductive logic, concentrating on application to reasoning in legal contexts (e.g., courtroom argumentation and jury deliberation).

2120 Asian Philosophies
Instructor: S. Brown
HH 180; MWF 11:30-12:25

This class will explore the main philosophical traditions that underly the cultures of India, China, Korea, Japan, and a number of other countries in south and east Asia. Specifically, we will work toward understanding some of the essential texts from Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism, and Daoism. However, we will not be approaching these texts merely for their historical value. We will be engaging them as potential sources of wisdom and insight into the nature of the world around us and our place within it. 

GE for literature and diversity global studies course

2367 Contemporary Social and Moral Problems in the U.S. 
Several Instructors & Times

An intensive writing course concentrating on the analysis and evaluation of philosophical argumentation concerning contemporary social and moral problems about race, gender, class, and ethnicity. Does not count on a philosophy major or minor program.
GE Diversity: Social Diversity in the US
GE Writing and Communication: level 2

2450 Philosophical Problems in the Arts
Instructor: R. Kraut
TO 255; TR 12:45-2:05

Our goal is to understand (and evaluate) several theories about the nature and function of art.  We will consider such questions as: What is the difference between creative innovation and fraudulence?  Is there a "correct interpretation" of a literary text or painting?  Is objective criticism possible, or is art criticism merely the expression of subjective preferences?  Can artworks be understood in isolation from social-historical forces?  Do artworks express emotions?  Is it worth theorizing about art?  Why?  

We will consider these theoretical questions in the context of music, painting, film, architecture, literature, and other artforms.

GE Visual and Performing Arts

2465 Death and the Meaning of Life
Instructor: J. Jorati
PO 260; MW 1:50-2:45

Some philosophers claim that if there is no afterlife, our lives are meaningless; all of our efforts are hopelessly and absurdly pointless.  Nothing we do in life, according to these authors, can have any genuine significance.  Others are far less pessimistic and argue that even without an afterlife, our existence can be meaningful.  They claim that things like achievement, happiness, and engaging in valuable projects can give meaning to our lives.  In fact, some philosophers even contend that death is a crucial feature of a meaningful life; immortality would inevitably drain our lives of meaning and undermine our happiness.  The course will explore these competing theories and attempt to determine which of them, if any, is correct.

GE Literature course.

2470H Honors Philosophy of Film
Instructor: L. Shabel
UH 043, WF 12:45-2:05

We will introduce ourselves to the study of philosophy, and approach a variety of philosophical questions, via the medium of film. We will primarily explore the nature of persons, raising questions about ethics, identity (including personal, racial and sexual identity), consciousness, knowledge, spirituality, art and freedom of the will, all in the context of a discussion of contemporary film across a variety of genres. We will discuss both philosophy in film (that is, the sense in which a film can serve to provide an argument for or illustration of a philosophical position), as well as the philosophy of film (that is, the sense in which films demand philosophical interpretation and critique.) 

GE Visual and Performing Arts

2500 Symbolic Logic
Instructor: S. Shapiro
OR 110; WF 12:40-1:35

What is it to reason?  What is it to reason correctly?  What role do symbols play in reasoning?  We will try to answer these questions.

In this course we will present a symbolic deductive system to model correct reasoning.  It will be shown how many arguments in ordinary language can be “translated” into this system, where they can be checked for validity.  Important logical concepts, like consistency, consequence, validity are presented via the system, and the techniques of mathematical logic are illustrated with it.

There will be exercises for homework (checked with occasional short quizzes) and a midterm and final examination.

GE Quantitative Reasoning: Math and Logical Analysis

2680 Scientific Controversies
Instructor: C. Pincock
MP 2015; MWF 10:20-11:15

Modern science raises many difficult questions about the nature of the universe and our place in it. This class considers several controversies that arise within science and investigates their broader philosophical significance. How does science work in different domains and at different times, and what can science tell us about ourselves and the nature of the world? This semester we will consider five questions: What is gravity? Does the universe have a beginning? What is life? Can computers think? Are there human races? Readings will be drawn from the sciences and the philosophy of science.

GE Culture and Ideas

3000 Gateway Seminar
Instructor: D. Smithies
CM 271; MW 2:20-3:40

This is a gentle boot camp (no push ups!) designed to develop philosophical reading, writing, and presentation skills for new philosophy majors. We'll focus on issues in ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophical methodology.

3210 History of Ancient Philosophy
Instructor: A. Silverman
TO 247; TR 12:45-2:05

This course is an introduction to the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. Roughly, the semester will be divided in half: the first 7 weeks will be devoted to Plato; the second 7 to Aristotle. We will discuss the metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics of these seminal thinkers. Readings will include the Republic, Phaedo, and Timaeus, the De Anima, and Nichomachean Ethics. Course requirements are attendance, class participation and at least one paper.

GE Literature
GE Diversity: Global Studies

3230 17th Century Philosophy
Instructor: J. Jorati
CM 213; TR 9:35-10:55

Do we have immaterial souls, or are we completely physical beings?

Can we ever act in truly altruistic ways, or do we always have ulterior motives?

Does happiness depend on one’s external circumstances, or just on one’s attitude?

If someone loses their memory, are they still the same person?

Can we know anything with absolute certainty?

Questions like these were at the center of heated philosophical debates in the seventeenth century. PHILOS 3230 explores some of these debates by discussing the contributions of philosophers such as René Descartes, Elisabeth of Bohemia, Thomas Hobbes, Margaret Cavendish, John Locke, and Gottfried Leibniz.

GE Literature
GE Diversity: Global Studies

3260 Movements in 20th Century Philosophy
Instructor: C. Pincock
CM 271, MW 12:45-2:05

From 1900 to 1960 a series of new approaches to philosophy developed and interacted in a variety of significant ways. In this class we consider four broad movements that reshaped English-language philosophy in the United States and the United Kingdom: pragmatism, Cambridge analysis, logical empiricism and Oxford linguistic philosophy. The pragmatism of William James and John Dewey emphasized the evaluation of beliefs in terms of their role in action. It is thus skeptical of traditional metaphysical systems and ethical dictates that are unmoored from action. By contrast, the early Cambridge analysts G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell championed a version of metaphysical realism about the objects of knowledge and value. Meanwhile, on the European continent, the new movement of logical empiricism articulated a novel criticism of metaphysics and an alternative “scientific” approach to philosophy. We will evaluate this movement using the writings of its leaders, Moritz Schlick, Rudolf Carnap and Otto Neurath. Logical empiricism provoked strong reactions in the English-speaking world, and we will consider the responses of A. J. Ayer, Susan Stebbing and Max Black. Finally, a fourth movement coalesced in Oxford in the 1940s and 1950s which sought to preserve some of the methods of earlier styles of analysis, while also overcoming their perceived limitations. We review some of the contributions of Gilbert Ryle, J. L. Austin and Philippa Foot to the articulation of this approach to philosophy. Throughout the course we will consider questions of metaphysics, epistemology, the philosophy of language, ethics and the nature and purpose of philosophy.

3261 Fundamental Concepts of Existentialism
Instructor: T. Rudavsky
DE 253; WF 11:10-12:30

This course will cover basic 19th and 20th century existentialist writings, selected from among the following authors: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Sartre, and Camus. We will read both literary and philosophical works, with an eye to understanding the underlying themes (nihilism; despair; angst) of classical existentialist writers.   Requirements: midterm exam, final exam and several short written assignments.

GE Literature

3310 Morality and Mind
Instructor: A. Roth
MP 1008; MW 2:20-3:40

An introduction to issues in moral psychology including various interactions between moral philosophy, the philosophy of action and mind, and issues in psychology and cognitive science.

Whether some action is morally good or right is thought to depend on what led one to undertake it.  Were you aiming just to help, or was there an underlying personal incentive? Did you act out of the judgment that helping was your duty – that it was the right thing to do?  Is it important that you felt sorry for the person in need, that you empathized with them in their circumstance?  Theories of right and wrong action thus thrust us into debates about the psychology that leads to action.  That psychology is also significant for an understanding of moral responsibility – of when one can be blamed or held accountable for the wrong action one performs.  This course will be concerned with explicating aspects of the psychological commitments of moral theory and theories of moral responsibility.  We’ll also consider whether and how this moral psychology might be reconciled with the empirical findings of social psychology and cognitive science.

3341H Ethics in Health Care
Instructor: D. Howard
SM 3082; TR 9:35-10:55

(Course Description TBA)

3410 Philosophical Problems in the Law
Instructor: D. Hubin
ML 129; WF 9:35-10:55

"Our legal system engages in more coersion in a single day then all the extortionists in history!"

A shocking claim, to be sure. But criminal laws are not mere guidance; they are coercive threats. And the threats are severe—up to, and including, death. Is all this coercion justified and, if so, by what? What are the proper aims of criminal law? Are there limits to what can be justly criminalized? How should violations of the law be dealt with?

To explore these questions, we will begin by examining the nature of law, itself. What, if anything, distinguishes it from brute force? We will then turn to normative questions such as:

  • Do we have a moral obligation to obey the law and, if so, why?
  • When, if ever, is disobedience of the law justified?
  • Do individual rights impose limits on justified legal authority?
  • What is the nature of punishment and what forms of punishment are justified? Are there better ways of responding to crime than the forms of punishment we currently use?

3650 Philosophy of Science
Instructor: N. Tennant
BO 120, TR 2:20-3:40

Aims. We aim to become conversant with all the major concepts and controversies of mainstream discussion in the ‘general’ philosophy of science (as opposed to its more specialized areas, such as the philosophy of quantum physics).

Prerequisite. A prerequisite for this course is PHIL2500: Introduction to Symbolic Logic. We shall be making important use of techniques of logical analysis and regimentation, for these are required for a properly rigorous understanding of important concepts in the Philosophy of Science.

Topics. We shall be covering topics drawn from the following list: Scientific description, prediction, and explanation. The hypothetico-deductive method.

Inference to the best explanation. Theory and evidence. Observable v. theoretical entities. The problem of induction. Criteria for theory-choice.

3800 Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind
Instructor: R. Samuels
EC 222; TR 11:10-12:30

Over the last few decades, the philosophy of mind has become a central subfield of philosophy. The aim of this course is to provide a survey  of the major themes, theories and issues that have dominated this subfield. Specifically, we will focus on three fundamental issues:  the traditional mind-body problem (roughly, how mental and physical phenomena are related to each other); the problem of consciousness (roughly, what consciousness is and how physical organisms can have conscious experiences); and the problem of intentionality (roughly, how it is possible for our thoughts to represent the world).

5230 Studies in 17th Century Philosophy
Instructor:  L. Shabel
UH 353; T 12:40-3:25

We will focus on René Descartes and his most famous work, doing a close reading of the Meditations and the accompanying Objections and Replies. It will be our aim to engage and understand Descartes’ philosophy (including his metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science and philosophy of mathematics) by reflecting on its historical context and the mathematical and scientific theories that informed his project. Depending on student interest, we may focus special attention on how other early modern philosophers responded with their own rationalist and empiricist philosophies of mathematics. The Meditations will reward you with its riches, whether or not you already have some familiarity with the text. Prerequisites include just 6 credit hours in Philosophy at the 2000 level or above. Philosophy 3230 is NOT required.

5460 Philosophy of Literature
Instructor: T. Rudavsky
UH 353; WF 9:30-10:55

An introduction to some of the most interesting points of intersection between philosophy and literature. In this course we will explore two kinds of connections between them, most notably:  Philosophy on literature – philosophical approaches to understanding literary texts (truth; authorship; selfhood)  and Philosophy in literature – literary texts that explicitly invoke philosophical problems or approaches.  Specific topics and authors will be chosen from the following list:

a)     What is time; can we travel forward or backward in time? Is time even real? (Augustine; Borges; Lightman; McTaggart; Lewis; LeGuin)

b)    How can we, if at all, account for personal identity over time? (Kafka; Dostoyevsky; Parfit; Hume)

c)     Do we actually have free will – do we make free choices? (Sophocles; Borges; Chisholm; Taylor)

d)    Reality, Truth and Illusion (Plato; Borges; Baudrillard; Rashomon (film))

e)     If something is conceivable, is it possible? (Calvino; Yablo)  

f)     Is there a meaning to life? (Sartre; Tolstoy)

g)    The fine line between literary philosophy and philosophical literature (Kundera)

Course Requirements include: midterm essay exam (30%); take-home essay exam, week of finals (30%); Term paper (30%); Class participation, oral presentation and regular attendance may affect the grade as much as one-half letter grade (10%).

5530 Philosophy of Logic and Mathematics
Instructor: N. Tennant
UH 353, TR 11:10-12:30

Philosophy of Logic and Mathematics We shall address a range of ontological and epistemological questions about Logic and Mathematics.

What is Logic? Is there just one correct Logic? Is Mathematics reducible to Logic? Can the logician cast any light on the ways that various branches of Mathematics (algebra; topology; geometry; calculus; set theory) differ from one another and are related to one another?  Could our Mathematics have been very different?

What kind of knowledge is provided by Logic and Mathematics? Is it a priori? Is it analytic? Or do these epistemological categories fail to illuminate what is special about this kind of knowledge? Is all logical and mathematical truth knowable?

What justifies our mathematical knowledge? Is it the role it plays in the formulation of our scientific theories about the natural world? Or is it something completely different? What is the role of Mathematics in Natural Science? What are we to make of branches of pure Mathematics that do not yet enjoy any application in natural science?

What sorts of objects are Logic and Mathematics 'about'? Do they exist independently of human intellects and their activity?

5610 & 8600 Natural Language Metaphysics
Instructor: S. Shapiro 
UH 353, WF 2:20-3:40

There are a number of areas of mutual concern to philosophers of language and linguists interested in empirical semantics.  For a wide range of topics, such as modals, predicates of personal taste, and propositional attitude reports, there is a fruitful interaction and collaboration between these scholars.  One striking exception is the treatment of plurals, with phrases like “the Montague’s and the Capulet’s hate each other” (which has three distinct readings).  There is extensive work on plurals by logicians and philosophers of language, and by semanticists.  They do regularly cite each other, but there is not much in the way of interaction.

One key difference is that virtually all semanticists are “singularists”, who take it that a plural expression, like “The Montague’s” refers to a single thing, like a set or group.  Most philosophers are “pluralists”, who deny this.

The explanation may lie in different interests for the two groups.  Plurals were brought into the mainstream of philosophical logic by George Boolos, who suggested that the plural construction can make sense of mathematical cases, where, intuitively, there is no set-like thing to be had (or where assuming that there is one leads to paradox).  His example is:

There are some sets such that a given set is one of them just in case it is a member of itself.

Russell’s paradox follows if we assume that there is a set of all such sets.

Most semanticists do not worry about the specter of paradox, following Landman’s Semanticists Bill of Rights:  The right to solve Russell’s paradox later shall not be infringed.

In this course, we will look at a wide range of work on plurals, by philosophers such as Boolos, Oliver and Smiley, Linnebo, and (our own) Florio, and linguists such as Landman, Carlson, Krifka, and Cherchia.  On the positive side, we are looking for a modal interpretation that bridges the gap.

The final grade will be based on class participation, a class presentation, a commentary on someone else’s presentation, and a substantial term paper.