Note: not all classes listed below are actually being offered during the current academic year. Check the schedule of classes for the most up to date schedule of current and future classes.

  • PHIL 100: Family Values: The Ethics of Being a Family

    Everyone has a family of one kind or another. Whether you love them, hate them, or both at the same time, your family has played a huge role in making you the person you are. That fact raises all kinds of interesting philosophical questions such as: what limits should there be on how parents shape their kids’ lives and values? Are there demands of justice that are in tension with the way families are “normally” constituted? What duties do parents have to their children and vice versa? And what makes a person someone else’s parent or child in the first place–genetics, commitment, convention? This course will explore all these questions and more.

    6 credits; Argument and Inquiry Seminar, Writing Requirement; offered Fall 2020 · Daniel Groll
  • PHIL 100: Science, Faith and Rationality

    This seminar will introduce the student to the study of philosophy through a consideration of various epistemic and metaphysical issues surrounding science and religion. What distinguishes scientific inquiry from other areas of inquiry: Its subject matter, its method of inquiry, or perhaps both? How does scientific belief differ from religious belief, in particular? Is the scientist committed to substantive metaphysical assumptions? If so, what role do these assumptions play in scientific investigation and how do they differ from religious dogma (if they do)? Our exploration of these questions will involve the consideration of both classic and contemporary philosophical texts.

    6 credits; Argument and Inquiry Seminar, Writing Requirement; offered Fall 2020 · Jason Decker
  • PHIL 100: Utopias

    What would a perfect society look like? What ideals would it implement? What social evils would it eliminate? This course explores some famous philosophical and literary utopias, such as Plato’s Republic, Thomas More’s Utopia, Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, and others. We will also consider some nightmarish counterparts of utopias, dystopias. One of the projects in this course is a public performance, such as a speech or a short play.  6 credits; Argument and Inquiry Seminar, Writing Requirement; offered Fall 2020 · Anna Moltchanova
  • PHIL 112: Mind, Matter, Consciousness

    According to a common view of the mind, mental states are nothing more than states of the brain. There are certain features of human intellection, subjective experience, and action which have prompted some philosophers to argue that human mental activity is not reducible to brain activity. Some have gone on to argue that the human mind is immaterial and capable of surviving the death of the body. We will examine variants of these views as well as objections to them, reading selections from such historical figures as Plato, Aristotle, and Descartes, and such contemporary philosophers as Churchland, Nagel, and Searle. 6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 113: The Individual and the Political Community

    Are human beings radically individual and atomic by nature, political animals, or something else? However we answer that question, what difference does it make for our understanding of the ways in which larger political communities come into existence and are maintained? In this course we will explore these and related questions while reading two of the most foundational works in political theory, Plato’s Republic and Hobbes’s Leviathan, as well as several contemporary pieces influenced by these thinkers.

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, International Studies, Writing Requirement; offered Fall 2020, Winter 2021, Spring 2021 · Allison Murphy
  • PHIL 115: Skepticism, God, and Ethical Dilemmas

    If I can’t rule out that I’m dreaming, does it follow that I don’t know that I’m in Minnesota right now? Are there sound arguments establishing either the existence or non-existence of God? If I can divert a train from one track to another so that only one person loses her life instead of five, am I morally required to do so? In this course we will address questions concerning skepticism, God, and moral dilemmas, and explore some of their interrelations. We will pay close attention to issues of philosophical methodology along the way.

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; offered Fall 2020 · Douglas Marshall
  • PHIL 116: Sensation, Induction, Abduction, Deduction, Seduction

    In every academic discipline, we make theories and argue for and against them. This is as true of theology as of geology (and as true of phys ed as of physics). What are the resources we have available to us in making these arguments? It’s tempting to split the terrain into (i) raw data, and (ii) rules of right reasoning for processing the data. The most obvious source of raw data is sense experience, and the most obvious candidates for modes of right reasoning are deduction, induction, and abduction. Some philosophers, however, think that sense perception is only one of several sources of raw data (perhaps we also have a faculty of pure intuition or maybe a moral sense), and others have doubted that we have any source of raw data at all. As for the modes of “right” reasoning, Hume famously worried about our (in)ability to justify induction, and others have had similar worries about abduction and even deduction. Can more be said on behalf of our most strongly held beliefs and belief-forming practices than simply that we find them seductive—that we are attracted to them; that they resonate with us? In this course, we’ll use some classic historical and contemporary philosophical texts to help us explore these and related issues. 6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; offered Winter 2021 · Jason Decker
  • PHIL 117: Philosophical Problems: Mind, Free Will and Morality

    What is knowledge, and can we know anything at all? What is the mind, and how is it related to the body? What is consciousness? Is there free will? Are there universal moral truths, or is morality subjective? In this introduction to perennial philosophical questions (as well as the goals and methods of philosophy) we will read contemporary and historical philosophical texts.  6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, International Studies; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 118: God, Mind, and the Human Condition

    In this course we explore the interrelations between questions concerning God’s existence, the nature of the mind, and the human condition. We begin by evaluating arguments for and against God’s existence. This will give us a basis upon which to consider Descartes’ arguments in the Meditations. We then turn to contemporary objections to Descartes’ claim that the mind is an immaterial thing. If the mind is a material thing, what does that tell us about the human condition? Do humans have free wills and moral responsibilities? Are our lives meaningful? Is death a bad thing and if so, for whom?

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 120: Philosophy of Sex

    Sex is a pervasive feature of our individual lives and of contemporary political debate, yet has until recently has rarely been subject to sustained philosophical scrutiny. In this course we will investigate the ethical, political, and conceptual issues surrounding sex, critically reflecting on our own assumptions about sexed bodies, sexual pleasure, sexual conduct, and sexual and gender identities. What is sex? How do others identify us and how do we come to identify ourselves as sexual beings along the intersecting axes of gender, race, class, orientation, and ability? Can sex and pleasure become sites for personal liberation or ethical existence with others? We will take an intersectional approach to a variety of issues, including consent, casual sex, sexual objectification and commodification, sexual violence, normative medical and legal discourse about sex, gender, and reproduction, and the struggle for political recognition by sexual and gender minorities.

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, Intercultural Domestic Studies; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 121: The Philosopher and the Sophist

    In 399 BC Socrates was executed for introducing new gods and corrupting the youth. He claimed these were not the real charges against him–instead the trouble was that the Athenians mistook him for a sophist. ‘Sophist’ remains a choice term of derision for the pseudo-intellectuals, salesmen, political pundits, and propagandists who populate public life to this day. Traditionally a sophist is marked off not only by their bad ethical character, but also by the content of their ideas–most notably relativism, social constructionism, and realpolitik. The good standing of philosophers seems to depend on their success in distinguishing themselves from both the ideas and the actions of their evil twin, the sophist. In this course we will ask why this effort has seemed so important, and whether it is really possible to define philosophy in a way that excludes sophistry once and for all.  

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 122: Identity and Leadership

    Leaders who face tragedy and violence inspire others with their personal narratives of self-creation and meaning-making. This course invites students to investigate the relationship between the subjective meaning-making experience and various manifestations of the ‘problem of evil’. We will read a variety of texts that highlight narrative experiences of tragedy, self-transformation, and models of leadership as empowerment. The course approaches these topics from a variety of philosophical lenses including: Existentialism, Feminist Philosophy, Africana Philosophy, Queer Studies, Disability Studies, and Religious Studies. The texts of this course will include: Book of Job, Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning, Lucy Delaney’s From the Darkness Cometh the Light, Susan Brison’s Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of the Self, and Eli Clare’s Exile and Pride.

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, Intercultural Domestic Studies; offered Spring 2021 · Eddie O’Byrn
  • PHIL 197: Climate Matters

    What should we do, as individuals and countries, in the face of climate change? What does justice demand that we do for those currently suffering the ill effects of climate change? And what do we owe future generations for whom the problems will be far worse? This course will meet five times to discuss John Broome’s Climate Matters: Ethics in a Warming World.

    Prerequisites: Concurrent enrollment in Biology 210, Environmental Studies 310 or Political Science 212 1 credit; Does not fulfill a curricular exploration requirement; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 203: Bias, Belief, Community, Emotion

    What is important to individuals, how they see themselves and others, and the kind of projects they pursue are shaped by traditional and moral frameworks they didn’t choose. Individual selves are encumbered by their social environments and, in this sense, always ‘biased’, but some forms of bias are pernicious because they produce patterns of inter and intra-group domination and oppression. We will explore various forms of intersubjectivity and its asymmetries through readings in social ontology and social epistemology that theorize the construction of group and individual beliefs and identities in the context of the social world they engender.

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, Quantitative Reasoning Encounter, Intercultural Domestic Studies; offered Winter 2021 · Anna Moltchanova
  • PHIL 210: Logic

    The study of formal logic has obvious and direct applicability to a wide variety of disciplines (including mathematics, computer science, linguistics, philosophy, cognitive science, and many others). Indeed, the study of formal logic helps us to develop the tools and know-how to think more clearly about arguments and logical relationships in general; and arguments and logical relationships form the backbone of any rational inquiry. In this course we will focus on propositional logic and predicate logic, and look at the relationship that these have to ordinary language and thought. 6 credits; Formal or Statistical Reasoning; offered Winter 2021 · Douglas Marshall
  • PHIL 211: Being, Time and Identity

    The aim of metaphysics has traditionally been to identify the nature and structure of reality. The topics of this course are the topology of time, identity of things and individuals, causality, free will, and the referents of general terms. We will read a variety of classic and contemporary texts, which are organized topically. Prerequisites: 100-level Philosophy course or instructor permission 6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 212: Epistemology

    Do you know that you’re not just a brain, floating in a vat, receiving stimulations through electrodes? Or perhaps an immaterial soul being conned by a malicious demon? In this course, we will use these skeptical worries as a launching point for thinking about epistemological issues: What exactly is knowledge? Do we ever have it? If so, when, and how? We will approach these questions through an examination of theories of epistemic justification, including foundationalism, coherentism, internalism, externalism, and virtue epistemology. We will then consider some critiques of traditional epistemology, including feminist epistemology and naturalized epistemology. Prerequisites: 100-level Philosophy course or instructor permission 6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 213: Ethics

    How should we live? This is the fundamental question for the study of ethics. This course looks at classic and contemporary answers to the fundamental question from Socrates to Kant to modern day thinkers. Along the way, we consider slightly (but only slightly) more tractable questions such as: What reason is there to be moral? Is there such a thing as moral knowledge (and if so, how do we get it)? What are the fundamental principles of right and wrong (if there are any at all)? Is morality objective?

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, International Studies; offered Fall 2020 · Daniel Groll
  • PHIL 214: Ecology, Ethics, and Economics

    In this course we will explore the hypothesis that the current ecological crisis is, at least in part, the product of an economic system that champions continual growth (hence ever increasing levels of production and consumption) and that the economic system is in turn supported by a specific set of materialist values. The course thus takes a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to its subject, and will include readings from across the disciplines of environmental science, economics, and ethics.

    6 credits; Social Inquiry, International Studies; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 215: Alienation, Authenticity, and Irony: Selfhood in the Modern World

    Who am I? What kind of world do I live in? What kind of life is possible or desirable for me? While these questions have been part of philosophy since its inception, there may be particular epistemic and ethical dilemmas of knowing ourselves as modern and post-modern subjects. Both theoretical and practical challenges to self-knowledge have emerged in the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Psychoanalysis, sociology, and evolutionary science have made us question whether there is an essential self to be known and, if so, whether we could have access to it. Historical events, including the world wars and the increased industrialization, bureaucratization, and secularization of western societies have made reckoning with finitude and alienation central to any project of self-knowledge. In this course we will consider the challenges to self-knowledge posed by life in the modern world, and ‘authenticity’ and ‘irony’ as two prominent responses to this fundamental self-estrangement.

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 216: Nietzsche and Foucault: History, Truth, and Power

    Friedrich Nietzsche is famous for his scathing criticisms of both conventional morality and academic philosophy. He developed a mode of historical research, genealogy, which takes a perspective “beyond good and evil” in order to expose our moral ideals (including altruism, personal responsibility, and equality) as the products of contingent historical formations and struggles for power. Michel Foucault, writing in the second half of the twentieth century, submitted the values of ‘normal’ and ‘pathological’ (in diverse areas of the human sciences including mental illness, criminology, and sexuality) to a genealogical method modeled on that of Nietzsche. This course will be devoted to a comparative reading of Nietzsche and Foucault’s genealogical works and the relation of these to their larger philosophical systems. Our guiding questions will be: What is the nature of power? What is the nature and value of truth? What bearing do the histories of our normative and scientific claims have on their truth-value? What is the status, in all of this, of the critical perspective of the genealogist? Where do the insights of Nietzsche and Foucault leave us in our own attempts to lead meaningful lives?

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 217: Reason in Context: Limitations and Possibilities

    Our reflection on significant human questions is often (perhaps always) embedded within a larger set of cultural or personal theoretical commitments. Such embeddedness suggests our reflection cannot achieve the standard of objectivity characteristic of a traditional ideal of rationality. Is this realization to be welcomed insofar as it weakens traditional dogmatic claims to truth and the associated implication that certain views or frameworks are superior to others? Or, in spite of the unmooring of the philosophical tradition from set criteria, do we still find ourselves committed to some ordering of rank and, if so, how do we make sense of this? In this course we’ll examine these questions as they arise in the writings of Nietzsche, Heidegger and other continental philosophers. We will devote part of the course to the ancient sources (Plato and Aristotle) with whom the continental philosophers are in conversation.

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; offered Winter 2021 · Allison Murphy
  • PHIL 221: Philosophy of Law

    This course provides students with an opportunity to engage actively in a discussion of theoretical questions about law. We will consider the nature of law as it is presented by natural law theory, legal positivism and legal realism. Then we will deal with responsibility and punishment, and challenges to the idea of the primacy of individual rights from legal paternalism and moralism. We will next inquire into the explanations of why individuals should obey the law, and conditions under which civil disobedience is justified. Finally, we will discuss issues raised by feminist legal theory and some theories of minority rights. 6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, Intercultural Domestic Studies; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 222: Topics in Medical Ethics

    This course examines a variety of topics in medical ethics. We begin with a unit on pandemic ethics: Who should get ventilators when there aren’t enough for everyone? Do medical providers have a duty to treat during a pandemic? We then turn to the question “When is someone dead?” and consider how different answers to that question affect arguments over organ procurement. Our third unit is on the place of race, and racial judgments, in medicine. Is there a place for racial judgments in medicine? Finally, we turn to the question of how to think about decision making in a clinical context: what values are at play? And how should we think about disagreements between clinicians and patients? What about disagreements between patient’s past wishes and their current wishes?

     

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, Intercultural Domestic Studies; offered Fall 2020 · Daniel Groll
  • PHIL 223: Philosophy of Language

    In this course we will look at how philosophers have tried to understand language and its connection with human thought and communication. The course will be split into two parts: Semantics and Pragmatics. In the first part, we’ll look at general features of linguistic expressions like meaning and reference. In the second part, we’ll look at the various ways in which speakers use language. Topics to be considered in the second part include speech acts, implicature, and presupposition.

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 225: Philosophy of Mind

    What is the relationship between the mind and the brain? Are they identical? Or is there mental “stuff” in addition to physical stuff? Or perhaps some physical stuff has irreducibly mental properties? These, and related questions, are explored by philosophers under the heading of “the mind-body problem.” In this course, we will start with these questions, looking at classical and contemporary defenses of both materialism and dualism. This investigation will lead us to other important questions such as: What is the nature of mental representation, what is consciousness, and could a robot have conscious states and mental representations? 6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 226: Love and Friendship

    What is friendship? Are there different types of friendships and, if so, are some better than others? Why do we fall in love? This course will consider various views on the nature of love and friendship, drawing from canonical texts in the history of philosophy as well as from contemporary scholarship.

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; offered Winter 2021 · Allison Murphy
  • PHIL 227: Philosophy with Children

    Children are naturally curious. They want to know about the world and their place in it. In other words, children are naturally philosophical. This course is about helping children explore and develop their nascent philosophical abilities via children’s literature. To that end, the bulk of this course is devoted to preparing for, and then making, visits to a first grade class at Greenvale Park Elementary School in Northfield. Along the way, we’ll explore the philosophy that can be found in all kinds of kids’ books and learn about presenting complicated ideas in simpler form. In consultation with the instructor, this course will count toward either the Practical/Value requirement or the Theoretical requirement in the Philosophy Major for students who elect to write a final research paper.

    Prerequisites: Previous Philosophy course 6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Intercultural Domestic Studies; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 228: Freedom and Alienation in Black American Philosophy

    The struggle of freedom against forms of alienation is both a historical and contemporary characteristic of Black/African-American philosophy. In this course we will explore how a variety of Black/African-American philosophers theorize these concepts. The aim of the course is to both offer resources for familiarizing students with African-American philosophers and develop an appreciation for critical philosophical voices in the Black intellectual tradition. The course will range from slave narratives, reconstruction, and civil rights to contemporary prison abolitionism, intersectionality, and afro-pessimism. The texts of the course will include: Angela Davis’ Lectures on Liberation, Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells Southern Horrors, George Yancy’s African-American Philosophers 17 Conversations, and Afro-Pessimism: An Introduction. As well as select articles from historical and contemporary Black/African-American philosophers.

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, Intercultural Domestic Studies; offered Fall 2020, Winter 2021 · Eddie O’Byrn
  • PHIL 232: Social and Political Philosophy

    We will study several prominent late twentieth century philosophers writing about social and political justice and representing a variety of views, such as liberalism, socialism, libertarianism, communitarianism, feminism and post-modernism. The following are some of the authors we will read: John Rawls, Gerald Cohen, Robert Nozick, Charles Taylor, Iris Marion Young, Seyla Benhabib, Jurgen Habermas, Jean-Francois Lyotard. 6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, Quantitative Reasoning Encounter, Intercultural Domestic Studies; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 236: Proof, Knowledge, and Understanding in Mathematics

    An introduction to the philosophy of mathematics focusing on the history and development of mathematical proofs. The course is organized around three central questions: i. What is the relationship between a mathematical proof and our knowledge of the theorem that it proves? ii. Do some mathematical proofs go beyond establishing the truth of their theorems and actually explain why the theorems are true? iii. How has our mathematical knowledge grown throughout history? We will first address these questions by reading and discussing Imre Lakatos’s book Proofs and Refutations. We will continue with readings drawn from classic and contemporary sources in the history and philosophy of mathematics. This course has no formal prerequisites, though it does presuppose a willingness to read, assess, and write about mathematical proofs.  

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; offered Spring 2021 · Douglas Marshall
  • PHIL 243: Animal Ethics: The Moral Status of Animals

    In an era of rapid globalization and increasing dominion of humans over the natural world, we are all (often unwittingly) party to practices that seemingly exact grave harm on billions of nonhuman animals. This raises a pressing ethical question: what are our moral obligations (if any) to nonhuman animals, and how might we practically fulfill such moral obligations (if they exist)? Also, what bearing does the latest scientific research on animal behavior have on these questions? In this course we will explore these and related questions, through a study of various philosophers and ethologists. The course will culminate in a class project that addresses animal ethics related issues in the community. 6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 246: Probability: The Very Guide of Life?

    Bishop Butler and David Hume claimed that “probability is the very guide of life.” But what exactly is probability and what—if any!—kind of guidance does it give us? In this course, we will look at (i) competing philosophical interpretations of probability, including frequentist, Bayesian, and best-system theories, (ii) recent work in cognitive science on probabilistic reasoning, (iii) uses of probability in formal epistemology, decision theory, and science, and (iv) paradoxes and puzzles of probability.

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, Quantitative Reasoning Encounter; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 251: Evidence, Objectivity, and Realism in the Sciences

    Science gives us an objective view of ourselves and the world we live in. Or does it? In this course, we’ll pursue some fundamental questions about the nature of the empirical sciences. What makes something a science? What kinds of evidence are there for scientific claims? What, if anything, makes science objective? The main concepts of the course will be illustrated using examples of scientific reasoning from a range of sciences, including biology (e.g., research on gender), climate science (e.g., whether hurricanes are getting more damaging over time), and physics (e.g., the seventeenth century revolution in astronomy). One theme of the course will be feminist critiques of scientific practices and of traditional philosophy of science.

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 270: Ancient Philosophy

    Is there a key to a happy and successful human life? If so, how do you acquire it? Ancient philosophers thought the key was virtue and that your chances of obtaining it depend on the sort of life you lead. In this course we’ll examine what these philosophers meant by virtue and how they understood its implications for your everyday life. We will situate the ancient understanding of virtue in the context of larger questions of metaphysics (the nature of being and reality), psychology, and ethics, as they arise in foundational works from Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics.

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, International Studies, Writing Requirement; offered Fall 2020 · Allison Murphy
  • PHIL 272: Early Modern Philosophy

    This course offers an introduction to major aspects of European theories of being and knowledge during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Key topics to be examined include:  the distinction between the mind and the body; the existence and nature of God; the relationship between cause and effect; the scope and nature of human knowledge. We will place a special emphasis on understanding the philosophical thought of René Descartes, Anne Conway, G. W. Leibniz, and David Hume. Two themes will recur throughout the course: first, the evolving relationships between philosophy and the sciences of the period; second, the philosophical contributions of women in the early modern era.

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, International Studies; offered Winter 2021 · Douglas Marshall
  • PHIL 273: Kant’s Metaphysics

    In this course we aim to understand the metaphysics and the theory of cognition developed by Immanuel Kant in his monumental work, Critique of Pure Reason. Some of the main questions Kant addresses: How does the mind represent the world? Can we distinguish the way things appear to us from the way they are in themselves? What are space and time?  Does every event have a cause? Is it possible to have knowledge independent of experience? We will think about these questions and attempt to shed light on Kant’s systematic answers to them by means of careful reading and interpretation of Kant’s text.  

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, International Studies; offered Spring 2021 · Douglas Marshall
  • PHIL 274: Existentialism

    We will consider the emergence and development of major themes of existentialism in the works of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, as well as “classical” existentialists such as Heidegger, Sartre and De Beauvoir. We will discuss key issues put forward by the existentialist movement, such as “the question of being” and human historicity, freedom and responsibility and look at how different authors analyzed the nature and ambitions of the Self and diverse aspects of subjectivity. 6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, International Studies; offered Spring 2021 · Anna Moltchanova
  • PHIL 287: Conspiracy Theories and Dogmatism

    Conspiracy theories hit us where we are intellectually most vulnerable. Like global skeptical scenarios that occupy and perplex philosophers, they suggest a gap between appearance and reality; they suggest that we have formed our beliefs on the basis of massively misleading evidence. Often, they concern possibilities that we have never even considered, let alone properly assessed. The volume of evidence and arguments that conspiracy theorists offer for their theories can be vast and intricate. Yet it seems that, in some cases, we are perfectly within our epistemic rights in dogmatically ignoring or avoiding this volume of evidence and arguments. This won’t do as a general policy, though, for history forces us to admit that sometimes conspiracy theorists are right. Theories like Bayesian formal epistemology that seem well-suited to guide us through these difficult waters often make our situation even more puzzling and problematic. To make fresh headway on these issues, this course will look critically at how philosophers, psychologists and political scientists have approached conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists. We will consider topics such as cognitive dsyfunction and bias, epistemic trust, peer disagreement, the puzzle of misleading evidence, dogmatism, and formal theories of probabilistic reasoning. Along the way we will have occasion to consider many strange and fascinating conspiracy theories—a few of which have turned out to be true.

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, Quantitative Reasoning Encounter; offered Spring 2021 · Jason Decker
  • PHIL 288: A Survey of Historical Ideas of Race

    In an effort to gain a perspective on the power of ideas, this class will trace the development of several ideas of race. We will look at attempts to define and create the concept of ‘race,’  and we will ultimately attempt to answer questions as to whether ‘ideas of race’ have improved our lives to date. We will address the topic of this course by progressing through four parts: 1. Race: Creating Socially Significant Difference, 2. Race: In the Interest of Science, 3. Race: Human Types and Being Human, 4. Race: Racial Identity?. We will draw on a range of significant texts representing several disciplinary perspectives, including philosophy, literature, film, and history. The overall goal of the course is to offer students a chance to learn, think, write, and discuss an idea that has been one of the forces engineering societal value and behavior in the U.S. for, at least, the past 400 years.

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Intercultural Domestic Studies; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 289: Death, Dinner, and Discussion

    We’re all going to die. We all know that. But we seem to spend a lot of our lives avoiding thinking and talking about it. This course aims to remedy that. We will meet weekly to talk about death and, more specifically, the choices we think we might want to make about how we will die and how we want to live at the end of our lives. Students in the class will be asked to think seriously and share their thoughts about these issues. Students will read some popular books that invite people to think about the end of their lives, hold a Death Over Dinner discussion as a class (with the professor), and hold (and write about) a Death Over Dinner discussion with some of their peers outside of class. Be ready to talk and to listen! We’ll provide the Kleenex. 

    3 credits; Does not fulfill a curricular exploration requirement; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 299: Ethics Bowl

    This course will prepare a team or two from Carleton to participate in the regional Ethics Bowl tournament. Ethics Bowl teams prepare analyses of contemporary moral and political issues which they present, and defend, at the competition, while also engaging with the analyses of other teams. While Ethics Bowl is a competition, the focus in our course will be on doing the research necessary to understand the cases and then thinking through the cases together. Students do NOT have to partake in the Ethics Bowl tournament (which will be online this year) in order to take (and pass!) the course. The class will meet once a week. Previous Ethics Bowl experience is not required.

    Prerequisites: Instructor consent 2 credits; S/CR/NC; Does not fulfill a curricular exploration requirement; offered Fall 2020 · Daniel Groll
  • PHIL 302: Purpose in Nature

    We often explain our actions by appeal to goals or ends. For example, to explain why you run, you might state a practical end running serves – e.g., health. Such an explanation is “teleological” in character, in that it appeals to an “end” or “telos” (rather than your particular biochemical makeup). Are there good philosophical reasons for thinking that ends really operate in nature, over and above material processes, or are teleological explanations merely a heuristic or explanatory device helping us make sense of the world (but failing to capture any real feature of the world)? In the absence of a designer agent, how do we make sense of natural ends? What is the scope of natural teleology? Do natural ends operate only locally or more globally? This course explores these and related questions, through tracing the kinds of teleological explanations (and argument for teleology) philosophers, theologians and scientists employ, ranging from Presocratic natural science to contemporary biology, cosmology and philosophy.

    Prerequisites: 12 credits in philosophy or instructor permission 6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, International Studies; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 303: Bias, Belief, Community, Emotion

    What is important to individuals, how they see themselves and others, and the kind of projects they pursue are shaped by traditional and moral frameworks they didn’t choose. Individual selves are encumbered by their social environments and, in this sense, always ‘biased’, but some forms of bias are pernicious because they produce patterns of inter and intra-group domination and oppression. We will explore various forms of intersubjectivity and its asymmetries through readings in social ontology and social epistemology that theorize the construction of group and individual beliefs and identities in the context of the social world they engender.

    Prerequisites: One Previous Philosophy course or instructor permission 6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, Intercultural Domestic Studies, Quantitative Reasoning Encounter; offered Winter 2021 · Anna Moltchanova
  • PHIL 304: Epistemology and Oppression

    Today, there is an increased interest in epistemic oppression, i.e. the ways knowledge-related considerations systematically and unwarrantedly compromise one’s life and possibilities. As such, it has become integral to introduce students to writings by feminists of color who have grappled with knowledge-related problems for centuries. However, the women of color texts that develop understandings of epistemic oppression are difficult for typical philosophy/academic audiences to read. Not necessarily because the texts are opaque, but because the ambient assumptions of these thinkers can be radically different than most philosophical orientations prevailing today. There are differing metaphilosophical assumptions in women of color feminist thought that can make their insights around epistemic oppression difficult to identify and understand. The purpose and audiences of their writing often obscure the complexity of their thinking. The purpose of this course, then, will be to equip students with the ability to detect and comprehend women of color feminist epistemological projects for more comprehensive ways of understanding epistemic oppression.

    Prerequisites: One previous course in Philosophy 6 credits; Does not fulfill a curricular exploration requirement, Intercultural Domestic Studies; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 305: Frederick Douglass: The Philosophies of a Slave, Citizen, and Diplomat

    This course will be a study of Frederick Douglass: A man born into American chattel slavery who liberated himself and lived to become an abolitionist, orator, diplomat, and American hero. Through his autobiographies (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass 1845, My Bondage My Freedom 1855) and speeches (The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro 1852, We Welcome the Fifteenth Amendment 1869, Lessons of the Hour 1894), we will trace the evolution of Douglass’ views on the abolition of slavery, American citizenship, political and moral responsibility, and his lifetime of activist work for equality. Alongside these texts, we will read contemporary philosophical literature that celebrates, contests, and critically highlights the significance of Douglass’ philosophical legacy. The purpose of this course is help students underscore historical anti-discrimination philosophies and the diverse legacy of American philosophical figures.

    Prerequisites: One prior course in Philosophy, Africana Studies, American Studies or instructor permission 6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Intercultural Domestic Studies; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 311: When Art is Not ‘For Art’s Sake’

    A central idea in modernist thinking about the arts is that an artwork is meant to be appreciated ‘for its own sake.’ In this course, we shall challenge this idea and consider art that is not primarily ‘for art’s sake’ in order to explore more general questions about the nature of artworks and of artistic appreciation. We ask, under what conditions are such works artworks? Much of the course will address material in a new monograph upon which the professor is working. This course is co-taught.

    Prerequisites: One previous Philosophy course 6 credits; Literary/Artistic Analysis, Writing Requirement; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 318: Buddhist Studies India Program: Buddhist Philosophy

    This course introduces students to major trends in Buddhist philosophy as it developed in India from the time of the Buddha until the eleventh century CE. The course emphasizes the relationships between philosophical reasoning and the meditation practices encountered in the Buddhist Meditation Traditions course. With this in mind, the course is organized into three units covering the Indian philosophical foundations for the Theravāda, Zen, and Tibetan Vajrayāna traditions. While paying attention first and foremost to philosophical arguments and their evolution, we also examine the ways in which metaphysics, epistemology and ethics inform one another in each tradition.

    Prerequisites: Acceptance into the Buddhist Studies program 8 credits; Does not fulfill a curricular exploration requirement, International Studies; offered Fall 2020 · Arthur McKeown
  • PHIL 319: Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics

    Quantum theories are astonishingly successful…and deeply mysterious. Niels Bohr remarked that “those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it.” Richard Feynman said “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” Some quantum weirdness is unavoidable—it appears, for instance, that nature is disturbingly non-local. Other weirdnesses are features of some ways of understanding quantum mechanics but not others: indeterminism, randomness, branching worlds, surprising connections between the physical and the mental. We will examine contemporary approaches, including: Bohm’s deterministic theory, spontaneous collapse theories, and many-worlds/minds theories. This course will not presuppose prior background in quantum theory or its mathematics. Required mathematical concepts will be explicated as we go along. If you already understand the Pythagorean theorem, you’ll probably find that this amounts to learning new ways of naming familiar ideas.

    Prerequisites: A course in philosophy or physics or mathematics or instructor consent 6 credits; Does not fulfill a curricular exploration requirement, Quantitative Reasoning Encounter; offered Spring 2021
  • PHIL 320: Virtue Ethics

    What is a good human life? Who is a good person? Virtue ethicists think about these questions in terms of two central ideas. Virtues, such as justice or courage, make us a certain type of person (they give us a certain character). Wisdom (phronesis) enables good judgments about how to act in particular situations. How should we think about the relationship between virtues and wisdom? How does being wise differ from being (merely) intelligent or clever? These will be central questions for us to reflect on as we read several core texts from the contemporary tradition of virtue ethics. We will also spend some time on related concerns, such as what view of human nature, if any, is presupposed by virtue ethics, and how we should understand the relationship between being virtuous and being happy.

    6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement; offered Spring 2021 · Allison Murphy
  • PHIL 372: Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason

    In this course we aim to understand the theories of knowledge and being developed by Immanuel Kant in his monumental Critique of Pure Reason. Although Kant’s own text will remain our primary focus, we will also read helpful secondary works by Sebastian Gardner, Paul Guyer, Charles Parsons, and other recent interpreters. The main questions to be addressed include the following: How does the mind represent the world? Can we distinguish the way things are in themselves from the way they appear to us? What are space and time? On what basis do we make causal inferences? What substantive knowledge can we have about the world entirely independent of our experience of it? 6 credits; Humanistic Inquiry, Writing Requirement, International Studies; not offered 2020–2021
  • PHIL 398: Comps Proposal

    This is the first part of the philosophy comps sequence. It is a five-week independent study to be enrolled in at the end of the Fall term Senior Year (or the year you will be compsing). The purpose is to give you the chance to do more reading on your comps topics and to start doing a bit of writing. By the last day of classes of Fall Term, you will turn in an official comps proposal (approximately 1500 words). The proposal will (a) articulate the main philosophical problem or puzzle that will be addressed in your comps; (b) describe some of the main moves that have been made in the relevant literature; and (c) include a bibliography.

    3 credits; S/CR/NC; Does not fulfill a curricular exploration requirement; offered Fall 2020 · Daniel Groll
  • PHIL 399: Senior Thesis

    The planning, preparation, and completion of a philosophical paper under the direction of a member of the department and as part of a seminar group. 6 credits; Does not fulfill a curricular exploration requirement; offered Winter 2021 · Anna Moltchanova
  • PHIL 400: Integrative Exercise

    A colloquium in which seniors defend their senior theses and discuss the senior theses of others. 3 credits; S/NC; offered Spring 2021 · Anna Moltchanova