Philosophy Spring 2014 course offerings
ALL of the 200-level philosophy courses fulfill the core requirement for a second philosophy course.
PL202 Philosophical Perspectives: The Project of Modernity
Professors: Weber, Guise-Gerrity, Howell, Laughland, Burns, Witt, Ziebart, Kim, Thorndike
Examines distinctive aspects of the modern philosophical project as it relates to questions of science, politics, society, history, or morals. Philosophical theories ranging from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries are treated in their historical development and/or their opposition to ancient teachings.
PL210 Philosophical Perspectives: Politics and Society
Addresses the basis and goals of human society, including issues concerning the structure of the good community as balanced against the interests of the individual.
PL 210 Politics and Society
The main theme of this course is the idea of democracy. We will discuss and analyze the idea of democracy as well as its promises and limits in highly complex and deeply pluralistic societies. In Part I, we will discuss the evolution of the idea of democracy and liberalism. What are the underlying values and assumptions of democracy? What is the relationship between liberalism and democracy? Between Rights and Popular Sovereignty? What is the role of a constitution in a democracy?
In Part II, we will examine contemporary theories of democracy that seek to defend an ideal of democratic governance. We will examine what each approach considers to be a democratic regime and the limits and threats to democracy. What is the link between political participation and political legitimacy? How should political participation and decision-making be conceived? What does the consent of the governed mean in modern societies?
Part III is devoted to the idea of deepening democracy. We will address topics such us the role of public spheres in democracies, the relationship between capitalism and democracy, the meaning of democratic citizenship, the function of news media in democracies, freedom of speech and campaign financing, and elections. Along the way, we will discuss the influence of corporations in democracies, the persistence of gender inequalities, the impact of socioeconomic inequality on political equality, and the possible contribution of new communication technologies to expanding democratic practices.
PL216 Philosophical Perspectives: Asian Thought
Professors: Leder, Davis
Prerequisite: PL201Prerequisite: PL201. An introduction to the philosophical and spiritual traditions of Asia, with comparisons to Western thought. We will focus on Hinduism and Buddhism, both of which originated in India. In the latter part of the semester we will follow Buddhism through some of its developments in Tibet and East Asia, with particular attention given to the Japanese schools of Pure Land and Zen Buddhism. In addition to traditional academic approaches, the course will make use of experiential tracks, allowing students, for example, to engage in either meditation practice or service-learning.
PL220 Philosophical Perspectives: Art and Imagination
Prerequisite: PL201. An exploration of the parallel development of philosophy and art as truth-disclosing activities.
PL230 Philosophical Perspectives: Humanity and Divinity
Professors: Boothby, Hanley
Prerequisite: PL201. A philosophical investigation of the nature and meaning of the religious life.
Philosophical Perspectives: Humanity and Divinity
PL230 Humanity and Divinity Dr. Boothby
Prerequisite: PL 201. In this course, we will undertake a philosophical exploration of religion. Religion is a challenging and fascinating topic first of all because it embodies the greatest and most profound questions of human existence––questions about why we are here, where we came from and where we are going, questions about life, love, and death, about suffering, evil, and redemption, about self, other, and God.
But the problem of religion is also a challenging one because religion is a part of the cultural and moral fabric of our lives that we often unthinkingly take for granted. Religious traditions shape our fundamental beliefs and practices, often in ways that we have never questioned explicitly. The philosophical study of religion inevitably requires a particularly challenging labor of self-examination.
Over the trajectory of our exploration, we will very intentionally pursue a zig-zag path, alternately sympathetic and skeptical, analytical and appreciative, open to the mystery of faith yet also awake to the need for critical reflection.
PL232 Philosophical Perspectives: Gender and Nature
Prerequisite: PL201. Examines the history of Western concepts of nature and science with particular attention to how ideas about hierarchy, gender, and violence have affected our relationship to the natural world. Introductory course for the Gender Studies minor.
PL317 The Experience of Evil
Prerequisite: PL201 and one additional PL200-level course. What is the nature of evil? What are its causes? In what forms or guises has it appeared in human history? How is our understanding of evil influenced and informed by concepts like fate, guilt, freedom, responsibility, providence, God, and human nature itself? This course explores such questions by drawing upon a variety of philosophical, religious, and literary sources in an attempt to better understand the all too common experience of evil. Fulfills ethics core requirement.
PL337 Philosophy and Feminism
Prerequisite: PL201 and one additional PL200-level course.
This course introduces students to major contributions made by feminist philosophy to areas such as ethics, social and political theory and epistemology (theories of knowledge). We will study analyses of oppression, conceptions of rationality, agency and autonomy and the politics of social relations from several feminist philosophical perspectives. The questions we seek to answer include: How does attention to gender and power problematize the ideals of the pure knower and the pursuit of objective truth dominant in the history of philosophy? What is psychological oppression? Why is justice within the family necessary for a just society? How should our theories register the diversity of women’s experiences? What are the most promising visions offered by feminist scholars for the transformation of social practices? The instructor will work with students to provide opportunities for more intensive study of topics of particular interest and for interdisciplinary study.
PL338 Psychoanalysis and Philosophy
This course retraces Freud’s discovery of the unconscious and weighs its significance for fundamental questions about the nature of the human being.
Freud compared his discovery of the unconscious to the Copernican revolution, after which human beings could no longer place themselves at the center of the universe. A Copernicus of the mind, Freud demonstrates how the orbits of our lives are steered by motivations that operate beneath the level of our conscious awareness. From this perspective, Freud emerges as a philosophical thinker who gives a radical answer to the question that preoccupied Socrates: the question of self-knowledge.
Since Freud’s death barely fifty years ago, many of his basic concepts—the unconscious and repression, the ego, the id, and the superego, the Oedipus complex—have become household words. Yet despite this absorption of psychoanalysis into popular culture, or rather precisely because of it, the real meaning of Freud’s theories has been almost completely obscured. In this course, we will look at Freud’s essential insights, exploring the meaning of the psychoanalytic revolution for our understanding of self and other, sexuality, dreams, madness, religion, language, freedom, violence, and death. Our itinerary will take us through careful readings of Freud’s own texts, but we will also devote significant attention to the radical transformation of psychoanalytic theory in the work Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Zizek.
Prerequisite: PL201 and one additional PL200-level course. Examines recent interpretations of psychoanalysis, informed by existential philosophy and new conceptions of the nature of language. These perspectives restore the fertility and sophistication of Freud's thought and present new opportunities/challenges for philosophical questioning.
PL350 Faith and Reason
This class will focus on the perennial tension between reason and faith and the history of philosophy's various attempts to understand and articulate this relationship.
The course will begin with a survey of philosophy's early struggle to define the criteria of true knowledge. We will quickly see that faith is typically defined as those beliefs that fail to meet the requirements of genuine knowledge. In failing to meet these requirements, we are left with the question: what are we to do with claims of faith and revelation? Can such claims be trusted? What is their value? And what is the connection between these claims and the claims of scientific reason?
The rest of the course will focus on the medieval and modern responses to these questions that form the backdrop of any contemporary discussion. Primary readings will be drawn from the works Augustine, Saadia, Anselm, Maimonides, Aquinas, Calvin, Paschal, and Kant.
PL387 Twentieth-Century Analytic Philosophy
Prerequisite: PL201 and one additional PL200-level course.
“The limits of language…mean the limits of my world.” (Wittgenstein)
Since its inception, philosophy has recognized the essential importance of language. The ancient pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus, for example, urged his audience to attend to the logos; a Greek term with many meanings, but one of which is language. And Socrates himself, when on trial for his life, claimed that the worst thing said by his accusers lay not in the charges of impiety or corrupting the youth, but rather that he was “a terribly clever speaker.” To be charged with abusing the power of language, its awesome capacity both to reveal and to conceal, appeared to him a far more serious and sweeping offense than one committed against either the gods or the youth of Athens. Language matters.
Yet few movements in the history of philosophy place more importance on the phenomenon of language than analytic philosophy. This school of thought, born around the turn of the 20th century, is sometimes referred to as “the linguistic turn.” And within such a framework the philosophy of language does not constitute just one branch of philosophy alongside others, such as the philosophy of knowledge, the philosophy of art, the philosophy of religion, and so forth. Instead, for analytic philosophy, all traditional philosophical problems need to be recast in terms of problems of language. And it is only in the careful analyses of language (hence the term “analytic”), of its hidden logical structures, its accomplishments of meaning, its use in all forms of discourse from scientific theory through ordinary, everyday contexts, that the true nature of philosophical problems can be discovered.
The use of such an analytic approach has led to some rather surprising claims. For example: that philosophical problems don’t need to be solved but rather dissolved through the practice of a kind of philosophical therapy; that moral language is really “non-sense”; or that traditional talk about consciousness or the mind is little more than confused chatter about some “ghost in a machine.” And furthermore, believing otherwise would seemingly be the result of a bewitchment by a deep-seated linguistic confusion!
This class, in addition to reflecting on these sorts of claims and the arguments for their support, will provide an overview of some of the most important thinkers and issues in 20th century analytic philosophy. What problems and developments motivated this “linguistic turn”? How did the understandings of language, meaning, and of the nature of philosophy shift in the course of the unfolding of this analytic practice? And what of the limits of analytic philosophy itself? Has its promise itself proved bewitching?
PL390 American Philosophy
Prerequisite: PL201 and one additional PL200-level course. A study of the evolution of American thought and language, from the "reflective primitivism" of the Puritans and the religious consciousness of Edwards and the transcendentalists, to the philosophical positions of American pragmatism, idealism, and naturalism.
John Winthrop told the Massachusetts Bay colonists that they were on an “errand into the wilderness” and they took that vision to heart. American philosophical thought was shaped in great measure by a consciousness of that wilderness and the vast frontier that was 19th and 20th century America. Categories like process and plurality take precedence over stability and unity in describing our experience of the world. This course will consider the development of an American angle of vision, looking briefly at the Puritans and Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening, and then focusing on the transcendentalists and the American pragmatists. Of particular interest is the development of pragmatism from C. S. Peirce through William James and John Dewey to its contemporary expression in writers like Richard Rorty.
PL391 Justice in a Global Perspective
This course will focus on issues of justice in the context of global relations and explores the foundations and content of justice beyond national borders. In the first part of the course, the topic will be global economic injustice. We will discuss the impact of state policies and individual actions on the lives of people living in other countries, and the duties of relatively wealthy states or individuals to ‘strangers.’ Poverty, cosmopolitan and non-cosmopolitan theories of justice, environmental injustices, the moral relevance of political borders, and collective responsibility are the main issues of discussion. In the second part of the class the emphasis will be on democracy, human rights, and the idea of development. Is democracy a western regime? Is it possible to separate democracy and westernization? Are human rights historical and context dependent? Is it possible to formulate a context sensitive version of human rights? How should we understand the idea of development? What are the injustices of the mainstream paradigm of development? The third part of the course will be devoted to a discussion of violence. The emphasis will be on justice of war and humanitarian intervention. When is it just for a state to resort to violence against another state? Is there a moral duty for humanitarian intervention; on what ground is a humanitarian intervention justified? Is humanitarian intervention desirable?