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Past Course Offerings

Fall 2016 Course Offerings

PL 201 – Foundations of Philosophy

The first half of a yearlong, two semester introduction to philosophical questioning. Special attention is paid to the origins of philosophy, both with respect to its historical beginnings and its central themes, in the ancient world. Four focal points are: the emergence and development of the distinction between reality and appearance [metaphysics]; questions concerning the grounds for distinguishing between knowledge and opinion [epistemology]; the nature and status of values (ethical, aesthetic, religious, etc.) within the larger framework of human understanding [axiology]; and reflections on the nature of the human as such, or on the human condition [philosophical anthropology].

PL 202 – Philosophical Perspectives: The Project of Modernity

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.

PL 216 – Philosophical Perspectives: Asian Thought

An introduction to the philosophical and spiritual traditions of Asia, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. Comparisons with Western thought are explored.

PL 302 – Ethics

Explores, both historically and topically, the basic questions about values and obligation, the social and individual influences on moral judgment, the application of general guidelines to particular situations, and the search for a personal moral life.

PL 310 – Business Ethics

A study of the relevance of ethics to business, with special emphasis on the similarities and differences between business and personal life. Case studies and special readings cover such topics as the social responsibilities of business and the notion of the economic common good.

PL 314 – Environmental Ethics

An investigation of the relationship between human beings and the natural world, with attention to the ethical dimensions of our life-style and environmental policies. Students explore their obligations to the non-human world and to future generations. Fulfills ethics core requirement.

PL 332 – Security Ethics

It is estimated that about twenty percent of the world economy is generated by criminal enterprise. Increasingly, legitimate business is competing in markets where mafia, pirates, terrorists, and crime gangs are active participants. Security Ethics is an emerging subfield of business ethics which aims to understand these criminal risks (e.g. espionage, kidnapping, extortion, piracy) and calibrate ethical responses to them. On the basis of broad reading, this course suggests that an adaption of Just War theory is an ethical model.

PL 356.01 – Philosophical Aesthetics

Rev. John J. Conley, S.J. MWF 12:00 p.m. – 12:50 p.m. HU 50A

Some have considered philosophical aesthetics one of the most exalted keystones of the philosophical enterprise, representing an examination of the mind and emotions in relation to a sense of beauty. Are truth and knowledge relevant categories when it comes to evaluating a beautiful object? Reflections on the passions within the framework of philosophical discourse. Among the viewpoints typically considered are those of Plato, Aristotle, Goethe, Hegel, Heidegger, and Nietzsche.

PL 377.01 – Philosophy of Nature

Dr. Dale E. Snow MWF 10:00 a.m. – 10:50 a.m. HU 50A

Examines the changing view of nature from the period of early modern philosophers of nature, Newton and Bacon, through the Cartesian mechanization of nature adopted and extended by Enlightenment scientists and its rejection by Goethe and Schelling, who defended an organic and holistic view of nature. The basic opposition between the idea of nature as no more than mere natural resources to be exploited for human profit and nature as both alive and the source of all life is shown to be indispensable for understanding contemporary approaches to environmental ethics as well as the looming thread of a global ecological crisis.

PL 365.01 – Japanese Philosophy

Dr. Bret W. Davis Tuesday/Thursday 3:05 p.m. – 4:20 p.m. HU 50A

Students are introduced to some of the major themes and figures of philosophical thought in Japan. The focus is on traditional thought, such as that of the Zen Buddhist philosopher Dogen, and/or on modern thought, such as that of the Kyoto School.

PL 394.01 – Process Philosophy

Dr. Francis J. Cunningham Tuesday/Thursday 9:25 a.m. – 10:40 a.m. HU 50A

A study of the basic principles of process philosophy through Whitehead’s Process and Reality. Topics include actual entities and their formative principles, the process of feeling, the concrescence of an actual entity, actual entities, nexus and societies, the theory of perception.

PL 399.01 – Anthropology of Slavery

Dr. Paul Richard Blum Tuesday/Thursday 10:50 a.m. – 12:05 p.m.

The most frequently used argument against slavery is “slaves are human beings.” The course turns this statement into a question: What does it mean to be human if slavery is or was possible? The phenomenon of slavery, therefore, is taken as a touchstone concerning the consistency of a philosophy of humanity.

Philosophy Fall 2014 Course Offerings

PL320: LOGIC Professor Tim Stapleton MW 3:00 – 4:15

Logic is that branch of philosophy that studies reasoning and argument as such. In particular, it is concerned with distinguishing correct from incorrect, good from bad reasoning. When claims are made, positions adopted as true or false, attempts are sometimes made to justify them, to back them up with evidence or “proof.” Such justifications need not be directed only toward other people. We may simply want to ground or better establish the warrants for our own beliefs. In either event, reasons are given which offer evidence or support for those initial claims. Whether the issues involved be political, economic, scientific, legal, or philosophical, people reason (argue) from premises taken to be true to conclusions that allegedly follow.

The study of logic deals not directly with the truth or falsehood of the premises or evidence involved, but with the correctness or incorrectness of the reasoning process itself. What, for example, are correct forms (styles) of reasoning? What are some of the techniques that can be employed to construct sound and valid arguments? Why is it that arguments “work” at all? How does one distinguish between logical and psychological persuasion? What are some of the most common mistakes made in reasoning? And what is the relation between language and logic, between the way we speak and the way we think?

In addition to questions such as these, this course will look to formal logic as a branch of philosophy. Aristotle was among the first to study logic in a systematic way. His approach and insights provided the framework for almost all of logic until the twentieth century. Modern logic, aspiring to an almost mathematical-like rigor, entails considerably more sophisticated techniques for constructing and analyzing proofs. Students will learn to apply both traditional and modern approaches to the analysis and evaluation of reasoning and argument forms.

PL321 CROSS-CULTURAL PHILOSOPHY Professor: Dr. Bret W. Davis TT 3:05 – 4:20

What does it mean to do philosophy in the midst of today’s multicultural societies and cultural interaction on a global scale? Open dialogue between interlocutors with culturally different backgrounds (languages, worldviews, customs, beliefs, values, etc.), and critical comparison of culturally different ideas, have always been fundamental elements of philosophy. Yet both the problematic issues and the promising possibilities associated with these elements are magnified—and perhaps in some ways even transformed—when non-Western traditions are brought into the picture. Comparing and evaluating ideas becomes much more complex when it involves, not just different schools of thought within the Western tradition, but traditions of thought that developed in very different cultural contexts.

What is the relation between philosophy and culture? How should different cultures co-exist within the same society? How should Western philosophers approach other traditions of thought? How should dialogue between cultures take place? How have thinkers from other backgrounds approached these issues? Are there any “universals” that are shared by all human beings and that are foundational for all cultures? These are some of the questions that we will discuss in this class. The objective is for you to become conversant in the contemporary debates surrounding such issues, and thereby capable of actively participating in a philosophically informed manner in a multicultural society and in cross-cultural dialogue in an age of globalization.

In this class you will learn to understand and participate in debates about the ethics and politics of cross-cultural philosophy—including questions of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism—and about the hermeneutics (theory of understanding and interpretation) of cross-cultural philosophy. You will also learn to understand and evaluate a variety of philosophical theories about the nature of human beings and their relations to one another, to the natural environment, and to the cultures, languages, and traditions in which they find themselves.

PL331: NATURAL LAW AND NATURAL RIGHT Professor Paul J. Bagley MWF 12:00-12:50

The notion of “right” or “rights” is prominent in contemporary discourse. The concept and language of “right” is invoked in respect of our political institutions, our courts of law, and our consideration of relationships or responsibilities. There even is discrimination among “human rights,” “civil rights,” “animal rights,” “property rights,” “states’ rights,” together with “rights of expression,” “rights to privacy,” “rights to work,” and so forth. Further distinctions then are drawn among “civil laws,” “criminal laws,” “international laws,” “constitutional laws,” “laws of motion,” and “laws of conservation” other either energy or matter. This course offers an account of the predecessors to those various differentiations of rights and laws through an examination of the grounds of “natural law” and the grounds of “natural right.” With regard to the question of law, we will examine the ancient doctrines proffered by Plato and Aristotle as well as the influential natural law teaching proposed by St. Thomas Aquinas. The practical consequences of that natural law doctrine are expressed most persuasively in what may be termed the “rights tenets” formulated in papal encyclicals of the 19th and 20th centuries by Leo XIII and John Paul II. In respect of the question of right, we will study the modern perspectives articulated by Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, Benedict Spinoza, and John Locke. An overarching aim of the course will be to situate the question of the relationship between law and right in the context of the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns.

PL334: CONTEMPORARY POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY Professor Fuat Gursozlu TT 10:50 – 12:05

This course is an introduction to the fundamental ideas which shape the way we thinking politically: power, politics, political action, conflict, cooperation and contestation, authority, legitimacy, identity, resistance, and ethics of democracy. While exploring these ideas, we will seek to answer some of the central questions of contemporary political philosophy: Does democracy need a common identity, which unites the ‘body’ politic? In what ways the pluralistic nature of democratic societies challenge the identity of the people? How do different political theories understand the permanence of pluralism (cultural difference and ethical pluralism) and how do they deal with the inevitability of conflict in democratic societies? How should we understand the nature and limits of politics, power, and authority? What are the essential features of political action? What does it mean to act politically? In addition, we will explore the themes of identity/difference, violence towards differences, resistance and freedom, and democratic engagement. We will read the works of some of the most influential political philosophers of the 20th century such as Arendt, Rawls, Habermas, Foucault, Mouffe, and Carl Schmitt.


Holism in philosophy can be broadly defined as the view that the whole is primary and somehow more than the parts that make it up. It is opposed to atomistic theories that break reality down to a set of separate elements and the relations that obtain between them. Metaphysical holism is often accompanied by a holistic view of human experience whereby we have, or can be led to, awareness of the unity that is the fundamental nature of reality. Accordingly, holistic models of experience usually regard our everyday perceptions of plurality, diversity, and change as somehow illusory or as a limited appearance of the real nature of things. The earliest proponent of the holistic view in Western thought was the Ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides, who famously declared “what exists is now, all at once, one and continuous”. Though oft criticized, this core insight has persistently reappeared in philosophies from antiquity, down through the medieval and modern eras, and into our contemporary period. This course will examine the major Western articulations of holism with emphasis on the experience of unity/unity of experience, including the Neoplatonic philosophy of Plotinus, the Christian mystical tradition inspired by Pseudo-Dionysius, the early-modern philosophies of Spinoza & Leibniz, the philosophical idealism of Hegel and Bradley, and the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty. We will be exploring what these thinkers had to say about such questions as “What is the real nature of human experience?”; “Are there aspects of experience that transcend conventional distinctions like subject/object, self/other, or perceptual categories like space & time, cause & effect?”; “Would such experience count as ‘knowledge’, and what is its relation to science and reason?”

PL401: MORALS AND POLITICS IN THE LORD OF THE RINGS Professor Graham McAleer W 6:30 – 9:00

Reading selections from The Hobbit, Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings, this course discusses Tolkien's use of philosophical concepts respecting punishment, war, vengeance, mercy, honour, gallantry, and much more. Students must at least be familiar with the films. Readings from medieval as well as twentieth century philosophers are used. Some comparisons of intellectual vision will be made with Game of Thrones. The class is perfect for students interested in fantasy literature and the way big ideas underwrite our best stories.

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

Professor: Guise-Gerrity

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

Professor: Gursozlu

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

Professor: Thorndike

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

Professor: Boothby

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

Professor: Howell

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

Professor: Stapleton

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

Professor: Biss

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

Professor: Boothby

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

Professor: Witt

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

Professor: Stapleton

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 20thcentury 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

Professor: Cunningham

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

Professor: Gursozlu

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?

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