Courses: Fall Term 2017 (Term 2181)

Some additonal information about this semester's courses can be found at the Arts and Sciences course descriptions page.

Each student must demonstrate reading proficiency in at least one of the following languages: ancient Greek, Latin, French, or German. Proficiency is demonstrated by passing a departmental language exam or by completing course work in the language of choice.


2041/30350         Studies in Aristotle:   Aristotle and Neo-Aristotelianism
Lennox, James G.
Wednesday 9:30AM-Noon – G28 CL

Cross-listed with HPS 2673/29599                                                  

Recently philosophers engaged in inquiry in ethics, metaphysics, and philosophy of science have been explicit in acknowledging inspiration from Aristotle and the Aristotelian tradition, often identifying their projects as “Neo-Aristotelian”.  In this seminar we will do a selective examination of work in this genre, focused not only on the merits and shortcomings of that work itself, but also on its connections with Aristotle’s philosophical inquiries into the same or related topics. It is hoped that a clear (or clearer) answer will emerge to the question, “What is it to be an Aristotelian (or “Neo-Aristotelian”) in the 21st century?”

2120/29423         Spinoza                                                                                 
Rescher, Nicholas

Tuesday 9:00-11:30 AM – 1001-D CL

The Judeo-Dutch philosopher Baruch/Benedict Spinoza (1632-1766) is one of the most original and influential figures in modern philosophy. The course will focus on his metaphysical and epistemological ideas, primarily on the basis of his classic ETHICS. Special attention will be devoted to his place in modern philosophy in relation to Descartes and Leibniz.


2170/29424         Kant                                                                                       
Engstrom, Steve

Thursday 4:00-6:30 PM – 1001 CL

This course aims at a general understanding of the Critique of Pure Reason.  It will examine the work’s central epistemological and metaphysical doctrines, concentrating on the Transcendental Aesthetic and the Transcendental Analytic.  Some attention will be given to historical context, contemporary significance, and recent interpretations, but the primary focus will be on the text.


2180/26970         Hegel                                                                                     
Brandom, Robert

Wednesday 1:00-3:30 PM – 1001 CL

In this seminar we will read Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, and the ms. of Brandom’s forthcoming book A Spirit of Trust: A Semantic Reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology.


2300/29425         Ethics (Core)                                                                       
Thompson Michael/Lewinsohn, Joseph

Tuesday 7:00-9:30 PM – 1001 CL

This seminar will focus on the topic of reasons for action, in general and in ethics.  The writers likely to be read include Thomas Nagel (The Possibility of Altruism), Elizabeth Anscombe, Bernard Williams, Christine Korsgaard, T. M. Scanlon and others. 


2335/29426         Topics Contemporary Philosophy:   Policy and Agency in Dark Ghettos                     
Whiting, Jennifer

Tuesday 12:00-2:30 PM – 1001 CL

Our primary text will be Dark Ghettos: Injustice, Dissent, and Reform, by Tommie Shelby (Pitt PhD), with reference to related work (especially by Elizabeth Anderson) in “non-ideal” political theory.   Though we’ll focus primarily on philosophical issues – such as the values on which policy discussions tend tacitly to rest and the tendency of those who make policy to pathologize and/or moralize behaviors that should perhaps be viewed as legitimate forms of dissent on the part of those who suffer systemic injustice – we’ll also draw (as Shelby and Anderson draw) on the work of a wide range of thinkers from e.g., law, economics, sociology and cultural theory.   Our aim will be to get through Shelby’s book by late October, when visitors from these fields will participate together with Shelby in a Humanities Center conference on his book, and then to spend the remainder of the term discussing drafts of one another’s final papers.  This is research seminar. 


2421/29427          Topics in Phil of Language:    Dynamic Semantics                                       
Shaw, James                                                        

Monday 1:00 -3:30 PM – 1001 CL

This course will introduce and investigate dynamic semantics. Very roughly, this is an approach to semantics on which meanings are identified with incremental changes to a body of information. This is meant to contrast with, or perhaps generalize, `static’ approaches on which meanings are supplied by referents, concepts, or truth-conditions. A special focus of the course will be on foundational questions about dynamic theories. What makes a theory dynamic, and not static? What kind of evidence could there be for a distinctively dynamic (or static) theory? Though these foundational questions will be our focus, we will keep them grounded through a number of case studies, likely drawn from anaphora, generalized quantification, presupposition, and epistemic modality.



2480/29428          Metaphysics: Laws of Nature                                         
Shumener, Erica

Wednesday 7:15-9:45 PM – 1001 CL

In this seminar, we will examine leading contemporary accounts of laws of nature (as well as accounts which deny that laws exist).  We will pay special attention to the distinction between Humean and Anti-Humean characterizations of laws. We will also consider how laws of nature feature in our best scientific and metaphysical explanations (if they do).


2505/29054         Topics in Philosophical Logic:   Truth and Paradox                                
Gupta, Anil

Thursday 1:00-3:30 PM – 1001 CL

The logical and semantic paradoxes had a decisive influence on twentieth-century philosophy. They transformed—some would say, destroyed—Frege’s logicism. They shaped Russell’s philosophical outlook. And the argumentation found in them lies at the center of the proofs of the celebrated theorems of Gödel and Tarski. The paradoxes continue to be, in my view, a continuing source of logical insights. In this seminar we shall survey the main contemporary approaches to the paradoxes—namely, Hierarchy, Fixed-Point, and Revision Theories—and we shall examine some recent contributions to the subject. I shall not assume fluency in advanced logic. My hope is that students will gain some of this fluency by applying logical techniques to the service of understanding the concept of truth. Nothing more will be presupposed than a familiarity with first-order logic and basic set theory.



2585/29429         Topics in Philosophy of Math:   Geometric Thought                              
Manders, Kenneth

Wednesday 4:30-7:00 PM – 1001 CL

We explore the view that there is a form (or forms) of specifically geometrical thought that is of fundamental importance to a philosophical conception of mathematical understanding.
As a basis, we survey the terrain.
1.  The role of the diagram in Euclidean-style geometry.
2.  Descartes' de-geometrization of geometrical problem treatment.
3.  Leibniz's, and 19th-century attempts to recover geometricality.
4.  Geometric thought in 20th-century mathematics (analysis, geometry, topology).


2600/10491         Philosophy of Science (Core)                                          
Norton, John D.

Cross-listed with HPS 2501/10690                                                                  

Tuesday 3:00- 5:30 PM – G28 CL

This course will focus on central topics in philosophy of science, from the era of logical positivism onwards: including explanation, confirmation, theory change, the meaning of theoretical terms, and scientific realism.


2610/30437         Special Topics in History of the Phil of Science          
Wilson, Mark                                                               

Cross-listed with HPS 2509/30438
Monday 10:00-12:30PM – 1001 CL

This seminar will focus on the foundations of classical mechanics, with a particular emphasis on how altering conceptions of matter have affected wider topics within philosophy more generally, continuing onto the present day.  Rather than comprising a truly unified conceptual domain, the term “classical mechanics” embraces a number of distinct themes that lie in tension with one another.  We will isolate some of these threads and observe how they play out within the writings of Descartes, Leibniz, Newton, Duhem and other historical figures.  By untangling these divergent strands sympathetically, we will be able to correct a goodly amount of “classical mechanics” folklore that distorts orthodox philosophy of science and metaphysical thinking even to this day.  No especial technical background will be presumed; just a willingness to think about billiard balls and clocks in a disciplined way.