Courses:Fall Term 2021 (Term 2221)

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

Fall 2021 (Term 2221)

PHIL 2010 - Greek Philosophical Texts

Magrin, Sara

T/H - 4:15pm-5:30pm

 

This seminar is meant to introduce students to the reading of ancient Greek philosophical texts in their original language. It is a translation intensive seminar accompanied by an in-depth grammar review. Students who enroll in this course are expected to have successfully completed at least one year of elementary Greek or the equivalent.

Our focus text will be Plato’s Meno, but in order to facilitate the grammar review and to improve proficiency in the language, we will also translate passages from other Platonic dialogues and, occasionally, excerpts from non-philosophical texts. There will be regular translation tests and grammar exercises, and the final grade will be based on 1) the results of tests and exercises, 2) active participation, 3) a midterm exam (translation without dictionary of selected passages, and some grammar questions), 4) a final exam (analogous to the midterm, but with more texts), 5) a short final paper (10/15 pages).

 

 

PHIL 2071 - Studies in Ancient Philosophy

Rosen, Jacob

H – 1:00pm-3:30pm

We will study Aristotle’s writings on continuity and infinity, in the context of his arguments against Democritean atomism and his theorizings about physical change. Our main texts will be Physics III and VI, and On Generation and Corruption I. 2.

 

PHIL 2075 - Topics in Ancient Philosophy 
(Cross listed with Class 2390)
Wildberg, Christian
M - 4:00pm-6:30pm

No course description available.

 

PHIL 2171 - Kantian Ethics

Rescher, Nicholas

T – 9:00am-11:30am

The objective of the Seminar is to furnish a comprehensive general overview of Kant’s ethical thought and provide a grasp of his position on moral philosophy as a systematic whole. The object is to clarify Kant’s moral doctrines, and elucidate his reasons for taking the position he does, with particular emphasis on Kant’s theory of rational systematization as it bears on issues of value and teleology (i.e., Kant’s theory of knowledge outside the specifically informative arena). Attention till also be devoted to Kant’s specifically moral concern with the concepts of obligation, laws, will, practical reason, autonomy (or freedom), and virtue.

The texts to be used for the Seminar are:

CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON, Tr. P. Guyer and A. W. Wood (Cambridge University Press) ISBN: 0521657296 or Tr. N. K. Smith (St. Martin’s Press) ISBN: 65-15126.

CRITIQUE OF PRACTICAL REASON, Tr. L. W. Beck (Prentice Hall) ISBN: 0023077530

CRITIQUE OF JUDGMENT, Tr. J. H. Bernard (Free Press) ISBN: 0028475003

KANT’S ETHICAL PHILOSOPHY, Tr. J. W. Ellington (Hackett) ISBN: 0812203204

 

 

PHIL 2180 - Hegel 

Bob Brandom.

T – 1:30pm-4:00pm

 

In this seminar we will read large parts of both Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, and Brandom’s A Spirit of Trust


PHIL 2300 - Ethics (CORE) 
Theunissen, Nandi
W – 1:00pm-3:30pm

This is a preparatory seminar on the foundations of ethics in three parts. In Part I we think through some representative starting points for ethics in the history of the tradition. We consider how key concepts, variously, the right and the good, the moral and the non-moral good, virtue and benefit, and morality and happiness, are understood and theorized in relation to one another.  In Part II, we turn to Kant’s conception of the nature of morality and the task for moral philosophy, reading defenders and critics of Kant's approach. We consider Kant’s influential distinction between two kinds of should, or two forms of normativity, and his Groundwork claim that in the case of moral normativity there are special difficulties in establishing its validity.  This will serve as a point of entry into contemporary discussions about the ground of normative reasons for action, kinds of reason, the “source” of moral norms, and the nature of motivation—the focus of Part III.  In this way we will work through representative positions in meta-ethics: varieties of constructivism, realism, and naturalism. Together with extracts from Kant and Aristotle, we read contemporary classics by H. A. Prichard, Thomas Nagel, Christine Korsgaard, T. M. Scanlon, Judith Jarvis Thomson, Philippa Foot, and others.  

 

PHIL 2330 - Political Philosophy

Pallikkathayil, Japa

H – 10:00am-12:30pm

 

This course will examine different ways of responding to ongoing injustice. How may people use their role as consumers to promote social change? Here we will consider work by Waheed Hussain, Nicole Hassoun, and others. When, if ever, may people use modes of protest or resistance that involve violence or break the law? Here we will use Rawls’s account of civil disobedience as a starting point. When, if ever, may people pursue revolution? Here we will consider work by Christopher J. Finlay and others.

 

 

PHIL 2335 - Topics in Contemporary Philosophy

Topic: Perception

Gupta, Anil

M – 10:00am-12:30pm

 

The seminar will be devoted to understanding the role of experience in empirical reasoning. We’ll study some classical and some contemporary accounts of this role, and we’ll also look at a proposal that I have been developing. The authors whose works we’ll read include Russell, Moore, Sellars, and McDowell.   The seminar is designed to prepare students to participate in the Perceptual Experience and Empirical Reason conference (PEER 2021) to be held at Pitt from 3 to 5 December 2021. Details about the conference are available here: https://peer2020.weebly.com. We'll read papers that will be discussed at that conference.


PHIL 2460 - Epistemology
Topic: Topics in Social Epistemology
Dorst, Kevin
M – 1:00pm-3:30pm

 

Description: This course will be a tour through a variety of topics in the emerging field of formal social epistemology. Readings will likely be not only from philosophy, but also from related areas in economic, political science, and perhaps psychology. The goal will be to develop a familiarity with both a set of tools, and with the socially-relevant topics they can be fruitfully applied to. Topics may include: bias (in algorithms, or in people/society); the structure of group information networks (including the dangers of groupthink and polarization); expertise (including how and why experts can go systematically wrong); and so on.

 

PHIL 2485 Personal Identity

Whiting, Jennifer

W – 4:00pm-6:30pm

 

Locke famously distinguished persons from the human animals with which they coincide, thus launching a tradition of treating the conditions for the existence of persons and their persistence over time as "psychological” and determined at least partly by irreducibly first-personal aspects of a person’s existence.  Many philosophers have resisted this move, identifying persons with the animals with which they coincide, taking the conditions for their existence and persistence over time to be those of the animal kind (typically human but possibly other) to which they belong.  Others, seeking like “animalists” to treat persons in the “scientific” way they treat other beings, offer “four-dimensionalist” alternatives.
 
 
Our discussion will be framed by these views, but pay special attention to questions about (1) the nature of persons as responsible agents; (2) the sources of a person’s unity over time and the status of these sources as necessary or contingent (perhaps even on cultural practices); (3) the relation between “persons” and “selves” and what roles (if any) reflexive attitudes play in constituting a person’s persistence over time; and (4) the sorts of implications metaphysical accounts of personal identity are sometimes claimed to have for the rationality of concern for ourselves and others. We plan to read classic and contemporary papers by e.g., Wiggins, Williams, Parfit, Shoemaker, Lewis, Ishiguro, Korsgaard, Velleman, Whiting, Snowdon, Schechtman, Braddon-Mitchell, Sider, Heller, Merricks, Miller.
 

PHIL 2600 – Philosophy of Science (CORE)

(Cross Listed with HPS 2501)

Wallace, David

W – 10:00am-12:30pm

 

This course will cover central topics in general philosophy of science,such s theory change, scientific realism, reduction and emergence, explanation, and confirmation. We will read a mixture of classic texts and more recent work.

 

PHIL 2900 - Teaching Philosophy
Berry, Tom
F – 9:00am-11:30am

 

This course is designed to provide information and training to new Teaching Assistants in the Department; it will meet on a bi-weekly basis throughout the Fall and Spring terms.  The course has two aims.  First, the course will offer instructional guidance through presentations by professors, older teaching assistants, and representatives from the University Center for Teaching and Learning (UTCL) and provide new TAs with a forum in which to discuss their own concerns and lessons from the classroom.  Second, the course will assist the new TAs in developing a teaching philosophy and preparing a teaching portfolio.

 

PHIL 2950 - Dissertation Seminar

Shaw, James

W – 1:00pm-3:30pm

 

The purposes of this seminar are multifold. It gives students working on dissertation projects a community of others in the same boat, it provides them with feedback on work in progress, and practice presenting their work to an audience wider than their committee. (This is important for the impression they make on the job market.) Supposing that each student admitted to candidacy makes a seminar presentation each semester, it hastens time to completion by imposing interim deadlines on the road to a completed dissertation. The seminar gives students who have been comprehensively evaluated, but not yet defended a prospectus, examples of other students who have successfully negotiated the transition. This course is offered every fall and spring.

3/23/2021



PAST SEMESTERS - Spring 2021 (Term 2214)

2041/31674         Studies in Aristotle
Whiting, Jennifer 
T-1:45PM-4:15PM
 
Aristotle’s account of human cognition sits between his accounts of divine cognition (“thought thinking itself”) and his accounts of the forms of cognition characteristic of non-rational animals. The latter share, to various degrees, in forms of perception and memory that give rise to bodies of what Aristotle calls “empeiria”. This explains his willingness to speak of some non-human animals as “more phronimos” than others: they share to a greater degree in the forms of empeiria associated with phronêsis, which Aristotle often treats – along with epistêmê and technê – as a distinctively human form of knowledge. But Aristotle does not distinguish phronêsis from the forms of empeiria with which it is associated in the way that he distinguishes technê and epistêmê from the forms of empeiria with which they are associated: he does not tie phronêsis to the sort of grasp of “universals” and “causes” to which he ties theoretical and productive forms of knowledge. Phronêsis is focused on “particulars” (apparently as such). So too are sunesis (which Ross renders ‘understanding’) and gnômê (in virtue of which people are said to be “forgiving”). And the connection with forgiveness raises a question about whether (and if so to what extent) our affections are involved in forms of cognition that are focused on particulars as such – as for example in our relationships with one another.

The course will be organized around Aristotle’s conception of phronêsis, both individual and political. In what ways does phronêsis resemble and/or differ from divine thought? In what ways does it resemble and/or differ from various forms of technê? And in what ways does it resemble and/or differ from various forms of epistêmê? This will require us to distinguish various forms of epistêmê: the “more exact”, for example mathematics, in which empeiria (as distinct from logos) plays little role; and the “less exact”, for example biology, in which empeiria plays greater roles. It will also require us to distinguish various forms of technê, the comparison of phronêsis to medical expertise being especially relevant. We may also attend to what Aristotle says in his discussion of justice about epieikeia (which is often rendered ‘equity’, sometimes ‘mercy’): its value lies in the fact that, although law must be universal, there are some matters about which universal prescriptions cannot be correct.

This is a “research seminar”, which means that after a series of lectures in which I introduce the issues, students may pursue projects according to their own interests. For example, those interested in the law might draw on contemporary work such as R. Dworkin’s “Hard Cases” or Gallie’s “Essentially Contested Concepts”. And those interested in theology might investigate the special problems associated with divine objects of thought, e.g., the individuality (if not particularity) of a divine thinker and the differences between human and divine thought of such thinkers. I would especially welcome someone willing to explore what Aristotle means when he says that poetry, being more universal, is “more philosophical” than history. But any project that explores the different roles played by universals, particulars, and empeiria in Aristotle’s thought is fair game.

Knowledge of Greek is not presupposed. I will routinely use Greek terms (as here) but will always explain them as we go. This is actually less confusing given the way in translators sometimes render a single Greek term in multiple ways or various Greek terms in the same way. I may organize a Greek reading group for those who are interested.

 
2130/31673         Leibniz 
Rescher, Nicholas 
Th-8:55AM-11:25AM
 

A comprehensive examination of the philosophy of Leibniz with primary emphasis on those of his ideas, especially in metaphysics and epistemology, which exercised a powerful influence upon later philosophers.

Note: Session attendance is expected of those enrolling for course credit.

 

2180/31652         Hegel  
McDowell, John 
Th-2:20PM-4:50PM
 

In a characteristic passage, Hegel says: “I is something completely unitary, something universal.  When we say I, we mean, to be sure, an individual; but because everyone is I, what we say thereby is something wholly universal.”  (Encyclopedia §381 Zusatz.)

I want to work toward understanding what he means by saying this.  I will consider some passages in the Phenomenology and some passages in the Science of Logic.  And I want to discuss the conception of an absolute-idealist understanding of the first person that is recommended by Sebastian Rödl in Self-Consciousness and Objectivity: An Introduction to Absolute Idealism, and in some recent papers of his.  This will probably require a substantial detour into some of the works of Frege.

I will not bind myself by a syllabus; there will be no definite agenda for the successive weeks.  My procedure will be exploratory and possibly inconclusive.  There will probably be false starts and lines of inquiry that lead nowhere.  If you think you will find this intolerably frustrating you should stay away from this class.

 

2300/31651         Core Ethics
Theunissen, Nandi
W-1:15PM-3:45PM
 

This is an advanced introduction to the foundations of ethics. We begin with basic topics from Kant about the nature of morality and the task for moral philosophy, reading defenders and critics of Kant's approach. This will serve as a point of entry into contemporary discussions about the ground of normative reasons for action, and the nature of moral and other forms of normativity.  In this way we will work through leading positions in meta-ethics: varieties of constructivism, realism, and naturalism. We will end with an exploration of Plato's question about whether it is good for the just person to be just.

 

2330/29141            Political Philosophy
Pallikkathayil, Japa
T-10:00AM-12:30PM
 

This course will examine different conceptions of interpersonal freedom.  What is it to be free from others and how can being free from others be consistent with being subjected to the coercive authority of the state?  We will consider historical (including Rousseau, Kant, and Mill) and contemporary (including Petit, Ripstein, Ebels-Duggan, and Rawls) treatments of these issues.  

 

2385/31766            Rationality
Dorst, Kevin 
M-4:30PM-7:00PM
 

How rational are people?  Answering this question requires combining both descriptive and normative methods: we need to know both about psychological results about how people do reason, as well as epistemological and ethical theories about how they should reason.  As such, we'll approach the topic by focusing on the philosophical underpinnings of the contemporary empirical literature in behavioral economics and psychology, much of which claims to demonstrate human irrationality. The goal will to be to develop fluency with several foundational philosophical theories of rationality, and to see how those theories bear on the interpretation of empirical results.  This will include both big-picture questions about whether and how psychological research can demonstrate human irrationality, as well as detailed questions about how to interpret the evidence relating to particular biases such as overconfidence, the conjunction fallacy, hindsight bias, and so.

 

2421/31678         Topics in Philosophy of Language: Internet speech
Stanton, Kate
M-10:00AM-12:30PM
 

What does common ground look like on a Twitch thread? How does conversational implicature work in an echo chamber? Is trolling a speech act? What is the semantic value of a meme? How do we use big data to inform our semantic models? If NLP tells us that nouns are vectors and adjectives are matrices, should we drop the typed lambda calculus?

This is a course on internet speech; how it forces us to challenge and revise assumptions made in ideal philosophy of language and linguistics. We will be working with internet corpora and papers from across philosophy, linguistics and computer science, but there are no prerecs, so jump in and let's find out how the internet can be an ideal data source for non-ideal linguistic theory.

 

2480/31676         Metaphysics
Schumener, Erica
W-4:30PM-7:00PM
 

We will critically examine leading metaphysical theories of persistence--theories of what it is for an object to persist over time. We will investigate whether and how our accounts of persistence impact our ethical theories and theories of practical rationality. Specifically, we will focus on how theories of persistence impact questions relating to time biases. We will address the following questions: Do we have good reasons to discount valuable experiences occurring in the distant future? Do certain accounts of persistence license temporal-discounting while others do not? The readings for the seminar will include articles and book chapters in metaphysics and ethics.

 

2500/22925         Logic (Core) 
Wilson, Mark
T & TH 5:00PM-6:15PM
 

This core course will review the basic tenets of modern logic relevant to a philosophical career: syntax and semantics of first order logic, basic modal logic, completeness and incompleteness, basic results in model theory and other topics as time permits.

 
2625/31647         Recent Topics in Philosophy of Science
Batterman, Robert 
cross-listed with HPS 2622/31646
Th-10:00AM-12:30PM
 

This course will examine a prevalent scientific methodology that has almost completely been ignored by philosophers of science. It is sometimes called a "hydrodynamic approach" to many-body systems. It focuses on properties at mesoscales in between the atomic/fundamental level and the continuum/phenomenological level. By looking at this approach, we will develop a more nuanced and accurate picture of the relations between theories and models at different scales than that which is currently in favor in the philosophical literature. We will work through a new book manuscript on the topic with additional readings.

 

2627/31649         Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics
Wallace, David
Cross-listed with HPS 2667/31648
W-10:00AM-12:30PM
 

We will discuss some of the central conceptual questions of modern quantum mechanics, inlcuding quantum measurement problem, non-locality, hidden-variable theories, dynamical-collapse theories, the Everett (many-worlds) interpretation, and the metaphysics of quantum mechanics. I will not assume prior knowledge of quantum mechanics, though I will make use of mathematics at about the level of elementary calculus.

 

2900/23067         Teaching Philosophy
Berry, Thomas
F-9:25AM-11:55AM
 

This course is designed to provide information and training to new Teaching Assistants in the Department; it will meet on a bi-weekly basis throughout the Fall and Spring terms.  The course has two aims.  First, the course will offer instructional guidance through presentations by professors, older teaching assistants, and representatives from the University Center for Teaching and Learning (UTCL) and provide new TAs with a forum in which to discuss their own concerns and lessons from the classroom.  Second, the course will assist the new TAs in developing a teaching philosophy and preparing a teaching portfolio.

 

2950/22926         Dissertation Seminar
Shaw, James
 W-1:15PM-3:45PM
 

The purposes of this seminar are multifold. It gives students working on dissertation projects a community of others in the same boat, it provides them with feedback on work in progress, and practice presenting their work to an audience wider than their committee. (This is important for the impression they make on the job market.) Supposing that each student admitted to candidacy makes a seminar presentation each semester, it hastens time to completion by imposing interim deadlines on the road to a completed dissertation. The seminar gives students who have been comprehensively evaluated, but not yet defended a prospectus, examples of other students who have successfully negotiated the transition. This course is offered every fall and spring.

12/01/20