Courses: Fall Term 2019 (Term 2201)

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

FALL 2019

2071/30048         Studies in Ancient Philosophy: Psychic Unity in Greek Philosophy
Jennifer Whiting
Monday 12:00PM-3:30PM – 1008B CL                                                             

Greek philosophers from Plato through the Stoics treated psychic structure as an important issue both in connection with the explanation of animal behavior in general and in connection with the explanation and evaluation of distinctively human forms of behavior (especially ethical ones).  Some (especially later figures like Posidonius and Galen) distinguished “parts” [merê, moria] from “capacities” or “powers” [dunameis] of soul and accused others of conflating the two.  Talk of parts was more common in ethical contexts, such as Plato’s Republic, talk of capacities or powers more common in more scientific contexts, such as Aristotle’s De Anima;  but concerns about unity were omnipresent, especially in connection with questions about what is required for responsible agency. 

We shall focus in this seminar on questions about: (1) how various philosophers individuated and conceived of psychic parts, especially in relation to ethical questions (such as what, if anything, a philosopher takes to distinguish genuine virtue from mere enkrateia); (2) the connection between embodiment and the division of the human soul into parts and so about the relation between body and soul; (3) the comparisons between psychic and bodily health and disease, and the explanatory asymmetries afforded by the distinctions between them.   A theme throughout will be the way in which the soul (originally taken to distinguish all animate from inanimate beings) came to be viewed as the locus of responsible agency and a person’s identity.   

We shall focus primarily on Plato’s views and Aristotle’s responses to them, with some attention (partly dependent on student interest) to later figures, especially the Stoic Posidonius (c.135 - c.50 BCE) and Galen (c. 130 - c. 220 CE).  

I do not mind if people use different translations, which can sometimes be instructive.   Because we’ll be looking at lots of Plato, I recommend getting Plato: the Complete Works, edited by John Cooper, though you might want paperback versions of individual texts (especially the Republic) for the purpose of bringing them to class. The relevant dialouges are the Phaedo, Timaeus and Phaedrus (as well as bits of the Laws).   For Aristotle, you’ll need access to the Nicomachean Ethics and the De Anima, but we’ll be reading smaller bits and I can make them (together with all later sources) available as needed. 

Two recent books you might want to acquire (though I’ll make copies available in the library) are: Hendrik Lorenz, The Brute Within: Plato and Aristotle on Appetitive Desire; and Rachana Kamtekar, Plato’s Moral Psychology: Intellectualism, the Divided Soul and Desire for the Good. 

For the first session on 8/26, please acquaint yourself with Plato’s Phaedo, paying special attention to:  63e-69e; 78d-88c; 91c-100e; and 105b-116a.  

There is no class on 9/2, but there is a relevant lecture on 9/3: 

Gabor Betegh, Laurence Professor of Ancient Philosophy, Cambridge University

“Plato on Health and Illness in the Phaedo and Timaeus” 

2075/30878         Topics in Ancient Philosophy: History of Evil               
Christian Wildberg
Thursday 3:00PM-5:30 PM – 1008B CL
Discussions of moral philosophy in both antiquity and modernity typically direct their attention to reasoned conceptions of goodness, such as virtues, values, and moral duties. Whether intentionally or inadvertently, a systematic study of the corresponding, and oftentimes more richly articulated and concretely imagined, conceptions of evil are neglected. And yet it seems that one cannot very well have a clear conception of one without having a clear conception of the other.
What is more, it seems to be a most pressing and important matter to understand how precisely evil can come about. Does evil originate exclusively through human agency, or does one have to suppose physical or perhaps even metaphysical origins of moral evil? And what difference does it make to construe the origin of evil in different ways? Is evil merely the privation of goodness? What did Kant mean by ‘radical evil’, and why did Hannah Arendt coin the phrase ‘banality of evil’?
The seminar will largely be conceived as a survey of relevant texts of all periods, such as Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, Plotinus, Thomas Aquinas, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Hannah Arendt, to name just a few. We shall work very intensively on the interpretation of these texts and what they have to say about the nature and origin of evil, and to try to come to grips with the historical shifts, modifications, and obfuscations the concept of evil undergoes.
2175/30049         Kant: Studies in Kant
Stephen Engstrom
Tuesday 1:30PM-4:00PM – 1008B CL
This course will be devoted to recovering an understanding of practical reason that was developed over the course of a long tradition in practical philosophy, extending from Plato and Aristotle up through Kant.  The primary text will be Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason, but readings will also include selections from Kant’s other writings, from Aristotle’s ethics, and from recent literature relating to practical reason.  The main aim will be to understand the idea that reason has a practical application, which constitutes a capacity for a distinct type of knowledge, practical knowledge, whose object is the good.  Topics that will need to be investigated include (on the epistemological side) reason and rational knowledge and the difference between theoretical and practical knowledge, and (on the psychological side) perception and desire and feeling and action.  Some prior familiarity with Kant’s ethics (and Aristotle’s ethics) will be helpful but, is not required.
2183/3159         Marx                                                                    
Michael Thompson
Wednesday 4:00PM-6:30 PM – 1008B CL
No course description available
2300/30050         Ethics (Core)                                                                        
Japa Pallikkathayil
Wednesday 10:00AM-12:30PM – 1008B CL
This course will survey some prominent, contemporary ethical theories.  We will also consider a few issues that have generated lively contemporary discussions.                                                                 
2410/30979         Philosophy of Wilfrid Sellars                                          
Robert Brandom
Wednesday 1:00 PM-3:30 PM – 1008B CL
We read and discuss Sellars’s most important works, beginning with his early papers, and including his masterpiece, “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind,” his treatment of alethic modality, and his classic trio of papers on abstract objects. The aim is to understand his attempt to “move analytic philosophy from its Humean to its Kantian phase.” To this end, a principal focus will be on what he made of Kant’s notion of the categories, and of the distinction between phenomena and noumena. A central concern is the significance Sellars assigns to normativity in understanding rationality, and how he sees it as related to the natural world as described by science.
2421/31498         Topics in Philosophy of Language: Modifying Meaning                               
Kate H. Stanton
Thursday 1:00PM-3:00PM–1008A CL

Recent work across linguistics, philosophy and cognitive science has presented evidence that competent speakers modify the meanings of their expressions during discourse. This course aims to get grips with this phenomenon and its broader significance. What can putative meaning modification data tell us about natural language, communication and communicators? We will draw on research across disciplines, and there will be a focus on collecting and analyzing actual usage data. We will also probably make up lots of words.

There are no prerequisites for this course, but it will be tailored to participants' backgrounds so please get in contact with me if you do not already have some background in either first order logic or linguistic formal semantics.


2480/30052         Metaphysics                                                                        
J. Dmitri Gallow
Tuesday 4:30 PM-7:00 PM – 1008B CL
Does my hand exist?  Do numbers exist?  Does the past exist?  Does God exist?  Is there a thing, the statue, which is distinct from the clay which composes it?  These are ontological questions.  Ontological questions are questions about which (kinds of) things exist.  Meta-ontological questions are questions about ontological questions.  Carnap and his intellectual descendants defend the meta-ontological position that many ontological questions are, in some sense, empty, trivial, or merely verbal.  For Carnap, the merely verbal questions were the 'external' questions about which language to adopt, contrasted with 'internal' questions which are answerable in the terms of the adopted language.  There are several neo-Carnapian positions defended nowadays.  For instance, so-called 'quantifier variantists' like Eli Hirsch think that we could very well speak a language which is precisely like ordinary English, except that quantified claims take on a slightly different meaning, in that the quantifiers range only over mereological simples (things which have no proper parts).  Then, sentences like "My hand exists" would be false, since my hand is not a mereological simple.  Similarly, we could speak a language very much like English, except that quantifiers range over all possible mereological fusions of simples.  Then, sentences like "My hand exists" would be true, as would sentences like "The fusion of my left ear and the Eiffel tower exists", and "The fusion of all cats exists".  For quantifier variantists, there is no fact of the matter about which of these quantifiers ranges overall and only the things that actually exist.  Though we may make a linguistic choice to speak about the fusion of all cats, there's no fact of the matter about whether the fusion of all cats is there to be spoken about prior to our linguistic choice.

In this (research) seminar, we will study these neo-Carnapian anti-realist positions, as well as some realist alternatives.  To lay my cards on the table: I'm very unsympathetic to this brand of anti-realism, and my sincere hope is to attract people to this seminar who will argue me out of my dogmatic slumber.  One question I will want to keep before our minds throughout the seminar is: how far should an anti-realist position extend?  Are debates about whether the past exists trivial or merely verbal?  What about debates over God's existence?  In Carnapian terms: what distinguishes the 'external' questions of whether there are numbers from the 'internal' question of whether there are odd perfect numbers?  And on which side do debates about the past/God/material constitution fall?

2600/10459         Philosophy of Science (Core)                                          
Mark Wilson
Cross-listed with HPS 2501/10630                                                                  
Monday 4:00PM-6:30PM – 1008C CL
This course will focus on central topics in philosophy of science including explanation, confirmation, theory change, the meaning of theoretical terms, and scientific realism. We shall combine a reading of some classic texts with more recent work.
Prerequisite(s): PLAN: Philosophy (PHD) or History and Philosophy of Science (PHD)
2900/10981         Teaching Philosophy                                                         
Berry, Thomas
Friday 9:30 AM-12:00 PM – 1008B CL
A practicum approach to train TAs and TFs wherein faculty and senior graduate students train the more junior TAs on how to teach philosophy. This course has been approved as an alternative to FACDEV 2200 for philosophy graduate students.
2950/17194         Dissertation Philosophy                                                   
Lewinsohn, Jed
Monday 4:00PM-6:30PM - 1008C CL
The purposes of this seminar (which has very successful counterparts at other top graduate programs in philosophy) 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.