Some additonal information about this semester's courses can be found at the Arts and Sciences course descriptions page.
Fall 2020 (Term 2211)
2071/27799: Studies in Ancient Philosophy
Tuesday 10am-12:30pm CL 213
In this seminar we will try to reconstruct Plotinus' account of rational and non-rational desire in the Enneads. While Plotinus will be our focus, to reconstruct his views, we will need to understand the philosophical background against which he develops them. We will see that Plotinus builds his account of desire against the background of two distinct, but, for him, related reflections on animal and human desires, namely those of the late Plato (Philebus and Timaeus), and those of the Stoics. Plotinus seems to use Stoic views to fill some gaps in Plato, and he seems to appeal to Plato to "correct" what he thinks is in need of correction in some Stoic views. Far from indulging in some form of eclecticism, he puts Plato and the Stoics in dialogue with the aim to develop a new, and philosophically sophisticated way of explaining how desires are formed and what role emotions play in their arousal. The readings will include substantial parts of Ennead 4.3 and 4.4, of Plato's Philebus and Timaeus, and of Long&Sedley's The Hellenistic Philosophers (supplemented by excerpts from Seneca's Letters and Moral Essays).
2075/28452: Topics in Ancient Philosophy
Thursday 3:55-6:25pm Benedum 227
Ancient Cynicism and its Reception
Cross-listed with CLASS 2390/28439
Ancient cynicism is relatively understudied, even though it developed alongside the major branches of the traditional schools and continued to play a significant role within the intellectual culture throughout antiquity. In this seminar we are going to read and discuss the sources that inform about the origins and early development of cynicism in antiquity (Antisthenes, Diogenes and Crates), discuss the problems connected with the interpretation of the evidence, and reflect the possible social and political function of this movement. We shall then survey the vibrant echoes and imitations of cynicism in the first centuries CE (Demetrius of Corinth, Peregrinus Proteus, Julian). A number of methodological and philosophical questions will guide our discussion. For example, is cynicism a ‘philosophy’ at all, and if so, in what sense? How does one grasp and understand an intellectual position that is inherently unsystematic? How is it possible to construct a viable hermeneutics on the basis of mere anecdotes? What is the relationship of cynicism to political power? The seminar will conclude with an exploration of modern manifestations of philosophical cynicism in Michel Foucault and Peter Sloterdijk.
Thursday 12:10-2:40pm CL 213
This seminar focuses on three highly influential features of Hume's account of justice: the role accorded to rule-following; the artificial or conventional nature of justice; and the restricted application of justice to the contingent 'circumstances of justice' (in Rawls's later terminology). In the picture that emerges, justice consists in a disposition to follow rules (rules of property, promising, and political authority) that are binding when widely adopted as a means to resolve a predicament owing to deep, but contingent features of the human situation (concerning our moral psychology as well as our environment).
Hume's most significant discussion of these issues is in Book 3 Part 2 of A Treatise of Human Nature, which will be our primary quarry. However, in order to situate Hume's account of justice within his ethical theory, as well as his theory of the mind and of the passions more broadly, we will read substantial portions of all three books of the Treatise. And before reaching Hume, we will devote several sessions to Hobbes's treatment of closely related issues. Along the way, we will place Hume in dialogue with several contemporary writers dealing with related themes (in moral and political philosophy as well as the philosophy of language and metaphysics).
Tuesday 4:30-7pm CL 213
This seminar will explore Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment both with an eye to its overall aim and its place in the system of the critical philosophy and with special attention to its accounts of aesthetic and teleological judgment and the light they throw on the accounts of theoretical and practical judgment set out in the other two critiques. Prior familiarity with one or more of Kant’s critiques will be helpful, but will not be assumed.
Wednesday 10am-12:30pm CL 213
Frege and Russell are the principal inventors of modern logic and progenitors of the Analytic tradition in philosophy. The seminar will survey the thought of each, examining their views on logic, mathematics, truth, ontology, knowledge, and Russell as systematic philosophers in their own right without assumptions about the relevance of their ideas to contemporary philosophy. Accordingly, readings will be largely from primary sources. There will be some attention to interpretive debates among Frege scholars. In connection with these, the seminar will consider historiograhical issues posed by the history of early Analytic philosophy. About 2/3 of the semester will be devoted to Frege and 1/3 to Russell. No previous background will be presupposed
2310/30653: Moral Theory
Monday 3:25-5:55pm CL 216
No course description available
2335/30654: The Concept of Truth
Monday 12:10-2:40pm CL 213
The seminar aims to introduce students to the principal views about (i) the logic, (ii) the content, and (iii) the role in metaphysics of the concept of truth. We'll devote about equal time to these three topics. Theories we'll study include correspondence and coherence theories, minimalist and prosentential theories, and fixed-point and revision theories. We'll see that ideas about the logic bear on ideas about the content of the concept of truth, and the latter in turn affect ideas about the role the concept can play in metaphysics. I'll present the logic part in a way that presupposes familiarity only with classical first-order logic-more specifically, a proof system for it and its semantics.
2400/30655: Metaphysics-Epistemology Core
Wednesday 6:30-9pm CL 213
This seminar will introduce students to major topics in contemporary epistemology, metaphysics, and philosophy of language. We will focus on reading both classic works as well as contemporary treatments of the issues. The topics covered will include:
+ Modality (How do we model modal talk? What kinds of metaphysical commitments do modal notions incur? We will cover modal metaphysics and modal semantics.)
+ Frege’s Puzzle (Why do “Hesperus is Hesperus” and “Hesperus is Phosphorous” differ in their cognitive value?)
+ Epistemic Permissivism (Is there more than one way to rationally respond to a given body of evidence?), and
+ The Hyperintensional Turn in Metaphysics (Should we make finer-grained distinctions than those (typically) captured using modal tools?).
2600/10451: Philosophy of Science (Core)
Cross-listed with HPS 2501/10607
Wednesday 2:20-4:45pm Lawrence 231
This seminar is an intensive and advanced introduction to some of the main themes and problems in philosophy of science including the nature of evidence, theory comparison, and the theory-observation distinction, the meaning of theoretical terms, scientific explanation and scientific change.
2695/31759: Pragmatism: Anti-Representationalism
Neopragmatism and Global Expressivism
Tuesday 1:15-3:45pm Sennott Square 5129
This course focuses on a line of thought whose most prominent defenders are Richard Rorty, in a previous generation, and Huw Price, today. We will read index works of theirs, and beat about in some neighboring bushes. We’ll also read some of Bob’s pieces engaging with this tradition.
2900/10906: Teaching Philosophy
Friday 8:55-11:25am CL 213
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.
2950/16767: Dissertation Philosophy
Wednesday 1:15-3:45pm Sennott Square 5317
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.
The seminar naturally builds on topics explored in my 2018 seminar on value theory, but I am not assuming familiarity with the material discussed there.
Quid pro quo exchange (doing something in exchange for something else) is perhaps the least understood of the most basic modes of human interaction. To be sure, nobody doubts that exchange involves the mutual provision of goods or services among discrete individuals or groups. Yet the bilateral performance of ostensibly desired services no more establishes that an exchange has occurred (rather than a pair of good turns, say) than does the utterance of a sentence in the indicative mood establish that an assertion has been made (rather than a guess or a joke, say). And while one who wishes to understand what endows an utterance with assertoric force has recourse to a vast philosophical literature, the determinants of exchange, over and above the bilateral provision of goods or services, remain shrouded in darkness. As with the speech act, we may expect individual motives, shared understandings, and normative relations to figure centrally in an account of exchange. Yet, the contents of these motives, understandings, and relations, as well as their configuration in an explanation of the transactional form, remain obscure.
This seminar will tackle theoretical and applied questions pertaining to exchange. In the theoretical component, we will focus on: 1. the relation between exchange and other modes of collaboration and shared agency (e.g., going for a walk together); 2. the relation between doing A in exchange for B and doing A in order to get B; 3. the significance of the notion of debt for an understanding of exchange; and 4. the relation between exchange, on the one hand, and threats and coercion, on the other. In the applied component, we will take up some practical issues of social and political significance, such as: the place of exchange within the larger domain of political corruption, and the fraught role of exchange in friendship.
Monday 1:00PM-3:30PM - 1008-B CL
This course will explore the breadth of Descartes' remarkably unified thought as fully as can be accomplished within the span of a single semester. We shall also consider some of his interactions with contemporaneous figures.
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.