Courses:Spring Term 2021 (Term 2214)

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

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

 

Fall 2020 (Term 2211)

2071/27799: Studies in Ancient Philosophy

Sara Magrin
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

Christian Wildberg
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.

2160/31875: Hume                        

Jed Lewinsohn
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).

2170/30649: Kant

Stephen Engstrom
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.

2220/: Frege

Thomas Ricketts
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

Michael Thompson
Monday 3:25-5:55pm CL 216

No course description available

2335/30654: The Concept of Truth

Anil Gupta
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

Erica Shumener
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)

John Norton
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         

Robert Brandom            
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

Berry, Thomas
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

James Shaw
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.