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                                        
Jennifer Whiting                                                                                                                         
Monday 12:00PM-3:30PM – 1008B CL                                                             
No course description available
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.
2170/30049         Kant: Practical Reason                                                                                         
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.
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.                                                                 
2310/30051         Moral Theory                                                                      
Michael Thompson
Wednesday 4:00PM-6:30 PM – 1008B CL
No course description available
2335/26480         Topics of Contemporary Philosophy                             
Thursday 6:00PM-8:30 PM – 1008B CL
Some of our best metaphysical theories seem to have atrocious practical consequences. In this seminar, we will focus on metaphysical theories concerning the nature of free will and persistence. 
Consider the free will debate: Hard determinists (like Pereboom), maintain that we do not have free will.  Furthermore, it seems plausible to maintain that if people lack free will, they are not morally praiseworthy or blameworthy for their actions. Pereboom himself accepts this conclusion—but can we?  Taking people to be morally praiseworthy/blameworthy for their actions is integral to our social functioning, or so it seems.  We will explore recent(ish) treatments of this and related issues by P.F. Strawson, Pereboom, Arpaly, Steward, and more.
Consider also the debate over persistence: Some philosophers (four-dimensionalists) maintain that people have parts spread out across time just like they have parts spread out across space. Just as you have a kidney as a spatial part, you also have a “stage” of yourself existing in 2012 as a temporal part.  Mark Johnston has recently argued that four-dimensionalists must take extended temporal parts to have moral value.  But it seems as though many of these temporal parts suffer throughout their existence. For example, suppose there is a temporal part of me that existed only throughout middle school, “Middle School Erica”. Middle School Erica was “born” at the start of 6th grade “died” at the end of 8th grade.  She suffered throughout her existence and experienced little joy.  If Johnston is correct, four-dimensionalism requires us to recognize the existence of many such creatures, which he calls “personites”.  But it seems like we are actively harming personites all the time. When my parents forced me to go to middle school every day, they were ensuring that “I” would be well-prepared for high-school and college.  But in forcing me to go to middle school, they were also forcing Middle School Erica to suffer throughout her entire existence. She never reaped the rewards of this suffering: She didn’t live long enough. If four-dimensionalism is true, then it seems as though many actions we think good and beneficial cause creatures with moral value to suffer mercilessly. Can we live with that?  We will explore recent discussions of this issue by Johnston, Kaiserman, Shumener. 
Course Objectives:
Introduce graduate students to recent philosophical literature on free will and persistence. I will assume that students have little/zero background in the free will and persistence literature before entering this seminar.  As such, we will read some of the classic literature on free will and persistence before addressing the potential practical consequences of views in these arenas. As for book-length treatments, we will pay special attention to Sartorio (2016) and Sider (2001).
  1. Demonstrate how certain views of free will and persistence (supposedly) have uncomfortable practical consequences, and
  1. Confront some methodological questions: Supposing that our ethical views and metaphysical views are truly in conflict, what should we do? Does this lend reason to alter our ethical views, metaphysical views, both, or neither?
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.
2480/30052         Metaphysics                                                                        
J. Dmitri Gallow
Tuesday 4:30 PM-7:00 PM – 1008B CL
No course description available
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                                                   
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.