Bard College Catalogue 2016-17
Daniel Berthold (director), Thomas Bartscherer, Norton Batkin, Roger Berkowitz, Marco Dees, Jay Elliott, Garry L. Hagberg, Robert Martin, David Shein, Kritika Yegnashankaran, Ruth Zisman
The philosophy curriculum is designed to provide students in any field a general understanding of the nature and history of philosophical inquiry. Students who major in philosophy have access to more specialized courses, which can serve as the foundation for graduate study.
Areas of Study
The core of the program consists of courses in the history of philosophy and such traditional areas of philosophic study as ethics, political philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology, logic, the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of language, and aesthetics. In addition, several seminars each year are devoted to the work of one philosopher, for example, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, or Sartre.
Students who want to moderate in philosophy are expected to take three courses in philosophy in the Lower College. No specific courses are required for Moderation, but students are strongly encouraged to take the two-semester History of Philosophy in their sophomore year. While not a requirement for Moderation, this sequence is a requirement for majors, and fulfilling it early will prepare students well for subsequent courses. Most students also take one of the Introduction to Philosophy courses prior to Moderation; these courses provide an orientation to philosophic methodologies and themes in texts ranging from Platonic dialogues to 21st-century works. Majors are expected to take at least seven philosophy courses altogether, at least four during their studies in the Upper College.
Juniors take the writing-intensive Philosophy Research Seminar (for details, see Philosophy 302) as well as a 300-level Junior Seminar. Students intending to apply to graduate schools in philosophy are encouraged to take at least one course in ancient philosophy, at least two courses in modern philosophy (17th through 19th centuries), at least one course in 20th-century philosophy, symbolic logic, and at least one course in ethics or political philosophy. Each philosophy major determines the topic of his or her Senior Project in consultation with a faculty adviser.
Recent Senior Projects in Philosophy
- “Aesthetic Phenomenology through Kant and Schopenhauer”
- “Extraordinary Language: Apprehending Wonder in Woolf and Wittgenstein”
- “The Mind, the Brain, and the Self: The Limits of Sense and Nonsense in Psychology and Neurology”
- “A Quest for Justice: Hannah Arendt and the Redeeming Power of Judgment”
Introductory courses are numbered in the 100s. Courses numbered in the 200s, while more specialized in content, are also generally appropriate as first courses in philosophy. Courses numbered in the 300s are more advanced and require previous courses in philosophy and permission of the instructor. Tutorials may also be taken; recent subjects include Hume, Kant’s second and third Critiques, Hegel, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, and Quine.
The following descriptions represent a sampling of courses from the past four years.
Introduction to Philosophy: Multicultural Perspectives
An introduction to such major themes as the nature of reality and our capacity to know it, ethics and justice, and conceptions of how one should live. Readings include selections from a diverse range of traditions, including Western, Hindu, Buddhist, Chinese, African, Native American, and feminist texts.
Introduction to Philosophy
Western philosophers address questions that most of us find puzzling. Do we have free will? Do we know what the world around us is really like? Does God exist? How should we treat one another? The class examines historical and contemporary texts that address these and other central themes of the philosophical tradition.
Introduction to Ancient Philosophy
cross-listed: classical studies
In ancient Greece and Rome, philosophy was more than an academic study: it was a way of life, focused on the achievement of happiness through training in wisdom. This course introduces students to the practice of philosophy, beginning with Socrates and his disavowal of knowledge, method of dialogue, public trial, and exemplary death. Attention then turns to Plato and Aristotle, and finally to the critiques of classical philosophy developed by the major philosophical schools in postclassical Greece and Rome, including cynicism, epicureanism, stoicism, and skepticism.
“What Is” Philosophy?
A survey of canonical philosophical texts that pose the question, “What is . . . ?” What type of knowledge do we anticipate or hope to receive when asking this question? What value do we attribute to such knowledge? This class serves as an introduction to philosophical thinking through these questions and the important philosophical ideas to which they give rise, such as the concept of essence, the nature and ends of knowledge, and the systems by which values are created.
cross-listed: human rights, sts
An ancient tradition claims that we have a detailed set of inborn capabilities and limitations, rich in implications for how we live our lives and organize society. An opposing tradition emphasizes plasticity and indeterminacy. If there is a human nature, what is it, who can speak with authority about it, and what implications does it have for changing what we are? Readings from philosophy, psychology, evolutionary biology, and other fields.
Introduction to the Philosophy of Science
What, if anything, separates science from pursuits such as religion, philosophy, and literature? Are scientific facts the result of pure, objective reasoning, or do they reflect the ideologies and biases of their creators? How do we tell good science from bad science? This course considers these and other questions concerning the nature of science and the place of science in society. Readings include classic works (Hume, Popper, Kuhn) and more recent texts from feminist (Longino) and nonscience (Latour) perspectives.
Informal Logic: The Art of Reasoning
This course is devoted to the development of skills of analysis and evaluation of reasoning and argumentation. Students practice techniques of diagramming and analyzing arguments and learn methods of detecting a wide range of common fallacies of reasoning. The course proceeds through progressively more complex examples of reasoning and argument, culminating in the analysis of a number of Supreme Court decisions.
To ask “why” of the world is to refuse to take the world as a given. Indeed, to ask “why” is to engage in an act of philosophical thinking—to demand analysis, reflection, thought. The history of philosophy can, in fact, be read as orbiting around a series of important “why” questions: Why being and not nonbeing? Why good and not evil? Why suffering? Why death? This course explores these questions and the ways in which they have been posed and answered throughout the history of philosophy.
Experiments in Ethics
Why do people disagree about moral questions? Is free will an illusion? Does the smell of fresh-baked cookies make people nicer? This course introduces cutting-edge thinking about these and other questions, with a special focus on the interplay between the conceptual investigations of moral philosophers and the experimental methods of empirical psychologists. Topics include the role of emotion in moral judgments, the roots of moral life in nonhuman primates and young children, and the possibility of moral progress in human history.
Introduction to Ethics
This course introduces the major texts, figures, ideas, and debates in the tradition of moral philosophy, with an emphasis on the interplay between theoretical debates about the foundations of ethics and practical engagement with moral issues such as abortion, euthanasia, poverty, and terrorism. Foundational questions discussed include: How is it possible to argue meaningfully and fruitfully about ethical questions? Can we make genuine ethical progress? What can philosophy contribute to the work of understanding and resolving real-world ethical problems?.
Thoughts for the Times
Nietzsche’s Untimely Meditations suggests that the author’s thoughts are “untimely” precisely because he questions the values and practices of his time. In “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death,” Freud suggests there are certain events in human history that demand our thinking. To what extent should we understand the task of philosophy as a task of thinking for our times? Is this role better served by politicians, journalists, or poets? The course explores the work of philosophers who have addressed these and related questions.
Introduction to Analytic Philosophy
Analytic philosophy, growing largely from the work of Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore at Cambridge University in the late 1890s, has remained a vibrant force in Western philosophy. The class considers five formative texts: Moore’s “A Defense of Common Sense”; Russell’s “On Denoting”; A. J. Ayer’s Language, Truth, and Logic; J. L. Austin’s How to Do Things with Words; and Saul Kripke’s Naming and Necessity.
Foundations of the Law
Philosophy 167 / Political Studies 167
See Political Studies 167 for course description.
History of Philosophy I
This course closely examines selected texts in the history of philosophy, emphasizing historical connections and developments through the centuries from ancient Greece to 18th-century Britain. Authors include Plato (Republic), Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics), Epictetus, Augustine (Confessions), Aquinas, Descartes (Meditations), Spinoza, Locke (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, selections), Berkeley (Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous), and Hume. Issues include the philosophy of knowledge, art, education, society, ethics, religion, reason, perception, and, centrally, philosophical methodology.
History of Philosophy II
A close examination of selected texts in the history of philosophy, emphasizing historical connections and developments from the 18th century to the 20th. Authors studied: Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Sartre, Kierkegaard, Russell, William James, and Wittgenstein. The class keeps questions of philosophical methodology in mind as it proceeds through issues in ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of perception, and philosophy of language.
Existentialism is a philosophic, literary, artistic, and social movement that emerged during the Second World War in France, but its roots trace back to the Danish Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and the German atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in the 19th century. Close study of selected writings of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, and Heidegger focuses on themes that have come to be regarded as common existentialist preoccupations, such as the rebellion against rationalism and the corresponding emphasis on subjectivity and perspectivism, among others.
Contemporary Political Theory
cross-listed: human rights, political studies
To Aristotle, a “state is among the things that exist by nature,” and it is only in a political community that human beings are fully capable of living well. For many modern thinkers—beginning with Hobbes in the 17th century—the state is at best a useful artifice designed to keep the peace among naturally conflicting interests, and at worst a monstrous fraud whereby those in power oppress their subjects in the name of the “common good.” The course looks at the philosophical tradition of reflection on these questions.
History and Philosophy of Evolutionary Biology
Philosophy 231 / History 231
Topics addressed in this survey of evolutionary theory from the 18th century to the 20th, include the earth sciences, classification of life, pre-Darwinian concepts of biological evolution, Darwin and Wallace’s theory of evolution by natural selection, the problem of inheritance, and the Modern Synthesis. Also considered: debates about adaptationism, genetic determinism, evolutionary ethics, and evolutionary progress. A recurring theme is the reception of Darwinian evolution among scientists and the broader public.
Philosophy and the Arts
This course explores the ways that philosophers (and philosophically engaged critics) have approached issues concerning the nature and value of art. After a discussion of Plato’s influential account of representation and the place of art in society, the class turns to questions raised by painting, photography, and film. Readings: Hume and Kant on taste, Stanley Cavell on the moving image, and Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin on mass culture.
The Critical Turn: Aesthetics after Kant
An examination of major contributions to philosophical aesthetics, beginning with Kant’s Critique of Judgment, which transformed 18th-century debates about beauty, taste, and art and continues to inform accounts of criticism and the arts today. Particular attention is given to discussions of the standard of beauty, progress in the arts, art’s relationship to truth, art and the theatrical, and the antagonism of art and convention. Readings include works by Hume, Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, Benjamin, Greenberg, Fried, and Cavell.
An introduction to logic, requiring no prior knowledge of philosophy or mathematics. The aim of the course is to impart the ability to recognize and construct correct formal deductions and refutations.
Philosophy and Literature
In Plato’s Republic, Socrates defends his exile of the poets from the city by explaining, “reason constrained us to do so . . . for there is an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry.” What were the grounds for this philosophical exile of poetry and how do we make sense of Socrates’s defense thereof? This course attempts to answer these questions by reading canonical philosophical and literary texts side by side. Readings from Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Freud, Sartre, Homer, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Goethe, Blake, Kafka, Woolf, and others.
Philosophy of Technology
cross-listed: mbb, set
Tool use is considered by some to be the first appearance of technology in human life and part of a surge in cultural evolution that catapulted us ahead of our nearest primate relatives. Painted in this light, the development and use of technology is part of what makes us distinctively human. However, some argue that we have crossed a threshold, where our reliance on technology now threatens to obliterate our humanity. This course examines our relationship to technology and arguments for, and against, its increasing integration into our lives.
This course explores relativism as a philosophical position. The first half of the semester focuses on epistemic relativism and the second half on moral/cultural relativism. The class introduces several fundamental modes of philosophical inquiry, among them, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, and metaethics. Authors read include Richard Rorty, W. V. Quine, Thomas Kuhn, Bernard Williams, and Peter Winch. A prior course in philosophy is desirable but not necessary.
We often ask ourselves what we should do: Go to graduate school or bum around Europe? Lie and risk my own life or tell the truth and risk theirs? While these questions can arise in mundane contexts, they can also arise in morally fraught contexts and have tremendous import. So arriving at the right answers is important. The class examines different philosophical views on what makes answers to such questions correct, focusing on the traditions of Aristotle, Hume, and Kant.
Philosophy of Mind
The philosophy of mind addresses questions regarding the nature of the mind-brain relation, mental representation, and conscious awareness. The dominant trend in contemporary philosophy of mind is to pursue these questions in alliance with empirical sciences, such as psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience. But can a mechanistic picture of the mind adequately accommodate our first-person perspective, that is, what it feels like from the inside to have a mind and navigate the world with it? This course considers these and other issues.
cross-listed: medieval studies
Ever wonder what happened in the two millennia of intellectual history between Aristotle and Descartes? Medieval philosophers engaged deeply with many of the most difficult philosophical questions: Do we have free will? Where does evil come from? What are the limits of human reason? Can the universe be fully explained, or does it contain an element of the irrational and mysterious? This course explores the rich variety of approaches medieval philosophers developed in thinking about these and other fundamental philosophical problems.
In Plato’s Gorgias, Socrates and the sophist Callicles engage in a fundamental disagreement about how a human being should live: Socrates contends that it is by living justly that a person will be most happy. Callicles argues that “wantonness, lack of discipline, and freedom . . . are excellence and happiness.” This disagreement is an early and paradigmatic instance of a debate within ethical theory. This course introduces key figures and texts in moral philosophy. Readings are drawn from Plato, Hume, Kant, and Mill.
cross-listed: gis, human rights, sts
This course examines a range of topics in contemporary debates over medical ethics, among them issues of genetics, reproduction, death and dying, and involuntary psychiatric hospitalization and treatment. Students review competing ethical positions that philosophers have proposed as models for understanding and resolving issues of medical ethics and study basic concepts with which all such theories grapple. Also examined are the ways these concepts apply to actual cases, and the conflict between ethical reasoning and social, religious, and legal concerns.
An examination of various feminist philosophical approaches—liberal, socialist, radical, psychoanalytic, and postmodern—to the production of images of sexuality and gender. Topics explored include the cultural enforcement of gender identities; the mass-marketing of cultural images of sexuality, gender, and race; the logic of subjection governing cultural ideals of women’s bodies (dieting, exercise, clothing, bodily comportment); and issues of rape, sexual violence, and pornography.
Philosophy of /at War
cross-listed: gis, human rights
Throughout history, philosophers have found themselves asking: What is war? What is it to be at war”? To what extent can peace be understood as the antithesis to war? Under what circumstances can war be considered just and/or morally justified? This course explores these questions by considering texts from Heraclitus, Plato, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Clausewitz, Hegel, Kant, Nietzsche, Freud, Benjamin, Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida, Virilio, Agamben, Žižek, Butler, and Ronell.
The Practice of Courage: Self-Thinking and Political Courage from Antigone to Edward Snowden
Philosophy 269 / Political Studies 269
See Political Studies 269 for a course description.
Topics in the Philosophy of Language
The course examines the uses of formal languages in solving problems in the philosophy of language, beginning with Russell’s theory of descriptions. Then, with Frege’s “On Sense and Reference” as background, the class reads Carnap’s Meaning and Necessity; Tarksi, Kripke, and Gupta on truth; David Lewis on context; and David Kaplan on indexicals and demonstratives. Prerequisite: Philosophy 237 or the equivalent.
Philosophical Research Seminar
An intensive advanced seminar required of all philosophy majors in their junior year. A problem in contemporary philosophy is carefully selected, exactingly defined, and thoroughly researched; an essay or article is written addressing the problem, going through numerous revisions; the article is formally presented to the seminar, followed by discussion and debate; and the article in its completed form is submitted to an undergraduate or professional journal of philosophy, or to an undergraduate conference in philosophy.
The Ethics of Consent
cross-listed: human rights
Since the 17th century, Western philosophy has been infused with the notion of individual autonomy and its political and legal analogue, consent. This course examines ethical criteria used to determine when public intervention into private consensual conduct may be justified, and when not. Readings from Hobbes, Hume, Wertheimer, Nozick, Fried, Feinberg, and a number of judicial decisions.
The Lives of Animals
Over the past several generations, our relationships with animals have undergone a radical shift: while we are more sensitive to animals’ suffering and more opposed to animal cruelty than ever before, we are also, due to the rise of industrial agriculture and the loss of wild places, more distant from animals in our everyday lives. Among the questions addressed: Should animals have legal rights? How are animals represented differently in philosophy and in literature? What should the future of our lives with animals look like?
Virtues and Vices
cross-listed: human rights
In her landmark 1958 essay “Modern Moral Philosophy,” G. E. M. Anscombe argued that the central concepts of modern moral thought—in particular, the concept of moral “obligation”—ought to be abandoned, on the grounds that they have come to be used without any clear sense. Instead, she suggested a return to the ancient tradition of thinking about ethics in terms of specific virtues and vices, such as justice and injustice. In this seminar, students examine the diverse forms of contemporary virtue theory.
Philosophy of Mathematics
Philosophy 336 / Mathematics 336
This course examines various attempts to identify the conceptual underpinnings of mathematics. Topics include logicism, formalism, intuitionism, the concept of a formal procedure, the distinction between naive and axiomatic set theory, the set-theoretic characterization of the real number system, the theory of types, and, time permitting, different attempts to solve Zeno’s paradoxes. Texts by Galileo, Bolzano, Frege, Russell, Gödel, Turing, and Putnam, among others. Prerequisite: Philosophy 237 or Mathematics 261.
cross-listed: german studies, mbb
The U.S. This course approaches Freud as a philosopher, a thinker who grappled first and foremost with the nature of the mind but who also worked through philosophical questions and problems on topics including dreams and wishes, love and hate, death and mourning, trauma and survival, violence and war, the paradoxes of civilized life, and the intellectual promise of art, literature, and aesthetic experience. Prerequisites: A previous course in philosophy and permission of the instructor.
Heidegger’s Being and Time
“Do we in our time have an answer to the question of what we really mean by the word ‘being’? Not at all. So it is fitting that we should raise anew the question of the meaning of being.” With these words, Martin Heidegger signals both the task and the urgency of Being and Time (1927), one of the most important texts in philosophy. Through a close reading of Being and Time, students address such Heideggerian concepts as being-in-the-world, being-with, thrownness, temporality, being-toward-death, and authenticity.
Seminar in Philosophy of Law
Questions under consideration include legal authority and legitimacy, obedience (and disobedience) to law, legal reasoning, individual responsibility, punishment, and matters of right. Disciplines such as natural law, legal realism, analytical jurisprudence, and normative jurisprudence are also discussed. In general, references are to the English and American legal traditions. Readings include works by Hume, Blackstone, Holmes, Fuller, Finnis, Hart, and Dworkin, as well as various legal decisions.
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is one of the earliest attempts to think systematically about ethical questions. It is also the subject of some of today’s most heated philosophical debates. In this seminar, students analyze Aristotle’s arguments in detail. Topics of special interest include Aristotle’s concept of happiness, theory of moral development, philosophy of action, account of love and friendship, and his distinction between “active” and “contemplative” lives.
Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason
cross-listed: german studies
An introduction to one of the classic texts of Western philosophy, Kant’s magnum opus, The Critique of Pure Reason.
Philosophy of Biology: Conceptual Foundations of Darwinian Theory
The lively, often acrimonious, debate between evolutionism and creationism continues, but we can achieve clarity on the terms of the debate only by understanding precisely what each position is committed to. In this course students examine the conceptual foundations of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Issues addressed include the ingredients for natural selection, the units and levels of selection, and the individuation of biological categories and kinds.
The Philosophy of Hegel
The course presents a close reading of Hegel’s first great work, The Phenomenology of Spirit.
The Philosophy of Nietzsche
Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, Gay Science, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and Beyond Good and Evil are studied, with a focus on, among other themes, epistemological perspectivalism; literary experimentalism; philosophy (and life) as art; the critique of tradition; the diagnosis of modernity as cultural nihilism; the central role of the unconscious; and the concepts of the will to power, the overman, and the death of god. Interpretations from a range of disciplines—literary theory, psychoanalysis, feminist theory, and political theory—are also explored.
The Philosophy of Wittgenstein
This course features the major works of one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century, Ludwig Wittgenstein. Readings: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, The Blue Book, and The Philosophical Investigations.
An examination of Soren Kierkegaard’s aesthetic, psychological, and theological texts. Readings are drawn from such pseudonymous works as Either/ Or (Victor Eremita), Repetition (Constantine Constantius), Fear and Trembling (Johannes de Silentio), Concluding Unscientific Postscript (Johann Climacus), and Training in Christianity and The Sickness Unto Death (Anti-Climacus), as well as some of the sermons written under Kierkegaard’s own name. Additional writers studied include Sartre, Derrida, Levinas, Ricoeur, and Agacinski.
Hannah Arendt Seminar
Philosophy 420 / Political Studies 420
See Political Studies 420 for a full course description.