Garry L. Hagberg (director), Thomas Bartscherer, Norton Batkin, Roger Berkowitz, Daniel Berthold, Susan Blake, James Brudvig, Jay Elliott, Robert Martin, David Shein, Oli Stephano, Ariana Stokas, Robert Tully, 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, philosophy of mind, 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, styles of inquiry, and common themes of philosophical concern in texts ranging from Platonic dialogues to contemporary 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
- “The Curation of Worldviews”
- “Pericles Revived: Proposing Citizen Payments for Social Media Usage”
- “The Rebus of the Self: A Post-Hegelian Approach to Work, Language, and Representation”
- “Three Takes on the Antigone: Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Heidegger”
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
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.
Three Philosophical Problems
Philosophers attempt to formulate general questions about ourselves, each other, and our place in the world—and give reasoned answers to them. This course introduces major approaches to three such questions: How do we know what we know? What sorts of things exist? What sorts of things are we?
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.
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.
Introduction to Ethics
An introduction to 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?.
Philosophy and Human Rights
CROSS-LISTED: HUMAN RIGHTS
From the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, the language of rights permeates our understanding of political life, citizenship, and personhood itself. Yet the foundation, function, and limits of human rights remain deeply puzzling and highly contested. What is the relationship between human rights and human nature? Between human rights and morality? Can any human right truly be universal? This course attempts to answer such questions by exploring the philosophical underpinnings, justifications, and criticisms of human rights.
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.
Theory of Knowledge
An introduction to the field of epistemology in its current incarnation. The course begins with a Platonic dialogue to examine the origins of many of the contemporary debates, then turns to topics in the current literature, including the analysis of knowledge, a priori knowledge, immediate perceptual justification, foundationalism and coherence theories, internalism and externalism, and naturalized epistemology. It culminates in texts that talk back to the tradition, which may include discussions of skepticism, experimental philosophy, and our epistemic dependence on others.
We humans have learned to think of ourselves as animals, and to think of our pets, laboratory subjects, wild animals, and those we slaughter for meat as “other animals.” Yet the lives of these other animals remain profoundly mysterious to us. Can we understand their thoughts, desires, and lives? What do we owe them by way of justice, love, or sympathy? This course, part of the Thinking Animals Initiative, approaches these questions through works of philosophy, poetry, fiction, and history.
Introduction to Feminist Ethics
Feminist movements and theories suggest that difference matters when it comes to ethical life, and that attending to the question of a good life requires engaging with the realities of sexism and other forms of oppression. Feminist ethics thus redresses some blind spots of traditional moral theory, and develops its own concepts of ethical agency, moral responsibility, and how to live well. This course maps the contributions of feminist ethics, with special attention paid to issues of gendered embodiment, sexuality, and power as they impact ethical theory and practice.
The Quest for Justice: Foundations of the Law
Philosophy 167 / Political Studies 167
See Political Studies 167 for course description.
History of Philosophy I
The history of philosophy is more than a survey of old ideas: it is a challenging encounter with radically alien modes of thought and a journey of self-discovery in which we uncover the origins of many of our most cherished assumptions. This course, the first of a two-semester sequence, moves from ancient Athens to medieval Baghdad, focusing on the emergence of philosophy in antiquity and its complex dialogue with revealed religion in the first millennium CE. Figures discussed: Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Epictetus, Sextus Empiricus, Plotinus, Ibn Sina, and Al-Ghazal.
History of Philosophy II
This course, the second part of a two-semester sequence, brings the history of philosophy into the present through a discussion of key figures, such as Descartes, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Fanon, and Beauvoir. Central topics to be discussed include relationships between mind, body and society; the possibility of scientific and other forms of knowledge; the impact of capitalism, colonialism, and feminism on philosophy; and the emergence of distinctively modern forms of philosophical writing and practice.
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
CROSS-LISTED: HISTORICAL STUDIES, STS
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.
H. L. Dreyfus: Skillful Coping, Robust Realism, and the Limits of the Mental
Is thinking the essential feature of human life, or do we use concepts to supplement other embodied ways of knowing? If there are both conceptual and nonconceptual ways that we make sense of reality, might we need a more robust form of realism? This course explores the work of Hubert L. Dreyfus, who spent more than 50 years challenging the limits of our beliefs about perception, action, and human intelligence, while clarifying and putting into conversation continental and analytical-philosophical traditions.
CROSS-LISTED: ASIAN STUDIES
An overview of pre-Qin philosophical thought in China. Texts from the major schools—not only Confucianism and Daoism, but also “Legalism,” Mohism, and the School of Names. Discussion includes questions in ethical and political philosophy, as well as questions about the nature of the world, the self, and language.
Philosophy and the Arts
This advanced seminar on aesthetics works through three of the masterpieces in the field. In Aristotle’s Poetics, students look closely into questions of representation in the arts, the role and experience of the spectator, and connections between ethics and aesthetics. They move on to Hume’s essay on taste and Kant’s Critique of Judgment, exploring questions of aesthetic perception, judgment, ethics and aesthetics, the beautiful, and the sublime. The course concludes with the transition to Romanticism and 19th-century aesthetic thought.
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.
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
Philosophy 238 / Literature 238
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, STS
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.
Nature, Sex, and Power: New Materialisms
Oppositions between matter and consciousness, nature and culture, and body and mind structure much of the Western philosophical tradition. Recent work in feminist philosophy, science studies, and political theory, however, offers a different picture, grouped under the heading of “new materialisms.” The course considers current scholarship on materiality, with special attention paid to the operations of matter and meaning, nature and consciousness, as they bear down on questions of political agency, sexual difference, and sexuality. Texts by Barad, Bennett, Butler, Chen, DeLanda, Haraway, Wilson, others.
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.
Marx, Nietzsche, Freud
CROSS-LISTED: GERMAN STUDIES, HUMAN RIGHTS
A comprehensive introduction to the works of Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud, three German-language thinkers who revolutionized modern philosophy. Writing from the mid-19th century through the 1930s, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud each worked to reformulate notions of selfhood and subjectivity, history and politics, God and religion, art and interpretation. The course brings these thinkers into conversation with one another and examines the ways in which their writings form the basis of contemporary critical thought.
Philosophy of Mind
This course examines the nature of the mind, including the relationship between the mental and the physical; consciousness; and mental abilities, like perception, memory, and intention. Readings begin with texts from the early modern period, but emphasize more contemporary philosophical work. Recent relevant work in the sciences is also considered.
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.
Popular Sovereignty in Theory and Practice
CROSS-LISTED: GIS, HUMAN RIGHTS
Popular sovereignty posits that legitimate political authority rests with the people, the very people who are subject to that same authority. It is the principle underlying the idea of a government of, by, and for the people. The class examines the ancient origins of popular sovereignty; philosophical arguments, both ancient and modern, for and against it as a governing ideal; and the relationship between this principle and the practice of representational democracy in a constitutional republic such as the United Sates.
Students undertake a philosophical investigation of ecological life by exploring human relations to what David Abram has called “the more-than-human world.” The class considers concepts of nature and humanity’s place within it that frame our current situation; a range of approaches to environmental ethics; and the connection between the ethical and the political, analyzing ecological harm with an eye to systems of domination and the demands of global justice.
An introduction to the ethical issues that arise in the context of health care, including such difficult issues as abortion, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, embryonic research, cloning, genetic enhancement, patient autonomy, the moral status of animals, and access to care. Students consider major ethical theories that have implications for these cases as well as fundamental moral questions: When does life begin? What is death? Is there a moral difference between killing and letting die? Why is death bad? Why is killing wrong?
Philosophy of Language
Twentieth-century analytic philosophy experienced what has been described as “the linguistic turn,” in which the enduring problems of philosophy were seen as arising from incorrect views about language. The class examines this and related developments, with readings of texts by Bertrand Russell, Gottlob Frege, Ludwig Wittgenstein, J. L. Austin, Paul Grice, and Saul Kripke. 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; the article is formally presented to the group, 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 Bad, the Ugly, and the Sick: Negative Foundations of Ethics
The class takes up many of the central questions of ethics: How should we organize our lives? What rules of thumb should we apply in difficult situations? Is virtue possible, and how is it different from vice? But there is a special angle under which these questions are addressed: What should we not do and why? How do we deal with an offense or an enemy? Readings drawn from philosophy, psychology, and cultural studies.
Citizens of the World—Ancient, Modern, Contemporary
CROSS-LISTED: EXPERIMENTAL HUMANITIES, HUMAN RIGHTS, LITERATURE
First attributed to the fourth-century philosopher Diogenes, the concept of global citizenship has a complex history and urgent relevance to the present moment. The course, taught simultaneously in Berlin and Annandale, explores a tension at the heart of the idea of global citizenship: the relationship between the particularity that defines membership in a given cultural and political community and the universality that characterizes the human condition. Texts by Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Ibn Tufayl, Kant, de Tocqueville, Nietzsche, Arendt, Coetzee, and Appiah.
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.
Spinoza’s notorious Ethics, published posthumously and banned upon its release in 1677, methodically addresses classical philosophical questions, including the nature of God, human knowledge, and how one might live well. However, his conclusions are far from orthodox, as he famously identifies nature with God and reinserts humanity firmly within the laws of nature. This seminar pays special attention to Spinoza’s ethical theory: What makes an ethics, and what roles do the affects, passions, and conatus (or striving) play in this unique ethical system?
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.
This course engages with central issues in the metaphysics of space and time. Does space exist in its own right or are there merely spatial relations between material objects? Is the present time objectively special? Are dinosaurs and Martian outposts real but merely temporally distant? Is time travel possible? What is time? What is space? What makes them different? Where does the direction of time come from?
CROSS-LISTED: CLASSICAL STUDIES
Everyone is talking about the collapse of democracy into demagogy and tyranny, but Plato got there first, writing more than 2,000 years ago in the Republic that a tyrant always poses as a “friend of democracy” who wants only to “make the city safe.” Plato’s aim is to explain how societies come to be dominated by self-destructive myths, images, and fantasies. In his view, a proper explanation of how societies go wrong requires a reexamination of everything we think we know about power, truth, and desire.
A detailed examination of the content and methods of a number of classic works of American philosophy, emphasizing issues in epistemology. Authors include Peirce, William James, Royce, Dewey, Santayana, Mead, and more recent writers. The philosophical movements discussed include transcendentalism, pragmatism, empiricism, and realism. The investigation of these works involves problems in the philosophy of religion, ethics, aesthetics, the philosophy of language, the philosophy of education, and social and political philosophy.
Lost in Translation? Daoism and Philosophy of Language
CROSS-LISTED: ASIAN STUDIES
With a focus on the Dao De Jing and Zhuangzi, this course tackles questions of understanding others, theoretical concepts in different systems of thought, whether it is possible to say something in one language that it is not possible to say in another, and the ineffability of certain philosophical ideas. Many of these ideas are presented through analytic philosophy and the reflections of those who work on Chinese thought.
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.
Introduction to Caribbean Philosophy
The aim of the course is doing philosophy and not just knowing philosophers, an important distinction in areas with a legacy of epistemological colonialism. Threads of analysis unique to this geography include the idea that philosophy is a contextual project rooted in a specific place rather than an abstract, ideal theory; the effect of colonialism on culture and education; and the analysis of “modernity” as a European project. Texts by Édouard Glissant, Wilson Harris, Eugenio María de Hostos, Julia de Burgos, and Frantz Fanon.
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.
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.
The Philosophy and Literature of Jean-Paul Sartre
The course takes its readings from a variety of Sartre’s philosophic texts, including Being and Nothingness, Existentialism Is a Humanism, and Anti-Semite and Jew, as well as a number of his novels and plays, including The Wall, No Exit, The Flies, and Nausea (along with Albert Camus’s review). The relation between the two genres of Sartre’s writing is explored, including the extent to which the philosophic and literary productions complement each other.