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Bard College Catalogue, 2019–20
Daniel Berthold (director), Thomas Bartscherer, Norton Batkin, Roger Berkowitz, James Brudvig, Jay Elliott, Garry L. Hagberg, Michelle Hoffman, David Shein, Kathryn Tabb, 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. 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 Connected Society: Reflections from a Digitalized Life”
- “Everyone and No One: Forgiveness, Politics, and God in Hegel’s Philosophy of Freedom”
- “The Objectivity of Subjectivity: The Dialectics of Marx, Lenin, and Brecht”
- “Poetic Possibilities: Poetry and Experience in Emerson, Nietzsche, and Freud”
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
Themes covered include the nature of reality and our capacity to know it, ethics and justice, and conceptions of how one should live. Readings 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.
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?.
Rhetoric and Reasoning
In the domain of arguments, rhetoric and reason coexist in an eternal tension. From the standpoint of logic, an argument aims to prove that its conclusion is true. On the side of rhetoric, the person making an argument aims to persuade others to accept the conclusion. Some arguments are logically valid but fall flat; some arguments are highly convincing but logically worthless. This course encourages an appreciation of the richness of meaning and seeks to inculcate an analytical understanding of an argument’s working parts.
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.
Theory of Knowledge
What characteristics make it appropriate or desirable to believe certain things—reliability, our belief that something is likely to be true, or something else? What should we do when our beliefs conflict with others’? How does membership in a cultural group impair or facilitate our having or sharing knowledge? How is transmission of knowledge affected by bias? This introduction to current topics in epistemology considers these and other questions.
DESIGNATED: THINKING ANIMALS INITIATIVE
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.
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.
Body and World: Self and Social Sense-Making
Our everyday accounts of action, social norms, language, and even intelligence take conceptual rationality as the essential feature of human life. A good deal of recent philosophy, though, explores the possibility that we might not be “rational all the way out” and that we use concepts to supplement other, embodied ways of knowing, being, and being with others. Students examine conceptual and nonconceptual ways that we make sense of reality. Texts by Dreyfus, Merleau-Ponty, Butler, Kristeva, Foucault, Todes, others.
History and Philosophy of Evolutionary Biology
CROSS-LISTED: HISTORICAL STUDIES, STS
In this survey of evolutionary theory from the 18th century to the 20th, topics 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. Philosophical debates surrounding questions on adaptationism, genetic determinism, evolutionary ethics, and evolutionary progress are also considered. A recurring theme is the reception of Darwinian e volution, both 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 course explores the ways that philosophers have approached the nature and value of art, beginning with Plato’s account of representation and the place of art in society. The class then turns to questions raised by painting, photography, film, and music, and to broader topics that cut across art forms: Are serious (or “high”) and popular (or “low”) art to be understood and evaluated differently? What, if anything, do the various items and activities that we classify as “art” have in common? Readings from Hume, Kant, Cavell, Adorno, and Benjamin.
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.
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.
Science and Social Values
When and how did the concept of objectivity arise in science? Is science value-free? If social values cannot be eliminated from science, how do we adjudicate between competing values and determine which are beneficial or harmful to science? How do we accommodate different perspectives? Students use historical and present-day case studies in science, technology, and public health to illustrate the dilemmas that arise.
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?
Topics in the Philosophy of Language
The semester is devoted to a close reading of Naming and Necessity, a transcript of Saul Kripke’s groundbreaking lectures at Princeton University in 1970. For historical background, the class studies Gottlob Frege’s “On Sense and Reference” and Bertrand Russell’s “On Denoting.” Students also consider contemporary extensions of Kripke’s work, especially that of David Kaplan. Prerequisites: one prior course in philosophy (preferably Philosophy 237) and permission of the instructor.
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.
Nineteenth-Century Continental Philosophy
CROSS-LISTED: GERMAN STUDIES
Readings from Hegel, Marx, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche. The class focuses on how these writers explored the nature of consciousness, reality, value, and community; on their distinctive styles of authorship; and on their conceptions of the nature and role of philosophy itself.
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.
Philosophers of Christianity
Key contributors to the development of theology crafted their thought in active dialogue with philosophical traditions of their eras. Examples include Origen the Platonist, Augustine the Stoic, Aquinas the Aristotelian, Friess the Kantian, Whitehead the Hegelian, and Marion the Wittgensteinian. The seminar investigates how such theologians were influenced by, and influenced, the philosophical discourse of their times, while shaping the articulation of faith.
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
Students in the course explore 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.
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.
Speech and Act: The Philosophy of J. L. Austin
A detailed investigation of the work of J. L. Austin, one of the central and most original exponents of 20th-century linguistic philosophy, beginning with Sense and Sensibilia and a consideration of relations between language and problems of perception and perceptual knowledge. Other readings include his philosophical papers; the influential How to Do Things with Words; and selected writings of Paul Grice and Stanley Cavell that are in the Austinian tradition.
The Philosophy of Nietzsche
This course focuses on two intertwined works that Nietzsche wrote between 1882 and 1887: The Gay Science and Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Themes include perspectivism, literary experimentalism, philosophy (and life) as art, the diagnosis of modernity as cultural nihilism, the recovery of the body, the central role of the unconscious, the overman, and the death of god. Additional readings from Blanchot, Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, Heidegger, and Lampert. Prerequisite: previous courses in philosophy.
The Philosophy of Wittgenstein
This course features the major works of one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century, Ludwig Wittgenstein. Readings include Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, The Blue Book, and The Philosophical Investigations.
The Philosophy and Literature of Jean-Paul Sartre
Readings are drawn 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 is explored, including the extent to which the philosophic and literary productions complement each other.