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Philosophy of Religion
Philosophy 103 Ruhmkorff
3 credits
This course focuses on doctrines common to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: That there is one, powerful, just God who created the universe, who has revealed himself to his creatures, and who requires certain conduct of them. We explore various questions raised by these doctrines, including: Can God’s existence be reconciled with the existence of evil? Is there compelling evidence for God’s existence? Should the believer in God have evidence for the existence of God? Should the believer in God not have evidence for the existence of God? What is the connection between religion and morality? Religion and science? Do we, or could we, have any evidence for the existence of miracles? Is there an afterlife? Is an afterlife desirable?
This course is generally offered once every two years. Last taught S11.
Philosophical Problems
Philosophy 105 Conolly, Ruhmkorff
3 credits
This course serves as an introduction to some of the main issues in Western philosophy. Emphasis is placed on analytical thinking, speaking, and writing. Issues addressed include: External-world skepticism, the existence of God, determinism and free will, personal identity, the objectivity of morality, and the nature of science. No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered once a year.
Formal Logic
Philosophy 113 Ruhmkorff
3 credits
Formal logic, also known as symbolic logic, involves the formalization of the logical rules implicit in human reasoning. Its goal is to determine which forms of argument must produce true conclusions when applied to true premises. Studying formal logic is a good way to become familiar with the logical structure of sentences and arguments in natural languages. This in turn is useful in many contexts. We will study the translation of sentences from natural languages into formal languages and vice versa; the truth-functional operators (“and,” “or,” “not”), the conditional (“if…then…”), and the biconditional (“if and only if”); propositional logic, which evaluates arguments containing the truth-functional operators; predicate logic, which adds to propositional logic rules concerning the quantifiers “all” and “some”; proofs of the consistency and completeness of propositional and predicate logic; and modal logic (the logic of possibility and necessity). Grades will be assigned on the basis of exams, quizzes, and homework assignments. Background in logic or mathematics is helpful but not required.
This course is generally offered once a year.
Philosophy 175 Conolly
3 credits
In this class, we will examine foundational questions in ethics. We will discuss the objectivity of morality, the nature of well-being, and the rules that govern right conduct. Is there an objective fact about right and wrong, or is morality relative to persons or cultures? What is it to live a good life? What rules—if any—determine what is right or wrong? How should we make moral decisions? Three applications of ethical theory will help guide our discussion: Our duties to the less fortunate, ethical vegetarianism, and the value of the environment. Grades will be assigned on the basis of papers, exams, and class participation. No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered once a year.
Biomedical Ethics
Philosophy 177 Conolly
3 credits
Some of the most contentious debates in public morality today arise in the context of the practice of medicine and medical research. Many of these debates are the result of continuously advancing medical technologies that challenge our conception of what it is to be a human being and force us to consider the relation between our conceptions of ourselves as biological beings and as moral beings. We shall thus study the ethics of cloning, genetic engineering, stem cell research, and various reproductive technologies and strategies, including abortion, IVF, and surrogate motherhood. In addition, because they encounter life and death decisions on an almost daily basis, healthcare professionals are frequently faced with moral dilemmas that have an urgency rarely found in other areas of human activity. It is with this urgency in mind that we shall examine the ethical guidelines that might be established for such end-of-life decisions as advanced directives, DNR orders, euthanasia, and physician-assisted suicide. Finally, because the accessibility and delivery of healthcare is increasingly associated with current notions of justice, we shall examine the ethical issues surrounding the distribution of resources and managed care, as well as associated issues involving the physician-patient relationship. The course will consider the differences in how these various issues are approached from competing ethical perspectives, including consequentialism, Kantian deontology, and virtue ethics, and special attention will be paid to whether and how the principle of double effect may be invoked to resolve some of these moral dilemmas. Prerequisite: One course in social studies or one course in biology.
This course is generally offered once every two years. Last taught F11.
Religions and Philosophies of East Asia: Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and Shinto
Philosophy 206 CP Coggins
3 credits
This course examines the historical roots and modern practice of the religious and philosophical traditions of China, Japan, and Korea. First we start in northeast India in the 6th century B.C., examining Vedic traditions and the historical development and diffusion of Buddhism. Before tracing the spread of Buddhism to East Asia, we study the development of Daoism, Confucianism, and Shinto, and the cultural traditions with which they coevolved. The next phase of the course focuses on the coexistence of these philosophies and religions; changes in their collective and individual roles within society; and their integration into the visual arts, music, literature, martial arts, daily life, and cultural landscapes. In the final phase of the course, we examine the roles that these belief systems play in contemporary East Asian and North American culture. Guest speakers discuss their own experiences and practices. Students are encouraged (but not expected) to observe or participate in activities at local Buddhist and Daoist communities. Students are also encouraged to relate their own experiences and practices to the course. No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered once every two years. Last taught F09.
Daoism through Texts, Talks, and Taijiquan
Philosophy 207 CP Coggins
3 credits
Daoism has had a major impact on Chinese intellectual and spiritual life for over two millennia. A philosophy that emphasizes individual development, immersion in nature, the rejection of societal convention, and the cultivation of natural virtue, it has been embraced by scholars, painters, poets, and political thinkers. A religion derived from classical philosophy, folk practices, Buddhism, and Yogic techniques, it perseveres in village rituals, global popular culture, and dissident sects like China’s Falungong. Taijiquan is a Daoist system of moving meditation and a martial art based on slowly flowing and subtly configured motions. Practiced worldwide, it is “the dance of Daoism,” providing insight and personal experience of Daoist principles found in major texts like the Dao De Jing, Zhuangzi, and Liezi. This course provides students with the opportunity to read classical texts on Daoism and Taijiquan and to study the Thirteen Postures, a Yang style form of Taijiquan. We also read Daoist nature poetry, Tang dynasty Daoist short stories, and an account of the life of Guan Saihong, a Daoist master (and if possible, we will have Guan visit the class). Our practice of Taijiquan and work on textual interpretation is supplemented with free-ranging discussions (talks) on Daoism in the spirit of the School of Pure Conversation, a Daoist group of the first millennium that emphasized free expression and a sharpening of the imagination. No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered once every two years. Last taught S11.
Buddhism: History, Teachings, and Practices
Philosophy 208 CP Naamon
3 credits
This course will examine Buddhist experience and expression in its diversity and regional variation encompassing forms found in South, Southeast, Central, and East Asia. This is in an interdisciplinary study that uses a combination of primary Buddhist texts in translation and selections from the secondary literature on Buddhism, film, and other media. We will trace the major threads of Buddhist thought, practices, and history while paying special attention to the ways in which this Indian religion adapted to a wide range of cultures in Asia and now in the West.
This course is generally offered once every two years. Last taught F11.
Philosophy of Mind
Philosophy 212 Conolly
3 credits
What is the mind? Is it a kind of independent, immaterial substance, or is it merely a property or effect of the brain, in the way that light is a property or effect of a light bulb? Or is what we call mind really just a naive way of talking about the neurological processes within the brain? Can the whole of our conscious life—our cognitive, emotional, and moral experience—be reduced to complex chemical processes within the brain? This course will consider such questions as these, and explore how we think about the mind; what it is; how it is related to the body and brain; and whether, how, and to what extent mind is comparable to a computer. While our discussions will be informed by current research in psychology and cognitive neuroscience, we shall proceed primarily by means of conceptual and descriptive analysis, drawing from classic and contemporary readings in both the analytic and phenomenological traditions. The course will also consider several closely related problems, including personal identity and freedom of the will, and we seek to gain a better understanding of the mind and its relation to the world. Prerequisite: Sophomore standing or permission of instructor.
Last taught F08.
Philosophy of Science
Philosophy 216 Ruhmkorff
3 credits
In this course, we will examine a number of issues that arise from philosophical reflection on the practice of science. These include: The nature of scientific theory change; the role that values play in scientific inquiry; the relationship between observation and theory; the confirmation of scientific theories; the nature of scientific explanation and natural laws; the debates between scientific realism and antirealism; and the distinction between science and pseudoscience. Prerequisite: Sophomore Seminar, and one 200-level class in social studies, science, or mathematics or permission of the instructor.
This course is generally offered once every two years. Last taught S10.
Ancient Greek Philosophy
Philosophy 222 Conolly
3 credits
This course will explore the central doctrines and arguments of the three most important figures in ancient Greek philosophy: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Socrates appears not to have left any writings. So we shall begin by reading Plato’s Socratic dialogues and consider the problems associated with recovering the historical Socrates from these and other ancient sources. We shall then turn our attention to Plato’s own distinctive doctrines, focusing upon his theory of the soul, his theory of forms, his cosmology, and his ethics. Problems to be discussed include the relative chronology of Plato’s dialogues and the criticism and revision of the theory of forms apparent in some of Plato’s late dialogues. We shall also consider the possibility of recovering Plato’s so-called Unwritten Doctrine. Our study of Aristotle will involve the detailed examination of several texts central to his physics and metaphysics. We shall focus first upon his criticism of Plato’s theory of forms, as well as his criticism of Pre-Socratic philosophers, in response to which he developed several of his own characteristic doctrines. These include his theory of the categories of being and the primacy of substance; his analyses of change in nature and the doctrine of the four causes, the nature of time, space, and the infinite; and his theory of the soul in relation to body and intellect. Students will also have to the chance to read about and engage in some contemporary debates concerning the interpretation of Plato and Aristotle. Prerequisites: Sophomore standing or above.
This course is generally offered once every two years. Last taught F11.
Doubt and Dogmatism: Faith and Rational Inquiry in Greece and Rome
Philosophy 223 Callanan
3 credits
Histories of philosophy often leave the impression that philosophy in Western antiquity ended with Plato and Aristotle. But in the Mediterranean world after Alexander the Great and down to the ultimate victory of Christianity, the intellectual landscape was dominated by a very different group of philosophies: Stoicism, founded by Semitic thinkers and focused on a belief in fate and duty; Epicureanism, a seemingly atheistic belief in science and pleasure; and the Skepticism of Plato’s Academy. They argued over the issues that guided people’s lives. How do we achieve happiness? What are the greatest good and the greatest evil? What role do the gods play? How do we live in harmony with nature? Are women equal to men? And what about slavery? What happens to me after death? In answering these questions, these schools established the concepts and arguments that defined the intellectual world of late antiquity and Western Europe well into the modern period. We will engage with these questions and arguments in this formative phase, in which science, philosophy, and religion were not distinguished as they are today. Whereas for Plato and Aristotle we possess their own works, almost all that we have of these philosophers has been handed down to us by others: Later adherents, Greek historians of philosophy (Sextus Empiricus and Diogenes Laertius), and often by Christian authors seeking to refute pagan ways of thinking. We must reconstruct the original source in order to critique it. Students will be encouraged and expected to argue with these thinkers, in class and in papers. No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught F07.
Phenomenology and Existentialism
Philosophy 225 Conolly
3 credits
Existentialism is an important and very influential intellectual movement that flourished in the middle of the 20th century. Emphasizing and indeed thematizing the human being’s search for meaning in an uncertain and apparently meaningless universe, it achieved wide resonance among writers, thinkers, and artists in a world still reeling from the horrors of the two world wars. It centered around such writers as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, although the movement appropriated, and was to some extent influenced by, such earlier writers as Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, and Kafka. As a philosophical movement, however, it is directly indebted to, and continuous with, the phenomenological movement initiated by Edmund Husserl in the first decades of the 20th century therefore focus upon the development of phenomenology, beginning with Husserl’s attempt to establish an a priori science of the universal structures of human consciousness, and culminating in Sartre’s humanistic existentialism. Some emphasis will placed on the pivotal—and controversial—figure of Heidegger, whose Being and Time (arguably the most influential philosophical text of the 20th century) presumed to have transformed Husserl’s phenomenology into a comprehensive and radical revision of traditional philosophical thinking. Prerequisite: Sophomore standing or above.
This course is generally offered once every two years. Last taught F10.
Metaphysics, Minds, and Morals: Hume and Kant
Philosophy 226 Conolly
4 credits
Immanuel Kant is the most influential philosopher of the last 250 years. Much of the subsequent history of philosophy is either a reaction to or development of Kant. His critical philosophy introduced limits upon what human beings can know, while at the same time determining precisely what it is that the human mind itself contributes to its experience of the world. With Kant, the human mind is no longer considered a mere passive observer, but is instead understood to be an active participant in the world that it structures. Among the surprising positions that Kant argues for in his metaphysical works is the ideality or the subjective origin of space, time, and causality. His moral philosophy seeks to establish analogously a principle of morality that is at once subjective in origin, yet objectively valid. While Kant must be considered a revolutionary thinker in the history of modern philosophy, his work must itself be understood largely as a response to the skepticism of David Hume. Like Kant, Hume was interested in placing strict limits upon what it is that human beings can claim to know. However, the skeptical arguments by which he achieves these limits, especially his attacks on the notion of causality and the inductive method, have the effect of apparently undermining the knowledge claims of physicists just as much as of the metaphysicians. We shall be interested in evaluating his arguments and determining how much of either science Kant is able to recover. Finally, we shall examine Hume’s emotivist anti-rationalism in ethics as a sharp contrast to the rationalism of Kant’s ethics. The course will involve the close reading of several seminal works in the history of philosophy, and there will be some emphasis especially on acquiring a precise understanding of Kant’s positions and arguments. While we shall always remain sensitive to the historical context of when these works were written, the class will consider the problems that were of concern to Hume and Kant as if engaging contemporary philosophers in dialogue over these issues. Prerequisites: Junior or senior standing, one course in philosophy or political science, and a willingness to read diligently and engage thoughtfully with challenging philosophical works.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught S10.
Introduction to the New Testament
Philosophy 229 Ruhmkorff
3 credits
The Christian New Testament is a small group of works with profound historical, theological, and ethical implications generated in part by the many tensions they contain. These works attribute universal and eternal significance to the life, teachings, and death of a peasant in an obscure backwater of the Roman Empire; they reflect a deep-seated Judaism at the same time that they have led to 167 the most vicious anti-Jewish oppression in history; they contain distinct and perhaps disparate messages from the two central figures, Jesus and Paul; they counsel a moral focus on the kingdom of God while containing decidedly political messages—and having been themselves written, redacted, and collected as a result of intensely political processes. In this course, we explore the New Testament by means of a variety of methods: contextualization within the Hellenistic world and within Judaism of late antiquity; analysis of primary texts through comparison to similar texts in the New Testament, the Hebrew Bible, and noncanonical works; and reflection on the theological dimensions of the texts. Prerequisite: First-Year Seminar 100.
This course is generally offered once every two years. Last taught S12.
Islamic Philosophy
Philosophy 231 Conolly
3 credits
This course provides an introduction to the study of Islamic philosophy by examining the distinctive problems, doctrines, and arguments that characterize Islamic philosophy in its classical period (c. 800–1200 C.E.) Students will thus become familiar with the teachings of Alfarabi, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Suhrawardi, al-Ghazali, and Ibn Rushd (Averroes). Among the topics to be covered in the course are the attempts by some philosophers to reconcile Greek philosophical and scientific learning with Islam; the distinction—and conflict—between philosophy and theology in Islam; the role of reason in Islamic conceptions of human well-being; and the peculiarly Islamic philosophical treatments of such classic problems in metaphysics as the nature of the soul and its relation to the body, the eternity of the world, and the nature of causality. While some attention will be paid to the influence of Islamic philosophy upon the course of later Western philosophy, the focus will remain upon Islamic philosophy as its own distinctive tradition. Prerequisite: Sophomore standing or above.
This course is generally offered once every two years. Last taught S09.
Philosophy 317 Conolly
3 credits
Can we know that God exists? That neutrons exist? That each other exists? That Simon’s Rock exists? To answer these questions, we must first know what knowledge is. Epistemology is the study of knowledge and related notions such as justification, belief, and evidence. In this course, we will examine central questions in epistemology by examining primary texts, both historical and contemporary. We will study both traditional epistemology (which considers belief, disbelief, and agnosticism) and probabilistic epistemology (which takes belief to be a matter of degree). Topics will include: skepticism; the nature of knowledge; the nature of justification; the relationship between knowledge and justification; feminist epistemology; a priori knowledge; peer disagreement; self-locating beliefs; and applications of epistemological principles to puzzling and paradoxical situations, including Sleeping Beauty, Doomsday, Reflection, the Lottery Paradox, and the Cable Guy Paradox. Prerequisites: one class in philosophy.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught S12.
Philosophy Tutorial
Philosophy 300/400 Staff
4 credits
Under these course numbers, juniors and seniors design tutorials to meet their particular interests and programmatic needs. A student should see the prospective tutor to define an area of mutual interest to pursue either individually or in a small group. A student may register for no more than one tutorial in any semester.