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Course Descriptions

 SPRING 2014

 PHI 2350 History of Philosophy:  Contemporary                                                        Boyle, N.

A critical study of selected works in the history of contemporary philosophy from the late nineteenth to the early twenty-first century. Special emphasis will be placed on the split between Analytic and Continental European approaches to philosophy in the twentieth century. Some of the major philosophers who will be studied include Brentano, Husserl, Heidegger, Russell, Wittgenstein, Quine, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, de Beauvoir, Kripke, and Nagel. Pre-requisite: prior coursework in philosophy or permission of instructor.


PHI 2895 History of Philosophy: Medieval                                                                  Walton, M.

This course will be an historical and thematic introduction to the philosophy of the Middle Ages—Greek, Christian, Jewish, and Islamic thought from the 3rd to 13th centuries—developed around the two preeminent medieval concerns: the quest to know God and to resolve the problem of evil.  To explore these concerns, we will explore the interplay between faith and reason, learn about emanation theory, seek a balance between systematic theology’s proofs for God’s existence and the esotericism of mystical experience, investigate how one may speak of the ineffable, and rethink the logic of evil as a privation.  These concerns will be encountered through canonical texts utilizing a broad array of styles of philosophic writing: dialogue and autobiography, epigrammatic treatises, a response to a fool, pseudonymity, metaphor, guides in spiritual exercise, systematic philosophy, and mystical visions. 


PHI 1895 Special Topics: Existentialism                                                                 Walton, M.

From anxiety and dread to absurdity and affirmation in spite of it all, existentialism is a radical philosophical and literary study into the nature of lived human existence.  It explores the meaninglessness of life so as to found an ethic of utter self responsibility to make life worth living.  It reveals to us that we are wholly responsible—for ourselves, for meaning, for value.  It explores the ease of falling prey to inauthenticity and the absurdity of following the crowd.  Woody Allen once wrote that “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads.  One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness.  The other, to total extinction.  Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly” (Side Effects, 81).  This class will traverse these grounds through philosophical treatises, literary works, and films—from Martin Heidegger to Jean-Paul Sartre and Søren Kierkegaard, from Franz Kafka to Samuel Beckett, and films by Woody Allen, Igmar Bergman, and Gabriel Axel—so as to fully embrace the realization that we cannot know what path is right, but must make the leap.


PHI 4310.01 Nietzsche                                                                                       Anderson, J. M.

A study of Nietzsche’s late published works and notebooks. During the first half of the semester we will read three of Nietzsche’s greatest works, written during his prime: Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morals, and Book five of The Gay Science. For the second half of the semester we will read through Nietzsche’s notes (and think about the meaning and philosophical significance of notes as notes) as published in Writings from the Late Notebooks.


PHI 4120 Aristotle                                                                                                          Davis, A.

A close study of several major works by "the philosopher." The course will substantially develop students' ability to read and engage Aristotle. Texts will include: Physics, On the Soul and selections from the Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics and Posterier Analytics. Themes include: motion, time, place, first principles, demonstration, parts/wholes, causes, actuality/possibility, natural purposes (teleology) and being.



PHI 1520 Ethics                                                                                                   Von Mizener, S.

Meta-ethics and Normative ethics comprise the bulk of contemporary analytic ethics: practitioners of the former are concerned primarily with the meaning and justification of fundamental moral concepts (such as “good”, “right”, “culpable”, etc.) and judgments (such as “Torturing people is wrong.”); whereas those engaged in the latter seek to build a particular moral theory—a theory that will tell us what makes an action good, right, or just. In the practice of moral philosophy – that is, in thinking and writing about ethics – it is nearly impossible to keep these two areas separate. For obviously a person’s meta-ethical views influence (and frequently determine) what she thinks will even count as a plausible normative theory. Most of the core issues we will examine revolve around four areas: (1) Moral realism or objectivism; (2) moral relativism; (3) moral skepticism; and (4) the relationship between free will and moral responsibility. These core areas involve both meta-ethics and normative ethics. Here is a sample of some of the questions we will be asking: Is ethics objective in the way that science is? Are there moral facts? Is there any cognitive meaning in a normative judgment or is all the meaning emotive (having to do with “feelings”)? Is ethical truth totally contingent on the particular society in which this or that set of values emerge or are there certain universal ethical principles? If there are moral truths, how can we know that there are? What is the connection between being free (and what does it even mean to be “free”?) and being morally responsible for our actions?


PHI 1020 Critical Thinking Cohort (Linked with Mathematical Reasoning)  Von Mizener, S.

The purpose of this course is to familiarize the student with certain methods for analyzing and evaluating arguments. One of the invaluable features of making the art of critical thinking a study is that as a study it cuts across all disciplines; whether one is studying physics or the law, sharpening one’s abilities to think critically is essential. What follows are some of the skills you will have acquired at the end of this course: (1) the ability to recognize informal fallacies in reasoning and thus better critique your own work and the work of others; (2) the ability to use Venn diagrams to determine the validity/invalidity in syllogistic reasoning; (3) the ability to use the truth table method to determine whether arguments in propositional logic are invalid; and, (4) an overall better understanding of how to construct good arguments.


JCS 3015 Wittgenstein                                                                                       Von Mizener, S.

No single philosopher has had more impact on the shape of Philosophy in the twentieth century than Ludwig Wittgenstein—he ushered in two revolutions in philosophy: his work has been understood (rather less than more), misunderstood (more!), followed blindly, criticized harshly, and taken in all sorts of interesting and not so interesting directions. He is at the same time one of the greatest philosophers and one of the greatest anti-philosophers. We will study the two revolutions in contemporary Philosophy that his thoughts precipitated: looking at his early and later work. We’ll note the differences and the similarities in the kinds of questions that he thought it was legitimate for philosophy to ask. Wittgenstein ushered in the “linguistic turn” in philosophy, and this theme is prevalent in all his work, albeit in different ways. Philosophical problems and their solutions result from a misunderstanding of the logic of our language. This is the crux of the “linguistic turn”. Here are some of the questions we will explore in this course:  

{Early Wittgenstein} - What is the nature of representational language or how are we able to communicate facts about the world? Is philosophy a subject matter in the way that biology or history is? What is the nature of philosophy? Is there a reality that we can get at without language?

{Later Wittgenstein} - Is there a single essence of all language or are their various functions, aims, purposes that different languages (what Wittgenstein calls “language-games”) serve? Does philosophy uncover a hidden, deeper reality or does it simply survey the various ways in which we use language? Specifically, with respect to this last question, what does it mean to mean something, to understand something, to think something, to have, more generally, an inner, private life, only one that we, who are experiencing it, can experience? How are we to make sense of the tendency we have to want to say more about such concepts than language seems to allow?

In thinking about such questions we will stick primarily to what Wittgenstein wrote, although we will make use of some secondary texts.