The primary aim of this course is to acquaint the student with the spirit, methods, and problems of philosophy. Students will explore the range of issues in which philosophical inquiry is possible and to which it is relevant. Major works of important philosophers, both ancient and modern, will be used to introduce topics in metaphysics, theory of knowledge, ethics, and other traditional areas of philosophical concern. Offered every semester.
This course is an examination of the informal reasoning used in everyday life as well as in academic contexts. We will aim to both describe and understand that reasoning, on the one hand, and improve our competence in reasoning, on the other. We will explore the nature of explanation and causation, and we will discuss ways of articulating our reasoning patterns that make their nature clear. Thus we aim both to improve critical thinking and reading skills, and to understand in a deeper way the role that those skills play in human life. Offered every year.
The central question in ethics is "How should I live my life?" This course explores this question by examining major ethical traditions such as honor ethics, Stoicism, Aristotelian virtue ethics, sentimentalism, utilitarianism, Kant's practical philosophy, Nietzsche's critique of morality, Buddhist ethics, and feminist ethics. The emphasis is on classical texts, as well as their connections with our contemporary life. This course is suitable for first-year students. Offered every year.
This course examines moral issues we encounter in our private as well as public lives from a philosophical point of view. We discuss various ethical approaches such as Kantianism, utilitarianism, and value pluralism through analyzing issues such as abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, the moral status of nonhuman animals, the environment, climate change, war, world poverty, inequality, and the ecology of rural life. There is a strong emphasis on discussion, and we use diverse methods such as Brandeis Brief and moral heuristics. This course is suitable for first-year students. Offered every year.
Ancient Greek philosophy is not only the basis of the Western and the Arabic philosophical traditions, it is central for understanding Western culture in general, including literature, science, religion, or values. In this course, we examine some of the seminal texts of Greek philosophy, focusing on the work of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. But we also examine the work of the pre-Socratics (such as Heraclitus, Zeno, and Democritus) and the Sophists (such as Protagoras and Gorgias). This is a lecture/discussion course. PHIL 100 is recommended. No prerequisite. Offered every year.
There are many different ways to get someone to do what you want. These include threatening violence, lying, conditioning, bribery, begging and providing an argument. An "argument" (in logic) is an appeal to evidence in the support of a conclusion. (It should not be confused with the ordinary usage of the term "argument," which means quarrel.) An argument--unlike the other methods of persuasion--is an appeal to what is rational in the person to whom one is speaking. It is the only method that respects the other person's ability to think. An argument does this in two ways. First, an argument is an attempt to show that the evidence supports the conclusion. Second, an argument is the only method that invites the other person to assess whether the evidence in fact does support the conclusion. An argument invites a conversation. Logic is the study of what makes some arguments successful and some not. We will develop a procedure for assessing whether an argument is good (i.e., valid). We will examine the uses and the limits of this method. Offered every year.
Existentialism is one of the most influential philosophical movements in modern culture. Unlike other recent philosophies, its impact extends far beyond the cloistered walls of academia into literature (Beckett, Kafka, Ionesco), art (Giacometti, Bacon, Dadaism), theology (Tillich, Rahner, Buber), and psychology. Existentialism is at once an expression of humanity's continual struggle with the perennial problems of philosophy (knowledge, truth, meaning, value) and a particularly modern response to the social and spiritual conditions of our times (alienation, anomie, meaninglessness). In this course we will study existentialism in its complete form as a cultural and philosophical movement. After uncovering the historical context from which this movement emerged, we will view the "existential" paintings of de Chirico and Munch; read the fiction of Kafka, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Beckett; and closely study the thought of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre. Among the topics we shall examine are alienation, authenticity, self-knowledge, belief in God, the nature of value and the meaning of life. PHIL 100 or RLST 101 is recommended. No prerequisite. Offered every year.
Mentality is not like much else in the universe. Mentality (or mind) is quite peculiar. The human brain (unlike other physical things) has the power to think. We have thoughts. Yet what are thoughts? Thoughts don't seem to be physical. For instance, unlike physical objects, thoughts don't have any weight. One does not gain weight by having new thoughts or lose weight by forgetting them. Unlike physical objects, thoughts have no shape. The thought of a circle is not circular. Yet thoughts have power. When we explain human behavior, we do so by saying that the person has certain thoughts; i.e., they have certain beliefs and certain desires. Those beliefs and desires (those thoughts) caused the person to act the way he did. The view that there are thoughts, that thoughts are in minds, that thoughts cause behavior, is the ordinary everyday view of the world. It is called folk psychology (i.e., the psychology of ordinary folk). Folk psychology seems obviously true. But is it true? And if it is true, can we describe it in a clear way? Does contemporary research in psychology support or undermine folk psychology? We will see that what seems so obvious is in fact quite controversial. Many psychologists and philosophers think something is wrong with folk psychology. We will examine some of those debates. Offered every third year.
In this course, we will study Kant's major work in theoretical philosophy, the Critique of Pure Reason. We shall examine how Kant establishes that our empirical knowledge has conditions (a priori intuitions and a priori concepts) which cannot be derived from experience, and that these conditions of our empirical knowledge are also the conditions of our having any experience at all. We will pay particular attention to the way in which the Critique of Pure Reason revolutionizes the reflection on knowledge found in the work of Kant's rationalist, empiricist and skeptical predecessors. No prerequisite. PHIL 210 is recommended. Offered every other year.
This is an advanced course on the central debates in epistemology: internalism versus externalism, foundationalism versus coherentism, naturalism versus antinaturalism. We examine these issues through the writings of Quine, Rorty, Putnam, Stroud, Dretske, Wittgenstein, and others. Prerequisite: PHIL major and junior standing. Offered in a three-year rotation with PHIL 400 and PHIL 410.