Eric Barnes, Professor, Chair
Scott Brophy, Professor
Greg Frost-Arnold, Associate Professor
Karen Frost-Arnold, Professor
Lisa Leininger, Associate Professor
Kelsey Ward, Assistant Professor
Affiliated and Adjunct Faculty
Eugen Baer, Professor Emeritus
Steven Lee, Professor Emeritus
Philosophy is concerned with the most fundamental questions that human beings can ask. What is the ultimate nature of the world? When are our beliefs justified? What can we know? Which actions are right and which are wrong? What is the best form of government? What is the good life? Is mind reducible to body? In addition, philosophy seeks to understand the bases of other areas of study, for example in philosophy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of law, and philosophy of art.
The Philosophy Department welcomes both those who have an interest in continuing in philosophy and those who wish to use their philosophical training as a basis for other life pursuits. The study of philosophy has both intrinsic and instrumental value. The intrinsic value is the sense of satisfaction and self-discovery that comes from dealing in a careful and systematic way with basic questions. The instrumental value lies in the skill that the study of philosophy provides in critical thinking, a skill that helps a person to communicate better and to adapt more effectively to changing circumstances.
Courses in the Philosophy Department provide students with a background in the history of philosophy and assist them in developing competence in the analysis and evaluation of philosophical problems and arguments that arise in making choices about their own lives and in participating in decisions about the future of our society.
The Philosophy Departments offers a disciplinary major and minor.
Philosophy Major (B.A.)
disciplinary, 10 courses
- Express complex ideas in speech and in writing in a way that is clear, logical and coherent, thereby preparing students for innumerable careers;
- Recognize diversity in systems of thought and belief, discover the underlying assumptions of these systems, and deepen their own sensitivity to opposing points of view;
- Identify and formulate philosophical questions, and explore answers to them;
- Articulate and critique the role of ethical issues in public and academic debates, and thereby develop an increased moral sensibility;
- Recognize and analyze the historical origins of the modern versions of enduring philosophical questions;
- Perceive and appreciate the connections between knowledge, reality and what is good.
At least six courses must be unique to the major. No more than three 100-level courses may be counted toward the major.
The following three courses:
PHIL 370 Ancient Philosophy
PHIL 372 Early Modern Philosophy
PHIL 460 Senior Seminar
At least one course from each of the following two areas (at least one of which must be at the 300-level):
Area 1: Knowledge and Reality
Area 2: Values and Normative Theory
The course description for each course states whether it satisfies Area 1 ("Knowledge and Reality") or Area 2 ("Values and Normative Theory").
Any five additional philosophy courses, at least two of which must be at the 200-level or higher.
Students majoring in philosophy may count a maximum of 2 CR grades toward the major.
disciplinary, 5 courses
One course about Knowledge and Reality (Area 1)
One course about Values and Normative Theory (Area 2)
One of the courses labeled "Historical" in the Course Catalog
Any two additional philosophy courses
Students minoring in philosophy may count a maximum of 1 CR grade toward the minor.
PHIL 100 Introduction to Philosophy This course seeks to provide an understanding of what philosophy is by discussing some of the main problems that philosophers examine and by developing skills in the methods used in philosophy. Among the kinds of problems considered in this course are: Is it always wrong to break the law? Can we prove God's existence? What is 'personal identity'? What distinguishes knowledge from mere belief? (Staff, offered every semester)
PHIL 110 Puzzles and Paradoxes Puzzles can be both fun and frustrating. In some places, working to solve them can also provide fascinating insights about our world. Philosophical puzzles and paradoxes are like that. This course will cover a variety of challenging puzzles about the nature of reality, morality, language and what we can know about the world. Some of these puzzles have been solved, but many are not yet solved, and we can learn much from both of these. Even if you don't solve a particular puzzle completely, working toward the answer can help you with future problems by giving you a set of tools that you can use again and again to get other answers. Puzzles and paradoxes make you a better thinker. (And, for some, they are lots of fun too.) (Barnes, offered annually)
PHIL 130 Moral Dilemmas A moral dilemma is a situation in which there are good reasons to do something and apparently equally good reasons for not doing it. In this course, students will see what kind of reasoning is appropriate when we are confronted with a moral dilemma. The work for the course will include (1) understanding different moral principles, (2) applying these principles to the "facts" of different cases, (3) evaluating different moral principles, (4) understanding, constructing, and evaluating arguments. Students acquire an understanding of moral concepts and how to make use of those concepts in everyday situations. Students develop the skills for making intelligent judgments about which of alternative courses of action is the morally right one. (Barnes, offered annually)
PHIL 151 Crime and Punishment This course explores the relationship between moral responsibility and criminal responsibility. It looks at some perennial problems in ethical theory, such as: What makes an act wrong? When is a person morally responsible for their actions? When is punishment an appropriate response to behavior that violates social norms? It also looks at some problems in legal theory and in public policy, such as: What sorts of acts ought to be criminal? When is a person legally responsible for her actions? Why should insanity be a defense to criminal charges? The following general question links all these problems: Which forms of behavior control are morally justifiable responses to which forms of social deviance? (Staff, offered occasionally)
PHIL 152 Philosophy and Feminism This course examines both the ways in which philosophical concepts and methodologies have influenced contemporary thinking about gender and the ways in which feminist viewpoints have challenged many traditional philosophical ideas. Among the topics discussed are: marriage, sexuality, prostitution, human trafficking, affirmative action, and the connections between feminism and other liberation movements. (K. Frost-Arnold, offered alternate years)
PHIL 154 Environmental Ethics This course explores the ethical and philosophical issues that arise when we consider the relation between humans and the natural environment – issues made urgent by our current environmental crisis. Among questions examined are: Is the value of nature intrinsic or only instrumental? Do humans have obligations toward nonhuman animals? Why are animal species worth preserving? Is it individual animals or ecosystems that should be of moral concern? What can feminism tell us about our treatment of nature? Are economic efficiency and cost/benefit analysis adequate criteria for assessing our relation to the environment? (Ward, offered annually)
PHIL 156 Biomedical Ethics This course examines ethical issues that arise in the practice of medicine, in the delivery of health care, and in biomedical research. Ethical issues arise in all areas of human activity, but they arise in medicine with special urgency. Some reasons for this are the special nature of the physician/patient relationship, the importance of the matters of life and death involved, the difficulty in distributing health care in a just manner, and the many recent technological advances in medical treatment that exacerbate all of these problems. Among the issues considered are informed consent, patient autonomy, confidentiality and privacy, genetic intervention, medical experimentation, reproductive control, allocation of scarce medical resources, and justice in health care delivery. (Staff, offered annually)
PHIL 158 Debating Public Policy Effectively advocating for one's plan of action, when it's opposed, is what makes the difference between just a cool idea and an implemented policy. However, respectfully and persuasively selling one's ideas requires knowledge and skills that most people lack. This course develops students' theoretical knowledge of policy analysis tools and their practical skills (especially oral communication skills) to improve their advocacy. Students work in teams to develop public policy positions on current political, moral, and legal issues – domestic and international. Teams then formally debate these positions while other students vote on them. Strong emphasis is placed on anticipating problems with one's own public policy positions. Students learn about the general structure and tools of advocacy and opposition, as well as particular issues of current concern. The primary goal of this course is not to teach students how to debate. Debate is just the primary medium of the assignments about public policy analysis. (Barnes, offered occasionally)
PHIL 205 Ideas of Self This class examines the nature and identity of persons. As a person, I am different from other animals. The same goes for you. But what is it that makes us different? In addition, I am the same person as I was when I was a baby, but what is it that makes me the same person over time? Is it having the same body? Would I be able to inhabit a different body? Is it my mind? Would I survive having all of my memories erased? What makes me me? Last, what kinds of things shape my unique identity and outlook on life? Am I fated to believe certain things due to my culture, economic status, or religion? In sum, this class focuses on three main issues: what it means to be a person; what makes me the same person over time; and what constitutes my self-identity. (Leininger, offered alternate years) [Area 1: Knowledge & Reality]
PHIL 210 Philosophy of Race and Racism This class introduces students to the philosophical study of race. The topic of race has gained increasing focus within academic philosophy in recent decades, and this class will expose students to key issues surrounding race within philosophy's three main branches, namely, epistemology, ethics, and metaphysics. Other approaches to the study of race might also be explored, including those taken from critical legal studies and critical race theory. Questions explored within this class might include the following: What is race? What is racism? How has racism shaped our society? What role has racism played in the thinking of philosophers across generations? How should we address problems of racial injustice? Is liberalism racist, and if so, should we dispense with it? What are race reparations and what is the case for them? Students will grapple with such questions in order to better understand the myriad dimensions of race. (Staff, offered occasionally) [Area 2: Values and Normative Theory]
PHIL 215 Aristotle Aristotle is one of the most important philosophers of the Western tradition. His works include treatises on logic, metaphysics, physics, psychology, ethics, and biology. Medieval philosophers depend on his argumentation and concepts to ground their systems of thought, and the early modem philosophers are steeped in his philosophy, often dedicating their lives to respond to it. This course is a survey in Aristotle's works that explores for the power of his philosophical positions and his role in the history of philosophy, with particular emphasis on being and knowing, i.e., metaphysics and epistemology. Typical readings include Aristotle's Categories, Posterior Analytics, Physics, De anirna, Nicomachean Ethics, Politics, and Metaphysics. Offered every other year. Prerequisite: PHIL 100. (Ward, offered alternate years)
PHIL 230 Aesthetics This course addresses a variety of philosophical issues relating to the arts, focusing on questions such as these: What is the nature of artistic creativity? What is the purpose of the arts? Is there a way for us to determine aesthetic value? Is there truth in art? How are emotions related to the arts? What role should art critics play? How are interpretations and evaluations of art influenced by factors such as culture, time period, race, gender, class? What role do the arts have in non-Western cultures? Are there aesthetic experiences outside of the arts? The course concludes by examining specific art forms chosen according to student interests. (Oberbrunner, offered annually) [Area 2: Values and Normative Theory]
PHIL 232 Liberty and Community This is a basic course in political philosophy. The focus is on striking a balance in a political order between the freedom of the individual and the requirements of community. The central question is whether the state is merely instrumental to the fostering of individuality or is intrinsically valuable because of the community it represents. A related question is whether social relations are best understood as created by contract among persons or as in some sense constitutive of our personhood. What is at issue is the adequacy of liberalism. (Staff, offered occasionally) [Area 2: Values and Normative Theory]
PHIL 234 Theories of Morality We'll examine the three dominant theoretical approaches to answering the fundamental practical question of what makes actions right and wrong. In the process, we'll also investigate questions like: What makes someone a good person? What makes something immoral? What is the relationship between rights and obligations? What makes the world a better place? (Barnes, offered occasionally) [Area 2: Values & Normative Theory]
PHIL 236 Philosophy of Law Study of the law raises many problems for which philosophy provides solutions. At the same time, the law provides valuable source material bearing on many traditional issues in philosophy. This course studies these problems and issues by examining both philosophical writings on the law and legal opinions. Tort and contract law are examined, as well as criminal and constitutional law. Some of the questions to be considered are: What is law? What is the relation between law and morality? To what extent is the state justified in interfering with a person's liberty? When are persons responsible for their actions? What is justice? When is a person liable for harm caused to others? When is morally justified to punish a person? (Staff, offered occasionally) [Area 2: Values and Normative Theory]
PHIL 238 Philosophy of Natural Science We take up several questions central to the philosophy of science: What distinguishes science from non-science? When is data evidence for a theory? What is a law of nature? How does a scientific community modify theories or reject one theory and replace it with another? What role, if any, do values play in the scientific enterprise? Is science fundamentally biased? (G. Frost-Arnold, offered alternate years) [Area 1: Knowledge & Reality]
PHIL 240 Symbolic Logic This course is an introduction to the techniques and theories of formal logic. Topics include translation between English and artificial languages; formal techniques and procedures for demonstrating that certain argument forms are valid or not (natural deduction and truth tables). Along the way, we will discuss philosophical questions about logical truth and logical knowledge. (G. Frost-Arnold, offered alternate years)
PHIL 250 Feminism: Ethics and Knowledge This course examines various feminist critiques of traditional approaches to ethics and to knowledge. The first half of the course addresses moral issues. Are traditional moral theories adequate for addressing the problems that women face? Do women tend to think about morality differently than men do? What is "feminist ethics?" What moral obligations does it assign to individuals? What are its implications for governments and social policy? The second half of the course discusses issues in science and epistemology (i.e., theory of knowledge). Historically, how has science contributed to the subordination of women? Are social and political considerations relevant to science? Is it possible for science to be "objective?" What can be done to make science less biased? (K. Frost-Arnold, offered alternate years) [Area 2: Values and Normative Theory]
PHIL 254 Technology, Truth, and Trust This is an introductory course in the philosophy of technology, with a focus on contemporary digital technologies. We will study epistemic, ethical, metaphysical, and political questions raised by the internet, artificial intelligence, and other technologies. Issues explored include: disinformation and social media, privacy and surveillance, governance and democracy of online speech, hacker ethics, artificial intelligence and oppression (e.g., racism, sexism, ableism, and transphobia), and shifting notions of the self and others in a world in which the lines between online and offline life are increasingly blurred. (K. Frost-Arnold, offered annually) [Area 2: Values and Normative Theory]
PHIL 271 Medieval Philosophy This course is a survey on common themes in Medieval philosophy. It explores issues elaborated in the works of major Christian, Muslim, and Jewish philosophers. Among these issues include Being and its modalities, Perfect Being and the world, free will and pre-determination, universals and particulars, and causality. It especially discusses the interplay between Platonic, Aristotelian and Neoplatonic views on the one hand and religious teachings on the other, as expressed in the works of medieval philosophers such as Augustine, Sa'adia, Ibn Sina, Maimonides, Averroes, Aquinas, and Ibn Tufayl.
PHIL 275 God This course examines both the nature of God and the foundation of rational belief in God. The traditional understanding of God, at least according to the Abrahamic religions, is a being that is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. However, each of these properties introduces classical philosophical problems. The puzzle of omnipotence challenges the idea that omnipotence is even a coherent notion. The dilemma of freedom and foreknowledge implies that God's omniscience is incompatible with human freedom. Last, the problem of evil gives reason to doubt that God is truly omnibenevolent. In sum, the class explores the following major questions: does God exist? What is God like? How do we know what God is like? Do we have good evidence for belief in God? If not, can we still have rational belief in God? (Leininger, offered alternate years) [Area 1: Knowledge & Reality]
PHIL 310 Cooperation, Competition, and Justice In the second half of the 20th century, game theory emerged as a powerful tool in economic theory. It helps us understand how people trust, threaten, and come to cooperative agreements. We will use mathematically simple game theory to understand how morality might be seen as an agreement by a diverse group of people, and what such a morality might demand of us and our government. Central issues will include: self-interest, fairness, rationality, redistribution of wealth, rights, and morality. We will begin with some classic texts by Hobbes and Mill, then quickly move into how contemporary economic thinking (esp. game theory) has influenced recent developments in utilitarian and contractarian theory. Upper level students from philosophy, economics, political science and public policy are encouraged to take this course (Barnes, offered alternate years) [Area 2: Values and Normative Theory]
PHIL 330 Foundations of Ethics Contemporary philosophers looking at the history of ethics generally see 4 primary types of moral theories: virtue theory, contractarianism, deontology and consequentialism. This course will take a close look at the classic texts that are seen as the primary origins of these theories, written by Aristotle, Hobbes, Kant and Mill. We will also read contemporary criticisms and refinements of these theories. (Barnes, offered alternate years) [Area 2: Values and Normative Theory]
PHIL 342 Experiencing and Knowing Why should we believe What others tell us? How do we know the external world Exists? How reliable are the inductive methods of science? How can we tell when we have achieved knowledge? What is the scope of human knowledge? What are its limits? This course examines some 20th century discussions of these and similar questions that have long intrigued thinkers wishing to understand the capacities of the human mind. (K. Frost-Arnold, Offered alternate years) [Area 1: Knowledge & Reality]
PHIL 345 Power, Privileg and Knowledge How is power used to shape the knowledge produced in a society? How does my race or gender influence my knowledge and ignorance? These are key questions in social epistemology, which is the study of the social dynamics of knowledge. In this course, students explore the historical beginnings of social epistemology in the work of Marx, Foucault and Goldman. Drawing on this history, students conduct a sophisticated study of contemporary work by feminists and philosophers of race. Among the topics discussed are: the corporatization of science, knowledge of the female orgasm, white ignorance, and strategies for becoming a responsible knower in a world of power and privilege. (K. Frost-Arnold, offered alternate years) [Area 1: Knowledge & Reality]
PHIL 350 Theories of Reality This course will focus on questions such as the following: What is real? Is the material world the only reality? Are properties, like being round, or being rational, as real as things? Is mind, awareness, consciousness, a different sort of reality? Are people simply complex machines? Are human beings free to create their own futures? With respect to physical reality, we will consider issues such as causality, space, time, and substance. For persons, we will examine the relationship between mind and body, the idea of personal identity, and the nature of human free will and responsibility. Both classical and contemporary perspectives will be considered. (Staff, offered annually) [Area 1: Knowledge & Reality]
PHIL 355 Philosophy of Time We seemingly experience the phenomenon of time every day. But what exactly is it? One of the greatest philosophers of time, C. D. Broad, declared that the problem of understanding time is "the hardest knot in the whole of philosophy." This course is an attempt to begin to unravel this knot. The topics are divided into two main sections reflecting the two main issues in the philosophy of time: the ontology of time and the properties of time. The ontology of time concerns, first and foremost, whether time is real, and, if so, whether only the present exists or whether the past and the future exist along with the present. The second section of the course concerns the consideration of the particular properties of time that give rise to several well-known questions involving time: How does time pass? What gives time its direction? Can we time travel into the past or future? These questions seem simple, but as one attempts to seek answers, it becomes clear that no obvious answers are to be found. Thus, this class ultimately serves not only as a philosophical introduction to the basic issues concerning time but also offers to students an illustration of how to structure and think through abstract issues. (Leininger, offered occasionally) [Area 1: Knowledge & Reality]
PHIL 370 Ancient Philosophy This course is a deep dive into the major themes of reality, morality, and knowledge at the origins of Western Philosophy. The great philosophers of the Classical period are studied in detail. The emphasis throughout this course is on understanding, analyzing, and evaluating the arguments and theories of these philosophers. Typical readings include: the Presocratics, Plato’s Phaedo, Alcibiades I, Meno or Protagoras, and Aristotle’s De anima. (Ward, offered annually) [Historical]
PHIL 372 Early Modern Philosophy This course is an introduction to the principal works and central theories of the early modern period (1600-1750). The philosophical thought of this period was closely tied to the newly developing sciences and also to profound changes in religion, politics, and morality. Accompanying the transformation of thinking in all of these areas was a renewed interest in skeptical theories from ancient sources, and what emerged was the beginning of uniquely modern approaches to philosophy. Each year this course focuses on a handful of texts from this period, to be selected from the works of Montaigne, Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, Hobbes, Arnauld, Gassendi, Mersenne, Leibniz, Spinoza, Boyle, Butler, Malebranche, Pascal, Newton, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. (Brophy, offered annually) [Historical]
PHIL 373 Kant Kant's critical and transcendental investigations of the limits of the ability of the human mind to resolve issues of what we can know and how we should act have been enormously influential for all subsequent philosophical inquiry. This course is devoted to understanding the problems Kant faced, the answers he advanced, and the difficult and intriguing arguments he provided to support his views. Because understanding Kant's empirical realism and transcendental idealism is incomplete without critical scrutiny of his argument, objections are introduced and discussed. (Barnes, offered occasionally) [Historical]
PHIL 390 Analytic Philosophy This course traces the historical development of the analytic tradition in philosophy, the tradition that dominates the English-speaking philosophical community today. We begin with perhaps the most important element in the creation of current analytic philosophy: the creation of a new type of logic. We then study how this new logic affects more philosophical questions in the ‘first generation’ of analytic philosophers, Frege, Russell, and Moore. We then study how their fundamental ideas were developed, extended, and critiqued by the next generation, including Wittgenstein, Carnap, Stebbing, Ambrose, Quine and others. (G. Frost-Arnold, offered occasionally) [Historical]
PHIL 460 Senior Seminar This course has variable content. Each year a central philosophical issue or the work of an important philosophical figure is examined. (Offered annually)