Sample Syllabi

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The question “What is the good life?” was asked by the earliest philosophers, both Greek and Chinese. You might wonder what a bunch of people who lived thousands of years ago have to say about the good life for you—someone who lives here, now, in the 21st Century. That is one of the things we will explore in this class as we study different theories of the good life. You probably already have a variety of what we would call “pretheoretical” or unexamined ideas about what the good life is. These are things you already believe, but haven’t yet articulated or, going a step further, defended. One of the goals this semester will be for you to think deeply about the good life in a way that informs and enriches your own experience in the world. While we will be starting with what some of the ancient philosophers said about the good life (Epicureans, Stoics, Confucians) we won’t end there. We will also jump into the 20th century by examining Existentialist philosophy, and we will wrap things up by examining some current work in contemporary philosophy & psychology of human well-being. Although we will be studying many different ideas about the good life, this course isn’t guaranteed to improve your life. That is up to you. (Or is it?)
This course gives students a broad yet detailed introduction to epistemology, the branch of philosophy that studies knowledge and related topics such as belief, justification, perception, and truth. We will consider questions such as: What is knowledge? What are beliefs? What does it mean to say that a belief is true? What is justification? How are beliefs justified (if they are at all)? To what extent do I have control over what I believe? Is knowledge possible? Is knowledge valuable? What is an epistemic virtue? Students can expect to become familiar with a great many “isms” as we proceed: skepticism, foundationalism, coherentism, reliabilism, evidentialism, internalism, externalism, voluntarism, and more. But we want to try as best we can to pay attention to both the trees and the forest. The goal is to develop a sense of the major concerns and positions in contemporary debates in epistemology. We must also, of course, include meta-questions about the methods of epistemology and the value of knowledge.
The modern period in Western philosophy (approx. 1600-1800) was a rich, fascinating period of philosophical development. In many ways, the questions these philosophers raised and answers they offered set the course for the western philosophical tradition, a tradition that still informs how we understand philosophical questions and problems today. This course introduces students to influential philosophers and ideas of the modern period. We will explore a wide variety of work, including metaphysics, epistemology, political philosophy, and ethics. In order to gain an appreciation for the ongoing philosophical conversation within its historical context, we will proceed chronologically, paying close attention to primary texts.
Logic is the science of evaluating arguments. This class introduces students to both informal and formal logic. In this class, we will approach good reasoning as a skill that can be improved by study and, crucially, by practice. We will begin our study with informal logic, starting with how arguments are constructed. We will focus on identifying the various parts of arguments and their logical relations (What is a conclusion? What are premises? What does it mean for one proposition to support another?). Next, we’ll spend some time thinking about meaning and definitions. We will also learn about many common reasoning errors or logical fallacies. In the second part of the course, we will turn our attention to formal logic, beginning with categorical syllogisms and using Venn diagrams to test for validity. We will then proceed to propositional logic, where students will practice translating sentences from ordinary English to logic and will learn to test for validity by using truth tables and by natural deduction. In the final section of the course, we will study two topics in informal logic: analogical and causal reasoning.
This class introduces students to established theories and key concepts in the philosophy of science, as well as explores new directions such as the moral and social obligations of scientists. We will begin by examining what science is, looking in particular at scientific methodology including induction, confirmation, and falsification. This will put us in a position to address questions about the nature of scientific knowledge, such as “What is scientific knowledge?” and “How does it resemble or differ from other ways of knowing?” We will also consider scientific progress, both as it relates to scientific knowledge and in the broader context of scientific revolutions. Next, we will explore the significance of several philosophical commitments that are especially relevant to science, including naturalism and scientific realism. Finally, we will examine whether scientists have any special moral responsibilities given the power and influence they have in our society.
Philosophy of Food introduces students to a variety of issues in the philosophy of food, focusing in particular on the aesthetics of eating and the ethics of food production and consumption, with a brief foray into some metaphysics. We will not assume any previous background in philosophy, but you can expect that we will be doing some serious philosophy as we proceed. For example, we will be discussing objectivity and subjectivity in taste, the tension between the aesthetic appreciation of food and the practicality of food consumption, and morality of various food sources (both individually and socially). We will be finishing off the course by considering how our choices about what and how to eat play an important role in influencing who we are, both as individuals and in society.
Students who take this course can expect to: 1) Become familiar with central debates in the philosophy of mind, focusing especially on the nature of mind/mentality, its relation to the body, and on consciousness. 2) Understand and evaluate theories that address key problems in the philosophy of mind. We will focus on current research, but we will also keep an eye toward historical context. 3) Recognize and appreciate the relation between science and philosophy, especially as it relates to the mind. 4) Deepen one’s understanding of oneself as both embodied and conscious, and of the relation between mind and self. 5) Develop skill in reading comprehension, critical analysis, and effective communication in classroom discussion and through academic writing.