Philosophy (PHIL)

PHIL-101 Introduction to Philosophy

Fall. Credits: 4

This course will explore topics that philosophers have grappled with for thousands of years, and that still undergird (or sometimes threaten to undermine) our understanding of the world, our knowledge, ourselves, and each other. In historical and modern texts of the Western intellectual tradition, we will discuss questions such as: Are we all selfish? What makes right actions right, if anything? Do you know anything at all about the future? Are you really free if your actions are caused? This class is for first and second year students who know nothing about philosophy, and want to know whether they will be interested in it. Students with some exposure to, and interest in, the field should take other classes.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
S. Mitchell

PHIL-103 Comparative Introduction to Philosophy

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

What kind of life should a person live? What can we know about the world? Do we have souls that are separate from our bodies? The aim of the course is to learn how to do philosophy by engaging with philosophical thinkers throughout the globe. We read some philosophers from the Western tradition (such as Plato and Sartre) alongside philosophers from other historical traditions, such as the Daoist thinker Zhuangzi and the Sufi mystic al-Ghazali, and we also read some contemporary thinkers from a variety of cultural traditions (such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jorge Gracia). This course is equivalent to Philosophy 101.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
J. Harold

PHIL-104 Science and Human Values

Spring. Credits: 4

Modern science has taught us surprising new things and modern technology has given us extraordinary new abilities. We can now prolong life in extraordinary ways, dramatically enhance our physical and cognitive abilities, collect and process remarkable amounts of data, and radically reshape the natural environment on local and global scales. This course is devoted to the critical study of moral problems that have been raised or affected by this newfound information and these newfound abilities. Potential topics include euthanasia, pharmaceutical enhancement, genetic engineering, the moral status of animals, climate change, and artificial intelligence.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
N. Emery
Restrictions: This course is limited to first-year students.

PHIL-201 Philosophical Foundations of Western Thought: The Greek Period

Fall. Credits: 4

An introduction to ancient Greek philosophy, focusing mainly but not exclusively on the works and ideas of three Athenian philosophers who worked and taught in the period between the Persian Wars and the rule of Alexander the Great, more than 2,300 years ago: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Topics to be discussed include: What is the nature of the self? What is truth, and how can it be known? What kind of life should we live? We will work to understand each philosopher's responses to these questions, but we will also learn to develop our own answers. We will take care to place these figures and their works in their historical and cultural context.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
T. White

PHIL-202 Philosophical Foundations of Western Thought: The Modern Period

Spring. Credits: 4

Philosophy was transformed during the 17th and 18th centuries, in a period known as the Modern period, or the Enlightenment. This period is important for the background of our current views both in Philosophy and in intellectual endeavor generally. In this course, we'll look at the major figures involved in this transformation, and the positions about knowledge and reality that they defended. We'll have selections from the work of Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. We might not cover all of these, but will get to most.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
S. Mitchell
Notes: Evaluation is by three essays.

PHIL-205 Ethics

Spring. Credits: 4

What do we owe to ourselves and to others? Which actions are right, which are wrong, and how can we tell the difference? Can we give principled answers to questions like these, or is it just a matter of opinion? We will think critically about such questions and some key theoretical approaches to answering them. We will focus on central traditions of Western moral philosophy, typified by Mill, Kant, and Aristotle. We will also consider vexing contemporary moral issues with an eye to whether these theories can guide our actions. Along the way, we will ask whether the moral theorizing we engage in can really uncover objective moral truths.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
T. White

PHIL-209 Theories of Probability and Causation

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

In this course we will look at theories of causation, probability, and their interaction. We will look first at Hume on causation, and then move on to some very basic probability theory. We will briefly explore the standard statistical approaches and go on to Bayesian reasoning and confirmation theory. Finally, we'll examine recent developments in the Bayesian Net theory of causation. As a whole, the class is an investigation of recent mathematical and philosophical theories about how science works, what justifies the hypotheses we ought to believe, and how observations could justify hypotheses about unobserved entities and regions.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
S. Mitchell
Prereq: One course in Philosophy or Mathematics.

PHIL-210 Logical Thought

Fall. Credits: 4

This course cultivates sound reasoning. Students will learn to see the structure of claims and arguments and to use those structures in developing strong arguments and exposing shoddy ones. We will learn to evaluate arguments on the strength of the reasoning rather than on the force of their associations and buzzwords.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
N. Emery

PHIL-212 Philosophical Foundations of Chinese Thought: The Ancient Period

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

An introduction to Chinese thought in the classical period roughly between 500 and 221 BCE, a time of social and political furor. We will survey different philosophical responses to this upheaval, with an eye to the contemporary relevance of ancient Chinese wisdom. We will conclude the course by looking at how classical Chinese thought changes and adapts with the arrival of Buddhism. The course format consists of lecture and discussion preceded by extensive reading of primary texts (in translation).

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
Other Attribute(s): Writing-Intensive
The department
Advisory: No familiarity with Chinese history, philosophy, or language is assumed.

PHIL-222 Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics

Spring. Credits: 4

Although quantum mechanics is a remarkably successful scientific theory, it also leads scientists to make extraordinary claims like that cats can be both dead and alive and that the state of a fundamental particle depends on whether someone one is observing it. In this class we will consider the various interpretations of quantum mechanics and the way in which those interpretations influence and are influenced by philosophical issues in science more generally.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
N. Emery
Advisory: No previous work in physics is necessary, but students should be prepared to learn some mathematical formalism involving basic algebra and trigonometry.

PHIL-225 Symbolic Logic

Spring. Credits: 4

This course develops a symbolic system that can be used as the basis for inference in all fields. It will provide syntax and semantics for the language of this system and investigate its adequacy. It provides the basis for all further work in logic or in the philosophical foundations of mathematics. Much of the course has a mathematical flavor, but no knowledge of mathematics is necessary.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
S. Mitchell

PHIL-242 Social and Political Philosophy

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

We will examine the place of liberty and equality in a just society by looking at classic and contemporary topics in social and political philosophy. We will consider big questions such as the following: what is liberty and why is it important? What about equality? Do these values conflict? Or can a society ensure both? We will also consider more narrow, practical questions on topics such as immigration, voting, commodification, reparations, freedom of expression, and a universal basic income.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
The department

PHIL-248 Philosophical Issues in Race and Racism

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This course examines the nature of race and racism primarily (but not exclusively) from a philosophical perspective. What kind of entity or category is 'race'? Is it something real at all? If so, how is it real exactly? If not, what consequences (should) follow from its lack of reality? Do we have to be a member of a 'race' in order to (have the right to) know and speak for it? How is race and race-thinking relevant for our personal and group identities? What is the nature of racism? How do race, ethnicity, gender, and class intersect? How legitimate are race-based social policies that aim to bring about social justice or diversity? Readings will come from philosophy and a variety of interdisciplinary texts (e.g., film and other media).

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
The department

PHIL-249 Women and Philosophy

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

The goal of this course is to see how careful philosophical thought can help us with pressing issues that women face. We approach this topic through a distinctly feminist lens, as opposed to a traditional philosophical, queer theoretic, or gender studies lens. We will draw on a variety of philosophical resources, ranging from liberal and feminist political theory, to speech act theory. Possible questions we will consider include: What is objectification? What is consent? Is pornography degrading? How does sexism and bias lead to bad science?

Crosslisted as: GNDST-210PH
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
The department

PHIL-250 Topics in Philosophy

PHIL-250AE Topics in Philosophy: 'Philosophical Issues Concerning Animals'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

Who are non-human animals? In this course, we will think about this question and others -- specifically about the ethical relationship "human animals" have to these beings. We will ask such questions like: What are the philosophical -- especially the ethical -- implications of the scientific research on non-human animals? What determines the quality of life of any animal -- human or nonhuman? What obligations do we have to non-human animals? Our answers to these questions will have implications for human businesses, our diet, our pets, our legal system, and, ultimately, how we think about ourselves as 'human animals.' The course format consists of lecture, discussion, regular writing and the possibility of a class presentation.

Crosslisted as: ENVST-233AE
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
Other Attribute(s): Writing-Intensive
T. White

PHIL-250AP Topics in Philosophy: 'History of Analytic Philosophy'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This class is about how philosophy tried to be a science, and rejected most of its history as metaphysical nonsense. It's about how and why this failed, and returned to metaphysics. There were three phases: Logical Positivism, which argued that most of the history of philosophy was meaningless babble, and should be replaced by a much more scientific approach to the issues. Quine, who replaced the positivists with a pragmatic view of the subject. And Kripke/Lewis who returned Metaphysics to the center of concern using possible worlds. This last approach brings us to the present day. We'll read the most influential figures: Frege, Russell, Schlick, Carnap, Quine, Lewis Kripke. These developments provide the background for nearly all Contemporary Philosophy.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
S. Mitchell
Prereq: 8 credits in the department including logic (PHIL-210 or PHIL-225).

PHIL-250ED Topics in Philosophy: 'Philosophy of Education'

Fall. Credits: 4

The purpose, goal and shape of educational institutions, policies and methods have been central preoccupations for millennia. This course considers a variety of questions concerning education that are related to different parts of philosophy: epistemology (What kind of 'knowledge' should be taught at different educational levels? How do we differentiate 'truth' and 'education' from 'propaganda' and 'indoctrination'?), ethics (What is 'moral virtue'? Can it be taught? If so, is this an appropriate educational goal?), and social and political philosophy (What is the relationship between schools and the broader society? Should education be a fundamentally subversive activity?)

Crosslisted as: EDUST-250ED
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
Other Attribute(s): Writing-Intensive
T. White

PHIL-250UT Topics in Philosophy: 'Utopian Theory'

Fall. Credits: 4

This course studies a wide range of writings that aim to describe an ideal community. We begin with ancient Greek philosophical works (Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Politics), examine the revival of the genre in the Renaissance (Thomas More's Utopia) and consider both modern and contemporary examples that come from non-philosophical disciplines (Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, B.F. Skinner's Walden Two, Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time, and Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia). Issues regarding the character, shape and goal of government and the economy are obviously central.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
Other Attribute(s): Writing-Intensive
T. White

PHIL-255 Existentialism

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

Does human life have meaning (purpose)? Can religion or spirituality provide it? If not, is human life 'absurd'? How can we attain or create meaning in the face of the 'absurdity' of human life? What is genuine human freedom? Are other people in the world obstacles to, or also sources for, our attempt to attain or create meaning in our lives? What is existential commitment and 'authenticity'? Is existentialist ethics possible at all? We will examine the central themes of existentialism in readings from Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir, and Fanon (among others). We will also end the course by considering some significant criticisms of existentialism.

Crosslisted as: CST-258
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
The department

PHIL-260 Topics in Applied Philosophy

These courses ask questions about the ethical and/or conceptual problems pertaining to a practice, such as law, medicine, or caring for the natural environment. Such courses are suitable for philosophy majors as well as for students who are new to philosophy but who are interested in the relevant practice.

PHIL-260EB Topics in Applied Philosophy: 'Ethics in Entrepreneurship and Business'

Spring. Credits: 4

What are the special challenges of obligation and responsibility that individuals, businesses and other organizations face in a complex global environment? We explore these questions using applied philosophical ethics from the traditional approaches to moral philosophy (studying the ethical character of both actions themselves and the results of those actions) and the more recent ethics of care. We apply these ethical considerations in different cases and contexts of individual decision-making and the choices and dilemmas that businesses and other organizations face.

Crosslisted as: EOS-249
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
T. White

PHIL-260ET Topics in Applied Philosophy: 'Environmental Ethics'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

A fundamental problem we face as humans is how we should relate to the natural world. Why not turn Yosemite into a parking lot? Should we control nature by applying scientific and technological expertise? Or should we strive for noninterference and preservation of the wild? How do we balance the pressing needs of people for food, energy, and other resources with the needs of other species or whole ecosystems?

Crosslisted as: ENVST-233ET
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
The department

PHIL-260GE Topics in Applied Philosophy: 'Problems in Global Ethics: Climate Change, War, and Poverty'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

Living in today's world presents distinctive and pressing moral problems. What are the responsibilities of individuals, particularly individuals living in relatively affluent societies, to prevent climate change, or to alleviate the harms caused by it? How should we act to prevent war, and should we ever initiate wars in order to prevent greater evils (such as terrorism)? What responsibilities do citizens of relatively affluent nations have to prevent and ameliorate poverty and global inequality? In order to reason clearly about these questions, we will need to think deeply about the notion of global citizenship (or "cosmopolitanism") and the nature of individual moral responsibility.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
J. Harold

PHIL-260LW Topics in Applied Philosophy: 'Philosophy of Law'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This course is an inquiry into questions concerning the nature of 'justice,' 'law,' and the relationship between the two from the point of view of various schools of legal thought like natural law theory, positivism, utilitarianism, legal realism, critical race studies, and feminist theory. We will examine questions like 'Is there a duty to obey, or sometimes disobey, the law?' and 'What do we mean by 'equality' or 'rights'?' within the context of contemporary legal issues like affirmative action, abortion, and same-sex marriage. Readings drawn from Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Mill, Holmes, Llewellyn, Hart, Rawls, and others.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
The department

PHIL-260ME Topics in Applied Philosophy: 'Medical Ethics'

Fall. Credits: 4

Contemporary medicine gives rise to a variety of moral and philosophical questions. Some of the questions we will discuss include: Is the concept of disease objective? What moral duties do we have to those at the beginning and the end of life? How should limited health care resources be distributed? What are the responsibilities of medical researchers towards their subjects? Do we have reason to be worried about the growth of technology in medicine? Are the basic institutions of medicine just? The goals of this course are to improve our understanding of the arguments on different sides of these questions, and to acquire some tools to evaluate those arguments.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
J. Harold

PHIL-270 Epistemology

Fall. Credits: 4

As the study of knowledge and related concepts like justification, rationality, and evidence, epistemology is of central importance, and not just to philosophy. This course provides an introduction to epistemology through a number of epistemological problems or puzzles about skepticism, dogmatism, and humility.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
K. Vavova
Prereq: 4 credits in Philosophy.
Advisory: The required credits should be from a course with a substantial writing component. If in doubt ask instructor.

PHIL-272 Metaphysics

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

Metaphysics is the study of what world is like. This course will survey of some major topics in metaphysics, with a particular focus on radical metaphysical arguments -- arguments that call into question our most basic beliefs about the world. Examples of questions that we will consider include: Do ordinary objects exist? Is there anything that makes persons distinct from other sorts of objects? Could things have been different than the way they in fact are? In answering these questions we will investigate the nature of composite objects, the criteria for personal identity, and the metaphysics of causation, laws of nature, and modality.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
N. Emery

PHIL-273 Philosophy of the Arts

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

The purpose of this course is to explore philosophical problems concerning the arts and aesthetic experience. Some questions to be explored include: What is the difference between beauty and moral goodness? Can artistic taste be objective? What does it mean for a work of music to be 'sad'? Are the intentions of artists relevant to appreciation? What is the purpose of art criticism? How do pictures represent their objects? Readings will be drawn from both historical and contemporary philosophical writings.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
J. Harold

PHIL-295 Independent Study

Fall and Spring. Credits: 1 - 4

The department
Instructor permission required.

PHIL-327 Advanced Logic

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This course uses the predicate calculus to present a careful development of formal elementary number theory, and elementary recursion theory, culminating in a proof of Gödel's incompleteness results. It includes some discussion of the philosophical significance of these results for the foundations of mathematics.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
S. Mitchell
Prereq: PHIL-225.

PHIL-328 Non-Classical Logic

Fall. Credits: 4

This course looks at the recent flowering of non-classical logics. The most prominent are modal logics concerning necessity and possibility, which have come to dominate work in metaphysics and epistemology. Conditional logics, intuitionist logics, and relevance logics have also become important. These logics are particularly useful in graduate-level classes in philosophy but also are interesting in their own right.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
S. Mitchell
Prereq: 4 credits from Philosophy, Mathematics, or Computer Science department.
Advisory: One course in Logic, Mathematics, Computer Science or Philosophy 209

PHIL-334 Topics in Ethics

PHIL-334HC Topics in Ethics: 'The Ethics of Having Children'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

Few choices have as much of an impact on ourselves and others as those we make about having children. In this course, we will discuss the ethics of issues such as procreation, pregnancy, surrogacy, adoption, genetic modification, and our obligations to future generations. In the process, we will explore deep and challenging issues such as the nature of harm, value, and personal identity. The course format will consist in discussions of contemporary books and articles.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
Other Attribute(s): Writing-Intensive
The department
Prereq: 8 credits from the Philosophy department.

PHIL-334MA Topics in Ethics: 'Immoral Art'

Fall. Credits: 4

From Plato's attacks on Homer's poems to the protests against D.W. Griffith's racist film The Birth of a Nation to the recent spotlight cast by the #metoo movement, it is clear that the relationship between art and morality is a difficult one. Are some works of art inherently immoral? If so, why? What should we say about works of art that are created by immoral artists? Or works that have morally troubling social effects? What is the relationship between an artwork's moral status and its value as a work of art? Are moral and aesthetic judgments objective? How are they related? We will survey the current state of the philosophical debate over the conflict between moral and aesthetic value.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
Other Attribute(s): Writing-Intensive
J. Harold
Prereq: 8 credits from the Philosophy department.
Advisory: One previous course in ethics or philosophy of art; at least one course in philosophy that is writing-intensive.

PHIL-350 Topics in Philosophy

PHIL-350BA Topics in Philosophy: 'Reasons for Belief and Action'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

Your friend wrote a tacky song. Should you believe it's a masterpiece? (She is your friend, after all). You're about to jump across an icy stream. You're more likely to make it if you believe you can. Should you believe that? Your resolutions to exercise regularly usually fail. Should you believe you will succeed this time? If we say 'yes', what is the relevant sense of 'should'? Are these beliefs rational, or merely beneficial? These cases suggest that there can be different sorts of considerations in favor of belief and action. This course is about how to understand these different sorts of reasons and how these might conflict or interact.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
K. Vavova
Prereq: 8 credits from the Philosophy department.
Notes: Professor Vavova is co-teaching a version of this course at Amherst College in fall 2017. Mount Holyoke students can register for this course using the Five College registration system.

PHIL-350CA Topics in Philosophy: 'Outside the Western Canon'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

The goal of this senior seminar is to introduce advanced majors to important philosophical works that lay outside the Western philosophical canon. That canon mostly includes European and American philosophy. All course readings will be from traditions outside that canon (including, for example, African philosophy, Latin American Philosophy, Islamic Philosophy, and Native American philosophy) or be written by members from underrepresented groups. Students who enroll in this course will work collaboratively with the professor to help shape the course, refining together the course syllabus.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities; Multicultural Perspectives
Other Attribute(s): Speaking-Intensive, Writing-Intensive
K. Vavova
Instructor permission required.
Advisory: If you are interested in enrolling in this course, please e-mail the instructor, evavova@mtholyoke.edu, as soon as possible, preferably during Advising Week, with a statement summarizing your background in philosophy and your interest in topics and figures outside of the Western canon.

PHIL-350FR Topics in Philosophy: 'Freedom and Responsibility'

Spring. Credits: 4

Is free will possible if all our actions are causally determined? Might we be justified in blaming, praising, rewarding, or punishing people even if their actions are not free? Abstract metaphysical questions about freedom intersect in important ways with everyday problems in our relationships with others and our attitudes about moral ignorance, addiction, and madness. This course will examine these issues side by side in the hope of improving our understanding of freedom and responsibility.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
K. Vavova
Prereq: 8 credits from the Philosophy department.
Advisory: The required credits should be from a course with a substantial writing component. If in doubt ask instructor.

PHIL-350SE Topics in Philosophy: 'The Philosophy and Science of Emotion'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This course, rooted in an analytical philosophical approach, is an interdisciplinary investigation of emotions. The course goals are to understand emotions, how different academic disciplines approach the study of emotions, and how these perspectives can inform each other. Are emotions primarily bodily responses? Feelings? Thoughts? What role does culture play in shaping emotions? What functions do emotions serve? What can neuroscience tell us about emotions? We will read and critically analyze material from different disciplines including philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, anthropology and evolutionary theory.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
Other Attribute(s): Writing-Intensive
L. Sizer
Prereq: 8 credits in Philosophy or Neuroscience and Behavior, or 4 credits in each.
Notes: Assignments include in class presentations and several short and longer papers.

PHIL-350TM Topics in Philosophy: 'Philosophy of Time'

Fall. Credits: 4

Does time flow? What is the difference between the future and the past? Is time travel possible? This course will survey the major topics in the philosophy of time from Augustine's Confessions and the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence to relativity theory. Along the way we will take up philosophical issues regarding the relevance of intuition, the nature of causation, determinism, and freedom, and the relationship between science and philosophy.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
Other Attribute(s): Writing-Intensive
N. Emery
Prereq: 8 credits from the Philosophy department.

PHIL-350WU Topics in Philosophy: 'Women and Utopias'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

While utopian speculation was a noteworthy part of western philosophy from its origins in ancient Greece, it wasn't until the early twentieth century that a utopia was published by a woman. Since then, there have been a number of important, primarily literary works written by women speculating about ideal societies. This course will examine the distinctive traits of these utopias and their differences with the major utopias written by men.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
Other Attribute(s): Writing-Intensive
T. White
Prereq: 8 credits from the Philosophy department.

PHIL-351 Systematic Study of One Philosopher

PHIL-351KA Systematic Study of One Philosopher: 'Kant'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason is one of the few works in the Western philosophic tradition that fundamentally transformed our understanding of the place of human beings in the world. This seminar involves a careful, critical reading of the text in order to assess the nature and significance of the epistemological and metaphysical views it expounds. There will be frequent, short papers.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
The department
Prereq: PHIL-202 and one additional Philosophy course.

PHIL-353 Topics in Social Philosophy

PHIL-395 Independent Study

Fall and Spring. Credits: 1 - 8

The department
Instructor permission required.