Fall 2017 Course Descriptions

Philosophy 102: Introduction to Philosophy, Honors (Hight) 
Science Fact to Science Phiction: An Introduction to Philosophical Thinking

This course focuses on a variety of topics involving critical reasoning skills across disciplines, unified by the theme of contemporary pop fiction culture and starting with the claim that people believe weird things in virtually every walk of life. The goals of the course will be to acquaint students with the basics of a truth-seeking intellectual attitude, equip them with basic critical reasoning skills, and practice those skills by engaging (orally and in writing) a variety of issues that can be explored through contemporary fiction. The course is thus also designed to help students succeed in all of their subsequent courses.  

The course will use various fiction stories and visual media. The emphasis will depend on student interest (varying from science fiction to The Simpsons to The Walking Dead etc.). The first third of the course will be fixed, exploring issues in critical thinking skills. The remainder of the course will draw from a 'well' of topics based on student interest gauged in the first part of the course.  No previous work in philosophy is required. Students only need a willingness to reflect on their beliefs, be open to change their minds, and do some basic work to develop their thinking skills.

Topics will include:       

  • The basics of argument analysis and evaluation
  • Reasoning about numbers and statistics
  • Fallacies, formal and informal
  • Why critical thinking matters to truth seeking
  • Why intellectual attitude determines the range of one's intellectual altitude
  • Pseudoscience, science, and science-fiction (or: why fantasy is not science-fiction)  

Topics may include (decided in part by student interest):

  • Voting behavior and how pseudoscience can infect the social sciences
  • Artificial intelligence and artificial non-intelligence: do the walking dead have minds?
  • Persons and humans: how to tell the difference and why it matters
  • Diagnosing doxastic weirdness: why do people believe weird things? Applying critical reasoning to 'the human condition' (is there a 'human nature' and what does that mean?)
  • Time and time travel. What is possible and what is just another ridiculously stupid movie premise (or: why Back to the Future makes us dumber)? 
  • Reasoning about ethics and morality (why most people do not know the difference between them, and why it matters a lot)

Philosophy 102: Introduction to Philosophy (Janowski)

This course introduces students to philosophy through a series of questions. Among those we may address are the following: Does God exist? What is the relation between faith and reason? Is religious belief a condition of a meaningful life? What is the relation between my mind, my soul, and my body? (Indeed, do I have a mind or a soul at all?) Could a computer think? What makes a person a person? (Are some non-humans persons?) How are we to understand human nature? Do I have obligations to other people? (If so, to whom? And why, exactly?) How should I live my life? (Just what is a good man and a good citizen?)

Philosophy is not a spectator sport. You will be expected to actively engage questions of this sort in the course. Be prepared, in other words, to do philosophy-to think critically about your beliefs, even your most cherished beliefs. (This is challenging, hard work! But the fact that you can do it distinguishes you from a rock or a boot; it also s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s your brain and deepens your understanding about life's basic questions.)

Philosophy 201: Logic (Hight)

"There are only two means by which men can deal with one another: guns or logic. Force or persuasion. Those who know that they cannot win by means of logic, have always resorted to guns." 
 -- Ayn Rand

Philosophy 201 is a course in formal logic. It concerns the reasons or justifications for holding beliefs. Logic is the systematic investigation of (good) reasoning. In this course we hope to do (at least) three things: (1) develop an understanding of what makes some reasoning good and others less so, (2) learn how to show that an argument or some reasoning is either good or not, and (3) develop skill at doing the first two quickly enough to make it useful...

So why would you want to learn this? Only one method in the history of human intellectual achievement has been shown to reliably produce true belief. The study of that method is called logic. If you like the idea of holding more true beliefs than false ones, this course is for you. If you like to win intellectual arguments, this course is for you. If you want to generally improve your ability to think and analyze, this course is for you. If you like to engage the world with a critical edge that will separate you from those who are content to follow and blindly agree to what they see on television, this course is for you. If you want to score better on the LSAT or the GRE or the GMAT, this course is for you.

This course will focus on deductive reasoning and the concepts associated with it. We will learn what separates good arguments from poor ones. We will learn how to formalize arguments in ordinary English, evaluate them, and draw conclusions about the world. We will learn about important formal truths in the world. We will spend some time discussing informal aspects of good reasoning, but this will not be the focus of the course.

Logic is to mental skill as exercise is to physical prowess. It takes practice and dedication, and it involves work, but the results are deeply satisfying.. Logic - properly understood and exercised - is better than sex. An achievement of the intellect lasts forever. 

"The four points of the compass be logic, knowledge, wisdom, and the unknown. Some do bow in that final direction. Others advance upon it. To bow before the one is to lose sight of the three. I may submit to the unknown, but never to the unknowable. The man who bows in that final direction is either a saint or a fool. I have no use for either." -- Roger Zelazny {Lord of Light, 1967}

Philosophy 210: Ancient and Medieval Philosophy (Hight)

"At all times and in every place, in everything that happens to us, daily life gives us the opportunity to do philosophy." -- Plutarch

Philosophy is best done in conversation because - in an important sense - philosophy just is conversation. In Phil 210 we will engage in a conversation of sorts with the most important and influential thinkers of the ancient and medieval period. The goal of the course is twofold. First we want to acquaint ourselves with the views of the ancients and see how they apply to contemporary issues. Second, and more importantly, we want to actually do some philosophy by engaging these thinkers and their views. The class will be run in an 'engaged lecture' format where students will be required to be prepared to engage the texts and the claims made by the instructor in class.

The course requires that you have an open mind and a desire to improve your critical thinking skills. Consider what Plato has to say in the Republic:    

"But can you persuade us, if we refuse to listen to you?" he said. 
"Certainly not," replied Glaucon.
"Then we are not going to listen; of that you can be assured."

If you are willing to honestly engage issues, no other prior philosophy courses are required to succeed in this course.

The course will focus on the works of Plato and Aristotle, although significant attention will be given to the Pre-Socratics, the Stoics and Epicureans, and some medieval figures. Some of the content of the course will be determined by student interest.

If you have any questions or would like additional information, contact Prof. Hight.

Philosophy 218: Philosophy of Art (Janowski)

What makes art "art"? Indeed, can "art" be defined at all? What is the difference between various types of art-a piece of music versus a sculpture, say? What is beauty? Are judgments regarding artworks and beauty subjective or objective? Is art important and valuable? Should the state support art and artists? What is the relation between art and morality? Should art ever be censored? Can you imagine a case where you would respond in the affirmative and, say, picket in front of a museum? In this course we'll think about questions such as these-questions that will appeal to artist and non-artist alike.
The Contemporary Philosophy course will focus on 20th century advances in the philosophy of language, metaphysics, perception, and epistemology. Listed below are some of the topics that will hopefully be covered. Student interest will determine some of the topics covered.

Philosophy 305: Contemporary Philosophy (Hight)

Philosophy of Language

  • Issues in meaning and reference. How do words refer to their putative objects?
  • Naming and necessity. What are names? How do they function? How can we pick out the same thing again and again (or do we)?
  • Explanation and positivism. What constitutes an explanation?
  • Early American pragmatism.
  • Early and late Wittgensteinian philosophy of language. Must be read to be believed!

Metaphysics (the study of topics required to do physics):

  • Why is there something rather than nothing? What is 'existence?'
  • Realism and anti-realism. What is the world really like? Are there such things as electrons?
  • The nature of truth. When we say that a claim is true, what does it mean to say that it is true? This turns out to be more interesting than you might expect!
  • Universals and particulars. Are there such things as numbers? What would they be? Is there such a thing as 'beauty'? What would that be like?
  • What exactly is a hole? A nothing or a something?
  • Four-dimensionalism and theories of time. Is time travel possible?
  • Identity and material constitution. If I am just my body and my body changes, I have an easy way for you to make a lot of money...
  • Vagueness. How many leaves constitute a pile of leaves? If one leaf leaves, with what are we left?

Philosophy of Perception

  • What is color? Is it 'in us' or 'out there' in the external world?
  • Do we perceive brown? Black? (What is the wavelength of brown? Where is it in the rainbow?)
  • What are shadows, absences, and dark things? How do we perceive them?
  • Philosophy upshots from an analysis of the objects of sensation and perception.

Epistemology (the study of knowledge and belief):

  • What does it mean to know something, as opposed to believing it, or doubting it, or wondering about it?
  • Do we really know anything at all? Are we all just like Neo, living in a computer generate matrix? And does this possibility matter at all?
  • How do we justify the claims we make about the world? What separates a good justification from a bad one?
  • Does our gender or ethnicity determine what we know and how we know it?
  • Is knowledge 'natural' - just a feature of how our brains work?
  • Is memory knowledge?
  • Can we 'know' things about religion and God?

Intrigued? You should be! These are deep and difficult and EXCITING issues. This course will be a discussion-oriented seminar where together we explore issues. Most of the time I won't have the answers either, so be prepared to think your way to positions (because you will not have them fed to you) and defend them.Prior experience in at least one philosophy course is strongly recommended. Any questions should be directed to Prof. Hight.

Philosophy 314: Ethics (Janowski)

We will read three classic works in the history of modern moral philosophy. We will also read several essays that amplify and extend the issues raised in these books. The emphasis in the course will be on close reading and analysis of the text-and on thinking about the central questions in theoretical ethics. (Be forewarned: this is not a course in applied ethics.) These questions include: how, exactly, are we to understand morality? What are moral norms and what, if anything, is their ground or foundation? How are we to understand human nature? What is the relation between human nature, reason, and morality? How are we to determine the moral rightness of an action? By appeal to its consequences (for oneself or for others?)? By appeal to the agent's motive? Something else entirely?