Philosophy

Busts of ancient philosophers

Philosophy studies many of humanity's fundamental questions: how should we live, what kind of society should we strive towards, what are the limits of human knowledge? What is truth? Justice? Beauty? Philosophy seeks to reflect on these questions and answer them in a systematic, explicit, and rigorous way, relying on careful argumentation, and drawing from outside fields as diverse as economics, literature, religion, law, mathematics, the physical sciences, and psychology. Undergraduates may pursue a Concentration or Secondary Fields in General Philosophy, Value Theory, Contemporary Metaphysics and Epistemology, and History of Philosophy.

Director of Undergraduate Studies: Cheryl Chen

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Gateway Courses

Spring 2022

GENED 1015: Ethics of Climate Change
Lucas Stanczyk

How should governments respond to the problem of climate change? What should happen to the level of greenhouse gas emissions and how quickly? How much can the present generation be expected to sacrifice to improve conditions for future generations? How should the costs of mitigation and adaptation be apportioned between countries? Should significant funds be allocated to the study of geo-engineering? We will consider these and other questions in an effort to understand our responsibilities in respect of climate change, with a special focus on the structure of the analytical frameworks that have been dominant among policymakers.

GENED 1024: Pride & Prejudice & P-values: Scientific Critical Thinking
Ned Hall and Douglas Finkbeiner

We humans have developed rational and systematic methods for solving problems, ways carefully designed to chart a reliable path to the truth. Yet we as individuals, as groups, as whole societies fail to take full advantage of these methods. This course aims to equip you to do better, by helping you explore what it means to approach a question “scientifically."

What skills – and more importantly, habits of mind – does this approach require of you as an individual (especially an individual who needs to work in collaboration with other individuals)? What does successful scientific inquiry require of a community – both the community undertaking the inquiry, and the larger society of which it is part? Here you will find the tools to start answering such questions for yourself. You will learn to spot widespread and stubborn errors in reasoning that we humans easily fall prey to, along with techniques for avoiding them. You will uncover some of the fundamental assumptions (about the world we inhabit, and about our access to that world) that science must proceed from, and thereby become more sophisticated about what science can teach us and what it can’t. By engaging with these foundational aspects of scientific inquiry, you will come to understand more fully what it means to adopt a critical scientific mindset, and how to do so for yourself. And you will thereby end up in a much better position to assess how communal scientific inquiry does and should guide decision making in a democratic society such as ours.

GENED 1025: Happiness
Susanna Rinard

Should we pursue happiness, and if so, what is the best way to do it?  This course will critically assess the answers to these questions given by thinkers from a wide variety of different places, cultures, and times, including Stoicism, Epicureanism, Buddhism, Daoism, and contemporary philosophy, psychology, and economics.

GENED 1121: Economic Justice
Mathias Risse

Which is more just: capitalism or socialism? And how does that question intersect with racial justice? Capitalism has long reigned as the ideological solution to organizing society, but it is also clear that the pursuit of seemingly boundless material gain for some comes at the expense of others. The US and other countries have seen growing discontent around an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, and around the racial dimensions of that situation. Socialism addresses this wealth gap, but has a complex relationship with racial justice, and has had a checkered past around the world. So what is the answer? In this course, you will reflect on social justice in industrial societies over the last 250 years and grapple with potential answers to questions of economic justice, covering classics in the field while also paying special attention to often neglected African-American thinkers.

PHIL 18: Human Ethics: A Brief History
Seth Robertson

Does might make right? Should a person focus on achieving immortality or on living a simple, happy mortal life? Is morality simply a matter of convention? Why be moral when being immoral could provide access to more wealth, fame, and power? What is the relationship between etiquette and morality? What do people owe a society that has failed in its obligations to its people? How can we identify and resist oppression, marginalization, and injustice? Human beings all over the world have been thinking about, discussing, and debating questions like these for thousands of years. This course aims to look at this history of ethics and moral philosophy from a genuinely inclusive perspective by focusing on ethical thought both from all over the world, with special emphasis on that of members of traditionally marginalized groups and from areas of the world that typically receive much less attention in academic philosophy and ethics.