Fall 2012 Graduate Philosophy Courses
PHIL 501: History of Ancient Philosophy
Dr. David Calhoun
It is often said that ancient Greece is the birthplace of western philosophy. The primary objective of this course is to explore the writings and arguments of the major thinkers that compose this philosophical revolution. Consequently, the course is both philosophical and historical. It is primarily philosophical in the sense that we will be surveying major works by the most significant thinkers in ancient Greece, attempting to understand the key components of their philosophical theories and the reasoning by which they support these theories. It is historical insofar as we will examine carefully the interrelations between the views of different thinkers and also explore the relevance of historical context to the ideas propounded by these thinkers.
The course will follow five major historical periods in ancient Greek philosophy: (1) pre-Socratic philosophy, in which a series of philosophers sought to explain the fundamental principles of reality in rational terms and to develop technical skills for succeeding in life; (2) Socrates, the central figure of ancient Greek philosophy who, although he wrote nothing, marked a decisive change from the previous development of philosophy and significantly influenced those who followed: (3) Socrates' student Plato, who gradually developed his own philosophical positions in response to his teacher; (4) Plato's student Aristotle, who labored to make philosophy scientific and systematic; and (5) the post-Aristotelian philosophical schools of skepticism, Epicureanism, and Stoicism, and Neo-Platonism.
Class discussion will be a Socratically structured conversation focusing on the primary readings. Consequently, students will be expected to shoulder a significant burden of reading the primary materials and reflecting on them before class to be fully prepared to participate.
Course grades will be based on course participation, papers, midterm exam, and a comprehensive final exam.
The two-hundred year history of modern European philosophy, from the 1630s (when Descartes' first great work was published) to the 1830s (when Hegel died), can be viewed as a struggle to achieve knowledge of reality against the challenges of skepticism. We will study the systems of the most important Continental Rationalists (i.e., Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz), the most important British Empiricists (i.e., Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume), and the most important German Idealists (i.e., Kant and Hegel) of this period on such issues as human knowledge, metaphysical substance, the mind-body relation, human freedom, reasons for believing in God, the nature of (both physical and mental) reality, causal reasoning, and the problem of evil. Our goal is to understand these philosophical systems and the dynamic processes through which these three great "schools" of philosophy developed, as well as the serious conflicts presented by their differing world-views.
Each student in the course must critically evaluate, as well as understand, primary-source writings (in translation for the Rationalists and Idealists) of the thinkers to be studied, as well as participating regularly in class discussions. Written course requirements will comprise a combination of papers and exams for all students taking the course for credit. Those taking the course for graduate credit (510) will be expected to do additional advanced readings, show a more advanced level mastery of material, do directed research in secondary sources, include appropriate scholarly citations in their papers, receive instruction outside of class time, and make class presentations.
PHIL 517: The Christian Philosophy of C. S. Lewis
Dr. Brian Clayton
C. S. Lewis is one of the most influential Christian authors of this century. His fictional works and other writings continue to attract and affect readers. Lewis was trained as a philosopher at Oxford University, and his works reflect this training. He was also well-read in the literature of the classical Christian tradition, and his works also reflect this tradition.
This will be a team-taught course that will examine Lewis the Christian thinker as his Christian theism and his philosophical training exhibit themselves in a wide range of his fictional, philosophical, and theological works. We will also consider the thought and some of the writings of friends and contemporaries who influenced him significantly-e.g., J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton.
The course will focus on the fiction and non-fiction works of Walker Percy (1916-1990). Percy is probably best known as a novelist, having written six novels, the first of which, The Moviegoer, won the National Book Award for fiction in 1962. However, even before his first novel was published, he had already written a number of essays that appeared in philosophical journals. It is likely that a number of academic philosophers would not consider Percy a professional philosopher, but the fact remains that philosophical questions concerned him throughout his life. His own view was that he would probably be best remembered for his philosophical essays, not for his novels. The philosophical questions that vexed him also played a prominent role in his novels, although they rarely are so obvious as to distract us from the story that Percy is telling us. Peter Augustine Lawler has recently made the argument that Percy is a true post-modern, to be distinguished from those who usually bear the label and are more properly understood as hyper-moderns. If Lawler is correct about this, then Percy may make an important contribution to our own attempts to work out a proper self-understanding and way of life now that modernism is seriously in question in the West. Finally, Percy was a convert to Roman Catholicism, and thus his work is particularly appropriate for investigation at a Catholic university.
TEXT: We will read and discuss the following works by Walker Percy (listed by year of publication):
- Love in the Ruins (1971)
- The Message in the Bottle (1975)
- Lancelot (1977)
- The Second Coming (1980)
- Lost in the Cosmos (1983)
- The Thanatos Syndrome (1987)
We will read a couple of essays from the posthumously published Signposts in a Strange Land (1991) and from other authors (e.g., Pascal, Nietzsche) who are helpful in understanding Percy. These additional readings will be available online at the course Blackboard site.
Course Requirements: The final course grade will be based on the following components:
This course introduces and examines America's unique contribution to philosophy, namely pragmatism. We shall engage with a variety of figures-from classical to contemporary American pragmatists, including: Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, John Dewey, Jane Addams, Richard Rorty, John J. McDermott, and Judith Green. With the help of the foregoing philosophers, we shall together consider such questions as: to what extent is pragmatism a break with previous philosophical traditions? What should be the role of experience for philosophy? What is a belief? What is the meaning of our mortality?-and is life worth living? What is the role of temperament in philosophy? To what extent can we improve our human condition? What is the self? What is the relationship between culture and nature? What is the role of community? (and what is community?) What is and ought democracy to be? Join our community of inquiry for the opportunity of a lifetime as we explore the story and ongoing conversation of this vibrant philosophical movement. Course activities will likely include: lecture & discussion, exams & other writing assignments, and presentations.
The existentialist movement defies simple definition, but can be characterized roughly as the attempt to philosophically understand fundamental issues concerning the meaning and structure of human existence. The existentialists tend to regard abstract, conceptual systems of metaphysics as unable to account for concrete reality of individual human beings. Thus, in place of metaphysics, the existentialists investigate human existence through themes such as the relationships between the individual and the crowd; the significance of anxiety, dread, and death; the meaning and scope of individual freedom; and the quest for meaning and direction as it relates to God and absolute values. This course will examine such themes as they are addressed by major "existentialist" thinkers: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, and Camus.
This class is an introduction to the phenomenological tradition as it emerges at the beginning of the 20th century with the work of Edmund Husserl. Phenomenology is a method for discovering truth through a careful reflection on one's lived experience and thereby giving an account of the structures and possibilities of experience itself. In carrying out this project, phenomenology attempts a radical re-thinking of the Cartesian tradition in order to heal the dualisms of mind and body, subject and object, self and world, fact and value that the phenomenologist sees as plaguing the history of modernity. The great clarion call of phenomenology is "Back to the things themselves." This imperative is motivated by a deep desire to overcome our tendency to see things as merely instruments to be used for our own purposes and through this overcoming to allow the things as they are in themselves, with their own nature and value, to appear to us, thus revealing a world full of meaning to which we intimately belong. The heart of this class is a close reading of the thought of Edmund Husserl and the ways his phenomenological thinking was adopted and transformed by Martin Heidegger, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Students will be examined on the basis of short weekly writings, an in class exam, a presentation to the class of a phenomenological reflection on some lived experience, and a final paper.
This course introduces students to three Chinese schools of thought: Confucianism, Taoism, and Chan (Zen) Buddhism. We will read and discuss two resourceful thinkers in ancient Chine" Mencius and Chuang Tzu. The former, a dynamic disputer, is famous for his rigorous unrelenting defense of Confucian teaching and his creative development of Confucianism. The latter, a provocative critic of his contemporaries, is admired for his ability to present Taoism through his imaginative and animated parables. We will also explore Chan (Zen) Buddhism by reading Toward a Philosophy of Zen Buddhism by Toshihiko Izutsu. The book discusses the experience of satori, ego and egolessness, sense and nonsense, koan practice, and the influence of Zen on arts. In addition to studying the three schools, the course will also attempt to compare the Eastern thinkers' views with Western philosophers' on relevant issues. The course will take the format of combining lecture, discussion and presentation. Students will learn different perspectives of looking at the world and various ways of reflecting on human experience. The course will help participants acquire a sense of world philosophy and be aware of what Francis Bacon called "idols" in our tradition.
As concern over the well-being of the planet spreads, people frequently find themselves in conflict over how to balance conservation with the use of natural resources, visions for our common future, and the wisdom of development. Such conflict stems in important ways from varying understandings of values and responsibilities, of what is good and right. Environmental ethics is concerned with examining a wide range of intellectual efforts to address the problem of our obligations to what we call "nature" as well as its inhabitants, e.g. animals and other human and non-human beings. This course is designated to provide a fairly comprehensive overview of the key philosophical issues and arguments within the growing field of environmental ethics.
In this class we shall study different approaches to God and the nature of religious experience, language and practice. In order to engage in any real depth on these matters, our study will be limited to the history of the Christian tradition. We shall begin by looking at a variety of classical and medieval mystical approaches, then turn to more recent rational arguments over whether and how to prove the existence of God and over what attributes ought or ought not be applied to God. We shall also be considering questions of how belief in God squares with the reality of evil in the world.
A crucial question running throughout the course is how the religious orientation to reality relates to scientific, moral and aesthetic orientations. The course concludes with a look at the phenomenon of atheism and secularism. Those taking the course for graduate credit (565) will be expected to do additional advanced readings, show a more advanced level mastery of material, do directed research in secondary sources, include appropriate scholarly citations in their papers, and receive additional instruction outside of class time.
This course will involve an in-depth examination of the works of the 20th century's most important (and perhaps most neglected) systematic philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947). The primary aim of the course is to come to an understanding of Whitehead's event-based metaphysics as it is developed in his post-London writings such as Religion in the Making, Science and the Modern World, Process and Reality, Adventures of Ideas, and Modes of Thought.
As one of chief fields of philosophy, epistemology studies the origins, the nature, the extent (limit), the presuppositions, the justification, and the veracity of knowledge. Philosophical skepticism has presented challenges to almost every issue in epistemology since ancient times. Many philosophers have found the skeptic's questions engaging and thus thrown down the gauntlet. This graduate seminar will focus on philosophical skepticism and anti-skepticism, and will inquire in depth into classic and contemporary disputes on the topic.
The typical format of the class will be like this: Everyone carefully reads the assigned material and is prepared for discussion. Two students are designated critics. Each day, one person will play the role as a negative critic of the assigned work; a second person will serve as a positive critic. The negative critic will present his or her objections to the work at hand first, then the positive critic will provide his or her support, and then class discussion will follow. The negative critic should make his or her presentation available on Blackboard one meeting ahead, i.e. on Tuesday, the negative critic should post his/her presentation for the upcoming Thursday.
There is no test for this class. In addition to the presentation, a student will write a long paper (in the conference paper style) and present it in the end of the semester.
There is no denying that technology is a pervasive feature of contemporary life. How did it get to be this way? Do people determine technology, or is it the other way around? Should we place limits on technology? Indeed, can we? How do we respond rationally and responsibly to the demands placed on us by our technological culture? These are some of the questions we will try to answer as we submit technology to philosophical analysis. In this class, we will not only read key philosophic texts on the question of technology, we will also do some philosophizing on our own about technology. The course is discussion oriented, so robust student participation on a daily basis is required. Grading will be based largely on the student's written work.