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Current Course Descriptions (Fall 2015)
In all sections of Philosophy 001, an enrollment maximum will be strictly enforced. The sections are taught as independent classes, each with separate reading lists, assignments, and examination policies; but the following features are common to all:
Jeff McConnell / D+ / TR 10:30-11:45
This section is an introduction to philosophy by way of a close reading of several philosophical classics. The readings will include Plato's Meno, Descartes's Meditations, parts of Locke's Essay, the entirety of Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and parts of hisTreatise, and if there is time, several short works by Friedrich Nietzsche. Along the way, we will examine some central problems of philosophy, such as these: What is the relation between the mind and the body? Do we have free will? Are our actions causally determined? Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the origin of the order and of the complexity in the world? What makes us the same persons over time? How can we know anything? Can we know whether or not there is a God? What is the nature of right and wrong? What is the role of reason in our lives? Our goal will be primarily to understand and to contrast these writers' views and only secondarily to criticize them. Throughout the course, we will discuss these classic texts in light of contemporary debates over ethical theory and the nature of persons. There will be discussion of the reading assignments and regular writing assignments.
Jeff McConnell / H+ / TR 1:30-2:45
This section is an introduction to philosophy, with a focus on the problem of evil and questions about the meaning of life. We begin with a question that has occupied philosophers and theologians for centuries: Is the existence of evil consistent with the existence of a God? We begin with Augustine's autobiographical Confessions, which documents his struggles with this question. Next, we consider Leibniz's attempt to show that we live in the best of all possible worlds and Voltaire's satirical response to Leibniz in his short novel Candide. This debate over religion leads naturally to two more questions: What is evil? And is human nature evil? Some religious people think that humankind is "fallen," and that it is only through God's "grace" that any good is possible. Kant has a different but related problem of evil – how can a rational person do evil? The problem arose for Kant because of his idea that humans are only motivated by selfishness or by morality. Evil actions, however, seem sometimes to be motivated by the desire to do the wrong thing because it is wrong. This suggests an innate, irrational tendency to evil. A concern with irrationality runs through a number of writers who follow: Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Freud and Sartre. Finally, we conclude with a careful reading of Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem, her account of the trial of an architect of the Holocaust. In this book, she defends her famous thesis of the "banality of evil." There will be regular writing assignments, and occasionally students may be asked to view films related to the readings.
Christiana Olfert / D+ / TR 10:30-11:45
What is happiness, and how can we become happy? How do pleasure, friendship, and luck contribute to a life well lived? And how is living a good life connected to being a good person? In this course, we will take two perspectives on these questions. On the one hand, we will examine in detail some of philosophy's oldest and most enduring answers to these questions as they are found in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. And on the other hand, we will examine, test, and evaluate Aristotle's classic answers in light of contemporary thinkers' views on these subjects. Our main goal will be to generate a conversation with Aristotle, accessible in contemporary terms, about what counts as a good life. In doing so, we will gain a broad and deep understanding of one of history's most important ethical texts – the Nicomachean Ethics – and we will also see how philosophers today continue to develop our understanding of how to live well.
Monica Link / J+ / TR 3:00-4:15
In this course we will take up three broad philosophical topics. The
first topic is the nature and structure of morality. How should we treat
other human beings? What principles ought we to use in deciding when an
action is right or wrong?
Monica Link / L+ / TR 4:30-5:45
In this course we will take up three broad philosophical topics.
The first topic is the nature and structure of morality. How should we
treat other human beings? What principles ought we to use in deciding
when an action is right or wrong?
Valentina Urbanek / H+ / TR 1:30-2:45
In this course, we will ask and attempt to answer big metaphysical questions:
What are we -- are we immaterial things, bodily things, some complicated
combination? What happens to us when we die? Does God exist? Do we have free will?
Valentina Urbanek / J+ / TR 3:00-4:15
In this course, we will ask and attempt to answer big metaphysical questions: What are we -- are we immaterial things, bodily things, some complicated combination? What happens to us when we die? Does God exist? Do we have free will?
We will also ask and attempt to answer big epistemological questions: How could we ever come to know the answers to these important metaphysical questions? What is knowledge and how do we get it -- via our senses, by reasoning alone? Is knowledge even attainable?
Throughout our examination of these metaphysical and epistemological questions, we will discuss questions about values and what we should do. What attitude should we take toward death? Is suicide immoral? If we don't have free will, does that mean that everything that we do is pointless? If we can't prove that some of our most fundamental beliefs are true, would it matter -- how should we go on with life?
Great philosophers have proposed sophisticated answers to these questions. We will read their works, consider their theories, analyze their arguments, and grapple with our own answers, however tentative, to these big questions.
TBA / I+ / MW 3:00-4:15
TBA / K+ / MW 4:30-5:45
TBA / M+ / MW 6:00-7:15
Ariel Goldberg / F+ / TR 12:00-1:15
How humans encode language in their brains, so that they can produce and understand an unlimited variety of utterances in context. Language and other forms of communication; how children acquire language; biological basis of language; the structure of language -- phonology (sound structure), syntax (grammatical structure), and semantics (meaning).
Monica Link / C / TWF 9:30-10:20
What makes an action right or wrong? What responsibilities, if any, do
we have to people other than ourselves and those most close to us? How
should we balance competing interests? These are the some of the questions
that will be addressed as we study the fundamentals of various ethical theories
including relativism, consequentialism, duty-based ethics, virtue ethics and
social contract theory.
Susan Russinoff / J / M 4:30-5:20 TR 3:00-3:50
*Satisfies Tufts Mathematical Sciences Distribution Requirement
Stephen White / G+ / MW 1:30-2:45
This course is an introduction to the development of game theory, decision theory, and social choice theory. Topics to be discussed will include individual decision under risk, Newcomb's problem, causal decision theory, the prisoner's dilemma and its applications to moral and political theory, and Arrow's theorem. The course is organized around a text in which these theories and topics are developed rigorously and systematically. We will also go beyond the text in employing the case study method to examine the application of decision theory and game theory to real world problems such as the problem of nuclear deterrence. Requirements for the course include a number of problem sets and exercises designed to help students acquire a detailed knowledge of the logical structure of the theories under discussion. No mathematical knowledge beyond high school algebra will be presupposed. There will be two papers and a final exam.
Ioannis Evrigenis / D+ / TR 10:30-11:45
Central concepts of ancient, medieval, and early modern political thought. Ideas of Thucydides, Aristophanes, Plato, and Aristotle during the rise and fall of Athens. Subsequent transformations of political philosophy related to the decline of the Roman empire and the origins and development of Christian political doctrine, and the new political outlook of those who challenged the hegemony of Christianity. Analysis of how premodern political thought helped structure future political debate.
David Denby / I+ / MW 3:00-4:15
This is a lower-level introduction to political philosophy. It
presupposes no previous acquaintance with philosophy.
Nancy Bauer / F+ / TR 12:00-1:15
The purpose of this course is to ask whether "feminist
philosophy" is possible and, if so, what it can do and what it is
good for. Any number of prominent feminists believe that in its
commitment to what it calls "objectivity," "universality," and
"reason," philosophy inveterately and insidiously serves the
interests of men and is inherently an enemy of feminism. On the
other hand, mainstream philosophers, who see objectivity,
universality, and reason as paradigmatically neutral values, often
worry that political movements such as feminism, while they may
serve lofty purposes, cannot, by definition, count as philosophy.
George Smith / J / M 4:30-5:20 TR 3:00-3:50
How can one tell whether a deductive argument succeeds in establishing its
conclusion? What distinguishes good
deductive arguments from bad ones?
Questions like these will be addressed in this course.
The principal text will be Richard Jeffrey's Formal Logic, though it will
be supplemented by other texts and by notes from the instructor.
The accent will be as much on coming to understand what the word 'formal'
means in the title of Jeffrey's book as on what 'logic' means.
We will discuss what a formal language is, how arguments in English are
to be expressed in various formal languages, and what is gained from so
expressing them. In the jargon of
the field, we will cover sentential logic, first order predicate logic, identity
theory, and definite descriptions.
We will also look briefly at the history of logic.
Ray Jackendoff / G+ / MW 1:30-2:45
Syntactic theory, the study of grammatical structure, is the core subcomponent of contemporary linguistics. Topics of the course include: Syntactic categories, phrase structure, long-distance dependencies, the balance between grammar and lexicon and between syntax and semantics, syntactic universals, and the innate predispositions required for children to learn the syntactic structure of their native languages. Multiple theoretical approaches will be compared.
Ray Jackendoff / 10+ / M 6:00-9:00
This seminar explores the knowledge (conscious or unconscious)
necessary in order to behave appropriately in one's social/cultural context. To
what extent is such knowledge learned from the culture, and to what extent might
it be "hard-wired" into the species? What can we learn about human societies by
studying animal societies? Are there cultural universals, or a restricted range
of possibilities on which cultures can draw? What are the cognitive
underpinnings of such culturally ubiquitous institutions as religion and moral
codes? The seminar addresses these questions through literature in ethology,
anthropology, and evolutionary psychology and through parallels with language
(which is after all a social behavior).
Stephen White / K+ / MW 4:30-5:45
This course will focus on the nature of conscious experience,
its relation to the subjective point of view, and the
implications of both for the mind-body problem, the problem of
agency, and the problem of other minds. The traditional
mind-body problem has been taken to raise such questions as
whether we could continue to exist after our bodies had been
destroyed and whether computers could be conscious. We will
consider these questions, but we will also consider carefully
the nature of the subjective point of view and the question that
is involved in seeing a world that contains opportunities for
genuine action, states of affairs worth striving for, and agents
Joseph Walser / 10 / M 6:30-9:00
Seminar on the doctrines and arguments of the major Indian schools of philosophy (Samkhya, Buddhist, Vedanta, Nyaya-
Vaisesika, and Navya-Nyaya). How these schools attempt to ground their religious systems in logical argumentation about the human soul, God, and the path to nirvana. This course counts toward the Humanities distribution requirement, World Civilization requirement and the South and Southeast Asian Culture option.
Jody Azzouni / E+ / MW 10:30-11:45
Sometimes we know something, and sometimes we have just made a good guess. Can we tell the difference? Is there a method for recognizing that we know something? We usually can supply evidence for what we know. Must we always be able to do so for us to rightly claim that we know something? Evidence for a belief is usually something we know. Do we need evidence for our evidence? If so, how do we ever manage to know anything? Some philosophers, called skeptics, don't think we do know anything. In this course, we'll try to answer these questions, or at least explore them further. Readings will be from articles, both contemporary and classic. Requirements: Two 5-7 page papers, and weekly write-ups on the readings.
Lionel McPherson / D+ / TR 10:30-11:45
Questions of global justice continue to take on greater urgency in a world
increasingly connected through economic, security, and environmental interests.
This course will survey contemporary writings in political philosophy, both
theoretical and practical, that raise or respond to such questions.
Christiana Olfert / L+ / TR 4:30-5:45
The philosophers of Ancient Greece and Rome asked some of philosophy's most enduring questions, and these questions continue to inform the field today. For instance: What does it mean to be happy? What is most fundamentally real? What is knowledge, and how is it different from other cognitive states like imagination and mere belief? And how is the justice of a just society related to the justice of individual members of that society? This course will introduce you to Presocratic philosophers, to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and to Hellenistic schools of philosophy, all of whom attempt to answer these challenging questions. In texts like Plato's Phaedo, Republic, and Meno, as well as in Aristotle's Metaphysics and Nicomachean Ethics, we will discover that from the Ancient perspective, questions about what is fundamentally real are deeply connected to questions about what it means to live a good and happy life -- both individually and collectively. After a look back to the Pre-Socratics and their influence on the Classical thinkers (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle), we will then turn to the Hellenistic period and the debate between the Stoics and the Ancient Skeptics, who develop even further, sometimes surprising, insights into the nature of reality, the possibility of knowledge, and human well-being. All students of philosophy will benefit from learning how these classic questions arose, and how they were addressed by different thinkers in the Ancient period.
Avner Baz / 10+ / M 6:00-9:00
Phenomenology seeks to uncover, or recover, human experience in the face of our own natural tendency to overlook it, and in the face of its distortion-through-over-intellectualization in traditional philosophy and in modern science. Against the tendency to suppose that we already know what our experience must be (like), since (presumably) we know, objectively, what we are and what the world is like, phenomenology calls upon us to 'bracket' that objective knowledge and to reflect upon our experience without traditional or scientific presuppositions. It claims that, ultimately, even the work of science presupposes this level of 'pre-reflective' experience, or the world as perceived before it is thought. This immediately raises the question of how we can recover for ourselves a level of relation to ourselves and to our world that, on the phenomenologist's own account, we normally and naturally pass over—interested as we are in objective facts and practical results. How can we know that, in criticizing existing theories for distorting human experience, we ourselves are free of challengeable presuppositions that distort our own account? The phenomenologist's answer is that we cannot know that: existing phenomenological descriptions of our experience are always open to challenges in the name of a truer description. And yet it is undeniable that neither traditional philosophy nor modern science has much to say that is enlightening about the special way in which we perceive and relate to our own body, for example; or about what it means to relate to another human being as an other; or about the way in which the back of an object, or what's behind our back, is present in our experience; or about how to understand those moments when we look at something differently and 'everything changes even though nothing has changed'; or about the way in which our past is present in our present (and how this makes freedom both possible and limited); or on how we know, and yet do not truly know, that we are going to die; or on how sexuality, for example, or class consciousness, or a childhood trauma, affects the whole of our being. And it is also undeniable that phenomenology has much to say that is enlightening about these issues.
Existentialism reminds the traditional philosopher or 'the thinker' that, before all else—before any reasoning or theorizing—she or he exists. And this is not a conclusion—a proposition—that we necessarily arrive at if we follow Descartes' reasoning in his first and second Meditations. It is a fact we live before we think it. Descartes doubts; and then 'realizes' that in doubting, he must exist. But before any reasoning or logical derivation he lives his doubt (if it's a genuine doubt)—he enacts it. Doubting is how he spends this moment of his life; and his present act of doubting will become part of what he'll carry with him to the next moment. As the conclusion of a piece of reasoning, who knows what it means for me to exist? As something I undergo, however, my existence is undeniable. It is truly what I must begin with: not in the sense of being an Archimedean starting point or axiom for a logical derivation, which is how Descartes thought of it, but in the sense that, before all else, I exist. We each have been 'thrown into the world', and we come to every moment—even a moment of the highest and most abstract reflection—with an inheritance (personal, cultural, biological) that we are free to transcend in various ways, but not to choose. And we have no essence—no character—that precedes our interaction with the world and determines it in advance—we can only discover ourselves in our engagement with the world, not by pure, disengaged reflection or introspection.
The philosophers we will study in this course are phenomenologists. They are also existentialists (Merleau-Ponty much more so than Husserl). For Merleau-Ponty, the fact of our existence is the fact of our embodiment—not in the trivial sense that we each have a body, but in the much deeper and more difficult sense that we are our bodies—not our bodies as science conceives of them, however, but our bodies as we (and others) perceive them. It will be interesting for us to think how, for all of the differences between them, Husserl's work made Merleau-Ponty's work possible: how within the span of two great Texts—Husserl's Cartesian Meditations (based on his Paris Lectures) and Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception—we can go from Descartes' Meditations to the most radical overthrowing to date of Cartesian metaphysics.
(aka: What is Philosophy and Why Is It Worth Taking Seriously?)
Amelie Rorty / F+ / TR 12:00-1:15
What gets called "philosophy" by its practitioners and its readers has differed in its aims and methods, its genre, audience and conventions. It has differed in its accepted canon. Sometimes Montaigne and Pascal, Diderot and Voltaire were central figures, sometimes they were marginal. Many canonic philosophers wrote in radically different genres: Descartes wrote a meditation, a treatise, and scientific works on optics. Hume wrote dialogues, essays, and a history of England; Mill wrote an autobiography, literary essays and speeches for Parliament. Rousseau wrote a novel, an autobiography, essays, thought experiments. All these works were, and were intended to be philosophically significant.
We will read a number of examples of different 'genres' of philosophy, along with each author's reflections on what he was doing, in doing philosophy. For example:
Dialogues: Plato, The Republic, Book 1; and The Seventh Letter
Meditations and Intellectual Autobiography: Descartes, Meditations, Discourses and a Treatise
Articles and Disputations: Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part I, Q. 77, 80, 81, 82,
Essays: Hume, "On Personal Identity," "The Stoic." "The Sceptic"
Thought Experiments: Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality and J.J. Thompson, "A Defense of Abortion"
Propositions: Spinoza, Ethics
Aphorisms, Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good and Evil
Fiction and an Article on that Fiction: Sartre, Dirty Hands and Michael Walzer, "The Problem of Dirty Hands"
'Experimental Philosophy' SEP article
Each student will select a philosophic
problem or topic (e.g. the problem
of moral luck, personal identity or free will) —and write on that topic in
several different modalities (e.g. as a dialogue or essay, a thought experiment
or Thomistic article.) What difference does a difference in genre and method
make to the philosophic import of the work to a reader?
McPherson/Smith / H+ / TR 1:30-2:45
Slavery is unquestionably a moral wrong in the minds of many. Yet the practice stretches back thousands of years. Ancient Athens, often put forward as the model of democracy, was economically founded on the back of slavery. Neither Socrates nor Plato appears to have seen this is as a moral failure of their city-state. Perhaps their sensibility, or oversight, generally sheds light on how the "Founding Fathers" of the United States could be comfortable enough constitutionally enshrining slavery through the "three-fifths compromise."
Fast forward to today. Slavery, some say, is still practiced in various forms. This raises two obvious questions:
1) How are we to understand what constitutes slavery?
2) Why is slavery, in any or all of its various forms, morally objectionable?
Over the last 50 years, David Brion Davis of Yale University has produced a three-volume study of the moral history of slavery: The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (1967, Pulitzer Prize), The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution: 1770-1823 (1976, National Book Award), and The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation (2014). This study will form the core reading of the seminar, with supplementary readings from philosophers, ancient and contemporary, and social scientists. The central questions throughout will be how slavery has been morally justified over the centuries, how some forms came to be seen as morally beyond justification, and what this might tell us about morality itself.
The course will require two shorter papers and a longer paper.
Daniel Dennett / 11+ / T 6:00-9:00
Cognitive models of perception, memory, control and many more specific mental phenomena typically postulate systems of representation, but there is so far no uncontroversial theory of mental (or cerebral) representation, or of information-processing in the brain. This course will look at the philosophical background of work on minds and mental processes, including the topics of intentionality, functionalism, computationalism, and reductionism, and the issue of how explanation in cognitive science compares with explanations in the other sciences. This course is designed for graduate students in the disciplines comprising cognitive science, and for advanced undergraduate majors in brain and cognitive science or philosophy.
David Denby / G+ / MW 1:30-2:45
David Lewis was one of the most brilliant and influential philosophers of the
late twentieth century and his work is required reading in several areas of
contemporary philosophy. In this course, we will read and critically evaluate
many of his most important contributions. We will devote most of the semester to
discussing his metaphysical work, especially his work on ontology, causation,
laws, time, and modality. We will also discuss some of his work on the
philosophy of mind and perhaps the philosophy of language and discuss some
methodological issues. We will not look at his more technical work,
e.g. in semantics, or decision theory, though we might touch on some of its
philosophical implications. Our approach will be problem-centered: we will
consider various philosophical problems in turn, and evaluate Lewis's engagement
with them rather than just do Lewis-exegesis. Although there is an
underlying unity to Lewis's work, which will emerge through the semester, we
will usually treat his contributions to the various debates as independent of
Riccardo Stobino / I+ / MW 3:00-4:15
This course will introduce students to the elaboration and transmission of key philosophical concepts from Antiquity to the Latin Middle Ages and the Arabic-Islamic tradition, and aims to offer a comparative overview of their treatment in these closely interconnected contexts. This process of transmission contributed deeply to the shaping of central pre-modern world views, and involved complex movements of translation, interpretation and appropriation of materials by different social groups, at different moments in time and in different geographical areas. The course will focus on specific themes and address the rise of various translation movements, particularly from Greek into Arabic in 8th- to 10th-century Baghdad, and from Arabic into Latin in 12th-century Andalusia. We will look at how a broad array of topics in metaphysics, natural philosophy, psychology, epistemology, and ethics have been addressed by major philosophers, including Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, al-Kindī, al-Fārābī, Avicenna, Averroes, John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham and John Buridan, with the aim of highlighting the main turning points in the transmission and reception of ideas over time. There is no pre-requisite for this course. All readings will be in translation.
Jody Azzouni / 11+ / T 6:00-9:00
This will be a course exploring a solution to Kripke's version of Wittgenstein's puzzle about rule-following. Kripke presents Wittgenstein as offering a challenging new paradox, that "no course of action could be determined by a rule, because every course of action can be made out to accord with the rule." We will study Kripke's version of this paradox , and study some of its philosophical fallout in metaphysics, specifically with respect to the concept of natural kinds.
I am finishing a book on this topic. Readings will be from Kripke's book, my manuscript, as well as some articles.
Baz/Denby / 2 / W 8:30-10:30am
The Graduate Writing Seminar (GWS), offered every Fall semester, is required
of all students entering their second year of the MA program in Philosophy.
Students who enter the program in Fall 2009 or later must earn a grade of
SATISFACTORY in the GWS. Letter grades will not be given. Students
are eligible to take the course after completion of one successful term in the
MA program. Students who wish to audit the seminar must commit to being
full participants in the class, which means attending all sessions and
completing all assignments. Auditing may be appropriate for students who
have already taken the course for credit or for first-semester students who are
not used to writing in English.
Students will be given frequent but brief out-of-class writing assignments, sometimes general exercises and sometimes term paper work.
PREREQUISITES: At least two successfully completed semester in the Tufts MA program in Philosophy. Exceptions to these restrictions may be made in unusual cases.
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