Graduate Seminars

Spring 2018

Philos 220: Philosophical Theology in Early Modern Philosophy

Instructor: John Carriero
Tuesdays: 2-5PM
Location: Dodd 325

In the first half of the course we will try to recover a sense of traditional philosophical theology—the theory of the First Principle of the universe (God)—by considering writings from Plato, Anselm, Aquinas, and others. We will look at different theories of God with an eye to how they overlapped and where they disagreed. In the second half of the course we will examine the theory of God as it appears in early modern philosophy, especially in Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, and perhaps Kant.  We won’t be as interested in issues arising from God’s relation to human beings (e.g., questions of theodicy and whether human free will is compatible with human dependence on God) as in the theory of God itself. For example, some thinkers seem to view God as fundamentally a supremely perfect being, others as a necessary being, and still others as an infinite being. How do these characterizations relate to one another? Does it matter where one begins? We will also want to know why thinkers found it natural to hold that God is in some sense prior to space and time, something that seems important for understanding early modern pictures of where space and time fit into the scheme of reality. We’ll have several guest presentations.

Philos 232: Laws of Nature

Instructor: Sheldon Smith 
Tuesdays: 2-5PM
Location: Dodd 399

The topic of my Philosophy 232 seminar in the Spring will be the notion of a law of nature. The main reading will be my in-progress book manuscript (tentatively) entitled _Pressures on the Word ‘Law’ in Physics_. The book mostly explores how the notion of law works within physical theory, but it starts with a historical overview of ideas regarding laws of nature, including the views of Descartes and Newton, but also including the more contemporary views of people like John Roberts and Marc Lange. I would be happy for us to do significant background reading about the history of the topic. There is a lot of physics in my manuscript but also a lot of explanation of physics that, I hope, makes it (and the seminar) of interest to people without a physics background (though some calculus would help as a prerequisite to some of it). Though I come at the topic via physics, I hope for an audience that includes, among others, meta-physicians and historians of philosophy. In particular, I would be very happy to read term papers about the history of the law notion — in any era — as well as papers on the metaphysics of laws and the relation of the law notion to other notions like causal capacities and counterfactuals.

Philos 235: Philosophy of Mathematics

Instructor: Sean Walsh 
Wednesdays: 2-5PM
Location: Dodd 325

This is a graduate introduction to the philosophy of mathematics. The idea shall be to survey the major figures and topics in this area from the 1960s onward, with an eye towards understanding how this shapes current work in the field. Among figures, we will look at Quine, Benacerraf, Dummett, Wright, Parsons, Shapiro, Priest, and Manders. These figures wrote on a host of topics, including: indispensability, structuralism, intuitionism, categoricity, analyticity, non-classical perspectives, and diagrammatic reasoning. The lecture notes will try to provide some organization to this complicated panoply of topics and the attendant secondary literature. The seminar discussion will revolve around a small number of classic, important papers in the philosophy of mathematics. There are no prerequisites for this course, and it should be accessible to any philosophy graduate student. In particular, it does not presuppose knowledge of any particular areas of mathematics or logic.

Philos C247: Topics in Political Philosophy: The Idea of the Human

Instructor: Daniela Dover 
Wednesdays: 2-5PM
Location: Law 3393 (April 18-25, May 16 – June 6) TBD (May 2-9)

This seminar will survey the history of modern European theories of human nature, with a view to assessing the relevance of this history to contemporary thinking about ethics and politics. We will begin with readings from Renaissance thinkers (Pico della Mirandola, Montaigne, Erasmus, Luther) in order to prepare ourselves for the study of how the discourse of ‘humanity’ would later be employed in high Enlightenment thinkers like Rousseau and especially Kant, whose version of humanism remains the most influential, and whose ethical theory we will study alongside his racial theories. Equipped with these reminders of some of the historical precursors of contemporary notions of human dignity, personhood, agency, and the self, we will look briefly at the employment of these notions in some recent analytic moral philosophers (Williams, Korsgaard, Frankfurt, Waldron). Finally, we will turn to thinkers for whom the way contemporary analytic philosophers talk about the self is anathema, focusing in particular on the emergence of theoretical anti-humanism in postwar French thought (Althusser, Lévi-Strauss, Foucault), but also touching on the 19th-century roots of this debate (Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche), and on postcolonial, feminist, “posthumanist,” eco-critical, animal-rights, and disability-studies critiques of Enlightenment conceptions of the self and of the human (Haraway, Wynter, Butler, Barnes, Eze). We will attempt to understand why these thinkers regard many of the claims about the self, agency, personhood, and “moral standing” that are found in the analytic tradition as naïve and pernicious.

 

Philos 254B: Legal Theory Workshop

Instructor: Seana Shiffrin 
Thursdays: 5-7PM
Location: Law 1314

The workshop  brings leading scholars from around the world to discuss their works in progress with law students, graduate students in philosophy, and interested faculty.  All the papers will address legal issues from a theoretically informed perspective or theoretical issues relevant to the understanding of law. This term, we have a superb lineup. Our speakers are:  Anna Stilz (Princeton), Amy Sepinwall (Wharton School of Business, Penn); Sophia Moreau (Toronto); Frances Kamm (Harvard), Lewis Kornhauser (NYU), Thomas Scanlon (Harvard).  The choice of paper is the speakers’ but I expect the topics may include immigration law and policy, religious freedom, anti-discrimination norms, bioethics, law and economics, and freedom of speech.

The seminar associated with the workshop  offers a great opportunity to refine your writing skills and your skills in formulating questions.  In addition to the workshop sessions, the seminar offers additional sessions in which we gain further background in the relevant topics for the papers.  In addition, we work together on the skills associated with a successful workshop.  Each intervening week between workshop sessions, we talk through what makes for a good paper,  how to frame a pointed yet constructive question about a topic to which one has just be introduced, and how to field questions productively.  Students will receive extensive and regular feedback on short reaction papers (1-2 pages) to help them hone strong questions and to build up to a longer analytical research paper about one of the subjects covered in the seminar.  Students will also receive feedback on their questions in the workshop.  There will also be additional opportunities for enrolled students to meet with the visiting scholars.

The seminar does not presuppose any background and any graduate student is welcome to enroll.

Philos 271: Metaphysics and Epistemology: The Value of Coherence

Instructor: Sherrilyn Roush 
Mondays: 2-5PM
Location: Dodd 325

Bayesians have traditionally argued that we should be probabilistically coherent because it guarantees that we avoid sure loss in betting, broadly construed. More recently philosophers dissatisfied with the pragmatic and non-epistemic nature of this justification have derived theorems to the effect that being probabilistically coherent will make your beliefs more accurate. Both approaches are completely self-centered, concerned with the consequences of my beliefs’ coherence (e.g., consistency) or incoherence (e.g., inconsistency) for me. We explore the hypothesis that being coherent is necessary for one’s beliefs and preferences to be readable by others, by considering the consequences of incoherence of my beliefs for communication and coordination. We will develop the hypothesis that coherence is a constraint on our beliefs because truthfulness (not just truth) is a norm of assertion.

We will begin by evaluating some of the standard defenses of probabilistic coherence, with particular attention to theorems about betting and representation theorems. (Our discussion will not require technical sophistication.) We will then consider the role of consistency in interpretation of speech; it seems that interpretation requires the audience to charitably assume the speaker is (locally) consistent, and that this in turn generates a responsibility on the part of the speaker to be consistent lest he mislead his hearers via implications. We will discuss how a speaker (or computer program) can use inconsistency among his beliefs (or responses) to deceive or mislead an audience (or attacker). We will discuss how a constraint on assertion (truthfulness) might impose a constraint on belief (consistency), despite the fact that belief and assertion are somewhat independent: we don’t believe everything we assert and don’t assert everything we believe. Finally we will consider that a person has some right to mislead others in order to protect his privacy and autonomy, and wonder whether that can be squared with an unconditional obligation to be consistent. Readings will likely include selections from Alan Hajek, Donald Davidson, Jennifer Saul, Seana Shiffrin, Rachel MacKinnon, Sandy Goldberg, Graham Priest, Bernard Williams, Niko Kolodny, and Alasdair MacIntyre, among others.

Winter 2018

Philos 203: Proof and Definition in Aristotelian Epistemology

Part 1: Aristotle Analytics

Instructor: Adam Crager 
Wednesdays: 2-5PM
Location: Dodd 399

In the Analytics, Aristotle presents his invention of logic as philosophically motivated by the goal of developing a theory of episteme. This seminar constitutes an advanced introduction to the logic and epistemology of Aristotle’s Analytics with a special focus on two fundamental concepts: proof (Grk: apodeixis) and definition (Grk: horismos).

The course is offered as the first in a two-part sequence of graduate seminars. In the sequel—to be co-taught with Calvin Normore during the 2018-2019 academic year—we will study the development of Aristotelian logic and epistemology in the classical Islamic tradition focusing in particular on Avicenna’s accounts of proof (Ar: burhān) and definition (Ar: add) in his Kitāb al-Burhān.

Philos 232: Philosophy of Science

Indeterministic Explanation and Chance

Instructor: Katie Elliot 
Thursdays: 2-5PM
Location: Dodd 325

Many of our best scientific and commonsense theories ascribe non-maximal probabilities to the occurrence of particular events.  For example, the probability that a very fit organism will pass on copies of its genes to the next generation is high but shy of 100%, the probability that the top card on a well-shuffled deck is an ace is 4/52, and the probability of decay within 1600 years for radium-226 is 50%.  The core questions of our seminar are:

  1. Do any indeterministic theories provide explanations of events to which they ascribe probabilities, and if so, which ones?

For example, are explanations found only in fundamental physical theories such as quantum mechanics, or are non-fundamental indeterministic theories such as classical statistical mechanics, thermodynamics, evolutionary biology, and meteorology likewise explanatory?

  1. Which aspects of indeterministic theories explain?

For example, is causal information alone explanatory, or must causal information be supplemented by statistical laws?  Are likely events better explained than unlikely events?  Are probability ascriptions explanatory on their own?

Additionally, we will discuss what implications (if any) various answers to these questions have for a debate about whether the probability ascriptions of various indeterministic theories are best interpreted as modeling objective “chances” or as modeling subjective doxastic states, sometimes called “credences”.  Along the way, we will have fun.  No particular familiarity with the topic is presupposed.

Philos C245: History of Ethics: Modern

Instructor: Barbara Herman
Wednesdays: 2-5PM
Location: Dodd 325

The seminar will look at a wide range of Kant’s writings on political philosophy.  The central text will be Part One of his Metaphysics of Morals (the Doctrine of Right).  We will also be reading his essay on Theory and Practice, Toward Perpetual Peace, part two of the Conflict of Faculties, and selections from his Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View.  And maybe some of the occasional essays from the 1780s

Topics will include Kant’s foundational notion of innate right, the connection between right and personal morality, the role of a philosophical approach to history in a political philosophy, Kant’s so-called cosmopolitanism, as well as more familiar political philosophy topics such as property, contract, family, punishment, the right to revolution.

Philos 254A: Legal Theory Workshop

Instructor: Seana Shiffrin 
Thursdays: 5-7PM
Location: Law 1314

The workshop  brings leading scholars from around the world to discuss their works in progress with law students, graduate students in philosophy, and interested faculty.  All the papers will address legal issues from a theoretically informed perspective or theoretical issues relevant to the understanding of law. This term, we have a superb lineup. Our speakers are:  Anna Stilz (Princeton), Amy Sepinwall (Wharton School of Business, Penn); Sophia Moreau (Toronto); Frances Kamm (Harvard), Lewis Kornhauser (NYU), Thomas Scanlon (Harvard).  The choice of paper is the speakers’ but I expect the topics may include immigration law and policy, religious freedom, anti-discrimination norms, bioethics, law and economics, and freedom of speech.

The seminar associated with the workshop  offers a great opportunity to refine your writing skills and your skills in formulating questions.  In addition to the workshop sessions, the seminar offers additional sessions in which we gain further background in the relevant topics for the papers.  In addition, we work together on the skills associated with a successful workshop.  Each intervening week between workshop sessions, we talk through what makes for a good paper,  how to frame a pointed yet constructive question about a topic to which one has just be introduced, and how to field questions productively.  Students will receive extensive and regular feedback on short reaction papers (1-2 pages) to help them hone strong questions and to build up to a longer analytical research paper about one of the subjects covered in the seminar.  Students will also receive feedback on their questions in the workshop.  There will also be additional opportunities for enrolled students to meet with the visiting scholars.

The seminar does not presuppose any background and any graduate student is welcome to enroll.

Philos 258: Global Justice

Instructor: Moran Yarav
Wednesdays: 2-5PM
Location: Law 2473

This seminar provides an overview of some of the core ethical concerns in today’s global politics, centering on the question of what demands justice imposes on agents and institutions acting in a globalized context. The seminar will be divided into three units. The first unit will investigate the content of “global justice”: what issues raise concerns of global justice? What kind of obligations do we owe each other? What justifies these obligations? To whom do we owe these obligations? What are the limits of such obligations? The second unit of the seminar will look at particular obligations generated by global justice in relation to three specific issues of international concern: warfare, self-determination and immigration. The final unit of the seminar will examine the current world order – the power structure embedded in it, its institutional layout and recent political developments – in relation to global justice obligations. In particular, we will ask what would an optimal world order for bringing about global justice look like: Is a world-state or a democratic international order necessary for global justice to be realized? Can citizenship be global? How much personal responsibility do we bear for bringing about global justice versus how much should be undertaken by institutions, and of what kind (e.g., voluntary, domestic, regional transnational, international)? Does the current state of world-affairs even allow for conceptualizing of a meaningful global justice project? We will engage with these questions mostly through analyzing influential works of political theorists and philosophers writing within the liberal contractualist, utilitarian, cosmopolitan, and nationalist traditions, though we will also question the very assumption that this is the appropriate intellectual framework to analyze questions of global justice.

Philos 281: Visual Content

Instructor: Gabriel Greenberg
Tuesdays: 2-5 PM
Location: Dodd Hall 399

A range of modalities, including visual perception, mental imagery, pictures, and computer graphics seem to express content which is in some sense distinctively visual.  This seminar will investigate the nature and structure of visual content, taking up questions like: what is visual content?  is visual content propositional?  how do visual, linguistic, and diagrammatic content differ?  what is it for a visual representation to be of or about an individual?   is there a difference between veridical and hallucinatory visual content? and so on.  The first half of the seminar will focus on the structure of visual content, with an emphasis on the organizing role of the visual field.  The second half of the seminar will concentrate on the phenomena of visual reference, the capacity of the visual system to pick out particular individuals.  Of special interest will be the interactions between visual structure and visual reference.  Readings will be drawn from recent work in philosophy and cognitive science.

Philos 282: Philosophical and Foundational issues raised by Chomsky’s approach to the Mind

Instructor: Mark Greenberg
Thursdays: 2-5 PM
Location: Dodd Hall 399

George Rey is completing a book on this topic, and he has kindly offered to let us use the manuscript in the seminar. The book explores a cluster of important and cutting-edge issues about the mind raised by Chomsky’s approach. Rey’s manuscript will be the backbone of the seminar, and there will be some additional background readings. A central issue will be the role of misrepresentation or intentionally in Chomsky’s program.

Chomsky’s approach to the mind – the idea that natural language involves an internal competence governed by innate universal grammar – has been extraordinarily fruitful, not just in linguistics, but in psychology and cognitive science. Indeed, Chomsky’s work has been seminal in the development of cognitive science. In addition to the role of representation in Chomsky’s program, topics will likely include innateness, rationalism versus empiricism, the status of intuitions, idealization, and psychological explanation.

The seminar will meet on Thursdays at 2:00 in Dodd Hall 399. The first meeting will be introductory. Rey’s manuscript will be available in electronic form. The other readings will typically be available electronically as well.

S/U students and auditors are welcome. You are welcome to attend the first meeting (or indeed a few meetings) in order to decide whether you are interested in coming regularly.

 

Fall 2017

Philos 216: 19th-Century Philosophy – Nietzsche

Instructor: Gavin Lawrence
Tuesdays 2-5PM
Location: 325 Dodd Hall

Study covers further analytical grip on Preface and Three Essays of the Genealogy of Morals. Consideration of parts of other works where relevant (especially Beyond Good and Evil, book 5 of Gay Science, new 1886 prefaces, etc.). There is much Nietzsche that is challenging and to be responded to. Study of some of background including Schopenhauer, Feuerbach, and Wagner. Some of Nietzsche’s philosophical learning seems to be second-hand (prime example is Lange’s History of Materialism). He is also part of general rise in German science on many fronts. Themes include project of (re)valuation of values; three types of psychology; methodology, and especially genealogy, and perspectivalism; Nietzsche’s wishful collaborationism; interpretation; and comparison and contrast with Marx.

Philos 225: Probability and Inductive Logic – Bayesian Paradigm

Instructor: Michael Rescorla 
Tuesdays 3-6PM
Location: 399 Dodd Hall

Bayesian decision theory is the orthodox theoretical framework for studying reasoning and decision-making under uncertainty. It plays a large role in epistemology, statistics, economics, Artificial Intelligence (including robotics), and cognitive science. We will discuss the Bayesian paradigm and its philosophical underpinnings. We will first cover basic elements of Bayesian decision theory. We will then discuss foundational issues that figure in the current philosophical literature, including: the nature of subjective probability; how to define conditional probability; Conditionalization and other dynamic Bayesian norms; Dutch book arguments; the Principle of Reflection; memory loss and indexicality.

The course will be accessible to all philosophy graduate students. No prior knowledge of Bayesian decision theory is presupposed, and no mathematical knowledge beyond basic high school algebra is necessary. I will introduce all concepts from scratch, explaining them in a non-technical way.

Philos 246: Ethical Theory – Life Time and World History

Instructor: AJ Julius 
Wednesdays: 2-5PM
Location: 325 Dodd Hall

This seminar is about the time structures of human lives and of human history. three questions will arc over it: (1) How the earlier and later moments or episodes of a human life and interact or interpenetrate in their meanings or values so as to compose a single process taking up the whole lifetime; (2) What it comes to that i’m the subject of my own life and not of yours; how the so-called separateness of lives nonetheless permits a respect in which several humans can live their several lives together; (3) Whether and how my life can interact or interpenetrate with the lives of those born later and the lives of those who came before me so as to qualify us as living human history together.

Philos 271: Honesty and Cooperation – Two Studies in Evolutionary Reasoning

Instructors: Josh Armstrong and Sam Cumming
Mondays 2-5PM
Location: 399 Dodd Hall

As an antidote to all the doom and gloom, this seminar will consider arguments that large-scale cooperation and honesty can arise and stabilize in a population in a wide variety of circumstances, including those where the immediate payoffs for the individual favour defection. Along the way, we will examine the foundations of evolutionary game theory, the mathematical field that models natural selection in contexts where the growth rate of a type (e.g. of organism) can depend on the outcome of interactions with other types (represented by its payoff in a game). We will focus our (critical) gaze on the widely-used notion of an evolutionarily stable strategy — a strategy that, once it takes hold in a population, cannot be invaded by an alternative that is initially rare (e.g. because introduced by a mutation). This concept can be presented without mathematical sophistication, and its usefulness, as well as its limits, may be explained using clear intuitions. No prior familiarity with the topic is assumed, but participants should be prepared for the challenge of understanding abstract mathematical arguments and models.

 

There are no graduate courses this quarter.