Graduate Seminars

Winter 2018

Philos 203: Proof and Definition in Aristotelian Epistemology

Part 1: Aristotle Analytics

Instructor: Adam Crager

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 Elliott

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

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 258: Global Justice

Instructor: Moran Yarav
Wednesday: 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

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: Metaphysics

The Problem of Mental Content

Instructor: Mark Greenberg
Thursdays 2:00-4:50 PM
Location: Dodd Hall 399

The seminar will focus on the fundamental problem of how the mind represents the world. We have beliefs, perceptions, and diverse other mental items that are about the world. How can flesh-and-blood human beings have thoughts that are about something else?

We will use as a framework for the seminar Karen Neander’s 2017 book A Mark of the Mental. Neander has been a leading participant in the debate over mental content for many years, and her new book defends a teleosemantic theory of content. The book will provide a valuable springboard for discussion of a wide range of issues concerning mental content. Topics to be discussed include: informational and teleological theories of content; similarity-based theories of content; the explanatory role of content; different notions of function; the explanatory role of content and of normal-proper functions; non-conceptual content; the disjunction problem and other indeterminacy challenges; naturalism; semantic normativity. In addition to Neander’s book, we may read work by a variety of others, possibly including Dretske, Fodor, Gallistel and King, Dennett, and Millikan.

The seminar will meet on Thursdays at 2:00 in Dodd Hall 399. The first meeting will be introductory. There is no reading assignment for the first meeting. I will make the readings available in electronic form where possible.

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.

Neander’s book is not yet available in paperback, but the hardback price has come down a lot:

Some Useful Background Readings:  

Pierre Jacob, Intentionality, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (2014)

Nicholas Shea, Naturalising Representational Content, Philosophy Compass, vol. 8, pp. 496–509 (2013)

Karen Neander, Teleological Theories of Mental Content, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (2012)

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.