Graduate Courses & Seminars

Winter 2023


Philos 203: Seminar: History of Ancient Philosophy

Instructor: Henry Mendell
Mondays: 2:00-5:00pm
Location: Dodd 325

Skeptical themes in some middle dialogues of Plato

The middle dialogues of Plato have standardly been called ‘dogmatic’ dialogues where the principal interrogator, Socrates (or Parmenides, if his dialogue is middle) presents Plato’s views and arguments, although there has been in recent years a movement towards reading them with Plato removed more distantly from the philosophical content, where the question, “Who speaks for Plato?” does not necessarily get the obvious answer, the principal interrogator of the dialogue.  In between lie the plethora of meta-interpretative readings of these dialogues that seek to read into them systems or arguments that require various hidden keys of entry (e.g., that Plato is unfolding a pedagogical sequence in his entire corpus of a system or that Plato is revealing to an elite few something hidden to others).  I want to experiment with something else.  These dialogues are exercises in doing philosophy; so let’s pay attention to how their arguments unfold, with all the quirky and ironic claims about the arguments, theories, steps in arguments taken seriously.  Socrates may be famous for irony (and maybe we will have to look into what this claim amounts to), but maybe he is less ironic than many readers take him.  This flat reading may have interesting consequences about what we are expected to do when we read the dialogues.  The texts which I, so far, have found interesting for this sort of approach are: Phaedo (the only good philosopher is a dead one?), Phaedrus (since each step in the dialogue undermines the previous step, at the last step the dialogue seems to say, “You can’t understand me”?  See Gorgius, Encomium of Helen), the three analogies of the Republic and the subsequent educational program in Republic VII (Socrates has no theory of the Good; the account of mathematics is thin and at best allusive to issues of ontology), and perhaps the Parmenides (is Parmenides is merely doing what he says he is doing?).  The Timaeus (this is a likely account) is obvious on this issue, but maybe it is worth looking at it too (even if it is late, as most scholars think).  For a sense of my approach, look at my article in the second edition of the Cambridge Companion to Plato, “Betwixt and Between:  Plato and the objects of mathematics.”

Philos C219: Topics in History of Philosophy

Instructor: AJ Julius
Wednesdays, Fridays: 10:00A-11:50A
Location: Royce 154

We will take the quarter to read through Hegel’s Philosophy of right.

Interested students should contact Prof. Julius for more information. Please note, this is a concurrent graduate section for an undergraduate course, Philos C119. It satisfies the History Course requirement but does not satisfy the requirement for a graduate seminar in history.

Philos 232: Philosophy of Science

Instructor: Hayley Clatterbuck
Wednesdays: 2:00-5:00pm
Location: Dodd 325

Cultural and Biological Evolution

How do we explain uniquely human cognitive abilities, such as complex language, tool use, and cumulative culture? Traditional accounts postulate individual biological changes in the human lineage to explain each of these differences. However, given the short amount of time since our most recent common ancestor with chimpanzees, this seems quite evolutionarily implausible.

Increasingly, philosophers of biology have argued that our differences from nonhuman animals are rarely the result of natural selection and that we share most of our fundamental cognitive architecture with other species. Instead, most of our uniquely human traits are the result of much more rapid cumulative cultural evolution. On this account, a trait like language is more like reading (a cultural innovation) than bipedalism (a genetic one).

In this course, we will be examining the differences between cultural and natural selection in order to evaluate how key traits, like language, evolved. We will start by looking at how Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, originally formulated to explain changes in populations of organisms, was generalized and made substrate-neutral. Then, we will investigate the following questions: what conditions had to be in place for cumulative cultural evolution to arise? What are the different signatures of biological and cultural evolution? How can we tell whether a trait arose by biological or cultural evolution or both? What does the etiology of a trait tell us about whether it is innate, contingent, or universal? Finally, what implications does this debate have for our conception of human nature?

Philos C247: Topics in Political Philosophy

Instructor: Pamela Hieronymi
Thursdays: 2:00-5:00pm
Location: Dodd 325

Political Equality, Freedom, and Hierarchy

After a bit of orientation in the existing literature, the centerpiece of this seminar will be Niko Kolodny’s forthcoming book, The Pecking Order: Social Hierarchy as a Philosophical Problem. Kolodny’s main contention is that moral and political theorizing needs to recognize, in addition to negative claims protecting the boundaries of persons and positive claims to benefits, a basic claim against inferiority, which entails the absence of a social hierarchy.

Philos 254A: Legal Theory Workshop

Instructor: Mark Greenberg
Thursdays: 12:25-2:25pm
Location: Law 1314

The unusual seminar is structured around the Legal Theory Workshop. The Workshop is modeled on Ronald Dworkin and Thomas Nagel’s long-running workshop at NYU.  It brings leading scholars from around the world to discuss their works in progress with graduate students, law students, and faculty. The papers can be diverse, ranging across, for example, legal philosophy, moral philosophy, metaphysics, the relevance of philosophy of language to legal interpretation, and legal theory more generally.

The seminar involves biweekly discussions with visiting scholars, with intervening preparatory weeks in which the class discusses the paper to be presented in the following week. In the preparatory weeks, students gain relevant background but we also focus on how to develop a good philosophical question and what makes for a good philosophical conversation.  The art of asking good questions is a major focus of the class. The written work for the class involves “question papers,” which include questions for the speaker.

This year’s program includes a distinguished group of scholars. The schedule is available at

No prior background is necessary, but students should be open to in-depth investigation of theoretical issues. All philosophy students are welcome and have the relevant preparation. Background will be supplied in the weeks in between speaker visits.

Philos M257: Philosophy Legal Theory

Instructor: Andrew Currie
Mondays: 5:30-7:30pm
Location: Law 3393

Philosophy of Property

This seminar investigates the philosophical foundations of private property. The law of property defines what is mine and what is yours: is this definition purely conventional or does it reflect a natural order? How, if at all, is the intervention of the state in the protection of property rights justified? We will consider justificatory and critical accounts of private property, including accounts of its genealogy, and investigate the relationship between property and sovereignty. We may also examine whether there are limits on what may be treated as property.

Please note, this course meets on the law school’s Spring 2023 Semester calendar, with the first class meeting on Monday, January 23rd and the final class meeting on Tuesday, April 25th (an Administrative Makeup Monday).

Philos 282: Seminar: Metaphysics

Instructor: Calvin Normore
Tuesdays: 4:00-7:00pm
Location: Dodd 325


The course will take up both contemporary views about and historical treatments of three questions. 1) what is Truth, 2) what are the truths and 3) why should we care about either of the first two. More details TBA.

Philos 286: Philosophy of Psychology

Instructors: Josh Armstrong & Carlotta Pavese
Tuesdays: 12:30-3:30pm
Location: Dodd 325

Language and Skill

Is the ability to speak a language an acquired skill? Leading proponents of the generative approach to human language—notably Chomsky (2000) and Pinker (2003)—have argued that the thesis that language capacities are skills is hopelessly confused and at odds with a range of empirical evidence, which suggests that human language capacities are grounded in a biologically inherited set of language instincts or a Universal Grammar (UG). However, many of the arguments leveled against thinking of language as a skill rest on a debatable conception of what skills are. It is therefore worth investigating whether this general resistance to the claim that human language capacities are skills has been fostered by naïve and implausible conceptions of the nature of skills and of skilled action.

We will start by trying to understand what skills are—in contrast with other sorts of practical abilities, such as instincts. We will look at the literature in the philosophy of mind, starting from anti-cognitivists such as Dreyfus and Ryle, to then look at intellectualists, such as McDowell, as well as at the most recent cognitivist (Sutton and Christensen, Pavese, Krakauer, Fridland) and anti-cognitivist developments (Hutto, Gallagher). We will also look at the philosophy of biology and at evolutionary psychology in order to find resources for demarcating skills from practical abilities that are not skills. Armed with a renewed conception of what skills are, we will look at evidence from both the study of language development and acquisition, as well as from the literature on the evolution of language, that might favor the hypothesis that language is a skill after all.

Fall 2022


Philos 206: Topics in Medieval Philosophy

Instructors: Brian Copenhaver and Calvin Normore
Mondays: 12:00-2:00pm
Location: Royce 306

Picturing Knowledge in Historical Perspective

Whether thought is best understood by analogy with language, with pictorial representation or with both is an issue at least as old as Plato’s Cratylus and as contemporary as 2020 revision of the article on Mental Representation in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. This interdisciplinary seminar will attempt to trace from late antiquity into the 17th century, both some of the ways in which pictures were used as tools to create and express knowledge claims and some of the theoretical issues surrounding those uses.

Beginning with an outline of the issues and a discussion of the structure and limits of pictorial representation we will turn to the use of diagrams in late antiquity, to the role of icons in Byzantine thought and to discussions of picturing in Latin Medieval traditions. We will then turn to the dramatic changes in the nature and use of pictorial representation from the fifteenth to the mid-seventeenth centuries ending with a discussion of Descartes’ use of pictures and diagrams.

The seminar will meet weekly for two hours in a hybrid format and there will be an optional third hour scheduled at participants convenience for preparatory and follow-up meetings. The instructors of record will begin and end the series of classes but most of the classes will be given by experts in the particular subjects being discussed.

Philos C210: Spinoza

Instructor: John Carriero
Wednesdays, Fridays: 10:00A-11:50A
Location: Bunche 3150

Interested students should contact Prof. Carriero for more information. Please note, this is a concurrent graduate section for an undergraduate course, Philos C110, and does not satisfy the requirement for a graduate seminar in history.

Philos 248: Problems in Moral Philosophy

Instructors: Barbara Herman and Seana Shiffrin
Wednesdays: 2:00-5:00pm
Location: Dodd 325

Staying Within the Lines? The directive import of moral and legal norms

Accounts of both moral and legal prescriptions typically involve both the identification and articulation of moral and legal values and the identification and articulation of moral and legal norms (to use a term meant to be neutral between rules, directives, standards, and other norms that connect those values to actions and motives). The seminar will explore the moral significance of having and crafting norms, of the form those norms take, of their articulation and enforcement, and of the attitudes that agents and citizens should have toward the lines these norms draw. Among the topics to be considered include: why there are duties; discretion and imperfect duties; purposive interpretation as a necessary condition of compliance; rules vs standards; underenforcement and overarticulation; supererogation

Philos 257: Philosophy Legal Theory

Instructor: Andrew Currie
Mondays: 4:00-7:00pm
Location: Law 3393

Epistemology & Law

This seminar brings some contemporary work in epistemology to bear on the dual questions of how the law is known (how we work out what the law is) and how the law knows (how the law takes itself to know something). Our focus will be on common law systems of precedent, in which decisions of courts are themselves sources of law. According to some theorists, judicial decisions contribute to the law by giving rise to rules or to reasons; according to others, judicial decisions contribute to the law by forming part of the materials which any theory of law should fit and justify. After considering these theories, we will ask whether we can understand precedent by instead appealing to the notion of abduction or inference to the best explanation. We may turn to Bayesian epistemology, with the aim of understanding the relationship between abduction, Bayesian confirmation theory, and precedent. We will conclude by examining the relationship between legal proof and knowledge.

Philos 283: Seminar: Theory of Knowledge

Instructor: Carlotta Pavese
Mondays: 2:00-4:50pm
Location: Dodd 325

Seminar: Theory of Knowledge

This is a graduate seminar in epistemology, focusing on the relation between knowledge and action. We will start discussing virtue epistemology—an approach to epistemology which aims at understanding knowledge on the model of skilled or virtuous action. We will think about the consequences of thinking of epistemic states on the model of actions and we will ask whether epistemic competences are better thought along the lines of skills, or virtues, or what else. We will discuss whether knowledge plays a normative role vis a vis assertion and action. Then we will look at theories that attempt to understand action, and in particular intentional action, at least in part in terms of knowledge. We will think about Anscombe’s notion of practical knowledge, about what theoretical role it might play vis a vis skilled and intentional action, and about how it ought to be understood if it has to play such theoretical roles. We will discuss whether intelligent action is constitutively related to knowledge. Starting from Aristotle and Ryle, we will read about skills, know-how, and technai, with a glance at the recent literature, and we will think about some outstanding problems facing the so-called intellectualist legend.