Graduate Courses & Seminars

Spring 2024


Philos 202: Seminar: Aristotle

Instructor: Gavin Lawrence
Tuesday: 2:00pm – 4:50pm
Location: Dodd 325

Aristotle on Practical Rationality 

The seminar will focus on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics Book 6. We will start with some examination of NE 1. 1-2 on the human good as the object of politike, of 2.6. on the Doctrine of Mean, and of 3.2-3 on preferential choice (prohairesis) and Praxis. But our main focus will be NE Bk 6 and within that on practical wisdom (phronesis), its nature and its relation to excellences of character (“the unity of the virtues”). Among my main concerns are the characterization of what I call the traditional conception of practical reason; the relation of full to natural virtue, and of reason to emotion; of perception to reason and emotion; and the relation of individual and political rationality, and the roles of universals in practical philosophy and the sense of non-codifiability.

Philos 207: Seminar: History of Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy

Instructor: Andrea Aldo Robiglio
Monday: 2:00pm – 4:50pm
Location: Dodd 325

Knowledge, Belief, and the Canon in Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy

European ‘Philosophy’ started in the Greek World – just one place at one time. But philosophers keep asking whether knowledge can be universal, valid for all times and places. Paradoxically, this question has always been asked from determined localities, by individuals in their own geographical areas, expressing themselves in their own languages, and facing problems of their own then and there. Our seminar will address the tension between particular vs universal and regional vs. global. Can the history of philosophy express local traditions while maintaining a global scope? We will focus on this question and two others implied by it. What’s the relation between language and thought? How are belief and knowledge related? To develop these three questions, we’ll get to know some philosophers who worked in Flanders long ago: from the time of Henry of Ghent (c. 1217-1293) and Siger of Courtrai (c. 1283-1341) to that of Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) and Martin Del Rio (1551-1608). They are defined as the “Flemish Canon.” Their place and their culture may resist definition, but our topic will be what they had in common as philosophers.

Philos C245: Seminar: History of Ethics: Modern

Instructor: Barbara Herman
Wednesday: 2:00pm – 4:50pm
Location: Dodd 325

Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment

The plan of the course is to read as much of the third Critique as possible, with roughly this schedule (adjusted as seminar interest in different sections suggests).

Apr 3: What is Orientation in Thinking?
Apr 10: Preface and Introduction, (5:167-198);
Apr 17: Analytic of the Beautiful, (5:204-244)
Apr 24: Analytic of the Sublime, (5:244-278)
May 1: Deduction, (5:279-296)
May 8: Empirical and intellectual interests in the beautiful & fine arts and genius (5:297-335)
May 15: Dialectic of the Power of Judgment (5:337-356)
May 22: Analytic of the Teleological Power of Judgment (5:359-383)
May 19: Dialectic of the Teleological Power of Judgment(5:385-415)
Jun 5: Methodology (5:416-476)

Philos 283: Seminar: Theory of Knowledge

Instructor: Anand Vaidya
Thursday: 3:30pm – 6:20pm
Location: TBD

The Epistemology of Modality

The epistemology of modality is the study of how we know what is possible or necessary. The focus of this seminar will be on three movements: the rationalist renaissance (2002-2010), the empiricist turn (2010-2020) New directions (2020- forward). We will study conceivability, counterfactual, essentialist, and hybrid accounts of modal knowledge. We will discuss some historical figures such as Arnauld and Descartes, Hume and Reid, and foundational figures, such as Yablo, Chalmers, and Williamson. We will look at new work on abduction as a guide to modal knowledge, modal primitivism, and the normative approach to modality. While familiarity with modal logic and metaphysics is helpful, it is not required. There will be presentations by guest speakers that are leaders in the field. Students are expected to lead a discussion on a reading for a given week depending on class size this might be done individually or in groups. Grading is based on a 4-6k term paper approved by me.

Winter 2024


Philos 206: Seminar: Topics in Medieval Philosophy

Instructor: Brian Copenhaver & Calvin Normore
Monday: 3:00pm – 5:50pm
Location: Dodd 325

Philosophy as Descartes Found It

When Descartes announced a philosophical revolution in 1637, the philosophy that he discarded had been evolving for about four centuries. Changes in method were crucial for him, and led him to transformative positions that philosophers have discussed ever since. But inquiries in our own era into philosophy as Descartes found it in the early 17th century have been skimpy, even on familiar topics like meditation or method, and Descartes’ use of pictures to explain and justify his new physics, metaphysics and psychology – has had even much less scrutiny. On these topics our seminar will examine the Discourse and its companion treatises; the Meditations; the Principia; and the Treatise on Man, as gateways to philosophy as Descartes found it. In order to track the evolution of Descartes’ philosophy, we’ll explore some of the earlier texts that may have shaped it.

Philos 244: Seminar: Topics in Rationality and Action

Instructor: A.J. Julius
Wednesday: 4:00pm – 6:50pm
Location: Dodd 325

Rationality and Action: Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason

We’ll read through the text Sartre published under this title in 1960 along with some material from a posthumous, fragmentary, volume two. The book’s main topics have come up in past editions of this seminar. Sartre is writing about action–action with and against other human actors, limited by and consequential in the nonhuman world, dispersed across but integral over time–and he’s asking how a history of collectively self-defeating projects developing the unintended results of earlier failures might double as its protagonists’ struggle to understand this process they’re caught up in. the goal for this term, leaving other baggage at the door, is to find Sartre’s problems. we’ll stay close to his text, or close as it lets us get. we’ll give major attention to its historical set-pieces on insurrectionary assembly and dispersal, on the Stalinist outcome of the Bolshevik revolution, and on the French subjugation of Algeria. this is a book about rationality, a seminar about interaction, for the mutually isolated spectators of incessant colonialist war.

Philos C247: Seminar: Topics in Political Philosophy

Instructor: Calvin Normore
Tuesdays/Thursday: 3:30pm – 4:45pm
Location: Public Affairs 2214

Freedom and Equality

In this course we will discuss two basic political concepts, liberty and equality and their historical evolution and, if time permits, the concept of community.

Interested students should contact Prof. Normore for more information. Please note, this is a concurrent graduate section for an undergraduate course, Philos C156.

Philos 254A: Seminar: Legal Theory Workshop

Instructor: Seana Shiffrin
Thursday: 3:20pm – 5:20pm
Location: Law 1314

The seminar is structured around the Legal Theory Workshop which brings leading scholars from around the world to discuss their works in progress with graduate students, law students, faculty. All the papers will address legal issues from a theoretically informed perspective or theoretical issues relevant to the understanding of law. The seminar will involve biweekly discussions with leading scholars, with intervening preparatory weeks.

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

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.  Students will be expected to attend all sessions, participate regularly, write a handful of short reaction papers (1-2 pages) and complete a longer analytical paper involving little research (12-15 pages) at the end of the term about one of the subjects covered in class.

This year’s program includes a highly distinguished list of speakers whose work addresses freedom of speech, intellectual property, international law and human rights, criminal law, property, and race and the law. The list of speakers is available at

Philosophy graduate students should be aware that the course runs on the semester system (so it starts in the 3d week of the quarter and runs through part of spring quarter).

Philos M257: Seminar: Philosophy Legal Theory

Instructor: Thomas Byrne
Wednesday: 5:30pm – 8:30pm
Location: Law 2357

Legal Theory: Foundations of Legal and Moral Responsibility 

The course will examine various causal (/metaphysical) grounds of moral and/or legal responsibility. For example, we’ll examine whether the mere fact that A caused B’s arm to break is sufficient for A to be morally and/or legally responsible for B’s broken arm; or whether the mere fact that B’s arm wouldn’t have broken but for what A did is sufficient for A to be responsible; or whether the mere fact that A increased the risk that B’s arm would break is sufficient; and so on. When necessary, we will also examine the underlying metaphysics: what is causation? What is counterfactual dependence? What is increasing the risk? Etc.

We’ll look at one or two recent papers per week. Those taking the course for credit will lead the class discussion of one such paper (for roughly half a class session, in tandem with the instructor). They will also write a paper (of approximately 5000 words) on a topic agreed upon with the instructor.

Philos 270: Seminar: Topics in Philosophy of Science Epistemology

Instructor: Kareem Khalifa
Tuesday: 2:00pm – 4:50pm
Location: Dodd 325


At the end of the 20th century, philosophical discussions of understanding were undeveloped, guided by a ‘received view’ that took understanding to be nothing more than knowledge of an explanation. More recently, this view has been criticized by both epistemologists and philosophers of science. This raises several questions. Can there be understanding without explanation? Is understanding a species of knowledge? Can falsehoods provide understanding? What kinds of cognitive abilities contribute to understanding? What is the value of understanding? How does understanding in science differ from other kinds of understanding (e.g., moral or aesthetic understanding)?

Philos 283: Seminar: Topics in Philosophy of Theory of Knowledge

Instructor: Tyler Burge
Thursday: 2:00-4:50pm
Location: Dodd 325

The seminar will be on epistemology. It will center on scepticism. It will also contain sections that provide an introduction to modern epistemology, including critical discussion of contemporary accounts of empirical knowledge and/or its warrant-structure. The main line of thought will be to answer two classical scepticisms, expounded by Descartes in Meditations on First Philosophy: scepticism about knowledge of the existence of an external world, and scepticism about sense-based knowledge of what is currently going on around one. (Dreaming- scepticism, brain-in-vat-scepticism, and matrix-scepticism are examples of this second type.) The two types of scepticism require, I think, different sorts of answers. As regards the first type, I present a positive, non-question-begging apriori argument for the existence of an external world. This argument is supplemented by a further argument that there are external concrete particulars. The second type of scepticism does not question existence of an external world. It questions sense-based knowledge of specifics of that world, within an unspecified stretch of time that includes the present. I think that one cannot show apriori that one has this sense-based knowledge. Nor do I think that the second type of sceptical scenario is impossible. An answer to this second type of scepticism must be defensive, not directly positive: Roughly, the strategy is to show that by scepticism’s own standards, this type of scepticism is unreasonable. There is a positive coda to the second answer, which shows that scepticism does not win a draw if it admits that it lacks reasons for its scepticism, but points out that we lack (apriori, non-question-begging) reasons to support our own sense-based beliefs. The coda bears on the rational starting point for a dialectic with scepticism about sense-based knowledge.

It is common nowadays to think that scepticism cannot be answered. Many philosophers have lost interest in the matter, except as a side- or background-issue. Some trash it, but end up giving question-begging answers to it. Some declare that engaging with scepticism is a fool’s errand. Some claim that sceptical positions cannot be coherently formulated. I think that these responses are shallow and mistaken. The interest in the topic of scepticism is certainly not whether scepticism is right or wrong. I will argue, at different levels of depth–and in a way, following Moore–, that scepticism is clearly wrong–even a silly position, if it is posed as a threat to knowledge. To be epistemically reasonable and to have empirical knowledge, one does not need to answer scepticism. The interesting issue is dialectical. There are good undefeated epistemic reasons to reject scepticism, even epistemic reasons to ignore it. But are there good non-question-begging epistemic reasons to reject it (more specifically, to reject these scepticisms)? Getting straight about begging the question is central to carrying out the projects.

The point of a dialectic with scepticism is not to give reasons that show it not to be a threat: that much is easy. The point of a dialectic with scepticism is to force oneself to reflect on the nature and structure of reason and understanding in a way that helps one focus on basics. So the central topics of the seminar are reason and understanding. What is the epistemic status of understanding one’s thoughts and concepts? What is the status of cogitos? What are relevant levels of understanding? What is the epistemic status of anti-individualism, or different aspects of anti-individualism? Are apriori reasons available outside logic, mathematics, and perhaps some moral judgments? Are there apriori reasons that do not beg sceptical questions? What considerations does scepticism offer as reasons, beyond its mere putative possibilities? Are they reasons? Is there a non-question-begging way to show that they are not? Does empirical knowledge bottom out in an unreasoned “what we do”, as Hume and sometimes Wittgenstein suggest? Does empirical knowledge bottom out in practical reason as distinct from epistemic reason using unreasoned-to perception-based beliefs? The main line of the seminar is to answer to the two Cartesian scepticisms and such questions as the ones just raised. The seminar will be based on a nearly completed book. Although the seminar will be difficult, it will not require more background than even first-year graduate students have. Hope to see you there.–Tyler

Fall 2023


Philos M256: Seminar: Topics in Legal Philosophy

Instructor: Seana Shiffrin
Wednesdays: 2:00pm – 4:50pm
Location: Law 2442

Free Speech Theory

This seminar will canvas some classic works in free speech theory.  We will also spend a few weeks on some more recent philosophical works and contemporary controversies concerning freedom of speech.  Students taking the course for credit will write a handful of short reaction papers and write a 14–18-page analytical paper on a free speech topic mutually agreed upon by the student and instructor.  No prior background is required.  The course is open to Ph.D. students, J.D. students, LLM students, and SJD students.

Philos M256: Seminar: Topics in Legal Philosophy

Instructor: Vishnu Sridharan
Tuesdays: 2:00pm – 4:50pm
Location: Law 3211A

The Philosophy of Prisons and Punishment

This course applies a philosophical and legal framework to questions relating to punishment and prisons. The course can be divided into three broad components:

1) Lectures on philosophy of law, political philosophy, and theories of punishment.
2) Discussions of the history of punishment and prisons in the United States; and
3) Explorations of how gender, race, and disability have intersected with and motivated carceral regimes.

Together, we will aim to answer questions such as: What distinguishes law from other forms of social control? What connections obtain between law and morality? Under what conditions do we have a duty to obey the law, and under what conditions do we have a duty to disobey? These discussions will be grounded in the stories and histories of those who the state has consistently marginalized, oppressed, and prevented from flourishing. Throughout the class, students will be encouraged to both develop a general framework for understanding the relationship between race, gender, disability, and carcerality and apply these frameworks to the messy realities of actual statecraft.

Philos M257: Seminar: Philosophy Legal Theory

Instructor: Mark Greenberg
Mondays: 2:00pm – 4:50pm
Location: Law 1310

Legal Theory: The Cutting Edge

This course offers a fresh way to approach philosophy of law. The idea is to look at cutting-edge work in philosophy to see whether it helps to solve specific problems in the law. We’ll engage with exciting developments of the past several years, focusing on four or five topics that have recently sparked important and interesting debates.  These will include some of the following: criminal attempts; the famous “blue bus” problem (concerning the use of statistical evidence in the courtroom; statutory and constitutional interpretation; foundations of negligence liability; law as a branch of morality. No previous background is required.

The pace of the course will allow us time to explore background material on each topic before approaching the cutting-edge work. For example, in the case of legal interpretation, we’ll begin with well-known theories of legal interpretation, such as textualism and intentionalism.  We’ll then turn to recent work that draws on contemporary ideas in philosophy of language and linguistics.  I have been an active participant in this debate, arguing that, though an understanding of some important linguistic distinctions is valuable, linguistic considerations cannot resolve the central issues concerning legal interpretation.  We will study this and other lively debates in the area.

Philos 272: Seminar: Topics in Philosophy of Mind and Language

Instructor: Josh Armstrong
Mondays: 11:30pm – 2:20pm
Location: Dodd 325

Genealogical Explanation

Genealogical explanations seek to elucidate the nature of an existing cultural practice or state of affairs through considerations of history—particularly, through considerations of the origins, perpetuation, and change of that practice or state of affairs. The aim of this seminar will be to consider the prospects and limits of genealogical forms of explanation. Some forms of genealogical explanations are merely hypothetical or explicitly fictitious. Other genealogical explanations purport to describe actual historical sequences or modally robust evolutionary trajectories. What are the explanatory differences between these different types of genealogies?
To what extent are genealogies of any kind vulnerable to worries akin to the genetic fallacy? Should the use of genealogical forms of explanations in philosophy be calibrated to the results and methodologies of the historical sciences? We will explore these questions primarily through discussion of two central case studies—the first on genealogical explanations of distinctively human forms of social organization (particularly, the state), the second on genealogical explanations of distinctively human forms of language and social cognition.

Philos 287: Seminar: Philosophy of Language

Instructor: Sam Cumming
Wednesdays: 12:30-2:50pm
Location: Dodd 325

Working Ideas: Generics – Many Realities – Narrative Thematics

“working ideas—finders, not merely summaries of truth” (Chauncey Wright 1971 [1877]: 56)

The commonest sort of general statement — made in everyday conversation, political speeches, and literature (Aristotle 1987) — has an interesting relationship with the truth. Generics are generalizations that leave the degree of generality — all, more than half, a quorum, etc. — unspecified (Bosse 2021, a.o.). Since the truth-value of a statement whose truth condition is linguistically underspecified is open to constrained rational judgment (Cumming 2022; Horty forthcoming), generics may be evaluated differently at different times, or in different communities. Their truth is relative to a particular context of assessment (MacFarlane 2014).

In this seminar, we will read work on generics from linguistics and philosophy of language, including from a socio-political angle (we’ll kick things off with Michael W. Clune’s [2021] reading of a pair of poems by Gwendolyn Brooks). We will also think about how there could be distinct contexts of assessment from which generic statements might be evaluated differently. That two people could inhabit such distinct “realities” has consequences for understanding others (Dover 2022), but there is a preliminary question as to what the difference between a subjective (and fallible) perspective and an objective reality (albeit one among many) might amount to (MacFarlane 2014, sec. 2.5). I’m open to suggestions for what to read on this, but one broad answer is critical maintenance, and hence one place to look is deconstruction (Derrida 1976 [1967], 1974, 1981; Culler 1982; Arbib and Hesse 1986, etc.).

Arbib M Hesse M. 1986. The Construction of Reality.
Aristotle. 1987 [c. 335 BCE]. Poetics.
Bosse A. 2021. Generics in Use.
Clune M. 2021. ‘Race makes class visible’.
Culler J. 1982. On Deconstruction.
Cumming S. 2022. ‘Semantic Reasons’.
Derrida J. 1974. ‘White Mythology’.
Derrida J. 1976 [1967]. Of Grammatology.
Derrida J. 1981. Positions.
Dover D. 2022. ‘The Conversational Self’.
Horty J. Forthcoming. The Logic of Precedent.
MacFarlane J. 2014. Assessment Sensitivity.
Wright C. 1971 [1877]. Philosophical Discussions.