Graduate Courses & Seminars
Philos 206: Topics in Medieval Philosophy
The half-century between 1473 and 1523 is one of the most important and least studied periods in the history of Western philosophy. World-changing transformations – European conquests in the Americas and India and expanded contact and Asia, Islam’s advance through Eastern Europe, a Christian Reformation sparking warfare among Christians – altered the culture and institutions that medieval philosophers had relied on for centuries. Philosophy was also changing radically, though the eventual outcome – post-Cartesian philosophy – was still far away during the lifetimes of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) and John Major (1467-1550), whose careers and ideas we will focus on. Major and Pico were leading voices in debates about the nature and uses of logic, about nominalism and realism, future contingents, the metaphysics of theism, cognitive psychology, and the ethics of belief and faith.
Philos 232: Philosophy of Science: David Lewis’s Metaphysics of Science
Instructor: Katie Elliott
David Lewis’s influence on contemporary metaphysics of science is hard to overstate. Lewis’s views on modality, physical necessity, natural law, chance, space and time, causation, dispositions, and counterfactuals fit together into a systematic package that is still viewed as among the most plausible pictures of the natural world. The goal of our seminar is to get inside Lewis’s world view, from which we will appreciate its elegance, power, and shortcomings. This seminar is for everyone and presupposes no familiarity with the topic. David Lewis is a philosopher who is hard to escape, no matter what you work on; come learn a lot about what he thought.
Philos C245: Kant’s Ethics
Instructor: Barbara Herman
Interested students should contact Prof. Herman for more information.
Philos 271: Seminar: Topics in Metaphysics and Epistemology
Instructor: Tyler Burge
The seminar will center on (a) the epistemology of perceptual belief, on (b) answering scepticism
about the “external world” (exemplified by one version of Descartes’s demon argument) and on
(c) answering scepticism centered on perception (exemplified by one version of Descartes’s
Discussion of (a) the epistemology of perceptual belief will turn on a distinction between
epistemic entitlement and epistemic justification. This discussion centers, of course, on
epistemology of clearly empirical belief. Since I take appeals to warranted empirical beliefs, in
themselves, to beg the key sceptical questions, this discussion will not directly figure in
answering any sort of scepticism. I take it that sceptical questions question empirical warrant and
purport to be apriori warranted. So answers to scepticism cannot simply appeal to empirical
warrant if they are not to beg sceptical questions. I think that answers to sceptical questions must
be apriori. (As a result, I think that empiricist philosophical views are in no position to
*answer* scepticism. As I will argue, however, they, like the rest of us, are epistemically entitled
to *ignore* scepticism.) So although this discussion of perceptual belief will be serious and
somewhat detailed, it will function primarily as background, albeit crucial background, for the
discussion of answering the two types of scepticism. Discussion of the first type, target of (b),
will center on issues about “proof” of an external world. Discussion of the second type, target of
(c), will concern difficulties in showing perceptual belief (as a type) to be apriori reliable, and
will discuss starting points for reason and justification. Issues regarding this second type of
scepticism will be relevant to a wider range of scepticisms, although I do not expect to discuss
the wider range specifically. I will take a shot at giving new arguments designed to answer both
types of scepticism, without begging the question. What it is not to beg the question will be a
central topic in setting up these arguments, and in discussing other responses to scepticism.
Although the seminar will be a venue for presenting new work, it will discuss some background
in the literature. For example, I will discuss Descartes’s and Moore’s attempted “proofs” of the
external world. These are very different types of argument, with, I think, very different
presuppositions and objectives. I will discuss successes, and deficiencies (in the case of
Descartes) or limitations (in the case of Moore), in each type. I will also discuss neo-Moorean
views (“dogmatism”) in the literature and negative responses to dogmatism. I will explain why I
accept neither approach, although my approach has some (I think superficial) kinships to
dogmatism. I am more interested in discussing generalized deflationist and defeatist views
about answering the two types of scepticism. One type of deflationist view especially about
scepticism about the external world–for example, the type exemplified in work by Clarke and
Stroud, and also in contextualist approaches–draws a super-strong distinction between
philosophical questions and questions that arise in ordinary life. These approaches have their
origins in Kant and Carnap. I will not criticize these approaches in detail, but I will outline
dissatisfaction with them. There is a kindred set of broadly Humean twentieth century defeatist
approaches–for example, those by Alston, Foley, Zagzebski, and Fricker–that maintain defeatist
views about answering both sceptical problems, but especially the second one. All these
responses are typical responses for the twentieth and early twenty-first century. They all attempt
to deflate or quarantine the sceptical initiatives, or to show that sceptical initiatives are
unanswerable, rather than trying to answer them on their own terms. The idea (sometimes
explicit, sometimes implicit and camouflaged!) is that there is something pathological about
raising the sceptical questions, or something impossible about answering them on their own
terms. This idea has taken on the status of orthodoxy. I think that none of the various types of
deflationism about scepticism, or defeatism about answering scepticism, are well argued. Taking
on scepticism straight-up has come to be seen as a naive as well as hopeless enterprise. I think
that the sceptical questions arise out of quite ordinary intuitions, not pathological ones. I think
that since scepticism is an unreasonable position, and rightly assumed to be so in science, there
are reasonable answers to it.
Especially in discussing the second sceptical problem, I will reflect on starting places for reason.
I think that this issue is rarely focused upon. I think it crucial. How does one determine what
counts as begging a legitimate sceptical question? What is a legitimate sceptical question? Is
there a “burden of proof”? If so, how can the burden be shown to be one, by reason alone, so as
not to beg the question? In connection with this issue, I hope to get to discussion of the Cartesian
Circle problem. If there is time, I will discuss some broader issues about reason–especially
relations between practical and theoretical reason–since relations of reason to practice, use,
action, and so on, loom large in some main threads in the seminar.
Along with scepticism itself, the most central topic of the seminar will be reason and how
reasons work when they are put under extreme, generalized pressure. No one is a sceptic. But
everyone uses reasons. In a way, reason counts as the more fundamental topic of the seminar.
It will be important for understanding responses to the two sceptical problems, especially the
first, that you become familiar with anti-individualism. Those who are not familiar should
devote time to mastering the main ideas before the third or fourth week of the quarter. Relevant
reading will be marked as Background on the syllabus.
Along with scepticism itself, the most central topic of the seminar will be reason and how reasons work when they are put under extreme, generalized pressure. No one is a sceptic. But everyone uses reasons. In a way, reason counts as the more fundamental topic of the seminar.
Although this seminar is on *big* issues, I think that it will be less difficult and less technical
than the Spring’s seminar on apriority. I also think I know better where I’m going in this case.
So I think that the seminar, although wide-ranging and reliant on participants’ having a fair
amount of philosophical background, will not be as difficult for early-years graduate students as
the last one was.
Requirements for a grade will be attendance and a medium-length seminar paper (ca. 12 pages).
Philos 281: Seminar: Philosophy of Mind:
Instructor: Gabe Greenberg
This course will be run as a mini-colloquium, centered around emerging research on non-linguistic representation. Topics may include diagrammatic inference, iconicity in sign language, dance semantics, pictorial representation, perception, and implicit bias. For about 2/3 of the meetings, we will have guest speakers present recent research, and take questions both about their presented work and their overall research program. (Speakers TBA; they will include some recent UCLA graduates.) The remaining days will be devoted to introducing background material and discussing general themes. While the specific topics will be new to many of you, the discussion should be accessible to graduate students at all levels. To make the format work, there will be a strong emphasis on participation
Philos 220: Seminar: Topics in History of Philosophy
Instructor: Janelle DeWitt
Tuesdays: 3:00PM – 5:50PM
There are certain elements of Kant’s account of the will that have been notoriously difficult to interpret, much less to defend. What is it that makes us free? What does it mean to will spontaneously? Autonomously? Are we really more free, rather than less free, when we restrict our range of actions to those that accord with the demands of morality? If to be free is to be moral, and to be moral is to be rational, then does that mean that no one is responsible for their immoral actions? What do we really mean by happiness? Is it merely the maximal satisfaction of my desires, or is there something more involved? Can I aim to be both moral and happy? Or must I choose morality to the exclusion of my own happiness? The answers Kantians have typically given to these questions have been less than satisfying. I believe the key to more compelling answers lies in a better understanding of the two-wills doctrine underlying Kant’s account of the will and the impact it has on the rest of his moral theory.
Thus, the aim of this class will be to reconsider Kant’s moral psychology in light of the original “two wills” account found in the work of Anselm of Canterbury. In Anselm’s development of this doctrine, we find such key Kantian concepts as moral self-determination/legislation, spontaneity of the will, intellectual evil, the highest good, etc. But more importantly, we also find a full complement of arguments in support of these concepts and an explanation of how they are intended to fit together—arguments and explanations that are often buried in a mire of theoretical entanglements, assumed as background, or missing altogether in Kant’s own account.
Philos 229: Critical Thinking: History, Theory and Pedagogy
Instructor: Calvin Normore
Wednesdays: 4:00PM – 6:00PM
A graduate level introduction to the history and pedagogy of critical thinking and to current theoretical approaches to the descriptive and normative aspects of reasoning and its role in education more broadly. The ten week course comes in three modules. It begins by examining briefly the relation between dialectic and rhetoric in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, the development of the theory of dialectic and topical argument in medieval Arabic and Latin sources, and the influence of this tradition particularly among women writers in the seventeenth century and American pragmatists such as John Dewey in the twentieth. We then shift gears, looking to current work on the relation between logic and the psychology of reasoning and the theoretical underpinning of argumentation theory and informal logic. The third module of the course is devoted to the theory and practice of the teaching of critical thinking both in the -K-12 and the tertiary education arenas.
Philos C244B: Responsibility and Free Will: Minds that Matter
Instructor: Pamela Hieronymi
T/R: 2:00PM – 3:15PM
Please note this “concurrent” course shares lectures with the undergraduate course, Philos C154B. A separate graduate section will be held on Wednesday, 2:00P – 2:50P, and in “group work” graduate students will be grouped together.
Below is the general course description:
In light of the on-line nature of this course, and in lieu of pre-recorded lectures, the course will be organized around the manuscript of my book-in-progress, Minds that Matter. The aim of the manuscript is to unwind the intuitive problem of free will and moral responsibility. The first half concerns the kind of freedom or control that we think both required for responsibility and in some way problematic. It argues for a specific understanding of the apparent problem and offers a solution. However, the solution is not sufficient to ground all forms of responsibility. Addressing that objection is the subject of the second half of the book. We will consider surrounding literature as we make our way through.
Students will be divided into smaller groups to meet during lecture time, to enable more person-to-person interaction in real time, over Zoom. The exact details are to be determined. Reading is likely to be heavier than usual; class time lighter.
Philos C253B: The Methodology of Normative Philosophy
Instructor: Daniela Dover
Wednesdays: 2:00PM – 4:50PM
This seminar will explore fundamental questions about the aims and methods of philosophical inquiry into morality and politics. What is the point of normative theory? How should we think about the relationships among theory, pedagogy, and everyday moral and political practice? What makes for a good argument? What makes for a good question? What should a piece of philosophical writing do–for the writer, for the reader, and/or for the world at large?
Philos 281:Seminar: Mental Representations
Instructor: Michael Rescorla
Thursdays: 3:00PM – 5:50PM
The representational theory of mind (RTM) holds that the mind is stocked with mental representations: mental items with representational properties. These items can be stored in memory, manipulated during mental activity, and combined to form complex representations. RTM is widely presupposed within cognitive science, which offers many successful theories that posit mental representations. Nevertheless, mental representations are still viewed warily in some scientific and philosophical circles. This course will explore recent literature on RTM, including debates over the existence, nature, individuation, structure, and explanatory role of mental representations. Readings by Camp, Carey, Egan, Fodor, Lewis, Peacocke, Recanati, Schneider, and others.
Philos 287:Seminar: Holism and History
Instructor: Josh Armstrong
Mondays: 2:00PM – 3:50PM
This seminar will explore recent work in the philosophy of language on the nature of linguistic meaning. Particular topics to be discussed include: motivations for semantic holism, historical constraints on linguistic meaning, the nature and philosophical significance of meaning change, and the intersectional character of linguistic communities. We will begin by considering well-known papers by philosophers such as Quine, Putnam, Burge, Evans, and Millikan and by linguists such as Labov, Sankoff, and Mufwene. We will then turn to a critical discussion of Mark Richard’s recent book *Meanings as Species.*