Graduate Courses & Seminars

Fall 2019

Philos 206: Topics in Medieval Philosophy

Instructor: Calvin Normore & Brian Copenhaver
Thursdays: 9:30AM-12:00PM
Location: TBD

In the later middle ages, as now, metaphysics and logic were closely intertwined.  In this seminar we will study the connections between them, focusing on the metaphysical foundations of supposition theory – the medieval theory most closely approximating our own pictures of meaning and reference.

We will begin with the origins of  the use of the term ‘suppositum’ (what is ‘supposited or ‘stood for’ ) in twelfth century logic and metaphysics, follow some of the developments of the theory of supposition through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries focusing  on five Questions from the 24 year old  Pico della Mirandolla’s Response  (Apologia) to charges of heresy brought against him at the papal court. The charges arose out of Pico’s positions on some of the central debates between ‘nominalists (such as Ockham and Robert Holcot) ’ and ‘realists’ (such as Aquinas and Scotus) and  involved  issues concerning the metaphysics of substance and accident and the nature of time and space. These gained theological  urgency because of their connections  with doctrines such as that Christ is one ‘suppositum’ but  has two natures (human as well as divine); that the qualities (accidents)  of bread and wine persist after the substances of bread and wine  are changed by a priest into Christ’s body and blood and that Christ was able to visit (and ‘harrow’) Hell between his death and resurrection while his body lay in the tomb.

Those attending  the course will be expected to participate actively in discussion and those taking the course for a letter grade will be required to submit a  paper after the end of the term.

Philos 220: Philosophy of Mind in the Islamic Tradition

Instructor: Ahmed Alwishah
Wednesdays: 2-5PM
Location: TBD

In this seminar, we investigate a number of philosophical topics concerning the nature of mind and its relation to the extra-mental world in Medieval Islamic Philosophy. Topics include: the existence of self, self-awareness in human and non-human animals, universal knowledge and divine self-awareness, the transmission of perceptible content into mental content, theory of conception and assent, mental disorders, and theory of emotion. We will focus on the philosophical writings of Avicenna and some of the Post-Avicennan philosophers, such as Abu-al-Barakat, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, and Ibn Kammuna.

Enrollment for undergraduates is by instructor permission only. Interested undergraduates are welcome to apply for admission by contacting Professor Alwishah at:

Philos 232: Philosophy of Science

Instructor: Sheldon Smith
Thursdays: 2-5PM
Location: TBD

In Philosophy 232, we will be reading Mark Wilson’s newest book entitled Physics Avoidance: Essays in Conceptual Strategy  along with an essay which was originally planned to be part of the book entitled “What is Classical Mechanics anyway?”

In large measure, the theme of both of the readings is how physics manages to avoid complicated physical descriptions of certain aspects of systems (that’s the “physics avoidance” part) along with various linguistic phenomena that take place when it does so (that’s the part about “conceptual strategy”).  For example, in some cases, a predicate (like ‘is a force’) will shift its significance due to physics avoidance.  This theme will be familiar to those who have read Wilson’s earlier book Wandering Significance, but it is not necessary to have read that to follow this seminar.

In addition to those with interests in philosophy of physics and philosophy of language, I hope that the seminar will be interesting to those with an interest in metaphysics and in the history of philosophy, at least insofar as it engages with the physics of its time.  As examples of how the book touches on those, Wilson argues that anti-realism about force is (roughly) a result of mis-diagnosing how classical mechanics works as a whole.  Moreover, some of the book is explicitly about Leibniz and, in any case, the larger picture of classical mechanics that Wilson engages with — and that cannot be called “Newtonian mechanics” with historical accuracy — ought to inform readings of, say, Kant’s work in philosophy of physics since many of the major developments beyond Newton were already underway at Kant’s time.

Philos C247: Rawlsian Liberalism and its Critical Alternatives

Instructor: Seana Shiffrin
M/W: 10-11:50AM
Location: Royce 164

The course will embark on a  selective survey of some topics in contemporary political philosophy, including economic justice, civil liberties, and discrimination. The focus will be on John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, a developed theory of liberalism, and the various critical reactions to it that represent an array of alternative political theories.

C247: There will be a graduate section that investigates the topic of ‘public reason,’ again starting with Rawls’ theory and delving into critical responses to it.

Philos 255: Aesthetic Theory

Instructor: Daniela Dover 
Thursdays: 2-5PM
Location: TBD

Kant’s Critique of Judgment

Philos M257: Criminal Responsibility and the Adult/Juvenile Distinction

Instructor: David Beglin
Wednesdays: 5:30-8:00PM
Location: Law 2483

In this seminar, we will explore the philosophical basis for the distinction that we draw between adults and juveniles. Our focus will be on this distinction in the criminal law context. Why treat juveniles differently—more leniently—than adult offenders? In pursuing this topic, we’ll reflect on a number of more general philosophical issues. Of special interest will be how this question relates to how we should understand criminal responsibility more broadly. We’ll also consider the nature of childhood, the relationship between legal and moral practice, and questions about what it means to be able to participate in one’s country as a citizen and the role that this plays in justifying state punishment.

More specifically, at the center of the course will be a recent book (The Age of Culpability) by Gideon Yaffe, who argues against traditional views about treating juveniles differently than adults. Traditional views typically appeal in some way to the moral incapacity of juveniles—their particular susceptibility to their environments, e.g., or the fact they are still developing as persons. Yaffe argues, instead, that juveniles should be treated more leniently because they have less of a say over the law than adults. The overall goal of the seminar will be to consider this proposal vis-à-vis traditional views, and to ponder the wider implications of all of this for our understanding of criminal responsibility.

Just a heads up: the first class for this seminar will be held on 09/25/19, which is after the quarter has started but the day before the first official class of the quarter. There will also be one make-up class held at some point to be determined.

Philos 271: Naked Statistical Evidence and Individuals

Instructor: Sherrilyn Roush 
Wednesdays: 2-5PM
Location: TBD

In many contexts in practical life, it is perceived intuitively as unjustified to base judgment of individuals on population-based empirical generalizations alone. This is so for properties of (some) inanimate objects – such as whether a lottery ticket is a winner – as well as for (some) properties of people – such as whether Mr. Smith committed murder. We ask what the epistemic bases of this intuition might be by considering the differences between knowledge and justified belief, belief and credence, safety and sensitivity properties of belief, the conditions of legitimacy for the statistical syllogism, and what it means for evidence to be individualized. We consider the relationship between moral and epistemic values in using statistics to judge people. This seminar continues some of the themes of my Spring 2019 seminar – Evidence and Individuals – but neither presupposes nor is redundant with it. This class may be taken for credit whether you took that class or not.


Philos 287: The Philosophical Significance of Animal Communication

Instructor: Josh Armstrong
Tuesdays: 2-4PM
Location: TBD

This seminar will explore the philosophical significance of animal communication. More specifically, we will consider the implications of recent work on non-human primate vocalizations and gestures for philosophical theories of public meaning, communicative interaction, and sociality more generally. In the first half of the seminar, we will consider the challenge that animal communication raises for both standard intention-based approaches as well as existing biological approaches. In the second half of the seminar, we will work to develop a novel alternative account and consider its implications for the evolution of distinctively human forms of communication.