Graduate Courses & Seminars
Philos 207: History of Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy
In 1486, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola published 900 philosophical theses that he planned to defend in Rome in 1487. When Pope Innocent VIII condemned 13 of them, the project failed. Pico defended the condemned theses in a detailed Apology. One of his defensive tactics was to use techniques of logic, some well known and obvious, others less known and not so obvious. We’ll examine and evaluate Pico’s tactics on logical grounds – meaning the logic known to him and his opponents. After introducing Pico, his Apology and the type of logic that he used, we’ll examine relevant parts of the Apology in detail. The Apology, written in Latin by Pico, has never been translated into English until now, and these English translations will be supplied.
For background on Pico, see Copenhaver, “Giovanni Pico della Mirandola,” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pico-della-mirandola/
For a medieval introduction to medieval logic, see Peter of Spain: Summaries of Logic: Text, Translation, Introduction, and Notes, ed. and trans. Copenhaver, Normore and Parsons, pp. 9-86
Philos C223: Philosophy of Mathematics
Instructor: Sean Walsh
Location: Slichter Hall 2834
This is an introduction to the philosophy of mathematics. We shall survey the philosophy of mathematics from Kant to Hilbert. One of our chief aims will be understand the content and development of the three main schools of logicism, formalism, and intuitionism in their historical context. In addition to studying the original texts of philosophers such as Kant and Frege and Russell, we will try to describe how their philosophy interacted with developments in mathematics and logic at the time. The course will be lecture-based, and the evaluation will be a midterm, a final exam, and two short papers.
This course is a concurrent course, and graduate students who are enrolled will have a separate 1-hour meeting with some additional more advanced readings.
Philos 232: Philosophy of Science
Instructor: Katrina Elliot
Location: Dodd 325
Inference to the best explanation is a familiar form of inference by which we come to believe (or to be more confident in) whichever theory best explains our data. Suppose, for example, I come home to discover that my leather shoes have been torn to bits and are covered with what appears to be drool and teeth marks. One explanation for the state of my shoes is that my dog chewed on them. An alternative explanation for the state of my shoes is that my neighbors broke into my house, destroyed my shoes, and framed my dog. When I discover that my shoes have been destroyed, I infer the first option over the second on the grounds that the first option is a better explanation for the state of my shoes than is the second option.
This class will discuss inference to the best explanation: its content, its justification, and its implications. We will be particularly interested in inference to the best explanation’s role in justifying our beliefs about the unobservable features of our world.
Philos 246: Ethical Theory
Instructor: A.J. Julius
Location: Dodd Hall 325
Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. We are going to read the book through.
Philos 281: Philosophy of Mind
Instructor: Gabriel Greenberg
This seminar will examine the phenomenon of indexicality from the perspective of semiotics, philosophy of language, linguistics, and philosophy of mind. We will consider a wide range of indexical representations, including first-person pronouns, demonstratives, arrows and pointing, street signs, maps, visual perception, and self-reflexive thought. The course is intended to be an introduction to the topic, with no special background assumed. We will spend extra time at the start of the course reviewing basic methods in formal semantics which will be applied in the remainder.
Philos C219: Topics in Modern Philosophy
Instructor: Janelle Dewitt
Tuesdays and Thursdays: 12-1:50PM
The “Two-Wills” Moral Psychology of Anselm and Kant
One of the characteristic (and somewhat controversial) features of Kant’s account of the will is his adoption of a two-wills doctrine. It has often been assumed that this bifurcation of the good into happiness and morality was an unintended, yet unavoidable byproduct of his metaphysical theory. The problem, however, is that many interpretational difficulties appear to trace back (at least in part) to this doctrine, indicating that Kantians have not yet fully understood or appreciated its significance. Thus, the aim of this class will be to reconsider Kant’s moral psychology in light of the original two-wills doctrine found in the work of Anselm of Canterbury. Not only do we find such key Kantian concepts as moral self-determination/legislation, spontaneity of the will, intellectual/rational evil, and the highest good, but we also find a full complement of arguments that explains why these concepts require a bifurcation of the good. Once we understand the importance of the original two-wills doctrine, a very different picture of Kant’s moral psychology will begin to emerge.
Philos 232: Philosophy of Science
Instructor: Sheldon Smith
Location: Dodd 325
In my seminar, we will be reading Mark Wilson’s book Wandering Significance along with some selections from his newer book Physics Avoidance. The material is at the intersection of philosophy of science and philosophy of language.
Philos 248: Problems in Moral Philosophy
Instructor: Pamela Hieronymi
Minds that Matter
In this seminar we will read the draft of my manuscript in progress, Minds that Matter, along with some surrounding literature. The immodest ambition of the book is to unwind the traditional problem of free will and moral responsibility. I think the problem can be unwound, because I believe it is a philosophical one—that is to say, I believe the problem is created by certain philosophical pictures to which we are naturally (or culturally) prone. We model our experiences in certain ways, and we end up in paradox and difficulty. One such picture is what I call “the ordinary notion of control”, another is what I call “the merited-consequences conception of responsibility.” Both are natural, and fine for certain purposes, but together they run us into the traditional problem. The solution, I believe, is to do some remodeling: to revisit these pictures, understand what has gone wrong, and replace them with something better. The first part of the book considers the ordinary notion of control and argues for an expansion. The second part considers the merited-consequences conception of responsibility and argues for a reorientation. Both the expansion and the reorientation are still natural models of our experience. I believe they are better than those models that lead us into difficulty, not only because they avoid the difficulty, but also because they have a greater claim to being correct.
Philos 254A/B: Legal Theory Workshop
Instructor: Mark Greenberg
Location: Law 1314
This 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 country to discuss their works-in-progress with students and interested faculty. The papers are diverse, ranging across, for example, moral philosophy, the relevance of philosophy of language to legal interpretation, philosophy of law, 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. One major focus of the class is on how to ask good questions.
Information about the spring workshops can be found here:
Philos 258: Contemporary Philosophy of Law
Instructor: Erik Encarnacion
Tuesdays and Thursdays: 12:10-1:35PM
Location: Dodd 67
This course introduces students to philosophical questions that arise when trying to explain and justify the laws that empower individuals to make legally enforceable contracts, as well as the laws that curtail those powers. Specific topics will include: the question of the conceptual relationship between promises and contracts, the justificatory relationship between promissory morality and the law of contracts, paternalistic limitations on the power to contract, the challenge that boilerplate agreements present to orthodox justifications for contract law, and the tensions between bankruptcy protection and contractual obligations.
Philos 281: Philosophy of Mind
Instructor: Josh Armstrong
Tuesdays: 2-3:50 PM
This seminar will explore the empirical status and philosophical significance of cognitive variation. The central dimension of cognitive variation to be considered will be architectural: specifically, variation with respect to the modules or faculties that make up a mind. After first working to clarify the nature of cognitive modularity, we will consider the extent to which there is evidence of variation in cognitive modules across species, across human individuals, and across human cultures.
For an overview of the modularity thesis, see the discussion here: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/modularity-mind/
For a sample of the kinds of questions we will be exploring with respect to cognitive variation, see the discussion here:
No familiarity with the topic will be presupposed. Enrolled students will be expected to make an in class presentation, and to submit either a final research paper (12-20 pages) or three shorter analysis papers (4-6 pages, each).
Philos 287: Philosophy of Language
Instructor: Sam Cumming
We will be working through the book manuscript Formal Linguistics and Cognitive Architecture by Adrian Brasoveanu and Jakub Dotlacil at the rate of a chapter per week. The book provides “a formally and computationally explicit way to build theories that integrate generative grammars and cognitive architectures: integrated competence-performance theories for formal syntax and semantics.” It also introduces the reader to Bayesian methods for parameter estimation and model comparison, and how to assay formal syntactic and semantic theories using quantitative data from psycholinguistic experiments.
The seminar is principally aimed at those interested in at least one of the following:
- Formal syntax/semantics (or syntax/semantic processing)
- Cognitive architecture (esp. procedural/declarative memory)
- Bayesian statistics
The book’s approach is computationally explicit and hands on. We will be writing and playing around with code. However, the book makes progress by baby steps, with no prior coding ability assumed. I will not be expecting you to write the usual seminar paper for this course. Assessment will be based instead on the aforementioned hands-on participation, rounded out with some tasks to ensure everyone is up to speed, and either a squib (short project) or else a presentation of one of the optional readings.
I have the manuscript and will forward it to any graduate student who is interested (just let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org).