Graduate Seminars 2018-19

Spring 2019

Philos 220: Topics in History of Philosophy

Instructor: John Carriero
Thursdays: 2-4:50PM
Location: TBD

Spinoza’s Ethics

A close reading of Spinoza’s Ethics. We’ll try to move quickly through the early parts of the Ethics, so that we can devote as much attention as possible to topics related to Parts 4 and 5 of the Ethics. No previously knowledge of Spinoza presupposed.

Philos 225: Probability and Inductive Logic

Instructor: Sean Walsh
Thursdays: 2-4:50PM
Location: TBD

Defeasible inference

Most traditional systems of inference are monotonic: adding more information to the premise set cannot modify the evidentiary connection between the premises and the conclusion. Obviously many inferences we care about are non-monotonic or defeasible. The topic of this seminar is simply a survey of the philosophy of defeasible inference.

We’ll start by looking at various sources of defeasible inference, such as: Chisholm’s paradox in ethics, Pollock’s undercutting vs. rebutting distinction in epistemology, and AGM-styles of belief revision in philosophy of science. We’ll then go over the basics of default logic, logic programming, and probabilistic logics– these are the three formalisms most commonly used today. Finally, we’ll look at how three contemporary philosophers develop and apply these ideas. In particular, we’ll read selections from Horty’s Reasons as Defaults, van Lambalgen’s coauthored books Human Reasoning and Cognitive Science and The Proper Treatment of Events, and Leitgeb’s The Stability of Belief.

Seminar sessions will just be split into half lecture and half discussion. Assessment will just be participation and three short papers (for S/U, it is merely participation). No specific technical or philosophical background is needed to benefit from this seminar: we’ll develop things as we go along. The seminar will also be good preparation for the conference Defeasible Inference in Philosophy and Artificial Intelligence in Fall 2019.

Philos 246: Ethical Theory

Instructor: Gavin Lawrence
Tuesdays: 2-4:50PM
Location: Dodd 325

Topics in Practical Philosophy

We shall explore a variety of topics–more or less under the umbrella of neo-Aristotelianism.  We begin by looking at the central topics of objectivity and practicality: at the position of Anscombe, Foot, and Geach, and what I call their Wittgenstinian Criterialism; also at the contextualism of value.  Then examine the traditional conception of practical reason and practical rationality, both in the private and public spheres; the place of conscience; and the unity of the virtues.  We will then consider the role of free time, and the difficult topic of what is deep and what shallow in human life.  Other possible topics are those of wickedness; of natural law and the sense in which practical philosophy might be a ‘science’, and questions of non-codifiability and codifiability; and of human equality.

I will provide a fuller description of the readings nearer the time.

Philos 271: Topics in Metaphysics and Epistemology

Instructor: Sherrilyn Roush
Wednesdays: 2-4:50PM
Location: Dodd 399

Knowledge of Individuals

Can we know individuals by means of generalizations? If so, under what circumstances? If not, why not? Jurors and jurists are reluctant to convict or hold a person liable on the basis of naked statistical generalizations, even when they think the generalizations make guilt highly probable. We have ethical qualms about using statistical generalizations about identity and, e.g., professions, to determine whether a person has expertise. Cases like these have recently led to claims of moral encroachment into epistemology, according to which what we are justified in believing depends in part on moral factors. I think the examples show that we cannot presume a harmony between epistemic and ethical demands, but there are many purely epistemic questions about the use of statistical generalizations as evidence about individuals that need to be examined before adverting to moral encroachment. We will discuss how different views of knowledge and evidence give different verdicts about the use of naked generalizations, and why. We will discuss the conditions under which the statistical syllogism (direct inference) is legitimate, and whether we could know individuals without general evidence. Finally, we will ask about the justification of the Principle of Total Evidence – take all of your evidence into account — and whether ignoring statistical evidence about the individual is a violation of it. Familiarity with probability will be helpful, but not required. The basics will be taught.

Philos 286: Philosophy of Psychology

Instructor: Michael Rescorla
Mondays: 3-5:50PM
Location: Dodd 325

The Objects of Thought

Philosophers generally agree that representational mental states are relations to entities of some sort, but they disagree about what those entities are. A few options are Fregean thoughts, Russellian propositions, sets of possible worlds, and mental representations. We will canvass these and other options. We will discuss high-level cognitive states (belief, desire, intention, etc.) along with other mental states (such as perceptual states). Readings by Elisabeth Camp, David Chalmers, Frances Egan, Gareth Evans, Jerry Fodor, Jeff King, Christopher Peacocke, Scott Soames, Jeff Speaks, and others.

Philos 202: Aristotle

Instructor: Henry Mendell
Wednesdays & Fridays: 10:00-11:50AM
Location: Rolfe 3121

Aristotle on the Mathematical Sciences

Greek mathematical sciences were young when Plato and Aristotle set about trying to explain them.  Some characteristic features of Greek mathematics would be the laying out of definitions and general principles, proofs reliant on theorems proved, the use of individuals to prove general claims, sequential methods of constructing or finding the objects discussed, its heavy reliance on diagrams, the avoidance of individual numbers (even in arithmetic) characteristic of the metrical mathematics (Babylonian and Egyptian problem texts) from which it surely developed.  So just like the metrical sort, Greek mathematical sciences appear to be about relations between individuals. just not of so-many feet.

For Aristotle, at least, this leads to several fundamental questions, arising from some fundamental assumptions:  the correct ontology starts with substances, but these sciences are not about substances; yet, if the theorems are true, they must be about some sorts of objects; furthermore, the objects must satisfy the definitions, while the theorems must hold true of them; and the principles and logical structure of the mathematical treatises, the most successful he knows, should be productive of knowledge.  These issues suggest two avenues towards understanding the sciences.  One is to set up an account of the structure of sciences, the Posterior Analytics, which takes mathematical sciences as its model.  The other is more tangential to Aristotle’s metaphysics, namely showing that one can construct an ontology for mathematical sciences without succumbing to the evils of Platonisms.  This requires that he place mathematical objects among the perceptibles and that he solve the precision problem, finding objects in the world that satisfy the theorems.  I shall argue that there are, in fact, three precision problems that Aristotle faces.  As an empiricist, he also needs to account for how we know these precise objects.  Finally, Aristotle may face a problem that, on his view, mathematicians may need to change their practice, or at least how they interpret their practice.

Both Aristotle and Plato give accounts of the sciences, basically arithmetic, geometry, stereometry, harmonics, astronomy, as well as, for Aristotle, optics and mechanics that treat them as hierarchically related but basically of the same sort.  If one treats one of them as supra-sensory then they all are, and if one of them is grounded in perceptible objects, then so should be the others.  In this way, Aristotle’s philosophy of these sciences is as much a philosophy of science as a philosophy of mathematics.

The course will look at all these issues.

Texts discussed will include selections from An. Post. A 1-14, 27-28, II 10-11, 17-19; Physics II 2 (how mathematics differs from physics with related texts in Metaphysics III, VI, IX), III 4-8 (infinite); De Anima II 1-3 (for the nature of definition), III 6 (on concept acquisition); Metaphysics I 6, III 2, 5, V 13, 15, VII 10-11 (intelligible matter), XIII 1-3 (what are the objects of mathematics, a dialogue!).  Additionally, we will look at related material in Euclid and Archimedes, as well as several articles by Mueller, Lear, Cleary, E. Katz, myself, and others.

There are two concurrent courses.

The undergraduate course requirements are: participation and one term paper

The graduate letter grade requirements are: participation, one term paper (standard, and one presentation of an article or a chapter in Aristotle.

The graduate S/U grade requirements are:  participation and one presentation.

Winter 2019

Philos C219: Topics in Modern Philosophy

Instructor: Janelle Dewitt
Tuesdays and Thursdays: 12-1:50PM
Location: Rolfe 3108

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
Mondays: 2-4:50PM
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 244: Topics in Value Theory – Rationality and Action

Instructor: Pamela Hieronymi 
Wednesdays: 2-4:50PM
Location: TBD

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  
Thursdays: 5:30-7:30PM
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
Location: Dodd 325

Cognitive Variation

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:

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 
Thursdays: 2-5PM
Location: Dodd 325

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:

  1. Formal syntax/semantics (or syntax/semantic processing)
  2. Cognitive architecture (esp. procedural/declarative memory)
  3. 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:

Fall 2018

Philos 207: History of Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy

Instructor: Calvin Normore & Brian Copenhaver
Mondays: 2-5PM
Location: Dodd Hall 325

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:

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  
Mon/Wed: 9:30-10:45AM
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 
Thursdays: 2-5PM
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  
Wednesdays: 2-5PM
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 
Tuesdays: 2-5PM
Location: TBD


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.