Graduate Seminars 2019-2020

Spring 2020

Philos C209: Decartes

Instructor: John Carriero
Tuesdays & Thursdays: 2:00-3:50pm
Location: Royce 164

Interested students should contact Prof. Carriero for more information. Please note, this is a concurrent graduate section for an undergraduate course, Philos C109, and does not satisfy the requirement for a graduate seminar in history.

Philos 231: Seminar: Intensional Logic

Instructor: Yael Sharvit and Sean Walsh
Thursdays: 2:00-4:50P
Location: DODD 399

For more details, see the ccle page.

Philos 246: Contractualism (Plus?)

Instructor: Pamela Hieronymi
Thursdays: 2:00-4:50P
Location: DODD 325

We will consider, in detail, T. M. Scanlon’s contractualist moral theory as put forth in “Contractualism and Utilitarianism,” What We Owe to Each Other, and Moral Dimensions.  We may (this will be resolved before the beginning of the seminar) begin with David Lewis’ Convention and Hart’s Concept of Law.   Alternatively, we may consider Gauthier’s contractualism alongside Scanlon’s.

Philos 248: Assignment and Delegation

Instructors: Seana Shiffrin & Barbara Herman
Wednesdays: 2:00-4:50P
Location: DODD 325

The seminar will explore various views and issues about the assignment, delegation, and sharing of moral, political, and legal rights and duties, e.g., divesting and transferring moral rights and responsibilities and establishing divisions of moral labor. A special focus will be placed on unilateral transfers of rights and duties that disrupt or transform mutual moral relationships.

Philos 271: Epistemology

Instructor: Tyler Burge
Tuesdays: 3:00-5:50P
Location: DODD 325

The seminar will be in epistemology–epistemic norms and goods; and the natures and types of apriori justification–both generally and of philosophical claims.

Winter 2020

Philos 220: Early Modern Theories of the Person and the Self

Instructor: John Carriero
Wednesdays: 2:00-4:30P
Location: DODD 325

In the 17th century, the nature of the human person and the self comes up for renewed philosophical discussion in a striking way. Questions like the following arise: Is the self the mind or the body or some combination of the two? Is it a substance? What are the conditions for the identity of the self over time? This seminar will explore how and why this new interest in the self arose. We will take up different accounts of the self, personhood, and the human being found in Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz, Hume, and Kant and conclude with some reflections of the later Wittgenstein on the self and self-knowledge.

The seminar will be cotaught by John Carriero (UCLA) and Edwin McCann (USC), and take place over UCLA’s winter quarter and USC’s spring semester, and meet on Wednesdays from 2 to 4:30pm. Enrolled UCLA students will be required only to attend the winter meetings.


Philos 232: Laws of Nature: Humeanism vs Anti-Humeanism

Instructor: Katie Elliott
Mondays: 2:00-4:50P
Location: DODD 325

Humean Supervenience about the laws of nature is the view that the nomic facts of our world supervene on the non-nomic facts. In other words, Humean Supervenience is the view that any two worlds that are perfectly alike with respect to what happens are also perfectly alike with respect to the laws of nature that range over those happenings.

Debates over Humean Supervenience (though not always under that heading) began in the 60’s and are very much alive today. The question of whether Humean Supervenience is true is the central point of contention among those working on the metaphysics of laws of nature.

The goal for our seminar is to see what the fuss is all about. After learning some classic Humean (Swartz, Lewis) and anti-Humean (Armstrong, Dretske) accounts of lawhood, we’ll skip forward to the contemporary debate and try to decide which is worse: the counterintuitive consequences of Humeanism (e.g., it is false that a fair coin can land heads an arbitrarily large number of times) or the apparently mysterious and under-described metaphysics of the Anti- Humean.

And, I’ll try out a new argument for Anti-Humeanism; Humeanism is untenable because it provides an inadequate account of the conditions under which an event is inexplicable.

No familiarity with the material is presupposed.

Philos C245: What thinking about imperfect duties leads to

Instructor: Barbara Herman
Tuesdays: 3:00-5:50P
Location: DODD 325

This seminar will have two largish topics.  The first is to trace out a variety of implications of looking closely at the structure and presuppositions of imperfect duties.  In addition to looking at some of the duties themselves – e.g., beneficence, gratitude, due care – we will consider revisions to elements of the moral framework the duties seem to require: a contrast between wrongness and impermissibility, moral demands on motives, deliberative constraints on the discretion imperfect duties allow, an essential connection between duty and value, and the dependence of imperfect duties on a background structure of institutions of justice (e.g., property rights).

The second topic is to consider what a moral theory would look like if it met the desiderata drawn from the examination of imperfect duties.  Not surprisingly, I will be focusing on Kant’s moral theory (the normative parts), suggesting a pretty thorough revision of how we should read it.  It will involve, e.g., arguments for:

  •  the emptiness of the Groundwork formulas
  • why there are duties (and not just general principles of action or maxim assessment)
  • the priority of right (recht) in setting the content of duties, both juridical and ethical
  • a notion of juridical personality to complement the idea of moral personality
  •  the normal dependence of ethical duties on actual juridical institutions
  •  morality as a dynamic system of duties, and the implications of accepting that idea

Much of the reading will be drawn from a book manuscript I am trying to finish (The Moral Habitat).  The rest will be, as needed, background reading in Kant, and a small selection of useful papers.

The seminar will meet Tuesdays, either 2-4:50 or 3-5:50 (to be decided at the start of the quarter)

Philos 246: Marx

Instructor: AJ Julius
Wednesdays: 2:00-4:50P
Location: DODD 399

We’ll be reading Marx. (A more definite plan coming to this space soon.)

Philos 281: Modes of Presentation?

Instructor: Michael Rescorla
Tuesdays: 3:00-5:50P
Location: DODD 399

Frege postulated modes of presentation (MOPs) to explain a range of linguistic and mental phenomena. MOPs were controversial when Frege introduced them, and they remain controversial today. This seminar will examine a range of contemporary theories that attempt to do without MOPs. We will investigate the prospects for such anti-Fregean theories, and we will explore how insights extracted from these theories can enrich the Fregean approach. Readings by Fine, Fodor, Frege, Heck, Jeshion, Millikan, Pryor, Recanati, Salmon, Schneider, Soames, Stalnaker, and others

Philos 287: Visual Narrative

Instructor: Sam Cumming & Gabe Greenberg
Thursdays: 2:00-4:50P
Location: DODD 325

Each shot in a film expresses its own space, events, and characters; but how do these elements come to form a coherent narrative when multiple shots are presented in sequence?  This seminar is an exploration of the semantics and pragmatics of coherence in film narrative, with an emphasis on the expression of space, time, and viewpoint.  We’ll also examine how these themes reflect in comic books and non-Western visual narrative.   Readings will be drawn from film theory, aesthetics, linguistics, and cognitive science, as well as from an upcoming book on viewpoint and film coherence that we will be working on concurrently.

Weekly Schedule

  1. Introduction to film narrative
  2. Discourse coherence (contiguity relations)
  3. Camera constraints
  4. Action line constraints
  5. Conventions, focal points, and pragmatics
  6. The representation of point of view
  7. The representation of time
  8. Dynamic update
  9. Non-Western visual narrative
  10. Student presentations

Fall 2019

Philos 206: Topics in Medieval Philosophy

Instructor: Calvin Normore & Brian Copenhaver
Thursdays: 9:30AM-12:00PM
Location: DODD 399

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: DODD 325

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
Mondays: 2-5PM
Location: DODD 325

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: DODD 325

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: DODD 399

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: DODD 325

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.