Graduate Seminars 2021-22

Spring 2022


Philos 203: Seminar: History of Ancient Philosophy

Instructor: Adam Crager
Thursdays: 4:00P – 6:50P
Location: Dodd 399

Aristotle’s Metaphysics

A graduate level introduction to Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Topics to be discussed include (i) Aristotle’s conception of metaphysics as ‘first philosophy’ and a discipline whose goal is developing a science of being qua being, (ii) Aristotle’s division of categories and proposal that both being and oneness are ‘said in many ways’, (iii) Aristotle’s distinctive understanding of the metaphysical concepts of substance and essence,  (iv) his Metaphysics’ defense of the ‘principle of non-contradiction’ as an ontological (and logical) principle,  (v) the Metaphysics‘ rejection of Platonic Forms and reconceptualization of the form/matter distinction,  (vi) Aristotle’s distinctive ‘hylomorphism’ in the metaphysics of (both) composition and change, (vii) Aristotle’s introduction into metaphysics of the potentiality/actuality distinction, and (viii)  the Metaphysics  proposal that the highest principles and causes of being are incorporeal, eternally existing substantial actualities essentially consisting in ‘understandings understanding themselves’. All readings in translation. Previous study of Aristotle’s philosophy is useful but not presupposed.

Philos 220: Topics in History of Philosophy

Instructor: John Carriero

See Philosophy 246

Philos 232: Seminar: Philosophy of Science

Instructor: Katie Elliott
Mondays: 2:00P – 4:50P
Location: Dodd 325

Metaphysics of Science for a Social World

Metaphysics of Science for a Social World pairs recent work in philosophy of gender, philosophy of race, philosophy of disability, and social ontology with classic readings in the philosophy of science. Do many features of the study of social kinds and dynamics, which might have seemed unique to “soft sciences”, have analogues in features of the study of physical kinds and dynamics, including chemistry and physics?  I have chosen a syllabus that motivates an affirmative answer; from both metaphysical and epistemic perspectives, there are many important and underappreciated similarities between natural and social kinds.  However, we will also discuss readings that challenge core assumptions common to analytic philosophy of science and analytic studies of the social world.

Philos 246: Seminar: Ethical Theory

Instructors: John Carriero and Barbara Herman
Thursdays: 2:00P – 4:50P
Location: Dodd 325

Spinoza’s Ethics

A study of Spinoza’s Ethics. Equal attention will be paid to the metaphysical dimension of the work and the ethical dimension, and special attention will be paid to the relationship between the two. We’ll work through the entire treatise, more or less in order, including its accounts of: God and the ways in which it takes us in the direction of naturalism (Part 1), of the human mind (Part 2), of our affective nature (Part 3), of the ways in which the affects either advance or setback our wellbeing (Part 4), and the conditions for peace of mind and human blessedness (Part 5). Topics to be taken up along the way include Spinoza’s denial of free will, and what follows from it, his account of the relation between mind and body, his theory of desire as conatus, his alleged hedonism or psychological egoism and its fit with his views about benevolence and social harmony, and Spinoza’s apparent identification of theoretical and practical reason. Kant, in certain moods, seems to have viewed Spinoza’s system as the most consistent alternative to the Critical philosophy (see, e.g., the Critique of Practical Reason 5:102); we’ll want to think, from time to time, how Kant’s theory—especially his theory of practical reason and desire—differs from Spinoza’s.

No previous knowledge of Spinoza required.

Department Graduate Students should clear their writing projects with instructors in advance in order for the course to count either as a history seminar or as an ethics and value theory seminar. (The course may be counted toward only one of these requirements.)

Philos 281: Seminar: Philosophy of Mind

Instructor: Tyler Burge
Tuesdays: 2:00P – 4:50P
Location: ONLINE

Tentative topic: It is somewhat most likely that the seminar will be a discussion of as much of my book Perception: First Form of Mind, which should be published in February, as is feasible in a quarter.  The first half of the book deals with the form of perceptual representation, including its iconic format.  The second half deals with the relation between perceptual processing and various satellite capacities—perceptually driven conation, perceptual attention, perceptual (and motor) memory, perceptual anticipation,  perceptual affect, perceptual learning, perceptual imagining—and relations between all of these and higher representational capacities (“cognition”, including centrally propositional cognition).  Issues about modularity may be discussed.  The main issue of the second half of the book is what counts as a perceptual system and, correlatively, what counts as a perceptual-motor system.


Winter 2022


Philos 206: Topics in Medieval Philosophy

Instructor: Peter King
Tuesday: 3:00P – 5:50P
Location: Dodd 325

Augustine and Post-Classical Philosophy

Augustine (354-430ce) wrote his Confessions (roughly 397-401ce) as a philosophical treatise on ethics.  It is a manifesto of `post-classical’ philosophy, meant to show how the doctrines of mainstream Christianity provide better philosophical answers to philosophical problems than do the various schools of classical antiquity.  It is cast as a direct address to God with the events of Augustine’s life providing the framework in which he takes up philosophical problems as various as human happiness (and how to find it), the nature of the mind, the paradox of inquiry, the Socratic dismissal of weakness of the will, the Supreme Good, the relation between high culture and popular culture, friendship, the soul’s ascent to wisdom, the epistemic status of testimony, human perversity, the nature of time, the paradox of commitment, and skepticism.  We’ll read parts of the `autobiographical’ sections (Books 1-9) closely, and if possible the `treatise on memory’ (Book 10) and the `treatise on time’ (Book 11); there will be associated background readings in ancient philosophy along the way.

The focus of the seminar will be philosophical rather than theological, literary, spiritual, polemical, or historical.  (Knowledge of Latin or Greek isn’t necessary but is welcome.)

Philos C210: Spinoza

Instructor: John Carriero
Wednesdays, Fridays: 10:00A-11:50A
Location: Royce 154

Interested students should contact Prof. Carriero for more information. Please note, this is a concurrent graduate section for an undergraduate course, Philos C110, and does not satisfy the requirement for a graduate seminar in history.

Philos 220: Seminar: Topics in History of Philosophy

Instructor: Daniela Dover
Mondays: 2:00P – 4:50P
Location: Dodd 325

Left Existentialism: Beauvoir, Fanon, Thảo, Foucault

Existentialism, like its more explicitly political cousin anarchism, is a politically ambiguous tradition that has appealed to reactionary as well as revolutionary thinkers. This seminar will explore the left wing of the existentialist tradition, considering the influence of existentialist themes on Marxist, anarchist, feminist, post-colonial, and post-structuralist thought, with a particular focus on Simone de Beauvoir, Franz Fanon, Trần Đức Thảo, and Michel Foucault.

Philos C225: Probability and Inductive Logic

Instructor: Michael Rescorla
Tuesdays, Thursday: 12:30P – 1:45P
Location: Dodd 78

Bayesian decision theory is the standard theoretical framework for studying reasoning and decision-making under uncertain conditions. It plays a large role in epistemology, statistics, artificial intelligence (including robotics), cognitive science, and many other disciplines. We will discuss the Bayesian paradigm and its philosophical underpinnings. We will begin by explaining the probability calculus. We will then discuss how to formalize Bayesian decision theory using the probability calculus. Throughout the course, we will discuss foundational issues raised by the Bayesian paradigm, including: the nature of subjective probability; conditional probability; Conditionalization and other dynamic Bayesian norms; Dutch book arguments; and the principle of indifference.

Interested students should contact directly to Professor Rescorla

Please note, this is a concurrent graduate section for an undergraduate course, Philos C133B

Philos 246: Seminar: Ethical Theory

Instructor: A.J. Julius
Thursday: 2:00P – 4:50P
Location: Dodd 325

We’ll talk through the rough draft of a new book on labor and its liberation from capital. Along the way we’ll work on several of the texts it’s working on: some Marx, for sure; probably some Hegel, Ricardo, Lukacs, and I.I. Rubin; possibly some E.B. Pashukanis, J.-P. Sartre, Lucio Colletti, Amilcar Cabral, Lise Vogel, Barbara Fields.

Philos 254A: Legal Theory Workshop

Instructor: Seana Shiffrin
Thursdays: 5:00P – 7:00P
Location: Law 1314

The seminar is structured around the Legal Theory Workshop which brings leading scholars from around the world to discuss their works in progress with graduate students, law students,  faculty. All the papers will address legal issues from a theoretically informed perspective or theoretical issues relevant to the understanding of law. The seminar will involve biweekly discussions with leading scholars, with intervening preparatory weeks. In the preparatory weeks, students gain relevant background but we also focus on how to develop a good philosophical question and what makes for a good philosophical conversation.  Students will be expected to attend all sessions, participate regularly, write a handful of short reaction papers (1-2 pages) and complete a longer analytical paper involving little research (12-15 pages) at the end of the term about one of the subjects covered in class.

This year’s program includes a highly distinguished list of speakers whose work addresses the formation of trust relationships between criminals, criminal law, freedom of speech, property, the justification of the state and judicial review. The list of speakers is available at

No prior background is necessary, but students should be open to in-depth investigation of theoretical arguments about legal issues and legal structure. All philosophy students are welcome and have the relevant preparation. Background will be supplied in the weeks in between speaker visits.

Philos M257: Philosophy Legal Theory

Instructor: Samuele Chilovi
Mondays: 5:30P – 7:30P
Location: Law 2473

The Nature of Law: Ground, Essence, and Analysis

Legal philosophers are interested in the questions of what law is, and what makes it what it is. But how are we to understand such questions, and how do they relate to one another? Do they concern the essence of law, or rather our concept of it? Do they look for features and determinants that law has whenever and wherever it exists? If so, can anything meaningful be said in answering them? Our aim in this course is to tackle these questions, and to do so with the aid of key conceptual tools and notions developed within contemporary metaphysics. We will first look at the way in which debates on “the nature of law” have been conducted within contemporary legal philosophy, and at how first-order theories within them have traditionally been presented. Then, we will examine core notions drawn from interlevel metaphysics that play a key role within these (and related) views and debates: supervenience, conceptual analysis, constitutive determination (aka “grounding”), essence, and reduction. Much of the course will be devoted to exploring classic and contemporary readings on these topics (by, e.g., K. Fine, F. Jackson, D. Lewis, K. Miller, G. Rosen, and A. Thomasson). This investigation will be used to provide a better understanding of the underlying issues, of the space of theoretical options on them, and of the ways in which these options can be comparatively assessed. Finally, we will focus on how the question of what law is relates to the question of what the law (on a particular issue) is. In doing so, we will scrutinize R. Dworkin’s famous conception of jurisprudence as “the general part of adjudication, silent prologue to any decision at law” (Law’s Empire, p. 90).

Please note, this course meets on the law school’s Spring 2022 Semester calendar, with the first class meeting on Monday, January 24th and the final class meeting on Tuesday, April 26th.

Philos 281: Seminar: Philosophy of Mind

Instructor: Gabriel Greenberg
Wednesdays: 2:00P – 4:50P
Location: Dodd 325

Emotions and their Expression

This course will investigate the nature of the emotions and how they are expressed.  The first half of the seminar will focus on the emotions themselves, from the perspective of neuroscience, cognitive science, philosophy, and feminist theory.   The second half of the seminar will focus on the expression of emotions in faces, emoji, emotive language, music, and art.


Fall 2021


Philos 220: Topics in History of Philosophy

Janelle DeWitt
Mondays: 2:00P – 4:50P
Location: Dodd 325

Kant’s Anthropology

Kant defines anthropology as a doctrine of knowledge of the human being “according to his species as an earthly being endowed with reason”, which includes both what nature makes of the human being, and what the human being, as a free-acting being, can and should make of himself.  In this seminar, we’ll be exploring various elements of Kant’s anthropology, with a special emphasis on his empirical psychology.  Possible topics of discussion include Kant’s tri-partite theory of the mind, the nature of emotion in general, particular accounts of emotion (such as jealousy and Schadenfreude), the various forms of self-love, the affects and passions, virtue and vice, and happiness (along with its role in the highest good).  We’ll also touch on some of the historical texts that may have influenced the development of Kant’s thought, including the Stoics and Augustine.

Philos 244: Topics in Value Theory: Rationality and Action

Instructor: Pamela Hieronymi
Wednesdays: 2:00-4:50pm
Location: Dodd 325

The Temporality of Emotion

After some stage setting, this seminar will examine the recent literature concerning “the temporality of the emotions.”  We will start with a brief orientation in the idea of emotions as “reasons-responsive,” the accompanying “wrong kind of reason problem,” and the relevance of this problem to neo-sentimentalist accounts of ethics or value.  We will then turn to our topic, using Berislav Marusic’s current manuscript as a frame for examining the burgeoning literature that has emerged from from his initial articles.  I hope to pay particular attention to what Marusic calls the problem of accommodation to injustice.  [Note: details subject to change!]

An important aim of this seminar is to provide students with an initial familiarity with a current topic in the literature, with which they might further engage.  In addition, this graduate course will develop students’ ability to carefully and critically read, analyze, and discuss philosophical texts in the Anglo-American tradition.  Students will produce clearly organized prose that lucidly conveys its subject matter to an unfamiliar reader.  They will identify possible critiques of arguments and convey those in writing.  Short writing assignments enable individualized feedback, while a longer final paper provides an opportunity for a more extended philosophical critique.

Philos 281: Philosophy of Mind

Instructor: Michael Rescorla
Tuesdays: 2:00P – 4:50P
Location: Dodd 399

Seminar: Propositions

Propositions figure prominently in philosophy of language and mind, where they are commonly taken to serve as the contents of mental states and speech acts. But what are propositions? Why should we believe in them? How do they contribute to our theorizing? This seminar will explore some contemporary theories of propositions, focusing upon theories that descend from the classical treatments of Russell and Wittgenstein. Readings by Chalmers, Jeshion, Keller, Lewis, Merricks, Miller, Soames, Stalnaker, and others.

Philos 287: Philosophy of Language

Instructor: Sam Cumming
Added: Mondays: 2:00P – 4:50P
Location: Dodd 399


Reference is one of a handful of important semantic relations, and is a perennial topic in philosophy of language. In the seminar, I’ll have a go at defending a number of surprising theses, including:

  • Reference is not determined, or even constrained, by linguistic rule. Instead, it is semantically “basic.”
  • Donnellan’s (1966) examples of “attributive” uses of definite descriptions are quite ordinary referential uses. It is not necessary to have an independent means of identifying something in order to refer to it.
  • All noun phrases, including definite descriptions, indefinites, and those thought of as quantificational, are referring expressions (NB: some refer to pluralities). Bonus: quantifier domain restriction is not required on a referential analysis.
  • The existential quantifier that Russell slots into the meaning of the definite determiner should be traced instead to (certain) predicates (including ‘exists’).

The readings will be a blend of old and new, from the original sources for some of these ideas in the work of Peter Strawson to up-to-date experimental data in linguistics. Around half will be works-in-progress by me. These will gradually be added to my webpage over the summer for those interested in reading ahead.