- Why Colby?
- Request Information
- College Profile
- Scholars Programs
- Student Perspectives
- Alumni Success
- For Counselors
- Contact Admissions
Browse the Course Catalogue by
Philosophy Course Descriptions
COURSE OFFERINGSKey to Course Descriptions »
PL111s Central Philosophical Issues: Self and Society An introduction to philosophy by consideration of two of its central branches: social and political philosophy and ethics. Issues addressed are moral absolutes, the social contract, political power, individual rights, economic justice, the good society. Readings from Plato, Locke, Mill, Marx, and Malcolm X. Four credit hours. S. GORDON
[PL112] Central Philosophical Issues: Puzzles and Paradoxes An introduction to some of the central concepts, problems, and methods of contemporary philosophy by engaging with an assortment of perplexing problems that inevitably arise when thought turns in on itself. Dilemmas of decision theory and paradoxes of rationality are among the topics covered. Four credit hours.
PL113f Central Philosophical Issues: On Being Human Combines readings of classic philosophical texts on the subject of human nature with current incarnations of these debates in the contemporary world. Possible topics include the extent to which human nature is natural as opposed to cultural, the question of what differentiates humans from animals, the ethics of genetic enhancement and our treatment of other animals, the role of race or gender in human identity, humor as a unique human characteristic, examinations of human nature in post-apocalyptic literature. Extensive and varied writing assignments will develop students' writing skills via engagement with these topics. Four credit hours. S,W1. MOLAND
PL114fs Central Philosophical Issues: Nature and God An introduction to philosophy approached through issues in the philosophy of religion. Stress will be on epistemological questions (regarding how we can have knowledge) in connection with metaphysical questions (regarding the basic features of the universe). Designed to introduce students to the history of Western philosophy; to improve skills of critical reading, writing, and thinking; and to promote thinking on some big-picture issues, such as education, happiness, wisdom, God, spirituality, and knowledge. Readings include Plato, Aquinas, Bacon, Descartes, Hume, and James. Four credit hours. L. BEHUNIAK
PL126f Philosophy and the Environment An introduction to philosophy approached through prominent questions and themes in environmental philosophy. Topics include the historical context and causes of environmental crisis, anthropocentrism, animal rights, intrinsic value, biocentrism, ecocentrism, and radical social theories, incorporating core philosophical issues in ethics, philosophical anthropology, and nature philosophy. These provide resources for clear and creative reasoning on the philosophical aspects of creating sustainable ecologies and societies, for reflection on value priorities, and for exploration of relationships between academic work and responsibility to contribute to the world. Four credit hours. L. PETERSON
PL151f Logic and Argumentation Argumentation is a subject that covers the processes of reasoning, the communicative actions, and the dialectical exchanges that give form to our intellectual lives. Logic, the study of inferences, is a central component of good argumentation. Students develop the conceptual vocabulary and critical skills to argue effectively and to evaluate arguments intelligently. These include interpretive techniques, like diagramming and fallacy identification, as well as the formal, analytic tools of symbolic logic. Four credit hours. Q. COHEN
PL174s Philosophical Anthropology What is human nature? What makes humans different from other animals? What is the significance of the divisions internal to human society, such as those of race, class, gender, and culture? What does it mean to be a self-interpreting, historical being? What is the place of human beings in the natural world, especially in the context of global environmental crisis? Philosophical anthropology is the study of past and current responses to these questions and includes an understanding practice of critique as a philosophical method. Exposure to responses from past and present provides opportunities to question fundamental beliefs about human nature. A writing-intensive course. Four credit hours. S,W1. PETERSON
[PL175] Ancient Greek Thought Western philosophy was not born in Greece, it was constructed there. Distinguishing itself from poetry, myth, and other rhetorical forms was one of the most important achievements of ancient Greek philosophy. An examination of Plato's philosophy especially as a response to the poets, sophists, and speech writers who preceded him. We will read several Platonic dialogues and some of the classical texts to which they are a response, exploring the manner in which Socrates attempts to distinguish philosophy from these other forms of discourse. Part of the three-course Integrated Studies 175 cluster, "Ancient Greece: Nature and Culture in Classical Athens." Prerequisite: Concurrent enrollment in Anthropology 175 and Science, Technology, and Society 175. (elect IS175.) Four credit hours. S.
[PL175B] Science in Ancient Greece Listed as Science, Technology, and Society 175. Four credit hours. H.
PL201fs Philosophy Colloquium I The first semester of a year-long series of presentations from faculty and invited speakers on topics of current philosophical interest. Students are expected to attend all the colloquia, read the papers beforehand, and, with mentors, prepare questions to be asked of the presenters. One credit hour for completion of two semesters of the series. Prerequisite: Philosophy major or minor. Noncredit. FACULTY
PL202fs Philosophy Colloquium II The second semester of a year-long series of presentations from faculty and invited speakers on topics of current philosophical interest. Students are expected to attend all the colloquia, read the papers beforehand, and, with mentors, prepare questions to be asked of the presenters. One credit hour for completion of two semesters of the series. Prerequisite: Philosophy 201 and philosophy major or minor. One credit hour. FACULTY
PL211f Moral Philosophy Should ethics be based on universal respect for human dignity, on an assessment of what would benefit society at large, or on what fosters desirable character traits in the individual? Our answers determine how we address difficult questions concerning life and death, the ethics of war, indigenous rights, and global poverty. We explore the historical basis of four major movements in current ethical theory: virtue ethics, deontology, moral psychology, and utilitarianism. In conjunction with each theory, we will consider a contemporary ethical issue. Students develop both written and verbal argumentative skills through essays and class presentations. Four credit hours. S. MOLAND
PL213s Philosophical Inquiries into Race A philosophical treatment of several aspects of race and racism: ontological issues surrounding what race is; existential and phenomenological issues about embodiment as a visible racial minority; social and political issues regarding oppression, colonization, and discrimination; and ethical issues involving racial minorities in the American context. Four credit hours. S, U. GORDON
[PL215] Feminist Philosophies Whether one views feminism as a philosophical school of thought, an interpretive strategy, a political movement, or a way of understanding culture and ideas, it has many faces; feminism is neither unified nor monolithic. Students examine several feminist frameworks (structures of political thought that shape feminism), their relationship to and difference from one another, and feminist issues that lie outside of those frameworks. Four credit hours. S, U.
PL217f Feminism and Science An examination of new and challenging questions feminists and social theorists have raised about the content, practice, values, and traditional goals of science. Objectives include deepening the student's knowledge of feminist philosophy and familiarizing them with some of the diverse literature in the field of science studies. Topics include "standpoint" and social epistemologies; objectivity, value-neutrality, and universality claims of modern science; the social and historical character of science; how implicit assumptions about gender, class, ethnicity, epistemic, and social values affect research and reasoning; and how the language scientists use to explain phenomena conditions the production of knowledge. Four credit hours. S, U. PETERSON
PL231f History of Ancient Greek Philosophy A survey of ancient thought that also examines the social and cultural contexts in which that thought arises. Study of the Greek world through the ideas of the pre-Socratics, the Sophists, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, the Skeptics, and the Stoics. Four credit hours. H. GORDON
PL232s History of Modern Philosophy A survey of philosophy from the Early Modern Period (roughly from 1600 to 1800). While thinkers in this era (also known as the Enlightenment) dealt with a wide variety of subjects, focus will be primarily upon their contributions to epistemology and metaphysics. The goal is to understand better the work of important historical figures (like Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, and Kant) so that we can appreciate the ways in which they have shaped our current situation. Four credit hours. H. MOLAND
[PL234] Philosophy and Art In 1964 philosopher Arthur Danto had a life-changing experience viewing contemporary art and concluded that we had reached the "end of art." What could this mean? We will explore this and other questions, including: Why do humans create art in the first place? Is the aesthetic experience primarily cognitive or emotive? Should art merely entertain us or ennoble and improve us? Do artistic genres such as comedy evolve, or do they (and does art in general) articulate something constant about human nature? Will engage students in artistic events on campus and the Colby Museum of Art. Through written exercises and presentations, students' written and verbal skills are developed. Four credit hours. A.
[PL238] Society, Business, and Ethics An examination of the relation between our economic and social lives. Drawing on the philosophy of thinkers as diverse as Plato, Smith, and Marx, provides a strong background in the ethical theories pertinent to case studies in business ethics while also offering students the opportunity to research and present their own case study representing a pressing ethical issue in business. Four credit hours. S.
PL239f Epistemology An introduction to basic philosophical positions regarding Skepticism, knowledge versus belief, knowledge and the world, and epistemic justification as well as topics such as the nature of certainty, "naturalized epistemology," and the ethics of belief. Four credit hours. COHEN
[PL240] Ethics on the Continent: From Kant to Levinas An examination of prominent ethical theorizing and meta-ethical discourse on the Continent (primarily France and Germany), from Kant to the present. Topics include Kantian deontological moral theory, Nietzsche's critique of "slave morality," the phenomenological Value Ethics of Max Scheler and Nicolai Hartmann, the Existentialist ethics of Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, the dialogical ethics of Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas, and the discourse ethics of Jürgen Habermas. Students will reflect on the ultimate structures of ethical relationships, the assumptions we make when we theorize about them, and on their own beliefs about the good, values, duty, rationality, freedom, and moral judgment. Four credit hours.
[PL253] Skepticism East and West For as long as there have been philosophers engaged in passionate pursuit of knowledge, there have been skeptics critical of the entire enterprise. Can we really know the Truth about anything? For that matter, how important is it for us to know the Truth? Skeptical thinkers have appeared in all times and cultures. We will engage with three venerable texts: the Chuang Tzu from ancient China, Nagarjuna's writings on the Middle Way from ancient India, and the Outline of Skepticism by Sextus Empiricus from ancient Greece. Our goal is to put these authors into dialogue and then join in that dialogue. Prerequisite: A prior course in philosophy. Three credit hours.
PL258s Advanced Logic Further investigations into symbolic logic and its extensions, with special attention of modal logic and some attention to metatheoretic results. Prerequisite: Philosophy 151. Four credit hours. COHEN
[PL265] Chinese Philosophy An introduction to major thoughts, texts, and thinkers in the "classical" period of Chinese philosophy, which covers roughly the sixth through the third centuries BCE (known as the Warring States period). We will cover Confucius (Kongzi), Mozi, Mencius (Mengzi), Zhuangzi, Laozi, Sunzi, Xunzi, Han Feizi, the Yijing or Book of Changes, and other important texts. An overview of philosophical questions that motivated thinkers in early China to provide an appreciation for how various answers to these questions have shaped East Asian civilizations and to take aim at the basic object of philosophical inquiry—"What is the Good Life?"—from the cultural perspective of the Chinese. Four credit hours. L.
PL266f Buddhist Philosophy Examines the philosophical dimensions of the rise of Buddhism in India and its spread across East Asia. After an introduction to the historical Buddha and to Buddhist philosophies in India, we will examine the major schools of Buddhist philosophy in China and the dominate schools of Zen Buddhism in Japan, all in chronological order and with attention given to the development and transformation of key philosophical ideas. Questions pertaining to the nature of reality, time, causality, self, mind, truth, language, and the relation between theory and practice are explored. Four credit hours. L. BEHUNIAK
PL274s Philosophy of Religion An examination of some principal philosophical issues in the area of religion, including the existence of God, divine attributes in relation to time, space, and the natural world, the origin and content of religious experience, issues regarding faith and its object, and the function of religious symbolism. Readings include both critics and defenders of the religious standpoint. Prerequisite: One course in philosophy. Four credit hours. S. BEHUNIAK
PL277s Reuman Reading Group Faculty and students jointly select, read, discuss, and argue about a philosophical text in regular, intellectually rigorous, but free-wheeling and informal sessions that provide an opportunity to indulge our passion for philosophy. Prerequisite: Philosophy major or minor. One credit hour. COHEN
PL311s Philosophical Approaches to Global Justice Recent political theorizing as it relates to cultural and social differences and global poverty. Topics include John Rawls's conception of just institutions, Martha Nussbaum's capabilities approach, utilitarian arguments regarding global poverty, and contemporary writing on recognition for minority and indigenous cultures. We will also ask whether the nation-state as we know it can be morally justified in an age of globalization, and we will consider arguments regarding the ethical value of patriotism, nationalism, and cosmopolitanism. Includes a civic engagement component. Prerequisite: Two courses in philosophy. Four credit hours. I. MOLAND
[PL314] Karl Marx and Marxist Philosophical Thought Beginning with Marx's and Engels's primary texts, the influence of Marxist philosophical thought on economic theory, revolutionary theory (Mao, Guevara, Castro, Luxembourg, Gramsci), cultural criticism (Marcuse, Adorno), feminism (Hartmann), and aesthetic theory (Jameson, Williams, Eagleton). Four credit hours. S.
[PL316] Metaphysics What is the nature of space and time? How do things persist through change? What is the relationship between cause and effect? How are parts and wholes related? What is the ontological status of universals? How are things individuated? These and similar questions are treated in this general survey of metaphysics. Prerequisite: Two philosophy courses. Four credit hours.
[PL317] Philosophy of Science A consideration of some major 20th-century conceptions of what scientists aim to do, what theoretical structures they employ in pursuing their aims, and what legitimates these structures. Science seems to be constrained by experience in distinctive ways, but it also ventures far beyond experience in pursuing its theoretical and explanatory aims. These issues are approached historically by examining the rise and fall of the project known as logical empiricism (or logical positivism). Four credit hours.
PL318f Philosophy of Nature Philosophy of Nature included the study of physical existence, living nature, and cosmology, and reigned from Aristotle's time to the scientific revolution, when it was eclipsed by modern science. Students will encounter answers to the questions What is nature? What is characteristic of the dominant scientific understanding of nature? Are there more and less adequate ways of conceptualizing the natural world? Is the environmental crisis the result of defective ways of thinking about and relating to nature? How do the history and philosophy of ecology relate to the tradition of nature philosophy? Readings range from Aristotle to contemporary philosophy, history, and social studies of ecology. Prerequisite: One philosophy course. Four credit hours. PETERSON
[PL328] Radical Ecologies Radical ecologies interrogate our everyday, scientific, and metaphysical conceptions of nature, they emphasize that environmental problems in human-to-nature relations originate in human-to-human relations (e.g., gender, class, and race relations), and they call for comprehensive social and cultural changes through their critiques of existing social forms. They critically explore the historical, cultural, ethical, political, economic, and technological aspects of the place of the human in nature. Readings from anarchist social ecology, deep ecology, ecofeminism, and ecosocialism. Prerequisite: One philosophy course. Four credit hours.
PL338f Philosophy of Language Philosophy took a linguistic turn in the 20th century: philosophers have come to suppose that reflection on the nature of language and the linguistic representation can help solve longstanding philosophical problems. The development of the philosophy of language and its success, with special attention to the role of metaphor. Prerequisite: Philosophy 151. Four credit hours. COHEN
[PL352] American Philosophy An introduction to classical American philosophy (roughly 1870-1945), with a focus on pragmatic naturalism as a response to European forms of empiricism and idealism. Begins with the transcendentalist thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson and concludes with contemporary neo-pragmatist Richard Rorty. Features close study of thinkers most representative of the "classical" period: Peirce, James, Dewey, Addams, Mead, and others. Students acquire a solid historical, cultural, and philosophical understanding of what is quintessentially "American" about American philosophy and how it relates to other philosophical traditions, and they are encouraged to relate classical American philosophy to contemporary issues and concerns. Prerequisite: One course in philosophy. Four credit hours. H.
[PL353] Contemporary Analytic Philosophy At the turn of the 20th century, G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell revolutionized the way we philosophize. Their new methods focused intensely on language, radically altering philosophy's agenda: old questions got new answers, new questions were raised, more attention was paid to the nature of philosophy itself. It culminated in Wittgenstein's extraordinary Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus—and a discipline in a crisis of self-identity. The first articulate responses in mid-century were Logical Positivism and Ordinary Language Philosophy, but the contours of contemporary philosophy and its main voices, such as Kripke's Realism or Rorty's Neo-Pragmatism, are still best understood against this historical backdrop. Provides context for entering contemporary philosophical debates. Prerequisite: Two philosophy courses. Four credit hours.
[PL355] Kant and German Idealism The years between the publication of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781) and Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (1806) are among the richest in the history of philosophy. Inspired by the French Revolution, questions about Germany's political future, and attempts to respond to scientific advances, philosophers struggled to articulate a description of modern personhood, aesthetics, and politics. Focus is on several figures, including Kant, Fichte, Hvlderlin, Novalis, Schlegel, Schelling, and Hegel. Through submitting detailed questions on the readings and writing essays that include secondary literature, students develop writing and critical-thinking skills. Prerequisite: Three courses in philosophy. Four credit hours. H.
PL359f 19th-Century Philosophy Philosophy in the 19th century began with the assertion by great systematic philosopher G.W.F. Hegel that what is rational is actual and what is actual is rational; it ended with Nietzsche's virulent attacks on the entire Western rationalist tradition. Between these benchmarks we find Karl Marx's claim that philosophy's job is not to understand the world but to change it; John Stuart Mill's articulation of utilitarianism; and Kierkegaard's philosophy of existential renunciation. A survey of these and other philosophers along with a study of the social upheaval and scientific advances to which they reacted. Prerequisite: Philosophy 232. Four credit hours. H. MOLAND
[PL360] African Philosophies, 1945 to the Present A survey of philosophy on the African continent in the postcolonial period. Examines the ongoing critical conversation of just what "African philosophy" is; how it can or should be related to European academic philosophy; how and whether it is particular to a specific geographic region, political circumstances, or cultural beliefs and practices; and whether there are some universal philosophical concerns. Four credit hours. I.
[PL373] History of Medieval Philosophy The evolution of philosophical debate in the Latin West from Augustine to Ockham, with particular focus on the problems of the reconciliation of faith and reason, of the metaphysics of universals, and of the sources and possibilities of human knowledge. Prerequisite: Philosophy 175 or 231. Four credit hours. H.
PL374f Existentialism An examination of the individual, freedom, death, meaning, value, nihilism, authenticity, responsibility, and faith in the works of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Camus, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Buber, and black existential philosophers. Prerequisite: One course in philosophy. Four credit hours. GORDON
PL378s Contemporary Continental Philosophy An exploration of the most significant themes and thinkers in French and German thought from the early 20th century to the present. Movements and schools of thought covered may include phenomenology, hermeneutics, existentialism, French empiricism, psychoanalysis, critical theory, feminism, (post)structuralism, deconstruction, science studies, and recent speculative realism. Through close reading and practiced writing students will engage with the question "What is philosophy?" Prerequisite: Philosophy 232 or 359. Four credit hours. PETERSON
[PL381] Philosophers in Focus: Plato A concentrated study of a selection of Plato's dialogues and some scholarly articles, centered around a given theme. Students will gain deep understanding of the theme, as well as its connection to Plato's larger philosophical project. Prerequisite: Philosophy 231. Four credit hours.
[PL382] Philosophers in Focus: Socrates Socrates, who wrote nothing, has appeared as a conspicuous figure in other thinkers' work in a variety of ways: sophistic buffoon, beloved mentor, philosophical gadfly, dangerous political threat, inhuman monster, and archetypal teacher of disciples, to name a few. The figure of Socrates and what he represents in a variety of sources, from his contemporaries in classical Athens to the present. Readings from Aristophanes, Plato, Xenophon, Montaigne, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and some contemporary philosophers. Prerequisite: Philosophy 231. Four credit hours.
PL383s Philosophers in Focus: Aristotle A close examination of some text(s) of Aristotle's, along with relevant secondary literature. The topic will change from time to time, depending on which work(s) we read. Texts most likely to be the focus in any given semester include poetics, politics, ethics, and rhetoric. Prerequisite: Philosophy 231. Four credit hours. GORDON
[PL384] Philosophers in Focus: John Dewey During the first half of the 20th century, John Dewey (1859-1952) was referred to simply as "America's Philosopher." After a brief period of neglect, there has been a resurgence of interest in his work, and today Dewey studies are as vital as ever. Close reading of some of Dewey's central works. Prerequisite: Two philosophy courses. Four credit hours.
[PL385] Philosophers in Focus: Nietzsche A more or less chronological examination of major Nietzschean themes by way of reading substantial primary source excerpts and selections from scholars working in various traditions. Themes include Nietzsche's philosophy of art and music; the influence of Goethe, Schopenhauer, and Wagner; Nietzsche's critiques of morality and Christianity; his metaphysical and epistemological theories including anti-Platonism and perspectivism; the "affirmative" doctrines he advocates in his mature works—will to power, the Übermensch, eternal return, and amor fati. Four credit hours.
[PL386] Philosophers in Focus: Immanuel Kant Working knowledge of Kant's philosophy is indispensable for an understanding of virtually all contemporary philosophical schools. The aim is to develop an understanding of the systematic whole of Kant's critical philosophy. Select portions of all three critiques, Critique of Pure Reason (1781), Critique of Practical Reason (1788), and Critique of Judgment (1790), will be examined. We will also discuss the historical reception of Kant and Kantianism. Most of the term will be spent on the Critique of Pure Reason, addressing the other critiques directly in the last third of the course. Four credit hours.
[PL387] Philosophers in Focus: William James An examination of the thoughts and writings of one of America's greatest thinkers, William James. We will explore his most important and groundbreaking ideas, which include the stream of consciousness, habit, radical empiricism, pure experience, the will to believe, pragmatism, and humanism. Also, his career-long assault upon the idea of the "Absolute," an idea that James insisted should be replaced by a notion of "Pluralism." The objective is to develop an appreciation for James's philosophical vision, to understand its importance to philosophy, and to recognize its place in the larger context of the American experience. Prerequisite: Two courses in philosophy. Four credit hours.
[PL388] Philosophers in Focus: Adam Smith Most of us know Adam Smith (1723-1790) as the author of the Wealth of Nations (1776). Smith envisioned his groundbreaking work in political economy as part of a grand system rooted in the moral psychology and philosophy of his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), which has seen a recent boom in attention from philosophers. We begin by discussing some of Smith's most important influences, which include the moral psychologies and philosophies of Hutcheson (1694-1746) and Hume (1711-1776). Then we will read significant portions of Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments as well as selections from the Wealth of Nations. Four credit hours.
[PL389] Philosophers in Focus: Ludwig Wittgenstein A close encounter with Wittgenstein, one of the great minds and central figures of 20th-century philosophy, with attention paid to both his rigorous early work, "Tractatus," and his enormously influential later work, "Philosophical Investigations," with its critiques of essentialism and foundationalism. Prerequisite: Two philosophy courses. Four credit hours.
PL398s Philosophy of Humor What makes something funny? Is there a logic to jokes? What unites puns, slapstick, and satire? Does saying, "It's only a joke" excuse offensive jokes? Is a sense of humor a virtue? Is humor a proper subject for philosophy? The answer to last one is,"Yes!" E. B. White said that analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog: few people are interested and the frog dies. We will examine philosophical accounts of laughter, humor, and comedy anyway. Historically important theories from Aristotle, Hobbes, Kant, Schopenhauer, Bergson, and Freud will lead us to contemporary debates about the logic, ethics, aesthetics, cognitive, and social aspects of humor. Prerequisite: Three philosophy courses. Four credit hours. COHEN, MOLAND
PL483f, 484s Philosophy Honors Program Research conducted under the guidance of a faculty member and focused on an approved topic leading to the writing of a thesis. A 3.25 major average at the end of the senior year, a grade of A- or better on honors work, a public presentation, and final approval by the department are conditions of successful completion of this program. Prerequisite: Senior standing, a 3.25 major average at the end of the junior year, and permission of the department. The honors tutor must be a member of the philosophy faculty. Four credit hours. FACULTY
PL491f, 492s Independent Study Individual projects in areas where the student has demonstrated the interest and competence necessary for independent work. Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor. One to four credit hours. FACULTY