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Philosophy Course Descriptions


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PL111f    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
PL114f    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
[PL126]    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.  
PL151fs    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    Central Philosophical Issues: 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.     Four credit hours.  S.    ELMORE
[PL175B]    Science in Ancient Greece      Listed as Science, Technology, and Society 175.     Four credit hours.  S.  
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.    BEHUNIAK, COHEN, GORDON, MOLAND
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.    BEHUNIAK, COHEN, GORDON, MOLAND
[PL211]    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.  
PL212j    Philosophical Paradoxes      There can be an air of paradox when thinking about thinking, as if thought gets its own way. We will tackle these "antinomies of reason" to help us develop strategies that can be applied to other, more traditional philosophical problems. In order to untangle these knots, we will need to learn important analytic techniques and strategies. Finally, we will discover something about the nature of philosophy from these peculiarly and characteristically philosophical problems. Credit cannot be earned for both this course and Philosophy 112.     Three credit hours.    COHEN
[PL213]    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.  
PL215s    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.    GORDON
[PL217]    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.  
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, and Aristotle.     Four credit hours.  H.    GORDON
PL232s    History of Modern Philosophy      The philosophical period covered (roughly 1600-1800) includes some of the great transformations of Western philosophy: Descartes' famous cogito, Spinoza's radical monism, Hume's sweeping skepticism, and Kant's Copernican Revolution. Along the way, thinkers such as Elizabeth of Bohemia, Hobbes, Locke, and Mary Astell engaged in spirited debates about the origin of emotions, the nature of freedom, the status of knowledge, and the place of belief. We study each of these theorists in an effort to understand the questions they raised and the impact of their answers on the contemporary world.     Four credit hours.  H.    MOLAND
PL234f    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. Prerequisite:  Sophomore or higher standing.     Four credit hours.  A.    MOLAND
PL236f    Critical Social Thought      Critical engagement with questions about state formation, social relations, and economic justice. Readings from seminal texts in the field of social and political philosophy, accompanied by texts from contemporary critics of the tradition. Students will practice close, analytic readings of the texts, followed by brief writing assignments aimed at priming our discussion. They will also write philosophical papers aimed at sustained argumentation.     Four credit hours.  U.    GORDON
[PL239]    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.  
[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.  
PL243f    Environmental Ethics      Beginning in the 1970s some philosophers began to seriously consider the ethical aspects of human relationships to the nonhuman natural world. Aims to familiarize students with the variety of philosophical ethics that has been developed to address the environmental crisis and its many dimensions. Students will accomplish this not only by reflecting theoretically on topics such as the value of nonhuman nature, anthropocentrism and ecocentrism, environmental justice, animal liberation, food issues, and sustainability, but also through civic engagement with local community partners. Previously offered as Philosophy 298 (Spring 2011).     Four credit hours.    ELMORE
[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 Zhuangzi 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.  
[PL258]    Advanced Logic      Further investigations into symbolic logic and its extensions, with special attention to modal logic and some attention to metatheoretic results. Prerequisite:  Philosophy 151.     Four credit hours.  
PL265s    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, Mozi, Mencius, Zhuangzi, Laozi, Sunzi, Xunzi, Han Feizi, the Yijing or Book of Changes, and other important texts. Provides an overview of the philosophical questions that motivated thinkers in early China, and aims to provide an appreciation for how various answers to these questions have shaped East Asian civilizations generally.     Four credit hours.  L.    BEHUNIAK
[PL266]    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.  
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
PL277fs    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
PL297f    Business Ethics      Investigates questions of the ethical in relation to business and economics, examining in particular the history, development, and ethical character of the corporation as the dominant economic institution of the modern world. Issues addressed will include the history of economics, freedom, individualism, responsibility, industrialization, and neo-liberalism as well as critiques of capitalism, Marxism, disaster capitalism, empire, and the military-industrial complex. Readings from Aristotle, Aquinas, Locke, Smith, Madison, Marx, Friedman, and Naomi Klein.     Four credit hours.    ELMORE
[PL311]    Philosophical Approaches to Global Justice      Recent philosophical theorizing regarding global justice. Topics include our responsibilities as regards global poverty, the definition and causes of terrorism, the nature of collective responsibility, the ethical implications of the nation state. Gives particular attention to philosophers who have left the ivory tower by putting their theories into action such as Peter Singer, Thomas Pogge, and Martha Nussbaum. Students have the option of putting theory into practice through a civic engagement project. Prerequisite:  Two courses in philosophy.     Four credit hours.  I.  
PL314s    Karl Marx and Marxist Philosophical Thought      Beginning with Marx's and Engels's primary texts, we then examine the influence of Marxist philosophical thought on economic theory, revolutionary theory, cultural criticism, feminism, and aesthetic theory.     Four credit hours.  S.    GORDON
[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.  
PL317f    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.    COHEN
[PL318]    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.  
[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.  
PL337s    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? Historically important theories from Aristotle, Hobbes, Kant, Schopenhauer, Bergson, and Freud will lead us to contemporary debates about the logic, ethics, and aesthetics of humor as well as its cognitive and social aspects. Previously offered as Philosophy 398 (Spring 2013). Prerequisite:  Three philosophy courses.     Four credit hours.    MOLAND
[PL338]    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.  
PL352f    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. Prerequisite:  One course in philosophy.     Four credit hours.  H.    BEHUNIAK
PL353s    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.    COHEN
[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, Hölderlin, 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:  Two 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
[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.  
[PL374]    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.  
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.    ELMORE
[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.  
[PL383]    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.  
[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.  
[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.  
[PL390]    Philosophers in Focus: A. N. Whitehead      Focuses on the work of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947). Philosopher, mathematician, and central figure in the field of "process philosophy," Whitehead produced a series of late-career works devoted to speculative metaphysics and to the historical role of metaphysical ideas in Western civilization. His works include a seminal contribution to the area of metaphysics, Process and Reality. We will read several of Whitehead's works and explore the contemporary significance of his contributions. Work will involve close reading, argumentative writing, and the analysis of difficult ideas through collective discussion. Prerequisite:  Philosophy 231, 232, and two additional courses in philosophy.     Four credit hours.  
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