Philosophy Department


Courses of Study

PL111fs    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, Switzer
[PL113]    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, and the role of race or gender in human identity. Four credit hours. S.
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
[PL117]    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. W1.
PL126f    Philosophy and the Environment An introduction to philosophy 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 communities, for reflection on value priorities, and for exploration of relationships between academic work and social responsibility. Four credit hours. Peterson
[PL138]    Shattered Certainties: Philosophy in Transition The quest for certainty had defined modern philosophy since Descartes, but the early 20th century put too many roadblocks in the way: The Great War upended the old political order; relativity and quantum theory did the same for our notions of space and time; and Godel proved that even mathematics was not safe. We will focus on the emergence of Logical Positivism and American Pragmatism as the major philosophical responses to these upheavals in thought. Prerequisite: Concurrent enrollment in English and History 138. Elect Integrated Studies 138. Four credit hours. S.
[PL145]    Paradox and the Limits of Reason Part of what it is to be a fully rational being is to think about what it means to be a rational being, but when reason reasons about itself it opens the door to a bewildering array of conceptual dead-ends: self-referential paradoxes, infinite regresses, and dilemmas of various sorts. Beginning with some playful, but frustrating, antinomies of reason—from the Liars Paradox to the Prisoners Dilemma—we will develop analytic techniques, critical skills, and logical tools to help untangle the knots into which reason ties itself and push up against the bounds of reason. Satisfies the Social Sciences (S) requirement. Prerequisite: Concurrent registration in Mathematics 145 and Religious Studies 145. Elect IS145. Four credit hours. S.
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
PL161f    Reading Greek Philosophy What are the rewards and challenges of reading Greek philosophical texts in the 21st century? How much difference does a translation make? Key selections from the works of authors such as Sappho, Xenophanes, Heraclitus, Gorgias, and Plato. Readings in Greek and/or English. Students without Greek do all readings in English. Attention to the theory and practice of translation. Nongraded. Prerequisite: Sophomore standing, or current or previous enrollment in a Greek language course. One credit hour. Barrett, Gordon
[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 begin with a look at some playful, but frustrating, "antinomies of reason" - from the Liar's Paradox to the Prisoner's Dilemma - in order to develop and test conceptual strategies that can then be applied to more traditional philosophical problems. To untangle the knots that reason ties itself into, we will need access to a broad array of analytic techniques, critical skills, and logical tools. Finally, we will discover something about the nature of philosophy from these peculiarly and characteristically philosophical problems. 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.
[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.
[PL216]    Philosophy of Nature Ancient philosophers contemplated the natural world, modern philosophers and scientists sought to instrumentalize it, and recent thinkers are gaining an appreciation of nature's often unruly complexity. As they consider varied historical and current accounts of nature, students will also engage with the questions how, by whom, and under what conditions knowledge of nature is produced, providing opportunities to question their own fundamental beliefs about nature. Readings range from Aristotle to current philosophy, history, and social studies of the sciences. Four credit hours.
[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.
[PL218]    Philosophy of Law A philosophical investigation into such topics as natural law, legal positivism, the nature of legal systems, fundamental concepts of rights and duties, and the persistent question of where law and morality join. We engage with specific legal themes like punishment, property, and sexual consent against the background of classics of socio-political philosophy like Hobbes' De Cive and Rousseau's Social Contract while attending to contemporary applications and problems. Four credit hours. S.
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. Prerequisite: Sophomore or higher standing. 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's 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. Switzer
[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. Prerequisite: Sophomore or higher standing. Four credit hours. A.
PL236s    Critical Social Thought Critical engagement with questions about state formation, social relations, and economic justice. Readings from seminal texts in the early liberal tradition, accompanied by texts from critics of the tradition. Critical engagement with liberal and neoliberal theory through readings on gender, race, and class injustices. Four credit hours. U. Gordon
PL237j    Taking Philosophy Public Like other disciplines, philosophy has turned recently to urgent conversations about how we might extend what we do in the academy out to the public sphere and contribute to public life. In this humanities lab, students will read philosophical texts about public philosophy, follow one or more philosophers on social media, and Skype with philosophers who are currently engaged in public philosophy activities. They will then design, organize, and carry out public philosophy events or activities. Those may include a Socrates café, writing op-ed pieces for local papers, engaging local students or the elderly, or something else of their choosing. Previously offered as PL297J (Jan Plan 2018). ~ Prerequisite: Two philosophy courses. Three credit hours. Gordon
[PL240]    Ethics on the Continent: From Kant to Levinas An examination of some of the prominent ethical theorizing and metaethical discourse on the European Continent from Kant to the present. Topics include Kantian deontological moral theory, Nietzsche's critique of "slave morality," phenomenological value ethics, Existentialist, dialogical, feminist, and discourse ethics, among others. Examination of these alternatives provides students ample opportunity to reflect on their own moral beliefs in an informed way. Four credit hours.
PL243s    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. Four credit hours. Peterson
[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.
[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, 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.
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
PL277fs    Reuman Reading Group Faculty and students jointly select, read, discuss, and argue about a philosophical text in regular, intellectually rigorous, but freewheeling and informal sessions that provide an opportunity to indulge our passion for philosophy. Nongraded. Prerequisite: Philosophy major or minor. One credit hour. Cohen
PL297f    Philosophy of Sex and Gender Perhaps nothing defines us more as persons than our gender/sexuality. How we identify ourselves, how we carry, care for, and present our bodies to others, and what public and private practices we engage in: all are shaped in various ways by our sex and gender. Sigmund Freud was among the first modern thinkers to appreciate the central role of sex and gender in almost every aspect of a person's life. We will begin with Freud and follow the developments and critiques of a psychoanalytic theory of sex/gender through the works of such 20th-century thinkers as Jacques Lacan, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, and Judith Butler. Four credit hours. Switzer
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
PL317s    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
[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.
[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.
[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. 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. Kant's work inspired ardent devotion and passionate protest: Fichte's Science of Knowledge, Schelling's Naturphilosophie, Schiller's essays on the tragic and the sublime, and Hegel's dialectical system all responded to Kant's critical philosophy. We will read parts of the above works as well as examples of German Romanticism, a movement that sought to undermine Kantian rationality through irony and aphorism. Prerequisite: Three courses in philosophy. Four credit hours. H.
[PL357]    Beauty and Truth: The German Age of Aesthetics Philosophers and artists during the German Age of Aesthetics (1770-1830) believed that art was among humans' highest achievements. Kant compared aesthetic insight with moral feeling; Goethe and Schiller paired their pathbreaking literary accomplishments with theories describing freedom in terms of the tragic and the sublime. The poet Novalis and critic Friedrich Schlegel articulated a new aesthetic they hoped would change the world; Hegel argued that art is one expression of absolute truth. These aesthetic theories are supplemented with plays and novels, as well as with the music and visual art that characterized the period. Prerequisite: Two philosophy courses. Four credit hours. A.
[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.
PL378f    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
[PL380A]    Recent Continental Realisms In recent years, a group of philosophers has thrown the widespread dogma of "social construction" into question. Is the world really nothing but a social construction? Does humankind really play such a significant role in the constitution of the world through its consciousness, subjectivity, language games, discourse, praxis, being-in-the-world, or embodiment? Students will explore some very recent work by a handful of philosophers who argue that in order for philosophy to be rescued from its condition of being unable to respond to current world problems, it has to return to some form of realism. Prerequisite: Philosophy 232 or two philosophy courses. Four credit hours.
PL380Bs    Material Ethics Formal ethics claim that rule following, good intentions, or universal principles and procedures are at the core of the moral life. Material ethics explore the domains of "content" that are overlooked when attention is focused solely on these formal aspects, such as the role of the emotions and embodiment in human relationships, the satisfaction of basic human needs, the plurality of value experiences and the ranking of values, and ethical responses to the concrete structural nature of social oppression. This course will engage students with often neglected minority traditions in philosophical ethics, including feminist ethics, value theory, and the ethics of liberation. Prerequisite: Two philosophy courses. Noncredit. 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.
PL384s    Philosophers in Focus: John Dewey A seminar on the philosophy of John Dewey (1859-1952). During the first half of the twentieth century, Dewey was one of the most widely recognized intellectuals in the world. Referred to simply as "America's Philosopher," he wrote on nearly every philosophical subject, and his ideas had profound impact in several areas - most notably, education and democratic theory. In this course, we read some of Dewey's major works, following the development of his ideas in education, ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, religion, and politics. We discuss the impact that Dewey had in his own time, and reflect on how Dewey's ideas might help us to redefine the purpose, methods, and priorities of philosophy in the present. Prerequisite: Two philosophy courses. Four credit hours. Behuniak
[PL386]    Philosophers in Focus: Immanuel Kant Kant developed his metaphysical system not only as an austere account of purely rational determination of knowledge and action but also as an intervention in the lively and tumultuous milieu of the Enlightenment. In this course, we study Kant's critical philosophy to acquaint ourselves with the principles of his metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics before turning to popular and scholarly polemical pieces in which he engages with a variety of socio-political views of the day, including the topic of race. Prerequisite: One course in philosophy (not including Philosophy 151). 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: Two philosophy courses. Four credit hours.
PL397f    Philosophers in Focus: Friedrich Nietzsche Surveys the works of Friedrich Nietzsche—one of the most important, influential, and challenging thinkers of the 20th century. Over the span of his relatively brief intellectual career, Nietzsche wrote about metaphysics; ancient cultures and languages; modern opera; the history of music, ethics, and politics; and the history of philosophy, aesthetics, and religion. We will cover parts of Nietzsche's writings on all of these topics. Beyond gaining an understanding of Nietzsche's philosophy, we will read his works, too, to see how they culminate the early-modern period and begin the late-modern or postmodern tradition. Prerequisite: Two philosophy courses. Four credit hours. Switzer
PL401f    Philosophy Colloquium I The first semester of a year-long series of presentations from invited speakers on topics of philosophical interest. Senior majors are required to attend all colloquia, read the papers, and prepare responses to the presentations. One credit hour for completion of two semesters of the series. Prerequisite: Senior standing as a philosophy major. Noncredit. Cohen, Gordon, Peterson
PL402s    Philosophy Colloquium II The second semester of a year-long series of presentations from invited speakers on topics of philosophical interest. Senior majors are required to attend all colloquia, read the papers, and prepare responses to the presentations. One credit hour for the year. Prerequisite: Philosophy 401 and senior standing as a philosophy major. One credit hour. Cohen, Gordon, Peterson
PL483f    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