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Department Chair: Stephen Wagner

Faculty: Dennis Beach OSB, Anthony Cunningham, Joseph DesJardins, Eugene Garver, Jean Keller, Rene McGraw OSB, Timothy Robinson, Roselyn Schmitt, Stephen Wagner, Charles Wright

Every person asks certain philosophical questions. What makes life meaningful? How do I know that this belief is true? Is there a God? Why is there something rather than nothing? How ought I to live? What does it mean to belong to a society? What makes a science a science?

Most of the time, these and similar questions of meaning, even of ultimate meaning, emerge briefly, then recede quietly. Philosophy courses attempt to make these questions emerge more clearly and more frequently, so that students may move towards the truth.

In the course listings, four distinct sections are evident. The first section (123-180) is geared towards introducing students to the discipline of philosophy by examining the questions that philosophers ask about human nature, about God, about society, about gender, etc. The second group of courses (210-272), while still at an introductory level, focus on more specific topics and areas. A third group (331-341) is oriented towards the history of philosophy. These courses give students a sense of the development of philosophy in the West. The fourth set of courses (353-368) examine in depth the great philosophical issues of human knowledge, metaphysics, ethics and science.

All courses are open to majors and non-majors. In addition to preparing philosophy majors for graduate school, the study of philosophy serves as an excellent background for people entering other professions.


The Philosophy Department conducts regular assessment of student learning—of majors, minors as well as students taking philosophy to meet core requirements. Our assessment activities evaluate how well the department’s curriculum improves students’ comprehension of fundamental philosophical concepts as well as their ability to construct well reasoned discussions of these ideas. We also evaluate the following: the extent to which the study of these concepts enables students to perceive greater complexity in the human and natural worlds; whether the study of philosophy improves students’ critical thinking abilities as well as their disposition to engage in critical thinking; and whether the study of philosophy may affect students’ academic engagement and commitment to lifelong learning.

The department’s current assessment strategy draws on two sources of evidence. Each semester, samples of student writing are taken from both beginning and advanced philosophy classes. A selected subset of these classes each semester also complete standardized tests of critical thinking. We use comparative analyses of the samples to evaluate changes over time in scores achieved by majors, minors and students taking philosophy to satisfy core requirements. Our analyses also examine correlations between essay scores and critical thinking scores, and between these scores and evidence gathered at the institutional level of students’ academic engagement and commitment to lifelong learning.

The Philosophy Department regards a major in philosophy as preparation for a reflective, thoughtful and deliberate life. For that reason we seek to maintain contact with majors after graduation to learn how well they are doing and how well they think the department prepared them for the life path they have chosen.

Major (40 credits)

Required Courses:
4 credits at the 100 or 200 level
Logic (210)
Ancient Philosophy (331)
Modern Philosophy (334)
One course from the following: Medieval (333), 19th-Century European Philosophers (336), Analytic Philosophy (337), American (338), 20th-century Continental Philosophers (341).
One course from the following: Philosophy of Knowledge (353), Metaphysics (354), Topics in Philosophy of Science (357).

One course from the following: Moral Philosophy (359), Political Philosophy (360), Feminist Ethics (361).
12 additional credits with no more than 4 additional credits at the 100 or 200 level.

Minor (20 credits)

Required Courses:
Five courses, three of which must be at the 300 level.

Courses (PHIL)

123 Philosophy of Human Nature. (4)
An introduction to philosophical questioning through a study of what it means to be human. Questions that might be treated: body and soul; immortality; meaning of person and personality; determinism and freedom; reason and imagination; emotion and will; individuality and group; relationship to others and to God; language; labor; temporality.

130 Social Philosophy. (4)
An introduction to philosophical questioning through a study of the human in society. Questions that might be treated: the meaning of society; individual and society; society and law; economy and society; work as social phenomenon; society and freedom; world of culture and society; violence and nonviolence; philosophy of power; political philosophy.

150 Philosophy in Literature. (4)
An introduction to philosophical questioning through a study of major themes of novels, plays and/or poetry. Readings will serve as an avenue for treating aesthetic or psychological or ethical concerns.

153 Philosophy and Gender. (4)
An introduction to philosophical questioning through a study of gender. Areas that might be treated: philosophy of sexuality; whether men and women know the world in the same way; whether the nature of man and woman is the same; sexual ethics; feminism.

180 Great Issues in Philosophy. (4)
An introduction to philosophical questioning through a study of perennial issues in philosophy. Questions that might be treated: freedom and responsibility, God, love, being, knowledge, death. Topics in this course may be treated in the context of the great philosophers of the past or through a study of more contemporary writers.

210 Logic. (4)
This course is an introduction to the fundamental structure of logic. It includes deduction, syllogistic reasoning, the symbolic quantification of deduction, induction, informal arguments and fallacies, and the basic structure of scientific procedure.

243 Environmental Ethics. (4)
This course investigates a variety of ethical issues that arise from consideration of the relation between humans and the non-human natural world (i.e., the environment, animals, land, ecosystems, wilderness areas). This course will introduce students to the basic concepts of environmental ethics, to specific ethical issues associated with environmental policy, and to philosophical theorizing about the environment.

245 Biomedical ethics. (4)
An examination of ethical questions raised by health-care practice and recent advances in medical technology. Both ethical theory and ethical decision-making will be addressed. Possible topics include: confidentiality, informed consent, genetic engineering, reproductive technology and death and dying issues.

246 Philosophy of Religion. (4)
An introduction to philosophical questioning through a study of God and religion. Questions that might be treated: religious experience; difference in experience of God in Western and Eastern religions; philosophy of spirituality; theism and atheism; culture and religion.

271 Individual Learning Project. (1-4)
Supervised reading or research at the lower-division level. Permission of department chair required. Consult department for applicability towards major requirements. Not available to first-year students.

272 Asian Philosophy. (4)
An introduction to philosophical questioning through the tradition of Oriental thought. Areas of Oriental thought that might be treated: Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Zen.

318 Readings in Philosophy. (0-1)
Reading and discussion of philosophic works, moderated by a member of the Philosophy Department. Interested faculty and staff in other areas are welcome to participate as well. Each section of this course is typically devoted to a single work, but occasionally a group of smaller works by a single author may be selected. S/U grading only. May be repeated for credit.

331 Ancient Philosophy. (4)
Western philosophy traces its origins to the great thinkers of Greece. This course combines a careful investigation into ancient philosophy as a whole with concentration on the thought of Plato and Aristotle. Fall and/or spring.

333 Medieval Philosophy. (4)
Philosophy in the West did not take a long nap after the ancient era. This course in medieval philosophy will investigate the period which began with Augustine and reached its culmination in 13th- and 14th-century Scholasticism, especially with Thomas Aquinas. It will investigate at least three major philosophers or schools of philosophy of that era.

334 Modern Philosophy. (4)
A new turn in philosophy begins with the writings of Rene Descartes and ends with the Critiques of Immanuel Kant. This course will seek to highlight three thinkers or schools from that era. Fall.

336 19th-Century European Philosophers. (4)
Philosophy on the European continent followed no one pattern in the 19th century. G.W.F. Hegel, Karl Marx, Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche and Henri Bergson make this century one of the most varied in the history of philosophy. This course will focus on one or more thinkers to explore European thought of that epoch. This course can be repeated for credit, with the approval of the department chair, when content varies. Alternate years.

337 Analytic Philosophers. (4)
An examination of the dominant philosophical orientation in the English speaking world during the 20th-century. Both "foundational" analytic thinkers (e.g., Russell, Wittgenstein) and contemporary philosophers (e.g., Quine, Kripke) will be considered. Alternate years.

338 American Philosophers. (4)
Though American thinkers have been heavily influenced by European philosophers, an indigenous philosophy began to develop in North America in the 19th century and continued into the 20th century. Philosophers that may be discussed include Charles Sanders Peirce, Josiah Royce, William James, John Dewey and Alfred North Whitehead. This course can be repeated for credit, with the approval of the department chair, when content varies. Alternate years.

341 20th-Century Continental Philosophers. (4)
A series of philosophies with the same kind of method but with different content has grown from the methodology of the philosopher and mathematician Edmund Husserl. People such as Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, Jean Paul Sartre, Emmanuel Levinas, Paul Ricoeur and Jacques Derrida have applied the method of Husserl to very different problems. This course will choose from these and other contemporary continental thinkers. This course can be repeated for credit, with the approval of the department chair, when content varies. Alternate years.

343 Philosophies of Violence/Nonviolence. (4)
This course looks at the way that the search for security and the claim to possession of absolute truth can lead to violence. The way of thinking involved in technology easily structures the world so that whatever does not fit into that framework is discounted and ignored and treated violently, as the philosopher Martin Heidegger shows. How does such an attitude lead to violence? Finally, the course will look at the nonviolent ethical response which the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas demands from the person who hears the call of the poor and the oppressed when they cry out against their oppression and poverty.
345 Topics in Philosophy and Conflict Studies. (4)
Literature of Western and Non-western traditions—not only philosophy but epic, fiction, poetry, drama, narrative, memoirs—ranging from the classical period into the 21st century, presents us not only warring individuals and political entities, but with worlds in conflict. This course will look at issues of conflict and draw from the readings an understanding of the world opened up by the texts. Questions to be explored may include: How does the vision of the world drawn from text and language touch the way people respond in conflict? How does a study of the philosophy of language and critical theory help us to understand what conflict is and how it works? Alternate years. Fall.

353 Philosophy of Knowledge. (4)
What is meant by saying a sentence is true? What are the criteria to be followed in order to arrive at truth? Is it possible to reach definitive truth? Theories of knowledge and truth from Empiricist to Rationalist to Realist. Alternate years.

354 Metaphysics. (4)
Metaphysics examines and tests our most fundamental ideas about what is real and how it hangs together. We may be led to examine these ideas by realizing how they are entangled with the solution of persistent problems: Is real freedom possible? Is the soul immortal? Is there a God? Sooner or later we confront questions about the meaning of concepts like being, time, cause, nature and mind. This course investigates a selection of these fundamental problems and concepts. Spring.

357 Topics in the Philosophy of Science. (4)
An examination of selected topics in the philosophy of the natural and social sciences. Possible topics include philosophical presuppositions of the sciences, models of explanation, induction and confirmation, causality, evolution, philosophy of psychology, and the nature of theoretical entities. Course can be repeated for credit with the approval of the department chair when content varies.

358 Philosophy of Law. (4)
This course will consider some of the central conceptual and normative issues in the area of jurisprudence. Concepts such as legal responsibility, negligence, causality, cruel and unusual punishment, etc., will be considered. Frameworks for legal decision-making will be developed and applied. Fall.

359 Moral Philosophy. (4)
The meaning of rights and responsibilities, values and obligations. Questions of good and evil, right and wrong, freedom and determinism. Natural law, utilitarianism and other systematic theories of morally right behavior. Fall and/or spring.

360 Political Philosophy. (4)
This course examines the relation between moral and political values and goods. Consideration of such questions as whether politics can be neutral among competing conceptions of morality, the nature, justification, and limits of political authority and whether politicians should be held to different moral standards from the rest of us.

361 Feminist Ethics. (4)
Consideration of whether women's experiences offer unique perspectives in moral theory. Comparison of feminine and feminist approaches to ethics. Possible topics include: the nature of feminism, freedom and oppression; the role of care, trust, autonomy, reason and emotion in the moral life; different moral voices among women.

362 Business Ethics. (4)
This course will examine ethical and social issues associated with contemporary American business. Responsibilities of businesses to employees, consumers and the society at large will be considered. Questions of individual moral responsibility and questions of social justice and public policy will be addressed. Students will examine these issues from the point of view of a variety of stakeholders: business management, employees, investors, consumers, and citizens. Prerequisite: students are strongly encouraged to have taken at least one previous course in management, accounting, philosophy, or economics. Spring, alternate years.

368 Special Topics. (4)
Offered by faculty members in areas of their special interest. Offered as schedule allows.

371 Individual Learning Project. (1-4)
Supervised reading or research at the upper-division level. Permission of department chair and completion and/or concurrent registration of 12 credits within the department required. Consult department for applicability towards major requirements. Not available to first-year students.

398 Honors Senior Essay, Research or Creative Project. (4)
Required for graduation with "Distinction in Philosophy." Prerequisite: HONR 396 and approval of the department chair and director of the Honors Thesis program. For further information see HONR 398.