Department Chair: Dennis Beach OSB
Faculty: Dennis Beach OSB, Anthony Cunningham, Joseph DesJardins, Emily Esch, John Houston, Jean Keller, Rene McGraw OSB, Erica Stonestreet, Stephen Wagner, Charles Wright

Every thoughtful 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? What is the nature of my mind or self? Am I free?  How should I live? What does it mean to belong to a society? What makes a science a science?

Most of the time, these questions emerge briefly and then recede quietly. Philosophy courses 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 (110-156) is geared towards introducing students to the discipline of philosophy by examining the questions that philosophers ask about topics like human nature, God, society, and gender. The second group of courses (321-326) is oriented towards ethics. 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 Western intellectual tradition. The fourth set of courses (355-365) examines 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 and minors as well as students taking philosophy to meet common curriculum requirements. We evaluate how well the department's curriculum improves students' comprehension of fundamental philosophical concepts as well as their ability to participate in well-reasoned discussions of these ideas. We also evaluate the extent to which philosophy enables students to perceive greater complexity in the human and natural worlds; whether philosophy improves students' abilities and their willingness to engage in critical thinking; and whether it might affect students' engagement in and commitment to lifelong learning.

The Philosophy Department regards a major in philosophy as preparation for a thoughtful and deliberate life. We seek to maintain contact with majors after graduation to learn how they are doing and how well they think the department prepared them for their life path.

Major (40 credits)

Required Courses:
4 credits at the 100 or 200 level
Logic (110)
One course from the following: Moral Philosophy (321), Political Philosophy (326), or Feminist Ethics (325)
Ancient Philosophy (331)
Modern Philosophy (334)
One additional historical course from the following: Medieval (333), 19th-Century European Philosophers (336), Analytic Philosophy (337), American (338), or 20th-Century Continental Philosophers (341).
One course from the following: Philosophy of Knowledge (364), Metaphysics (365), Topics in Philosophy of Science (363), Philosophy of Mind (367).
Philosophy Capstone (388).
8 additional credits with no more than 4 additional credits at the 100 or 200 level.

Note: Majors and minors can count a course taken to satisfy the Ethics Common Seminar requirement (ETHS 390 or HONR 390) for major/minor requirements provided the course is offered by a member of the Philosophy Department.

Minor (20 credits)

Required Courses:
Five courses, with at least three at the upper (300) level.

Courses (PHIL)

110 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.

121 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.

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.

125 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; philosophy of conflict in community; 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.

156 Asian Philosophy. (4)
An introduction to the foundational texts of the South Asian and Chinese philosophical traditions. Texts originating in South Asia (i.e., the Indian subcontinent) will include selections from the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and early sutras from the Theravada Buddhist tradition. The Chinese traditions of Taoism and Confucianism will be approached through study of the Tao Te Ching and the Analects of Confucius.

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.

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 disciplines 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 may be selected. S/U grading only. May be repeated for credit.

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

322 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.

323 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.

324 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. Normally offered as ETHS (ES) course, not as PHIL 324.

325 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.

326 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.

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. 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. May be taken for either Philosophy (HM) credit or as THEO 329B for TU credit.

334 Modern Philosophy. (4)
A new turn in philosophy begins with the writings of Rene Descartes and ends with the Critical Philosophy of Immanuel Kant. This course will seek to highlight at least 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, and Friedrich Nietzsche 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 Philosophy. (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 Philosophy. (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.

339 Chinese Philosophy. (4)
An introduction to the Chinese philosophical tradition through selected foundational texts like the Tao Te Ching, the Chuang Tzu, the Analects of Confucius, the Mencius, the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch and selections from the writings of Chu Hsi. Students will also study early Chinese philosophical teachings concerning the nature of male and female and their appropriate social roles, contemporary analyses of the role Confucian teachings played in constructing these gender categories and institutions, and philosophical discussions of the compatibility of Confucian teachings with contemporary (Western) egalitarian gender sensibilities. 

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 Edmund Husserl. Thinkers 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 among these or other contemporary continental thinkers. This course can be repeated for credit, with the approval of the department chair, when content varies. Alternate years.

346 Philosophy of Religion (4)
While philosophy sometimes seems opposed to religious faith, their relation has often been friendly, as "faith seeking understanding." Philosophical reflection on religious belief critically examines the claims of faith as well as attempts to discredit or dismiss the claims of faith. This course will explore this tradition through one or more lenses: philosophical reflection on: a) the validity of religious experience, b) the reasonableness of belief in God, c) the problem of evil or reconciling the experience of evil and suffering with religious belief, or d) other historical or emerging themes in the philosophy of religion. The course will consider also the perspective of theology in responding to philosophical reflection. May be taken for either Philosophy (HM) credit or as THEO329F for TU credit.

355 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, ignored or treated violently, as the philosopher Martin Heidegger shows. How does such an attitude lead to violence? The course will also study the nonviolent ethical response which the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas demands from one who hears the call of the poor and the oppressed when they cry out against their oppression and poverty.
356 Aesthetics of Violence and Nonviolence. (4)
Art as manifested in literature, painting, sculpture, music and other media has a power to move people to experience the world in a new way. How does that shift in world view happen? Does art have the capacity to move us from violence to nonviolence or from nonviolence to violence? What does the language of the novel, of the poet, of the painter, of the musician do to create a new way of seeing the world? How does the imagination relate to beauty? Why are some portrayals of violence so beautiful? Is there an ethics that goes with art? Alternate years.

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.

363 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.

364 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.

365 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. Alternate years in Spring. 

367 Philosophy of Mind. (4)
This course explores a number of issues of interest to contemporary philosophers of mind and cognitive scientists. These include: the nature of consciousness and how we should study it, the relationship between the mind, the body, and the world, psychopathology and what it can teach us about how we think, the problem of personal identity, the relevance of language to thought and the implications for how we should understand animal minds, and, finally, how to determine whether a machine can think. In addition to being a general introduction to these topics, this course is designed with a particular interdisciplinary aim: to examine how the empirical work of cognitive science informs the theories of contemporary philosophers.

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.

388 Philosophy Capstone. (4)
Required for senior philosophy majors for graduation with the philosophy major. Topics vary, but the course centers around an integrative philosophical experience that calls for independent work and presentations. Spring

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.