Course Offerings

Courses offered regularly:

115 Philosophical Perspectives on Identity (4)

Who am I? What makes me, me? Who gets to say who I am? How do personal qualities, relations with others, and social categories like race, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, and class come together to form my personal and social identity? How does who I am inform what I know and don’t know? Does who I am give me specific responsibilities? If so, what are they? This course invites you to explore multiple dimensions of who you are using philosophical ideas and tools.

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 thinkers.

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 philosophy through a study of major questions explored in literature: fiction, drama and/or poetry. Philosophical questions explored may include moral or ethical enigmas or dilemmas, the nature of reality or truth, the possible configurations of human nature, the relation between social formation and individual conscience, and other philosophical questions that are often explored  by human imagination and thought as expressed in literature.

150A Philosophy in Literature I (2) (Truth)

In human thought, imaginative literature—poetry, stories, plays and novels—has been a means for humans to reflect on profound questions: How should we live our lives? Can life put us in touch with higher truths, or is this world all there is? Is imagination the opposite of truth or a means of discovering it? Is insisting on truth always a good thing, or can truth be destructive to human well-being? How well do (can) we know ourselves? We will read fiction and drama ranging from classic literature to contemporary fiction, seeking to discover how imaginative writing is related to serious philosophical thought. This course carries the Truth Encounter (HE) designation.

150C Philosophy in Literature II (2) (Justice)

In human thought, imaginative literature—poetry, stories, plays and novels—has been a means for humans to reflect on profound questions: How should we live our lives? Do we have a moral duty to other persons? Can I be responsible for suffering or evil that I have not caused myself? Do the rules of justice and morality change in situations of distress, such as war or natural disasters? Or does this duress give us insight into what should be norms of justice and human interaction in “normal life”?  We will read several novels, stories and plays, seeking to explore these and similar questions. This course carries the Justice Encounter (HE) designation.

155 Philosophy of Race & Ethnicity (4)

This course explores philosophical questions surrounding race and ethnicity with special attention on how race and ethnicity relates to questions of citizenship in the United States. The course will examine both the historical evolution of racial concepts and contemporary debates around topics like racial disparities in wealth, immigration policies, and barriers to political participation. Questions to be explored might include: Is race biological or is it a social construct? What does it mean to have a racial identity? How has race and ethnicity influenced how we understand citizenship in the United States? What moral obligations might we have to rectify past wrongs?

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 Confucianism and Taoism will be approached through study of the Lao Tzu (a.k.a. the Tao Te Ching) and the Analects of Confucius.

279B Logic. (4)

This course is an introduction to formal symbolic logic. It focuses on the development of a symbolic language to capture the structure of natural-language arguments, in order to evaluate the validity of those arguments. Topics include truth functions, truth tables, and natural deduction.

321 Moral Philosophy. (4)

Introduction to philosophical thought about morality. Topics include major ethical theories (e.g. virtue ethics, consequentialism, deontology, care ethics), as well as big concepts such as rights and responsibilities, values and obligations, good and evil, right and wrong. 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.

327 Existential Ethics (4)

Existentialism, a 20th century philosophy with roots in the 19th century and various developments in post-modern thought, rejects all foundational givens except the raw fact of existence. This means that it rejects ethical traditions grounded in religion, in reason, in “virtues,” in particular theories of human nature, and in cultural tradition. Nevertheless, existentialist thinkers have often emerged as powerful ethical thinkers, precisely because they refuse to embrace any traditional foundations for ethics and thus keep ethical questions open for debate. We will examine existentialism’s radical critique of traditional philosophical foundations using readings from such thinkers as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre and Beauvoir. As we proceed, we will explore the ethical implications of these existential currents of thought by reflecting on short pieces of literature and narratives illustrative of ethical dilemmas of modern and contemporary life.

331 Ancient Philosophy. (4)

Raphael’s famous fresco The School of Athens accurately depicts the world of Ancient Philosophy studied in this course. The painting features a multitude of ancient philosophers and writers, mathematicians and scientists, thinkers and students, almost all of them involved in conversation, argumentation, writing or meditation in a beautiful public space. The foundation and focal point of the painting is the two central figures of Plato and Aristotle, who will also serve as the foundation and focal points for this course, which aims to help students become knowledgeable participants in the conversations about truth, reality, virtue and the good that shaped the beginnings of Western philosophy and continue to shape philosophical discourse today.

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.

363 Souls, Selves, and Science. (4)

What am I? This question will be explored through the study of the three periods marked by a change in scientific paradigms; the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in the nineteenth century, and the rise of cognitive science in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We’ll read philosophers, scientists, historians, and novelists, as well as explore pieces by performance and visual artists. By the end of the course, you should have a basic understanding of different metaphysical views about human nature from the claim that humans are fundamentally autonomous and independent to the view that human nature derives from the unique social bonds we form. We will have studied various accounts of the relationship between the mind and body, especially dualism and materialism, and how these theories are shaped by various philosophical and scientific commitments. You will have a deeper understanding of the changing relationships humans have with the natural world and with each other. In studying these topics, you will learn to recognize in past debates a reflection of contemporary struggles over human nature and our place in the natural world and vice versa. No prerequisites.

364 Theories of Knowledge. (4)

Epistemology, or the study of knowledge, is the philosophical discipline which studies the nature of knowledge and how it is acquired. This course will focus on feminist epistemology and the ways in which gender influences our conceptions of knowledge, knowers, and our practices of knowledge acquisition and justification, with a special emphasis on the sciences. Central to the topics of the course will be an examination of epistemic questions around racial and gender oppression.

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 for 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 scientists inform the theories of contemporary philosophers.

377A Feminist Ethics. (4)

This course will examine how women’s experiences and philosophical reflection on those experiences offer important and necessary perspectives in the field of moral and ethical thinking. Topics may include the nature of feminism, freedom and oppression; the role of care, trust, autonomy, reason and emotion in the moral life, and a consideration of how feminism has come to challenge basic premises and conceptual tools of traditional, western approaches to ethics and moral reasoning. The course will also explore social/ethical issues stemming from the intersection of gender with race, ethnicity, culture, class, and/or sexuality.

377B Liberty, Equality, & Race in American Political Thought. (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.

379A Modern Philosophy’s Quest for Truth. (4)

Modern Philosophy is not “modern” in the everyday sense, but studies the 17th and 18th century shift in European thought away from the influence that classical thinkers had come to have, especially as their works were reinterpreted and incorporated into the religious dominion that Judeo-Christian and Islamic paradigms exercised over philosophical  thought. This shift involved a radical re-appraisal of the human subject as thinker and knower. Even those thinkers skeptical of the human capacity to grasp absolute truths upheld the authority of human reason to understand its own limits and to assert itself as the ultimate judge of where and how “truth” could be claimed—though they disagreed significantly on these limits. These philosophers asserted an independence and autonomy for human reason that paved the way for later declarations of political freedoms. Thinkers studied include Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, and Kant.

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 research, writing, and presentation. Spring.

Courses offered occasionally, according to faculty interest:

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. Note: normally offered as ETHS 390, not as PHIL 324.

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. Note: This course may be taken for Theology Upper-Division credit (TU), but normally cannot double-count as both; exceptions must be pre-approved by the department chair.

336 19th-Century Philosophy. (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.

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.

341 Continental Philosophy. (4)

Starting in the 20th century 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, Jaques Derrida, and Michael Foucault 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.

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. Alternate years. Note: This course can be taken for Theology Upper-Division credit (TU), but normally cannot double-count as both; exceptions must be pre-approved by the department chair.

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 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. 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.

368 Special Topics. (4)

Courses 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.

377 Philosophical Topics in Justice (4)

A philosophical treatment of justice and related concepts. What does it mean to live justly? What are the effects of injustice? The course explores the concepts of justice and injustice, as well as their implications for how we live and act in the world. Specific topics vary.

397 Internship (1-16)

Approved Application for Internship Form REQUIRED. See Internship Office Web Page.

College of Saint Benedict
Saint John’s University

Erica Stonestreet
Chair, Philosophy Department
SJU Quad 362F

Laura Schmitz
Department Coordinator
SJU Quad 362D