Fall 2020

Courses taught by philosophers Fall 2020:

PHIL 121-02A Great Issues in Philosophy (HM)
Block D, 12:30-3:30pm with Dennis Beach, OSB, in Quad 252
CRN #12534
Is the way things appear to us the way they really are? If not, do we have any access to the way things really are? How? And if we don’t, how could we ever know or even suspect that the way things appear to us isn’t the way they really are? These questions have been with philosophers ever since humankind began to wonder about themselves and the world they live in. And when the questions change from “What is true about the physical nature of the world?” to “What is beauty?” “What  is goodness or virtue?” or “Is there a God and can we know anything about this God?” the problem becomes yet more urgent. We will explore the relation of our knowing to the world first through a contemporary introduction to the problem, and then by looking at the stands taken by representative philosophers on the question of human knowing: Plato and Socrates, Rene Descartes, Bertrand Russell, and José Ortega y Gasset.

PHIL 123-01T Philosophy of Human Nature (HM, HE)
Block C, 1:30-4:30pm with John Houston in Quad 343
CRN # 12785
No subject has occupied western philosophy more than that of human nature. And none is more controversial.  This is not surprising, since who and what we think we are will determine a great deal about how we understand the world and our place in it.  If we wish to pursue happiness, we would do well to first have an idea of what we are, from whence we came, and to what end our existence is directed. Some say God, others oblivion.  What do you say?  In this course we will read selections on the philosophy of human nature from classical, Christian, and contemporary sources.  Special attention will be given to human rationality, sexuality, and mortality. Finally, we will seek to develop a view concerning the prospect of discovering (or creating) ultimate meaning and purpose for our lives.   

PHIL 123-02T Philosophy of Human Nature (HM, HE)
Block A, 8:00-11:00am with John Houston in Quad 261
CRN # 15860
No subject has occupied western philosophy more than that of human nature. And none is more controversial.  This is not surprising, since who and what we think we are will determine a great deal about how we understand the world and our place in it.  If we wish to pursue happiness, we would do well to first have an idea of what we are, from whence we came, and to what end our existence is directed. Some say God, others oblivion.  What do you say?  In this course we will read selections on the philosophy of human nature from classical, Christian, and contemporary sources.  Special attention will be given to human rationality, sexuality, and mortality. Finally, we will seek to develop a view concerning the prospect of discovering (or creating) ultimate meaning and purpose for our lives.   

PHIL 155-01A Philosophy of Race & Ethnicity (HM, CI)
Block C, 1:30-4:30pm with Emily Esch in Quad 353
CRN # 15862
This course explores philosophical questions surrounding race and ethnicity. 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 on the United States? What moral obligations might we have to rectify past wrongs?

PHIL 155-02A Philosophy of Race & Ethnicity (HM, CI)
Block D, 1:3-4:30pm with Emily Esch in Quad 343
CRN # 15863
This course explores philosophical questions surrounding race and ethnicity. 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 on the United States? What moral obligations might we have to rectify past wrongs?

PHIL 156-01T  Asian Philosophy (HM, HE)
Block C, 9:00am-12:00pm with Charles Wright in Quad 339
CRN # 15859

We will study the Confucian, Buddhist, Hindu and Daoist traditions of religious philosophy.   From these traditions we will learn about:

  • moral ideals that emphasize restraint of desire and disentanglement from worldly attachments;
  • conceptions of a well-lived human life that emphasize a quiet mind, cooperation and service to others;
  • the ideas that competitive status-seeking is self-defeating and individualism is an illusion;
  • meditative disciplines believed to lead to genuine self-understanding, a balanced and harmonious mind, insight into the nature of reality, and a direct experience of the divine; 
  • the idea that insight into the true nature of reality and divinity can neither be achieved nor conveyed through logic or language.

This course requires one hour of contemplative practice (prayer or meditation) per week outside of class meetings.

PHIL 210-01A Logic (AS)
Block B, 1:30-4:30pm with Erica Stonestreet in Quad 343
CRN # 15861

Logic was developed to make the principles of good reasoning explicit and to systematize inquiry in mathematics and the physical sciences. This course is intended to introduce you to the basics of formal symbolic logic, and to help you see logical structure in arguments from the real world.  It differs from an introduction to informal logic in that it will deal mostly with symbols; it is thus more like a mathematics course than a course in critical thinking, though there will be some of both. 

We will focus on the abstract structure of deductive reasoning in this course.  We’ll begin by learning how to transcribe arguments from English sentences into symbols.  Then we'll develop two ways of assessing the arguments: syntactically (in terms of the forms of argument) and semantically (in terms of preserving truth).  This course will be conducted in "flipped" class format, with both online and in-class components.

PHIL 321-01A Moral Philosophy (ES)
Block C, 9:00am-12:00pm with Erica Stonestreet in Quad 361
CRN # 14442
The questions of ethics--of how to live and what to do--are continually confronting us in public and private life. Philosophical ethics tries to organize ethical experience, presenting theories of good and bad, right and wrong to help guide us. In this course we will use several important Euro/American philosophical texts--and some critiques of them--from ancient times to the last few decades to study different approaches to the classic questions of ethics, including questions of justice. The theories we'll discuss include virtue, Kantian, utilitarian, and care ethics. We’ll examine the different ways each framework can contribute to arriving at answers to ethical questions, noting strengths and weaknesses, with an eye to understanding how these theories might guide us in our own ethical decision making.

PHIL 322-01A Environmental Ethics (ES)
Block A, 9:00am-12:00pm with Charles Wright in Quad 343
CRN # 14117

What might it mean to interact with the Earth and its living systems with moral concern and respect?  The class starts with an account of consumer capitalism, where the relationship between humans and the Earth is built almost exclusively on the extraction of use values.  We then review some of the philosophical and religious ideas that gave rise to this apparent failure of ethical recognition.  Once we have considered these roots, we will turn to philosophical and religious efforts to reconceive the relation between humans and the more-than-human world.  Aldo Leopold, a forester and wildlife scientist, offers elegant reflections on the possibility of a land ethic.  Indigenous activists will recount for us their efforts to sustain and reinvigorate the ecologically respectful ways of life that they nearly lost as a result of European colonization.  His holiness Pope Francis will introduce us to the Catholic Church’s contemporary teachings about the right relation between humans and the Earth, teachings that depart dramatically from the exploitative attitudes of centuries past.  The class will finish by examining the libertarian inspired, market-based proposals for environmental protection offered by Terry Anderson and Donald Leal.  This will offer us the opportunity to consider whether such a capitalist-friendly approach might be compatible with the earlier perspectives, which tend to see consumer capitalism as the problem.   Please be advised:  this class has a 10 hour field experience requirement.  For more information, contact the instructor. 

PHIL 322-02A Environmental Ethics (ES)
Block B, 9:00am-12:00pm with Charles Wright in Quad 361
CRN # 15864

What might it mean to interact with the Earth and its living systems with moral concern and respect?  The class starts with an account of consumer capitalism, where the relationship between humans and the Earth is built almost exclusively on the extraction of use values.  We then review some of the philosophical and religious ideas that gave rise to this apparent failure of ethical recognition.  Once we have considered these roots, we will turn to philosophical and religious efforts to reconceive the relation between humans and the more-than-human world.  Aldo Leopold, a forester and wildlife scientist, offers elegant reflections on the possibility of a land ethic.  Indigenous activists will recount for us their efforts to sustain and reinvigorate the ecologically respectful ways of life that they nearly lost as a result of European colonization.  His holiness Pope Francis will introduce us to the Catholic Church’s contemporary teachings about the right relation between humans and the Earth, teachings that depart dramatically from the exploitative attitudes of centuries past.  The class will finish by examining the libertarian inspired, market-based proposals for environmental protection offered by Terry Anderson and Donald Leal.  This will offer us the opportunity to consider whether such a capitalist-friendly approach might be compatible with the earlier perspectives, which tend to see consumer capitalism as the problem.   Please be advised:  this class has a 10 hour field experience requirement.  For more information, contact the instructor. 

PHIL 325-01A Feminist Ethics (ES)
Block D, 1:30-4:30pm with Jean Keller in Quad 447
CRN # 13170
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.

PHIL 333-01 Medieval Philosophy (HM)
Cross listed with THEO 329B
Block D, 9:00am-12:00pm with John Houston in Quad 361
CRN # 15865
What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?  What does such a question have to do with this course?  The answer to both of these questions is “Much!”  Medieval philosophy was characterized by the development of Greek philosophical thought and its synthesis with the principle doctrines of Christianity.  This synthesis was not always a happy one.  There is surprising variability between the philosophers who undertook this project.  We will study major figures from several continents, spanning over one thousand years, who attempted to offer a systematic account of the relation of philosophy to Christian doctrine.  If you have ever sought a systematic and sustained treatment of the relation between faith and reason, this is your course.  Our journey begins with Augustine, from whom eventually emerge both the monastic and scholastic philosophical traditions of the Middle Ages.  Boethius, Anselm, and Aquinas will receive the lion’s share of the remaining time in the course.  We will give special attention to what each of these figures has to say about the relation of faith and reason; arguments for the existence of God; the nature and ‘knowability’ of God;  and the ultimate end of human life. 

PHIL 334-01A Modern Philosophy (HM)
Block B, 12:30-3:30pm with Dennis Beach, OSB, in Quad 261
CRN # 10795
“Modern” Philosophy does not involve recent philosophy but studies the 17th and 18th century shift away from the authority of classical thought (Plato and Aristotle) and especially away from the authority exercised by religious doctrine over philosophy.  This shift involved a radical re-appraisal of the human subject as thinker and knower.  Even those philosophers who are skeptical about the human capacity to grasp absolute truths uphold the authority of human reason to understand its own limits and to assert itself as the ultimate judge of where “truth” can be claimed.  These thinkers declared an independence and autonomy for human reason that paved the way for the later declarations of political independence.  We will study three of the most important figures of this modern re-birth of philosophy:  René Descartes, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant. In between Descartes and Hume, we will consider Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Leibniz and Bishop George Berkeley, who developed Descartes’ ideas in various different ways.

PHIL 367-01A Philosophy of Mind (HM)
Block A, 1:30-4:30pm with Emily Esch in Quad 361
CRN #15867
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.

ETHS 390
Ethics Common Seminar

Vulnerable Lives
Block B, 12:30-3:30pm with Professor Tony Cunningham in Dietrich Reinhart LC 391
CRN # 16112, ETHS 390-06A

Block D, 12:30-3:30pm with Professor Tony Cunningham in Dietrich Reinhart LC 391
CRN # 16113, ETHS 390-07A

Block A, 12:30-3:30pm with Professor Tony Cunningham in Dietrich Reinhart LC 391
CRN # 16114, ETHS 390-08A

Who can deny that human lives and character are fragile? Even a glance at victims of rape, genocide, war, oppression, poverty, betrayal, and loss suggests we are vulnerable. Yet, schools of thought and belief have suggested that this needn't be so. For instance, some Eastern religions have promised relief from suffering through enlightenment. The Judeo-Christian tradition has pointed to faith and divine grace as a balm for suffering and a shield against it. Roman and Greek philosophers aimed at forms of detachment and serenity that could render human beings invulnerable. Using diverse sources from psychology, memoir, philosophy, fiction and film, we'll consider ways in which human lives and character can be compromised and disintegrated, along with strategies designed to render us more resilient. If we are to have much to say about how people should live and what sorts of people they should be, we need to know whether human beings can have the requisite strength to live up to such demands.