Spring 2020

Courses taught by philosophers Spring 2020:

PHIL 121-01A Great Issues in Philosophy (HM)
Tuesday/Thursday 11:10am-12:30pm with John Houston in Quad 339
CRN # 17508

There are perennial philosophical questions that every generation of human beings must confront. In this course we will be considering some of them while drawing on the historical framework of Western philosophy. These include, but are not limited to: What is knowledge, and how do we “know” when we have it? Are there moral facts? Do human beings have free will? Does God exist? What does it mean “to believe in God”? What is death, and what are its implications for our lives? What is the meaning of life—and while we are at it, what is the meaning of that question in the first place?  We will ponder these and other questions as we boldly go where all others have gone before us.

PHIL 121-01A Great Issues in Philosophy (HM)
Tuesday/Thursday 2:20-3:40pm with John Houston in Quad 353
CRN # 17509

There are perennial philosophical questions that every generation of human beings must confront. In this course we will be considering some of them while drawing on the historical framework of Western philosophy. These include, but are not limited to: What is knowledge, and how do we “know” when we have it? Are there moral facts? Do human beings have free will? Does God exist? What does it mean “to believe in God”? What is death, and what are its implications for our lives? What is the meaning of life—and while we are at it, what is the meaning of that question in the first place?  We will ponder these and other questions as we boldly go where all others have gone before us.

PHIL 123-01A Philosophy of Human Nature (HM)
Monday/Wednesday/Friday 12:40-1:35pm with Erica Stonestreet in Quad 361
CRN # 15846

What are humans like?  What is the purpose of human life?  These basic questions can be answered from different points of view, and focused on different aspects of being human.  What does it mean to be a human animal?  Are we fundamentally selfish?  How should we live? 

​What is the role of reason in defining humanity?

What is a soul?  How can human life be meaningful?  This course is a survey designed to introduce philosophical ideas and modes of thought, with a central focus on problems arising from human nature. 

​Using a textbook that contains sources from "classic" European philosophy as well as ​from outside that tradition, we will analyze and criticize topics that fall under three major aspects of the human condition: body, mind, and spirit.  We’ll raise questions and discuss the implications of each topic for the meanings of our own lives, for how we ought to behave as individuals, and for how we should treat one another in order to build the best lives possible for ourselves.

PHIL 150-01A (full semester) Philosophy in Literature (HM)
Monday/Wednesday/Friday  11:30am-12:25pm with Dennis Beach, OSB, in Quad 344
CRN # 17502

From the beginnings of 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? How well do we know ourselves? Do we have a moral duty to other persons? Can I be responsible for suffering or evil that I have not caused myself? Is imagination the opposite of truth or a means of discovering it? Does life have an ultimate meaning, or is this world all there is? We will read a number of novels, plays, and short stories ranging from classic literature to contemporary fiction, seeking to discover how imaginative writing is related to serious philosophical thought.

Students may sign up for the whole or either half of the Philosophy in Literature course. In Mods AB we will read a number of stories by Tolstoy and Tim O’Brien, and plays by Henrik Ibsen and Sophocles. In CD mods we’ll read three novels: Albert Camus’ The Plague, Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife.

PHIL 150A-01A (AB mod) Philosphy in Literature (HM)
Monday/Wednesday/Friday 11:30am-12:25pm with Dennis Beach, OSB, in Quad 344
CRN # 18010

From the beginnings of 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? How well do we know ourselves? Do we have a moral duty to other persons? Can I be responsible for suffering or evil that I have not caused myself? Is imagination the opposite of truth or a means of discovering it? Does life have an ultimate meaning, or is this world all there is? We will read a number of novels, plays, and short stories ranging from classic literature to contemporary fiction, seeking to discover how imaginative writing is related to serious philosophical thought.

Students may sign up for the whole or either half of the Philosophy in Literature course. In Mods AB we will read a number of stories by Tolstoy and Tim O’Brien, and plays by Henrik Ibsen and Sophocles. In CD mods we’ll read three novels: Albert Camus’ The Plague, Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife.

PHIL 150C-01A (CD mod) Philosphy in Literature (HM)
Monday/Wednesday/Friday 11:30am-12:25pm with Dennis Beach, OSB, in Quad 344
CRN # 18011

From the beginnings of 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? How well do we know ourselves? Do we have a moral duty to other persons? Can I be responsible for suffering or evil that I have not caused myself? Is imagination the opposite of truth or a means of discovering it? Does life have an ultimate meaning, or is this world all there is? We will read a number of novels, plays, and short stories ranging from classic literature to contemporary fiction, seeking to discover how imaginative writing is related to serious philosophical thought.

Students may sign up for the whole or either half of the Philosophy in Literature course. In Mods AB we will read a number of stories by Tolstoy and Tim O’Brien, and plays by Henrik Ibsen and Sophocles. In CD mods we’ll read three novels: Albert Camus’ The Plague, Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife.

PHIL 156-01A Asian Philosophy (HM) (IC)
Tuesday/Thursday 9:35-10:55am with Charles Wright in Quad 353
CRN # 17880

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 321-01A Moral Philosophy (ES)
Monday/Wednesday/Friday 10:20-11:15am with Erica Stonestreet in Quad 349
CRN # 16743

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 from ancient times to the last few decades to study different approaches to the classic questions of ethics. 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 325-o1A Feminist Ethics (ES)
Tuesday/Thursday 12:45-2:05pm with Jean Keller in Quad 349
CRN # 17505

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 325-02A Feminist Ethics (ES)
Tuesday/Thursday 2:20-3:40pm with Jean Keller in Quad 349
CRN # 17506

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 327-01A Existential Ethics (ES)
Tuesday/Thursday 9:35-10:55am with Dennis Beach, OSB, in Quad 339
CRN # 17881

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 fiction illustrative of ethical dilemmas of modern and contemporary life.

PHIL 331-01A Ancient Philosophy (HM)
Tuesday/Thursday 12:45-2:05pm with John Houston in Quad 361
CRN # 12316

This is a first course in the history of philosophy in antiquity, covering major figures of almost an entire millennium. Special focus will be given to the works of Plato and Aristotle. The course is divided into three main periods. The first period is that of the Presocratics. Beginning with Thales of Miletus in the 6th century BC, we will examine the emergence of philosophy in the ancient western world. We will pay special attention to the answers these early philosophers gave to the following questions: what is it to be real? Is knowledge possible? If so, what are the proper objects of knowledge? Presocratic responses to these questions betrayed a rejection of conventional wisdom, and an attempt to replace it with a more informed view. We will work hard to understand the answers they provided to these questions. Next we will turn to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. They would not only respond to these questions, but would attempt to answer another: what is the chief good or best life for a human being? We will examine what Plato and Aristotle held in common, as well as where they diverged when addressing these questions. In the final part of the course we will survey some of the major philosophical responses to Aristotelian philosophy that emerged in Epicureanism and Stoicism. We will especially attend to what these philosophers had to say about nature, divinity, and the best life for a human being, and how their accounts differed substantially from that of Aristotle.

PHIL 388-01A Philosophy Capstone
Tuesday/Thursday 11:10am-12:30pm with Tony Cunningham in Dietrich Reinhart LC 391
CRN # 15952

Traditionally, philosophers have made little use of stories for thinking about ethics, but over the last twenty-five years, some philosophers have extolled the value of literature and film for thinking about how to live and what sort of person to be.  We'll take a close look at some prominent ethical theories, along with considering whether the right kind of stories might have anything special to offer philosophy.

ETHS 390-06A Ethics Common Seminar Reading for Life (ES)
Tuesday 6:15-9:15pm with Tony Cunningham in Dietrich Reinhart LC 391
CRN # 17071

Everyone loves a good story.  Great stories can provide us with far more than mere recreation.  Stories can provide us with rich character portraits that can reveal the subtleties and nuances of what it means to live well and responsibly.  In this course we’ll use novels and films to address Socrates’ most basic ethical questions, “How should one live?” and “What sort of person should I be?”  We’ll do so by attending to all the concrete, particular details of real life and fictional characters thoroughly embroiled in the “business of living.”  Reading well offers the possibility of vicarious experience and ultimately, ethical insight.  Our readings will include: The Crucible (Arthur Miller), The Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro), Beloved (Toni Morrison), How To Be Good (Nick Hornby), The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood), Cold Mountain (Charles Frazier), and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Anthony Marra).

ETHS 390-01A Ethics Common Seminar Democracy, Freedom & Equality (ES)
Monday/Wednesday/Friday 11:30am-12:25pm with Charles Wright in Quad 349
CRN # 17948

In the United States today, most citizens tend to take for granted that liberty and equal treatment are fundamental parts of a just society.  But if asked what, exactly, these core values amount to, many citizens would have difficulty providing clear and informed answers.  The purpose of this class is to provide young citizens with an introduction to important conceptions of freedom and equality embedded in the Western tradition of political philosophy as well as to some challenges that modern societies face trying to meet the requirements of both.

ETHS 390-08A Ethics Common Seminar Nature, Democracy and Ethics (ES)
Monday/Wednesday 1:50-3:10pm with Paul Cherlin in Quad 347
CRN # 18021

Ethical and political models for human conduct and social organization have, traditionally, made appeals to what is “natural” and believed to be fundamental to “human nature.” This course critically examines various claims about nature and how such claims influence the ways in which we organize ourselves into groups and build communities. We focus primarily on the concept of democracy, and how democracy may be understood as a natural way of life that is conducive to diversity, debate, and critical thinking. We also consider the utility of alternative models of social organization, as well as harmful forces that directly threaten democracy such as genocide, colonialism, and institutionalized forms of prejudice.