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Philosophy

(For 2013–2014 academic year)

Professors M. Clark, McCabe
Associate Professors Dudrick, Kawall, Meyer, Tumulty, Witherspoon (Chair)
Assistant Professors Blackman, Gray, Jayasekera, Klein
Visiting Assistant Professor Sommerville

Philosophy is a central component of a liberal arts education. It raises fundamental questions about the nature of reality and the place of human beings within it. What is the nature of morality? What is free will and are human beings free? What is the relation between mind and body? What, if anything, can we know about the material world? Does God exist? What makes a state just? What makes for a good life?

In attempting to answer such questions, students of philosophy reflect on both their own responses to these questions and the ways in which past thinkers have defended their answers to them. The process of formulating and testing these answers requires education in logical analysis, reasoned argument, and analytic thinking. In acquiring such education within the philosophy curriculum, students develop their ability to solve problems and to think, read, and write critically — skills that are in high demand in a number of different professions. In the past, majors have gone on to very successful careers in law, consulting, finance, and medicine. Many have also embarked on academic careers.

But philosophy is about more than reflection and finding answers. As the love of wisdom, it is also a practice and a way of life, one characterized by openness to viewpoints other than one’s own, a willingness to question both received opinions and one’s own opinions, and a passionate concern to integrate thought and practice into a meaningful life.

The department offers a number of courses that serve as gateways to the practice of philosophy for those who wish to major in it. These courses are also recommended for majors from other departments who seek an introduction to philosophy. These gateway courses are PHIL 101, Introduction to Philosophical Problems; PHIL 111, Ethics;  and PHIL 121, Political Philosophy. All philosophy majors are especially encouraged to take PHIL 101, Introduction to Philosophical Problems early in their course of study. Other courses at the 200 and 300 level are either courses in the history of philosophy or courses that focus on problems in specific areas of philosophy. Many of these courses do not have specific prerequisites and are open to all interested students.

Major Programs

There are two distinct major programs: philosophy and the joint major in philosophy and religion.

Major in Philosophy

A major in philosophy requires nine courses in philosophy, or ten if the philosophy major is a candidate for honors. Only one of the total number of courses may be an independent study. Though students may take as many 100- and 200-level courses as they wish, no more than three such courses will count towards the completion of the major. The lone exception is PHIL 225, Logic, which can count towards the major in addition to three other 100- or 200-level courses. Though not strictly required of all majors, PHIL 225, Logic, is nevertheless strongly recommended for all majors — especially for students contemplating graduate work in philosophy.

Among the courses for the major, students must take at least one upper-level course from the department’s offerings in Value Theory (VT): PHIL 312, PHIL 343, or a similar course approved by the chair and at least one upper-level course from its offerings in Metaphysics and Epistemology (M&E): PHIL 335, 340, 341, or a similar course approved by the chair. In addition, students must take at least one course from our offerings in Major Figures (MF): PHIL 301, 302, 303, and 304, or two courses if they are pursuing honors. Majors in philosophy should plan to have completed their Major Figures course before the spring of their junior year.  At least one 400-level seminar in philosophy is also required for the major, though students are strongly encouraged to take more than one seminar. To qualify for graduation, a minimum grade of C is required in all courses taken toward the major/minor.

Minor in Philosophy

A minor in philosophy consists of five courses in philosophy. The structure of the minor can be specially designed in consultation with a student’s adviser in philosophy, or it can have a basic structure of an introductory course (PHIL 101 is strongly recommended), a course in the Major Figures (MF): PHIL 301, 302, 303, 304, a 400-level seminar, and two electives.

Major in Philosophy and Religion

A major in philosophy and religion consists of ten courses, eleven if seeking honors. Five of these must be in philosophy, and five must be in religion. No more than three of these courses may be at the 100 or 200 level. Only one of the ten courses may be an independent study, or two if seeking honors. Of these ten courses, three are normally required as follows:
a.  PHIL 101, Introduction to Philosophical Problems; or PHIL 111, Ethics; or PHIL 226, Philosophy of Religion; or RELG 101, The World’s Religions as an entry to the major;
b.  RELG 352, Theory and Method in the Study of Religion;
c.  At least one 400-level seminar in either philosophy or religion, considered a capstone of the major.

At least five courses should be focused upon a particular area of interest, which a student enters into with a plan to follow through in an integrated manner. This approach is intended to give students several options while also giving them direction, so that the joint major brings disciplinary integrity to interdisciplinary study.

The department does not offer a minor in philosophy and religion.

Honors in Philosophy or Philosophy and Religion

All candidates for honors in philosophy and those majors in philosophy and religion who wish to write an honors thesis on a philosophical theme must write a paper in a 400-level seminar, before the commencement of their final semester at Colgate, that can be the basis of an appropriate honors project. The professor supervising the relevant seminar, in consultation with other members of the department, will determine whether a student’s paper may proceed towards an honors thesis. 

In the spring of the senior year, candidates for honors normally take an independent study (PHIL 490) with their honors adviser. The honors thesis — a substantial piece of research, analysis, or critique — is turned in to the adviser several weeks before the end of the term. If the adviser decides that the thesis can stand for honors, the honors candidate meets during exam week with his or her adviser and two other faculty readers and fields questions: the honors defense. Ideally the question and answer session becomes a forum for intellectual exchange between the student writer and the faculty readers. A student is awarded honors on the basis of both the quality of the written thesis and the conduct of the honors defense. No student can be awarded honors, however, who does not have at least a GPA of 3.40 in his or her major.

Awards

See Honors and Awards: Philosophy in Chapter VI.

Advanced Placement

Advanced placement cannot be presumed since examinations in this area are not given.

Transfer Credit

Transfer credit for graduation requirements may be awarded by the registrar on the basis of course syllabi and requirements and advice from the department. To assess transfer credit for major requirements, however, the same documents plus the student’s written work in the course (i.e., exams, papers) must be submitted to the faculty adviser for evaluation. The department chair receives a recommendation and is responsible for deciding whether to award major credit. Normally no more than two transfer credits may count toward major or minor requirements. Seminar credit is not transferable.

Study Group

During the spring semester, the Department of Philosophy, in conjunction with the Department of Religion, offers a study group at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland’s first university, founded in 1410. Other than the director’s course, which is offered by a department member, students take courses of their choice from among those offered by the University of St. Andrews, at which they are enrolled for the semester. St. Andrews has a very fine philosophy department and it is a great advantage for majors in both philosophy and philosophy and religion to study there for a semester. The study group is also open to majors from other departments. See Off-Campus Study Group Programs and Extended Study Programs.

Course Offerings

PHIL courses count toward the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry/humanities distribution requirement, unless otherwise noted.

Value Theory courses are noted as (VT)
Metaphysics and Epistemology courses are noted as (M&E)
Major Figures courses are noted as (MF)

101  Introduction to Philosophical Problems

Staff
Readings and discussions are organized around such classic problems of philosophy as the existence of God, free will and determinism, the relation of mind and body, knowledge of the external world, the meaning of “good” and moral action, etc. No prerequisites. (Formerly PHIL 201.)

111  Ethics
Staff
This introductory course explores central questions of morality. What makes a good life good? What makes some actions right and others wrong? Are there human rights that everyone has? What are our obligations to others? Are there good answers to these questions, or is it all relative? Among the philosophers explored are Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Bentham, Mill, and various significant contemporary thinkers. (Formerly PHIL 213.)

121  Political Philosophy
D. McCabe
This introductory course explores central questions in political philosophy, with an emphasis on the great figures in the tradition (including Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hegel, and Marx). Among those questions are, what justifies the state? Is democracy the only legitimate form of government? How much freedom should be secured for individuals? How should we understand the ideal of equality? And so on. No prerequisites.

202  Environmental Ethics
This course is crosslisted as ENST 202. For course description, see “Environmental Studies: Course Offerings.”

214  Medical Ethics
D. McCabe
This course addresses urgent moral questions that arise in the field of medicine. Some of these are long standing. Is health strictly a biological concept, or do cultural and social norms, in part, determine what is good health? Should doctors act solely for the goal of improving their patients’ health, or is their central obligation to respect patient autonomy? Other questions are more recent. When exactly is a person dead, such that withdrawing life-saving equipment is appropriate? Should parents and doctors take steps to see that their children are born with more desirable traits and characteristics? Students learn how philosophic argument can help illuminate these and related issues. No prerequisites.

216  Existentialism
D. Dudrick
This course is designed to introduce students to existentialist thought via an examination of its 19th-century origins and 20th-century manifestations. Among the authors to be discussed are Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus, and Marcel. Among the topics to be considered are existence, freedom, subjectivity, and absurdity.

225  Logic I
J. Kawall, U. Meyer, E. Witherspoon
Logic is the science of correct reasoning. It provides rigorous methods for evaluating the validity of arguments. This introductory course covers the basic concepts and techniques of propositional logic and first-order predicate logic with identity, including truth tables, proofs, and elementary model theory. This course is suitable for students in all areas and is highly recommended for philosophy majors.

226  Philosophy of Religion
D. Dudrick
Can the existence of God be proven? Can it be disproven? What is the relationship between faith and reason? Does evil provide strong evidence against the existence of God? How should we think about the relationship between creation and evolution — and about the relationship between science and religion generally? Does the Christian notion of the Trinity make any sense? What about the idea of Original Sin or the Atonement? Students seek reasoned answers to many of these questions by evaluating the work of philosophers who address them. Students encounter both classical and contemporary authors, though the class focuses more on perspicacious presentations of these issues than on their historical development.

228  Philosophy of Science
U. Meyer
This course is an introduction to the philosophy of science and explores issues of general philosophical interest to the sciences, rather than those germane to any particular discipline. The course focuses on the rise and decline of logical positivism and the status of its post-positivist descendants with particular emphasis on the issues of scientific laws, induction, theory confirmation and choice, falsificationism, reductionism, realism, explanation, prediction, and problems relevant to the special sciences.

301  Ancient Philosophy (MF)
J. Klein, Staff
This course surveys some of the central figures and ideas of classical Greek and Roman philosophy, with particular emphasis on Plato, Aristotle, and the main Hellenistic schools. Topics to be considered include the aim and method of Socratic inquiry; Plato’s epistemology, theory of forms and defense of justice; Aristotle’s logic, ontology and ethical theory; Stoic and Epicurean cosmology and ethics.

302  Modern Philosophy (MF)
M. Jayasekera, E. Witherspoon
This historical and critical reading of classic philosophical thought from the 16th to 19th centuries works with original texts of Bacon, Hobbes, Descartes, Pascal, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant.

303  Medieval Philosophy (MF)
Staff
Medieval philosophy involved the absorption and transformation of Greek and Hellenistic thought by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thinkers, often in relations of mutual influence. The period is crucial not only for its project of reconciling reason and faith but also for philosophical insights, arguments, and formulations that have remained influential in several of the main areas of philosophy. The course focuses on questions concerning freedom of the will, the nature of moral requirements and obligation, the role of rational considerations in morality, the virtues, and ideals of human excellence. Students read figures from the three faith traditions and explore their interactions and mutual influences, as well as their differences. Coverage of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thinkers is roughly equal, and students look at the Platonic, Neoplatonic, and Aristotelian background to their thought as well as the new directions in which they took philosophy.

304  Kant and 19th-Century Philosophy (MF)
M. Clark
This course studies Kant and some major developments in 19th-century continental philosophy that stem from the transformations and criticisms of Kant’s philosophy. Readings are from Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer. Issues explored include the possibility of knowing things in themselves, the status of religion and science, the basis of morality, and the relationship between the individual and community. Prerequisite: one course in philosophy or permission of instructor.

306  Recent Continental Philosophy
D. Dudrick
This course is a study of some of the major movements in recent continental philosophy. Among the movements to be considered are phenomenology, existentialism, philosophical hermeneutics, post-structuralism, and postmodernism. Among the thinkers to be considered are Husserl, Heidegger, Gadamer, Sartre, Foucault, and Derrida. Movements and thinkers may vary from year to year. Prerequisite: one course in philosophy or permission of instructor.

310  Philosophy and the Social Sciences: Science, Rationality, and Morality
E. Witherspoon
This course explores philosophical issues raised by the methods and results of the social sciences. It begins by considering fundamental questions raised by anthropology: How is one to understand a culture other than one’s own? In attempting to understand other cultures, can one employ the concept of rationality? Is there one standard of rationality that applies to every culture? Do different cultures possess different “logics” that are immune to understanding and criticism from outsiders? Exploration of these questions requires thinking about the status of logic and how it is related to systems of belief and action. The course also explores the related question of the status of moral norms as well as the nature of explanation in the social sciences. Prerequisite: one course in philosophy or permission of instructor.

312  Contemporary Political Philosophy (VT)
D. McCabe
This course offers a critical engagement with the rich work in political philosophy that has appeared since the landmark publication of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice. After a close examination of Rawls’ egalitarian liberalism, the course takes up the range of alternative positions that dominate contemporary political theory: conservatism, libertarianism, communitarianism, feminism, Marxism, and multiculturalism. Prerequisites: at least one course in ethics or political theory is recommended. No first-year students.

313  International Ethics
D. McCabe
Nations increasingly come into contact with one another in a common international arena, and these encounters raise a host of important moral questions: Are there moral standards that apply across all human communities, and if so, how specific are they? Do all human beings have rights, and if they do, what are they? What duties do wealthy countries have to aid poor ones? Are there moral constraints on how war must be conducted, and if so, what are they? In this course students engage with the work of contemporary theorists exploring these and related questions. Prerequisites: at least one course in ethics or political theory is recommended. No first-year students.

319  Philosophy of Psychology
M. Tumulty
This course explores philosophical questions about the aims, methods, and consequences of the psychological sciences (such as social psychology, developmental psychology, and cognitive neuroscience). What is the relationship between the kinds of explanations different disciplines give of human behavior and cognition? And what is the relationship between any expert approach to human activity, and the ordinary, commonsense methods we have for understanding each other and predicting behavior? Students read contemporary philosophical work that directly confronts these questions. Students critically examine potential answers, paying special attention to what each answer implies about ongoing controversies over the proper interpretation of such key concepts as “pain,” “attention,” “belief,” and “character.”

320  Issues in 20th-Century American Philosophy: Empiricism and Realism
E. Witherspoon
This course seeks to bring students inside some of the problems and methods that lie at the heart of post-war American philosophy. What is the structure of knowledge? Is all knowledge scientific knowledge? What determines the meanings of the words in which we express knowledge claims? Do speakers of radically different languages have radically different experiences of the world? What is experience, and how is it related to knowledge? The course places these questions in their historical context and examines a range of responses to them. Readings are drawn from Sellars, Quine, Davidson, Putnam, and Rorty. Prerequisite: one course in philosophy or permission of instructor.

321  Myth, Metaphor, and the Poetics of Cognition: Issues in the Philosophy of Literature
Staff
The literary creator wields the power of language to construct fictions that unfold a completeness of experience enviable to objectivists and relativists alike. Literature shapes what philosophers long for: a glance at a truth so profound that regardless of how much it challenges or aligns itself with perceptual experience, it is capable of provoking the soul’s assent. The power of literature, therefore, supersedes the power of logical argumentation. Yet, what is it that the reader of literature comes to know? What reality does the reader experience? To what does the reader assent? This course considers these questions and examines the validity of the traditional boundaries that have sought to separate literature from philosophy, fiction from truth. Through the reading of critical and fictional texts, students wrestle with the problem of knowledge as this problem is enacted in the linguistic commitment to beauty and completeness embodied in the narratives of Edgar Allan Poe, Julio Cortazar, Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, and Italo Calvino.

325  Logic II
U. Meyer
This course covers a selection of advanced topics in logic: computability, Turing machines, soundness and completeness theorems, undecidability of predicate logic, Skolem-Löweheim theorems, nonstandard models, and Gödel’s incompleteness theorems. Prerequisite: PHIL 225.

329  The Philosophy of Law
Staff
This course examines some central ideas of jurisprudence and the philosophy of law. Readings concentrate on general theories of law, justice, legal rights, liability, and legal responsibility, and on the nature of judicial reasoning and legal principles. Some broader methodological questions pertaining to causation and the law and the relation of law and morality are discussed and related to the readings. (Formerly PHIL 229.)

330  Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art
Staff
Discussion of the classical writings of philosophers on art and central ideas of aesthetics: form and content, expression, taste, and standards of criticism are included in this course. Readings include Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Nietzsche, etc., as well as contemporary essays. (Formerly PHIL 230.)

333  Topics in Environmental Philosophy
J. Kawall
This course involves a critical examination of selected fundamental issues and theories in environmental philosophy. Precise issues and themes vary from year to year, but may include sustainability and moral obligations to future generations; the nature of the good life for humans; the status of environmental values; recent work in environmental ethics theories including deep ecology, social ecology, and ecofeminism; the moral and metaphysical status of human modifications to the world, including environmental restoration and genetic engineering; and aesthetics of the natural world. An emphasis is placed on exploring the connections between philosophical theory and environmental policy and practice.

335  Contemporary Epistemology (M&E)
J. Kawall
This course examines contemporary theories of how knowledge claims are to be justified, and it also examines how these theories respond to skeptical challenges. This involves detailing fundamental strategies of epistemic justification such as foundationalism, coherentism, and naturalism. The course also inquires into what makes a body of beliefs a structure of knowledge and considers how the interpretation of rationality is related to these questions of justification. Prerequisite: one course in philosophy or permission of instructor.

340  Metaphysics (M&E)
U. Meyer
A systematic study of central issues involved in theorizing about reality at the most general level. Is the world a world of substances or a world of events? What is the nature of causation? Do concepts and statements refer to the world as it is in itself, or is such a notion idle or incoherent? How are such things as possibility and necessity and laws of nature to be understood? The topics are handled in a way that stresses the historical persistence of the debates over these issues but focuses on recent and contemporary discussions of the topics. Prerequisite: two courses in philosophy or permission of instructor.

341  Philosophy of Mind (M&E)
M. Tumulty
This course examines the historical and contemporary debates about the nature of the mind. These questions are considered: How do minds (or their states or products) manage to be about things? Are all minds conscious? How serious is the difference between first-person and third-person perspectives on mental activity? What beyond consciousness is required for self-hood? What grounds our concept of mental health? What kind of mind makes individuals responsible for their behavior?

343  Topics in Moral Theory (VT)
Staff
Moral theory concerns what makes acts right or wrong, what makes people good or bad. In addressing these issues, the course also considers the following questions: Do moral stands apply universally, or are they relative to one’s culture, religion, or other moral framework? Can we reconcile the impartiality of morality with the partiality we feel toward certain people, such as parents, spouses, or children? Are there ethical principles that apply in all circumstances, or is morality fundamentally a case-by-case affair? This course centers primarily on contemporary approaches to these questions, with the aim of enabling students to address these questions critically and rigorously.

360  Philosophy and Feminisms
M. Tumulty
This course explores questions at the intersection of feminist philosophy and the theory of knowledge (epistemology). How have gendered assumptions influenced philosophical views about what knowledge is and how knowledge is best pursued? What roles, if any, should considerations of gender play in our theories of knowledge? In addition to these general questions, the course addresses issues in feminist philosophy of science, specifically issues concerning the scientific study of sexual differences in behavior and brain structure. The role of testimony in the transmission of knowledge is also considered. Feminist epistemologists and philosophers of language have explored ways in which gender affects the assessment of testimony as trustworthy. Patterns of acceptance of testimony matter for how the claims people make — in law courts and elsewhere — are heard (or not) by others. The course concludes by considering what this means for the proper philosophical treatment of testimony about personal experience.

380, 381  Issues in Epistemology and Metaphysics
E. Witherspoon, Staff
This is an umbrella course designed to allow students to delve into specific topics in epistemology or metaphysics. The study situates each problem in its appropriate historical context thus allowing student access to the approaches to a given issue offered in Ancient, Medieval, Modern, and recent works. The course brings students inside some problems and methods that lie at the heart of philosophy by inquiring into issues such as the structure of knowledge, our basis for making claims about other minds, possible worlds, skepticism, and the justification of belief. Prerequisites: a course in philosophy, preferably PHIL 335 or PHIL 340, or permission of instructor.

392  Topics in Contemporary Philosophical Research
Staff
This 0.50 credit course is organized around a series of campus visits by philosophers working in some area of contemporary philosophical research. The area varies from year to year and, although it is a stand-alone course, often coincides with the topic of a seminar being offered in the same semester. Prerequisites: two courses in philosophy or permission of instructor.

405, 406  Major Figures in Philosophy
M. Clark, Staff
This course studies the thought of a central figure in the history of philosophy. A different thinker is the subject of the seminar in different years. The seminar is primarily for majors in philosophy.

411  Wittgenstein and the Philosophy of Language
E. Witherspoon
This seminar is a detailed study of the thought of Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century. This course first examines his early work in relation to problems about the nature of logic and language raised by Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell, and then it uses Wittgenstein’s later work to explore the nature of meaning and the concept of mind. Throughout, this course attempts to articulate the character and purpose of philosophical inquiry. Prerequisite: three philosophy courses or permission of instructor. A prior course in logic is recommended.

417, 418  Advanced Topics in Philosophy
Staff
The choice of a central philosophical problem to study varies from year to year. The seminar is primarily for majors in philosophy and requires permission of instructor.

419  Contemporary Moral Theory
Staff
This course focuses on questions about the status of moral value (whether it is objective or subjective, and in what sense) and questions about the respective roles of reason and sensibility in moral judgment and moral motivation. The central concern of the course is how best to understand and explain the metaphysics, epistemology, and semantics of moral value. Is there moral knowledge? Are values grounded in feeling or desire? Are there moral facts? The course explores the basic character of moral judgment and moral language, with special attention to developments during recent decades. The seminar is primarily for majors in philosophy. Prerequisites: three courses in philosophy, including a course in ethics.

490  Honors

291, 391, 491, 591  Independent Study

PHIL 490 and 491 are normally open only to majors, and PHIL 591 only to graduate students.