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Philosophy (PHIL)

Chair: U. Meyer

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 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 always in high demand. In the past, majors have gone on to very successful careers in law, consulting, finance, and medicine. Many have also embarked on academic careers. 

The department offers a number of courses that serve as gateways to the practice of philosophy for potential majors. These courses are also recommended for majors from other departments who seek an introduction to philosophy. These courses include: PHIL 101, Introduction to Philosophical Problems, PHIL 111, Ethics, and PHIL 225, Logic I, which are offered in Fall 2018 (see below for descriptions). In Spring 2019, the department will again offer PHIL 101, PHIL 111, and PHIL 225, but also the introductory PHIL 216, Existentialism and PHIL 229, Philosophy of Law. 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.


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FSEM 156, Ethics
Faculty Profile for Professor Pendleton

We all make moral judgments. We deem some actions right, others wrong. We find some people good, others not. This course sheds light on what we’re doing when we make these kinds of judgments. If we judge that it is wrong to lie, for example, are we merely expressing a personal opinion or cultural attitude? Or is there an objective fact of the matter? If morality is somehow objective, how do we determine what it requires? Does morality derive from God’s commands, from our quest for happiness, from abstract principles, from something else? In this course we will examine answers that ancient and modern philosophers have given to these questions, and we will test their views by applying them to contemporary moral controversies. Students who successfully complete this seminar will receive course credit for PHIL 111 and satisfy one half of the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement.

Professor Pendleton practiced law and clerked for a federal judge before turning to philosophy. Her research reflects her interests in both fields and includes the philosophy of law (especially justifications of punishment) and ethics (especially the role of principles in guiding action and in self-understanding). Her work draws on a range of sources in addition to philosophy, including personal narratives, novels, and writings on criminal justice.

FSEM 157, Paradoxes of Infinity
Faculty Profile for Professor Meyer

The infinite has puzzled thinkers since Greek antiquity, when the Eleatic philosopher Zeno convinced many that any talk of infinity is inherently contradictory. In this course, we will look at what these alleged problems are, how they have played out in the history of mathematics, philosophy and physics, and how many of them were finally resolved in the nineteenth century. We start with Zeno’s paradoxes of motion and Aristotle’s influential view about infinite collections. After that, we’ll explore how the Aristotelian view was challenged by Newton and Leibniz’s discovery of the calculus and the development of Cantor’s transfinite arithmetic. The final section of the seminar will be devoted to Russell’s Paradox of set theory and modern views about the infinite.

This seminar is a mix between a philosophy and a mathematics class, plus a fair bit of intellectual history. Assignments will include both papers and problem sets, but we will not be doing any number crunching. We will focus on the more conceptual aspects of mathematics. There are no pre-requisites for this introductory course, but some high-school calculus would be an asset. Students who successfully complete this seminar will receive course credit for 100-level PHIL course and satisfy one half of the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement.

Ulrich Meyer is a member of the Philosophy Department, where he teaches courses in logic, philosophy of science, and metaphysics. If you are unsure whether this seminar would be right for you, or have any other questions about it, feel free to contact him via email at

PHIL 101, Intro Philosophical Problems
Acquaints students with the nature of philosophical problems and the means by which one might try to solve them. Readings and discussions are organized around perennial questions regarding the nature of morality and justice, free will, the existence of God, the meaning of life, the nature of knowledge, and the relation between mind and body.

PHIL 111, Ethics
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.

PHIL 225, Logic I
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.