Teaching

 
 
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Existentialism

This course introduces students to existentialism by guiding them through a close reading of a selection of classic texts., including works from Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, and de Beauvoir. The questions that arise in these texts probe such concepts as the individual’s existence, the self, anxiety, the nature of time, consciousness, religious experience, embodiment, rationality and irrationality, social relations, and much more. Students will be challenged to engage deeply with primary texts and to examine existentialist concepts both through theoretical and practical lenses.


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history of modern philosophy

An exploration of the writings of some of the most important thinkers in modern philosophy, including intensive study of Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Hume, Locke, Berkeley, Kant, Hegel, and Kierkegaard. Students will develop both a broad appreciation for the history of ideas and process-oriented tools for interpreting difficult philosophical texts in detail. Topics to be encountered include the nature of the self, the mind-body problem, the origins of knowledge, the intellectual history of the Enlightenment, the exquisite passion and violence of the modern Western intellect, the nature of perception, whether and in what sense the physical world exists, the limits (or limitlessness) of rationality, the nature of space and time, the nature of history, and the modern ambition toward universal knowledge and its breakdown in the individualism of existentialism.

History of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy

An exploration of the writings of some of the most important thinkers in ancient and medieval philosophy, including intensive study of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas. Students will develop both a broad appreciation for the history of ideas and process-oriented tools for interpreting difficult philosophical texts in detail. Topics to be encountered include the origin of the universe, the nature of death, the fundamentals of social organization, theory of knowledge, metaphysics, theology, and much more. This course introduces you to the Western intellectual tradition that you are inheriting in a university education.

Epistemology

“It cannot be denied that philosophical reason owes every noticeable advance it has ever made to the observations of skepticism upon the precariousness of the position where it has for the moment come to rest” (J.G. Fichte).

In this course students become acquainted with the philosophical field of epistemology, or the study of the nature of knowledge. Historically, epistemology has been motivated by the need to justify the possibility of knowledge against skeptical attacks. Skepticism is the claim that knowledge is impossible either as a whole or for some domain that is crucial for scientific, philosophical, or practical interests. In this course, you will be introduced to the main core concepts in epistemology by looking both at the history of skepticism and present-day discussions of the philosophical innovations they have inspired. Students will also think critically about living epistemology problems that we see in the daily news, such as how to discern information from disinformation, how to assess expert testimony from non-expert testimony, how to understand comments about living in a post-truth world, how to think about truth and evidence in concrete legal settings like criminal trials, and problems in knowledge engineering for AI.

Introduction to ethics

Ethics addresses overtly practical questions of universal interest about human nature and the human condition, what you should do with your time on this planet, how to find your best place in life, how you can best develop your talents in the service of virtue, and why pursuing a virtuous character is worthwhile even in the absence of external rewards. Underneath these are deeper, but nevertheless equally practically relevant, philosophical issues about the nature of luck and “fate”, the prospect of destiny, whether we can merely cope with suffering or somehow overcome it, whether there can be objective moral truths, and where such truths could originate. Creating an appreciation for the complexity of the questions of ethics, and understanding what some of the deepest thinkers have said about these issues, is one of the most important components of a well-rounded college education. In this course students examine the history of ethics, the theory of ethics, and apply these tools to rigorous thinking about present-day social and political issues from an ethical perspective.


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Puzzles and Paradoxes

Philosophy begins in wonder, and often in puzzles or even paradoxes. This course is an introduction to philosophy and theoretical reasoning through a study of puzzles and paradoxes in the context of the history of philosophy. A puzzle is a phenomenon that seems not to conform to received theories within some domain, while a paradox is an unacceptable conclusion or a contradiction derived from acceptable premises. Puzzles and paradoxes can drive new innovations in a theory: by discovering that a theory leads to paradox, we can perceive new ways to modify the theory. Some philosophers have said, therefore, that paradoxes are like laboratories in which we can test philosophical theories. Others have embraced paradoxes as pointing toward a deeper truth about reality that resists common sense. A look at the history of paradox in philosophy will draw us into problems regarding the nature of space and time, the infinite, truth, the mind, the unconscious, and the self.

humanities core course: empires and their ruins

A writing-intensive, year-long general humanities course in which students engage questions about the history and concept of empire and imperial expansion across a range of humanities disciplines, methodologies, and interpretive strategies. The course gives students the opportunity to explore various forms of academic writing in the humanities, culminating in a self-directed research project on a topic of their own choosing related to the course theme of the cycle of empire and ruin.

contemporary moral problems

This course introduces students to some philosophical questions and methods for thinking about contemporary problems facing society and the individual. Problems to be studied involve wealth and poverty, terrorism, love, marriage, individual liberty versus collective welfare, bioethics, and more, depending on student interest.

introduction to philosophy

This course introduces students to philosophy by guiding them through a close reading of a selection of classic texts, including works from Plato, Descartes, and Sartre. We will read each text with an eye toward appreciating philosophical problems and the kinds of approaches that some philosophers have taken to articulate and address those problems. Central philosophical topics will be encounetered and developed along the way, including the nature of justice, knowledge, the mind, the self, and consciousness.