Course Descriptions

Section 1

This is a list of courses offered in the current and upcoming semester, together with course descriptions specific to the instructors teaching the course.

For a list of course offerings generated by the university registrar, listing rooms, times, CRNs, and generic course descriptions from Course Explorer, click on the appropriate semester in the menu to the left.

For a list of all courses offered by the Philosophy Department, with information about how regularly they are offered, click here .



PHIL 100 - Intro to Philosophy-ACP ~ Saenz (Fall 2019)

This course introduces the student to the discipline of philosophy through many of its most important and fascinating questions. Do we know that there is an external world? Is the mind immaterial or material?Could a computer be a thinking thing? Is it possible for there to be an afterlife? Does God exist, or is the existence of evil incompatible with the existence of God?What makes an action right or wrong? Should we be Cultural Relativists about morality? In thinking about these questions, students will improve their abilities to evaluate arguments and construct arguments of their own.

This course fulfills the Advanced Composition general education requirement.

Credit is not given for both PHIL 100 and PHIL 101. Prerequisite: Completion of campus Composition I general education requirement.

PHIL 101 – Introduction to Philosophy ~ Bryan (Fall 2018 - Spring 2019)

What does it mean to be a human being? Are some ways of living better than others? What can I really know about myself and the world around me? Is there a God? Does my life have any meaning? Most of us will ask philosophical questions like these at some point in our lives. All of us will answer them. (To fail to confront these questions is itself a kind of answer). In this course, we’ll work through these and other questions together as we read classic treatments of them by influential philosophers such as Plato, Descartes, Nietzsche, and Sartre.

PHIL 101 – Introduction to Philosophy ~ Lee, Seungil (Fall 2019)

This course is an introductory level survey course that aims to inform students about some of the main philosophical ideas and controversies on various issues in philosophy of religion, ethics, philosophy of science, metaphysics, and so forth. The course includes introductory to intermediate level readings on the central themes of the aforementioned topics. The course will also provide opportunities for students to articulate and defend theses related to the topics addressed in the readings or lectures by way of authoring one short paper (1000 words max.) and one long paper (2000 words max.). There are also midterm and final exams.

PHIL 102 – Logic and Reasoning (Online Course) ~ Edwards (Summer 2019)

Practical study of logical reasoning. Involves studying informal fallacies and syllogistic logic and assessing the logical coherence of what we read and write. This course is fully online and administered via Learn@Illinois (LAS Moodle) (

PHIL 102 – Logic and Reasoning ~ Levinstein (Fall 2019)

Much of what we believe is based on argument.  This course teaches the student to better identify arguments and to evaluate them as being good or bad through the study of formal logic, informal reasoning, and fallacies.  Topics to be discussed include deduction and induction, sentential logic, categorical logic, statistical reasoning, reasoning about causes, probability theory, hypothesis testing, and decision theory.  

PHIL 103 – Logic and Reasoning (Online Course) QR II ~ Livengood (Summer 2019)

In this eight-week online course, we will be concerned with understanding what makes various kinds of argument good or bad, strong or weak. The course will be divided into two parts. The first part (weeks 1-4)will focus on deductive logic and will introduce students to zeroth-order (sentential) logic and first-order (predicate) logic. The second part (weeks 5-8)will focus on inductive logic and will introduce students to probability, statistics, and causal reasoning.

By the end of the course, students should be able to distinguish valid and invalid arguments, construct truth tables for well-formed formulas in zeroth-order logic, produce simple proofs in a natural deduction framework, apply Bayes’ Theorem to solve simple probability problems, and much more!

PHIL 103 takes a more formal, mathematical approach than does PHIL 102, and so, it satisfies a level-two quantitative reasoning general education requirement (QRII). It also satisfies a humanities general education requirement (historical and philosophical perspectives).

PHIL 103 – Logic and Reasoning QR II ~ Livengood (Fall 2019)

In this course, we will be concerned with understanding what makes various kinds of argument good or bad, strong or weak. The course will be divided into two parts. The first part will focus on deductive logic and will introduce students to zeroth-order (sentential) logic and first-order (predicate) logic. The second part will focus on inductive logic and will introduce students to probability and statistics.

By the end of the course, students should be able to distinguish valid and invalid arguments, construct truth tables for well-formed formulas in zeroth-order logic, produce simple proofs in a natural deduction framework, apply Bayes’ Theorem to solve simple probability problems, and much more!

PHIL 103 takes a more formal, mathematical approach than does PHIL 102, and so, it satisfies a level-two quantitative reasoning general education requirement (QRII). It also satisfies a humanities general education requirement (historical and philosophical perspectives).

PHIL 104 - Introduction to Ethics ACP* ~ Bojanowski (Fall 2019)

Consider the following dialogue:

Anton: “Murder is wrong because I don’t like it.”

Bert: “That’s false, for I like it.”

If the disagreement between Anton and Bert brings out what moral disagreement essentially comes down to, murder would be at best like sweet red wine; disliked by most people but liked by others. There would be nothing objectively wrong with murder. In this course we will see why this account of ethical judgments is fundamentally flawed. Moral judgments are very different from culinary judgments of taste. This will become transparent when we look at some of the most controversial contemporary ethical issues: Should we abandon privacy online in order to defend our national security? Do we have a moral obligation to help the famine stricken in poor countries? Is it wrong to eat meat? What types of contents are we allowed to share on social media? Is abortion morally permissible? Should people receive high rewards for outstanding performances if these performances depend on their natural advantages? Giving an answer to each of these questions is difficult. Yet it would be inappropriate to simply flip a coin. Instead, we need to come up with justifications for our answers. As humans we can give and ask for reasons and make our actions depend on them. These reasons track more than mere individual preferences. But what exactly do moral reasons track? What do we mean when we judge that an action is morally permissible or impermissible? What do we mean when we judge that a person’s character is good or evil? Is there a fundamental principle that underlies all our moral judgments? What does our life look like if it is governed by this fundamental moral principle? Is living a morally good life compatible with living a happy life? We are going to engage with these questions by reading some of the philosophical classics (Aristotle, Hume and Kant) as well as works by contemporary authors.  

*This course satisfies the Advanced Composition General Education Requirement

PHIL 105 – Introduction to Ethics ~ Bernal (Fall 2019)

How should we approach debates, for instance, about the status of refugees, unborn children, or prisoners? Do we have duties towards the environment, animals, natural or artificial beings (robots)? If we do, what exactly are the issues at stake and what are the most persuasive arguments for resolving the moral puzzles that the world currently faces?

This course aims to provide a broad understanding of classical ethical theories that have deeply influenced Western thought and how these theories can be applied to contemporary moral problems. To that end, the course will explore conceptions of ethics as presented in J. S. Mill’s Utilitarianism, Immanuel Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, and Bernard Williams’ Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. Critical reading of these texts will provide students with competing conceptions of how we ought to live our lives and how we should face many of the moral dilemmas that have arisen in recent years. The course will then ask students to apply the theories studied in class to contemporary problems to illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of the various arguments typically put forth in public discussions. In addition to lectures, the course will emphasize the individual development of persuasive academic writing and discussion skills. Through a variety of writing assignments, each student will have the opportunity to learn and practice how to describe, analyze and construct philosophical arguments concerning contemporary moral problems. Students will also develop the necessary skills to have thoughtful and meaningful discussion about these topics.

PHIL 106 – Ethics and Social Policy ~

Examination of the moral aspects of social problems, and a survey of ethical principles formulated to validate social policy.

PHIL 107 - Introduction to Political Philosophy ~ Bojanowski (Fall 2019)

We know injustice when we see it: slavery, serfdom, the mass-murder of the Jews, laws that privilege men over women, the death of civilians during the war in Iraq. These are a few instances of grave injustices. We know that in these cases the slaves, the serfs, the Jews, the women, and the civilians did not get what they deserve. Exploitation, murder, legal discrimination, wars of aggression are clear cases of injustice. What is less clear to us is what it is that makes a society just. How should we live our lives together in a society so that every citizen gets what he or she deserves and the benefits and burdens are justly shared? In this introductory course we will inquire into the nature of justice is by looking at historical and contemporary accounts of justice. We want to know how justice can incorporate or be balanced out against other fundamental values such as liberty, equality, solidarity, self-realization, and efficiency. Every concrete policy proposal, be it economic policy or education policy, will invoke some or all of these values. Here is a mundane example: A flat income tax rate charges every tax payer the same tax rate regardless of their income. Is this tax rate just because it is equal? Or does the demand to burden all citizens equally require unequal tax rates? We cannot decide what a just tax scheme is, before we have developed a clear and coherent view of what justice is. No statistical model and no data analysis will be able to answer this question. They can help us to develop a tax scheme that generates just results, but they cannot answer the question of why these results are just. Philosophy without these tools is inefficient. But these tools without philosophy are normatively blind. Studying the classics in political philosophy will help us see what the most fundamental principles of a just society are that inform all our particular political judgments.

PHIL 107 - Introduction to Political Philosophy ~ Varden (Spring 2019)

Because some of the best philosophical theories of justice were developed in the early modern/modern period (17th-18th c.), contemporary theorists go back to them in developing their own theories and in reflecting upon current legal-political and social affairs. In this course we will explore four of these great classical theories: Thomas Hobbes’ legal positivism; John Locke’s libertarianism, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s democratic republicanism, Immanuel Kant’s liberal republicanism, and Mary Wollstonecraft’s feminist liberal theory. More specifically, we will be exploring nature of political obligations and of political legitimacy through a close study of Hobbes’s Leviathan, Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, Rousseau’s The Social Contract and Discourse on the origin and foundations of inequality among men, Kant’s “Doctrine of Right” in The Metaphysics of Morals, and Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. In each case, we will pay special attention to questions concerning the nature of enforceable rights, why we need states, and the nature of a legitimate state. Exploring these questions through the lenses of these thinkers gives us invaluable tools with which to think through many contemporary issues – from very general ones, such as the complementary role of the legislative, judiciary, and executive powers of the state – to more specific ones, such as public education, public health care provision, sexual oppression, same-sex marriage, abortion, and poverty relief.

PHIL 109 – Religion and Society in West II ~ Rosenstock

Introduction to classic writers and texts in Western religious and social thought from the Enlightenment to the present, with emphasis on their social and historical contexts.

Same as ANTH 109, PHIL 109, and SOC 109.

PHIL 110 – World Religions ~

Survey of the leading living religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; examination of basic texts and of philosophic theological elaborations of each religion.

Same as PHIL 110. This course can be used to fulfill either Western or Nonwestern general education categories, but not both.

PHIL 191 – Freshman Honors Tutorial ~

Study of selected topics on an individually arranged basis. Open only to honors majors or to Cohn Scholars and Associates.

May be repeated one time. Prerequisite: Consent of departmental honors advisor.

PHIL 201 - Philosophy in Literature ~ Savonius-Wroth (Spring 2019)

Is there a better way for human beings to live together? In today's world, we must address this question with the courage and tenacity shown by some of the greatest ancient and modern authors. This course begins with selections from two ancient masterpieces which remain profoundly instructive: Plato's Republic and Plutarch's life of Lycurgus, the Spartan lawgiver. Plato's and Plutarch's heroes strove for a life of liberty, equality, and brotherhood—and for a mode of life which was more disciplined and rational, less erratic and desire-driven. During the course we trace the far-reaching repercussions of this ancient ideal. We explore its resonance in the Utopia by Thomas More, whose title gave us our term for dreams of a better future; and in the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, whose utopia led a far darker afterlife. We explore how the ancient hopes were crushed in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and in George Orwell's Animal Farm (the shorter and brighter twin of his Nineteen Eighty-Four). Today, must we accept as inevitable that, in Orwell's memorable phrase, "all animals are equal—but some animals are more equal than others"? Or can we escape Orwell's "Big Brother" and create a better future? In order to examine the trajectory from Plato to Orwell, students are expected to obtain hard (paper) copies of the following works: Huxley, Brave New World; Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto; Orwell, Animal Farm; and Plato, Republic. The required editions may be purchased from the Illini Union Bookstore.

PHIL 202 - Symbolic Logic ~ Kishida (Fall 2019)

We all reason, sometimes well, sometimes badly, but almost always without being self-conscious. This course aims to teach people to be self-conscious about certain aspects of their reasoning. It will concentrate on elementary reasoning involving the so-called Boolean connectives such as "and", "or", "not", and "if-then", and the so-called quantifiers such as "all" and "some". Learning about these methods will develop students' skills in abstract reasoning; reasoning about concepts and (simple) theoretical ideas. Logic is a theory of reasoning, and in learning it, students will get a feel for how theories work. This theory is a spectacular creative discovery. It provides a way to obtain a deep understanding of reasoning by simplifying actual reasoning processes in just the right way.

PHIL 203 - Ancient Philosophy ~ Sanders (Fall 2019)

This course is an introduction to philosophy in ancient Greece. The focus will be on three figures in particular: Socrates (or maybe “Socrates”), Plato, and Aristotle. Our primary goal will be to develop a critical understanding of their respective approaches to, and arguments regarding, a variety of philosophical problems.

PHIL 206 - Early Modern Philosophy ~ Weinberg (Fall 2019)

This course provides an introduction to central themes in several major philosophical figures of the 17th and 18th centuries. We will concentrate on epistemological and metaphysical issues, including the scientific turn to mechanistic explanation of causation, the nature of substance and the mind/body problem, the role of reason and the senses in knowledge, the nature of the self, and the question of freedom. The overarching theme of this course is an investigation into the limits of human understanding as undertaken in primary texts of Descartes, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume and Kant. Course requirements will include four written assignments.

PHIL 210 - Ethics ~ Ellis (Summer 2018)

Philosophers in the existentialist tradition (e.g., Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Heidegger) were concerned with the notion of authenticity and/or its close relatives (e.g., individual freedom and taking responsibility for one’s life and its value). To live an authentic life is, roughly-speaking, to commit wholeheartedly to one’s freely chosen principles. On the face of it, this sounds like the right way to live. But it also seems that there ought to be some strict moral limitations on what principles can be chosen and how wholeheartedly committed to them we are permitted to be. This course will, through classic readings and films, examine the value of authenticity and its potential moral limits. These are just a few of the questions we will ask:

What does it mean to live an authentic life?
Why is authenticity valuable? And is it a moral value?
What is the relationship between authenticity and freedom?
Does living an authentic life require rejecting universal moral principles?
Can morally bad people live authentic lives?

Some of the authors we’ll look at: Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hazel Barnes, Martin Heidegger, Albert Camus, Charles Taylor

PHIL 210 - Ethics - Violence, Deception, and Oppression ~ Varden (Fall 2018)

There is little disagreement that, in general, we should not kill, lie, or torture. There is much more disagreement and confusion about whether or not there are exceptions to these rules. There is also little disagreement that we should not oppress others. Yet our societies are rife with phenomena such as racism, sexism, and heterosexism, all seemingly exceptions to the general rule not to engage in oppression. Is there a similar disagreement and confusion about whether those exceptions are justified? In this course we will explore a series of contemporary writings on these and closely related topics, such as killing in self-defense, lying, abortion, war and genocide, racist and sexual violence, terrorism, and torture.

PHIL 214 - Biomedical Ethics ~ Sussman (Fall 2019)  

This class will explore special moral and metaphysical problems that arise in medical contexts, often as a result of new technologies and scientific understandings. Many of these problems concern the beginning, end, and value of a human life. We will consider when and why a being has moral significance, and how different answers to these questions bear on the ethical and legal status of contraception, in-vitro fertilization, abortion, and infanticide. We will also look at arguments about how to distribute scarce medical resources, especially organs for transplant. Are people entitled take their organs to the grave, or to sell them to the highest bidder? When deciding who should receive an organ, should we take into account the expected “quality-of-life” of a potential recipient, or the extent to which they are responsible for their medical predicament? Turning to end-of-life issues, we will investigate when, morally speaking, a person’s life ends, and just what, exactly, is so bad about death in the first place. Could a person ever be better-off dead, and do we have any moral obligations to those who have died? Is physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia ever morally permissible: and if so, under what conditions? How should we respond to the needs, wishes, and advance directives of those suffering severe forms of dementia and memory loss? These issues will involve reflection on the nature of impairment and disability more generally. To what extent should disabilities be seen as disorders to be cured, or rather as conditions to be accepted and accommodated as parts of normal human diversity? Would there be anything wrong with using genetic technologies to prevent such disabilities, or to “enhance” our children in various other ways?

PHIL 250 - Conceptions of Human Nature ~ Varden (Fall 2019)

This course starts by exploring three important theories of human nature in the history of philosophy, those of Hobbes, Rousseau, and Kant. We will examine how these accounts explain emotions, self-consciousness, evil, and moral (ethical and legal) responsibility, all crucially relevant aspects of human nature. We will also pay attention to the way in which these theories are such that different groups of human beings end up unequal in various ways. Given what we have discovered in these historical accounts, we will then look at contemporary discussions of diversity and dehumanization, namely sexism, racism, and aggression against members of the LGBTQIA community.

PHIL 270 - Philosophy of Science ~

PHIL 270 is an introductory level survey course that aims to inform students about the
main philosophical positions, and the main philosophical controversies on various issues
in analytic philosophy of science. The course includes introductory level readings on the
central themes of philosophy of science from leading voices in the discipline. The course
provides an opportunity for students to articulate and defend a thesis related to the topics
addressed in the readings or lectures by way of authoring one argumentative research

PHIL 307 - Elements Semantics & Pragmatics ~ Schreiner

Introduction to the theory of meaning for natural language, including techniques for the description of lexical meaning, compositional determination of phrase and sentence meaning, and pragmatic effects on interpretation in context.

PHIL 316 – Ethics and Engineering ~ Hillmer (Spring 2019)


“Ethics and Engineering” is a broad-ranging course in moral theory and practice, open to all disciplines and all majors. The principles studied throughout the semester are applicable to all career paths, and all who are interested are welcome to be members of the class. The course will be structured in three interrelated parts — (1) an introduction to the central themes of the course, (2) a focused study of normative ethics, and (3) an exploration of ethical issues in the practice of a profession, applied in the vocational context of the discipline of engineering (including safety and liability, professional responsibility to clients and employers, legal obligations, codes of ethics, and career choice). As a course in philosophy, one of the primary objectives of our journey together will be to explore the fundamental structure of human personhood, the grounding of moral action, and the development of moral character as a precondition of integral work in a profession — and the essential foundation necessary for our life together in society. 

The course fulfills credit as an upper-division class in advanced composition, for which the University of Illinois requires twenty to thirty pages of revised writing as a minimum standard.  In order to fulfill this requirement, each member of the class will write and revise a personal mission statement reflecting on your life work and career path (three pages), two response papers — an initial article analysis (three pages) and a substantive paper on normative ethical theories (five pages) — plus a final research paper of your own choosing (nine pages or more in length). All members of the course will also give a five-minute presentation on their research project at the end of the semester, followed by questions from the class. The research paper and class presentation function together as the final examination for the course. Prerequisites: Junior standing and Rhetoric 105. The term “junior standing” means that the course will be taught at the level of an upper-division class in Philosophy and Advanced Composition, and that every enrolled member of the course is willing and able to work at the level necessary to fulfill these University requirements.

PHIL 380 - Current Controversies ~ Murphy (Fall 2019)

Philosophical examination of positions taken on some issues of current concern, including the morality of war, climate justice, reparations for historic injustice, and distributive justice at the state and global levels.

See Class Schedule for current topics. May be repeated with approval.

PHIL 390 - Individual Study ~

Readings in selected philosophical topics. Course may be taken by honors students in partial fulfillment of department honors requirements.

May be repeated to a maximum of 6 hours in separate terms. Prerequisite: Open to juniors and seniors with a grade-point average of 3.0 only by prior arrangement with a member of the faculty and with consent of the department director of undergraduate studies or the chair.

PHIL 404 - History of Medieval Philosophy ~ Wengert (Fall 2018)

This course is an introduction to the history of philosophy in the middle ages.  We shall cover the period from the end of the Classical period to the fifteenth century.  We shall use Anthony Kenny’s Medieval Philosophy as an over-arching guide to philosophy in the middle ages. We shall read the authors themselves in selections that occur in the other text, Philosophy in the Middle Ages, 3rd edition, edited by Hyman, Walsh and Williams.  Both of these texts are in paper. Kenny’s text is available on Kindle. There will also be a set of outlines and other material available on the Compass web site for the course.

We shall concentrate on philosophical issues, but it will be impossible to separate these completely from religious and theological matters.  We will spend most time on Scholastic figures such as Aquinas, Scotus and Ockham.

Students will be required to write two papers.  The first paper will be short (5 pp), and students will be allowed to rewrite it.  The second paper will be longer (10pp or more) and on a topic of your choice. There will also be a small research assignment.

There will be a take-home final examination, but no midterm.

Texts:  Medieval Philosophy: A New History of Western Philosophy, Volume 2, by Anthony Kenny, Oxford University Press (Paperback, 2007)

ISBN-13: 978-0198752745

Philosophy in the Middle Ages: The Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Traditionsby Arthur Hyman, James J. Walsh, and Thomas Williams (Paperback- 2010) Third Edition Hackett Publishing Co.


--Both texts are also available on Kindle.

PHIL 410 - Classical Ancient Philosophers ~

For roughly 2/3 of the semester, we will use ancient accounts of Socrates’ trial to structure our investigation into the historical figure of Socrates and his cultural/philosophical milieu. The last 1/3 of the semester will be largely devoted to a look at some of Plato’s so-called “Socratic” dialogues and key issues in the “philosophy of Socrates” as represented therein. If time permits, we will also look briefly at the reception of Socrates by a selection of later philosophers.

PHIL 412 - Locke and Leibniz ~ Weinberg (Fall 2018)

John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding was the most widely read philosophical text in English from the end of the seventeenth century through most of the eighteenth century. Locke is also known as the first of the great British empiricists following the widespread influence of Cartesian rationalism. Indeed, G.W. Leibniz, one of the most philosophically rich of the seventeenth century rationalists felt it necessary to rebut Locke paragraph by paragraph in one of his best works entitled New Essays on Human Understanding. This course focuses on Locke’s empiricist arguments in the Essay against innate ideas, the nature and empirical origins of knowledge, a reply to the Cartesian skeptic, mechanistic explanation, the nature of substance, personal identity, and moral motivation and then considers Leibniz’s rationalist criticisms and responses in light of his own philosophical project as found in the New Essays and other of Leibniz’s work. Course requirements may include: a series of (2-3) short 1-2 page papers; one 5-7 page paper, and a final 10-12 page paper.

PHIL 412 - Classical Modern Philosophers ~ Newton (Fall 2018)

Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment is a remarkable and influential study of two kinds of judgment: judgments about beauty (in nature and in art) and judgments about organisms. In this course we will read and interpret the entire book, with an emphasis on the following topics. First, what sort of judgments are aesthetic judgments (judgments about beauty) and teleological judgments (judgments about organisms)? Second, how do Kant’s discussions of beauty and of organic nature contribute to his overall project in the third Critique of bridging the gap between nature and freedom, or between theoretical and practical employments of reason? Finally, why does the possibility of realizing freedom in nature lead Kant to think of the whole of nature as a system of purposes?

PHIL 412 - Modern Women Philosophers ~ Weinberg (Spring 2019)

In this course, we will consider philosophical views in metaphysics, epistemology, education, freedom, politics, and bias by women philosophers primarily of the 17th-18th centuries, and also some works from the 19th and 20th centuries. Many, if not most, of these views have been ignored throughout the history of philosophy, mostly due to the dominance of men in virtually all aspects of intellectual and academic life. Only very recently has there been a concerted effort in professional philosophy to rediscover the philosophical writings of women and to reinterpret the historical philosophical canon to appropriately represent them.

Evaluation will be by a series of short papers and a longer paper. One previous course in philosophy is required.

PHIL 414 - Recent Modern Philosophers ~ Saenz (Fall 2019)

Alvin Plantinga - In addition to making substantial contributions in metaphysics and epistemology, Alvin Plantinga is perhaps the most important philosopher of religion in the 20th century. In this course, we will take a look at his work in the philosophy of religion. In particular, we will look at his work on how we come to have religious knowledge, on the value and substance of arguments in favor of the existence of God, and on how religion and science interact.

PHIL 419 – Space, Time, and Matter-ACP ~ Weaver (Fall 2018)

Space, Time, and Matter is an advanced and intensive history and philosophy of physics course that aims to (a) introduce students to the history of both theoretical and experimental physics (more specifically we will travel from Aristotle’s physics all the way to the development of the standard model of particle physics), (b) briefly introduce students to the basic formulae and accompanying (sometimes competing interpretations) of classical Newtonian mechanics, classical electrodynamics (both 3- vector and relativistic versions), thermodynamics, (classical) Boltzmannian statistical mechanics, special relativity, general relativity, the standard L-CDM cosmological model, and both non-relativistic and relativistic quantum mechanics, (c) introduce students to debates in the foundations of physics, and (d) give special attention to philosophical debates concerning scientific realism and anti-realism, the relationship between the manifest and scientific images, and the nature of space and time.

PHIL 420 – Space, Time, and Matter ~ Weaver (Fall 2018)

Space, Time, and Matter is an advanced and intensive history and philosophy of physics course that aims to (a) introduce students to the history of both theoretical and experimental physics (more specifically we will travel from Aristotle’s physics all the way to the development of the standard model of particle physics), (b) briefly introduce students to the basic formulae and accompanying (sometimes competing interpretations) of classical Newtonian mechanics, classical electrodynamics (both 3- vector and relativistic versions), thermodynamics, (classical) Boltzmannian statistical mechanics, special relativity, general relativity, the standard L-CDM cosmological model, and both non-relativistic and relativistic quantum mechanics, (c) introduce students to debates in the foundations of physics, and (d) give special attention to philosophical debates concerning scientific realism and anti-realism, the relationship between the manifest and scientific images, and the nature of space and time.

PHIL 421 – Ethical Theories ~ Bojanowski

Karl Marx's utopian communism and Nicolo Machiavelli's political realism both hold that ethics and politics have to be separated. Ethics is merely the study of the morally good character. Politics, by contrast, is about the structure of political, social, and financial institutions. For Marx changing people's ethical beliefs will not deliver real political change. This change can only come about by changing the economical structure of the society. Machiavelli's reasons for holding that ethics and politics have to be separated are different. He believed that in politics we often have to get our hands dirty; we have to do what is morally wrong in order to do what is politically right. Hence ethics and politics require very different normative standards. In this course we are going to see why both Marx's and Machiavelli's views are incoherent. Their limitation of the scope of ethics has led to its marginalization. This marginalization is detrimental to political culture. Politics is merely seen as a problem of social engineering and administration. We shall focus on those ethical theories that argue that political thought is fundamentally nothing other than ethical thought.

PHIL 422 – Recent Developments in Ethics: Animals and the Environment ~ Sussman (Fall 2019)

This class will investigate ethical issues concerning non-human life and living systems. We will consider whether being a member of the human species is itself morally significant, or if such “speciesism” is a prejudice akin to racism or sexism. Do any non-human beings have moral rights, or do they matter morally in some other way? How should we act when the interests of such beings come into conflict with our own? A central question will be how far a concern for the environment should be grounded in human interests (and perhaps those of animals), or if we might have moral obligations to plants, ecosystems, or even nature as a whole. Should wild animals be any more (or less) important to us than domesticated ones, or members of invasive or non-indigenous species? Is there anything inherently bad about a species becoming extinct? Should we try to return ecosystems to their condition prior to human interference, or does the desire to preserve and restore the environment depend, to some extent, on an obsolete metaphysics or an objectionable misanthropy?

PHIL 424 - Philosophy of Religion ~

Arguing about gods: This course aims to guide students through a critical evaluation of contemporary arguments for atheism and arguments for both monotheistic and non-monotheistic deities, discussions of the coherence of theism, and various replies to arguments for the existence of deities.

PHIL 425 - Philosophy of Mind ~ Del Pinal (Fall 2019)

This course will explore several foundational questions about the nature of the mind and higher-cognition raised by recent advances in the cognitive sciences. The course will revolve around three main themes: (i) What are the empirical and philosophical advantages and disadvantages of the major ways of modeling the "mind as a computer", i.e., as an information processing system? (ii) Is there a language of thought---i.e., a representational system that enables `thinking'---and if so, what are its basic architectural properties? Does the language of thought differ across cognitive domains such as linguistic vs spatial cognition? (iii) What can we learn about the computational architecture of the mind, and the properties of the language(s) of thought, from recent findings about how human learning in specific domains such as learning natural languages, numerical cognition, and information about the physical world?

PHIL 426 - Metaphysics ~ Wagner (Spring 2019)

    1. The chapter “Persons” from Peter Strawson’s classic Individuals (1959). What is a person? How do we conceive of a human being as having both mental and bodily attributes — your thoughts and states of mind on the one hand, your weight, shape, etc., on the other? Are these two conceptions we put together, or elements abstracted from an inescapable unitary notion?
    2. Two short books by Hilary Putnam (1926-2016; one of the great philosophers of the past 100 years), Ethics without Ontology and The Collapse of the Fact-Value Distinction. These range over a number of basic themes in philosophy, but the core issue is natural science versus ethics-politics. Does only the former “describe reality”? Are both capable of giving us “objective truth”? Etc.. Here we may also have some supplementary readings, e.g. by Strawson and W. V. Quine (1908-2000).
    3. A careful look at a debate on whether our most fundamental beliefs, such as those of elementary logic and mathematics, or the existence of ordinary material objects, or of our selves, could in principle be overthrown by evidence. (The classic example is the Parallel Postulate in Euclidean geometry, held as obvious, even as necessary to human representations of space, for many centuries, known since Einstein to be false.) Our source is fairly recent articles by Putnam and others, including Gary Ebbs formerly of this philosophy department.

    Course requirements will be one shorter paper (5-6 pp.) roughly mid-term, then a longer final one (10-12 pp.). There will also be regular small, ungraded assignments to keep you involved and thinking.

PHIL 429 - Value Theory ~

This course will consider what is is for something to be good. Is there anything interesting that all good things have in common, such as a special natural or non-natural property, or is talk of goodness nothing more than an expression of desire, approval, or preference? Must all good be good for somebody or something? Is anything objectively good, or are all goods relative to a person or a community? Must agents see their own ends as good, or is the good something we might coherently reject or rebel against? We will be particularly concerned with the nature of moral goods, and how they might be related to other kinds of goods we recognize. Can all goods be rationally compared, and do pleasure or happiness have a special role in such reflections? How far can we partake in non-moral goods without ourselves being morally good? Can something be truly beautiful or pleasant if it is also wicked?

PHIL 430 - Theory of Knowledge ~ Levinstein (Fall 2018)

This class is an introductory survey of (mostly contemporary) epistemology: the theory of knowledge and rational belief. We’ll discuss a wide range of topics, including: the possibility that we are brains in vats; whether the concept of knowledge can be fully analyzed; what makes a belief rational or justified; the relationship between belief, partial belief, and probability; how rational belief relates to evidence; and whether two fully rational people can ever disagree if they have the same evidence.

PHIL 435 - Social Philosophy ~

What are the characteristics of a genuinely civilized, enlightened society? Can we hope to create it? Do we have good recipes for wholesale social improvement, or would a civilized society be, not a system created by social engineers, but simply an aggregation of civilized individuals? Does our hope for a more enlightened society lie in "progress" and "development", or have we reached the point where "development" has become degeneration? Does enlightenment entail, not a progressive movement in a forward direction, but rather a return to such neglected riches of our intellectual heritage as "liberty, equality, fraternity"? This course is concerned with two strongly contrasting ways of thinking about enlightenment and a genuinely civilized society. The first way has become hegemonic. Current orthodoxy, especially in Anglophone social philosophy, invites us to think of the ideal society and the freedom of its individual citizens in liberal terms inherited from the early-modern works of Thomas Hobbes and Bernard Mandeville. However, we have also inherited a rival republican way of thinking, originally classical Greek and Roman, but developed in the early-modern works of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This course begins with a survey of the classical arguments of Aristotle and Cicero. Then we trace the early-modern evolution of the rival enlightenments of Hobbes and Mandeville, and of Locke and Rousseau. We conclude by assessing the relative merits of thinking about social improvement in these rival ways. Students are expected to obtain hard (paper) copies of the following works, available for purchase in the Illini Union Bookstore: Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Richard Tuck (Cambridge); Locke, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge); Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees and Other Writings, ed. E.J. Hundert (Indianapolis); and Rousseau, The Discourses and Other Early Political Writings, ed. and trans. Victor Gourevitch (Cambridge).

PHIL 436 - The Philosophy of Law and the State ~ Varden (Fall 2019)

Virtually every liberal state has some sort of coercive redistribution of resources (welfare) in order to help those in need. In Anarchy, State and Utopia, Robert Nozick famously argues that we cannot justify any coercive redistribution of resources beyond that required for each person, through employment, to have access to an original fair share of the material resources. Any further redistribution must come through voluntary charity and gifts even if this entails that some do not have their basic needs met. This view has been, and currently is, both fiercely attacked and fiercely defended in contemporary liberal theory and political life. In this course, we will take a fresh look at this discussion. We will begin by exploring the John Locke’s liberal theories of justice as it sets the stage for much of the contemporary discussion. We will pay special attention to why liberal theories—because they are grounded in individual rights and freedom—find it particularly challenging to justify coercive redistribution of material resources in response to need. We will then consider and evaluate the success of four contemporary treatments of the problem found in the liberal theories of Robert Nozick, A. John Simmons, (the later) John Rawls, and contemporary Kantians.

PHIL 438 - Philosophy of Language ~ Frank (Spring 2019)

How do words and sentences acquire meaning? What is the relation betweenthought and language?How do words relate to objects to enable us to say anything about them? What is the difference between the meaning of a sentence and what we are able to communicate by its use? This course will focus on philosophy of language from the early 20th century to the present day. Philosophers such as Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Grice, Kripke, Putnam, and others will be read and discussed.

PHIL 439 - Philosophy of Mathematics ~

We shall discuss some basic issues in the foundations and philosophy of mathematics.  The basic philosophical issues concern the nature of mathematical truth and the possibility and conditions of mathematical knowledge.  Among the questions to be considered are the following: are the theorems of pure mathematics objectively true or false, independently of the mental? If so, what makes them true or false? In particular, are there specifically “mathematical” objects and, if so, how can we know about them? Are there properly basic concepts in mathematics – concepts from which all other mathematical notions can somehow be derived – and, if so, what are they? In particular, does a theory unfolding the concept of a set or class provide   a satisfactory foundation for mathematics? Are there limits to our mathematical knowledge?  Finally, we will join an ongoing discussion sparked by the logician Kurt Gödel, who famously claimed “Either mathematics is too big for the human mind, or the human mind is more than a machine.”

PHIL 441 - Philosophy of Mathematics ~ Schroeder (Spring 2019)

Philosophy 441:  Existentialism

Special Focus:  Early Sartre contrasted with de Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, and Heidegger

In this course  the most interesting sections of Jean-Paul Sartre’s first major treatise, Being and Nothingness, will be given a close reading, analysis, and critique.  In addition, the main features of his early works on Emotions, Imagination, and the Ego will be explored, as will his essay on humanism.  In addition to Sartre, contrasting theories on certain topics will be explored from Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty and de Beauvoir.  However the main readings will be the more accessible sections of Being and Nothingness and some of Sartre’s key works of literature:  Nausea; No Exit; The Flies; and Dirty Hands.  The major works of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty and de Beauvoir will be available, but only as suggested (optional) readings.  Every effort will be made to keep the readings accessible and manageable, and Sartre’s difficult terminology will be explained as the course proceeds. 

The topics that will be considered in some depth are the self, emotions, imagination, self-deception, the body, intersubjectivity, concrete relations with others (e.g., love, sexual desire, hatred), freedom, existential psychoanalysis, and authenticity/ethics, and dialectical approaches to social theory.    

Main requirements for the course include one term paper (10-12 pages), a midterm, and a final exam.  The term paper will require expository, critical, and creative thinking components in equal measure. 

The course is intended for advanced undergraduates and philosophy majors, but graduate students in other disciplines and in philosophy are welcome to enroll. 

Texts include Existentialism is a Humanism; Transcendence of the Ego; Nausea; selections from Being and Nothingness; Search for a Method; No Exit and Other Plays.

PHIL 443 - Phenomenology ~

This course is an introduction to the twentieth century movement of European philosophy known as ‘phenomenology’. Phenomenology literally translates as the study (logos) of the way things appear (phenomena), but the phenomenologists tried to distinguish their method of investigating appearances both from empirical psychology and from the transcendental methods of traditional metaphysics. In this course, we will focus on two main themes in the writings of authors from within the phenomenological tradition. In the first half of the course, we will look at phenomenological conceptions of the self and of self-awareness. In the second half, we will study the phenomenology of action and of intention in action.

PHIL 453 - Formal Logic and Philosophy ~ Levinstein (Spring 2019)

This class is a broad overview of “philosophically useful” logic. We have three main goals: (1) To gain fluency in reading and constructing proofs using natural deduction, axiomatic systems, and sequent calculi, (2) To achieve a basic understanding of logical consequence, soundness, and completeness, (3) To become acquainted with alternative logics involving non-truth-functional operators.

PHIL 454 - Advanced Symbolic Logic ~

This course is intended to provide the logical foundation necessary for understanding, and engaging with, contemporary philosophical writing. Though the approach and content will be quite formal, many of the logical systems to be considered are motivated by philosophical concerns, and these will also be discussed. In addition to standard propositional and first-order logic, we will look at, for example, intuitionistic logics, multi-valued logics, modal logics, and logics for counterfactuals, as well as extensions thereof. Prerequisite: Phil 202 or permission of the instructor.

PHIL 471 - Contemporary Philosophy of Science ~ Weaver (Spring 2019)

The History and Foundations of Statistical Mechanics: This course will explore the history, and foundations of statistical mechanics, paying close attention to the development of Boltzmannian statistical mechanics, the reduction of thermodynamics to statistical mechanics, and the problem of the arrow of time.

PHIL 477 - Philosophy of Psychology ~ Livengood (Fall 2019)

Philosophy of psychology covers a large range of issues having to do with the study of cognition, mental representation, perception, and consciousness. In this course, we will be concerned with several interrelated foundational, conceptual, and methodological issues in psychology, including the goals of psychology, the significance of measurement, nativism and the relative importance of nature and nurture, the status of folk psychology, the relationship between psychology and neuroscience, the nature of (psychological) mechanism, the replicability crisis and related issues having to do with probability, hypothesis testing, Bayesianism, and causal reasoning, the contents of mental representations, and the nature of consciousness.

PHIL 492 - Thesis

PHIL 501 - Seminar on the History of Philosophy ~ Sanders (Spring 2019)


In this course, we will use ancient accounts of Socrates’ trial to structure our investigation into the historicalperson and philosophy of Socrates, as well as ofhis cultural/intellectualmilieu.In addition to a close reading of Plato’s Apology, primary sources will includeselections from other Platonic dialogues, large chunks of Xenophon’s Socratic writings, Aristophanes’ Clouds, and relevant fragments fromso-called “Minor Socratics” (all in English translation).

PHIL 501 - Seminar on Early Modern Philosophy ~ Weinberg (Fall 2019)

In this course, we will consider issues in the philosophy of mind, epistemology, and their intersection primarily in Locke, but also in other early modern figures. First, we will investigate the nature of consciousness in relation to other perceptual acts in Descartes, Arnauld, Malebranche, and Locke, as well as problems and solutions in the intersection of the logic of ideas, signification, and knowledge in Descartes, Locke, and the Port Royal logic. Second, we will investigate the nature of testimony both in terms of the natural and religious epistemologies in Locke, Hume, and Reid. In both cases, we will look to later and contemporary views to better understand what the early modern figures might have been thinking.

(Although I do not see the overall issues in the course changing dramatically, I will be working out the details over the summer. Thus, it may evolve somewhat from what is here. Please feel free to contact me later in the summer to find out more, if you are interested.)

PHIL 511 - Seminar Ethical Theory: Response-Dependence in the Moral Philosophy of the 18th & 20th Centuries ~ Ben-Moshe (Fall 2019)

For those who embrace a naturalistic picture of the world and are skeptical about the prospects of meta-ethical realism, an answer to the question of what accounts for the correctness of moral judgment has proven to be elusive. Assuming one wishes to avoid subjectivism and relativism, one could opt for the position that it is the responses of agents who are under certain conditions that constitutes what is morally right. In this course, we will examine some of the contemporary guises of this manner of thinking about moral judgment as well as its historical roots. We will commence the course by examining 20th century projectivism, dispositional theories of value, ideal observer theory, and sensibility theory, as well as criticisms of these theories. We will then return to the 18th century and consider David Hume’s and Adam Smith’s sentimentalism, according to which being under the relevant conditions (Hume's "general point of view" and Smith's "impartial spectator") makes the objects of spectators’ sentiments of approval and disapproval—which arise from sympathetic reactions with the actor or with those affected by his actions—merit that approval or disapproval. Time permitting, we will conclude the course by considering the prospects of a sentimentalist account of "humanity."

PHIL 512 - Seminar in Social Philosophy: Theories of Justice ~ Murphy (Fall 2018)

This seminar focuses on justice. We examine historical and contemporary accounts of justice in general, as well as accounts of particular kinds of justice.  The particular kinds of justice upon which we focus are: distributive justice, corrective justice, retributive justice, international justice, and transitional justice.

PHIL 517 - Philosophy [and Metaphysics] of Physical Science ~

Singular deterministic causation, says orthodoxy, is an asymmetric, transitive, irreflexive, two-place relation between events. There is hardly any agreement on anything else in the literature, and there are substantial objections to orthodoxy. There is, of course, more to uncover even after accepting orthodoxy. For example, what is the place of causation in physics and the special sciences? How does causation relate to laws of nature? Is causation universal? Is it well-founded (is there a first-cause)? Does causation reduce to law-governed non-causal physical history, or is it in some sense fundamental? Beginning with substantial discussion of metaphysical methodology (particularly how metaphysics relates to fundamental inquiry in physics), PHIL 517 will explore these and related questions.

PHIL 521 - Composition ~ Saenz (Fall 2018)

Questions about parts and wholes are ubiquitous in metaphysics. Indeed, one of the central metaphysical questions of the past three decades or so is the following: under what conditions do some things compose another? In this class, we will examine the existence, nature, and import of composition. We will, among others, ask and try to answer ‘What is composition?’, ‘Is composition identity?’, ‘Are there any composite entities?’, ‘Is composition fundamental?’, ‘Is composition a natural relation?’, ‘Is composition a dependence relation?’, and ‘How do composition and grounding relate?’. Along the way, we will be forced to examine issues surrounding parthood, identity, plural logic, fundamentality, grounding, and naturalness.

PHIL 530 – Writing Seminar ~

The course will serve as a workshop in which advanced graduate students develop, present, and discuss material that will ultimately be included in their dissertations. One central objective of the course is to learn the necessary skills for developing papers and dissertation chapters into articles that are suitable for submission to conference and journals. Class meetings will be structured around conference-style presentations and intensive workshopping of the presented papers.

PHIL        583         Individual Topics

PHIL        590         Directed Research

PHIL        599         Thesis Research