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 ~ Weinberg (Spring 2019)

This course introduces the student to the discipline of philosophy through many of its most important and fascinating questions.  What is knowledge and what are its limits?  Do humans have free will?  Is the mind immaterial or material?  Could a computer be a thinking thing?  What is it to be a person?  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?  Is abortion morally permissible?  Do we have a moral duty to donate to charity or to provide aid to those much worse off than ourselves?  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 2018 - Spring 2019)

This class is an introduction to some of the major problems in philosophy, including: whether we can obtain knowledge about the world, whether the mind and the body could be independent of each other, whether material objects are mere bundles of qualities, whether time really flows, whether God exists, and whether we could make sense of human rights without God. By trying to answer these questions, you will learn how to support your views with rational arguments, which will be incredibly important regardless of the field you choose.

PHIL 102 – Logic and Reasoning (Online Course) ~ Edwards (Fall 2018 - Spring 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 ~ Frank (Fall 2018 - Spring 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 QR II~ Levinstein (Fall 2018)

Logic and Reasoning is an introductory logic course concerned with understanding the goodness (or badness) of various kinds of argument. The course is divided into two units: Basic Logic and Basic Probability Theory. The course takes a more formal, mathematical approach than PHIL 102, so it satisfies a level-two quantitative reasoning requirement (QRII).

PHIL 103 – Logic and Reasoning QR II~ Weaver (Spring 2019)

The first half of the course is an introduction to critical thinking, fallacies in reasoning, inductive inference, and causal inference. The second half of the course is a bare-bones introduction to classical propositional logic, and some classical predicate logic.

PHIL 104 - Introduction to Ethics ACP* ~ Bryan (Fall 2018)

In this course we’ll consider a variety of important questions about how we should live: What would be the best kind of life for me? Is the good life connected to what I feel or want—a life of pleasure or the satisfaction of my desires? Or is it something more objective? And what would be morally right way for me to live? Is morality about maximizing good consequences? Are some things just plain wrong, even if they produce good results? Is morality really all about character? How, if at all, is morality related to God? How should we think about particular moral problems like poverty, abortion, or the moral status of animals?

PHIL 104 - Introduction to Ethics ACP* ~ Sussman (Spring 2019)

This course will consider some basic questions about the nature of morality and the place that moral concerns should have in our lives. We will see if there is any fundamental principle that explains why an act is morally right or wrong, and whether any such principle can really have the authority that morality claims. Is morality only concerned with promoting happiness and preventing misery, or might there be acts that are right or wrong regardless of their consequences? Is there any important difference between doing something bad and merely allowing it to happen? Must an immoral person be ignorant, short-sighted, or irrational in any significant way? We will also look at more specific problems raised by such issues as abortion, the treatment of animals, global poverty, having children, and torture. Readings from contemporary and historical sources.

*This course satisfies the Advanced Composition General Education Requirement

PHIL 105 – Introduction to Ethics ~ Smith (Fall 2018 - Spring 2019)

This course is an introduction to ethical theory, understood as the philosophical study of morality. We will start by getting a sense of how to do philosophy in general before briefly engaging with some foundational issues in ethical theory. Then, we will move on to discussing three prominent approaches to ethical theory: utilitarianism, Kantianism, and Aristotelian virtue ethics. In addition, at various points in the course we will also consider moral questions having to do with particular issues of contemporary concern, such as famine relief, pornography, and abortion.

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 ~ S-J Savonius-Wroth (Fall 2018)

Political philosophy invites the student to reflect on what is, and what has been, really going on in our society and civilization beneath the surface of routine politics. It is a field of study flanked by moral philosophy, on the one hand, and by inquiry into human nature, on the other. The key task which distinguishes political philosophy from cognate fields is the appraisal of what is politically possible in any concrete historical setting. What ideals are imaginable and seem viable in a particular context? Is there a practical alternative to our existing civilization? How can we make a case in its favor and a case against it? This course begins with Thomas More's Utopia of 1516, a classic work which has entered our culture so deeply that its title has become an accepted term for dreams of a better future. The course then traces the subsequent historical evolution of central concepts: state and revolution, liberty and right, capitalism and communism, political corruption and virtue. There will be weekly reading assignments in selections from works by major thinkers. The required textbook is David Wootton, ed., Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche (2nd edn, Indianapolis: Hackett, 2008).

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 ~ Weaver (Fall 2018)

PHIL 202 Symbolic Logic immerses students in classical propositional logic, and classical first-order logic with relational predicates, identity, and definite descriptions (i.e., one will learn how to use the iota operator).

PHIL 202 - Symbolic Logic ~ Levinstein (Spring 2019)

When is it rational to infer one claim from others? The discipline of Logic aims to answer this question and others concerning the rich patterns of inference and reasoning that emerge upon further study. Formal Logic approaches these questions using some mathematical techniques that we will meet and begin to master in this course. In particular, we will study a powerful artificial language called First-Order Logic (FoL) that will allow us to precisely formulate the concepts of proof, truth and valid inference. FoL has been of immense foundational importance to mathematics, philosophy, computer science, linguistics and artificial intelligence, and so through FoL we will be encountering ideas of interest to all of these disciplines. Our study of FoL will focus on using it to represent and evaluate the inferences we normally express in ordinary English and other natural languages. Throughout the course we will rely heavily on the interactive computer software included with the textbook to solidify the understanding of logic that can be achieved by studying FoL.

PHIL 203 - Ancient Philosophy ~ Sanders (Fall 2018)

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 2018)

What is the relation between mind and world? What can we know with certainty and how reliable are our scientific explanations?What is the role of reason and of the senses in the attainment of knowledge?In this course, we will attempt to answer these metaphysical andepistemologicalquestions by focusing on the major philosophical figures of the 17thand 18thcenturies. The overarching theme of the course is an investigation into skepticism and the nature of human understanding as undertaken by the rationalists (Descartes and Leibniz), the empiricists (Locke, Berkeley, and Hume), and Kant.

PHIL 206 - Early Modern Philosophy ~ Frank (Spring 2019)

What is knowledge and what are the limits of what we can know? What is the mind and how does it relate to the external world? On what does our continued personal identity depend? Are there both material and mental substances, or is all of reality of one kind?This course will investigate these and related questions throughclassic texts of 17th and 18th century thinkers, from rationalists (Descartes, Leibniz) and empiricists (Locke, Berkeley, Hume) to Kant.

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 ~ Bryan (Spring 2019)  

In this course, we'll discuss some of the many pressing moral problems raised by our medical practices: What kinds of moral duties do doctors have to their patients? What kinds of information must patients have in order for their consent to be morally significant? How do we think about treatment at the beginning and end of life, when patients have not yet developed rational capacities or they have deteriorated? What obligations, if any, do we have to fetuses? What about people in persistent vegetative states? What is it morally acceptable for people who do have their rational faculties to do to their own bodies? May they sell body parts (their kidneys, for instance)? May they end their own lives?

PHIL 250 - Conceptions of Human Nature ~ Newton (Fall 2018)

This course will examine various theories of human nature, from ancient to modern times. We will begin with Plato and Aristotle, for whom we share with non-rational animals both perception and desire, but differ from them due to our intellect (reason). We will then look at the various ways in which modern thinkers (from Hume and Descartes to Kant) reflect on and revise the traditional definition of man as a‘rational animal’. Finally, we will look at Heidegger’s and Sartre’s radical transformations of the concept of the human.

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 ~

Topic: Philosophy of Sex, Love, and Gender.

This course focuses on central themes explored in historical and current research on the philosophy of sex, love, and gender. We will look at a set of issues, namely embodiment, gender and sexual identity and orientation, marriage, sexual violence, trade in sexual services, and oppression. Among the philosophers whose works we will engage are Nancy Bauer, Talia Bettcher, Simone de Beauvoir, Judith Butler, Annie Cahill, Ann Cudd, Penelope Deutscher, Elizabeth Emens, Michel Foucault, Carol Hay, Barbara Herman, Cressida Heyes, Rae Langton, Rachel McKinnon, Martha Nussbaum, Laurie Shrage, Anita Superson, and Shay Welsh.

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 - Major Recent Philosophers ~ Varden (Spring 2019)

Topic: Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt was one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century. The importance of her work and influence on political philosophy cannot be overestimated. In this course we take a closer look at three of her major works: On the Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Condition, and Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. The focus throughout the course will be on Arendt’s engagements with the questions of the nature of power and evil.

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 ~ Sussman

This course will explore the distinction between justice and virtue in four classical ethical theories. We start with Aristotle’s conception of the distinction in the Nicomachean Ethics as well as in his Politics. We will then turn to modern moral theories. First we will look at Immanuel Kant’s accounts of virtue and of justice in The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals and in The Metaphysics of Morals, and second to John Stuart Mill’s treatment of the issue in On Utilitarianism and On Liberty. We end the course by looking at a more contemporary existentialist view of justice and virtue in Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex.

PHIL 421 – Ethical Theories ~ Bryan (Spring 2019)

In this course we’ll read three classic texts in ethical theory—Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism. We’ll discuss these classics alongside more recent literature that engages with the theories these classic texts pioneered.

PHIL 422 – Recent Developments in Ethics: New Technologies and Social Change ~ Bryan (Fall 2018)

There are a number of new technologies on the horizon that promise positive social change. Many of them, however, raise difficult moral questions. In this course, we’ll explore some of those questions. Here are just a few: Self-driving cars promise to save lives, but how should we program them to handle situations on where some kind of collision is inevitable, and they have to choose whom to run into? Who should be liable for damages done by self-driving vehicles? If technology makes the skills of large segments of society obsolete, should we provide a universal basic income? How do the rules of the road or of the sky need to change as we introduce self-driving cars or aerial drones?

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 ~ Frank (Fall 2018)

What is the mind?  How does it relate to the body and, more generally, to the physical world?  Consider the variety of mental states, events, and processes of which the mind is capable: qualitative experience (such as the taste of a lemon or the smell of a rose); thought, belief, desire, and intention; and awareness of one’s own mental states, to name but a few.  In this course, we will consider three main aspects of the mind-body problem: (i) the nature of the mind and its relation to the physical, (ii) consciousness and its place in nature, and (iii) the representational capacities of the mind.  Are mental states simply brain states?  Are there irreducibly mental substance or properties, or is the mental reducible to the physical?  What is the nature of consciousness?  Is consciousness distinctive to humans, or might animals and certain machines also possess consciousness?  How do minds represent the world?  What is the nature of belief and desire?  How these questions are answered will better enable us to understand how the mind may be studied empirically, if at all, and will help sharpen our understanding of our own minds and their place in nature.

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 2018)

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 the republican Kantian tradition. 

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 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 the History of Philosophy ~ Newton (Spring 2019)

This course will examine three ancient logical problems and both Kantian and post-Kantian attempts to solve them. First, there is the Platonic problem of universals, or of the One in Many: what accounts for the possibility of one feature shared by many different things, or of one thought reoccurring in many different thoughts? Second, there is the problem of the unity of a proposition (from Plato’s Sophist): in virtue of what is a proposition a unity, rather than a mere list of elements? Third, there is the ancient Parmenidean problem of the possibility of thinking a negation: what are we thinking, when we think what is not, and how is such thought possible? We will first consider Kant’s argument that self-consciousness can account for the possibility of the one in the many, of the unity of a thought, and of negation. Then we will look at challenges to Kant’s position among his successors, and at the historical progress (or regress) made by their attempts to answer the three ancient problems.

PHIL 511 - Seminar Ethical Theory: Punishment ~ Sussman (Spring 2019)

This seminar will examine philosophical attempts to justify the punishment of law-breakers by the state. To what extent does such punishment depend on retributive notions of deserved suffering, and are any of those notions morally defensible? What would happen if we abandoned our retributive sentiments entirely? Can punishment be justified by such “forward-looking” concerns as deterrence, incapacitation, and moral education, or by appeal to punishment’s expressive powers? We’ll also see what these putative justifications show us about the right ways to punish. Are there good defenses of lengthy incarceration that do not apply equally well (or better) to torture, slavery, mutilation, or death? What about shaming punishments? Does it make sense to punish merely attempted crimes any less severely than successful ones? Finally, we’ll consider possible alternatives to punishment, such as systems of restitution or “restorative justice.” These alternatives will be examined in light of how different understandings of repentance, forgiveness and mercy might bear on these questions. Here we’ll try to figure out what is going on morally when we seek or grant forgiveness, and whether these personal dynamics have any place (or significant analogues) in the sphere of law.

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