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

We will examine a variety of philosophical topics including: what a person is, whether we have free will, whether the universe has an intelligent designer, whether the existence of evil is compatible with the existence of God, whether one can truly have knowledge of the external world, whether it is rational to fear death, whether abortion is morally permissible, and whether it is wrong to eat meat.

Consideration of some main problems of philosophy concerning, for example, knowledge, God, mind and body, and human freedom. Course is identical to PHIL 101 except for the additional writing component. 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 ~

We will examine a variety of philosophical topics including: what a person is, whether there can be free will, whether the universe has an intelligent designer, whether there can be morality if there is no God, whether the existence of evil is compatible with the existence of God, whether one can truly have knowledge of the external world, whether time travel is possible, whether it is rational to fear death, whether abortion is morally permissible, whether the war on drugs is unjust, and whether it is wrong to eat meat.

PHIL 102 – Logic and Reasoning ~ Gilbert

Practical study of logical reasoning. Involves studying informal fallacies and syllogistic logic and assessing the logical coherence of what we read and write.

PHIL 103 – Logic and Reasoning QR II~ Livengood

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 four units: Zeroth-Order (Sentential) Logic, First-Order (Predicate) Logic, Set and Probability Theory, and Causal and Statistical Reasoning. The course takes a more formal, mathematical approach than PHIL 102, and so, it satisfies a level-two quantitative reasoning requirement (QRII).

PHIL 104 - Introduction to Ethics ACP* ~ Sussman

 This course will consider different ways of understanding the distinction between what is morally right and wrong. We will focus on consequentialist theories, that see morality as a matter of improving the world, contractarian views, that see morality in terms of a kind of idealized agreement for human interactions, Kantian theory, which focuses on the idea of respect for rational agents, and virtue theoretical accounts that take ideals of human character and human flourishing as their starting points. These theories will be explored with reference to such contemporary issues as abortion, the treatment of animals, and world poverty.

*This course satisfies the Advanced Composition General Education Requirement

PHIL 105 – Introduction to Ethics ~ Varden

Some basic questions of ethics, discussed in the light of influential ethical theories and with reference to specific moral problems, such as: what makes an action morally right? are moral standards absolute or relative? what is the relation between personal morality and social morality, and between social morality and law?

PHIL 106 – Ethics and Social Policy ~ Murphy

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 ~ Savonius-Wroth

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 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 202 - Symbolic Logic ~ Gilbert    

This course will study the nature of deductive inference through the construction of a formal language in which such inferences may be expressed. The deductive forms we will consider, comprising what is called elementary logic or quantification theory, are versatile enough to encompass much of our reasoning about relations between objects.  Part of the course will consist in applying these formal methods to concrete reasoning situations, and part of it will involve a study of questions about the scope and adequacy of these methods. 

PHIL 203 - Ancient Philosophy ~ Wengert

This course is an introduction to the philosophical thought of the ancient world. The course will concentrate on the Greeks, in particular, on the Pre-Socratics, Plato and Aristotle, concluding with Hellenistic philosophy, where we will read writings of the Stoics, Epicureans and Skeptics.

We will start right in by reading some of Plato’s lively early dialogues. There will be a good bit of reading required. Some of the readings will be great fun, even charming; some of the readings will be dark and obscure. I hope that my lectures will enlighten the latter and not detract from the former. Discussion and reasoned disagreement are encouraged.

There will be two papers, five on-line quizzes and a final:

Papers: An initial five page paper. A final paper of about ten pages.

Quizzes: five on-line quizzes will be spaced over the semester, examining recently covered material. These are not as intimidating as they sound. You will be given a copy of each quiz beforehand so you can go over them as you read the material.

Exams: There will be no midterm, but there will be a final.


Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy: From Thales to Aristotle. S. Marc Cohen, Patricia Curd, and C.D.C. Reeve (eds). Paperback, 4th edition/Hackett Publishing Co., 2011

Ancient Philosophy: Volume 1 of A New History of Western Philosophy. Anthony Kenny. Paperback/Oxford University Press, 2006. Also available on Kindle.

Hellenistic philosophy: Introductory Readings, trans. by Brad Inwood and L.P. Gerson. Paperback 2nd edition Hackett Publishing Co., 1997

Course Booklet available on-line.

PHIL 206 - Early Modern Philosophy ~ Newton

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 214 - Biomedical Ethics ~ Ben Moshe  

Constant changes in healthcare settings, coupled with rapid advancements in technology, lead to increasingly complicated ethical dilemmas: Who decides what—patients, doctors or family members—and on what basis? What are the ends of the medical profession and how do they bear on what doctors can and cannot provide their patients? Can doctors refuse to provide treatment for conscientious reasons? Are abortions, physician assisted suicides, organ sales, and commercial surrogacies morally permissible? In this course, we will attempt to answer these (and other) pressing questions. We will commence the course by analyzing two key concepts that are utilized in medical ethics debates: autonomy and paternalism. We will then discuss the nature and sources of the ends of the medical profession, and the circumstances, if any, in which the physician can deviate from these ends (including physician conscientious objection). We will then proceed to examine specific medical ethical dilemmas surrounding the beginning and end of life:abortion, physician assisted suicide andeuthanasia, and the treatment of demented patients. We will conclude the course byanalyzing the moral limits of markets and utilize our analysis in order to understand the moral status of organ sales and commercial surrogacy.

PHIL 250 - Conceptions of Human Nature ~ Varden

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, 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 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 ~ Weaver

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


“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 context of engineering, including safety and liability, professional responsibility to clients and employers, legal obligations, codes of ethics, and career choice. A primary objective of our journey in this course will be to explore the fundamental structure of human personhood, the grounding of moral action, and the development of moral character as the precondition of integral work in a profession. Case studies will provide an important methodological lens for our discussions together in class.

The course fulfills credit as an upperdivision 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 three response papers — an article analysis (three pages), a case study (three pages), and a paper on normative ethical theories (six pages) — a research paper on a topic of your own choosing (ten pages), and a personal mission statement reflecting on your life work and career path (three pages). All members of the course will also give a ten-minute presentation on their research project in class at the end of the semester. The research paper and class presentation function together as the final examination for the course. We will be using as a textbook the fourth edition of Engineering Ethics: Concepts and Cases by Harris, Pritchard, and Rabins (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2009), together with an integrated three-volume set of readings in moral theory and applied ethics available through the Illini Union Bookstore.

PHIL 380 - Current Controversies ~ Varden

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 410 - Classical Ancient Philosophers ~ Sanders

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 - Classical Modern Philosophers ~ Newton

This course will be a close study of one of the most important works in the history of philosophy, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. We will attempt to understand its lasting significance by focusing on Kant’s own remarks about how his ‘Copernican revolution’ changed the way we think about the world and our place within it. Topics will include the specific way in which humans represent space and time, the role of self-consciousness and conceptual capacities in making experience possible, logic and its significance to philosophy, reason’s interest in complete knowledge, the limits of human knowledge, freedom of the will, appearances and things in themselves, and the demise of traditional metaphysics.

PHIL 414 - Major Recent Philosophers ~ McCarthy

Topic: Hilary Putnam

Hilary Putnam, who died in March, 2016, was one of the most influential and sharply original of recent American philosophers. Putnam’s work transformed the philosophy of language, the philosophy of mind, and metaphysics, and played a central role in logic and the philosophy of science. This course will trace the development of the major themes in Putnam’s philosophy. Central to the discussion will be the intricate links between Putnam’s work and that of his Harvard colleague W.V.O. Quine: much of Putnam’s work can be seen as a reaction, positive or negative, to Quine’s, the early work largely negative and the middle to later work much more positive. Among the works of Putnam we shall consider are a number of articles from Putnam’s Philosophical Papers, volumes I-III, covering the period 1960-82 (Cambridge), Meaning and the Moral Sciences (Routledge, 1978), Reason, Truth and History (Cambridge, 1981), and The Threefold Cord (Columbia, 1999).

Course requirements: two 8-10 page papers and a course presentation.  

PHIL 419 – Space, Time, and Matter-ACP ~ Ceperley

Philosophical examination of some fundamental concepts and theories of the physical world, such as time, matter, space, and geometry; interpretation of quantum theory.  Identical to PHYS 420 except for the additional writing component including a final term paper.

PHIL 420 – Space, Time, and Matter ~ Ceperley

Philosophical examination of some fundamental concepts and theories of the physical world, such as time, matter, space, and geometry; interpretation of quantum theory.

PHIL 422 – Recent Developments in Ethics ~ Ben Moshe

We will examine two fundamental questions of meta-ethics and practical reason, namely the theoretical question of what makes moral judgments correct and incorrect and the practical question of why be moral. We will commence the course with a brief historical survey of ancient and modern positions regarding the status of value and the nature of practical reason. We will then proceed to discuss some early meta-ethical positions of the 20thcentury such as Moore’s "open question" argument, Stevenson’s emotivism, and Mackie’s error theory. We will continue by studying various contemporary realist and anti-realist positions about value as well as internalist and externalist positions about practical reasons.We will conclude the course with a detailed examination of the relations between normativity and agency (especially Korsgaard's project of self-constitution).

PHIL 424 - Philosophy of Religion ~ Weaver

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 426 - Metaphysics ~ Saenz

Investigation of various metaphysical issues concerning, for example, abstract objects, existence, material objects, modality, personal identity, properties, and time.

PHIL 429 - Value Theory ~ Sussman

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 436 - Ethics, Law and the Environment ~ Hurd

In this course, we will explore the ways in which both personal life choices and the legal apparatus of a democratic economy contribute to the perils of our planet, and we will explore possible means of reversing environmental trends that are likely to prove catastrophic if allowed to continue.  We will draw upon leading theories of justice and schools of moral thought in order to explore the obligations that we owe to one another, to those in countries around the globe, and to the millions of other species with whom we share the shrinking resources of our planet.   And we will engage questions about how lawyers, legislators and policy-makers might translate those lessons into law.  Industrial food production, climate-changing energy production, land use and urban development, deforestation, toxic/inorganic waste disposal, and the extinction of both species and indigenous cultures will constitute concerns of the course.  But at every turn we will inquire into innovative means of achieving sustainable practices—from greening the energy sector to developing closed loop agricultural systems to reconceiving our urban spaces and practices.  Throughout our discussions we will ask the hard philosophical questions raised by these very practical and very immediate issues.  What is the value of the natural world?  Are we entitled to Nature’s riches, or do we have obligations of stewardship that require conservation?    What is the moral status of ecosystems, species, and individual plants and animals?  How do we properly allocate scarce resources and who should bear the burden for past excesses that have caused environmental degradation and threaten future shortages?

In addition to discussing excerpts from books and articles written by legal scholars, economists, philosophers, scientists, urban planners, and environmental journalists, we will have opportunities for more “active learning.”  We will watch documentaries that will take us to places that we cannot go in person.  We will take field trips to local sites that make salient questions about the sustainability of our daily practices.  And we will learn from award-winning guest lecturers who will bring their expertise to bear on questions raised by course materials. 

Students will be expected to write three short 1000-word “opinion pieces” (each worth 20% of their grade) during the course of the semester that are analytically crisp and draw on the materials and themes of the course.  Students will also be asked to do very short in-class written assignments and projects as the semester goes along that draw on their readings and on in-class documentary films (cumulatively worth 20% of their grade).  And the course will end with a short final examination that surveys the major themes of the course (worth 20% of their grade).  Attendance and participation will be required, and extra credit will be awarded to those whose class contributions reflect consistent mastery of, and thoughtful reflections about, the course readings. 

PHIL 439 - Philosophy of Mathematics ~ Gilbert

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 454 - Advanced Symbolic Logic ~ Gilbert

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 ~ Livengood

In this course, our focus will be on scientific method. In thinking about scientific method, we will consider three threads that run through the fabric of the philosophy of science. First, we will consider hypothesis formation, meaning, and testability. Second, we will look at induction and probability. Finally, we will look at causation and explanation. Throughout the course, we will be interested in the nature of evidence and in the relationship between evidence and theory choice.

PHIL 492 - Thesis

PHIL 501 - Seminar on the History of Philosophy ~ Ben Moshe

Nietzsche's and Freud's account of the mind as well as their moral psychology and moral philosophy (with special emphasis on topics such as conscience and the genealogical method).

PHIL 511 - Seminar Ethical Theory ~ Varden

This course investigates Kant’s own as well as a revised Kantian theory of sexuality. Cashing this out requires that we pay attention to aspects of all three critiques. We will start with Kant’s account of human nature before revising it in order to arrive at a more plausible account of sexuality that can capture sexuality’s diversity and phenomenology. We will then see how this theory of human nature is complemented by his moral theories of freedom, both virtue and right. Also here we will pay attention to both Kant’s own account as well as a revised version that can capture, for example, the heinousness of sexual violence, moral repair, and grief; one that can provide a critique of rights, such as to bodily integrity and to marriage; and one that can capture problems that are inherently systemic in nature, such as sexual oppression and prostitution.

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

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 - Grounding ~ Saenz

The landscape of ontology is changing. Under the Quinean conception, ontology is primarily concerned with what exists. But many are beginning to think otherwise. The key questions of ontology are not, they say, existence questions (which are often times easily answered) but grounding questions. In this class, we will examine the nature and import of grounding and other related notions (such as fundamentality, ontological dependence, and truthmaking). What is grounding? What are its relata? What principles are true of it (it is irreflexive, asymmetric, and transitive)? How does grounding relate to modality? We will also look at some disputes over what grounds what. In particular, we will look into the dispute over fundamental mereology (are wholes grounded in their parts or is it the other way around). Questions concerning fundamentality will also be investigated. What things are fundamental? Is there a fundamental level or is it instead turtles all the way down?

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