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 .
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.
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.
Practical study of logical reasoning. Involves studying informal fallacies and syllogistic logic and assessing the logical coherence of what we read and write.
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).
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
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?
Examination of the moral aspects of social problems, and a survey of ethical principles formulated to validate social policy.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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
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.
(SAME AS ECE 316)
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Philosophical examination of some fundamental concepts and theories of the physical world, such as time, matter, space, and geometry; interpretation of quantum theory.
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.
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).
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.
Investigation of various metaphysical issues concerning, for example, abstract objects, existence, material objects, modality, personal identity, properties, and time.
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?
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).
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
"Nietzsche and Freud on Mind and Morality"
The course will introduce students to central themes in Nietzsche's and Freud's psychology and philosophy. In particular, we will examine these thinkers' accounts of the mind, conscience, and agency, as well as their genealogical method and understanding of society, religion, and morality.
In this seminar, we will consider the ethical consequences of determinism. Determinism is the fairly popular view that every state of the universe is determined by the prior state along with the laws of nature. If this were so, would we ever possess sufficient agency to really be blamed (let alone properly punished) for anything we do? We will pay particular attention to P.F. Strawson’s suggestion that responsibility is to be understood in terms of certain interpersonal attitudes, such as resentment, gratitude, love, and forgiveness that make sense independent of any interesting metaphysical assumptions. We will consider what this approach holds for such difficult cases as addiction, psychopathy, agent-regret and “moral luck”. Readings from Frankfurt, Strawson, Wallace, Williams, Kolnai, Darwall, Mason, Nussbaum, Watson, Bennett, Scanlon, and Wolf, et. al.
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.
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.
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?
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.