Syllabi and Courses

Schedule for 2018-2019

On Sabbatical Fall 2018-Winter 2019

Spring 2019: Introduction to Philosophy; Introduction to History of Ancient Philosophy; Plato’s Republic

 

Past Courses (Dates indicate the the most recent term in which the courses were taught.)

Topics: Theory of Knowledge in Plato (Spring 2018)

What is knowledge? How do we come to have knowledge?  How does knowledge differ from mere belief? Long before contemporary philosophers and cognitive neuroscientists tackled these questions Plato engaged in detailed discussions on perception, knowledge, and belief. On his view, we can only have knowledge about those things that are eternal and unchanging, but how can finite, transitory beings ever hope to obtain such knowledge? In this class, we will read the Theaetetus to see how Plato approaches these and other questions.

 

The Ethics of Anger, Revenge, and Forgiveness (co-taught with Prof. Leo Zaibert in Spring 2017) (Winter 2018)

Our attitudes towards anger, revenge and forgiveness are complicated. Anger is generally seen as a volatile and damaging emotion, but when people fail to get angry at atrocities like child abuse or genocide we tend to see their lack of anger as a moral failing. Likewise, personal revenge is often condemned even though many of us take pleasure in revenge stories. Forgiveness is usually seen as virtuous, but sometimes we criticize those who forgive truly monstrous deeds. As we dig into these issues, many questions will arise. Is anger necessarily negative? Is revenge always wrong?  What is the difference between revenge and punishment? What is the nature of “evil”? Are there monstrous people or only monstrous actions? Are there any acts so terrible that forgiveness is impossible? Should we forgive even when the wrongdoer fails to repent?

 

Scholar’s Research Seminar: Philosophy of Happiness (Winter 2018)

In 2016 the World Happiness Report declared Denmark the happiest country in the world and according to the annual Well-Being Index by Gallup-Healthways Naples, Florida was the happiest city in the USA. Pets make people happier, according to recent studies, whereas having children often makes people less happy. But what is happiness? Is happiness an emotion or a state of mind? How do we measure happiness? Is happiness necessary for a good life? Or is there something more to life than being happy? Every decision we make every single day is aimed at living the best life possible, but what exactly does this mean? In this course we will examine several theories on human happiness and what it takes to live a good and happy life. We will begin with theories from the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, comparing their answers to those proposed by contemporary philosophers and discuss our own views on happiness and what makes life worth living.

Introduction to the History of Ancient Philosophy (Fall 2017)

An investigation of the origins of the western philosophical tradition in ancient Greece from the Presocratics to Plato and Aristotle.  Topics to be discussed include: reality, knowledge, the nature of god and soul, our moral obligations to ourselves and others and the meaning of life.

Introduction to Philosophy (Fall 2017)

This course is an introduction not only to the subject matter of philosophy, but also to the method of philosophy. To learn about the former we will read and discuss a range of philosophical essays (from ancient to contemporary sources), which address some of the most fundamental and important questions: What is the nature of underlying reality? What are the scopes and limits of human knowledge? Does God exist? What is the ultimate nature of persons? Do we have free will? What moral obligations do we have? What is the meaning of life? Through study, reflection, and responding to a range of answers to these questions, you will gain an appreciation for the method of philosophy; learning how to formulate, analyze, and criticize philosophical arguments, as well as to develop your own answers to these questions.

Plato’s Republic (Winter 2017)

Most people care deeply about justice and strive to live just lives. But what is justice and why should we try to be just? What if we always do the right thing, but we are constantly treated badly and as if we are untrustworthy? Should we be just even if others think we are dishonest and corrupt? Is justice worth pursuing for itself?  If justice is good how do we make our cities and our fellow citizens just? What kind of ruler would make a city just? In this course we will try to answer these questions as we work our way through Plato’s most famous work, Republic. Each class will be organized around specific question(s). We will focus most of our attention on analyzing and interpreting Plato’s answer to these questions, but we will also try to answer these questions ourselves and see whether or not we agree with Plato.

Seminar on Aristotle’s Psychology (Fall 2016)

What is the difference between a living thing and a non-living thing? According to Aristotle, the difference is that living things have souls. For Aristotle the soul is essentially whatever explains why a living thing is alive. The soul explains the particular capacities that living things have, which non-living things lack. All living things have souls: plants, animals, and humans. In this class we will look at Aristotle’s account of perception, imagination, thinking, understanding, remembering, recollecting, desiring, and feeling. Some questions that will arise are questions we are still trying to answer today. Is perception a purely physiological process or is perception some sort of non-physical awareness? How do our thoughts and perceptions come to be in error? How can we come to have abstract universal concepts when the world is made up of particulars? Are emotions non-rational feelings of pleasure and pain or are emotions kinds of beliefs?  To try and answer some of these questions we will focus on Aristotle’s De Anima (which is Latin for “On the Soul”), while also examining select passages from some of his other treatises, such as De Sensu, De MemoriaDe InsomniisNicomachean Ethics, Rhetoric, and De Motu Animalium, in order to get a more complete picture of his account of the soul and all the capacities peculiar to the soul.

 

Seminar on Ancient Emotion, 450-01 (Winter 2015)Emotion Class

Emotions play an important role in almost every aspect of our lives. Our relationships with other people are often shaped by how we feel about them. We spend most of our time with those we love or care about. We avoid those we hate, envy, or fear. Emotions influence our beliefs about what is right and wrong. We consult our feelings in order to resolve moral dilemmas. If something “feels” wrong we generally judge it to be immoral. But what are emotions? Are they merely feelings of pleasure Emotion class 1and pain or are they also rationally informed judgments? Do our beliefs about the world determine how we feel about the world or is it the other way around? These are the sorts of questions ancient philosophers puzzled over. In this course we will look at how Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoic philosophers define emotions and examine specific individual emotions, such as anger, fear, pity, hate, envy, shame, friendly feelings, and love. All texts will be read in English.

 

Moral Problems (Fall 2014)

In this course we will discuss some of the most controversial moral problems of our time, including questions about reproductive rights, the right to die, the right to marry, gender, sex and coercion, animal rights, poverty, and world hunger. We will read philosophical articles, Supreme Court rulings, listen to podcasts, and discuss real-world cases that deal with each of these issues. Please be aware that some of the content in the readings and podcasts depict some violence. The aim of the course is to engage in careful and considerate philosophical discussion of these issues.

The Age of Darwin (First Year Preceptorial) (Fall 2014)

Darwin’s theory of evolution was part of a broader shift in thinking that included literature and the arts as well as the sciences. This is reflected in the different portrayals of human nature in the two novels we will read, one written before and one during the Darwinian Revolution. Frankenstein (1816), at least in its original, pre-Hollywood version, is about what happens to a man whose ambition leads him to try to set himself apart from and even above nature. It represents the Romantic tradition in literature, which emphasized feeling and emotion in reaction to the Age of Reason or Enlightenment. People were becoming disenchanted with the Enlightenment’s emphasis on reason, since philosophers had shown that reason alone could not demonstrate what was most important to them, the existence of God. Well before Darwin , the philosopher David Hume, in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1776), had shown that there are serious problems with the idea that living things could be attributed to an intelligent designer. But when design in nature is replaced by natural selection, purpose and meaning seem to evaporate as well. Such concerns are exhibited in the novel Thérèse Raquin (1867), which is about two lovers who the author describes as human animals, without souls, completely enslaved by their animal instincts, raising questions about the place of values in the natural world. (This course description is borrowed, with permission, from Warren Schmaus’ syllabus. Dr. Schmaus, along with other IIT faculty, designed the Age of Darwin course as an introductory humanities course. I very much enjoyed teaching the Age of Darwin while I was a Fay Sawyier fellow at IIT.)

Seminar on Aristotle’s Ethics, 450-01 (Winter 2014)

What is the good human life? Is it a life of pleasure? Honor? Or is it something more than pleasure and honor? Do we need external goods to be happy or do we need only a good character? What role do friends play in the good life? Should we live a life of the mind or a life of public service? In this course we will study Aristotle’s answers to these questions focusing mainly on the Nicomachean Ethics and a few selections from the Eudemian Ethics.  This is a discussion-based course and students will often take the lead, giving presentations on the primary text and/or one of the secondary texts. All texts will be in English.