400/500 level

Courses at the 400 level (often taught in conjunction with 500 level graduate courses) are smaller topics seminars. They allow students to engage in sustained conversations around more specialized topics and pursue original avenues of research. Most 400 and 500-level topics courses may be taken more than once if the course content is different from year to year, or section to section.

To enroll in a course at the 400 level, you must have complete 6 credits in philosophy, 3 of which must be at the 200 level or higher.

Here is a list of the topics courses offered in Fall/Winter 2017-2018.

   FALL 2017
PHIL 412/510

Topics in Philosophy of Science: Biological and Social Kinds
Dr. Ingo Brigandt - Tuesday and Thursday 12:30- 13:50

In this seminar on biological and social kinds, we will take a look at different concrete kinds from the biological, biomedical, and social sciences. As these often include a mutual influence of biological and social factors, one could call them ‘biosocial kinds’, or ‘human kinds’ when they classify humans. Examples to be covered are sex/gender, race, and several mental disorders. The general philosophical issues we will address include natural vs. nominal kinds, realism vs. socialconstructivism, essentialism about kinds, how biological kinds differ from chemical kinds, and how kinds and classification in the social sciences differ from the biological sciences.


Topics in Advanced Symbolic Logic: Relevance & Substructural Logics
Dr. Katalin Bimbo
- Tuesday and Thursday 11:00-12:20

Relevance logics constitute a group of logics that were invented to formally capture inferences in which the conclusion shares some content with the premises.  Informally speaking, relevance logics succeeded where C. Lewis's attempt failed: relevance logics solve the problem for which Lewis invented strict implication and his modal logics (S1, …, S5), namely, the problem of the “paradoxes of material implication.”  Formally speaking, relevance logics typically do not permit the insertion of arbitrary premises into an inference (while logical correctness is retained), and they abandon the rule that yields an arbitrary conclusion from an inconsistent set of premises.  Since their inception in the 1950s, relevance logics developed into an area comprising many attractive intensional logics, which are well-motivated philosophical logics with mathematically exciting properties.

Substructural logics — understood in a literal sense — are logics that result from the sequent calculus for two-valued logic by omission (of some structural rules or properties of sequents).  Historically, intuitionistic logic was the first substructural logic, but the Lambek calculi may be the most widely known substructural logics.  It turns out that more variations in a sequent calculus, such as extensions and additions, allow us to formalize further logics, including some relevance logics, modal logics and linear logic.  Substructural logics have their origins in various disciplines: intuitionistic logic comes from mathematics, the Lambek calculi were introduced in linguistics to characterize grammaticality, certain modal logics are of great interest to philosophers and linear logic reflects the resource conscious attitude in computer science.  Subsequently, these logics found applications in some of the same areas.

The course will deal with some relevance and substructural logics — without attempting to cover everything within this immense field. We will look at proof systems, at various semantics and at various properties of these logics (such as the question of decidability).  The selection of the logics and properties will be guided by the importance of the logics and the significance of the results about them (including classical and new theorems from the last decade or so).

Topics in Medieval Philosophy: Body and Soul in Later Medieval Psychology
Dr. Jack Zupko- Monday 16:30- 19:20

Virtually all later medieval philosophers and theologians took human beings to be hylomorphic composites of body and soul.  But the consequences of this assumption were explored in a variety of places, most notably in a raft of traditional questions or topics found in their commentaries on Aristotle’s psychology (De anima and the Parva Naturalia).  Looking at texts by Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Radulphus Brito, John Buridan, Nicole Oresme, and others, as well as their reconstructions by recent historians of philosophy, we will look at how later medieval thinkers tried to offer bona fide Aristotelian explanations of psychological phenomena, at the same time as they began to see that the project of Aristotelian natural philosophy has serious limitations

Topics in Ancient Philosophy: Aristotle’s Metaphysics
Dr. Kathrin Koslicki-
Tuesday and Thursday 14:00- 15:20

The main focus of this seminar is two-fold.  First, after filling in some of the necessary background, we will undertake a careful reading of the middle books of Aristotle’s Metaphysics (Books Z, H, Θ), where Aristotle’s main and most mature investigation into primary substance takes place.  Since these texts are among the most difficult ever written in the history of Western philosophy, we will need to go very slowly and turn to the secondary literature for help in trying to understand what Aristotle is up to in these central books of the Metaphysics.  The second aim of this seminar is to put the ideas and views Aristotle develops in these texts into a contemporary context, to see why metaphysicians today are still finding them interesting, worthwhile and sometimes even plausible.  The recent revival of Aristotelian metaphysics among contemporary philosophers will give us the opportunity to make contact with this current literature as well, as we work our way through the central books of Aristotle’s Metaphysics and surrounding texts.


Early Analytical Philosophy: Frege, Russell, and Wittgenstein
Dr. Bernard Linsky-
Monday and Wednesday 15:00-16:20

Famous works that founded Analytic Philosophy by Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein. Readings will include Frege's Foundations of Arithmetic,Russell's Philosophy of Logical Atomism lectures and Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, studied in the light of recent scholarship. 

   WINTER 2018
Topics in Metaphysics:Explanations in Metaphysics
Dr. Philip Corkum - Tuesday 14:00- 16:50

It often happens that we want a specifically metaphysical explanation: smiles depend on faces; the human body is made up of its organic parts; some philosophers believe that facts about feeling pain are nothing over and above physical facts; and Plato claims that an act is loveable to the gods in virtue of its being pious. The relation between an act being pious and its being god-loved, for example, is explanatory but it’s not one of a variety of common kinds of explanations. For example, the relation is not causal: an act being pious does not cause it being loveable to the gods. And metaphysical explanation, unlike epistemic explanation, is held by many to be insensitive to our interests, purposes and background beliefs: the facts about what acts are pious objectively determines the facts about what acts are loveable to the gods, independently of our epistemic situation. In this seminar, we’ll contrast various kinds of explanations with the aim of studying the role of explanations in several topics in metaphysics. Students will gain both greater facility with the techniques of contemporary philosophy and exposure to a broad range of issues in metaphysics.

Topics in Indian Philosophy:Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali
Dr. Neil Dalal- Tuesday and Thursday 14:00- 15:20

Is my self-identity reducible to my mind? Should I identify consciousness with my mind? Is it possible to experience a state of pure consciousness—where I am awake but without any thoughts or intentionality? And could such an extraordinary experiential state give me unique access to personal or metaphysical realities? These are the kinds of questions that Patañjali, the ancient Indian philosopher of Yoga, analyzed in his seminal work, the Yoga Sūtras. Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtrasis the earliest extant work systematizing and compiling Yoga philosophy and practices. This course explores the metaphysical and psychological foundations of Pātañjala Yoga. We will look into its theories of consciousness, mind, emotions, memory, and personal identity, and their relationships to the material world. We will also examine and experience the internal practices of meditation, and the ways in which contemplative phenomenological practices are thought to be essential to fruitful philosophical inquiry and ultimately to the cessation of personal suffering. Attention will be paid to classical commentators on the Yoga Sūtras as well as contemporary critics and defenders of Yoga philosophy.


17th & 18th Century British Philosophy:Hume’s Ethics and Aesthetic
Dr. Amy Schmitter- Wednesday 14:00- 16:50

The last several decades has seen increasing interest in philosophical accounts of the emotions, including those offered by David Hume (1711-1776). This course will explore aspects of Hume’s work that build on what he calls the “passions” and “sentiments,” particularly his moral philosophy and his aesthetics. In doing so, we will follow part of the plan announced in the 1739 advertisement to the first two books of his early, major work A Treatise of Human Nature, where Hume proposes subsequent studies “of morals, politics, and criticism . . . [to] compleat this Treatise of human nature.” Disappointed with the reception of the Treatise, Hume stopped after the third book on morals. But the plan makes sense as a way of extending the account of the passions offered in the Treatise to all the areas of human life founded on the passions and sentiments. We will start with Book Two of the Treatise, which introduces the “passions,” then consider the terminology of “passions,” “taste” and “sentiments,” after which we will move on the moral “sentiments” of Book Three of the Treatise. We will then compare this early account of the moral sentiments with the work Hume declared “incomparably the best,” his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. Hume frequently conceives of our moral judgments as aesthetic in character – as involving appreciation of beauties of characters. So, we will also look at his account of our aesthetic emotions in various essays. (If time permits, we may also glance at how Hume uses the passions and sentiments in his approach to history and the social sciences. But time may not permit.) To set Hume’s thought in context, we will also examine the accounts of some of his predecessors and contemporaries, particularly Lord Shaftesbury and Francis Hutcheson.


MODERN PHILOSOPHY:Kant: Critique of Pure Reason
Dr. Robert Burch - Monday 14:00 - 16:50

In this course we will read and discuss the major parts of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.  Our overarching aim will be to understand this text as providing a solution to what Kant calls the “peculiar fate” of human reason, so as for the first time in the history of philosophy to have human reason provide itself with “complete satisfaction” in its desire for philosophical knowledge and complete answers to all the questions of metaphysics, which have hitherto preoccupied philosophers, albeit in vain. Our central concern will be to get clear about the basic elements of Kantian doctrine, from which we can then venture to determine and assess the case that Kant makes for the truth of transcendental idealism. However, the underlying theme will be to consider how Kant's treatment of this “peculiar fate” serves to transform the very meaning of philosophy itself. The implicit presupposition of this reading is that Kant's philosophy is not just one position among others, but marks a radically new occurrence in the history of philosophy.

Text: Critique of Pure Reason, trans. & ed. Paul Guyer & Allen Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) in the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant. (The older Norman Kemp Smith translation is an acceptable alternative.)  


Topics in Ethics:Rolston’s Naturalistic Environmental Ethics
Dr. Nathan Kowalsky- Thursday 14:00- 16:50

We’ll read and discuss major parts of Holmes Rolston, III’s Environmental Ethics: Duties to and Values in the Natural World (1988) and Conserving Natural Value (1995). The aim is to form a fairly detailed idea of Rolston’s arguments, as they constitute something of a benchmark for environmental ethics against which subsequent developments in the field have been defined. Rolston is an objectivist with respect to the status of values, an ethical naturalist with respect to the is/ought fallacy, a realist with respect to the ontological status of nature, a hybrid sentientist/ecocentrist with respect to animals, and a dualist with respect to the nature/culture interface. In this course we’ll assess the adequacy of Rolston’s theory for the ecological challenges we currently face.