Courses and Requirements
The goal of Hamilton’s Philosophy Department is to work with students to develop the skills of critical analysis, powerful speaking, and clear writing, skills alumni find of singular practical use in a wide variety of careers, and indispensable to their work as responsible citizens. We emphasize the value of philosophic examination for understanding broad issues that concern us all.
1. 201, 203, and 550; and
2. One logic course: either 100, 200 or 240; and
3. Three additional courses at the 400 level, none of which may be cross-listed from outside the department; and
4. Two electives in philosophy.
5. Concentrators must also satisfy the Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies (SSIH) requirement in a course so designated. Concentrators may satisfy the SSIH requirement with a course they are counting toward the concentration requirements 1-4 above.
No more than one of the nine courses counted toward the concentration may be at the 100 level.
No more than one may be a course cross-listed from outside the department.
Concentrators normally complete 201, 203 and the logic requirement (either 100, 200 or 240) by the end of their sophomore year. Students considering graduate school in philosophy should take 308, 310, or 355 by the end of their junior year.
Senior concentrators complete the Senior Seminar (550) in the fall of the senior year. Each student in 550 will complete a senior project.
Candidates for honors must have an average of at least 3.7 in all of their philosophy courses and have earned an A on their senior project.
A minor in philosophy can be of two kinds: standard (five courses consisting of one course from among 100, 200 or 240; 201, 203 and two other courses, one of which must be at the 400 level); or thematic (five courses in philosophy that are thematically related, one of which must be at the 400 level). Students who wish to declare a thematic minor should submit a list of the thematically related courses to the Chair of the department, with an explanation of how the courses are thematically linked. The student should submit a copy of that explanation, with the Chair’s signature of approval, with the Declaration of Minor form. Non-Hamilton courses will not normally count toward the minor.
First-year students, sophomores, and juniors may enroll in 200, 201, 203 or 240 with no prerequisites.
An introduction to informal methods of evaluating claims and arguments in everyday life. Emphasis on the recognition of bad reasoning, nonrational persuasion, and the evaluation of explanations and arguments. Includes lecture, discussion and small group interaction. (Writing-intensive.) (Speaking-Intensive.) Open to first-year students only. Speaking-intensive. Maximum enrollment, 16. Doran.
Telling Right from Wrong.
How ought we to live our lives? How ought we to treat other people? What features of an action make it right or wrong? What are the character traits make a person good or bad? We will examine three major traditions in ethical theory: consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics. And we will discuss some applied questions concerning the morality of abortion, affluence and poverty, war, pornography, climate change, and the treatment of non-human animals. We will explore questions of moral motivation. We will read primary texts. (Writing-intensive.) Maximum enrollment, 16. Clark.
Introduction to Philosophy.
We will examine issues concerning the nature of reality, personhood, knowledge, and science. Some of the questions covered will be: What is knowledge? Is scientific knowledge special? Do we have free will or is everything we do ultimately determined by genetics and environment? Can robots and computers have minds? To what extent can we be realists about a mind-independent world? Can we be sure we are not living in a computer simulation? Are there questions that cannot be settled, not even in principle, by science? (Writing-intensive.) Open to first-year students only. Maximum enrollment, 20. The Department.
Ethics of Belief.
“You shouldn’t hold those racist beliefs,” “You should trust evidence,” But it’s not obvious that our beliefs are up to us: you can’t just decide to believe that there is an elephant flying by! Psychological studies suggest that a lot of our beliefs are formed at a subconscious level. So how can we be responsible for them? This course focuses on such puzzles. We will learn analytic writing and reading skills by carefully studying the notion of responsibility for belief. The topic has implications for our attitudes towards everyday scientific, moral, and religious belief-forming practices. (Writing-intensive.) (Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies.) Maximum enrollment, 16. Hadisi.
An introduction to various theories and expressions of 19th- and 20th-century existential thought. Readings include works by Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir, and Fanon. We will also analyze existentialist literature and movies. (Writing-intensive.) (Proseminar.) Maximum enrollment, 16. Hadisi.
Introduction to Political Theory.
Survey of selected political theorists from Plato to the present. Examination of questions of liberty, equality, justice and community. (Writing-intensive.) (Proseminar.) (Proseminar and writing-intensive in the Fall.) Open to juniors and seniors with consent of instructor only. (Same as Government 117.) Martin (Fall); TBA (Spring).
Philosophical Perspectives on the Self.
What is a self? Does each person have one? Does each person have only one? How is the self related to the soul? Is it unchanging or in constant flux? What is the relationship between the self and the body? Examination of personal identity, the self and the soul as these topics are addressed in traditional philosophical texts, literature and neuropsychology. (Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies.) (Proseminar.) Open to first years and sophomores. Maximum enrollment, 16. Janack.
An introduction to philosophy by way of the infinite. We’ll look at the puzzles and challenges raised forour understanding of ourselves and the world by examining different views about infinity, from Zeno’sparadoxes and Aristotle’s actual/potential distinction; through the medieval concept ofsyncategorematicity, Galileo’s paradox, and infinitesimals in calculus; to Cantor’s transfinites and thefoundations of mathematics. We’ll read works of fiction as well as more traditional philosophy. Noparticular mathematical background will be assumed, but we will do some basic set theory. (Writing-intensive.) Maximum enrollment, 16.
Philosophy and Incarceration.
This course looks at the criminal justice system (the courts, police, prison) as a privileged entry point into American society as a whole. What does the figure of the criminal tell us about the figure of the citizen? What does the criminal justice system tell us about our ideas of justice? What does prison tell us about how we understand freedom? And what do all of these tell us about the constitution of race, gender, age, sexuality and the putatively multicultural constitution of American society? Readings from Michel Foucault, Michelle Alexander, Angela Davis. (Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies.) Bohrer.
Practical, hands-on work on recognizing and constructing clear arguments from and in everyday life. Emphasis on strengthening one’s reasoning skills and putting them to constructive use in debate and writing. (Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies.) Not open to students who have taken 100. Doran.
History of Ancient Western Philosophy.
A study of the philosophical classics from early Greek times to the Renaissance. Emphasis on Plato and Aristotle. (Same as Classics 201.) Clark.
History of Modern Western Philosophy.
Faced with revolutionary changes in sciences and society, 17th and 18th century European philosophers revised their account of human knowledge and morality. Views that were developed then continue to influence our worldview today. In this course, we study some major figures from this period, including Descartes, Astell, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, Mendelssohn, and Kant. Prerequisite, one course in philosophy. Hadisi.
Philosophy as/and/of literature.
While Plato famously criticized the poets, his own works are often best read, not as straightforward presentations of philosophical ideas or arguments, but as ironic texts that use rhetorical devices to show, rather than tell, his claims. Examines philosophy’s relationship to the literary and questions about interpretation, truth and argument, as well as the rhetorical aspects of philosophical texts. Includes traditional philosophical works, novels, poetry and drama. Next offered 2017-18
Ethical and Social Issues in the Digital Age.
This course is focused on the ethical and social implications of recent advances in information technology. Topics covered include: privacy expectations and national security, the limits of freedom of speech, intellectual property, hacking, technology and jobs, artificial intelligence, and moral responsibility. We start with a brief discussion on metaethics, and an overview of consequentialism, virtue ethics, and deontology. (Writing-intensive.) Maximum enrollment, 20. Barrantes.
Some people are clever–they can solve a puzzle quickly, or they might have a good head for obscure facts. But it is one thing to be clever, another thing to be wise. And some people are easy-going-they know how to have fun, and be happy. But it is one thing to be happy, another thing to be living the good life. This course is an introduction to Islamic mystic philosophy, offering a survey of mystic Muslim philosophers who thought very deeply about the notions of wisdom and the good life. We’ll read Al-Ghazali, Mulla-Sadra, and others, and some contemporary texts. Also the poets Rumi and Hafez. (Writing-intensive.) Maximum enrollment, 20. Hadisi.
Human Nature, Gender, and Identity.
An introductory survey of philosophical approaches to feminism. Examines the historical progression of feminist philosophical thought, as well as some of the debates that animate contemporary feminist theory. Will address the general question of feminism's relationship to, and tensions with, philosophical thought. Prerequisite, one course in philosophy or women's studies or consent of instructor.
Infinity and Beyond.
An exploration of the infinite in philosophy, mathematics, and literature. We’ll study infinities of division, including Zeno’s paradoxes and various responses to them; infinities of addition, including Cantor’s theorem; calculus and its infinitesimals; God and other infinite ideas; and the human condition. Not open to students who have taken Philosophy 122. Prerequisite, one course in either philosophy or mathematics, or permission of instructor.
Philosophy of Religion.
What evidence is there for—or against—the existence of God? How, in the absence of proof, should we decide whether or not to believe in God? If God is all-good, then why is there so much evil and suffering in the world? Might there be an afterlife, and if so, what would it be like? This course will examine traditional philosophical approaches to these questions and others, such as religious experience, the nature of God, and the relationship between religion and morality. (Writing-intensive.) Limited to sophomore and first-year students Maximum enrollment, 20.
Introduction to Moral Theory.
We will examine the central debates and positions in normative ethics and metaethics beginning with theories such as utilitarianism and deontology that tell us what our ethical obligations are and why. We then examine metaethical theories about the nature of moral claims: do they report objective facts, or express our own personal attitudes? Other topics include the nature of moral judgment and reasoning, debates about the correct analysis of moral semantics, and the scope of the moral domain. Plakias.
Food and Philosophy.
This course will examine aesthetic, ethical, and political issues surrounding the production and consumption of food. Questions to be addressed include: what is food? Are aesthetic judgments about food objective, or merely matters of personal taste? When it comes to choosing what to eat, what are our ethical obligations as consumers? What role should government legislation play in regulating our choice of food? Who should bear responsibility for the social and environmental costs of our food choices? Plakias.
Race, Gender and Culture.
A critical philosophical examination of the normative categories of race, gender and culture. Topics include the origin, character and function of racial, gender and social identities. Analysis will focus on questions concerning the malleability of these identities, as well as questions concerning their psychological and social significance. (Writing-intensive.) (Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies.) Open only to 1st and 2nd year students. (Same as Women's and Gender Studies 222 and Africana Studies 222.) Maximum enrollment, 20.
Philosophy and Film.
Explores film through the lens of philosophy and conversely. Most philosophers agree that films illustrate philosophical problems, raise philosophical questions, or record philosophical arguments. But there is no such agreement on the more interesting question of whether films can also advance philosophical positions. We will focus on American social and institutional hierarchies. We will watch and examine movies that take up issues of race and racism, class and classism, and sex and sexism. Students will be required to watch together one movie one evening every week. (Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies.) Prerequisite, One course in philosophy. (Same as Cinema and Media Studies 228.)
Examines the appropriate relation of humans to the environment. Specific topics include ways of conceptualizing nature; the ethical and social sources of the environmental crisis; our moral duties to non-human organisms; and the ethical dimensions of the human population explosion. The goal is to help students arrive at their own reasoned views on these subjects and to think about the consequences of everyday actions, both personal and political. Preference given to environmental studies majors and minors, starting with seniors. Has at least one field trip. Doran.
A study of formal systems of reasoning and argument evaluation. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) The Department.
The Black Self: Identity and Consciousness.
A philosophical exploration of a variety of historical and contemporary works that illuminate and influence the phenomenological experience of being black. (Writing-intensive.) Prerequisite, One course in philosophy or Africana studies, or consent of instructor. (Same as Africana Studies 242.) Maximum enrollment, 20.
Philosophy as Spiritual Quest.
Exploration of the spiritual power attributed to philosophy by religious philosophers from classical Greece to modern times through readings from Greek, Jewish, Islamic and/or Christian philosophical works. (Writing-intensive.) Prerequisite, One course in philosophy and/or religious studies. (Same as Religious Studies 281.) Maximum enrollment, 20.
The Philosophy of History.
This historiography course examines such enduring issues as causation, general laws, fact and explanation, objectivity, pattern and meaning, uniqueness and the role of the individual. Readings from classic and contemporary texts, with emphasis on the practical, historiographical implications of philosophical theories. (Writing-intensive.) Prerequisite, two 200-level history courses or one 100-level history course and one course in philosophy. (Same as History 301.) Maximum enrollment, 20.
The Concept of Authority.
The course begins with a brief exposition of authority in the context of the concepts of language games, performative concepts, and conceptual puzzlement (Wittgenstein, Cavell, and Austin); it next examines political authority in Hannah Arendt, Max Weber, and Michel Foucault. The next unit explores the construction of authoritative bodies of knowledge, especially biology and economics. It concludes considering adjacent concepts of obligation and consent, focusing on ideas associated with student free-speech, anti-war, and racial justice activism. Prerequisite, 2 courses in Philosophy or consent of instructor. Maximum enrollment, 12. Winkelman.
Twentieth-century and contemporary philosophers often focus on the role of language in philosophical questions, whether to clear up mistaken or misleading uses of language or for its own sake. This survey course will look at the most important philosophers of language and how they approach questions of reference, meaning, and linguistic ontology, including Frege, Russell, Tarski, Quine, Putnam, Kripke, and Chomsky. Prerequisite, One course in philosophy or consent of instructor.
Philosophy of Science.
Focus on the philosophical analysis of scientific knowledge, scientific method and the practice of science. Readings include classic texts in the philosophy of science as well as contemporary discussions of science as a social product and critiques of the notion of scientific objectivity. (Writing-intensive.) (Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies.) Prerequisite, one course in philosophy or consent of instructor. (Same as Neuroscience 310.) Maximum enrollment, 20. Janack.
What does writing style have to do with philosophical content? We will look at the "old quarrel" between the philosophers and the poets, and look at the ways in which philosophy was and is written, to think about what counts as philosophy and why and how we mark it off from its others. Readings by Borges, Calvino, Kafka, Coetzee, Plato and others. (Writing-intensive.) Prerequisite, 1 course in philosophy, Literature/creative writing or consent of instructor. Maximum enrollment, 20.
Critical Race Theory.
A close examination of the emergence, aims, and argumentative styles of Critical Race Theory. (Writing-intensive.) (Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies.) Prerequisite, One course in Philosophy and one course in Africana Studies. (Same as Africana Studies 319.) Maximum enrollment, 20. Franklin.
Seminar: Confucian Traditions.
Examination of Confucian thought and ritual practice from classical times to the early 20th century. Emphasis on reading philosophical and ritual texts in translation in order to understand the various ways that Confucians understood their place in Chinese society. (Writing-intensive.) Prerequisite, relevant coursework in history, Asian studies or religious studies, or consent of instructor. (Same as History 337.) Maximum enrollment, 20.
Marxism, Feminism, and Anti-racism: A Philosophical Encounter.
We will examine the ways in which Marx’s legacy and the tradition of Marxism have been critiqued, transformed, stretched and expanded to address contemporary forms of oppression. We will begin with Marx’s early manuscripts and move through the corpus, to conclude with Capital. We will discuss not only class under capitalism, but also the constitution of gender, race and sexuality. (Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies.) Prerequisite, at least one course in Philosophy or permission of instructor. Bohrer.
In this course we will examine some of the key ideas, tools, and applications of contemporary analytic philosophy. The course is divided into two parts. The first part examines the foundations of contemporary metaphysics, focusing on the issues of existence, possibility, necessity, properties, identity, time, and persistence. The second part focuses on the applications of these metaphysical tools to issues of broader concern, including personhood, consciousness, the extended mind, artificial intelligence, the nature and agency of groups, collectives and institutions, race, and gender. Prerequisite, 203 or consent of instructor. Open to sophomores, juniors and seniors.
Virtue ethics emphasizes the goodness or badness of those who act, rather than the rightness or wrongness of particular actions. The virtues are often taken to contribute to individual happiness, or the ability to construct a meaningful life. We will examine virtue ethics as a theory (and as alternative to consequentialism and deontology). We begin with a survey of ancient versions, before exploring new developments and various applications of virtue ethics to contemporary moral problems (abortion, the treatment of non-human animals, climate change, human over-consumption, and technology). Prerequisite, One course in philosophy, or consent of instructor. Clark.
Knowledge, Truth, and Mathematics.
A survey of the philosophical questions that arise from considering historical and contemporary approaches to explaining our knowledge of mathematics. Do we have a priori knowledge of necessary truths? Is our knowledge of mathematics empirical? Perhaps we do not really have mathematical knowledge. Prerequisite, 201, 203, and one of (308, 310, or 355); or consent of instructor. Taught as a seminar. Maximum enrollment, 12.
Historical debates over the metaphysics and ethics of personhood with an examination of some early American texts by Bradstreet and Lincoln, and Emerson and Thoreau’s Transcendentalism. Emphasis on classical Pragmatist metaphysics and epistemology through the work of Peirce, James and Dewey, with attention to their neo-Pragmatist legacies in contemporary American philosophy. (Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies.) Prerequisite, three courses in philosophy or consent of instructor. Taught as a seminar. Maximum enrollment, 12. Doran.
The Ethics and Politics of Food.
An examination of the ethical, aesthetic, and political significance of our food practices and choices. Topics will include: the ethics of eating animals; the role of technology in food production; the question of whether food can truly be considered art and the role of critics in aesthetic discourse about food; and the justifiability of paternalistic government interventions into food marketing and sales. Readings will include traditional philosophical work as well as sources from psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, and economics. Taught as a seminar. Prerequisite, two courses in philosophy or permission of instructor. students who have already taken Food and Philosophy must get the permission of the instructor Maximum enrollment, 12.
Objectivity and Rationality.
Is objectivity possible? If it is, is it an epistemic value worth pursuing? How does objectivity relate to the metaphysics of experience and to our ideals of rationality? How does objectivity relate to truth? Readings will draw from traditional philosophers of science, historians and sociologists of science, feminist philosophers of science and other writings in science studies. Prerequisite, three courses in philosophy or consent of instructor. Taught as a seminar. Maximum enrollment, 12.
A broad study of themes through Wittgenstein’s work, including the picture-theory, naming, rule-following, meaning, skepticism, and truth. While our focus will be on Wittgenstein’s work, we will also spend time on his intellectual forebears and those he influenced, including Frege, Russell, Anscombe, Quine, Kripke, and Diamond. Prerequisite, 3 courses in Philosophy or permission of instructor. Taught as a seminar. Maximum enrollment, 12.
David Foster Wallace and the Difficulty of Philosophy.
David Foster Wallace’s fiction and non-fiction are often read through a philosophical lens, given his deep immersion in the analytic philosophical tradition. This course examines the extent to which Wallace’s work is appropriately read as philosophy, and the question of what demarcates philosophy from fiction and from literary non-fiction. Not open to students who have taken 326. (Writing-intensive.) Prerequisite, 3 courses in philosophy, or 3 courses in English or Comparative Literature, or consent of instructor. Maximum enrollment, 12. Janack.
Intuitions and Philosophy.
Explores the role of intuition in our reasoning in epistemology, philosophy of mind, mathematics and moral philosophy, and perhaps other areas. We will consider arguments in favor of using intuitions in philosophy, as well as work on the fallibility of intuition, and the recent movement known as experimental philosophy. Seminar Prerequisite, three courses in philosophy or consent of instructor. Maximum enrollment, 12.
The Problem of Knowledge.
Inquiry into whether it is possible to reject skepticism without resorting to dogmatism. Special emphasis on the connection (or tension) between everyday reflection and philosophical theory. Historical and contemporary readings. Prerequisite, three courses in philosophy or consent of instructor. Taught as a seminar. Maximum enrollment, 12.
We will examine the ways in which Immanuel Kant’s views about scientific knowledge relate to his views about moral knowledge, and vice versa. This approach will help us better appreciate Kant’s uniquely systematic philosophical method of doing philosophy. Most of our readings will be from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, but we will also read selections from his Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, and David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature. Prerequisite, Philosophy 203 and two other courses in Philosophy, or permission of instructor. Maximum enrollment, 12. Hadisi.
Mind and Body.
An examination of literature in philosophy of mind. Focus on questions and issues such as: What is the mind? How is it related to the body? What is its role in personal identity? How do theories of mind relate to our understanding of affective and cognitive phenomena such as the emotions, will and reason? Prerequisite, three courses in philosophy or consent of instructor. Taught as a seminar. (Same as Neuroscience 440.) Maximum enrollment, 12.
Investigation of philosophical theories of happiness from the ancient Greeks until today including theories of hedonism, eudaimonism, desire satisfaction, life satisfaction, emotional state theory, and existentialism. Examination of recent literature from psychology concerning the nature and source of happiness, the ability to measure happiness, and the extent to which personal happiness is beyond our control. Comparison among happiness, well-being, meaning, and how they contribute to a good life. Taught as a seminar. Philosophy concentrators or by permission of the instructor. Maximum enrollment, 12. Werner.
Evolution and Morality.
It makes sense to see morality as adaptive, yet from an evolutionary perspective it’s puzzling that we follow and enforce moral standards even when it is costly for us to do so. This course will critically examine different sorts of evolutionary accounts of morality (e.g. group selection, cultural evolution), with methodological issues in mind. Prerequisite, 3 courses in Philosophy or permission of instructor. Maximum enrollment, 12.
An existential exploration of voice as that which awakens and embodies critical consciousness. Focusing on voice as it emerges and operates within the context of blackness, the course will focus on various black figures and various black expressions of voice as they relate to existential forms of liberation and empowerment. Seminar. Prerequisite, 115W, 222W or 242W and two other courses in philosophy or consent of instructor. Open to juniors and seniors. Maximum enrollment, 12.
A close examination of Nietzsche’s philosophical corpus that focuses on his conception of the good life as it emerges within the context of the critical and positive aspects of his philosophy. Topics include the existential significance of narrative, the nature of knowledge and the philosophical import of Nietzsche’s critical condemnations of metaphysics, religion and morality. Prerequisite, Three courses in philosophy or consent of instructor. Open to juniors and seniors. Taught as a seminar. Maximum enrollment, 12.
From politics to taste, disagreements are everywhere. We examine the epistemic, moral, and political significance of disagreement: when,if ever, should disagreement force us to revise our own views? Does the existence of moral disagreement have implications for moral objectivity? And how can we coexist with others who disagree with our most basic values? We will also discuss the differences among disagreements in science, aesthetics, and ethics. We’ll also ask whether the persistence of philosophical disagreement should make us pessimistic about the possibility of philosophical knowledge. Prerequisite, Three courses in philosophy or consent of instructor. Maximum enrollment, 12. Plakias.
Explanation in the Natural and Social Sciences.
This course studies the main philosophical accounts of scientific explanation. The guiding questions will be: Is there a distinction between explanations in the natural and social sciences? Do we need to be ontologically committed to scientific categories in order to successfully use them in explanations? Does the arrival of big data analytics mean the end of explanation? Scientific background welcome but not required. Students must be willing to work with scientific examples. Prerequisite, Three courses in philosophy or consent of instructor. Maximum enrollment, 12. Barrantes.
Simone de Beauvoir: Between Philosophy and Literature.
This course will focus on Simone de Beauvoir’s work. We will read the whole of The Second Sex, one of the most important contributions to feminist theory, as well as her novels, short stories, and some of the volumes from her autobiography. One of the themes we will address is the distinction between what we think of as philosophy and what we think of as “literature”. We will focus not only on her contributions to feminist theory more generally, but also on her unique contributions to both feminist phenomenology and existentialism. Prerequisite, 3 courses in Philosophy or consent of instructor. Maximum enrollment, 12.
Advanced work aimed at completing a clear, focused, powerful piece of philosophical writing. To that end each member of the seminar will work to 1) identify a philosophical problem, 2) frame that problem as a question to which he or she can propose an answer, 3) turn that answer into a thesis supported with argument and defended against objections, and 4) present that argument to the seminar and support it in a public oral defense. Maximum enrollment, 8. The Department.
(from the Hamilton Course Catalogue)