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Undergraduate Course Listing

Philosophy is unique both in its methods and in the nature and breadth of its subject matter. It pursues questions in every dimension of human life, and its techniques apply to problems in any field of study or endeavor. It seeks to establish standards of evidence, to provide rational methods of resolving conflicts, to create techniques for evaluating ideas and arguments, and to combine the discoveries of other disciplines to create a coherent world view. Philosophy develops the capacity to see the world from the perspective of other individuals and other cultures; it enhances one’s ability to perceive the relationships among the various fields of study; and it deepens one’s sense of the meaning and varieties of human experience.

Majoring in philosophy provides excellent training for further study in a variety of professional fields. It is particularly appropriate for further study in law, theology, linguistics (indeed a joint major in Linguistics and Philosophy is offered at UConn), and of course philosophy; it is also a good background for such diverse fields as medicine and business. Most majors who continue their study of philosophy at the graduate level intend to teach at a college or university, but some pursue careers in fields as diverse as artificial intelligence and government service.

For a current listing of all undergraduate philosophy courses, please see the university catalog.

Current Undergraduate Courses

PHIL 1101, Problems of Philosophy

Topics may include skepticism, proofs of God, knowledge of the external world, induction, free-will, the problem of evil, miracles, liberty and equality. Suitable for content Area 1 requirement.

PHIL 1104, Philosophy and Social Ethics

Topics may include the nature of the good life, the relation between social morality and individual rights, and practical moral dilemmas. Suitable for content Area 1 requirement.

PHIL 2205, Aesthetics

The course is an introduction to aesthetics and the philosophy of art from the standpoint of analytic philosophy. Topics include: the nature of expression in art, aesthetic experience, representation in art and the special case of music, but also questions like: What is art? What is an artwork? And why are those two different questions? In particular, we will investigate how modern art might pose special problems for a theory and philosophy of art.

PHIL 2210, Metaphysics & Epistemology

Topics may include time, personal identity, free-will, the mind-body problem, skepticism, induction, perception, a priori knowledge.

PHIL 2211Q, Logic

Phil 2211Q is a second course in logic.   We will study truth functional logic, and then quantificational logic, and develop techniques for establishing validity and invalidity in both these systems.   We will also study the translation of English into these formal systems.   As time allows, we will also explore some or all of these topics: the semantical and set-theoretical paradoxes, Russell’s theory of descriptions, and modal logic (the logic of possibility and necessity).    There are two texts for the course:  Donald Kalish, Richard Montague and Gary Mar, Techniques of Formal Reasoning, 2nd edition (Oxford University Press), and a Course-Pack, available from Student Stores.

PHIL 2212, Philosophy of Science

This course explores the nature of science:  what it is, how it works, and what (if anything) it enables us to know about the world.  We will take up a number of controversial questions:  What distinguishes genuine science from pseudo-science?  How do scientific theories explain?  Are there laws of nature?  Under what conditions does an observation or experimental result confirm a theory?  Is it rational to believe that our current best theories are true?  Is science objective and/or value-free?  We will look at these questions as they arise in a variety of scientific contexts, but no knowledge of any science is presupposed.

PHIL 2215, Ethics

In this course we will explore moral philosophy by asking four types of questions:  (1) What particular behavior is morally permissible?  For instance, is it morally permissible to have an abortion or to eat meat?  (2) What makes our lives go best?  For instance, can something we never experience (like the fulfillment of our wishes unbeknownst to us) make us better or worse off?  Does being morally good make our own lives go better?  (3) To what principles can we appeal in order to determine what is morally permissible?  For instance, ought we always to do that which maximizes happiness and minimizes suffering?  (4) What sort of status should we ascribe to moral claims?  For instance, can moral claims be objectively true?  We will identify possible reasons for holding certain views, which philosophers reconstruct in the form of arguments, and we will critically assess those reasons.

PHIL 2217, Social and Political Philosophy

The first half of this course surveys some of the most influential figures in western political thought: Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Rawls.   We will focus primarily on their justifications of the state, their defenses of individual liberty, and their understandings of political community.  The second half of the course will address the present-day US context, paying particular attention to contemporary work on racial injustice.

PHIL 2221, Ancient Philosophy

We will read selections from ancient philosophers ranging from the pre-Socratics to the post-Aristotelians, with special attention to Plato and Aristotle.  Topics will include Fate and Freedom, Reason and Emotion, Knowledge and Skepticism, Motion, the Forms, Cause, Time, the Best Life, and Society and the State.  The text will be Julia Annas, ed., Voices of Ancient Philosophy (Oxford University Press).

PHIL 2222, 17th & 18th Century Philosophy

Between the 17th and 18th Century, philosophy entered a period of intense rebirth and development. In this class, we will examine in detail the key contributions made by some of the most prominent 17th-18th Century philosophers to a variety of metaphysical and epistemological topics, including the nature of the mind, language, concept formation, sense perception, causation, knowledge, personal identity, the existence of God, and freedom of the will.

PHIL 3214, Symbolic Logic II

After a brief introduction to some background techniques, the course will introduce the syntax and semantics of classical first-order predicate logic as well as different proof systems. The main focus of the course will be on the so-called meta-theory:  properties of the logic itself, such as the relationship between proof-system and semantics (soundness, completeness), and a first glimpse at model theory (compactness, Löwenheim-Skolem theorems; perhaps, depending on progress and interests of participants, Interpolation and/or Lindström’s Theorem). Time and interest of the participants permitting, we may compare classical to intuitionistic logic, or introduce second-order logic.

PHIL 3216, Environmental Ethics

Environmental ethics examines the moral dimension of our treatment of nonhuman entities in nature and the natural world as a whole.  Do we have, for instance, an obligation to protect biodiversity?  To preserve wilderness?  To prevent (further) anthropogenic climate change?  If so, what grounds these obligations?  Are they based entirely on human interests, including perhaps the interests of future generations?  Or do we have obligations also to nonhuman animals?  Trees?  Ecosystems?  The biosphere?

We will examine traditional ethical theories insofar as they address these issues.  We will also explore recent attempts to extend, revise, and/or replace traditional moral theories so as to bring the environment into the ambit of ethics.  Along the way, we will look closely at a few environmental issues (e.g., climate change) and consider implications for both public policy and personal choices.  We will read work by Peter Singer, Tom Regan, Mark Sagoff, Aldo Leopold, Karen Warren, Derek Parfit, and Gary Varner, among others.

PHIL 3219, Topics in Philosophy and Human Rights

The first half of this course surveys some of the most influential figures in western political thought: Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Rawls.   We will focus primarily on their justifications of the state, their defenses of individual liberty, and their understandings of political community.  The second half of the course will address the present-day US context, paying particular attention to contemporary work on racial injustice.

PHIL 3220, Foundations of Human Rights

This course will involve the conceptual, metaphysical, and epistemological foundations of human rights. The means by which this will be achieved start with a survey of the going philosophical options to adopt with regard to the status of moral claims in general, and thereby human rights claims; options include: various forms of realism, pragmatism, expressivism, cultural relativism, error theories, etc.. The second step will be to apply the canvassed options to the issue of human rights. More specific theoretical issues may include a distinction between negative vs. positive rights (rights to non-malfeasance vs. rights to be benefited), as well as rights of future generations of humans.

PHIL 3225, Analysis & Ordinary Language

A seminar on the work of Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Main topics will include the notions of analysis and of logical construction, the problem of knowledge of the external world, the refutation of idealism, the analysis of sensory experience, the notion of direct acquaintance, the “private language” argument, and the nature of certainty.

PHIL 3231, Philosophy of Religion

Religion is one of the most widespread and familiar of human behaviors. As long as humans have been recognizably human, they have been religious. Religious claims are of particular interest to philosophers because they raise so many important metaphysical issues: religious claims make assertions about the ultimate nature of reality, the existence of souls, an afterlife, and the existence of a God. Thus, these claims lead into just about every other area of philosophy such as epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and the history of philosophy, and into particular central philosophical debates such as the debate over the nature of free will.  This means that you will gain insight into many fundamental philosophical issues.

PHIL 3241, Philosophy of Language

We use language so frequently and so skillfully that it is easy to lose sight of how mysterious our abilities are. But there is something deeply puzzling about language: how is it that just by making a series of noises, or bodily movements, or marks on paper, we are able to tell each other in such rich detail about any topic we choose? Here, we’ll take a look at this question through a philosophical lens, although linguistics and logic will also turn up in places. (No background in linguistics or logic is assumed, although students with such background might choose to put it to use in certain assignments.)

In the first half of the course, we will take a bit of a whirlwind tour through some basic tools that have proved useful for thinking about how it is that we manage to communicate through language. In the second half of the course, we’ll look at some particular kinds of language that seem to resist any simple understanding: slurs (nasty words for kinds of people or groups of people) and conditionals (“if … then” constructions).

PHIL 3249, Philosophy of Neuroscience

This course will examine recent experimental reports claiming to predict the timing and direction of voluntary movement well before the subject had consciously decided whether or not to move. We will also study some of the literature on “motor control”: the neuroscience of the initiation and control of voluntary bodily movements. What are the relations between the physiological events in our nervous systems and muscles and our seemingly voluntary movements? Figuring out answers to those questions will require us to study portions of the philosophical literature on “free will and determinism”. So the course is both philosophy and neuroscience.

PHIL 3250, Philosophy of Mind

Contemporary issues in the philosophy of mind.  Topics may include the natural of the mental; the mind-body problem, the analysis of sensory experience, the problem of intentionality, and psychological explanation.

PHIL 3261, Medieval Philosophy

We will study topics discussed by philosophers from the fourth to the fourteenth centuries, who were committed to Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.  Topics may include the existence of God, free will, identity and distinction, universals and particulars, skepticism, virtue and reason, mysticism, or others.  The thinkers may include Augustine, Boethius, Avicenna, Anselm, Al Ghazali, Abelard, Averroes, Maimonides, Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham, or others, as well as ancient sources for some of the topics:  Aristotle and Plato.  All readings will be contained in Bosley and Tweedale, editors, Basic Issues in Medieval Philosophy, 2nd Edition (Broadview Press, 2006).

PHIL 3264, Classical Chinese Philosophy & Culture

In this course we will look at the formative philosophical thought of the early Chinese tradition, primarily in the Warring States Period and the Western Han Dynasty.  We will look at multiple schools and texts, including Confucian, Daoist, Mohist, Legalist, and Syncretist texts.  Topics covered will include virtue, human nature, proper governance, thriving, knowledge, the “Way” (dao), and the nature of truth.  We will also study the historical context in which these theories developed, looking at important events and figures in the period, including Qin Shi Huang and the unification of the Warring States in 221 BCE, the dispute surrounding the Huainanzi between Emperor Wu of Han and Liu An in the mid 2nd century BCE, and the rise of Wang Mang in the opening years of the 1st century CE.

We will read selections from a wide range of primary texts, including: Lunyu (The Analects of Confucius), Xunzi, Mozi, Zhuangzi, Hanfeizi, Jia Yi’s Xinshu, Huainanzi, Sima Qian’s Shiji, and Ban Gu’s Han Shu.

PHIL 3298, Variable Topics (See examples below)

Know Thyself

The Delphic Oracle is said to have had two premier injunctions: Nothing in excess, and Know thyself. This course will be an examination of the latter injunction. Our central questions fall into two categories. First What is it? We shall inquire into just what self-knowledge is: Is it a form of inner perception, somewhat like proprioception, by virtue of which our minds (and hearts) have internal scanners of their own states? Or should we construe self-knowledge in a way not crucially relying on a perceptual model? In that case, what other model might we use? Second, Why is it such a big deal? We shall inquire into the question why self-knowledge should be thought so important. Just what, if anything, is missing from a person lacking in self-knowledge that makes her significantly less wise, virtuous, or able than others who have this capacity? Our exploration will take us into research in Western philosophy, psychoanalysis, current personality and social psychology, neuroscience, aesthetics, and Eastern, particularly Buddhist philosophy as well. In aid of these investigations we will become students of our own dreams, and cultivate some meditative practices. Course requirements are two papers, a midterm and final examination, and active participation in discussion section.

Africana Philosophy

Africana philosophy is also called African diasporic philosophy.  It is a modern form of philosophy addressing problems of what could be called the “underside of Western philosophy,” problems often avoided in Western philosophy and thus paradoxically become more central in significance than many Western philosophers may realize.  We will examine these problems, across African American philosophy, Afro-Caribbean philosophy, and African philosophy, through three guiding questions: (1) What does it mean to be human in a world that challenges one’s humanity?  (2) What is freedom in a world governed by enslavement? And (3) is reason legitimate in a world that uses it to rationalize injustice and misrepresentations of reality?  These questions will also be examined through resources from Africana analytical, dialectical, existential, feminist, phenomenological, and pragmatist thought.

Bioethics

Bioethics In this course we will investigate six moral concepts/distinctions in bioethics. The concepts are: well-being, autonomy; moral rights, equality; objectification, and exploitation. We will examine the boundaries and applications of these concepts by looking at a variety of applied topics in bioethics. These include (but are not limited to): physician assisted suicide; our treatment of animals; abortion; genetic and chemical enhancement; commercial surrogacy; and markets in bodily parts (e.g. kidney sales). The syllabus will include both articles and movies. Students will be responsible for producing two items for evaluation: A. One item that demonstrates breadth of understanding (either Bi-Weekly Response Pieces or a Cumulative Exam); B. One item that demonstrates depth of understanding (either a research paper or a substantial group presentation).

Philosophy & Science Fiction

In this class we employ science fiction thought experiments as a means of reflecting on  questions like:  What is reality? What is the nature of the self and mind?  Might you be in a computer simulation (e.g., as in The Matrix)? Is time travel possible? Can your mind survive the death of your brain by uploading? Is time real or is it merely an illusion? Do we have free will?

Paradoxes

Paradoxes have been a driving force in Philosophy since the 5th Century B.C.  They force us to rethink old ideas and conceptions.  In this course, we will study a wide range of paradoxes: Zeno’s paradoxes about space, time and motion, Sorites paradoxes about vagueness (like the paradox of the heap), paradoxes of rationality (Newcomb’s paradox and the Prisoner’s dilemma), paradoxes of belief (including paradoxes of confirmation, and the surprise examination paradox), logical paradoxes (Russell’s paradox about classes and the Liar paradox about truth), and paradoxes about time travel.  As we explore these paradoxes, we will wrestle with some central philosophical questions: What is the nature of space, time and motion?  Is the world a fully determinate place? What is it to act rationally?  When is a belief justified?  What is the nature of truth?  Philosophy is best viewed as a practice, as something that one does.  By actively engaging with the paradoxes, you will develop the intellectual skills that make philosophical progress possible.

Current Interdepartmental Courses

Interdepartmental (INTD) 3260, The Bible 

This course treats the Bible (the Hebrew Bible plus the New Testament) as a text written by humans. The course deals with the historical background of the various texts, the development of interpretations, over time. It emphasizes the continuities between Judaism and Christianity and between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.