Topics in Philosophy of Science


M 12:30-3:00

In this class we'll discuss various issues in the philosophy of space and time. Most of the readings will be taken from two books: Tim Maudlin's Philosophy of Physics: Space and Time, and Frank Arntzenius's Space, Time and Stuff. We'll also probably read some parts of Nick Huggett's Everywhere and Everywhen: Adventures in Physics and Philosophy.

Likely topics include: whether the world is "gunky", whether the world is "local", the direction of time, relationalism versus substantivalism about spacetime, and the philosophical implications of special and general relativity.


Topics in Ethics


W 7:00-9:30

In this course we will examine many of the factors moral theorists have thought to be relevant to the moral permissibility and impermissibility of behavior. Among the many questions we will discuss are the following: Are an action's consequences morally relevant to its permissibility? If so, in what ways are they relevant? Is there a moral prohibition against harming others, even in cases in which doing so would bring about the best outcome? If there is such a prohibition, what are its contours? In what ways is consent morally relevant, if at all, to the permissibility of a person's actions? To what extent are we morally obliged to help those in desperate need? Requirements: two take-home exams, no term paper. (Graduate students have the option of doing one term paper in lieu of the two take-home exams.)


Kant's Critique of Pure Reason


W 3:30-6:00

Kant's Critique of Pure Reason is regarded as one of the most significant works in Western philosophy.  Some of the main issues we will discuss include Kant's views about space and time, causality, substance, self-consciousness, synthetic a priori judgment, transcendental idealism, and his use of transcendental arguments in order to reply to skepticism. 

Besides doing a close textual analysis of the 1st Critique, we will also be reading some influential commentators – including Allison, Ameriks, Beck, Guyer, Henrich, Kemp Smith, Kitcher, Langton, Longuenesse, Strawson, and van Cleve, among others – as well as looking at Kant’s relationship to some of his contemporaries, especially Hume.


Early Modern Philosophy


M 3:35-6:05

This course will survey some of the significant, recently recovered contributions by women to European philosophy in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries.  Topics will include a variety of issues in metaphysics, epistemology, social and political philosophy, and rational theology, e.g., substance, causation, mind-body problems, mechanism versus vitalism, God, scepticism, sense perception, the gendering of cognitive and moral capacities, as well as women's fitness for education and for careers in the arts, sciences and politics. More specifically we will examine: (1) the sceptical arguments in Marie de Gournay's treatise on the equality of the sexes; (2) Anna Maria van Schurman's Aristotelian syllogisms in defense of the suitability of education for women; (3) Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia's challenges to Cartesian dualism and mind-body interaction; (4) Margaret Cavendish's treatment of mechanism, causation and perception, and her defense of vitalistic materialism; (5) Mary Astell's defense of dualistic interactionism in terms of "vital congruence", and her challenges to occasionalism; and (6) Anne Thérèse de Lambert's use of the gendering of the Cartesian mind-body union to argue for the important social, aesthetic and moral roles that women can play in society. We will examine these philosophers' views in relation to those of Michel de Montaigne, René Descartes, Nicolas Malebranche, Thomas Hobbes, and François Poullain de la Barre.


Humean Supervenience


Th 4:00-6:30

Humean supervenience is the view, championed by David Lewis, that our world can be completely characterized in terms of the distribution of particular, localized events over space and time.  The view constrains what can count as an adequate account of many fundamental philosophical notions, including persistence, counterfactuals, laws, causation, and chance.  In this couse, we will consider the general motivation behind the thesis of Humean supervenience as well as particular Humean analyses put forward by Lewis and others.

594S Semantics Hardegree TuTh 9:30-10:45

We usually understand novel sentences – e.g., this one – with little or no hesitation. How do we accomplish this? According to the received opinion, our linguistic knowledge divides into two modules – roughly, words and rules – which in turn correspond respectively to Lexical Grammar and Compositional Grammar. The present course concerns Compositional Grammar, more specifically Compositional Semantics – the study of how the meanings of compound expressions are derived from the meanings of their parts. We pursue this enterprise within the framework of Categorial Grammar – more specifically, within the framework of Type-Logical Grammar. Topics will include: set theory, type theory, lambda-calculus, categorial syntax and semantics, type-logical syntax and semantics. Prerequisite: Phil 511, or 595T, or graduate status, or consent of the instructor. Requirements: homework assignments. Click here for website.

701R Selected Philosopher - Russell Klement Tu 4:00-6:30
We will examine the development of Russell's philosophical views on logic, metaphysics, epistemology and mathematics roughly during the years 1900-1918. This includes the time frame of the composition of Principia Mathematica and the adoption of logical atomism. Topics include logicism, logical form, logical and semantic paradoxes, the theory of types, philosophical analysis, the nature of truth, logical atomism, descriptions and meaning. Requirements: Weekly reading assignments and term paper. Pre-requisites: Graduate student status with a strong background in formal logic, or the consent of instructor.


Seminar in Metaphysics


Th 1:00-3:30

This class is an introduction to the metaphysics of modality. We will begin by looking at some of the reasons why possible worlds are theoretically useful. We will then examine a few different accounts of what possible worlds are. Topics will include modal realism, varieties of actualism, modalism, the de re/de dicto distinction, essentialism, counterparts and transworld identity.  The syllabus may be found at people.umass.edu/mayae/modality.pdf .


Seminar in Epistemology


Tu 1:00-3:30

Some beliefs are justified; others are not. What is it that makes the difference? What conditions must be satisfied if a belief is to be justified? The available views about justification may be divided into two types: internalist and externalist. Roughly, internalists believe that the features which a belief must have if it is to be justified are, in some sense, internal to the agent: for example, on one such view, they must be available to introspection. Externalists disagree: the features which make a belief justified need not be entirely internal. We will examine this debate in detail.  We will read work by BonJour, Comesana, Conee, Feldman, Goldman, Kornblith, Sosa, Stroud, Williamson and others.  Readings will be made available. Requirements: One short (5 - 7 page) paper, and one longer (roughly 20 page) paper.


Seminar in Ethics


M 7:00-9:30

Derek Parfit’s On What Matters has received some truly over-the-top praise from critics.  Thus, for example, Peter Singer described it as “the most significant work in ethics since Sidgwick's masterpiece was published in 1873 . . . a work of epic proportions and ambitions”.  And Mark Schroeder said that it is “an epochal work . . . a remarkable achievement, giving us a truly comprehensive picture of the moral outlook --both normative and metaethical --of one of the greatest moral thinkers of our time.”

Among other things, Parfit tries to show that the best form of consequentialism is equivalent to the best form of Kantianism.  As he sees it, the best form of consequentialism is some version of rule utilitarianism; and the best form of Kantianism is some version of the categorical imperative that says something about acting on maxims that you can consistently will be universal laws of nature.  Each of these theories involves the idea of “generalization in ethics” – the morally right thing for you to do is the act that is required by a general rule that either would have very high utility if universally followed, or that you could consistently will be the rule for everyone to follow.  Thus we might say that Parfit’s thesis is that these two conceptions of generalization in ethics really boil down to the same thing.

But this immediately provokes a series of questions: is the Parfittian form of rule utilitarianism actually the best form of consequentialism?  Why isn’t it refuted by the standard objections to rule utilitarianism that we learned in Intro Ethics?  Is the Parfittian form of Kantianism actually the best form of Kantianism?  Why isn’t it open to the objections and complaints that we learned in Ethical Theory?  And, putting aside the question whether these normative theories are the best of their respective kinds, there remains the question whether Parfit is right in claiming that they are equivalent.

These are the questions we will discuss in Phil 760 during Spring, 2013.

Course requirements: regular, active, well-informed participation in seminar discussions; mid-term paper; term paper.  Some seminarians may be invited to give seminar presentations or mini-presentations.

Distribution Credit:  Ethics.

Required reading: Parfit On What Matters parts of volume 1; passages in Mill and Sidgwick; passages in Kant’s Groundwork; passages in a certain introductory ethics textbook.


Seminar in Ancient Philosophy

de Harven

W 12:30-3:00
The Stoics are both celebrated and derided for their novel metaphysics and staunch physicalism.   This seminar will begin with the Stoics’ continuum physics, monism, and identity conditions at the heart of their robust materialism.  Then we will turn to the ontological principles that underwrite the Stoics' highest genus of being:  Something, including their rejection of universals and commitment to particulars.  From there we will explore the nature of the famous incorporeals — place, void, time and the tantalizing lekta (roughly, the meanings of our words, or propositions; literally, sayables).  And finally, we will look at the possibility that the Stoics recognized a third kind of Something, what is neither corporeal nor incorporeal, which brings us to the Stoic treatment of creatures of fiction and mathematical entities.


Dissertation Seminar


by arrangement

Seminar for students working on their doctoral dissertations.  Chapters in progress are presented for discussion.


Affiliated Courses

WOMENSST 692C - Issues in Feminist Theory
Ann Ferguson
Tuesday 4:00-6:30 p.m.

This seminar is designed for graduate students who want to improve their background in feminist theory as it has developed in the 20th and 21st century United States. In 2013 it is one of the seminars which meets the feminist theory requirement for the graduate certificate in Advanced Feminist Studies. Some background in social theory is presupposed. Some qualified upper level undergraduates may also be eligible to join the course with permission of the instructor. The seminar will focus on an intersectional approach to theorizing race, class, gender and sexuality, with special attention to the topics of love and solidarity as they develop in that strand of feminist theory sometimes known as materialist feminism. Although the course will be organized topically there will be some attention to historical writings of feminist theory. The theories of gender, sexuality and social domination of Marx, Freud and Foucault will be considered through those feminist theorists who have appropriated aspects of their theories and methods. Texts for the course will include an anthology of readings by Nicholson The Second Wave: A Reader in Feminist Theory, Hennessy Profit and Pleasure: Sexual Identities in Late Capitalism, and Alsop et al Theorizing Gender. Relevant books will be available at Food for Thought books and there will be online readings as well. There will be a short paper due the middle of the semester, a term paper, a class presentation, and short homework questions.