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Future Undergraduate Courses

Please consult SPIRE for the latest information, including meeting times and places. For course descriptions, see below.

Undergraduate courses: Fall 2018
  Course name Instructor Meeting Room
100 Introduction to Philosophy Markosian TTH 11:30–12:20PM Thmpsn 102
100.04 Introduction to Philosophy Staff TTH 11:30–12:45PM  
100.05 Introduction to Philosophy Staff TTH 11:30–12:45PM  
100H Introduction to Philosophy Eddon TTH 02:30–03:45PM  
105 Practical Reasoning Klement TTH 11:30–12:20PM ILC S131
110 Introduction to Logic Hardegree TTH 08:30–09:45AM ILC S140
160 Introduction to Ethics Meacham MW 10:10–11:00AM ILC S240
160H Introduction to Ethics Staff TTH 04:00–05:15PM  
163 Business Ethics Staff MWF 01:25–02:15PM  
164.01 Medical Ethics Horowitz MW 11:15–12:05PM ELABII0119
164.02 Medical Ethics Staff TTH 10:00–11:15AM SCO E470
164.03 Medical Ethics Staff MWF 10:10–11:00AM SCO E470
164.04 Medical Ethics Staff MWF 12:20–01:10PM SCO E470
164.05 Medical Ethics Staff TTH 11:30–12:45PM SCO E470
164.06 Medical Ethics Staff TTH 02:30–03:45PM  
164.07 Medical Ethics Staff TTH 11:30–12:45PM  
164H Medical Ethics Staff TTH 10:00–11:15AM  
170 Problems in Social Thought Staff MWF 11:15–12:05PM SCO E470
197F Introduction to Philosophy/Film Bricker W 02:30–03:45PM  
197F Introduction to Philosophy/Film Bricker TH 06:30–09:00PM  
320 History of Ancient Philosophy de Harven TTH 01:00–02:15PM SCO E241
321 History of Modern Philosophy Garcia TTH 02:30–03:45PM  
336 Existential Philosophy Garcia TTH 04:00–05:15PM LEDER CA301
342 Introduction to Epistemology Kornblith MW 02:30–03:45PM  
355 Introduction to Philosophy of Mind Levine TTH 11:30–12:45PM  
371 Phil Perspectives/Gender Antony TTH 10:00–11:15AM  
391D S-Death Graham MW 04:00–05:15PM  
400 Logic and Language Hardegree TTH 11:30–12:45 SCO E301
541 Topics in Metaphysics Eddon M 12:20–02:50PM SCO E301
542 Topics in Epistemology Horowitz W 12:20–02:50PM SCO E301
553 Topics in Philosophy of Science Meacham TH 01:00–03:30PM SCO E301
560 Topics in Ethics Graham M 07:00–09:30PM SCO E301
591A S-Topics in Ancient Philosophy de Harven TTH 10:00–11:15AM SCO E301


Course Descriptions

100.01 | Introduction to Philosophy

This course is an introduction to some of the main issues that have preoccupied humans for thousands of years, as well as an introduction to a distinctive way of thinking - a way of thinking that focuses on carefully presenting and evaluating arguments. No background is assumed or required.

By the end of the course, I hope that each of you will think of yourself as a philosopher - as someone who thinks hard about philosophical questions, using philosophical methods, at least some of the time.

Thinking about such questions, and using such methods,will make your life better, in a wide variety of ways. Some of these ways are mundane and practical. (Thinking like a philosopher will help you with your writing, critical thinking, and communicating, which in turn will help you perform better in almost any career; and it will also help you to get better scores on the GRE, LSAT, MCAT, and GMAT.) And some of the ways in which thinking like a philosopher will make your life better are deeper and harder to measure. (Thinking like a philosopher will help you work through issues about what is meaningful and valuable, for example, and who you are, and how you should live your life.)

The course will cover topics in Epistemology, Philosophy of Mind, Metaphysics, Philosophical Theology, and Moral Philosophy. We will focus especially on the following questions: What can I know about the external world? What exactly am I - do I have an immaterial soul, or am I purely physical? Do I have free will? Is there a God? What makes right actions right? Does any of this matter?

Gen Ed: AL | Credits: 4

100H | Introduction to Philosophy (Honors)

Plato and Aristotle taught that philosophy begins in wonder. During this introductory course, we will wonder about the nature and existence of God, knowledge and reality, the mind-body problem, and ethics and morality. So we will be asking questions like this: Is there a God? How do we know that? If there is, and God is good, why is there evil? What is knowledge? How do we get it, and what sorts of things do we know? What is the relationship between the mind and the body? What about between the brain and the mind? Can computers think? What is a person? What makes you the same person today as you were yesterday? Do we have free will? What is the nature of morality? Is there an objective right and wrong? Why should I do the right thing? How does morality contribute to my happiness, if it does at all? In wondering about the answers to these questions you will learn the nature of philosophical argumentation and analysis, how to question your assumptions, and valuable critical thinking skills that are applicable well beyond this course.

(This course is restricted to Commonwealth College first-year students.)

Gen Ed: AL | Credits: 4

105 | Practical Reasoning

This course covers methods for understanding and evaluating reasoning, arguments and inferences, of the sort found in daily life, political speeches, academic writing and beyond. We address such questions as: What is the structure of an argument? What considerations are relevant for determining its strength and cogency? What sorts of appeals to quantitative and scientific data are appropriate, and what sorts aren’t? What, if any, kinds of reasoning patterns can be identified as fallacious or abusive? How can we understand and overcome cognitive biases? This is an analytic reasoning (R2). Texts: A variety of short readings made available online. Requirements: In-class exams, online homework sets, and participation in discussion section. Prerequisites: None.

Gen Ed: R2 | Credits: 4

110 | Introduction to Logic

An introduction to symbolic logic, including sentential and predicate logic. Its purpose is to familiarize you with certain formal methods for representing and evaluating arguments and reasoning. These methods can be used not only for philosophy, but for any subject matter. The focus is on translating English statements into symbolic notation, and evaluating arguments for validity using formal proof techniques.

Requirements: Homework exercises and exams. Text: Hardegree, Symbolic Logic: A First Course, 4th ed. Prerequisites: none.

Gen Ed: R2 | Major: Logic | Credits: 3

160 | Introduction to Ethics

In the first half of the class we’ll discuss some of the main theories that have been offered for evaluating what one ought and ought not to do, such as Ethical Relativism, Ethical Skepticism, the Divine Command theory, Utilitarianism, Kantianism, and the Social Contract Theory. In the second half of the class we’ll turn to look at some controversial issues in ethics, with possible topics including animal rights, euthanasia, abortion, infanticide, parental responsibilities, neonatal circumcision and children’s rights.

Gen Ed: AT | Major: Value | Credits: 4

160H | Introduction to Ethics (Honors)

(This course is restricted to Commonwealth College first-year students.)

Gen Ed: AT | Major: Value | Credits: 4

163 | Business Ethics

Many ethical problems arise in connection with Big Data - the increasingly large volume, variety, and velocity of data collection available to researchers and organizations. There are important moral questions about the acquisition and use of this data. Does Big Data involve a violation of personal privacy? Does it lead to discrimination or unjust pricing and monopolies? What impact does Big Data have on the democratic process? In this class, we will engage with these difficult questions by making use of resources from moral philosophy.

Major: Value | Credits: 4

164.01-05 | Medical Ethics

A survey of some philosophical topics in medical ethics, focusing on questions about (if ever) when medicine should be used to end life, and when it should be used to improve quality of life.

Gen Ed: AT | Major: Value | Credits: 4

164H | Medical Ethics (Honors)

An introduction to ethics through issues of medicine and health care. Topics include abortion, treatment of impaired infants, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, truth-telling, medical experimentation on human beings and on animals, and the allocation of scarce medical resources.

(This course is restricted to Commonwealth College first-year students.)

Gen Ed: AT | Major: Value | Credits: 4

170 | Problems in Social Thought

An introduction to modern Western political and social philosophy. We will focus on key works by Machiavelli, Locke, Rousseau, Mill, and Marx and on questions about the nature and limits of political power, rights, and liberty.

Gen Ed SB | Major: Value | Credits: 4

197F | Introduction to Philosophy;Film

This course is an introduction to philosophy, covering five central topics. It is an experimental course being offered for the first time. It uses both standard philosophical texts and films with philosophical themes to introduce the issues. The five topics covered will be: skepticism about the external world; personal identity; free will and determinism; time travel and multiple universes; and artificial intelligence. In connection with each topic, two or three full length films will be viewed and discussed, about a dozen films in all. The course will meet twice each week: a seventy-five minute lecture to introduce a philosophical topic, and then a two-and-half hour evening session that will include a film and discussion. Course requirements include three short writing assignments and a comprehensive final exam.

Credits: 3

320 | History of Ancient Philosophy

History of Ancient Philosophy is a survey course that explores why the ancient Greeks are considered the founders of Western Philosophy. Starting with pre-Socratic rational cosmology, we will see the advent of inquiry guided by reason and argumentation rather than prophetic testimony. With Socrates, we will see the turn to definition, with a focus on morality and the good life; and in Plato’s Republic we will follow a sustained account of justice, human psychology, politics, and the nature of knowledge and reality. Finally, with Aristotle we will see the birth of virtue ethics (the idea that what makes an action good is the state of character behind it), the philosophy of science, and a return to rational cosmology.

Prerequisites: Two courses taken in the UMass Philosophy Department or instructor approval

Gen Ed: HS | Major: Hist(A) | Credits: 4

321 | History of Modern Philosophy

In this course we will reconstruct some of the most important arguments produced in the early modern period (16th-18th centuries) by groundbreaking European male and female philosophers, including René Descartes, Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, Nicolas Malebranche, Margaret Cavendish, George Berkeley and David Hume. The focus will be on central metaphysical, theological and epistemological issues, including scepticism, causation, mind-body problems, the mechanical account of bodies, the existence of God, the problem of induction, and a priori knowledge. Given the importance and breadth of the texts and topics covered, the stress on historical and critical evaluation of arguments, and the emphasis on written and verbal expression, this course meets the objectives of the General Education (Historical Studies) curriculum.

Prerequisite: Two courses taken in the UMass Philosophy Department or instructor approval

Gen Ed: HS | Major: Hist(B) | Credits: 4

336 | Existential Philosophy

An introduction to the main themes of Existentialism through seminal writing by Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre.

Gen Ed: AL | Credits: 4

342 | Introduction to Epistemology

Some beliefs are justified; some are not. What are the standards that a belief must meet if it is to count as justified? We will begin this course by looking at three different answers to this question: foundationalism; the coherence theory; and reliabilism. After discussing each of these views in some detail and examining their merits and deficiencies, we will go on to look at a number of applications of these views: to questions about inductive inference; testimony; self-knowledge; and epistemic agency. All readings for the course will be free and available on-line. Written requirements for the course will involve some short papers (three to five pages each), and one longer term paper (10 to 12 pages). Readings from Laurence BonJour, Alvin Goldman, Ernest Sosa, Berislav Marusic, Richard Moran, and a variety of others.

Major: M&E | Credits: 3

355 | Introduction to Philosophy of Mind

Can mere matter think? What is consciousness? Can I exist without any body? How can my intentions cause my body to move? These are among the questions that constitute the “Mind-Body Problem;” this course will show you how philosophers have tried solve it. We’ll begin with a survey of the main theoretical frameworks philosophers have proposed for understanding the relation between mind and body: dualism, reductionism, behaviorism, and functionalism. Then we’ll examine two or three more specific issues in some detail, drawing on work by contemporary philosophers.

Major: M&E | Credits: 3

371 | Philosophical Perspectives;Gender

This course will offer systematic examination of a variety of philosophical issues raised by the existence of gender roles in human society: Is the existence or content of such roles determined by nature? Are they inherently oppressive? How does the category gender interact with other socially significant categories, like race, class, and sexual orientation? What would gender equality look like? How do differences among women complicate attempts to generalize about gender? In the last part of the course, we will bring our theoretical insights to bear on some topical issue related to gender, chosen by the class, such as: Is affirmative action morally justifiable? Should pornography be regulated? Is abortion morally permissible? Reading will be drawn from historical and contemporary sources. Methods of analytical philosophy, particularly the construction and critical evaluation of arguments, will be emphasized throughout.

Gen Ed: SB/DU | Major: Value | Credits: 4

391D | S-Death

In this course we will explore a number of questions about the nature and value of death. Among the many questions we’ll investigate are: What is it for something to die? Is it conceptually possible for us to survive our own deaths and if so, how so? How is death related, and in what ways, to life? Can death be bad for the one who dies? If so, how? Can death ever be good for the one who dies? If so, how? Is it worse to die as an infant or as a teenager? In virtue of what is killing someone else wrong?

Credits: 3

400 | Logic and Language (JYW)

Junior Year Writing - description forthcoming

541 | Topics in Metaphysics

In this class we will look at various issues connected with the constitution, composition, and mereology of objects (and perhaps other things). We will begin with some of the classic paradoxes of material constitution and some proposed solutions. We will consider questions regarding whether composition is restricted in some way, and how the mereology of objects relates to the regions at which they are located. Other topics include temporal parts, relative identity, composition as identity, gunk and junk, logics of mereology, etc.

This class may be taken for seminar credit.

542 | Topics in Epistemology

This course will be devoted to a discussion of the notion of epistemic agency. To what extent, if at all, is the formation of our beliefs something that we do, rather than something that merely happens to us? Some philosophers think that, although some of belief acquisition is merely passive, we do, at times, play an active role in forming our beliefs. Indeed, for some philosophers, the very idea that we evaluate some of our beliefs as justified, and some as unjustified, presupposes that we are agents with respect to our beliefs: being justified isn’t something that can merely happen to a belief; the belief must have been the product of an action for it to be normatively assessable in this way. There are other ideas about epistemic agency as well, and, of course, some philosophers are dubious that there is such a thing. We will look at a variety of views on this topic, and we will read work by Ernest Sosa, Berislav Marusic, Richard Moran, Kieran Setiya, Pamela Hieronymi, and a variety of others. All of the readings for the course will be available free and on-line. One short paper (about 5 pages), and one longer term paper (about 18 to 20 pages) will be due for the course.

Prerequisites for undergraduates: at least three prior philosophy courses or consent of instructor.

Major: M&E

553 | Topics in Philosophy of Science: Decision and Infinity

Suppose you (morally) should act so as to maximize happiness. And suppose there are infinitely many subjects with relatively happy lives. Since any action available to you won’t reduce the overall amount of happiness (infinite), it would seem to follow that it’s permissible for you to do whatever you like, no matter how vile. This seems like a problem for the standard consequentialist ways of assessing what acts are morally permissible. And similar issues arise in the context of decision theory, for subjects with infinitely many desires. In this class, we’ll explore this problem, and explore some ways of handling infinite cases like the ones described above. We’ll also explore some related problems that arise in different area of decision making, potentially including problems that arise in cases with infinitely many acts, problems that arise in cases with acts with infinitely many possible outcomes, and problems that arise in cases with unbounded or infinite individual utilities.

Prerequisites for undergraduates: at least three prior philosophy courses or consent of instructor.

560 | Topics in Ethics

Description forthcoming

591A | Topics in Ancient Philosophy

“Justice, Happiness and the Human Good” Plato’s Republic is an intricate and sophisticated work of ethics, psychology, metaphysics, epistemology, and, of course, politics. Over the course of the semester we will undertake a close reading of this powerful dialogue, and discover Plato’s enduring relevance to society and the human condition. The triumphs and woes of the Athenian democracy are not far from our own. There is much talk of justice, but virtually no agreement as to what justice even is. Plato asks, What is justice and morality, anyway, and why is it good? What is the nature of the human being, and what does its good consist in? It turns out that an answer to one is an answer to the other: justice is the healthy condition of a human soul, an admirable state of character consisting in the fulfillment of human nature. It is good because it generates and preserves the best state of the best part of you, and this is happiness.

In addition to the Republic, we will read Plato’s Apology, Crito, and Gorgias, along with other selections from throughout the corpus. We will also use the commentary by Nicholas P. White, A Companion to Plato’s Republic (Hackett 1979).

Prerequisites for undergraduates: at least three prior philosophy courses or consent of instructor.

Major: Hist(A)