Kennedy Institute
Events and Lectures

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11 Feb 2009 - 17 Mar 2011
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Philosophy Department Course Offerings
This course offerings page contains courses taught from Fall 1989 to the present. Use the pull down menus for your desired choice.
Courses to be taught Summer 2010
PHIL-173-10 The State and Individual Freedom (Instructor: Yashar Saghai)
Why is the state justified in limiting individual freedom? This course will introduce students to political philosophy by focusing on this central question. Since the work of John Stuart Mill, many political philosophers have argued to the state can legitimately limit individual freedom to avoid harm to others. We will begin the course by exploring Mill’s work and then discuss how contemporary philosophers have responded to the same question. In contemporary philosophy, a central question is whether the state should remain neutral toward religious, moral and philosophical views. For example, does respect for different religious views require deregulated home-schooling? Does neutrality require the legalization of same-sex marriage? Should the state promote healthy lifestyles? After considering arguments for neutrality, we will study critics of the principle of state neutrality. We will approach this topic in a variety of ways, including reading philosophical texts, watching movies and documentaries, and discussing and debating.
First Session
PHIL-010-10 Introduction to Ethics (Instructor: Nate Olson)
This course will introduce students to the study of ethics by both surveying ethical theories and investigating contemporary ethical issues. We will explore topics such as moral relativism, global justice, the importance of integrity, and how living in a diverse society should affect our ethical decision-making. Our investigation will be guided by the works of significant Western philosophers, both historical and contemporary.
PHIL-150-10, Instruction to Logic (Instructor: David Pierce)
In this course we will discuss the basic principles of good reasoning. We will examine both formal and informal aspects of arguments and show how logical fallacies undermine the cogency of an argument, regardless of its subject matter. We will develop a systematic approach to the symbolization and derivation of conclusions from premises. There will be significant emphasis on the application of logical tools to commonly encountered arguments. This course will benefit any student interested in improving his or her reasoning abilities, those preparing for the LSAT, and those interested in satisfying the philosophy major's requirement in logic.
PHIL-161-10, Introduction to Political Philosophy (Instructor: Luke Maring)
In this class, we will take an issues-oriented approach to political philosophy. Rather than beginning with a philosophical theory and working to draw out its practical implications, we will use a political issue (e.g., abortion, capital punishment, healthcare, …) to motivate philosophical study. Good philosophy can organize, clarify, and challenge our thinking about controversial questions. In this class, we will use philosophy for these purposes.
In addition to being issues-oriented, this class will be discussion-oriented. Students must, therefore, come to class prepared to discuss the day’s material, and will be graded according to their contributions to class conversation. A series of short papers will also factor into their grades.
PHIL-188-10, The Relativist Menace (Instructor: Oren Magid)
This course is about a variety of forms of philosophical relativism, both within the explicitly moral sphere and otherwise. In simplified form, what such philosophical positions have in common is the claim that something (moral truth, for example) is relative to something else (some cultural context or frame of reference, for example). More colloquially, “it’s all relative,” “that’s true for you, but not for me,” and “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” are potential examples of relativistic statements.
Not many philosophers want to be relativists about matters they take to be important – truth, knowledge, morality, etc. For them, relativism presents itself as a menace. But if relativism were easily dismissed, it would not be so menacing. Indeed, many of the same philosophers who see relativism as a menace spend their careers struggling with it in an attempt to capture what they see as its insights while avoiding its pitfalls. What is it that is so menacing about relativism and why, for even those who find it so menacing, has it proved rather hard to dismiss? Is it indeed a menace after all? We will explore these issues by reading and discussing a range of positions for, against, and tangled up with relativism.
Second Session
PHIL-108-20, Ethics and Animals (Instructor: Kyle Fruh)
Most of us like animals, but in importantly different, sometimes confusing, and possibly irreconcilable ways: we enjoy their company as pets and we enjoy eating their flesh. We marvel at watching them and we stalk them in order to shoot and kill them. We go to great lengths and expense to preserve their numbers when they are waning, and we go to similar lengths to eradicate them when their presence is inconvenient. All of this we do while steadfastly holding that similar combinations of actions with respect to human animals would be unthinkable. And so we find ourselves in what can seem like a pretty uncomfortable position, facing numerous questions. What are we to make of our behaviors and attitudes toward non-human animals? Are they just arbitrary and exploitative policies enforced from a position of relative invulnerability? Or could they be consistent and ethically defensible? Do any viable ethical theories justify the bright line we seem to depend on between humans and other animals? What, in any case, should be said about the moral status of non-human animals, even if there is a bright line between them and humans?
Ethics is hard and complicated, even when just dealing with human beings. The questions we face in ethical theory that bear on our treatment of non-human animals are thus doubly complicated and hard. But for all that, they are also pressing and important: if nothing else, philosophy forces us to confront aspects of our lives that are prone to go unnoticed and unquestioned. Though ethical inquiry can be difficult and ensnaring, blithe acceptance of custom is both dangerous and irresponsible – though the questions we set ourselves in this class may be frustrating, failing to ask them would be even worse than failing to answer them.
We’ll focus our discussion around a couple of popular and influential ways of arguing for dramatic reform in our treatment of non-human animals: animal welfarism and animal rights.We’ll examine critical responses to those views and the debate between them in addition to taking up defenses of customary treatment of non-human animals, looking at several applied issues, and talking with some organizations whose work with animals is pertinent to our investigations.
PHIL-138-20, Ethics and the Environment (Instructor: Kelly Heuer)
Environmentalism is entering a golden age: conservation, recycling, and stewardship feature prominently in daily life; issues like global warming, pollution, and consumption receive sustained public attention; businesses scramble to cash in on the new appeal of being ‘green.’ But environmental problems can be incredibly complicated, in moral as well as in economic, political, and scientific terms.
This course focuses on the moral dimension: what is humanity’s relationship to the natural world? What responsibilities—on both the individual and collective level—does this relationship bring with it? Who is most wronged by environmental degradation, and how are we to address such issues in the face of limited international cooperation and other problems of collective action? And, on the policy level, how can we best combine economic, political, and scientific concepts with ethical analysis to yield solid proposals regarding global warming, pollution, animal rights, endangered species, food policy, ecotourism, and geoengineering?
PHIL-163-20, Life, Death, Time, Belief (Instructor: Marc Hedahl)
Philosophy deals with foundational questions. Some of these questions impact the lives of most of us tangentially, if at all. Other questions, such as "what makes life worth living," fundamentally impact our lives even if we never pause to consider them.

In this course, we will consider some of these foundational and fundamentally important questions: questions about life and happiness, the meaning of death, the nature of time, and the norms of belief. The objective of the course is to introduce students to the human experience of questioning in order to better understand the meaning of our existence as human beings.

We will investigate how thinkers both old (including: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, The Stoics, and The Daoists) and new (including: William James, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Victor Frankl, and Alan Lightman) have grappled with these questions.
Courses taught in 2009-2010
Fall 2009 Course Descriptions in schedule form.
Spring 2010 Course Descriptions in schedule form.
Courses taught prior to 2007-2008
Course descriptions and schedules run from Fall 1991-Spring 2007 and Fall 1989-Fall 2007 respectively. Course syllabi are available for select courses on course description pages.
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