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Philosophy and Religion

Division of Humanities and Fine Arts


Matthew McCabe, Chair

Jennifer Benson

Kevin Brien

Peter Weigel


Philosophy—traditionally at the center of the liberal arts—asks some of the most difficult and searching questions about human existence, the nature of the universe, right and wrong in human conduct, and the basis of our social and political arrangements. In so doing, it gives the mind the greatest possible leeway to doubt, probe, and criticize.


The courses of the Department of Philosophy and Religion have four main purposes: (1) to acquaint the student with some of the great philosophical questions of the past and present and with leading attempts to answer them; (2) to exhibit the connections between philosophy and such related areas as art, business, law, literature, medicine, science, religion, and the environment; (3) to develop the students’ capacities for clear thinking and critical analysis; and (4) to provide the basis for reflecting on right versus wrong and good versus evil in the present-day world. These aims are pursued in the atmosphere of diverse philosophical interests and approaches found among the staff of the department. Typically, students also bring varied concerns to their own explorations in philosophy and move on to careers in many diverse fields.


Academic Requirements

A major in philosophy includes ten courses in the department selected in consultation with the major advisor. Five courses are required: PHL 100, 108, 213, 214, and either 225 or 235. (The Department urges that PHL 213 be taken before PHL 214.) Among the five elective courses required for the major, at least one must be a 400-level seminar. Majors are encouraged to take PHL435 Philosophical Methods in the Fall semester of their Junior year.


Students wishing to minor in the program may elect either a philosophy minor or a religion minor. Philosophy minors are required to take six courses: PHL 100, either 213 or 214, plus four electives in philosophy. Religion minors are also required to take six courses: PHL 100, 111 and 112 (the Comparative Religion sequence), plus three courses in religion or courses having significant religious content, given either within the Department or outside of it with permission. Courses in religion may be counted among the elective courses for the philosophy major and minor.


Distribution credit for the Humanities Requirement will be given for any two courses taken in the Department with the exception of Philosophy 108. Distribution credit for the Quantitative Requirement will be given for Philosophy 108 to those students choosing only one course in the Quantitative area. A GRW course taught by a member of the philosophy department may, in some cases, be used instead of PHL 100 anywhere in the program, except in a departmental distribution sequence.


Senior Capstone Experience

In addition to the ten required courses, each philosophy major must also complete the Senior Capstone Experience (SCE) which can take the form of either a senior thesis or a set of comprehensive exams. In either case majors will work in close association with a department mentor; and those majors who do successfully complete the SCE will receive four credits toward graduation.


Course Descriptions

  1. Introduction to Philosophy

A study of selected systems of thought designed to acquaint the student who has no training in philosophy with basic philosophical concepts and with the techniques and advantages of a thoughtful and reflective approach to problems. Topics taken up vary with the individual instructor. Offered every semester.


  1. Contemporary Moral Issues

This course will introduce students to the basic ideas behind the major ethical theories in Western Philosophy by studying their application to numerous moral issues, problems, and controversies in our time. Possible topics for discussion and writing assignments include but are not limited to: moral consideration of animals and the environment, respect for biodiversity, population and consumption, pollution, climate change, responsibilities to future generations, corporate social responsibility, workplace ethics, advertising ethics, whistleblowing, engineering ethics, cyber ethics, the ethics of globalization, the ethics of war, euthanasia, medical experimentation on human subjects, the physician-patient relationship, health care and social justice, reproductive assistance technology, and eugenics.


  1. Logic

A systematic overview of the rules and methods of argument. The course has three parts. The first part examines the features of arguments one finds in everyday speech and writing. A second part covers Classical Aristotelian methods of syllogistic reasoning. The third part teaches the modern use of abstract symbols to represent and assess the formal structure of proofs. This last part involves the skills of formal and quantitative reasoning. Please note that this course can only combine with two natural science courses to fulfill Natural Science and Quantitative Distribution. It may not combine with a second quantitative course. No prerequisite.


  1. Introduction to Comparative Religion: Western

This course offers an introductory study of the central ideas in living Western religions. The course concentrates on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The readings focus on the primary religious texts of each religion. Consideration is also given to philosophical issues common to Western religions. No prerequisite.


  1. Introduction to Comparative Religion: Eastern

This course offers an introductory study of the central ideas in some major living Eastern religions. The course focus primarily on Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zen Buddhism—but will give some attention to Taoism and Confucianism as time permits. Our readings will be in primary classical and contemporary texts. This course introduces students to the spiritual perspectives of other cultures, and to the philosophical issues at play in them, with a view toward developing better intercultural understanding. No prerequisite.


  1. Introduction to Political Philosophy

Political philosophy applies the tools of philosophical analysis to the challenges of politics and social life. Most fundamentally, political philosophy seeks to answer the question, how should we organize our society? The course content may focus on such themes as rights, justice, equality, freedom, power, oppression, exploitation, multiculturalism, obligations of the State, and the duties of citizenship. Prerequisite: Philosophy 100, or permission of the instructor.


  1. History of Philosophy: Ancient

A study of the historical development of Western philosophical thought in ancient times. The main emphasis of this course will be on the Pre-Socratics, and on works of Plato and Aristotle. Prerequisite: Philosophy 100.


  1. History of Philosophy: Modern

A study of the development of Western philosophic thought from the early Modern period through Kant. The emphasis of this course will be on the works of major figures such as Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. Prerequisite: Philosophy 100.


  1. Medieval Philosophy

This course examines medieval philosophical thought and argumentation from its origins in the Greco-Roman world through the early 15th century. Major figures from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam usually include: Philo, Augustine, Anselm, Avicenna, Averroes, Maimonides, Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham, and others. Topics include the problem of universals, faith and reason, God, ethics, political theory, and the rise of science. Prerequisite: Philosophy 100.


  1. Ethical Theory

An examination of some of the major ethical theories in Western philosophy. Applications of these theories to concrete ethical problems will be considered. Special attention will be given to Consequentialist, Deontological, and Virtue theories. Readings will be drawn from classical and contemporary authors. Prerequisite: Philosophy 100.


  1. Global Ethics

As we become a global community, the need for secular ethical discourse becomes increasingly important. This course will explore how international culture, policy, and standards impact ethical practices around the world. Current events, anecdotes, and personal experiences will be brought together to highlight ethical theory in action in today’s global environment. General topics include: the Absolutism-Relativism debate, the Ethics of Globalization, Global Business Ethics, Global Bioethics with emphasis on feminist issues, Global Environmental Ethics, and the Ethics of Warfare and Terrorism. Prerequisite: PHL 100, or permission of the instructor.


  1. Foundations of Morality

An examination of the moral theories of some major philosophical positions from traditions East and West: for example,  Aristotle and Kant from the Western philosophical tradition, as well as Buddha and Confucius from the Eastern tradition. The aim is to systematically explore the understanding of what these positions interpret the best or most moral life to be, and of what varying views of human nature are correlated with them. Moreover, this exploration will face the question of how one decides what is the best or most moral life, and also other central questions concerning the relationship of ethics to religion and science. No prerequisite.


  1. Philosophy of Humor

This course will explore the questions: What is meant by claiming that something is humorous or funny and why? What is the relationship between humor, reason, and the emotions? How might one understand the ethics of laughter and humor? Insights from scholars including Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Kant, Schopenhauer, Spencer, Freud, Bergson and contemporary authors will be discussed in a seminar-style class setting. The application of theory to everyday life will be examined and discussed through the presentation of non-philosophical examples of humor and jokes in both print and audio-visual mediums. Prerequisite: Philosophy 100.


  1. Metaphysics and Epistemology

This course examines classic debates in metaphysics and the nature of knowledge. Close attention is given the study of philosophical argumentation and methods. Topics usually include: knowledge, mind, reality, universals, identity, time, God, and freedom. Prerequisite: Philosophy 100.


  1. Business Ethics

A seminar focusing on major ethical theories and principles as they apply to individuals, companies, corporations, and consumers in the business world. Typical issues treated are: corporate social responsibility, government versus self-regulation, employee and consumer safety, whistle-blowing, deceptive advertising, conflicts in accounting, the environment, insider trading, issues in international business, etc. Prerequisite: Philosophy 100.


  1. Environmental Ethics

A study of the nature and history of the environmental movement and our ethical responsibilities with regard to such current issues as the preservation of species, animal rights, the value of ecosystems, ozone depletion, and “deep” or radical ecology. Prerequisite: Philosophy 100.


  1. Philosophy of Religion

An examination of major philosophical discussions in the Western religious tradition. Among the topics dealt with are: the existence of God, faith and reason, religious language and experience, evil and suffering, science and religion, the afterlife, and the challenges of modernity to religious belief. Prerequisite: Philosophy 100.


  1. Philosophy of Science

This course will begin with an exploration of the nature of scientific revolutions, along with an examination of some case studies of such revolutions from the history of science. We will go on to examine some current theories concerning the evolution of microbial life, as well as issues associated with the Darwinian understanding of biological evolution. Our primary concern will be the philosophical presuppositions and implications of such theories. On the methodological side, we will treat such issues as induction, falsification, the hypothetical-deductive method, scientific facts, experimentation, etc. Prerequisite: Philosophy 100 or permission of the instructor.


  1. Biomedical Ethics

Biomedical ethics explores the ethical problems that arise in the context of modern medical care and biomedical research. As such, biomedical ethics involves the lives and decisions of patients, family members, doctors, nurses, and medical researchers. The course content focuses on the application of ethical theories to problems such as the rights of patients, duties of physicians, the distribution of resources, conflicts of interest in the managed care system, assisted suicide, euthanasia, end of life decisions, abortion, nature of disease, the use of human subjects in research, and the use of genetic and reproductive technologies. Prerequisite: Philosophy 100, or permission of the instructor.


  1. Philosophy of Law

The course explores the philosophical issues surrounding a number of areas of the law including, the nature of law, constitutional interpretation, legal responsibility, punishment, capital punishment, and legal limits to personal liberty. Readings will be drawn from classical and contemporary authors. Prerequisite: Philosophy 100.


  1. Existentialism

A survey of the major themes and thinkers identified with existentialistic philosophy in recent times. Major emphasis will be on such thinkers as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Jaspers, Sartre, Tillich, and Camus. Prerequisite: Two courses in philosophy or permission of the instructor.


  1. Philosophy of Marxism

This course begins with a focus on Hegel’s philosophy of history and goes on to explore various dimensions of Marx’s own thought, such as: his philosophy of history, his conception of human nature, his analysis of the structural dynamics of the capitalist system, alienation, “positive freedom,” and the nature of dialectical reasoning. The course will also critically examine the dominant interpretations of Marx. Prerequisite: Two courses in philosophy or permission of the instructor.


  1. Seminar: Marx, Nietzsche, Buddha

This course will focus on three important and major philosophical positions that share a common concern about human suffering, but that have differing, although often complementary, ways of attempting to explain the generation of such suffering, and of addressing and alleviating it. We will work to understand, and to critically assess, each of these philosophical perspectives taken separately; but we will also work to bring out the philosophical similarities, dissimilarities, and interconnections that obtain among them. Prerequisite: Two courses in philosophy or permission of instructor.


  1. Philosophy of Buddhism

In this course we will range over the main schools of Buddhism. We will read and discuss both primary and secondary Buddhist texts associated with the Theravada Buddhist tradition, the Zen Buddhist tradition, and the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The format for this course is class discussion. Regular response papers and a longer paper on each of the three major currents in Buddhism will be required.


  1. Seminar in Epistemology and Metaphysics

A detailed examination of one or several systematic approaches to the problems of epistemology and metaphysics. The specific subject matter will vary from year to year and will focus on topics such as Plato’s theory of ideas, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, or the contemporary theories of knowledge. Prerequisite: Two courses in philosophy or permission of the instructor.


  1. Analytic Philosophy

A study of the development of analytic philosophy and its characteristic methods. Major figures include C. S. Peirce, Frege, Russell, Moore, Wittgenstein, Carnap, Quine, and select contemporary thinkers. Prerequisite: Two courses in philosophy.


  1. Seminar in Ethics

A seminar on one major moral philosopher, movement, or issue in ethics, such as Kant, Rawls, Utilitarianism, Natural Law, the Nature of Rights, etc. Prerequisite: Two courses in philosophy or permission of the instructor.


  1. Philosophical Methods

The course studies the nature, aims, and methods of philosophical inquiry. Readings explore questions in meta-philosophy, what philosophy is and how it is done. Study of the technical practices of philosophizing and philosophical writing prepares students for advanced work in the major.  Prerequisite: Two courses in philosophy.


 194, 294, 394. Special Topics

A topic of special interest in philosophy or religion offered at the intermediate level. Prerequisite: Philosophy 100 or permission of the instructor.


  1. Special Topics

A detailed consideration of selected problems and areas of philosophical interest. The course may be centered on a particular topic (e.g., Philosophy of Mind or Philosophy of Buddhism), on a certain historical period (e.g., Pre-Socratic Philosophy or Nineteenth-Century Philosophy), or on the thought of a major philosopher such as Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hume, Kant, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Krishnamurti, or Nishida. Prerequisite: Two courses in philosophy, or permission of the instructor.


190, 290, 390, 490. Internship


195, 295, 395, 494. On-campus Research


SCE. Senior Capstone Experience

All philosophy majors must complete the Senior Capstone Experience. This will take the form of a senior thesis. Students will be given four credits for successful completion of their Senior Capstone Experience. Each senior philosophy major will work in close association with a faculty mentor from the Department of Philosophy and Religion. The association between student and mentor will be an intensive one spanning the whole course of development of the thesis—from the initial formulation of a thesis proposal in the spring of the student’s junior year to the final completion of the thesis by the conclusion of the senior year.