The study of philosophy begins with questions that are as personal as they are universal: What truths can I know? How should I live? Who, or what, am I? Where is my place in the grand scheme of things? To respond fruitfully to such questions requires training in critical habits of mind, learning from the rich traditions and the great minds that have reflected on such questions and engaging in lively discussion with a community of inquirers.
Degrees offered: BA, minor
Jason Wirth, PhD: He loves Socrates, Plato, Diogenes, and Nietzsche. He cherishes the philosophies of Asia and indigenous peoples. Philosophy Professor Jason Wirth, a Zen priest, blames the Jesuits for instilling a lifelong passion for philosophy, a passion he instills in his students. Learn more here.
Fall Quarter 2018 Course Descriptions
PHIL 3010 – Ancient Philosophy
10:15-12:20 T, Th
In this course we will study the thousand-year history of ancient philosophy from the Pre-Socratics to Socrates and Plato, to Aristotle, and to the Post-Aristotelian philosophers. We will pay special attention to Plato and Aristotle. Specifically, we will be concerned with how to read carefully, think logically, speak persuasively, and write clearly about these two giants in the history of philosophy. We will take seriously Coleridge’s claim that each person is born either a Platonist or an Aristotelian, and Whitehead’s belief that all of Western [and a significant portion of world] philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato.
PHIL 3260 – Philosophy of Law
This course provides a critical examination of classical and contemporary theories of law: natural law, legal positivism, legal realism, feminist jurisprudence, and critical race theory. These theories address fundamental questions about the concept of law (what is law?), the connections between law and morality, the status of rights, and the relationship between law and individual liberty. The readings include brief selections from the history of philosophy, but our focus will be on 20th century and contemporary texts. Some of the current topics and issues that we will consider in the second part of the course are freedom of speech and hate speech, privacy, the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education, and overcriminalization.
The class will be conducted primarily as a seminar with some short lectures. Your course grade will be based on one major paper, one formal and several informal seminar presentations, two short papers, and active class participation. This course is included in the “Law, Ethics, and Justice” specialization in the Philosophy major.
PHIL 4380 – Philosophy of Language
1:30-3:35 T, Th
This course will introduce students to central topics in the contemporary study of language. We will begin with an exploration of different theories of meaning and the paradox to which they collectively give rise. Referential theories hold that the meaning of a word is simply the worldly object to which it refers. The meaning of the name ‘William Shakespeare’, for example, is the simply the man who was so-called. Such theories seem refuted by the fact that some names lack a referent—e.g., ‘Santa Claus’—and others share a referent without sharing a meaning—e.g., ‘Superman’ and ‘Clark Kent’. The referential theory entails that names of the first sort lack meaning, which they don’t, and names of the second sort are synonymous, which they aren’t. Sense-based theories of meaning, by contrast, hold that the meaning of a linguistic expression is some sort of mental description with which it is associated. The meaning of ‘William Shakespeare’, for example, might be something like ‘the English playwright who wrote Hamlet and performed in the Globe theater.’ Such theories can account for empty and co-referring names, but cannot account for the sorts of phenomena that referential theories easily explain. Why is this a paradox? Well, there doesn’t appear to be a third option. We’ll explore these theories in detail, as well as the possibility of an alternative.
We’ll next investigate some of the metaphysical and epistemological consequences of different accounts of language. Some theories hold that meaning is subjective and that we cannot ever truly communicate our thoughts to another person. Other theories hold that meaning is essentially public and that there could never be a completely private language. Still others hold that meaning is not entirely in the head—that what we mean by our words is partly determined by the physical and cultural settings in which we speak. Some of the theories at this extreme suggest that it’s not knowledge of other minds that is problematic but knowledge of our own. We’ll consider the case for and against each of these views.
We’ll then consider linguistic utterances as actions. When a priest says, ‘I now declare you husband and wife,’ he is not just stating a fact but making one. Speech act theory is the branch of linguistic theory dedicated to studying this sort of phenomenon. It’s the study, as one theorist puts it, of how to do things with words. We’ll explore this theory, as well as its application to certain politically important types of speech, such as racist language, propaganda, and bullshit.
We’ll conclude by considering what the nature of language tells us about our own human nature. Noam Chomsky and other linguists tell us that knowledge of language is to a large extent innate, imprinted on us at birth. Others believe that language is shaped entirely by culture and that as languages shift and evolve over time so too do the conceptual schemes with which they are associated. If the limits of language are the limits of thought, this suggests that there is no such thing as a robust human nature shared across time and space. We’ll dip our toes into this debate
Students will be graded based on their performance on two longer (6-8 pages) and several shorter papers. UCOR 2500 is a perquisite, but no other specialized knowledge is assumed.
The Ethics minor provides a concentrated study in the theory and practice of ethics. Rooted in the Jesuit intellectual tradition, courses in the minor will explore, from both classic and contemporary perspectives, philosophical questions concerning the nature and grounding of claims about right and wrong intentions, praiseworthy actions, virtues, and values. Ethics critically examines and rigorously debates basic conceptions of justice, equality, obligation, responsibility, and duty. In addition, it delves into current questions about how moral principles are to be translated into law and public policy in a pluralistic world. The Ethics minor is designed to educate students about moral theories and their interpretation in concrete situations involving moral action. More info...