Fall 2020

Phil 5000A
Vida Panitch
Basic Income and Distributive Justice
Wednesdays, 11:30 – 2:30
In this seminar, we will be exploring the question of whether an unconditional basic income (UBI) satisfies the requirements of distributive justice. Although the topic of a UBI has quite recently become one of interest in the public and political forum, philosophers have been debating the merits of a UBI for decades now, as part of a larger inquiry into the demands of distributive justice. We will be exploring these arguments and evaluating whether the weight of the reasons that have been supplied for a UBI could indeed ground a social policy likely to achieve the considerable (and sometimes conflicting) social goals its various proponents endorse. Other related topics of discussion may include the concept of overlapping consensus and a UBI as a potential subject thereof, as well as the ethics of conducting social welfare policy experiments.
Phil 5200A Myrto Mylopoulos Theories of Consciousness
Thursdays, 2:30 – 5:30
In recent decades, consciousness has become an active subject of inquiry in the philosophy of mind, cognitive psychology, and cognitive neuroscience. In this seminar, we will explore some of the most promising theoretical frameworks that have emerged as a result of this interdisciplinary focus, and evaluate the extent to which advances have been made in our understanding of this all-important mental phenomenon. After considering what many take to be among the main puzzles that a theory of consciousness ought to solve, we will examine and evaluate the following candidates: Representationalism, Higher-Order Theory, Global Workspace Theory, and AIR theory. We will also engage with current and relatively recent debates in consciousness studies, with the aim of getting a sense of where this field of research is at today, and what future directions are taking shape.
Phil 5300A Gordon Davis Realism, Anti-Realism and Non-Realism in Metaethics and Metaphilosophy
Mondays, 11:30 – 2:30
Though grounded in some general themes in ethical theory, this course will cover a cross-section of various areas in philosophy, in some cases guided by students’ research interests. It will do so (a) in terms of issues concerning the nature of normativity, and (b) in terms of some parallels between reflection on normativity and reflection on the nature of philosophical argument. A central theme will be the realism/anti-realism debate; we will also consider whether it makes sense to speak of a so-called third option, e.g. ‘non-realism’. It is arguably a central issue in philosophy whether any normative claims can sustain a realist interpretation (not just ethical ones); this course may thus be of interest to some students with more interest in metaphysics and epistemology than in ethics.Roughly the first half of the course will focus on this issue, mainly as it applies to ethics and the general theory of value. In the second half, students will have an opportunity to draw connections between the metaethical context and other relevant areas in philosophy that may interest them (e.g. logic, critical theory, epistemology, aesthetics).Discussions of realism and anti-realism often distinguish soft targets, such as aesthetics and religion (where anti-realist exposure of their alleged lack of objectivity is common), from cases touching on the ‘hard’ sciences, for example the claims of theoretical physics (where certainty might be hard to come by, but where some realists seek the highest degree of objectivity nonetheless). Philosophers in the British tradition, such as Berkeley and Hume, developed anti-realist accounts of our talk of the external world, causation and the reality of the past; and philosophers in the German and Indian traditions have sometimes rejected realism about anything and everything non-mental.  Physicalists like Quine have inverted this, directing anti-realism at much of our customary talk of mental phenomena (like the concept of a ‘content of belief’), but retaining a realist account of scientific discourse about the physical world.We will pay special attention, though, to concepts and claims that seem routine in our everyday thought and speech: ‘possibilia’ (what might be or might have been), ‘abstract objects’ (with a role in our talk about types rather than tokens), mathematical truths (which are apparently about abstract objects such as numbers), epistemic justification (e.g. the property of being a reasonable inference) and the self (the apparent referent of those ever-present pronouns ‘I’ and ‘me’). Most people and most philosophers seem implicitly to be realists about at least some of these things. A major question in contemporary philosophy has been whether claims about what has value (be it moral, personal, practical, cultural, etc.) have more in common with discourse where realism is least contentious or with claims, like those of aesthetics, where anti-realism is most tempting. The field that has done the most to explore these comparisons and contrasts is metaethics, so most of our initial readings will be in that area.
PHIL 5700 Fall Colloquium
Fridays, 1:00-2:30
Students prepare for and attend the departmental colloquium series (typically including 10 to 12 sessions in one term), submitting in writing a critical analysis of some aspect of the presentation or discussion for each colloquium they attend.
Phil 5850
David Matheson
Proseminar, Philosophical Naturalism
Tuesdays, 2:30 – 5:30
As a philosophical movement, naturalism eschews the nonphysical and emphasizes scientifically respectable methods of inquiry. The objective of this seminar is to familiarize you with the roots and guises of contemporary philosophical naturalism and with its presence in three particular areas of philosophy–the philosophy of mind, ethics, and epistemology. Particular topics to be discussed include the American origins of contemporary naturalism, its ontological and methodological commitments, the causal closure of the physical domain, varieties of physicalism about the mental, naturalist challenges to metaethical realism, the autonomy of normative philosophy, and whether a naturalized epistemology vitiates traditional epistemology’s reliance on intuition and the a priori.

Winter 2021

Phil 5200A
Eros Corazza
Indexicality in Language and Thoughts
Wednesdays, 2:30 – 5:30
We will study how indexicals such as  “I”, “now”, “that”, etc. works in linguistic communications and thinking episodes. Texts to be read are D. Kaplan “Demonstratives”; J. Perry “Frege on Demonstratives”, H.-N. Castañeda “Indicators and Quasi-indicators”, etc
Phil 5500A Gabriele Contessa Libertarianism: Left and Right
Wednesdays, 11:30 – 2:30
Contemporary philosophical libertarianism is a broad church. What unites all libertarians is the belief that freedom is the primary political value. However, different forms of philosophical libertarianism have a very different understanding of the implications of this view. In this seminar, we will look at some of the main versions of libertarianism in contemporary political philosophy and focus in particular on the distinction between right-libertarians (who, roughly, believe that the market should be the main mechanism of social cooperation and the state should play, at most, a minimal role) and left-libertarians (who, typically, believe that genuine freedom can only be guaranteed by an extensive redistribution of resources).
Phil 5600A
Melissa Frankel
Scepticism and knowledge in early modern philosophy
Tuesdays, 11:30 – 2:30
In Descartes’s first Meditation, he famously advances a number of sceptical hypotheses to try to uncover the ground of our knowledge. Is it possible, he wonders, that our senses systematically mislead us – that we are dreaming rather than awake – that an evil deceiver makes it so that everything we now believe is false? By the final Meditation, however, Descartes thinks that he has put knowledge back on firm ground. Following Descartes, a number of early modern philosophers were equally concerned with the question of scepticism and knowledge; some argued that Descartes was partly successful in grounding knowledge, some that he was unsuccessful, and some that he was approaching the question of knowledge in the wrong way altogether. In this seminar, we will look at a number of early modern approaches to these topics, by consulting primary texts from such philosophers as Descartes, Malebranche, Locke, Berkeley, and Shepherd, among others.  Our primary focus will be on knowledge of the external world, but we may also consider self-knowledge and knowledge of other minds.
PHIL 5750W Winter Colloquium
Fridays, 1:00-2:30
Students prepare for and attend the departmental colloquium series (typically including 10 to 12 sessions in one term), submitting in writing a critical analysis of some aspect of the presentation or discussion for each colloquium they attend.
Phil 5900W Research Seminar
Tuesdays, 2:30-5:30
Mandatory seminar course for all first-year MA students. The primary objective of this seminar is to develop topics for theses or research essays.Students will consult with potential supervisors during this process.