Philosophy

Program Offerings

Offering type
A.B.

Goals for Student Learning

Philosophy is concerned with questions, many debated since antiquity, that are too big or too contentious to allow their just being handed off to experts in a particular branch of science or scholarship. What distinguishes philosophical thinking about such questions is a commitment to reasoned argument and the evidence of experience, without appeal to tradition, authority or the like, and to always being prepared to listen to arguments from the other side. Majors are offered a wide range of introductory and advanced courses in all areas of the subject, including metaphysics and epistemology (big questions about what is or must be and how we can know), as well as ethics and theory of value, logic and philosophy of science, and the history of philosophy. Students are required to do work in their choice of at least three different areas. But courses in all areas emphasize learning to write in a way that will not advocate a view without offering an argument for it, and that exhibits such virtues as clarity in enunciating whatever views are considered, and accuracy in reporting the arguments of other writers.

The qualities of thinking and writing that are key to the major are valuable in a variety of careers; we have undergraduate alumni active today throughout the public and private spheres. When asked what they gained as philosophy majors, what they tend to mention especially is the way they learned to think and write: “Philosophy …honed my analytic ability, an ability I have drawn upon virtually every day in my professional work,” remarks one, an educator and philanthropist. “My experience as a Princeton philosophy major taught me to think clearly, argue persuasively and write clearly,” says another, a journalist.

The skills to be acquired by majoring in philosophy include the ability to think and write in an organized and disciplined way about confusing and controversial questions, to treat one’s beliefs as serviceable as they are but capable of improvement, and to react to criticism not with outrage but with a willingness to state the grounds for one’s views and to listen to the grounds of others for theirs. Such skills are of value not only in a career, but in life. For majors, the greatest opportunity to acquire and display such skills comes with junior and especially senior independent work, where our students have addressed philosophically no end of issues, with recent thesis titles ranging from "Seeing color" to “Patience, its limits and how to apply it" to "The problem of tainted base rates" to "Rethinking the method of reflective equilibrium in the light of experimental philosophy" to "A just approach to genetic engineering" to "Selfhood and ethical development in Søren Kierkegaard and Iris Murdoch" and far beyond.

Prerequisites

Any course in the philosophy department may serve as a prerequisite for the major. A student who has not satisfied this prerequisite and who, at the end of sophomore year, desires to enter the department must apply to the director of undergraduate studies.

Independent Work

Junior Year. During fall semester of junior year, independent work normally involves participation in a seminar of up to five students under the supervision of an instructor from the faculty of the department. The seminar provides a transition from coursework to fully independent work. A junior seminar meets weekly for an hour or biweekly for two hours to discuss readings selected by the instructor, and each student writes a final paper, normally of at least 5,000 words, on a topic in the area defined by those readings, usually chosen by the student from a list provided by the instructor. (The student's grade for fall semester independent work will be based mainly on this paper, but it is usually based partly on shorter papers and/or oral presentations in the seminar earlier in the term.) During spring semester of junior year, independent work consists of writing a junior paper — an essay on a philosophical topic, normally of at least 5,000 words — under the supervision of an individual faculty adviser (different from the student's fall seminar instructor).

Senior Year. Senior year independent work consists of the following: writing the senior thesis, an essay or group of related essays on a topic or group of related topics in philosophy, normally of at least 10,000 words (and normally of at most 15,000 words); and preparation for the departmental examination (see below). The thesis is read, the examination is conducted, and both are graded by a committee of two members of the faculty, one primarily for advising the thesis, the other for coordinating the examination. A short thesis proposal is due just before fall recess and an interim thesis draft, normally of at least 5,000 words (not necessarily in final form), is due just after winter recess.

Additional Requirements

General Requirements

Distribution Requirement. Six of the eight courses must be so distributed that there are two in each of three of the four areas into which philosophy courses are divided; there is no such restriction on the remaining two of the eight. The four distribution areas are as follows:

  1. Metaphysics: 203, 218, 237, 311, 313, 315, 317, 318, 337, 338
  2. Ethics and Philosophy of Value: 202, 306, 307, 309, 319, 320, 325, 326, 335, 360, 380, 384, 385, 390, 391, 419
  3. Logic and Philosophy of Science: 201, 204, 312, 314, 321, 322, 323, 327, 340, 490
  4. History of Philosophy: 200, 205, 300, 301, 302, 303, 304, 306, 332, 333, 335, 338

Interdisciplinary Options

Political Philosophy. Senior majors doing their theses in political philosophy have the option of substituting for the usual distribution requirement (two courses in each of three areas plus two unrestricted courses) the following: two courses from among those listed under the Department of Politics as courses in political theory; two philosophy courses in the ethics and philosophy of value area; two philosophy courses in one other philosophy distribution area; and two philosophy courses unrestricted as to distribution area.

Philosophy of Science. Senior majors doing their theses in philosophy of science have the option of substituting for the usual distribution requirements (two courses in each of three areas plus two unrestricted courses) the following: two upper-division (300-level or higher) courses in one relevant science (such as mathematics, computer science, physics, biology, psychology, economics); two philosophy courses in the logic and philosophy of science area; two philosophy courses in one other philosophy distribution area; and two philosophy courses unrestricted as to distribution area.

Philosophy and Linguistics. Philosophy majors participating in the certificate program in linguistics may follow the philosophy of science option just described, taking linguistics as their science. All courses listed under the Program in Linguistics as core, other, or related courses may be considered courses in the science of linguistics for this purpose.

Senior Departmental Examination

The senior departmental examination is a 90-minute oral examination on the general area of philosophy to which the thesis topic belongs. The final syllabus of readings for the departmental examination (agreed upon between the student and their examination coordinator and thesis adviser) is due by the last week of classes.

Study Abroad

Each year some junior philosophy majors spend one or both semesters on study overseas, usually in Britain. The department has generally been flexible in allowing, within the limits of University regulations, departmental credit for work done abroad. If the student is planning to be away for only one semester and has a choice, the department recommends choosing spring so as not to miss the fall junior seminars here.

Preparation for Graduate Study

Students contemplating going on to graduate study in philosophy are strongly advised to do more than the minimum required of all majors: to take more than just eight philosophy courses; to do some work in all four areas of philosophy and not just three; to include in their work in the philosophy of value area some in core ethics (at least one of 202, 307, 319, 335) and in their work in the philosophy of science area some in core logic (at least one of 201, 312, 323, 340); and to include in their work in the history area some on ancient philosophy (at least one of 205, 300, 301, 335) and some on modern philosophy (at least one of 200, 302-306, 332, 333, 338). Also it is advisable to study at least to the level of the University language requirement one of the following: ancient Greek, Latin, French or German.

Courses numbered below 300 have no prerequisite and are open to underclass students. Most courses numbered 300 and above are intended for students who have already had some philosophy; others should consult the instructor before enrolling. With some exceptions, 200-level courses are given every year. Other courses are scheduled on the principle that a student majoring in the department for a two-year period will be able to work out a well-balanced program and satisfy the department's distribution requirements with significant freedom of choice.

Offering type
Minor

Goals for Student Learning

Philosophy is of substantial relevance to work in a great variety of other academic subjects, many of which historically emerged originally as branches of philosophy before achieving the status of separate disciplines. The qualities of mind which the study of philosophy aims to cultivate, and which are most often cited by our alumni as their greatest benefit from majoring in the subject, including especially the ability to think and write in a clear and concise, organized and informed and disciplined way about contentious and often confusing issues, are likely to be of value in some way for virtually all students. The option of minoring in philosophy is intended to offer an opportunity to learn such lessons in a structured way, while leaving the student free to pursue virtually any major academic interest. 

Prerequisites

One course in philosophy, to guarantee that students know what they will be getting into.

Admission to the Program

Students must declare their interest in the minor at the latest by the spring semester of junior year.

Students should register their interest in pursuing the minor by communicating with the director of undergraduate studies in philosophy (or through a communication with the undergraduate administrator, to be forwarded to the DUS).

Program of Study

Five courses in philosophy:

  • None of which may be taken on a pass/D/fail basis.
  • No more than one of which may be an approved cognate rather than a course listed or cross-listed with a PHI number.
  • No more than two of which may be lower-division (200-level) courses, and no more than three of which may come from any single one of the four distribution areas into which philosophy courses are divided in the requirements for majors.
  • No more than two of the five courses may be used to fulfill the requirements of the student’s major.

Faculty

  • Chair

    • Benjamin C. Morison
  • Director of Undergraduate Studies

    • John P. Burgess (acting) (fall)
    • Desmond P. Hogan (spring)
  • Director of Graduate Studies

    • Hendrik Lorenz
  • Professor

    • Lara M. Buchak
    • John P. Burgess
    • Adam N. Elga
    • Daniel Garber
    • Hans P. Halvorson
    • Elizabeth Harman
    • Desmond P. Hogan
    • Mark Johnston
    • Thomas P. Kelly
    • Boris C. Kment
    • Sarah-Jane Leslie
    • Hendrik Lorenz
    • Sarah E. McGrath
    • Benjamin C. Morison
    • Jacob Morris Nebel
    • Gideon A. Rosen
    • Michael Smith
  • Assistant Professor

    • David Builes
    • Lidal Dror
    • Grace E. Helton
    • Una Stojnic
  • Lecturer

    • Marcus Gibson
    • Jason M. Yonover
  • Visiting Lecturer with Rank of Professor

    • Susan Brison

For a full list of faculty members and fellows please visit the department or program website.

Courses

PHI 200 - Philosophy and the Modern Mind Spring EC

An introduction to modern philosophy, from the Renaissance to the present, with careful study of works by Descartes, Hume, Kant, and others. Emphasis is placed upon the complex relations of philosophy to the development of modern science, the social and political history of the West, and man's continuing attempt to achieve a satisfactory worldview. Two lectures, one preceptorial. D. Garber

PHI 201 - Introductory Logic Spring EC

A study of reasoning and its role in science and everyday life, with special attention to the development of a system of symbolic logic, to probabilistic reasoning, and to problems in decision theory. Two lectures, one preceptorial. H. Halvorson

PHI 202 - Introduction to Moral Philosophy (also CHV 202) Not offered this year EM

An introductory survey of ethical thought, covering such topics as the demands that morality makes, the justification of these demands, and our reasons for obeying them. Readings from both the historical and contemporary philosophical literature. Two lectures, one preceptorial. J. Moore

PHI 203 - Introduction to Metaphysics and Epistemology Fall/Spring EC

An introduction to some of the central questions of pure philosophy through their treatment by traditional and contemporary writers: questions concerning mind and matter; causation and free will; space and time; meaning, truth, and reality; knowledge, perception, belief, and thought. Two lectures, one preceptorial. G. Rosen, T. Kelly, J. Nebel

PHI 204 - Introduction to the Philosophy of Science Not offered this year EC

An inquiry into the form and function of concepts, laws, and theories, and into the character of explanation and prediction, in the natural and the social sciences; and an examination of some philosophical problems concerning scientific method and scientific knowledge. Two lectures, one preceptorial. S. De Toffoli

PHI 205 - Introduction to Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy (also CLA 205/HLS 208) Fall EC

Designed to introduce the student to the Greek contribution to the philosophical and scientific ideas of the Western world through study of works of Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Lucretius in English translation. Topics in moral and political philosophy, as well as epistemology and metaphysics, will be included. Attention will be focused on the quality of the arguments presented by the philosophers. Two lectures, one preceptorial. H. Lorenz, M. Kotwick

PHI 218 - Learning Theory and Epistemology (also ECE 218/EGR 218) Not offered this year EC

An accessible introduction for all students to recent results by logicians, computer scientists, psychologists, engineers, and statisticians concerning the nature and limits of learning. Topics include truth and underdetermination, induction, computability, language learning, pattern recognition, neural networks, and the role of simplicity in theory choice. Two lectures, one preceptorial. G. Harman, S. Kulkarni

PHI 237 - The Psychology and Philosophy of Rationality (also PSY 237) Not offered this year EC

PHI 291 - African American Studies and the Black Intellectual Tradition (also AAS 201) Not offered this year CDEC

PHI 300 - Plato and His Predecessors (also HLS 300) Not offered this year EC

Readings in translation from pre-Socratic philosophers and from Plato's dialogues, to provide a broad history of Greek philosophy through Plato. Topics covered will include: Socrates's method of dialectic, his conceptions of moral virtue and human knowledge; Plato's theory of knowledge, metaphysics, and moral and political philosophy. Two lectures, one preceptorial. B. Morison

PHI 301 - Aristotle and His Successors (also CLA 303/HLS 302) Spring EC

Aristotle's most important contributions in the areas of logic, scientific method, philosophy of nature, metaphysics, psychology, ethics, and politics. Several of his major works will be read in translation. Aristotle's successors in the Greco-Roman period will be studied briefly. Two lectures, one preceptorial. B. Morison

PHI 302 - British Empiricism Not offered this year EC

A critical study of the metaphysical and epistemological doctrines of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. Two lectures, one preceptorial. D. Hogan

PHI 303 - Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz (also ECS 306) Not offered this year EC

Readings in continental philosophy of the early modern period, with intensive study of the works of Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz. Topics to be specially considered include: knowledge, understanding, and sense-perception; existence and necessity; the nature of the self and its relation to the physical world. Two 90-minute classes. D. Garber

PHI 304 - Topics in Kant's Philosophy Not offered this year EC

Analysis of the Critique of Pure Reason, with some attention to other aspects of Kant's philosophy, such as his views on ethics, aesthetics, and teleological judgment. Two lectures, one preceptorial. D. Hogan

PHI 306 - Nietzsche (also COM 393) Not offered this year EM

An examination of various issues raised in, and by, Nietzsche's writings. Apart from discussing views like the eternal recurrence, the overman, and the will to power, this course considers Nietzsche's ambiguous relationship with philosophy, the literary status of his work, and his influence on contemporary thought. Prerequisite: one philosophy course or equivalent preparation in the history of modern thought or literature. Two lectures, one preceptorial. Staff

PHI 307 - Systematic Ethics (also CHV 311) Spring EM

A study of important ethical theories with special reference to the problem of the objectivity of morality and to the relation between moral reasoning and reasoning about other subjects. Two lectures, one preceptorial. S. McGrath, M. Smith

PHI 309 - Political Philosophy (also CHV 309/HUM 309) Not offered this year EM

A systematic study of problems and concepts connected with political institutions: sovereignty, law, liberty, and political obligation. Topics may include representation, citizenship, power and authority, revolution, civil disobedience, totalitarianism, and legal and political rights. Two lectures, one preceptorial. R. Cox

PHI 311 - Personal Identity Fall EC

This course will focus on the conditions for personal identity over time, with implications for the beginning and end of life. Students will investigate what it is rational to care about in survival or continued existence, and whether that should change if it is discovered either that there is no human soul, or there is no self or subject behind our various conscious acts. M. Johnston

PHI 312 - Computability and Logic Spring EC

A development of logic from the mathematical viewpoint, including propositional and predicate calculus, consequence and deduction, truth and satisfaction, the Gödel completeness theorem, the Löwenheim-Skolem theorem, and applications to Boolean algebra, axiomatic theories, and the theory of models as time permits. Two lectures, one preceptorial. Prerequisite: 201 or instructor's permission. H. Halvorson

PHI 313 - Theory of Knowledge Not offered this year EC

A critical study of important concepts and problems involved in the characterization, analysis, and appraisal of certain types of human knowledge. Such topics as sense perception, knowledge and belief, necessity, memory, and truth will be treated. Writings of contemporary analytic philosophers will be read and discussed. Two lectures, one preceptorial. T. Kelly

PHI 314 - Philosophy of Mathematics Spring EC

A study of the nature of mathematics based on a logical and philosophical examination of its fundamental concepts and methods. Two lectures, one preceptorial. Some previous work in mathematics or logic at the college level is highly desirable, but no one particular branch of mathematics is presupposed in the course. J. Burgess

PHI 315 - Philosophy of Mind (also CGS 315/CHV 315) Spring EC

Investigation of some of the following (or similar) topics: the mind-body problem, personal identity, the unity of consciousness, the unconscious, the problem of other minds, action, intention, and the will. Readings primarily from recent sources. Two lectures, one preceptorial. A. Kerr

PHI 317 - Philosophy of Language Not offered this year EC

An examination of the nature of language through the study of such topics as truth, reference, meaning, linguistic structure, how language differs from other symbol systems, relations between thought and language and language and the world, the use of language, and the relevance of theories concerning these to selected philosophical issues. Two 90-minute classes. Staff

PHI 318 - Metaphysics Spring EC

An intensive treatment of some of the central problems of metaphysics, such as substance, universals, space and time, causality, and freedom of the will. Two lectures, one preceptorial. B. Kment

PHI 319 - Normative Ethics (also CHV 319) Not offered this year EM

A detailed examination of different theories concerning how we should live our lives. Special emphasis will be placed on the conflict between consequentialist theories (for example, utilitarianism) and nonconsequentialist theories (for example, common sense morality). Two lectures, one preceptorial. J. Frick

PHI 320 - Philosophy and Literature Not offered this year LA

A critical study of works of literature in conjunction with philosophical essays, concentrating on two or three philosophical themes, such as the will, self-identity, self-deception, freedom, and time. Two lectures, one preceptorial. S. Berstler

PHI 321 - Philosophy of Science Fall EC

An intensive examination of selected problems in the methodological and philosophical foundations of the sciences. Topics covered may include scientific explanation, the role of theories in science, and probability and induction. Two 90-minute classes. D. Builes

PHI 322 - Philosophy of the Cognitive Sciences (also CGS 322) Fall EC

An examination of philosophical problems arising out of the scientific study of cognition. Possible topics include methodological issues in the cognitive sciences; the nature of theories of reasoning, perception, memory, and language; and the philosophical implications of such theories. Two lectures, one preceptorial. S. Leslie

PHI 323 - Set Theory (also MAT 306) Fall QCR

This course deals with topics chosen from recursion theory, proof theory, and model theory. In recent years the course has most often given an introduction to recursion theory with applications to formal systems. Two 90-minute classes. Prerequisite: 312 or instructor's permission. J. Burgess

PHI 325 - Philosophy of Religion Spring EM

Critical discussion of religious and antireligious interpretations of experience and the world, the grounds and nature of religious beliefs, and of a variety of theistic and atheistic arguments. Readings from contemporary analytical philosophy of religion, and from historical sources in the Western tradition. Two 90-minute seminars. Staff

PHI 326 - Philosophy of Art (also COM 363/HUM 326) Not offered this year LA

An examination of concepts involved in the interpretation and evaluation of works of art. Emphasis will be placed on sensuous quality, structure, and expression as aesthetic categories. Illustrative material from music, painting, and literature. Two lectures, one preceptorial. M. Smith

PHI 327 - Philosophy of Physics Not offered this year EC

A discussion of philosophical problems raised by modern physics. Topics will be chosen from the philosophy of relativity theory or more often, quantum mechanics. Two lectures, one preceptorial. H. Halvorson

PHI 332 - Early Modern Philosophy (also ECS 305) Not offered this year EC

Detailed study of important concerns shared by some modern pre-Kantian philosophers of different schools. Topics may include identity and distinctness, the theory of ideas, substance, the mind/body problem, time, and causation. Philosophers may include Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, Hume, or others. One three-hour seminar. D. Garber

PHI 333 - Recent Continental Philosophy Not offered this year EC

Analysis of some representative 20th-century works drawn from the French and German traditions. The specific content of the course will vary from year to year, but in each case there will be some attempt to contrast differing philosophical approaches. Figures to be treated might include Sartre, Gadamer, Habermas, and Foucault. Two lectures, one preceptorial. Staff

PHI 335 - Greek Ethical Theory (also CHV 335/HLS 338) Not offered this year EM

The development of moral philosophy in Greece. Intensive study of the moral theories of such philosophers as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, the early Stoics, and Sextus Empiricus. Two 90-minute lecture-discussion classes. H. Lorenz

PHI 337 - Relativism Not offered this year EM

An exploration of various kinds of relativism: cultural, conceptual, epistemic, and moral, considering what structure if any different relativisms have in common, and whether relativism in any of the domains mentioned is plausible. One three-hour seminar G. Harman

PHI 338 - Philosophical Analysis from 1900 to 1950 Spring EC

An introduction to classics of philosophical analysis from the first half of the 20th century. Topics include early paradigms of Moore and Russell, logical atomism in Russell and early Wittgenstein, and logical positivism. Changes are traced both in metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical views and in analysis as a philosophical method. Two lectures, one preceptorial. G. Rosen

PHI 340 - Non-Classical Logics Not offered this year EC

An introduction to modal and many-valued logics, with emphasis on philosophical motivation through a study of applications and paradoxes. Prerequisite: 201 or instructor's permission. Two 90-minute classes. J. Burgess

PHI 352 - Philosophy of Bias: Psychology, Epistemology, and Ethics of Stereotypes (also CGS 352) Spring EC

Designed to introduce advanced students to empirical results in the psychology of group-based bias, to analyze these results along several philosophically important dimensions. We will discuss approaches to the semantics of generic statements, such as 'dogs bark', and consider whether these approaches extend to linguistic expressions of stereotypes, such as 'women are nurturing.' We will explore the psychological nature of stereotypes, as informed by both empirical findings and philosophical insights. The students will consider the epistemic import of stereotypes. Finally, we will consider several ethical views of stereotypes. G. Helton

PHI 353 - Political Theory, Athens to Augustine (also CLA 301/HLS 303/POL 301) Fall EM

PHI 360 - Democratic Theory (also CHV 306/POL 306) Not offered this year EM

PHI 380 - Explaining Values (also CHV 380) Not offered this year EM

The course will consider what types of explanations are possible of ordinary moral views. Students will look at philosophical, scientific, and historical explanations and consider how plausible they are, what sort of evidence might be relevant to them, and what their normative implications might be. Two lectures, one preceptorial. V. McGeer

PHI 383 - Freedom and Responsibility (also CHV 383) Fall EM

An introduction to the free will problem and its implications for ethics and the law. G. Rosen

PHI 384 - Philosophy of Law Not offered this year EM

Conceptual and moral problems in the foundations of law. Topics may include: morality and criminal justice; the justification of punishment; moral and economic problems in private law (torts and contracts); fundamental rights and constitutional interpretation. Two lectures, one preceptorial. G. Rosen

PHI 385 - Practical Ethics (also CHV 310) Fall EM

PHI 389 - Topics in Classical Thought (also CLA 338/HLS 368) Fall EC