Bowdoin College Catalogue and Academic Handbook

Philosophy (PHIL)

PHIL 1028  (c, FYS)   A Philosopher's Dozen  

Fall 2019.  

An introduction to philosophy by way of twelve famous thought experiments. Explores central questions in metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics by considering such imaginary scenarios as the runaway trolley, Mary in the black and white room, the ailing violinist, the split-brain transplant, the evil neurosurgeon, twin earth, and the experience machine.

PHIL 1032  (c, FYS)   Crime and Punishment  

Kristi Olson.
Every Year. Fall 2019. Enrollment limit: 16.
  

Examines philosophical issues raised by the criminal law, including the moral justification of punishment, the proper subject matter of criminal law (that is, what should be a crime?), ethical issues in law enforcement, and the theoretical underpinnings of different criminal defenses.

PHIL 1040  (c, FYS)   Personal Identity  

Every Other Year. Enrollment limit: 16.  

What is it that makes you a person, and what is it that makes you the same person as the little kid in your parents’ photo album? Philosophers have defended a number of different answers to these questions. According to some, it is persistence of the same soul that makes for personal identity. Others argue that it is persistence of the same body that matters, or the continuity of certain biological processes. Still others contend that it is psychological relations that matter. Canvases all of these answers and considers thought experiments about soul swapping, brain transplants, and Star Trek transporters. Readings from both historical and contemporary sources.

Previous terms offered: Fall 2018, Fall 2015.

PHIL 1043  (c, FYS)   The Meaning of Life  

Non-Standard Rotation. Enrollment limit: 16.  

An examination of the question of whether human existence has a meaning or point, and what it even means to ask this question. Among the topics covered: Would the existence of God (or gods) render life meaningful? Does death make human existence and projects pointless, or does the finitude of human existence instead give our lives and projects meaning and significance? Is there such a thing as the best way to live--or are some ways of living at least better than others--and if so, are these objective, mind-independent facts? Readings include ancient Near Eastern and ancient Greek reflection on the topic (the Epic of Gilgamesh, Ecclesiastes, Aristotle, Epictetus, Epicurus), as well as work by contemporary philosophers and poets (Thomas Nagel, Susan Wolf, Bernard Williams, Wallace Stevens, Wislawa Szymborska, and others).

Previous terms offered: Fall 2016.

PHIL 1045  (c, FYS)   Strange Worlds  

Non-Standard Rotation. Enrollment limit: 16.  

Philosophy challenges us to justify the beliefs that we ordinarily take for granted. Some philosophers argue that commonsense beliefs cannot meet this challenge, and that reality is very different from how things seem. Parmenides argues that there is only one thing. Sextus Empiricus tries to convince us that nobody knows anything (not even that nobody knows anything!). Gottfried Leibniz argues that only minds exist. J. M. E. McTaggart contends that time is unreal. C. L. Hardin denies that anything is colored. Examines these and other strange conclusions and the arguments offered in support of them.

Previous terms offered: Fall 2017.

PHIL 1252  (c)   Death  

Every Other Year. Enrollment limit: 50.  

Considers distinctively philosophical questions about death. Do we have immortal souls? Is immortality even desirable? Is death a bad thing? Is suicide morally permissible? Does the inevitability of death rob life of its meaning? Readings from historical and contemporary sources.

Previous terms offered: Fall 2017, Spring 2016.

PHIL 1320  (c)   Moral Problems  

Every Year. Enrollment limit: 50.  

Our society is riven by deep and troubling moral controversies. Examines some of these controversies in the context of current arguments and leading theoretical positions. Possible topics include abortion, physician-assisted suicide, capital punishment, sexuality, the justifiability of terrorism, and the justice of war.

Previous terms offered: Fall 2017, Fall 2015.

PHIL 1321  (c, ESD)   Philosophical Issues of Gender and Race  

Non-Standard Rotation. Enrollment limit: 50.  

Explores contemporary issues of gender and race. Possible topics include the social construction of race and gender, implicit bias, racial profiling, pornography, the gender wage gap, affirmative action, race and incarceration, transgender issues, and reparations for past harms. Readings drawn from philosophy, legal studies, and the social sciences. (Same as: GSWS 1321)

Previous terms offered: Fall 2018, Fall 2016, Fall 2015.

PHIL 1323  (c)   The Souls of Animals  

Non-Standard Rotation. Enrollment limit: 50.  

Do animals have souls? Do they have thoughts and beliefs? Do they feel pain? Are animals deserving of the same moral consideration as human beings? Or do they have any moral status at all? Readings from historical and contemporary sources.

Previous terms offered: Spring 2018.

PHIL 1351  (c)   Utopias and Dystopias  

Every Other Spring. Enrollment limit: 50.  

Through analysis of different theories of political and social organization represented in classic political philosophy and fiction, examines notions of what contributes to one kind of society being perceived as “better” than another, the roles of private property and families, and the delineation between private and public. Authors may include Robert Heinlein, Ursula K. LeGuin, Alexei Panshin, and others.

Previous terms offered: Spring 2019, Spring 2017.

PHIL 1434  (c)   Free Will and Moral Responsibility  

Every Other Fall. Enrollment limit: 50.  

We hold people responsible for their actions: we get credit and praise for nice things we do or good papers that we write; we are blamed if we break a promise or if we plagiarize a paper. In holding one another responsible in these ways, we seem to presuppose that people have free will, for it seems that we should not hold people responsible if they did not act freely. But what if all human behavior can be explained scientifically, as is suggested by current neuroscience research? What if determinism is true, and all our behaviors have been causally determined by events that took place before we were born? Readings from contemporary philosophers (Robert Kane, Alfred Mele, Manuel Vargas, and others) and psychologists (Benjamin Libet).

Previous terms offered: Fall 2018, Fall 2016.

PHIL 1442  (c)   Philosophy of Religion  

Scott Sehon.
Every Other Year. Fall 2019. Enrollment limit: 50.
  

Does God exist? Can the existence of God be proven? Can it be disproven? Is it rational to believe in God? What does it mean to say that God exists (or does not exist)? What distinguishes religious beliefs from non-religious beliefs? What is the relation between religion and science? Approaches these and related questions through a variety of historical and contemporary sources, including philosophers, scientists, and theologians. (Same as: REL 1142)

Previous terms offered: Spring 2018, Fall 2015.

PHIL 2111  (c)   Ancient Philosophy  

Van Tu.
Every Fall. Fall 2019. Enrollment limit: 35.
  

We will read some of the most important works by Plato and Aristotle, two of the greatest western thinkers, and major influences on western thought. Explores questions in ethics, politics, art, psychology, the concept of knowledge, and the nature of reality.

Previous terms offered: Fall 2018, Fall 2017, Fall 2016, Fall 2015.

PHIL 2112  (c)   Modern Philosophy  

Every Spring. Enrollment limit: 35.  

A survey of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European philosophy, focusing on discussions of the ultimate nature of reality and our knowledge of it. Topics include the nature of the mind and its relation to the body, the existence of God, and the free will problem. Readings from Descartes, Hume, Locke, Kant, and others.

Previous terms offered: Spring 2019, Spring 2018, Spring 2017, Spring 2016.

PHIL 2223  (a, MCSR)   Logic  

Scott Sehon.
Every Fall. Fall 2019. Enrollment limit: 35.
  

The central problem of logic is to determine which arguments are good and which are bad. To this end, we introduce a symbolic language and rigorous, formal methods for seeing whether one statement logically implies another. We apply these tools to a variety of arguments, philosophical and otherwise, and demonstrate certain theorems about the formal system we construct.

Previous terms offered: Fall 2018, Fall 2017, Fall 2016, Fall 2015.

PHIL 2233  (a, MCSR)   Advanced Logic  

Every Other Spring. Enrollment limit: 35.  

Investigates several philosophically important results of modern logic, including Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, the Church-Turing Theorem (that there is no decision procedure for quantificational validity), and Tarski’s theorem (the indefinability of truth for formal languages). Also includes an introduction to modal logic and the logic of necessity and possibility.

Prerequisites: PHIL 2223 or MATH 2020.

Previous terms offered: Spring 2018, Spring 2016.

PHIL 2320  (c)   Bioethics  

Every Other Spring. Enrollment limit: 35.  

Examines issues central for physicians, biological researchers, and society: cloning, genetic engineering, biological patenting, corporate funding for medical research, use of experimental procedures, and others.

Previous terms offered: Spring 2018, Spring 2016.

PHIL 2321  (c)   Moral Theory  

Every Other Year. Enrollment limit: 35.  

Is there a morally right way to live? If so, what is it? Should I do what is best for me? Should I respect individual rights -- and if so, what rights do individuals have? Should I do whatever maximizes the welfare of society? Examines these fundamental ethical questions.

Previous terms offered: Fall 2018, Spring 2017, Spring 2016.

PHIL 2322  (c)   Political Philosophy  

Non-Standard Rotation. Enrollment limit: 35.  

Examines some of the major issues and concepts in political philosophy, including freedom and coercion, justice, equality, and the nature of liberalism. Readings primarily from contemporary sources.

Previous terms offered: Spring 2019, Fall 2015.

PHIL 2323  (c)   Moral Skepticism  

Non-Standard Rotation. Enrollment limit: 35.  

Are there moral truths? Do evolutionary biology or disagreement about morality imply that there are not? If there are moral truths, are they objective, mind-independent features of reality, or do they depend on our opinions and preferences? Is the moral truth absolute or does it vary relative to cultures or individuals? Are moral statements even the sort of thing capable of truth or falsity? Is moral knowledge possible and if so, how? An introduction to metaethics and moral epistemology.

Previous terms offered: Fall 2017.

PHIL 2325  (c)   Aesthetics  

Van Tu.
Non-Standard Rotation. Fall 2019. Enrollment limit: 35.
  

Analyzes and evaluates the main approaches in the philosophy of art. Many modern and postmodern artworks challenge us to figure out why, on any theory, they would count as art at all. Our aim is to highlight the rich diversity of art in order to convey the difficulty of coming up with suitable theories, especially in light of the expanding mediascape of digital culture.

PHIL 2341  (c)   Philosophy of Law  

Non-Standard Rotation. Enrollment limit: 35.  

An introduction to legal theory. Central questions include: What is law? What is the relationship of law to morality? What is the nature of judicial reasoning? Particular legal issues include the nature and status of privacy rights; the legitimacy of restrictions on speech and expression; the nature of equality rights; and the right to liberty.

Previous terms offered: Spring 2018.

PHIL 2350  (c)   What is Equality?  

Kristi Olson.
Non-Standard Rotation. Fall 2019. Enrollment limit: 35.
  

What do we really want when we advocate for greater equality? Should we equalize income or something else? If everybody had enough, would we still have a reason to pursue equality? What should we do in those cases in which individuals are responsible, through their choices, for having less? Seeks to answer these and other questions by examining theories of equality in contemporary political philosophy.

PHIL 2359  (c)   The Ethics of Climate Change  

Non-Standard Rotation. Enrollment limit: 35.  

Examines moral questions raised by climate change including: What would constitute a just allocation of burdens? What do we collectively owe to future generations? If collective action fails, what are our obligations as individuals? When, if at all, is civil disobedience justified? Readings drawn primarily from contemporary philosophy. (Same as: ENVS 2459)

Previous terms offered: Spring 2019, Spring 2017, Spring 2016.

PHIL 2410  (c)   Philosophy of Mind  

Every Other Year. Enrollment limit: 35.  

We see ourselves as rational agents: we have beliefs, desires, intentions, wishes, hopes, etc. We also have the ability to perform actions, seemingly in light of these beliefs, desires, and intentions. Is our conception of ourselves as rational agents consistent with our scientific conception of human beings as biological organisms? Can there be a science of the mind and, if so, what is its status relative to other sciences? What is the relationship between mind and body? How do our mental states come to be about things in the world? How do we know our own minds, or whether other people even have minds? Readings primarily from contemporary sources.

Previous terms offered: Spring 2019, Spring 2017.

PHIL 2424  (c)   Philosophy of Space and Time  

Non-Standard Rotation. Enrollment limit: 35.  

An introduction to philosophical issues about space and time. Topics include the ontological status of space and time, the reality of past and future, the passage and direction of time, the paradoxes of motion, and time travel. Readings include both historical and contemporary texts.

Previous terms offered: Fall 2016.

PHIL 2425  (c)   Philosophy of Science  

Every Other Spring. Enrollment limit: 35.  

Science is often thought of as the paradigm of rational inquiry, as a method that gives us an unparalleled ability to understand the nature of the world. Others have doubted this rosy picture, and have emphasized historical and sociological aspects of the practice of science. Investigates the nature of science and scientific thought by looking at a variety of topics, including the demarcation of science and non-science, relativism and objectivity, logical empiricism, scientific revolutions, and scientific realism.

Previous terms offered: Spring 2019, Spring 2017.

PHIL 2427  (c)   Metaphysics  

Matthew Stuart.
Non-Standard Rotation. Fall 2019. Enrollment limit: 35.
  

Metaphysics is the study of very abstract questions about reality. What does reality include? What is the relation between things and their properties? What is time? Do objects and persons have temporal parts as well as spatial parts? What accounts for the identity of persons over time? What is action, and do we ever act freely?

PHIL 2429  (c)   Philosophy in the Twentieth Century  

Non-Standard Rotation. Enrollment limit: 35.  

An examination of some key figures and works in the development of analytic philosophy. Particular attention is given to theory about the nature of physical reality and our perceptual knowledge of it, and to questions about the nature and function of language. Readings from G. E. Moore, W. V. O. Quine, Bertrand Russell, Gilbert Ryle, and others.

Previous terms offered: Spring 2019.

PHIL 2430  (c)   Epistemology  

Non-Standard Rotation. Enrollment limit: 35.  

What is knowledge, and how do we get it? What justifies us in believing certain claims to be true? Does knowing something ever involve a piece of luck? Is it possible that we lack knowledge of the external world altogether? An introduction to the theory of knowledge, focusing on contemporary issues. Considers various conceptions of what it takes to have knowledge against the background of the skeptical challenge, as well as topics such as self- knowledge and the problem of induction.

Previous terms offered: Spring 2018.

PHIL 2431  (c)   Philosophy of Perception  

Non-Standard Rotation. Enrollment limit: 35.  

Explores philosophical questions about sensation. Do we perceive public physical objects directly, or by perceiving items in our minds? What are colors, sounds, odors? Are some sensible qualities objective and others subjective? Is seeing believing? Do the blind have the same ideas of shapes as the sighted? Can we justify the claim that our senses are reliable? Readings from historical and contemporary sources.

Previous terms offered: Fall 2015.

PHIL 3316  (c)   Contemporary Theories of Racism  

Alberto Urquidez.
Non-Standard Rotation. Fall 2019. Enrollment limit: 16.
  

Examines contemporary theories of racism prominent in philosophy, social psychology, sociology, and history. Though we will read widely across disciplines, our focus is philosophical: What is racism? Who gets to define the term? What’s at stake in defining it? How do issues of implicit racial bias, hate speech, xenophobia, dehumanization, oppression, and ideology (to name just a few intersections) enter competing theories? Is racism fundamentally mental, institutional, some combination of both, or what? Can a single definition accommodate everything that is called “racism,” or do we need multiple definitions? Is “racism” overused to the point of diminishing the term’s moral force/opprobrium? These are some of the issues we’ll explore. There will be a lot of dense reading for this course. Reading and comprehending assigned texts and keeping tabs of points of disagreement and convergence among authors will prove crucial to successful completion of this course.

Prerequisites: PHIL 1000 - 2969 or PHIL 3000 or higher.

PHIL 3325  (c)   Utilitarianism and Its Critics  

Non-Standard Rotation. Enrollment limit: 15.  

How should we decide what to do? Utilitarianism is the view that the right act is the act that produces the greatest happiness of the greatest number—an appealing view in many respects, since we do want to be happy. However, it doesn’t give much respect to the value of the individual or the value of liberty. Utilitarians argue that happiness is so desirable that it is worth sacrificing these other things. Examines the arguments in the debate between those who value only the maximization of happiness and those who think happiness must sometimes take second place to other things, one of the most important issues in ethics.

Prerequisites: PHIL 1050 - 2969 or PHIL 3000 or higher.

Previous terms offered: Fall 2016.

PHIL 3347  (c)   Morality of War  

Non-Standard Rotation. Enrollment limit: 16.  

Under what circumstances, if any, is war morally permissible, and what are the moral constraints on what it is permissible to do? Is there a moral difference between intending to kill civilians and merely foreseeing that they will be killed? When, if ever, is terrorism morally permissible? Topics addressed may include: the doctrine of double effect, the morality of self-defense, the permissibility of torture, noncombatant immunity, and collaborating with wrongdoers.

Prerequisites: PHIL 1000 - 2969 or PHIL 3000 or higher.

Previous terms offered: Spring 2017.

PHIL 3348  (c)   Metaethics  

Non-Standard Rotation. Enrollment limit: 16.  

Are there moral facts? Are value judgments like factual judgments in that they admit of truth or falsity? Does morality have a subject matter that exists independently of knowers? In moral thinking, are we constrained to certain conclusions, or can we think anything we like about any (moral) phenomenon and not be open to rational criticism? What kinds of reasons for action does morality give us? Metaethics attempts to understand the metaphysical, epistemological, and psychological presuppositions of our moral discourse and practice. At least one previous course in philosophy is recommended.

Previous terms offered: Fall 2015.

PHIL 3350  (c)   Theories of Equality  

Non-Standard Rotation. Enrollment limit: 16.  

What do we really want when we advocate for greater equality? Should we equalize income or something else? If everybody had enough, would we still have a reason to pursue equality? What should we do in those cases in which individuals are responsible, through their choices, for having less? Seeks to answer these and other questions by examining theories of equality in contemporary political philosophy.

Prerequisites: PHIL 1000 or higher.

Previous terms offered: Spring 2016.

PHIL 3351  (c)   Liberty  

Every Other Year. Enrollment limit: 16.  

This advanced seminar will consider the value of liberty: whether it has intrinsic value or is simply valuable as a means to an end. If it is merely valuable as a means to an end, when may those ends be achieved through other means than the use of personal liberty? We will read some of the classic works on liberty (such as J.S. Mill and John Locke, Isaiah Berlin’s differentiation between positive and negative liberty, and Robert Nozick’s defense of libertarianism) and contemporary essays that address the value of liberty in the personal and political sphere.

Prerequisites: PHIL 1000 - 2969 or PHIL 3000 or higher.

Previous terms offered: Spring 2019.

PHIL 3422  (c)   Nihilism and Naturalism  

Non-Standard Rotation. Enrollment limit: 15.  

Various areas of metaphysics (e.g., philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, metaethics, philosophy of religion) raise questions about the nature and existence of phenomena that seem central to being a person: mind, meaning, and value. Some skeptical philosophers argue that belief in such things would commit us to a kind of unscientific magic. However, if we deny the existence of mind, meaning, and value, it can seem that we collapse into a nihilistic abyss in which nothing makes sense, even the scientific worldview that brought us these problems. Philosophers attempt to find a comfortable middle ground between the extremes, but the question is whether any such position is stable.

Prerequisites: PHIL 1000 or higher.

Previous terms offered: Spring 2016.

PHIL 3432  (c)   The Story of Analytic Philosophy  

Non-Standard Rotation. Enrollment limit: 16.  

Analytic philosophy is commonly regarded as the dominant school in contemporary philosophy. However, there is no set of doctrines common to all analytic philosophers, nor is there any one thing that could properly be termed the method of analytic philosophy. The term "analytic philosophy," if useful at all, indicates a shared set of concerns, a shared predilection for clarity of argument, and a shared history of the most eminent figures in the tradition. This course examines that story from 1879 through the late twentieth century, including works by Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Rudolf Carnap, W. V. Quine, Donald Davidson, and Saul Kripke. Topics include objectivity and truth; the foundations of mathematics; and the nature of language, theories, evidence, and meaning.

Prerequisites: Two of: either PHIL 1000 - 2969 or PHIL 3000 or higher and either PHIL 1000 - 2969 or PHIL 3000 or higher.

Previous terms offered: Fall 2017.

PHIL 3451  (c)   Reasons and Persons  

Non-Standard Rotation. Enrollment limit: 16.  

Derek Parfit's “Reasons and Persons” (1984) is one of the most important and influential philosophy books of the late twentieth century. It is a work of general philosophy, of ethics, and of metaphysics. Parfit explores the nature of rationality, theories about the foundations of ethics, questions about personal identity, and our obligations to future generations. Parfit's book is read and discussed, and some of the vast literature it has spawned is considered.

Prerequisites: PHIL 1000 - 2969 or PHIL 3000 or higher.

Previous terms offered: Spring 2018.

PHIL 3455  (c)   Ideas and Common Sense  

Non-Standard Rotation. Enrollment limit: 16.  

Traces the rise and fall of one of the great epistemological innovations of modern philosophy, the so-called "theory of ideas." According to this theory, thinking involves the manipulation of mental items and sense perception is mediated by awareness of them. The theory is put forward by Descartes, but receives its fullest treatment in Locke's “Essay,” where it is used to explain perceptual relativity, secondary qualities, the constraints on scientific explanation, and even our inability to perceive fast and slow motions. Later, Hume uses the theory to justify a far-reaching skepticism about causation and about enduring things. The theory's sharpest and most insightful critic is Reid, the Scottish philosopher of common sense whose methodological views prefigure the "ordinary language" movement of the twentieth century.

Prerequisites: PHIL 1000 - 2969 or PHIL 3000 or higher.

Previous terms offered: Fall 2018.