Sewanee: The University of the South

Course offerings in philosophy for spring 2012

November 8, 2011


Note: All 100- and 200-level courses except Logic (Phil. 201) meet the general distribution requirement in Philosophy.

An examination of the existence of God, the finality of death, and the meaning of life.  We will begin by examining the traditional, theistic conception of God.  Once we have determined what God is supposed to be like, we will attempt to identify and evaluate the best reasons for thinking that this being does or does not exist.  We will subsequently take up the question of whether it is reasonable to hope for life after death.  This will require us to take up the mind/body problem, i.e., the problem of determining what the relationship is between us, our minds, and our bodies.  In the final segment of the course we will examine questions pertaining to the meaning of life (e.g., What, if anything, makes a life meaningful?  Is there an objective fact as to whether is a given life is meaningful, or is this relative in some significant way?  Is the meaning of life contingent upon the existence of God and an afterlife?).  We will examine both theistic and non-theistic approaches to these questions.

This course will examine philosophical works, literary texts, and films that present engaging accounts of what it means to be human. We will strive to understand the nature of these diverse accounts and evaluate their distinctive insights into the meaning of human existence. Some of the thinkers we will study are Socrates, Pascal, Nietzsche, Wendell Berry, C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ayn Rand.  Students will also be challenged to clarify and defend their own philosophical worldview. There will be daily short journal assignments, several short papers, and a final exam

What is honor? Why be honorable? What relations does Sewanee's honor code have to standard accounts of honor? The ideal of honor has had a long history in ethical thinking across cultures and traditions. Even though today we sometimes speak of a person behaving honorably or dishonorably, we most often do so in special contexts, such as combat in war. This class will immerse students in reading, discussing, and analyzing key Philosophical texts  that have something to say about honor: (Homer's Iliad, Aristotle's Ethics, Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, Confucius's  Analects. Moreover, we will watch classic cowboy western movies, such as High Noon and Unforgiven, while examining the cowboy's worldview and ethical commitments. We will end by reading early Sewanee debates on the significance of the honor system. Beyond learning about the debates, students will develop strategies for clarifying philosophical views and developing and defending their own philosophical views.  This course is appropriate for students eager to think philosophically about fundamental issues of ethics. It is designed both for students with some prior coursework in philosophy and for students with none.

This course is designed to offer a brief introduction to philosophy and philosophical modes of inquiry (and writing).  What is philosophy?  It is the object of this course to investigate various modes of philosophical discourse and to inquire:  What is philosophy / what forms can philosophy take?  Why would one practice such a discipline?  How does the medium in which philosophical ideas are presented impact how the ideas are received, interpreted, and understood?  We will explore works in forms including dialogue, essay, meditation, treatise, aphorism, film, and novel. This course has a dual focus – beginning with ancient and ending with contemporary Continental (and primarily existential) thought.  Along the way, the course will delve into matters related to ethics, essence, the soul, immortality, love, truth, beauty, and the notion of the “good life.”  We will explore the philosophical treatment of body / mind, body / soul, and body / heart / mind.  What does each of these relationships show us about how to live a philosophical life?  One of the main aims of the course is to teach you how to identify, interpret, evaluate, and develop a philosophical argument. 

We typically suppose that there are some things we ought to do, other things we ought not to do; that some people, characters, and actions deserve our praise while others do not; and that some lives are better or more meaningful than others. These are all suppositions about ethical demands and ideals operating in our lives. But what gives these demands and ideals their authority? Why should we take them seriously? In other words, why be moral? We’ll look at various ways of making sense of that question, as well as various attempts to address it. Our goal is not simply to learn what various thinkers have said in answer to that question (although this is, of course, part of the goal), but also to learn to think critically and responsibly about philosophical issues ourselves.

This course is concerned with reasoning--good and bad, correct and incorrect, valid and invalid. By learning to apply a few general rules of logic, students acquire competence in distinguishing between correct and incorrect reasoning. Most of the course is devoted to the logic used in everyday life and discourse, which was first formulated by Aristotle and later modified by Venn and Boole. Students are also given an introduction to modern symbolic logic. There will be daily homework assignments designed to show how the concepts of logic can be used to solve specific problems.

An introduction to Western Philosophy during the 17th and 18th Centuries, through an examination of works by René Descartes, John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume, Thomas Reid and Immanuel Kant.  The following themes will be most prominent: the nature of knowledge and perception, the existence and nature of God, the existence of the material world, the origin of linguistic meaning, the mind/body problem, and the problem of personal identity. 
We will start with Descartes' Meditations, in which he employs radical skeptical hypotheses to prove that he exists, that God exists, that the empirical world exists (and hence that his body exists), and finally, that his mind and body must be two distinct things.  We will subsequently examine Locke's answer to Cartesian rationalism.  On his view, many of Descartes' philosophical positions are either meaningless or unknowable.  Armed with his empiricist conceptions of knowledge and meaning, he subsequently attempts to give better arguments for the existence of God and the material world.  Berkeley attempts to show that the latter objective is itself inconsistent with this empiricist agenda.  On his view, it makes no sense to affirm the existence of mind-independent, physical objects; he instead argues that reality includes only two sorts of things: spirits (God and souls) and their ideas.  Hume takes this empiricist agenda one step further: he argues, first, that any talk about selves or spirits or substances is incoherent; second, that only ideas exist (since minds are nothing more than collections of ideas); and third, that we don't know anything beyond our past and present mental states.  In the final phase of the course we will examine two radically different responses to Humean skepticism.  In particular, we will examine Thomas Reid's defense of direct realism, and Immanuel Kant's defense of transcendental idealism.  Although Reid and Kant agree that we can know a great deal about the empirical world, Reid contends that we are directly aware of this world (and hence that it exists independently of this awareness), while Kant maintains that the empirical world is merely an appearance of some deeper, underlying reality which cannot itself be known or experienced.

This course will examine a rich variety of philosophical perspectives on controversial ethical issues concerning the proper relationship of humanity and nature. We will explore such questions as: “Why should human beings care about the integrity and well-being of nature?”  “Do animals have rights?”  “Are the economic practices or businesses and individuals in the affluent first world sustainable?” and “What is the value of wilderness?” Some of the thinkers we will study are Aldo Leopold, Loren Eiseley, Peter Singer, Wendell Berry, Edward Abbey, Arne Naess, and Annie Dillard.  Students will be required to clarify and defend their own environmental ethic. There will be daily short journal assignments, several short papers, and a final exam.

It’s sometimes said that the notion of ‘business ethics’ is an oxymoron, but there are of course a host of ethical issues associated with business and corporations. We will explore some of those issues, focusing on conceptions of human nature informing economic thought, issues of corporate social responsibility, the relationship between justice and the market, whether ethics dictates any limits to the market, and ethical concerns about capitalism itself. Our aim is to learn to think critically and responsibly about ethical issues that arise within business, and to hone the intellectual skills needed to do so.

This course is an introduction to ethical issues in medicine. It presupposes no prior coursework in philosophy and satisfies the general requirement in philosophy and religion.  We will address a range of fundamental ethical issues found in the practice of medicine.  Ronald Munson's text Intervention and Reflection, the most widely used medical ethics textbook today will be used to present ground breaking classic cases in medical ethics, discussions of considerations required for successful analysis of these cases, and significant essays debating the issues that these cases pose. Issues may include: patient autonomy, informed consent, truth-telling, physician-assisted suicide, race and gender in healthcare, among others. Emphasis will be given to each student, through careful argumentation, developing and defending his or her own solutions to medical ethical problems. Students will be expected work in a local free medical clinic. Required work: two formal essays, weekly reading responses, 10 hours at the Winchester free medical clinic, plus a final exam reflecting on the free clinic experiences. This course is appropriate for students eager to think philosophically about fundamental issues of medical ethics. It is designed both for students with some prior coursework in philosophy and for students with none.

This course will examine existentialist themes from Kierkegaard and Nietzsche from the death of God, and the related arbitrariness of morality to the need for existential choice and commitment to solve the problems of life and their presentation and development in the films such as Todd Solondz, Storytelling (2001), Akira Kurasawa’s Rashoman  (1950), David Fincher’s Fight Club. (1999), Gabriel Axel’s Babette’s Feast (1988) and Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2009), among others.  Special attention will be given to the way in which Woody Allen’s films, such as Husbands and Wives (1992) and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) present a secular form of faith that draws on positions both in Nietzsche’s anti-Christian views and Kierkegaard’s defense of religious faith. Required work will include regular homework, a group presentation, two formal essays and a final exam essay.

We will examine selected literary texts and critical essays of Flannery O'Connor, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien, works which explore the meaning of religious faith in human life.  We will also read selected philosophical works by Kierkegaard, Pieper, and Pascal that examine in a philosophical form the fundamental questions embodied in the literary texts we will study.  In the course of this exploration, we will consider the different ways in which story, poetry, and philosophy raise profound religious and philosophical questions and seek to give us insights about the proper role of faith in human life.  We will give special attention to the vision of the grotesque in O'Connor and the importance of imagination, myth, and fantasy in Lewis and Tolkien.  This class will be conducted as a seminar with in-class presentations by students. There will be daily short journal assignments, several short papers, and a final exam

This course will cover seven major American philosophers and movements in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. First we will look at the transcendentalism of Emerson and Thoreau; next we will investigate the pragmatism of C. S. Peirce, William James, and John Dewey, and the anti-pragmatism of George Santayana. We will end the semester with a consideration of the environmental vision of Wendell Berry. Class will be conducted as a seminar that combines lectures and class discussion, and students will present class reports from time to time. There will be two hour exams during the semester and several short papers, and students will be asked to hand in weekly journals. There will also be a take-home final exam.

This seminar will assist senior philosophy majors in writing their senior essays by providing them with a forum for the development, discussion, and criticism of their interpretations and arguments. Seniors will also be asked to read and review submissions to our undergraduate electronic philosophical journal, Interlocutor: The Sewanee Undergraduate Philosophical Review ( the course of the semester, students will report on their individual research, present early versions of their essays, and comment on the work of their fellow students. The tutorial will conclude with each senior giving a public presentation of a summary of his or her senior essay and with a presentation of the new volume of the journal.

What’s On

April 2014
Sewanee: The University of the South