Philosophy Classes

Department of Philosphy.

Knowing in a Social World: Sex, Lies, and Irrationality (PHL 290/490)

Time: T/TH 3:30 - 4:35 p.m.
Instructor: Kevin McCain

A key function of society is the attainment and transmission of knowledge. This benefits not just those who have the knowledge in question, but also the society as a whole. After all, “knowledge that will change your world” may be knowledge that you possess, but it might instead be knowledge that is possessed by others. Regardless, “knowledge that will change your world” is knowledge that arises and is shared amongst a community of scholars.

Consideration of how knowledge arises and is shared in a society raises a number of interesting philosophical questions:
  • How is it that we can come to have knowledge from others?
  • What should we do when we discover there is disagreement about a particular subject?
  • Are we naturally irrational creatures?
  • How do our natural biases affect the attainment and sharing of knowledge?
  • How does the scientific community generate and disseminate knowledge?
This course explores answers to these and related questions.

Neuroethics (PHL 292/492)

Time: M 5:00 - 7:30 p.m.
Instructor: Josh May

Neuroethics studies moral issues arising in connection with neuroscience, particularly research on the brain. The seminar will cover several topics in each area, likely to include:

  • Does subconscious neural activity determine our behavior prior to conscious awareness?
  • Is a criminal morally responsible if the behavior is the result of a brain tumor?
  • Is addiction a neurologically real phenomenon?
  • Which areas of the brain are responsible for moral thought and action? (Emotional areas? Rational/cognitive areas?)
  • Can the results of a brain scan constitute self-incrimination, thus violating the 5th amendment?
  • Is there something wrong with making oneself a better person (e.g. more caring and generous) by altering one’s brain directly (e.g. via pills or deep brain stimulation)?

Students will learn about such topics and evaluate arguments on different sides of the issues. (Note: the 492 version of this course fulfills the Philosophy Capstone Requirement.)

Minds and Machines (PHL 372-7P)

Time: W 5:00 - 7:30 p.m.
Instructor: Marshall Abrams

  • Can computers think? And how do we think?
  • Is the mind just the brain's software?
  • Are computers capable of understanding?
  • Could a machine be creative?
  • Does intelligence consist in following complex rules?
  • Would a computer be smarter with emotions?
We'll explore these questions from perspectives of philosophy of mind, artificial intelligence, and cognitive psychology. For more information (including a tentative syllabus) visit Dr. Abram's website. (Note: this course also satisfies the Computer Science elective requirement.)