Sample Syllabi

Introductory Courses

Introduction to Philosophy

This course is designed to give students an introduction to some central questions in philosophy and to inspire their curiosity for such questions. There are three unites in this course: Unit 1 explores Truth And Trust – What makes something true? How do we know? And why is trust key in epistemic networks? Unit 2 is about Identity and Expression – What makes someone or something what they are? How do social structures shape our identities? How can we confidently express ourselves? Finally, Unit 3 examines the good life – Is there a meaning to life? Does a good life involve doing good?

Gender, Race, and Science

Gender, Race, and Science is an examination of issues arising at the intersection of feminist philosophy, philosophy of race, and the history and philosophy of science. The primary goal of this course is to come to a deeper and more critically reflective understanding of both the history of the concepts of race and gender and the various roles that these concepts continue to play in contemporary science. The first section of the course examines gender and race as scientific categories. We place these debates in their historical context, as we examine the role that understandings of race and gender played the development of Western science. Next, we investigate the relationship between biological determinism and social inequality, particularly in the fields of genetics and health disparities research. How has science, both historically and continually, contributed to social inequality? The course ends with an examination of the relationship among race, gender, and contemporary scientific research. We will consider how our cultural understandings of race and gender help co-construct scientific knowledge.

Human Nature

This course is designed around ten central questions: 1. Where did humans come from?, 2. Does human life have a purpose? If so, what is the nature of that purpose?, 3. How are humans different from other living creatures?, 4. Are humans naturally good(moral)?, 5. Are humans naturally cooperative or selfish?, 6. Do humans have innate personalities?, 7. Are humans trapped by biological urges or free to make our own choices?, 8. Is war an inevitable consequence of human nature?, 9. Is a state necessary to protect humans from each other?, 10. Does a unified human nature exist?. This course is also an experiment in human nature – students must decide together which questions are addressed and in what order. This course is also ungraded, and students are asked to reflect seriously on the nature of grading and the learning experience.

Biomedical Ethics

What are the corse questions of the health care fields and how should we go about answering those questions? This course asks students to approach ethical questions from three different scales – the community scale, the interpersonal scale, and the individual scale. By asking students to see themselves playing different kinds of roles in the biomedical system (researcher, patient, care-giver, administration, law-maker), this course seeks to provide students with an introduction to the complexity and scale of biomedical ethical issues.

Upper-level Courses

Philosophy of Science

Why trust science? This introduction to the philosophy of science course seeks to answer this question by considering some of the foundational principles in the field. We examine the demarcation problem, the challenge from underdetermination, and the pessimistic meta-induction. We consider the difficulty in obtaining objectivity, as well as the many way we might overcome those challenges. The ultimate goal of this course is to provide students with a sophisticated understanding of the nature of science and what makes it worthy of our trust.

Minds, Bodies, and Selves (Philosophy of Mind)

Our understanding of our minds, and their relationships to our bodies, has a profound impact on how we understand ourselves. This course examines the concepts of minds, bodies, selves and the relationships among them through an exploration of issues at the intersection of philosophy of mind, psychology, neuroscience, and ethics. We will consider what science can tell us about what it is to have a mind. Can psychology and neuroscience explain psychological processes without thereby ‘reducing’ or ‘eliminating’ them? Are mathematically rigorous, experimentally testable theories of feeling, perceiving, and thinking even possible? The course pays special attention to scientific claims regarding mental health and mental illness. Are mental illnesses just brain diseases? What is the relationship between science and subjectivity? How do values and norms of well-being influence our personal and scientific conceptions of mind and mental health?


Why isn’t this class just physics? My metaphysics class opens by asking students to consider what science can and can’t tell us about the nature of reality. We continue on to confront some of great debates in metaphysics: Is time real or an illusion? Are our minds purely physical objects? Is there free will? We also address more modern twists on these questions: How do our concepts shape our answers to these questions? How can feminism change our approach to metaphysics? Through engaging in these debates, we will hope to understand something about the nature of metaphysics, including why and how we should go about doing it. 

Philosophy of Biology

 This course will explore conceptual and methodological problems in biological science. Students will learn to reflect critically on scientific practice and the place of science in a broader context. We will examine questions such as: What do common ancestry and natural selection mean and how can hypotheses about each be tested? What is the nature of species and what role does the concept of species play in biological theory? What are the implications of evolutionary explanations of morality for ethical theory? Topics will include the nature of species, the concepts of function and adaptation in biology, the relationship between evolution and morality, among others. 

Measurement and Models (Epistemology of Science)

Measurement, on the one hand, is seen as the paradigm of scientific objectivity. Models, on the other hand, are seen as merely useful fictions. However, measurement really involves modeling, and models can be a kind of measurement. This class explores the nature of measurement and models and their role in knowledge production. This course also involves lengthy original research projects which are scaffolded by a 6-week long series of assignments.

Prospective Courses

Metaphysics and Epistemology

Epistemological and metaphysical questions arise in pursuit of virtually every branch of philosophical inquiry and reflective living. This course explores the differences and relationships among metaphysical questions (What is there? What is the ultimate nature of reality?) and epistemological questions (What is knowledge? What can we know?).  In epistemology, topics include the nature and limits of knowledge and reasonable belief, sources of justification, and varieties of skepticism.  In metaphysics, topics include causation, the nature and existence of free will, the relationship between mind and body, and personal identity. This course is designed to be a core part of the philosophy major program.

Internet Studies

This course explores the emerging interdisciplinary field of Internet Studies. We will investigate questions such as: Is the internet changing how culture evolves? Is credibility different online and offline? How are our online lives inheriting the racial and gender bias of our offline lives? Is the internet making us more connected or more alone? Is there an inherent conflict between privacy and information? This course will not only be about the internet, but will engage with the internet through creating and responding to online content. Students will leave this course with a deeper understanding of some of the social, political, cultural, psychological, and philosophical aspects of the internet.