Courses (Spring 2009) with reading lists:
All Courses I Teach
The word "philosophy" literally means "love of wisdom." But what is wisdom? Can we learn it from books, or can we only learn it from our own lived experience? Does the practice of academic philosophy today still concern itself with the quest for wisdom? To be honest, some contemporary ways of engaging in the academic discipline of philosophy do not, at least on the surface, appear to address questions of wisdom, but maybe this appearance is deceptive. At any rate, the quest for wisdom is the overarching theme of this particular course. The discipline of philosophy involves both learning about the philosophical thinking of others and developing one's own capacity to reflect on philosophical questions. In this course, we will engage in both of these dimensions of doing philosophy. We will read what a number of philosophers have said about wisdom, the nature of reality, and how to live life well. We will also reflect on our own experience and share what wisdom we have gleaned from living our own lives. And we will collectively write a class "Book of Wisdom," distilling from what we have read, experienced, and discussed, a collective understanding of what wisdom is, and what are the wisest things we have learned.
This course is a thematic introduction to philosophy, and its primary purpose is to help students to reflect on the nature of scientific knowledge and to evaluate the status of science in our society. We live in a strange time in the history of science and technology-at the same time that technology is advancing very rapidly, there is also increasing suspicion that science is not as "objective" as it has been made out to be, and that indeed science is to blame for many of our most pressing problems. Students who take this course will have the opportunity to learn about the ideals of scientific methodology and then to read through some more recent critiques of science. Is scientific knowledge true, or is it socially constructed? Has science been biased by the historical fact that most scientists have been men? Would science change if more scientists were women? At the end of the course we will consider the question of whether there is a new picture of science that is emerging in response to these critiques, and if so, what the implications are for the relationship between science and society.
Logic is the study of the structure of our reasoning. When we construct an argument in order to try to convince others of the truth of a claim, we construct a chain of reasoning that has a structure. When we find flaws in other people's reasoning (or our own), we are noticing something that goes wrong in the structure of reasoning. There are patterns of reasoning that underlie good arguments, but there are also some common ways that people make errors of reasoning. In this course, we will study both the patterns of good reasoning, and common patterns of bad reasoning (fallacies). We will study both deductive and inductive reasoning, and we will be alert for real examples of both well-reasoned and fallacious reasoning in local and national newspapers. Finally, we will also at times reflect on the broader philosophical implications of this subject of study.
In this course, we will study a number of important and influential ethical theories, and ask questions about the nature and purposes of ethical theories: What is an ethical theory? What must be included in an ethical theory? Are ethical theories meant to describe morality, or prescribe and proscribe our behavior; or are there other purposes and uses? What is the relationship between ethics and religion? What is the relationship between ethics and happiness vs. suffering? Must we presuppose freedom for ethical inquiry to be meaningful? Are there important relationships between ethics and psychology? What theories of the human person are implied by the different ethical theories? We will explore these questions through reading and discussing important works on ethics, and through a number of written assignments.
This course will begin with a historical survey of theories of knowledge and reality from ancient Greek philosophy through the present. Throughout this survey, we will be tracking the changes that occur through time: changes in the questions asked and in the perspectives adopted concerning the nature of knowledge and reality. After the historical survey, we will ponder the question of why metaphysics gets sidelined in much of 20th century philosophy. In the final three weeks of the course, we will examine the contemporary Western bifurcation of science and religion: why is a religious worldview perceived by so many to be at odds with a scientific worldview? What are the historical reasons for this split? What are the characteristics of a good worldview, and does science provide an adequate basis for an entire worldview? What does the future hold—is some sort of synthesis desirable, or possible?
Why does science produce such reliable knowledge? Is there really a "scientific method"? Does science get at truth, or is scientific knowledge socially constructed? These are some of the questions that will be addressed in this course. In addition, we will consider whether science advances according to a steady and rational process, or whether it advances according to radical "scientific revolutions." We will also try to identify what (if anything) distinguishes scientific knowledge from other kinds of knowledge. To conclude the course, we will reflect on whether scientific knowledge is comprehensive enough to constitute a complete worldview.
A study of elementary symbolic logc. topics include sentential and predicate logic.
This course is intended to be an upper-level seminar-style course on the relationships between gender issues and science. It is hoped that each of the students will have taken at least one course in science plus a course in philosophy or gender studies. Many kinds of questions can be asked about gender and science: questions regarding the social context of science with respect to gender issues; questions regarding the historical development of science and how the changing roles of women in society have affected science; and questions regarding the epistemological and ethical implications of these changing relationships. Two of the most important ongoing issues raised by the study of gender and science are: (1) If there has been gender bias in scientific practice, has this affected the content of scientific knowledge, and if so, in what ways? (2) If there has been gender bias in the practice of science, are there important ethical problems resulting from this bias? By exploring these questions and issues, we will be able to consider how science might better be a method of understanding in a democratic society.
Several of the most striking and important results of Western philosophy and science are findings about what we cannot know. Can we definitively draw lines beyond which it is impossible to know? If we do so, are we not claiming to know at least a little about what lies beyond these lines? How could this be possible? The theme of there being more to reality than we can possibly comprehend is not a new one in the history of Western thought -- theologians have long pondered the possibility of a reality that transcends human understanding. Philosophers have considered whether there are limits to human reason. More recent examples of unknowability include the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (and other conundrums of modern physics), the "problem of consciousness," and Godel's incompleteness theorems. By the end of this course, you will be able to dazzle your friends with how much you know about what you do not know!
In today's world, some religious believers wish to limit the teaching of science in schools, while some prominent scientists write books arguing that religion is dangerously misguided. Why is there such a clash between science and religion in mainstream contemporary culture? Is a "scientific worldview" inherently at odds with a "religious worldview," or is this clash exaggerated by the media? Is belief in God just a "delusion," as biologist Richard Dawkins argues in a recent book? Has science become our culture's official religion--and, if so, is it really well-equipped to answer the pressing moral questions that face us today? Or do we need to develop a new system of thought that can synthesize our scientific understandings with our quest for meaning and value? We will explore these questions, and others too, in this course. No prerequisites, although prior study of philosophy, science, and/or religion at the college level is recommended.
In this course we will study only one book: Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, one of the most important and amazing works in the history of Western philosophy. While this book is arguably the most difficult book ever written, it is not actually impossible for mere mortals to understand, and it is certainly well worth the effort for philosophy majors, and others who are philosophically-inclined and intellectually adventurous. With breathtaking mental power, Kant takes us on an exploration of the nature of human knowledge that not only addresses important, long-standing philosophical problems in innovative ways, but also will have you thinking about yourselves and the nature of human consciousness in ways you never would have imagined.
This course provides an opportunity for critical reflection on the nature and value of philosophy itself. What is philosophy? What are the methods of philosophical inquiry? Does philosophy have value in today's world? We will read what other philosophers, past and present, and in both western and non-western traditions, have had to say about these questions. Also, other members of the philosophy department will visit the class to share their own perspectives and methods. Students will have the opportunity to practice and reflect on a variety of philosophical methodologies and will be encouraged to clarify their own philosophical identities.
Peace, Power, and Sustainability
Many people initially define “peace” as the absence of conflict. They then go on rightly to conclude that, under this definition, peace is unrealistic because conflict is inevitable. But the problem is not that peace is impossible—the problem is that that definition of peace is wrong. Conflict is a normal part of life—it, in itself, is not bad. Only conflict that is handled badly is bad. Conflict handled well leads to creative growth for all concerned. A better definition of peace then is that peace is a state of being that is strong enough to face conflict compassionately, resolving that conflict in ways that ultimately bring about the positive transformation of all concerned. The purpose of this course will be to explore deeply the implications of this understanding of peace. Can we live harmoniously with others who are very different from us? Are we living in a fundamentally adversarial relationship with our natural environment? Is it possible to create cultures of peace and sustainability? How can we each cultivate the inner peace that gives us the strength and insight to deal with conflicts well? As a means of achieving this goal student will be introduced to several meditation techniques. A weekly walking meditation is included in the course requirements.
Peacemakers and Peacemaking
We learn a lot about the major wars of the past and present, and can easily draw the conclusion that most of human history has been dominated by violent conflict. Yet there have been many remarkable episodes of peacemaking. In this seminar, each student will engage in two related research projects: researching an important peacemaker, and an important historical episode of peacemaking. In the process, students will learn about nonviolent methods of conflict resolution. Students will share their findings in oral presentations in class, and will reflect on the implications of this reconsidered history in discussion and writing.
As a sophomore, you don’t have to figure out the full meaning of life, thank goodness: you only have to declare a major! Yet, somehow, even this comparatively simpler task can seem overwhelmingly daunting. In fact, a careful consideration of some of the grand philosophical questions about life can be helpful in providing a basis for making our most important choices in life, including one’s choice of a major. In this half-unit course, we will read through and discuss one of the most fascinating philosophical works ever written, Plato’s Republic. It is a book that reflects in depth on human nature and ambitiously tries to create a perfect world. It is a book that is all about how to live life well. It explores the question of what counts as true wisdom, and the question of how an educational system should be structured. It ends with a dramatic story about the choosing of lives. How much did you drink from the River of Forgetfulness—enough to forget who you are, or just enough to just remember, step by step, what you really hope your life to be like? You’ll get to discuss questions like this (and receive credit for it!) if you take this course.
In the wake of 9/11 our nation (and much of the world) has become enveloped in a universe defined by the watchwords of terrorism, fear, national defense and homeland security. This course intentionally searches for alternative ways of understanding conflict. We will ask questions such as: Can we define "peace" in more positive terms than the unrealistic "absence of conflict"? Can conflict be positive or even transformative? Are "peacemakers" different from the rest of us? Can we all learn to live harmoniously with others who are very different from us? What are ways to cultivate the inner peace that gives people the strength and insight to deal with conflict creatively and positively?
Last Revised: 12/29/08
by L. Rediehs