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Undergraduate Course Catalog 2015-2016

College of Liberal Arts


Philosophy (PHIL)


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Chairperson: Paul McNamara
Professor: Willem A. deVries, R. Valentine Dusek, Nicholas J. Smith, Duane H. Whittier, Charlotte Elizabeth Witt
Associate Professor: Drew Christie, Paul McNamara, Ruth J. Sample, Timm A. Triplett
Assistant Professor: Subrena Smith
Senior Lecturer: Jennifer K. Armstrong
Lecturer: Matt Dowd, William Seeley

Each semester, detailed course descriptions are posted in the department office and on the department web page.

Philosophy has always been at the heart of liberal education, deepening and enriching the lives of those who pursue it. The philosophy major provides students with the opportunity to confront a wide variety of questions, especially those that cannot be dealt with in the framework of other disciplines. Such questions include those about the ultimate nature of reality: Does God exist? Are minds distinct from bodies? Are there more things between heaven and Earth than are dreamed of in science? Other questions probe what it is to know: Do we know that material bodies external to our minds exist? What does it mean to justify a belief? Still other questions are about how we ought to act: What is a good person? Are there moral rules? How are they justified? Must we obey them?

Philosophy also concerns itself with other disciplines: What makes something a work of art? What distinguishes a scientific theory from a religious theory or myth? Is capitalism amoral? Is legal authority moral or political?

The Department of Philosophy offers a wide range of courses exposing students to the full scope of philosophical activity. Grappling with major primary texts from the history of philosophy is an important emphasis of the program, for philosophy today is the continuation of a conversation that extends back to the ancient Greeks and the Vedic scriptures. Philosophy also always has wrestled with cutting-edge topics emerging in the current culture. Some recent examples are: What are the prospects for machines with mental lives? What are the implications of new views in cosmology? How do we handle the pressing ethical dilemmas brought on by emerging medical technologies, or by the historically unparalleled rate of destruction of the Earth’s environment? Are gender and race socially constructed concepts rather than biological concepts?

Career Opportunities
Philosophy offers excellent training for a variety of careers by providing a unique combination of lifelong skills: analytic and interpretive skills; critical reasoning skills; the enhanced capacity to detect problems and to solve them; excellence in oral and written presentation and defense of one’s ideas; skill at asking probing and central questions about the ideas of others (as well as about one’s own ideas); and skill at effectively understanding, organizing, and evaluating complex systems of thought.

Considering these skills, it is not surprising that philosophy majors score in the very top percentiles on the GRE, LSAT, and GMAT standardized exams. For example, in a recent GRE study, philosophy majors were ranked among the very top majors in their mean scores on the verbal, analytic, and quantitative components of the exam; in a recent LSAT study, philosophy majors had a higher mean score than even prelaw majors; and for recent GMAT tests, the mean score for philosophy majors exceeded that of any type of business major. Virtually no other major does this well on such a wide cross-section of standardized exams.

These results reflect the fact that the unique combination of skills acquired in philosophy, along with the breadth of subject matter, provide the philosophy major with an extremely adaptive and resilient mind-set. Philosophy provides superior preparation for a variety of vocational and professional endeavors, and perhaps more importantly, for being a professional.

The Philosophy Major

Majors must take a total of 10 philosophy courses. The following courses constitute a core required of all majors: PHIL 412, 500, 530, 570, 580, and one additional course in the history of philosophy (525, 571, 610, 616, 618, 620, or an approved seminar). Majors also must take two seminars (e.g., courses at the 700 level). Please note that a single course can satisfy multiple requirements for the major. PHIL 495 and 795 normally do not count toward fulfilling major requirement credits; exceptions may be granted by special permission. 

The Discovery capstone requirement may be fulfilled by completing two 700-level seminars of the student's choice (as listed just above under "Core Requirements"), provided that at least one of these, if not both, is taken in the senior year. (As with all courses counting for the major, a grade of C- or better is required.)

Note that it is in the nature of 700-level seminars to presuppose by default that students have completed the main 400-level and 500-level core requirements (412, 500, 530, 570, 580) and so free reference is made to materials, views, techniques, etc. covered in those lower-level core requirements.

Although not required, students are strongly encouraged to consider the possibility of doing honors-in-major (and thus writing a thesis or an honors portfolio), and/or presenting research at the Undergraduate Research Conference, and/or fulfilling an undergraduate research grant in their senior year. This is especially encouraged for students considering graduate school in philosophy.

The required minimum overall GPA in major coursework is 2.0.

Candidates for a degree must satisfy all of the University Discovery Program requirements in addition to satisfying the requirements of each individual major program. Bachelor of arts candidates must also satisfy the foreign language proficiency requirement.

Major department courses may not be used to satisfy Discovery category requirements except in the case of a second or dual major and with the exception of PHIL 412, which may be used to satisfy both.

Special-Interest Program
Students may add to the above major a special-interest program that is of value in planning for postgraduate education or entry into such areas as law, medicine, business, education, theology, or social work. Special advisers are prepared to provide informal counsel to philosophy majors interested in these areas.

Graduate Preparatory Emphasis

This emphasis is strongly recommended for students who plan to do graduate work in philosophy. Beyond the 10 program courses, such students should select, with their advisers’ approval, two additional philosophy courses above the 400 level, for a total of 12 courses. One of these should be PHIL 550.

Distinction on Senior Thesis

Distinction on Senior Thesis is granted by a unanimous determination of the student’s committee that the thesis exceeds A-level work and is worthy of special recognition.

Honors in Philosophy

To receive Honors in Philosophy, students will be expected to pursue a philosophy curriculum that demands greater depth and rigor than what is required by the major; they will be expected to complete the curriculum at a consistently high level of achievement; they will be expected to engage in independent study and research (under the supervision of a faculty member) beyond the requirements of their coursework; and they will be expected to present and defend a culminating project that synthesizes aspects of their study. Students can demonstrate these expectations in either of two ways: a thesis option or a portfolio option. Consult the Department of Philosophy website for more details.

Philosophy Minor
A philosophy minor consists of five philosophy courses, one of which must be at the 500 level or higher (PHIL 495 and 795 with special approval only).

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