Professors: Latiolais (Chair), Cherem
What is Philosophy?
Philosophy is a historically evolving, self-reflective inquiry into the fundamental questions that humans confront in making sense of their lives. It examines essential features of the human condition—e.g., morality, knowledge, nature, society, happiness, justice, beauty, selfhood, and friendship – in the search for knowledge that both preserves and transforms enduring dimensions of human self-understanding. Philosophy emerges in the Western tradition as a rational, systematic, and self-critical inquiry committed to grounding its own claim to knowledge. Contemporary philosophy continues to examine the fundamental principles that guide our thought and action, our pursuit of knowledge, and our desire to live well. Because philosophy adopts a radically self-critical orientation to its own historical formation, philosophers often disagree profoundly about what philosophy is and how it differs from other disciplines. Such disagreements – openly, critically, and vigorously deliberated – are vital to the type of radical questioning that characterizes philosophy.
Philosophy challenges students to (1) reflect upon naively lived patterns of thought, action, speech, and perception; (2) identify how practices, institutions, and perceptions are shaped by philosophical traditions; (3) critically examine and assess the fundamental assumptions that inform such human enterprises; and (4) conduct this inquiry in the spirit of open critical communication committed to mutual understanding and respect for difference. Students learn the basic skills of identifying and analyzing arguments, and the department actively fosters an environment committed to the vigorous, respectful exchange of ideas to protect both commonalities and differences. Philosophy also cultivates ethical responsibility by balancing (1) the articulation, justification, and application of normative principles with (2) the deepening of moral imagination and sensibility.
The department offers seven historical courses that represent important periods and traditions of Western philosophy: Ancient, Early Modern, 18th Century, 19th Century, Existentialism, Critical Social Theory, and Postmodern Critical Theory. These historical courses reconstruct the debates, issues, concerns, questions, and concepts that define a historical period from within. They also offer linkages among historical periods, allowing students to appreciate the larger, "paradigmatic" shifts in Western philosophy. Students gain an awareness of how canonical philosophers characteristically address their own historical precedents and shape their views in critical dialogue with predecessors. Students are required to engage in close textual interpretation and careful critical evaluation of original texts. Instructors identify contemporary advocates for, or illustrations of, traditional schools of thought and, in this way, underscore the real historical effects of philosophical creativity. Students write detailed, textually supported expository and argumentative essays that are graded for their balance between interpretive charity and critical acuity. Emphasis is placed upon cultivating a student's ability to first reconstruct the historical debates among canonical philosophers and to then critically evaluate their bearing upon contemporary concerns. Many of the Philosophy Department's history courses have
interdisciplinary units of instruction that link historical debates to contemporary research programs within the natural and social sciences.
The department also offers courses in the classic subfields of philosophy: epistemology, logic, ethics, metaphysics, and aesthetics. These courses explicate the fundamental conceptual tools we need to systematically address particular types of contemporary issues:
- How do we know? (Theories of Knowledge).
- What ought we to do? (Ethics).
- What is beauty? (Philosophy of Art).
- What is good reasoning? (Logic and Reasoning).
- What is? (Metaphysics and Mind).
In these courses, students are asked to identify, reflect upon, and exercise the key concepts, theories, and viewpoints that allow us to competently address ethical, epistemological, logical, and metaphysical issues. Subfield courses cultivate a student’s ability to systematically, self-consciously, and flexibly manage a repertoire of conceptual tools to discern, analyze, and deliberate about contemporary problems. By gaining a sensitivity for different ways of perceiving and thinking about a single issue, students develop an appreciation for the complexity of actual problem solving.
The department also offers specialized subfield courses under the following three categories:
- Applied Ethics (Ecological Philosophy, Biomedical Ethics, Philosophy of Law, and The Just Society).
- Applied Epistemology (Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of the Social Sciences).
- Linguistics (Philosophy of Language and Philosophy & Literature).
In these courses, emphasis is placed upon genuine problem solving in contemporary circumstances. The applied ethics courses introduce students to the systematic analysis of contemporary problems encountered in jurisprudence, political legitimation, healthcare practices, and environmental stewardship. Students learn to unravel the factual, conceptual, and normative threads interwoven in current crises. They also develop the ability to reflectively manage different theoretical perspectives upon a single, multifaceted problem. The applied epistemology courses examine fundamental questions concerning the logic and practices of the natural and social sciences. The philosophical linguistics courses analyze language competencies (semantics and pragmatics) and literary discourse (narratology).
The philosophy program is committed to five overarching outcomes for students in our classes and in our major:
- Knowledge: Gain appropriate breadth and depth of knowledge of the major traditions, figures, issues, and theories studied.
- Write in a style appropriate to scholarly philosophy;
- Think clearly, rigorously, and logically about conflicting philosophical
- points of view;
- Engage in open, critical, cooperative discussion and interrogation;
- Cultivate philosophical impulses and insights and reflectively employ philosophical techniques;
- Comprehend, accurately represent, and originally construct arguments in the philosophical style;
- Conduct independent philosophical research;
- Present independent research in a professional setting.
- Connect philosophical learning to other learning abilities, career goals, daily life, and roles in the world;
- Deepen a shared commitment to critical self-reflection as a fundamental dimension of living well.
- Thrive in selected post-graduate studies;
- Address vocational challenges by mobilizing critical thinking, writing, and verbal skills;
- Confront personal challenges with an awareness of philosophical resources.
- Attitude: Gain a "philosophical sense" of curiosity, a willingness to engage in "meta-level" thinking, a determination to understand complex issues, and a cooperative and constructive spirit in critical deliberation with others.
Philosophy is a sound choice for those seeking a broad liberal arts undergraduate education and for those who value the skills and outlook imparted by studying the discipline. The major program prepares students for graduate studies in philosophy, law, social policy, and political theory, to name just a few areas of formal specialization. Students preparing for graduate studies in philosophy are strongly advised to follow a more structured majors program with additional course recommendations.
Transfer and Study Abroad Credit
The Philosophy Department's transfer policies are as follows. All transfer courses in Philosophy must be approved by the Philosophy faculty upon consideration of a course catalog description and a syllabus for the course (to be provided by the student). If the course is taken during a student's enrollment at Kalamazoo College (for instance, on study abroad or during the summer), the approval must be obtained before the course is taken. In addition, the Department will consider only courses taught by instructors with a Ph.D. in Philosophy, or who are "ABD" (all but dissertation) in Philosophy.
Requirements for the Major in Philosophy
Number of Units
Eight units are required, which may include the SIP.
PHIL 107 Logic and Reasoning
PHIL 208 19TH Century Philosophy
PHIL 490 Philosophy Seminar
Three student-chosen electives
Two of the following History or Traditions Courses:
PHIL 109 Existentialism and Film
PHIL 205 Ancient Philosophy
PHIL 206 Early Modern Philosophy
PHIL 207 18th-Century Philosophy
PHIL 310 Critical Social Theory: The Dialectic of Enlightenment
PHIL 311 Postmodern Critical Theory
Majors Preparing for Graduate Studies in Philosophy are Strongly Recommended to pursue the following programs
Number of Units
Ten units are required, which may include the SIP.
PHIL 107 Logic and Reasoning
PHIL 208 19th Century Philosophy
Core History Sequence:
PHIL 109 Existentialism and Film
PHIL 205 Ancient Philosophy
PHIL 206 Early Modern Philosophy
PHIL 207 18th-Century Philosophy
PHIL 490 Philosophy Seminar
Three or four Electives chosen in close consultation with Department
Requirements for the Minor in Philosophy
Number of Units
Six units are required.
PHIL 105 Ethics
Two historical or "traditions" courses
(See list under Required Courses for the Major in Philosophy)
Three electives chosen in consultation with the department. We also recommend either supervisory or advisory involvement with the SIP.
A SIP in Philosophy does not count toward minor requirements.
PHIL105EthicsIntroduction to the fundamental concepts and problems in ethical theory and to skills for applying moral thinking for oneself. What makes an act, or a person, morally good? What reasons do we have for our answers to such questions? What do we mean by the terms "right" and "good"? Why be moral? How do things like intentions, results, emotions, and rights fit into what is ethically good? This course is about ethical theory and "meta-theory," and thus concentrates on abstract issues about the nature of ethics and ethical concepts. Classical and contemporary views such as relativism, utilitarianism, deontology, and feminist ethics will be explored. Excerpts from literature and non-academic writing, such as Golding's "Lord of the Flies" and King's "I Have a Dream," will illustrate and test theoretical concepts studied.
PHIL106Theories of KnowledgeAn introduction to Western philosophical issues concerning the nature, origins, limits, and justification of knowledge. What's interesting about distinguishing good from bad beliefs, or successful from unsuccessful thinking? How do we know what we know and don't know, and should this concern us? What if nothing you believe is really true? How much knowledge or justification can sources of belief like memory and testimony give us? We will explore issues and theories including skepticism, induction, and internalism and externalism. The readings for this course will consist mostly of primary scholarly articles by contemporary philosophers. Students will be expected to distinguish different legitimate stances on the topics we'll cover, compare and contrast the arguments and principles underlying them, and defend through careful argument their choices of the most reasonable positions and views. Recommended for psychology students.
PHIL107Logic and ReasoningAn introduction to methods for evaluating the validity and strength of reasoning. The course will investigate (1) the theory and practice of constructing and analyzing arguments as they occur in ordinary, informal contexts (reasoning), and (2) the concepts and techniques of elementary formal logic: the art of symbolizing English-language statements and arguments in terms of formalized languages and applying logical principles to them. Topics explored include informal fallacies, critical thinking, evaluating evidence, deciding between hypotheses, propositional logic, natural deduction, and predicate logic. Recommended for computer science, psychology, and pre-law students.
PHIL108Ecological PhilosophyThis course investigates the question of our understanding of, and ethical responsibility to, animals, plants, microorganisms, non-living beings, ecosystems, and "nature" as a whole. The first part of the course critically assesses whether traditional ethical theories adequately capture our ethical responsibilities to the environment. The second part surveys traditional Western conceptualizations of nature, reason, body, and space, which ecologists severely criticize as detrimental to developing an ecological ethic. Special emphasis will be placed upon developing a philosophical conception of life (bios) that is appropriate for both evolutionary biology and the development of a normative theory of environmental care. Contemporary positions such as anthropocentrism, deep ecology, radical ecology, ecofeminism, and social environmentalism will be studied. Recommended for environmental studies and biology students.
PHIL109Existentialism and FilmSurvey of key existentialist thinkers, such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, De Beauvior, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre, with a special emphasis upon their radical ideals of freedom and self-responsibility. Films are shown as depictions of existentialist themes, such as alienation, authenticity, bad faith, despair, passion, anonymity, and anguish. Existentialists oppose traditional, "essentialist," "teliological," and "cognitivist" conceptions of human life, and they reject the hierarchical dualities of reason/will, knowledge/choice, mind/body, thought/being. Special emphasis will be placed upon the existentialist analysis of interpersonal relations in contemporary circumstances. Students are required to see seven films in addition to regularly scheduled classes. Discussion-based course with two writing assignments. Recommended for psychology, media studies, and literature students.
PHIL/CLAS205Ancient PhilosophyA study of ancient views on nature, knowledge, soul, the self, morality, and the good life. This is a history of philosophy course rather than a history course; we will be studying the ideas, arguments, and theories put forth by ancient philosophers, rather than biographical, cultural, anthropological, or historical issues about them or their time period. We will largely be trying to understand what these thinkers were trying to say, and why they thought what they did. In addition, we will be discussing the merits of the various positions and reasons offered. Readings will focus on selections from Plato and Aristotle, but will also include readings from the pre-Socratic and Hellenistic philosophers, all major sources of the Western philosophical tradition. Recommended for classics students. . (This is a designated Greek literature or culture course in Classics.)
PHIL206Early Modern PhilosophyHistorical study of the "Early Modern" period in Western philosophy (17th and 18th century). The course will explore the profoundly influential development of rationalist and empiricist approaches to philosophical thinking; topics may include the connection between mind and body, skepticism and the possibility of knowledge, the existence of God, knowledge of the external world, the nature of minds and their ideas, and the proper method of philosophical method. Readings from Descartes, Leibniz, Berkeley, Locke, Hume, and others. Recommended for computer science and psychology students. Sophomore standing recommended.
PHIL20718th-Century PhilosophyStudy of the Enlightenment period through a critical comparison of two of its most famous 18th-century philosophers -- David Hume and Immanuel Kant -- who set the stage for contemporary debates in psychology, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence. Hume proposed to study humans just as Sir Isaac Newton had proposed to study nature: namely, through observation and experimentation. We will study Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature as a manifesto for the modern, naturalistic study of human experience and judgment. We will then study Kant's powerful arguments against Hume, examining in close detail Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, his demonstration that humans actively synthesize sensory data according to rules that they "spontaneously" impose to make experience possible. The film Memento, literary narratives, and studies of Alzheimer patients are used to illustrate the logical and temporal construction of human experience. A reading-intensive course with three essay assignments. Recommended for psychology, computer science, and English students.
PHIL20819th-Century PhilosophyThis course examines how 19th-century European philosophers inherit and develop Kant's radical claims that (1) human agents are radically free, (2) knowledge is constructed, and (3) faith in redemption is rational. We will examine how Fichte, Schiller, Hegel, Marx, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche work out how humans could really be "free," "autonomous," or "self-determining" while remaining natural animals and socially-situated subjects. Films such as American Beauty, Waterland, Babette's Feast, and Sex, Lies, and Videotape are shown. Lecture and discussion course with three paper assignments. First-year students with strong writing skills welcome. Recommended for psychology, English, and political science students.
PHIL209Philosophy of ScienceA philosophical examination of scientific methods and reasoning. Topics may include the analysis of explanation, the nature of scientific truth, instrumentalist and realist interpretations of science, confirmation and falsification, observational and theoretical terms, inter-theoretic reduction, the relation among various sciences, scientific revolutions, and the possibility of scientific progress. Recommended for science majors. Sophomore standing recommended.
PHIL210The Just SocietyCritical analysis of competing traditional theories of justice in connection with contemporary political and legal issues surrounding race, ethnicity, and gender. Such topics may include (1) the nature of political legitimation and power; (2) the interdependence of social, legal, and political institutions; (3) legal protection for individuals and groups; (4) the shifting boundaries between individual, private, and public; (5) social-welfare institutions and the marketplace; (6) diversity and democracy; and (7) the autonomy of nation states within the global context. Discussion oriented with three paper assignments. First-year students with strong writing skills welcome. Recommended for political science, pre-law, and HDSR students.
PHIL211Philosophy of LawHistorical examination of the two opposing paradigms in the study of legal systems: namely, factual ("positivist") and normative ("natural law") models of law. Selected topics may include (1) the relation between law and morality, (2) the nature of legitimation and authority; (3) the nature of juridical interpretation and legal reasoning; (4) the role of the legal system within ethical traditions, market forces, and political institutions; and (5) the Critical Legal Studies challenge to liberal jurisprudence. Readings from Aquinas, Austin, Holmes, Hart, Fuller, Dworkin, Scalia, Unger, Raz, MacKinnon, and Habermas. Seminar format with an emphasis upon discussion and structured debate. Suggested for pre-law and political science students.
PHIL212Philosophy of Social ScienceIntroduction to classical and contemporary issues in the logic of the social sciences. Topics include (1) the distinction between the natural and social sciences; (2) historicist and relativist challenges to the objectivity and value neutrality of social inquiry; (3) causal, interpretive, rational, and critical models of practically oriented social research; and (4) behaviorist, structuralist, individualist, reductionist, and holist methods of inquiry. Recent debates about ethnocentrism, gender biases, and epistemological constructivism will be reviewed. We will examine a cluster of important conceptual issues regarding life-narrative psychology as a special case study of social scientific research. Suggested for psychology, sociology/anthropology, and history students.
PHIL213Philosophy and LiteratureAn exploration of the complex and historically evolving relationship between the discipline of philosophical analysis and the art of literary depiction. Classical philosophical analyses of issues such as personal identity, the experience of time, the relation between self and society, and moral reciprocity are paired with literary works sensitive to the same issues. Schools of literary interpretation are also surveyed, along with various attempts to develop an historical taxonomy of literary forms. First year-students with strong writing skills welcome. Suggested for psychology, literature, and history students.
PHIL214Philosophy of ArtThis course introduces students to a variety of traditional and contemporary philosophical theories of art: namely, Platonic, Aristotelian, rationalist, empiricist, idealist, Marxist, phenomenological, hermeneutic, existentialist, feminist, psychoanalytic, semiotic, deconstructivist, and more contemporary "postmodernist" aesthetics theories. Such theoretical positions inform, but are also tested by, critical and interpretive articles about particular artworks: for example, painting, sculpture, film, architecture, and handcraft. We will focus our attention upon the visual arts -- as opposed to literary, musical, theatrical and the dance media. Students will gain an appreciation of the difficulties philosophers have encountered in framing a theory of "aesthetic perception" and, more importantly, of the remarkable variety of visual art forms.
PHIL/SEMN215Human Rights & International LawAlthough the rhetoric of human rights is widely used people are often confused about the theoretical grounding of human rights. This course examines different philosophical theories of human rights. We start with a look at the main contemporary approaches for conceptualizing human rights: the basic human-interest approach, the capabilities approach and the newer "political" approach (among others). Then we will look at some key debates related to human rights: the challenges posed to human rights by forms of relativism and skepticism, whether and how there is a distinction between civil and political human rights on the one hand versus social and economic human rights on the other, whether and when human rights violations trigger international (diplomatic, economic, military) intervention and reasons why some authors worry about the "inflation" of human rights rhetoric in popular discourse.Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
PHIL/RELG270Buddha/Buddhist PhilosophyThis course begins with an examination of the biography of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. Focusing first on the traditions of Theravada Buddhism, we explore the construction of the Budda's life story with attention to the Buddha as a model for the attainment of nirvana. We turn next to the explosion of Buddhas in Mahayana Buddhism and to the fundamental categories of the teachings of the Buddha. Questions at the center of this course are: Why have the teachings changed over time and throughout the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia? What remains "Buddhist" throughout the centuries? We examine these questions by examining the teachings of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism using primary sources.
PHIL291Theorizing Citizenship & ImmigrationThis course examines normative questions raised by citizenship and immigration. The first half of the course highlights different models for political community and how those models affect our views on membership status in such communities. We will cover the main philosophical theories for how citizenship ought to be ideally conceived: classical liberal, classical republican, communitarian, cosmopolitan and post-nationalist theories. The second half of the course covers various philosophical considerations that can be brought to bear on the issue of immigration. We will cover the key philosophical arguments that advocate either more or less restrictive policies: arguments on the acceptable criteria that may be used in deciding who to admit, on how much weight the preservation of national culture should hold, on the moral desirability and practical feasibility of "open borders", on whether and to what extent receiving nations should mitigate the "brain-drain" on sending nations and on the priority immigration reform should take with respect to other reforms that might be deemed to "cause" mass migration (global poverty, weak international institutions, etc).
PHIL295Special Topics Special Topics offerings focus upon topics not addressed in the department's regular offerings. The course can be repeated with a different topic. Check the course schedule to see when Special Topics courses are being offered.
PHIL305Biomedical EthicsA course in applied ethics, the study of how ethical thinking can be used in real-life situations and issues: in this case, biomedical issues such as euthanasia, allocating medical resources, and eugenics and human genetics. What is the morally right thing to do in various biomedical contexts? What are good reasons for answers to that question and others like it? What kinds of things should we take into consideration when making difficult moral decisions about these topics? This course is intended to help students become adept at looking at as many relevant aspects of moral issues as clear-headedly and constructively as possible and learn to present their views and the reasons for them in the form of logically-constructed arguments. Readings will include contemporary philosophical articles, court decisions, statements by medical and governmental organizations, and textbook material on ethical theories and tools. Suggested for health sciences students and recommended for science students. No prerequisites, but junior- or senior-level reading and writing skills are recommended.
PHIL306Philosophy of LanguageStudy of 20th-century philosophy of language. Introduction to traditional semantics (e.g. reference, truth, and meaning) will be followed by a detailed examination of speech-act theory or pragmatics. The course will focus on the complexity of speech acts and the various dimensions of understanding involved in successful communication. Using speech act theory, students are asked to analyze four cinematographic artworks -- Twelfth Night, Glengarry Glen Ross, American Buffalo, and Oleanna -- and to draw conclusions regarding language and social power. Topics include theories of speaker meaning and reference, indexicals, direct and indirect speech acts, conversational implication, presupposition, anaphora, non-literal language use, translation, rule-following, and the relation between language and thought. Readings from Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Quine, Austin, Dummet, Putnam, Searle, Davidson, Habermas, and Recanati. Lecture and discussion format with three essay assignments. Recommended for foreign language, theatre arts, and English students.
PHIL308Metaphysics and MindExamination of topics in the Western philosophical areas of metaphysics and philosophy of mind, and their intersection. Metaphysics is concerned with the structure of reality; philosophy of mind is the branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature of minds. The topics studied could include the "mind/body problem," consciousness, personal identity, and free will and determinism. Is the mind a nonphysical soul-like entity, or is the mind the brain, or is it the software that runs on the brain's hardware, or is it something else? Can the qualitative part of our experience -- the part involving what it feels like to be in various states -- be captured in purely physical terms, or is it inescapably nonphysical? What makes you the same person over time? Does modern scientific knowledge entail that none of our actions is really free? What is it for an action to be free, anyway? The readings for this course will consist mostly of primary scholarly articles by contemporary philosophers. Suggested for psychology students. Some background in philosophy recommended.
PHIL310Critical Social Theory: the Dialectic of EnlightenmentIntroduction to the Frankfurt School of Social Criticism and its legacy as "Critical Social Theory." We begin by examining the "first generation" of the Frankfurt School, from its founding in the 1920s and '30s by Horkheimer, Adorno, Benjamin, Fromm, and Marcuse to Habermas's early writings in the '60s & '70s. We then examine "second-generation" research, Juergen Habermas's "Theory of Communicative Action," with its distinctive ideal of "undistorted communication" as the measure of social rationality. Finally, we explore Axel Honneth's alternative, "third generation," Neo-Hegelian model of social development, with its distinctive ideal of "undamaged identities" and the "struggle for mutual recognition" as the critical measures of social pathologies. Throughout the course, examples of U.S. social movements -- green, feminist, queer, race-based, & post-colonial movements -- will be used to assess the relative strengths of these competing diagnostic models of social crisis. Suggested for political science, anthropology/sociology, economics, HDSR, and environmental studies students. Recommended for students with some background in philosophy, in particular students who have taken 19th-Century Philosophy.Prerequisite: Students are recommend to have taken through 19th Century Philosophy
PHIL310ICritical Social Theory
PHIL311Postmodern Critical Theory: The Critique of ModernityIntroduction to contemporary French philosophy, with special emphasis on the themes of language, desire, and embodiment. We examine the early debate between Merleau-Ponty and Lacan on the acquisition of language and formation of desire. We then turn to two key post-structuralists: Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. We focus upon Foucault's transition from his "archaeology of knowledge" to his mature "geneology of desire," contrasting his account of embodiment and social power to Pierre Bourdieu's. After reviewing Derrida's deconstructionist analysis of language, we turn to one of the following figures: Kristeva, Deleuze, Irigary, Butler, or Zizek. Films are shown throughout the course on Wednesday evenings. Media Studies concentrators are encouraged to write final essays linking philosophy and cinematography. Suggested for media studies, psychology, English, French, and political science students. Some background in philosophy recommended.Prerequisite: Students are recommend to have taken through 19th Century Philosophy.
PHIL490Philosophy SeminarIntensive study of contemporary research on a major philosophical issue. The seminar is devoted to the critical reading of significant contemporary publications and a subsequent examination of the philosophical debates they have spawned. Advanced seminar-style discussion-centered course, with participants writing and presenting scholarly papers for the group. The seminar may meet over the course of either one or two quarters. Prerequisite: Senior standing
PHIL593Senior Individualized ProjectEach program or department sets its own requirements for Senior Individualized Projects done in that department, including the range of acceptable projects, the required background of students doing projects, the format of the SIP, and the expected scope and depth of projects. See the Kalamazoo Curriculum -> Curriculum Details and Policies section of the Academic Catalog for more details.Prerequisite: Permission of department and SIP supervisor required.