Recently Offered Courses
Philosophy of Human Rights
Modern human rights movements reflect a long history of philosophical thinking about rights and duties, justice and humanity. This course offers an overview of this intellectual terrain, while introducing major topics in current philosophical work on human rights. We will ask whether human rights should be understood as a floor beneath which no person should fall, or a ceiling that permits the full exercise of human capabilities. We will consider how deliberation, dialogue, and witnessing can help resolve clashes between competing rights claims. And we will discuss the limits of indicators and imagery in supplying evidence of human rights violations. By semester’s end, students will have honed their argumentative and interpretive skills, gained knowledge of particular areas of human rights discourse, and acquired understanding of a core area of contemporary moral and political philosophy.
Theories of Moral Progress
Is moral progress possible? Can we tell when it occurs? Are we blameworthy when we oppose it or fail actively to support it? Does the concept of moral progress itself rest on a mistake? These are the questions that structure this upper-level philosophy seminar. Over the course of the semester we will examine leading theories of moral progress and analyze the principles invoked by historical and contemporary campaigners for moral progress. Specific topics covered on the syllabus include moral ignorance, weakness of will, moral enhancement, and moral expertise. A special focus of the course will rest on the role of honor and shame in promoting, or impeding, moral progress.
War, Genocide, and Justice
War poses problems for theories of justice developed and debated chiefly in times of peace. The wars of the twentieth century, and particularly those genocidal conflicts that threatened the existence of entire peoples, pose distinct problems, and demand a distinct response. In this course we will draw on a range of legal, historical, and philosophical materials to understand and address these problems. We will review current legal interpretations of genocide and other mass atrocities, while also looking at classic and contemporary accounts of the psychological and institutional underpinnings of such crimes. Memoirs and testimonies by survivors, resisters, and bystanders will ground discussion of the ethics of representing and remembering atrocities. Students will access archival materials from Raphael Lemkin, and take part in virtual classroom discussions with scholars from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
This course introduces the basic principles and procedures of formal and informal logic. Each of these divisions of logic provides powerful tools for identifying, refining, and evaluating arguments. The first half of the semester will be devoted to formal logic. In this section students will learn how to translate claims of ordinary language into symbolic language, and will use truth tables and proofs to determine the logical relationships among claims. The second half of the course will be devoted to informal logic. This branch of logic provides a vocabulary for more everyday descriptions and criticisms of arguments. Along with an introduction to common logical fallacies, this section of the course will emphasize general formal and substantive characteristics of good (and bad) arguments.