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Courses

The following information is from the 2018-19 Vassar College Catalogue.

Philosophy: I. Introductory

101 History of Western Philosophy: Ancient 1Semester Offered: Fall and Spring

a: The course concentrates on the ethical and metaphysical thought of Plato and Aristotle. We consider their answers to two questions that both see as intimately connected: What is a good life for a human being? And: what is it for something to exist? Jeffrey Seidman.

b: In the ancient world, where knowledge of the workings of the natural world was limited, philosophy served many indispensable roles. Philosophy provided ways to inquire about the workings of the natural world, the correct manner to acquire and apply knowledge, the source and content of sociopolitical, moral, and spiritual obligations, and the purpose of a human life. Philosophy also served as a primary vehicle for educating the next generation and disseminating important ideas. This introductory survey course examines the philosophical thought of some of ancient Western thinkers, including the pre-Socratics, Plato, and Aristotle, as well as discuss their influence on and relation to concurrent and later Jewish, Roman, and Christian thinkers. This course includes discussions of the role of women in the ancient Western world and their contributions to philosophy. Sofia Ortiz-Hinojosa.

 

Two 75-minute periods.

102 History of Western Philosophy: Modern 1Semester Offered: Spring

102b: Descartes inaugurated modern philosophy by turning philosophical attention away from questions about what the world is like and directing it onto the question: how is it possible for us to know what the world is like? He made this question urgent by offering arguments that suggest that we cannot know what the world is like -- arguments suggesting that there is an unbridgeable gap between the mind and the material world. We carefully examine the ways in which Descartes himself, Hume, and, finally, Kant, seek to answer these arguments and bridge the gap that Descartes' arguments open up. We see how their various approaches to this task shape and are shaped by their conceptions of the human mind, the material world, the relation of the mind to the human body, and the nature of the 'self.' Jeffrey Seidman.

Prerequisite(s): PHIL 101 is not a prerequisite for the course.

Two 75-minute periods.

104 Tragedy & Philosophy: Ancient and Modern Perspectives 1

Since Greek antiquity, philosophers have puzzled over the meaning, value, and purpose of tragedy. This course traces their conversation from ancient Athens (Plato and Aristotle) to German Romanticism (Schiller, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche) to the present (Martha Nussbaum and Roger Scruton). Along the way we read or watch several dramatic works that have inspired the philosophical imagination, including tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Shakespeare, and Wagner. Students learn to write carefully argued analyses of challenging texts, and to reflect on broader issues of literary interpretation, canonization and genre, and the ethical significance of art. If appropriate, the class will also attend a performance by the Vassar Drama Department, a film screening, or a live broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera. Christopher Raymond.

Open only to first-year students; satisfies the college requirement for a First-Year Writing Seminar.

Not offered in 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

105 Philosophical Questions 1Semester Offered: Fall and Spring

Topic for 2018/19a: Philosophy Through Narratives. In this course we study some central questions of philosophy through various forms of storytelling, including film, short-stories, investigative reporting, and podcasts. Some of the central questions include personal identity and the possibility of an afterlife, human values, freedom of the will and moral responsibility, crime and punishment, and skepticism about knowledge. Students are required to write three papers and take a cumulative final exam. Barry Lam.

Topic for 2018/19a and b: Reality, Knowledge, and Morality. In this course we engage with some of the most fundamental and elusive problems in philosophy. Is there a God? Do we have free will? What makes time different from space? Do we really know anything? What is knowledge? How does consciousness fit into the physical world? Where does morality come from? Why is killing wrong? How should we live our lives? Our primary goal in the course is that you develop a certain set of skills that are vital for tackling questions like these – in particular, the ability to reason and express yourself with clarity and rigor. Marco Dees.

Topic for 2018/19b: Truth & Value. This course is an introduction to a selection of major themes in the philosophical tradition, with no particular historical focus. To warm up we start by discussing the existence of God, the problem of evil, and the case for religious belief. We then move on to problems in the study of knowledge. Is there an external world? How do we we know about what there is outside of ourselves? Are there scientific laws? We then talk about what kinds of creatures we are: at what point do I cease to be the same person? And - are the kinds of creatures we are imbued with free will? We end by discussing the meaning of life. This course includes an open unit that is selected by student vote: in the past we have covered topics including the nature of time, the ethics of comedy, and love. The main purpose of the course is to build up philosophical skills, pass on useful philosophical tools, and enable students to tackle difficult topics in writing and group discussion. Emphasis is placed on the reading and interpretation of primary texts and their application to contemporary debates in the field of philosophy. Sofia Ortiz-Hinojosa.

Two 75-minute periods.

106 Philosophical & Contemporary Issues 1Semester Offered: Fall

Topic for 2018/19a: Just War Theory. This course introduces students to the philosophical study of moral issues, focusing upon topics such as war, terrorism, our food choices, abortion, and euthanasia. Emphasis throughout is placed upon argumentative rigor, clarity, and precision. Jamie Kelly.

Topic for 2018/19a: Philosophies of (Non-)Violence. This course examines different 19th, 20th, and 21st century philosophical views, understandings, and critiques of violence. Violence, which seems timeless and ubiquitous, takes on specific forms and arises in particular historical and social circumstances. Such ubiquity alongside specificity and timelessness, in conjunction with historical particularity, demands philosophical interpretation. Aspects of violence examined include psychical, physical, systemic from the perspective of individuals, social groups, and nations. Specific cases of violence examined are civil disobedience, sexism and sexual violence, racism and racial violence, colonialism, torture and modern warfare, and capitalism. Questions we address are: What is violence and what forms does it take, what are the critiques of violence (and thus the reasons given for non-violence), and what are the reasons given for, or reasons given in defense of, violence? Osman Nemli.

Topic for 2018/19b: Bioethics and Biopolitics. This course examines bioethics and biopolitics: the medical concerns of individuals and societies, technological development in the bio-medical fields, and ethical and political frameworks to address those concerns and developments. The first half of the course addresses particular case studies in bioethics, including: informed consent, public health issues, abortion, killing and letting die, voluntary euthanasia and medically assisted suicide, brain death, and organ and resource allocation. The second half of the course looks at biopolitics, the so-called 'right to death' and 'power over life' in societies. This second half concerns itself with the theoretical underpinnings of the practical bioethical case studies: who has, or what groups and institutions have, access to certain medical care, what are the conditions for certain ethical modes of behavior, and what do we mean when we speak of aiming for a healthy or the best society. Biopolitics inquires into the ways in which bioethics can become 'eugenics with a human face', and how to respond. Osman Nemli.

Two 75-minute periods.

110 Early Chinese Philosophy 1Semester Offered: Fall

This course is an introduction to Chinese philosophy. It covers major schools in classical Chinese philosophy, including Confucianism, Mohism, Daoism, schools of names, and Legalism. Many ideas of these schools have significantly shaped cultural practice in East Asia. We focus on the philosophical articulation and defense of these schools. We reflect on issues in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and political philosophy. We also discuss the relevance of classical Chinese philosophy to Western philosophy. By taking this course, you (1) gain general understanding of Chinese Philosophy, (2) learn to engage in historical texts from other culture, and (3) advance your analytical thinking and writing skills. Li Kang.

Two 75-minute periods.

121 Introduction to Zen: Literature and Culture 1

(Same as CHJA 121) Zen Buddhism was originated in China and subsequently spread to the rest of East Asia, including Japan. Zen Buddhism has significantly shaped cultural practice in East Asia. This course introduces some of the major works of Chinese and Japanese Zen literature, including philosophical works, dialogues, and poetry. We reflect on the philosophy behind Zen practice and the nature of Zen experience. We also discuss Zen's influence on literature and other forms of art, including tea ceremony and flower arrangement. By taking this course, you (1) gain general understanding of Zen Buddhism and (2) advance your analytical thinking and writing skills. Li Kang.

All readings and discussions are in English.

Not offered in 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

125 Logic 1Semester Offered: Spring

b. Logic is the study of the formal relationships between sentences of a natural language, mathematical language, or computer language. It is also the study of the validity and invalidity of arguments. In this course we learn about translating natural language into formal languages, truth-tables, validity and deduction, proof procedures, and the construction of models to show invalidity. There are weekly homework assignments, a midterm, and a final exam. Barry Lam.

Two 75-minute periods.

184 Philosophy As A Way of Life 1Semester Offered: Spring

Not only can philosophy help one think more clearly, reflectively, and openly, but it also can bring positive changes to one's everyday life. In this course, we explore different schools in Eastern and Western traditions. In addition to the rigorous philosophical study of schools such as Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, Epicureanism, and Stoicism, you learn to apply these philosophical models and explore how they might help you live a better life. Li Kang.

Two 75-minute periods.

Philosophy: II. Intermediate

205 19th Century European Philosophy 1Semester Offered: Spring

After a brief overview of Kant's "critical revolution" and its immediate aftermath, we examine the thought of four major European thinkers: Hegel, Marx, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. Topics include the problem of alienation in a post-Enlightenment world; historical materialism and the concept of ideology; philosophical pessimism; and whether art can fill the spiritual void left by the collapse of traditional religion. Christopher Raymond.

Two 75-minute periods.

210 Neo-Confucianism and Chinese Buddhism 1

Introduction to Neo-Confucianism, one of the most influential intellectual movements in China and all of East Asia. Neo-Confucianism combines a profound metaphysics with a subtle theory of ethical cultivation. There is some discussion of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism whose views of the self and ethics are the primary targets of the Neo-Confucian critique. No familiarity with Chinese culture is assumed, but a previous 100-level course in philosophy is a prerequisite because this course assumes students have the ability to tackle subtle issues in metaphysics, personal identity, and ethics. 

Prerequisite(s): one 100-level course in Philosophy, Chinese-Japanese, or Religious Studies, or permission of the instructor.

Not offered in 2018/19.

215 Phenomenology & Existential Thought 1Semester Offered: Fall

Two of the main philosophical movements of the 20th century are phemoenology and existentialism. According to Martin Heidegger, phenomenology could be reduced to the maxim, "to the things themselves!" Inspired by the phenomenological writing of Husserl and Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre would later summarize the existential attitude with the slogan "existence precedes essence." What do such projects entail? What are these 'things' philosophers speak of as phenomenologists? What does it mean for existence to precede essence? The course examines the main texts and figures of phenomenology, and existentialism, focusing on the primary questions and concepts. Starting from an examination of the study, and science, of consciousness, the course looks at: the question of being and existence, what lived experience means and how to imagine one's projects in the world, what it means to be a being whose very existence as a mortal is a question, and how to imagine social and political commitment as a social agent and as part of a group. Osman Nemli.

Two 75-minute periods.

220 Metaphysics 1Semester Offered: Spring

This course is a survey of contemporary metaphysics. Broadly construed, metaphysics concerns the most general questions about existence: What kinds of things are there? What are their features? We discuss different kinds of things, including spacetime, material objects, persons, properties, mathematical objects, holes, fictional objects, and gender. We also discuss the relevance of contemporary metaphysics to other traditions of philosophy, including Buddhist philosophy and Chinese philosophy. By taking this course, you (1) gain general understanding of metaphysics and (2) advance your analytical thinking and writing skills. Li Kang.

 


 

Prerequisite(s): one 100-level course in Philosophy or permission of the instructor.

Two 75-minute periods.

222 Philosophy of Language 1Semester Offered: Spring

Language is our primary means of expressing our thoughts. Language is also one of our primary means of representing the world. As a result, philosophers in the analytic tradition have attempted to gain a better understanding of standard philosophical issues through the study of how we understand and use language to express our thoughts, communicate, and represent the world. We look at the philosophical study of meaning and truth as well as the philosophical problems that such studies purport to illuminate, solve, or dissolve. We  discuss theories of meaning that seek to identify meanings as items in the world, as abstract concepts, as psychological ideas, as social rules of interaction, and we link these theories to metaphysical and epistemological questions. Barry Lam.

Two 75-minute periods.

224 Philosophy of Mind 1Semester Offered: Fall

This course is a general introduction to contemporary philosophy of mind, aimed an an intermediate skill level. We start with fundamental ontological questions, such as: What makes something a mind? Are minds separate from bodies? Can computers have minds? The aim of the first part of the course is to give students general tools for use in philosophy, including training in the formulation of arguments, textual interpretation, and conceptual analysis. We then move into the issue of the nature of consciousness: can science account for what it feels like to be a sentient creature? How does the brain contribute to unified experiences? We end with a unit that is determined by student vote. Lectures and readings in the course include contemporary work in psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience. Sofia Ortiz-Hinojosa.

Two 75-minute periods.

226 Philosophy of Science 1

(Same as STS 226) This course explores general questions about the nature of scientific inquiry, such as whether science is fully rational, and whether even our best scientific theories really provide us with accurate depictions of the natural order.  The course also treats philosophical issues that arise in relation to specific scientific theories. These include whether life originated in a series of unlikely accidents, whether human cognition may be understood in purely computational terms, and whether we should embrace the existence of multiple universes and abandon the requirement that scientific theories be testable. Douglas Winblad.

Prerequisite(s): one 100-level course in Philosophy.

Not offered in 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

228 Epistemology 1Semester Offered: Spring

b. Epistemology is a branch of philosophy concerned with the source and limits of knowledge. What is knowledge, how do we get it, and what does it take to count as having it? In this course, we study both historical and contemporary approaches to these questions. We consider skeptical challenges to general knowledge claims, such as our claim to know about the world on the basis of sense perception, and our claim to be able to make generalizations about the world using our reason. Are there ways of justifying our knowledge claims by identifying specific relationships among our beliefs and the world? In addition, we consider some social and moral aspects of knowledge acquisition and knowledge production, which might include the nature of expertise and epistemic authority, and the question of whether withholding knowledge from others or neglecting our own learning may constitute moral failings. Sofia Ortiz-Hinojosa.

Two 75-minute periods.

234 Ethics 1Semester Offered: Spring

Why be moral? What does morality ask of us? What is the relation between morality and self-interest? What is happiness? What is the relation between a happy life and a meaningful life? Are there objective answers to ethical questions? Or are whatever answers we give no more than the expressions of our subjective attitudes? These are some of the questions this course seeks to address. We proceed by reading seminal texts in the Western moral philosophical tradition alongside writings by contemporary moral philosophers. Jeffrey Seidman.

Prerequisite(s): at least one 100-level course in Philosophy.

236 Philosophy of Law 1Semester Offered: Fall

This course introduces students to the philosophical analysis of law and legal institutions. Topics may include natural law theories, legal positivism, formalism, and realism, as well as questions about constitutional interpretation and the obligation to obey the law. Jamie Kelly.

Prerequisite(s): one 100-level course in Philosophy.

Two 75-minute periods.

238 Social and Political Philosophy 1

This course introduces students to the history of and to contemporary debates within political philosophy. Our focus is on the relationship between justice and equality. Jamie Kelly.
 

Prerequisite(s): one 100-level course in Philosophy.

Not offered in 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

240 Philosophy of Art and Aesthetics 1Semester Offered: Spring

This course examines 19th and 20th century philosophical movements in aesthetics and the philosophy of art. Various aesthetic viewpoints and philosophical genres of writing are addressed in this course. The first half of the course examines canonical texts in aesthetics. These texts provide conceptual tools with which to approach and make sense of the 'work of art'. The second half of the course considers the status, and ubiquity, of the 'image' in contemporary society. Questions we address include: what is art and who is the artist? What is beauty? How does the beautiful relate to the sublime? What is the origin and purpose of art? How does art relate to non-aesthetic areas of life? How does technological development affect the nature of art?  Osman Nemli.

Prerequisite(s): one 100-level course in Philosophy.

Two 75-minute periods.

250 Feminist Theory 1Semester Offered: Fall

(Same as WMST 250) The central purpose of the course is to understand a variety of theoretical perspectives in feminism - including liberal, radical, socialist, psychoanalytic and postmodern perspectives. We explore how each of these feminist perspectives is indebted to more 'mainstream' theoretical frameworks (for example, to liberal political theory, Marxism, and psychoanalysis). We also examine the ways in which each version of feminist theory raises new questions and challenges for these 'mainstream' theories. We attempt to understand the theoretical resources that each of these perspectives provides the projects of feminism, how they highlight different aspects of women's oppression and offer a variety of different solutions. We look at the ways in which issues of race, class and sexuality figure in various theoretical feminist perspectives and consider the divergent takes that different theoretical perspectives offer on issues such as domestic violence, pornography, housework and childcare, economic equality, and respect for cultural differences. We try to get clearer on a variety of complex concepts important to feminism - such as rights, equality, choice, essentialism, cultural appropriation and intersectionality. Uma Narayan.

Prerequisite(s): one unit of Philosophy or Women's Studies.

Two 75-minute periods.

279 Spaces of Exception 1Semester Offered: Fall

(Same as AFRS 279, INTL 279 and POLI 279) This course charts and critically examines a series of exceptional spaces in which inclusion in the political community is possible only by mechanisms of exclusion and intensified precarity that place vulnerable subjects at the outskirts of political legibility. We map the mechanisms of identification, exclusion, dispossession, penalization, and abandonment through a number of theoretical sources as well as the history of sovereign claims, territoriality, resistance, community, and transformations in bio and necropolitics.

Practices of capture as well as regimes of death and penalization are analyzed in their entanglements with the history of the Colony, citizenship, manhunting, jurisprudence, and the humanitarian logic of care. We engage these thematics through literary and cinematic texts in conversation with theorists such as Hannah Arendt, Giorgio Agamben, Etienne Balibar, Grégoire Chamayou, Achille Mbembe, Angela Davis, Jacques Derrida, Franz Fanon, Paul Gilroy, and Suvendrini Perera among others.

By confronting the psychological, physical, moral, and political ways in which violence inscribes itself on the body, both individual and collective, this course discloses the pivotal role played by the biologization of subjectivity, achieved through biometrics, therapeutics, the power of extra-territorial formations, immunization, and technologies of capture, enclosure, penalization, and encampment. Ultimately, our immanent critique of spaces of exception brings us to examine the ethical dimensions of practices that draw new maps, create new archives, and foster everyday enactments of hospitality, life, and co-habitation. Giovanna Borradori and Samson Opondo.

Two 75-minute periods.

286 Moral Psychology: Empirical and Philosophical 1Semester Offered: Fall

(Same as PSYC 286 and STS 286) "Moral Psychology" is the name of a sub-discipline crossing the fields of psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience; it is also the name of a sub-discipline within philosophy. Both of these sub-disciplines investigate the psychology behind moral (and immoral) action. Both ask, for instance, why a moral agent acts as she does. What is the role of emotion in moral action?  What are the roles of reasoning and deliberation in moral action?  But these fields approach these questions with very different tools, and also, often, with different assumptions. 

In this course, we ask whether, and how, we can draw philosophical conclusions from experimental results. Has psychology, or evolutionary theory, or neuroscience, shown that all of our actions are fundamentally self-interested? Have experiments in neuroscience shown that free will is an illusion, or that utilitarianism is the only rational ethical view? And we ask whether and how conclusions from philosophy should inform empirical research. Randy Cornelius and Jeff Seidman.

 

Prerequisite(s): one 100-level course either in Philosophy or in Psychology or in Cognitive Science.

Two 75-minute periods.

290 Field Work 0.5 to 1Semester Offered: Fall and Spring

Supervised by the department faculty.

298 Independent Work 0.5 to 1Semester Offered: Fall and Spring

Supervised by the department faculty.

Philosophy: III. Advanced

300 Senior Thesis 0.5Semester Offered: Fall

Yearlong development of an extended philosophical essay in consultation with a faculty adviser. Advisors: All Faculty.

Students must register for 300 for (a) term and PHIL 301 for (b) term.

Full year course.

301 Senior Thesis 0.5Semester Offered: Spring

Yearlong development of an extended philosophical essay in consultation with a faculty adviser.

Advisors: All Faculty.

Students must register for PHIL 300 for (a) term and 301 for (b) term.

Full year course.

302 Senior Thesis 1Semester Offered: Fall or Spring

By special permission only. This one semester course may be substituted for PHIL 300-PHIL 301 after consultation with your advisor.

310 Seminar in Analytic Philosophy 1Semester Offered: Spring

Topic for 2018/19b: Advanced Philosophy of Language: Vagueness, Context-Sensitivity, Genericity. In this course, we study very specific kinds of constructions of natural language that pose difficult questions for theories of meaning, mind, and metaphysics. These constructions include vague words, or words that make it difficult for us to draw a line between items to which the word does or does not apply, like "bald," "tall," or "old." We also look at context-sensitive words that appear to apply to different things depending on the context, like "yesterday," and "every bottle of beer." Finally, we look at generic constructions like "Ducks lay eggs", "Vassar students like art" and "The tiger migrated from Africa to India a long time ago." These constructions appear to make general claims that can be true or false, but it is unclear how many of a population must have the property to make the claim true or false. The seminar is primarily geared toward students who have focused interest on the complex workings of linguistic meaning. Barry Lam.

Prerequisite(s): PHIL 222 or permission of the instructor.

Priority will be given to Philosophy majors. 

One 3-hour period.

320 Seminar in the History of Philosophy 1Semester Offered: Fall and Spring

Topic for 2018/19a: Wittgenstein. A study of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Philosophical Investigations. Topics include the clash between traditionalist and resolutist readings of Wittgenstein's writings, and the status of Kripke's response to his treatment of rule-following. Special attention is paid to criticisms and defenses of Wittgenstein's philosophy. Douglas Winblad.

Topic for 2018/19b: Plato's Later Dialogues. In this seminar we study several dialogues thought to have been written towards the end of Plato's life: Theaetetus, Sophist, Statesman, Philebus, and Timaeus­-Critias. These works contain some of his most profound – and puzzling – reflections on perennial philosophical questions (which Plato is often the first to formulate): on the nature of knowledge or understanding, the relation between language and reality, dialectical method, and the role of pleasure in a good human life. We conclude the semester with two of Plato's most artful creations: Timaeus, his most widely read dialogue from antiquity to the Renaissance, presents an elaborate vision of a divinely­ crafted cosmos, while Critias tells the story of the lost island kingdom of Atlantis. Christopher Raymond.

Prerequisite(s): upper-level Philosophy courses or permission of the instructor.

One 3-hour period.

330 Seminar in Ethics & Theory of Value 1Semester Offered: Fall and Spring

Topic for 2018/19a: Capitalism, Globalization, Economic Justice and Human Rights. This seminar focuses on questions about capitalism, globalization, and economic justice. A central project of this course is to understand the different ways in which capitalism is conceptualized by various thinkers and philosophical perspectives and to critically evaluate the benefits and problems attributed to capitalism as a global economic system.  We complicate the tendency to focus on "wage labor" by asking where colonialism, slavery, subsistence production fit into an account of capitalism We consider the various ways in which women's unpaid labor as well as their growing induction into wage labor and income generation fit into our understanding of capitalism. We address debates on private property and the division of labor, and examine the functions of states, markets, corporations, international institutions like the IMF and WTO, development agencies in economic globalization. We address controversies over the role private charity and state-provided international aid play in ameliorating the situation of the global poor and securing their human rights. We examine some of the ecological consequences of contemporary capitalism and our own locations as consumers within the system.  Readings include the works by figures such as Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Karl Polanyi, Nancy Fraser, Peter Singer, Thomas Pogge, Antonio Negri, Immanuel Wallerstein, and Zygmunt Bauman. Uma Narayan.

Prerequisite(s): three courses in Philosophy.

Topic for 2018/19b: Capital, Volume One. This seminar conducts an in-depth study of the first volume of Karl Marx's Capital. Jamie Kelly.

Prerequisite(s): two 200-level courses in Philosophy.

 

One 3-hour period.

340 Seminar in Continental Philosophy 1Semester Offered: Fall and Spring

(Same as MEDS 340) Topic for 2018/19a: Philosophies of Difference. This upper-level philosophy seminar examines 20th and 21st century philosophical accounts of difference to ask: What are the different ways continental philosophy hears the word 'difference'? In what ways does difference diverge from, and converge with, diversity? This course examines the various meanings, and deployments, of the word 'difference' in 20th and 21st century continental philosophy, including its ontological, metaphysical, political, aesthetic, ethical, and social meanings. Is difference a superficial attribute of a thing, or person; or a substantive and constitutive aspect of something's, and someone's, being? Philosophy's attempt to deal with 'difference' registers the difficulty of being open to difference without reducing it to a logic of sameness, or similarity. Furthermore, whenever philosophy has attempted to think differently about difference, it is not long before it is attacked as promoting a nihilistic, unjust, meaningless, and false message. By examining the various ways individuals and social groups speak of difference, this course inquires into the meanings and effects of such expressions, verbal and non-verbal. Additionally, the course will address the philosophical texts on difference in response to contemporary charges and attacks on postmodern thought as being opposed to any conception of justice and truth, as a way to nihilism, if not an unhealthy skepticism. Such a response entails nothing less than answering: what is the use (and abuse) of philosophy, what are philosophers for? Osman Nemli.

Topic for 2018/19b: Frames of the Invisible. Politics of Photography. The transformation of textual into visual culture and the retooling of the cellular phone as a camera have given photography a new political role. From the self-immolation of a street vendor in Tunisia that unleashed the Arab Spring to the images of police brutality in the United States, photographs have mobilized grass root movements of political resistance against atrocity and oppression. The thesis of this seminar is that our visual culture is governed by a "regime of visibility" that regulates the background of what is represented. The snapshots and the photographs taken by ordinary people possess the unique power of eluding this "staging apparatus." We discuss these images as performative statements of moral outrage and appreciate how they expose both patterns of dispossession and the uneven distribution of human suffering across world populations. This enables us to question whether the ethics of photography, and especially of photographs of human rights abuses, should not be directed at what is shown within the photographic frame but rather at the active and unmarked delimitation that lies beyond it, which limits what we see and what we are able, and unable, to recognize. Texts by Walter Benjamin, Merleau-Ponty, Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes, Vilem Flusser, Giorgio Agamben, Judith Butler, Julia Kristeva, Edward Said, and Jacques Derrida, and images by Sebastiao Salgado, Gilles Peres, and Sophie Ristelbueber. Giovanna Borradori.

One 3-hour period.

350 Seminar in Modernism, Postmodernism, and Hermeneutics 1

The Modernism/Postmodernism/Hermeneutic divide stretches across many different disciplines, including philosophy, literary theory, history, religious studies, political science, anthropology and others. Roughly, these approaches argue over whether rationality, truth, and ethics are culturally and historically universal (Modernism), incommensurable (Postmodernism) or dialogical (Hermeneutics). This course explores these approaches with an emphasis on how they apply in the context of one culture trying to understand another. Requirements include regular class participation that shows familiarity with the readings and many brief essays. 

Prerequisite(s): at least one course in Philosophy, Chinese-Japanese, or Religious Studies at the 200-level, or permission of the instructor.

Not offered in 2018/19.

One 2-hour period.

399 Senior Independent Work 0.5 to 1Semester Offered: Fall or Spring

The department.