Philosophy (PHI)Academic Catalog: 2019–2020

  • Joshua D. K. Brown, Chairperson
  • Laurent Dechery
  • Lisa Heldke
  • Laura Mueller (Visiting, 2019–2020)
  • Margaret O’Connor
  • Thomas Valentini

The Department of Philosophy offers the serious student an opportunity to come to an understanding of the historical traditions that shape fundamental issues in ethics, metaphysics, epistemology and aesthetics. Courses in philosophy foster in students an increased measure of conceptual clarity about these fundamental issues, and an invitation to come to their own positions about them. The department is committed to assisting students to reflect on living responsibly in the contemporary world.

A major or a minor in philosophy is recommended to all students who desire to pursue graduate study in any of the disciplines in the humanities or social sciences, and also to those who expect to enter one of the professions—including, especially, law, the ministry, or teaching. It is also an excellent major for students intending to enter the nonprofit sector, or the world of business. In short, it is a highly flexible major that develops in students the intellectual capacities considered desirable in a wide array of professions.

The philosophy department strongly encourages its majors and minors to take advantage of the College’s international study programs. Students considering study abroad should consult with department faculty in advance of their study, to be sure that philosophy courses taken abroad will count toward the major or minor.

Major in Philosophy:

The philosophy major consists of a minimum of nine courses in philosophy chosen in consultation with a departmental advisor, including PHI-201, PHI-202, and one Level III class (PHI-370 or PHI-371). Majors should complete PHI-201 and PHI-202 before enrolling in a Level III class. No more than two Level I courses will count toward a major. A minimum grade of C– is required for all courses counting toward the major. Majors are encouraged to study at least two years of a foreign language.

Students should consult with their faculty advisor on a focus with the major. Possible sequences include:

  1. Ethics/Value Theory: Individual and Community, Individual and Morality (3 Crowns), Philosophies of the Environment, Oppression and Privilege, Ethical Theory, Applied Ethics, Philosophy of Art, Philosophy of Religion.
  2. History of Philosophy: Ancient Philosophy, Modern Philosophy, Contemporary Analytic Philosophy, Existentialism, American Philosophy, Continental Philosophy.
  3. Metaphysics/Epistemology: Ancient Philosophy, Modern Philosophy, Contemporary Analytic Philosophy, Mind and Matter, Philosophy of Science, Formal Logic.
  4. Philosophical Critiques of the Western Philosophical Tradition: Philosophies of the Environment, Oppression and Privilege, Gender, Knowledge, and Reality.


PHI-201 or PHI-202, and four additional courses selected in consultation with a departmental advisor. A minimum grade of C – is required for all courses counting toward the minor. No more than two Level I courses will count toward the minor.

Honors Program in Philosophy:

Students who anticipate application to graduate schools in philosophy should pursue the honors major since it represents the type of course sequence that will make a strong case for admission to philosophy graduate programs. The Philosophy major with Honors consists of a minimum of 10 courses chosen in consultation with a faculty advisor. The honors sequence includes: PHI-136, PHI-201, PHI-202, PHI-233 or PHI-234, PHI-246, and two Level III courses (PHI-370 and/or PHI-371). Honors majors should complete PHI-201 and PHI-202 before enrolling in the Level III courses. No more than two 100 level courses will count toward the honors major. A minimum grade of C- is required for all courses counting toward the major.

Majors wishing to graduate in philosophy with honors should apply in writing to the department chair before May 1 of the junior year. Applicants must have at least a 3.2 overall grade point average and a 3.5 average in philosophy courses at the time of application.

The application should include the following information:

  1. Overall grade point average and average in philosophy at the time of application;
  2. List of the ten or more philosophy classes that will count toward graduation with honors; and
  3. Statement of reasons for wishing to take part in the honors program, (e.g., it will provide preparation for graduate school).
  4. A specific plan for research and regular consultation with the professor offering one of the Level III classes during the senior year will be presented. This will include a research program that allows the student to complete an honors paper prior to the state student philosophy conference, which is usually held in April.

The honors paper will be presented orally to the department and to the state student philosophy conference. Significant revisions may be required at the discretion of the faculty.

Course Levels:

Courses numbered below 200 are considered introductory and require no previous coursework in philosophy. Courses numbered in the 200s are considered intermediate level, and generally at least one course at the introductory level is advisable before enrolling in them. Prospective majors and minors, however, should consult with members of the department about starting directly with PHI-201 or PHI-202. Courses numbered in the 300s are advanced courses for students with substantial previous coursework in philosophy. A selection of introductory courses is offered each semester. Please consult registration materials for specific information.

Philosophy Courses

104 The Individual and Community (1 course) This course explores topics of moral and political philosophy by focusing on the dynamic between the individual and the community. Typical questions include: What is the extent of legitimate authority that a community has over an individual? What obligations does a citizen have toward a government? Under what conditions, if any, is civil disobedience justifiable? What is the role of education in creating a citizenry? Emphasis is generally given to classic texts such as Plato’s Apology or Rousseau’s The Social Contract. HIPHI, Offered occasionally.

105 School and Society (1 course) How is education used to promote the status quo? How do schools support and reproduce societies in the process of producing “good students?” Conversely, how can education be used to bring about changes in a society? In this course, we’ll explore education both as a tool for preserving the status quo and as a mechanism for social and political change. This course counts toward the peace, justice, and conflict studies minor. HIPHIWRITI, Fall semester.

108 Great Philosophers (1 course) This course introduces students to philosophy by examining some of the writings of philosophical greats, such as Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Hume, and Wittgenstein. The issues considered may include: Does God exist? What is knowledge and how can we acquire it? What is the meaning of life? What is the “good life”? HIPHI, Fall semester.

109 Philosophical Puzzles (1 course) This introductory course in philosophy will tackle various puzzles and paradoxes that arise out of our everyday concepts and beliefs. Some questions we might explore: Is time travel possible? Is it permissible to kill one person to save 10? 100? 1000? If you were to split like an amoeba, would either of the resulting persons be you? What is the distinction, if any, between killing and letting die? What should we think when somebody says, ‘Everything I say is a lie’? Offered occasionally.

122 Sports Ethics (1 course) Students develop new understandings of sport through ethical exploration. Students use various approaches to sport ethics in order to examine ethical questions: What is sport’s proper role in society? Does sport promote or prevent racial and/or gender equality? How should success be measured in sport? When should children begin to compete and specialize? Is sport too violent? Through improved ethical reasoning, students will become better prepared to have ethical conversations, navigate ethical dilemmas in sport, and will develop their own values thereby allowing them to better lead lives of ethical leadership and service. Spring semester.

125 Philosophy of Sport (1 course) Students will explore levels of meaning in sport beyond wins and losses by discussing many philosophical questions surrounding sport. For example: Why does sport matter? What should sport teach us? Is sport play? What does it mean to compete? What is sportsmanship? What values can or should sport convey to its participants and observers? Should and does sport build character? With heightened philosophical awareness, students will become more mindful practitioners and observers of sport while developing a deeper understanding of their own values. Fall semester.

136 Formal Logic (1 course) This course is concerned with a vigorous examination of the concepts of validity, consistency, logical equivalence, and law of logic from both syntactic and semantic points of view. Criteria for the evaluation of arguments in natural language are developed by making use of artificial languages and the techniques of formalization. The course includes a treatment of statement logic (propositional logic) and predicate logic. MATHL, Fall semester.

147 Applied Ethics (1 course) When I buy a pair of tennis shoes, am I willing to buy shoes costing close to ninety dollars, but produced by a Korean worker who is paid pennies an hour? When I hear a racist remark, do I speak up? Our decisions and actions have moral implications and involve moral reasoning. Engaging in moral practices requires skills. One objective of this course is to equip students with the skills to think and act creatively and constructively on moral matters. We will consider moral issues that arise in all our lives: human rights, justice and economic distribution, welfare, marriage, racism and sexism, and health care. HIPHI, Fall semester.

201 Ancient Philosophy (1 course) Philosophy began in ancient Greece, and the problems that these first philosophers raised are still profound and significant. There are characteristically Greek philosophical problems: the nature of the soul, the state, the good, and the nature of reality. However, Greek philosophy is also a distinctive way of thinking about these problems. This course will focus on Greek modes of thought by examining in some detail its two principal representatives, Plato and Aristotle. Some attention may also be given to pre-Socratic, Hellenistic, and Roman philosophers. HIPHIWRITD, Fall semester.

202 Modern Philosophy (1 course) The questions of modern philosophy are among the most perennial questions in Western thought. What is the relation between minds and bodies? What is a substance? What is the nature of knowledge? Can we know anything with certainty-even our own existence? This course surveys the works of several major figures in European philosophy of the 17th and 18th centuries, including Hobbes, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Conway, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. HIPHIWRITD, Spring semester.

203 Continental Philosophy (1 course) What is Hegel’s dialectics? What is the significance of Nietzsche’s Will of Power? Why was Husserl’s phenomenology so influential? What are the relationships between Bergson, Proust, and Einstein? Here are some of the questions we will be examining in this course. We will study through several major figures in French and German philosophy of the 19th and 20th centuries, including Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bergson, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, & Derrida. Students will design their own research project and present it in class. English and history majors will discover primary theoretical sources relevant to their discipline. HIPHI, Offered occasionally.

209 Philosophies of the Environment (1 course) This course examines the ways in which contemporary attitudes toward the environment developed as well as alternative philosophical theories of the environment. Issues include the treatment of nonhuman animals, instrumental vs. intrinsic theories of environmental value, the impact of “first world” environmental perspectives on Third World peoples, and women’s perspectives on the environment. Alternative approaches include Aldo Leopold’s land ethic, deep ecology, and eco-feminism. This course counts toward the Environmental Studies major, the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, and the Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies majors/minors. HIPHI, Spring semester.

212 Oppression and Privilege (1 course) A philosophical exploration of the concepts of race and gender, with an emphasis upon the nature of racism and sexism. Questions to be considered include: Are the categories of race and gender constructed or “natural?” How have philosophers used these categories to justify and explain the hierarchical structures of societies? How can individuals engage in constructive resistance to racism and sexism? This course counts toward the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies and Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies majors/minors. HIPHIWRITD, offered occasionally.

213 Mind and Matter (1 course) A critical introduction to the traditional and contemporary problems and issues surrounding the nature of mind and matter. Topics that may be included are the distinction between mind and body, the existence of other minds, the existence of matter, the nature of causation, free will and determinism, personal immortality, and computer simulation and artificial intelligence. HIPHI, Spring semester.

233 American Philosophy (1 course) An exploration of philosophy in the United States from the mid-19th through the early 20th centuries. Issues to be discussed may include: philosophical responses to slavery, conceptions of the individual and the community, and the nature of knowledge and truth. Philosophers may include Emerson, DuBois, Peirce, James, Dewey, Goldman, Addams, and Alain Locke. HIPHIWRITD, Fall semester, odd years.

234 Contemporary Analytic Philosophy (1 course) A study of some of the major developments in philosophy during the 20th century. Philosophers examined typically include Russell, Moore, Whitehead, Carnap, Ayer, Wittgenstein, Austin, Ryle, Quine, and others. Prerequisite: PHI-202. HIPHI, Fall semester, even years.

235 Existentialism (1 course) A survey of the prominent existentialist literature of the 19th and 20th centuries. Writers examined may include Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Berdyaev, Heidegger, Jaspers, Unamuno, Ortega y Gasset, Marcel, Camus, Sartre, and Tillich. HIPHI, Offered occasionally.

240 Philosophy of Religion (1 course) A philosophical scrutiny of some of the central concepts and doctrines of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, seeking understanding of the peculiar logic and function of religious discourse through readings and discussions of the thought of outstanding philosophers and theologians with respect to such topics as the existence of God, religion and myth, faith and reason, the problem of evil, and life after death. Offered occasionally.

241 Philosophy of Art (1 course) An analysis of the concepts employed in aesthetic judgment and a critical scrutiny of some possible methods of verifying or justifying aesthetic claims requiring those concepts in their formulation. Philosophies of beauty, creativity, and the arts are surveyed and critically examined. ARTS, Spring semester, odd years.

244, 344 Special Topics (1 course, 1 course) Special topics in philosophy. Content will vary from semester to semester. Courses will explore a topic or problem in depth and students will read, discuss, and write. More than one special topic may be taken. Fall and/or Spring semesters.

246 Ethical Theory (1 course) A detailed examination of selected topics of central importance to ethical theory, such as freedom, responsibility, rationality, good, bad, right, wrong, duty, obligation, virtue, and happiness. HIPHIWRITD, Fall semester.

248 Gender, Knowledge, and Reality (1 course) An exploration of central issues in historical and contemporary feminist philosophy. The focus of the course will vary, and may be drawn from social and political philosophy, ethics, or epistemology. It will generally consider such issues as: “woman” as a socially-constructed category; the nature of women’s oppression; and the relations between gender, race, and class as they function as structures of domination. This course counts toward the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies and the Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies majors/minors. HIPHI, Spring semester, even years.

251 Philosophy of Science (1 course) An examination of the concepts, methodology, and scope of science. Topics typically studied include the positivist model of scientific theories, the observational-theoretical distinction, the underdetermination of theory, reductionism, antireductionism, supervenience, the structure of scientific explanation, historicism and revolutionary science, social constructivism, the genderization of scientific knowledge, and the realism-antirealism debate. HIPHI, Fall Semester, odd years.

290 Philosophical Methods (1 course) This course is recommended for all sophomore and junior Philosophy majors, as well as students who are intending to declare a Philosophy major. The course has four main goals. (1) To give students an opportunity to work intensively on honing their philosophical writing skills. (2) To introduce students to the various philosophical resources available and to get them comfortable navigating and engaging those resources. (3) To provide students an environment in which to practice philosophy collaboratively. (4) To encourage students to begin thinking about how their philosophy major will inform their post-Gustavus lives. Prerequisite: One Level II PHI course, Spring semester.

268, 368 Career Exploration, Internship (Course value to be determined) Off-campus employment experience related to the student’s major. See description of the Internship Program. Prerequisite: junior or senior status. Fall, Spring semesters and summer.

370 Advanced Studies Seminar: Great Philosophers (1 course) This course provides an intensive examination of the works of one of the great philosophers. Topics will be announced by the department. Offerings may include courses on Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, and Kant. Prerequisites: PHI-201 and 202. WRITD, Either PHI-370 or 371 is offered each semester.

371 Advanced Studies Seminar: Selected Topics (1 course) An intensive study of some problems or author in philosophy. The student is expected to demonstrate an ability for independent thinking, study, and research. Prerequisites: PHI-201 and 202. WRITD, Either PHI-370 or 371 is offered each semester.

291, 391 Independent Study in Philosophy (Course value to be determined) Fall and Spring semesters.