Bindu Madhok, chair and professor.
B.A., 1983, University of Calcutta; Ph.D., 1990, Brown University. Appointed 1990.

Jeremy S. Kirby, associate professor.
B.A., 1999, M.A., 2000, University of Utah; M.A., 2004, Ph.D., 2005, Florida State University. Appointed 2006.

Daniel M. Mittag, associate professor.
B.A., 1995, Drake University; M.A., 1998, Texas A&M University; M.A., 2003, Ph.D., 2009, University of Rochester. Appointed 2007.


Historically, philosophy is at the center of the liberal arts tradition. The very concept of an Academy that combines the freedom to inquire with the responsibility to clarify and solve social problems is the invention of classical Greek philosophers.

By subject matter, philosophy is one of the humanities, and studies the concepts we have developed in order to understand the world in which we find ourselves and express what we have discovered. It critically examines our basic assumptions about the world and human relationships.

But philosophy retains a methodological kinship with the sciences, whose methods developed out of general philosophical inquiry. Critical thinking is the hallmark of philosophy courses that bring clarity, precision, and logically rigorous argument to controversial questions about what is real, knowable and valuable. The development of this critical perspective, an appreciation of inquiry and the values that underlie it, is the heart of philosophy.

Philosophy Department Website

Career Opportunities

Analysis of arguments, clear and precise expression of one's views—particularly in writing—and the ability to comprehend complex systems of thought are skills cultivated by philosophy courses that are useful in all areas of life. But our students find their philosophy background particularly useful in the professions. Pre-law students take Logic and Critical Reasoning (107) to prepare for the LSAT and sharpen their analytical skills for law school, while Philosophical Issues in the Law (335) is a critical examination of important legal concepts and institutions. Students preparing for medical school, dental school or the allied health professions discover that Biomedical Ethics (308) examines moral problems raised by advancements in medical research and technology that they will soon face. Ethics (201), Social Philosophy (202), Contemporary Moral Problems (206), Leadership Ethics (302), Ethics and Public Policy (304) and International Ethics and Global Development (309) are useful for students interested in public policy. Business Ethics (303) examines moral problems posed by corporate conduct, e.g., profit-maximization vs. social responsibility, deception vs. honesty in advertising, preferential hiring vs. reverse discrimination. Students pursuing careers in the environmental sciences find Environmental Ethics (301) to be particularly useful in acquiring an understanding of underlying value-frameworks in environmental theories and practices. Philosophy and History of Science (220), Neuroscience and Ethics (306) and Philosophy of Mind (318) are of great value to students pursuing careers in neuroscience.

The critical skills and sense of intellectual heritage that follow the study of philosophy are not only useful in finding a job, but they foster maturity of judgment, personal growth and lifelong learning.

Special Features

Because philosophy studies the systems of ideas we have developed to understand the world and our place in it, philosophy courses often explore the conceptual foundations of other disciplines; e.g., Philosophy and History of Science (220) explores the basic concepts and underlying logic of scientific method, Philosophy of Art (215) is an analysis of theories of the arts and art criticism and often includes field trips to major galleries, and Philosophy of Mind (318) examines theories that attempt to explain consciousness. These natural affinities make double majors attractive, and they are encouraged by the department.

Philosophy students can get to know one another outside of class as members of the Philosophy Club or as members of the national philosophy honorary, Phi Sigma Tau. Members of the honorary have brought distinguished philosophers to campus for lectures and discussion including Paul Churchland, Fred Dretske, David Lewis and Martha Nussbaum.

Philosophy majors are encouraged to write a senior thesis and submit it for departmental honors. Successful completion of this research project results in graduation with departmental honors in philosophy. The Padgett Prize in Philosophy, established in honor of Professor Emeritus Jack F. Padgett, is given annually to the outstanding senior philosophy major.

The Ned S. Garvin Scholarship in Philosophy, established in memory of Professor Ned Garvin, is given annually to the outstanding rising junior philosophy major.

Majors and Minors

Requirements for Major

  • A minimum of eight units in philosophy.
  • At least three of these eight units must be at the 300- or 400-level.
  • All courses for the major must be taken for a numerical grade and cannot be taken credit/no credit. Directed studies may be counted only by permission of the department.

Requirements for Minor

  • Five units in philosophy, at least two of which must be at the 300- or 400-level.

Requirements for Minor in History of Philosophy

  • Five units, including Philosophy 211 and 212, and three courses at the 289-level or higher selected from the following: Continental Philosophy (289), Sources of Evil (289), Nineteenth Century Philosophy (381), Kierkegaard and Nietzsche (401), History of Philosophy (402), directed study with departmental approval (411). History 102, English 261, Political Science 355 and Religious Studies 231 may be substituted for one of the above electives in consultation with the Philosophy Department.

Requirements for Minor in Philosophy of Mind

  • Five units, at least one of which must be at the 300-level or higher, including either Philosophy of Mind (381/401) or Sensation, Perception and Knowledge (382), and any four of the following: Knowledge, Truth and Reason (315), Modern Philosophy (212), Philosophy East and West (102), Neuroscience I (NEUR 241), Neuroscience and Ethics (306). Psychology 343, 345, 348 or 378 may be substituted for one of the above electives in consultation with the Philosophy Department.

Requirements for Minor in Value Theory

  • Five units, at least two of which must be at the 300-level or higher, selected from the following: Ethics (201), Social Philosophy (202), Contemporary Moral Problems (206), Philosophy of Art (215), Environmental Ethics (301), Business Ethics (303), Ethics and Public Policy (304), Biomedical Ethics (308), Philosophy of Law (335), Theory of Justice (381/401), Leadership Ethics (302), Morality, Truth and Relativism (381/401), Neuroscience and Ethics (306).

Preparation for Graduate Study

  • We recommend that students plan their schedules in consultation with a Philosophy Department faculty member.
  • We recommend that students take more than eight philosophy courses.
  • The following courses are strongly recommended for graduate study: 201, 207, 211, 212, 214, 310, 315.
  • We recommend that students submit a thesis for departmental honors.
  • We recommend that students discuss the graduate school application process with the department during the spring of their junior year.

Philosophy Courses

101 Introduction to Philosophy (1)
A study of the basic methods, controversial problems and philosophical systems, with special consideration given to the relation of philosophy to other disciplines. Because of the central role of argument and evidence in philosophical inquiry, this course is an introduction to conceptual clarification, logical analysis and general critical thinking. Examines topics such as knowledge and skepticism, the mind-body problem, personal identity, moral relativism, moral responsibility, free will and determinism, power, social justice, racism, sexism, violence, war, the existence of God, the existence of theoretical entities. Kirby, Mittag.

102 Philosophy East and West (1)
Compares different schools of eastern philosophy with those of western philosophy in their approaches to important epistemological, metaphysical and ethical issues. These issues include, for example, the nature of the self and its relation to the external world; personal identity; and determinism, free will and moral responsibility. Covers similarities and differences in the philosophical questions asked, arguments given and methodologies adopted by both eastern and western philosophers. Madhok.

107 Logic and Critical Reasoning (1)
A study of the basic conceptual tools used to recognize, evaluate and express arguments. Designed for the student who wishes to reason more effectively and critically. Topics: inductive and deductive standards, truth, validity, fallacies, paradoxes, regresses, counterexamples, analogies, reductios, definitions, sophistries. Mittag.

187, 188, 189 Selected Topics (1/4, 1/2, 1)
An examination of subjects or areas not included in other courses. Staff.

201 Ethics (1)
An examination and evaluation of the major ethical theories, both classical and contemporary, and the application of these theories to a current moral problem. Madhok.

202 Social Philosophy (1)
An issues and historically oriented introduction to a broad range of philosophical subject matter and methodologies through a clarification and analysis of argumentation used to justify selected social and political institutions and practices—e.g., individual liberties, properties of personhood, the nature of the state, obligations and rights, etc. Staff.

206 Contemporary Moral Problems (1)
An introduction to a broad range of philosophical subjects and methodologies through an examination and analysis of contemporary moral problems—e.g., abortion, euthanasia, genetic engineering, sexual morality, gender and racial discrimination, corporate crime, pornography and censorship, the death penalty, ecology, world hunger, etc. Madhok.

207 Symbolic Logic (1)
A study of the formal conceptual tools used by modern deductive logic to express and evaluate arguments. Emphasizes the use of propositional and quantifier logic to clarify and evaluate arguments. Mittag.

211 Ancient Philosophy (1)
A survey of the beginnings of western philosophical thought focusing on the writings of the Presocratics, Plato, Aristotle and others. Kirby.

212 Modern Philosophy (1)
Philosophical thought in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, focusing on the writings of such philosophers as Descartes, Leibnitz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. Kirby.

214 Twentieth Century Philosophy (1)
Major movements in and methods of contemporary philosophical thinking with special attention to the analytic and existential thinkers. Offered in alternate years. Kirby.

220 Philosophy and History of Science (1)
Considers the following questions: What is science? What is scientific explanation? What are the ontological commitments of a scientist? To what extent does the culture of a scientific community affect results of that community? Kirby.

234 Philosophy of Religion (1)
Same as Religion 234. Staff.

287, 288, 289 Selected Topics (1/4, 1/2, 1)
An examination of subjects or areas not included in other courses. Staff.

301 Environmental Ethics (1)
Examines theoretical and practical perspectives on ethical issues in relation to the environment. The theoretical issues range from whether we should assign moral value to species other than the human (and if so, on the basis of what criteria) to whether we have moral obligations to preserve the environment for future generations (and if so, what this would imply for the present generations). The practical issues range from creating incentives for restricting population growth without abdicating responsibilities toward the world's hungry, to the issue of what short-and long-term policies and practices need to be adopted to deal effectively with reducing pollution and hazardous waste while working toward a recycling, sustainable global society. Madhok.

302 Leadership Ethics (1)
Examines the ethical foundations of leadership. Involves an in-depth discussion of foremost leadership theories and their applications to different contexts; critically examines the morally distinct aspects of leadership by looking at the relationships among power, self-interest, and morality; and analyzes leadership from within the ethical frameworks of virtue, duty, and utility along with discussing the ethical challenges of diversity (culture relativism, race, and gender) to traditional leadership ethics. Madhok.

303 Business Ethics (1)
An examination of selected moral problems posed by corporate conduct—e.g., profit-maximization vs. social responsibility, corporate crime and the criminal justice system, business vs. environmental concerns, preferential hiring vs. reverse discrimination, employee autonomy vs. corporate loyalty, deception vs. honesty in advertising, corporate vs. government regulation. Clarification and critical examination of different ethical perspectives for resolving these moral dilemmas. Madhok.

304 Ethics and Public Policy (1)
Emphasizes the ethical foundations of public policy. Rights, obligations, justice, autonomy, the nature of the good life: should these play a role in determining public policy, and if so, how? Focuses on the interaction between ethical values and public policy in areas such as health care, law, government, foreign policy, citizenship, education and media. Madhok.

306 Neuroscience and Ethics (1)
An introduction to the dialogue that has developed between cognitive neuroscientists and moral philosophers. Cognitive neuroscience brings to the study of ethics an interest in the way the brain processes information and in the kinds of brain states that subserve thought and action—in short, it is answering the question of what kind of information-processing creatures we are. Madhok.

308 Biomedical Ethics (1)
The application of major ethical theories to some of the moral problems raised by recent developments in medical technology. Does increased medical knowledge (the end) justify experimentation with human subjects (the means)? How much should a patient be told and who decides? Do parents have the right to give birth to a defective infant and thereby apparently pollute the gene pool? To whom is the genetic counselor responsible—fetus, parent, future generations? Is there a right to die? Who should be the ultimate decision-maker—physician, patient, pastor? Is health care a right or a privilege? In answering these dilemmas, are there any moral rules to follow or does each person decide what is best in the situation? Madhok.

309 International Ethics and Global Development (1)
Explores the ethics of development in an international context. What should development be? Who should play a role in bringing about development? Examines multiple answers to these questions via an understanding of global development ethical theories and approaches such as the basic human needs approach, the human rights approach, the theory of development as freedom, the capabilities approach, theories of justice, as well as utilitarianism and deontological approaches. Applies these development ethics frameworks to important international issues such as poverty, gender inequality, violence and insecurity, over-consumption and globalization. Includes discussion of issues of ethical objectivism versus subjectivism, and ethical pluralism versus relativism. Madhok.

310 Metaphysics (1)
Explores what kinds of things exist. Do abstract entities exist? Is there such a thing as free agency in a world that is deterministic (or, for that matter, in a world that is not deterministic)? Is time something that is mind-dependent or mind-independent? Are we committed to the existence of electrons? Is causation anything above and beyond regularity? Kirby.

315 Knowledge, Truth and Reason (1)
Prerequisite: One prior course in philosophy.
A critical examination of recent work in the theory of knowledge, i.e., of classic contemporary papers on skepticism, knowledge and the justification of belief. Mittag.

318 Philosophy of Mind (1)
An introduction to the philosophy of mind. Explores the relation of the mind to the physical world and evaluates prominent competing theories about the nature of the mind, including the identity theory, dualism, behaviorism, functionalism and eliminative materialism. Also covers artificial intelligence, phenomenal consciousness, the adequacy of folk psychological explanation and theories of mental content. Mittag.

325 Philosophy of Language (1)
Words and sentences of a language have meanings, thereby allowing us to use sentences to communicate our thoughts, some of which are true. But how do words and sentences get their referents and meanings? What are meanings? This course focuses on central developments in the philosophy of language throughout the twentieth century. Topics include theories of meaning and reference, speech acts, pragmatics, and conversational implicature. Mittag.

335 Philosophical Issues in the Law (1)
Designed both for students interested in philosophy and for those interested in political science, history, economics, or sociology. Provides an explanation of legal concepts and institutions from the philosophical perspective. Develops in the student: (1) an understanding of some of the major philosophical issues in the law and (2) the ability to reflect critically upon them. Madhok.

380 Aristotle: A Western Foundation (1)
Considers how Aristotle's philosophy continues to exercise influence today, especially concerning controversies over the nature of existence, identity, the soul and the way one should live. Explores and evaluates the arguments of a philosopher who was the finest pupil in Plato's Academy, the personal instructor of Alexander the Great, and the founder of the Lyceum. Kirby.

381, 382 Readings in Philosophy (1 each)
Prerequisite: Permission of instructor. Recommended for advanced students.
Careful and critical study of one or more of the outstanding works in philosophy. Staff.

387, 388, 389 Selected Topics (1/4, 1/2, 1)
An examination of subjects or areas not included in other courses. Staff.

391, 392 Internship (1/2, 1)
Offered on a credit/no credit basis. Staff.

401, 402 Seminar (1/2, 1)
Prerequisite: Permission of instructor. Recommended for advanced students.
Topics of special interest including "Justice," "Metaphysics," "Moral Realism," "Russell." Staff.

411, 412 Directed Study (1/2, 1)