Reed College Catalog


Philosophy deals with some of the most enduring and challenging problems and with the attempts we have made to solve them. The following questions are typical: What do we know and how do we know it? Do we project our values onto the world or find them there? Do we invent mathematical truths or discover them? Are we responsible for what we do, or are we helpless victims of our genetic endowment, environment, and upbringing? Are our judgments about the merits of novels, paintings, poems, films, and symphonies justifiable? Are we complex animals or simplified angels, minds or molecules? What are goodness, truth, and beauty? Is there anything in the world besides matter in motion?

While these questions are examined in most of the philosophy department's courses, not all courses examine them in the same way or presuppose the same degree of sophistication. The number of a course is a good guide to its intended level. The 200-level courses are intended for sophomores, 300-level courses for juniors, and 400-level courses for seniors. A qualified student, however, may gain admission to a course of any level by consent of the instructor.

Courses of interest to students of philosophy are also taught in the political science and mathematics departments in classical political philosophy, modern political philosophy, Hegel and Marx, judgment, and mathematical logic.

Some students study philosophy together with another subject, such as religion, mathematics, literature, political science, or biology. Students who wish to include philosophy in an interdisciplinary major are required to take Logic, Introduction to Philosophy, and four other philosophy courses (besides the senior thesis), to be chosen in consultation with their philosophy adviser.

Requirements for the Major

  1. Two courses at the 200 level.
  2. One course in each of the following four areas: epistemology, ethics, logic, and metaphysics.
  3. One course in ancient philosophy and one additional course in the history of philosophy.
  4. Six courses (other than thesis) above the 200 level, including at least two at the 400 level.
  5. No more than three courses at the 200 level may be used to satisfy requirements for the major.
  6. Thesis (470)

Philosophy 201 - Logic

Full course for one semester. This course is an introduction to the formal logic of propositions, identity, and quantification, culminating in an introduction to metalogic and a study of some alternate and deviant logics. Lecture.

Philosophy 202 - Introduction to Metaphysics

Full course for one semester. An examination of selected topics in metaphysics, such as: What kind of beings are we? Do we have free will? Does God exist? Is time real? Does anything exist independently of our minds? Conference. Not offered 2009-10.

Philosophy 203 - Introduction to Ethics

Full course for one semester. An examination of selected historical and contemporary accounts of how we should live, of what makes life good, of what does harm, of what constrains our actions, and of what gives our lives meaning. Conference. Not offered 2009-10.

Philosophy 204 - Introduction to Epistemology

Full course for one semester. An examination of the sources, structure, and scope of knowledge and justification. Conference.

Philosophy 206 - Minds, Brains, and Machines

Full course for one semester. Science gives us an increasingly detailed picture of the world. According to this picture, the world is at bottom physical: all there is are bits of matter arranged in various ways. How do we fit into this picture? Are we identical to our bodies, or are we essentially minds? Is the mind the same as the brain, or is it a separate kind of entity? Or is it not an entity at all, but a property of something physical, such as our brain? Does having a mind require having a brain, or could a machine have a mind, too? Is perhaps the relation of the mind to the brain the same as that of a computer program to a computer running the program? Finally, do the answers to these questions matter to how we should live our lives? Conference.

Philosophy 207 - Persons and Their Lives

Full course for one semester. What is it to be a person, and to live a life distinctive of persons?  This course will explore a variety of philosophical issues relevant to answering these questions, among them:  What is it to be the same person across time?  Is a person essentially a mind? Is there something distinctive about the way persons act?  Must their actions always be rational, and must agents always pursue some perceived good?  Do persons have free will? What makes a life meaningful? Is immortality required for  a meaningful life, or can only mortals have meaningful lives?  Conference.

Philosophy 210 - Philosophical Topics

Full course for one semester. An examination of commonly held but philosophically untenable views on the nature of colors, numbers, minds, morals, and meaning, as well as philosophically tenable but uncommonly held views on the same topics. Conference.

Philosophy 301 - Ancient Philosophy

Full course for one semester. This course is an introduction to ancient Greek philosophy focusing on the works of Plato and Aristotle. Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and one other 200-level course in philosophy. Conference.

Philosophy 302 - Modern Philosophy

Full course for one semester. This course is an introduction to the metaphysical and epistemological views of major Modern philosophers such as Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and one other 200-level course in philosophy. Conference. Not offered 2009-10.

Philosophy 304 - Empiricism

Full course for one semester. An examination of the prospects and problems of the view that our only source of information about the world is experience. Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and one other 200-level course in philosophy. Conference.

Philosophy 307 - History of Analytic Philosophy

Full course for one semester. No one would dispute that Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, and Ludwig Wittgenstein are towering figures in the early history of analytic philosophy.  With the possible exception of G.E. Moore, no philosopher working during the period of their overlapping careers has had as much influence on the content and methodology of the Western analytic tradition.  In this course, we will focus on a selection of themes concerning the nature of logic, language, and judgment as they are played out in some of the central writings of these three figures.  Conference.

Philosophy 310 - Metaphysics

Full course for one semester. This course is a study of the central topics and problems of metaphysics, including the mind-body problem, free will and determinism, persistence and change, and the natures of particulars, properties, time, space modality, causality, identity, and persons. Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and one other 200-level course in philosophy. Conference.

Philosophy 311 - Epistemology

Full course for one semester. This course is an introduction to the central topics in the theory of knowledge, including the nature of knowledge, the nature of epistemic justification, and varieties of skepticism. Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and one other 200-level course in philosophy. Conference. Not offered 2009-10.

Philosophy 312 - Ethical Theories

Full course for one semester. This course is an introduction to the central theories and problems of ethics. Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and one other 200-level course in philosophy. Conference.

Philosophy 315 - Philosophy of Language

Full course for one semester. This course is a study of such topics as truth, reference, meaning, convention, linguistic and nonlinguistic communication, and the relationships between language, thought, and reality. Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and one other 200-level course in philosophy. Conference. Not offered 2009-10.

Philosophy 316 - Philosophy of Science

Full course for one semester. A study of scientific testing, explanation, development and revolutions, the rationality of science, the nature and structure of scientific theories, and scientific realism. Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and one other 200-level course in philosophy. Conference. Not offered 2009-10.

Philosophy 317 - Philosophy of Mind

Full course for one semester. Some physical things, such as the page or screen you are looking at, represent other things, such as the contents of philosophy courses offered in 2009-20010. How is this possible? How can a physical thing represent anything? Can we explain how a mental thing (e.g., your thought that it is raining) represents another thing (e.g., today's weather) in the same way? In the first part of the course, we look at answers to these questions, and in the second part, we examine how the answers pertain to the contents of mental states. Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and one other 200-level course in philosophy. Conference. Not offered 2009-10.

Philosophy 318 - Philosophy of Biology

Full course for one semester. This course is a philosophical study of such topics as adaptation; units of selection; emergence and reduction; function and teleology; the status of species and systematics; evolutionary trends; implications of evolutionary theory for psychology, culture, epistemology, and ethics; and social implications of contemporary biology (such as the human genome project, genetic engineering, and artificial life). Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and one other 200-level course in philosophy. Conference.

Philosophy 321 - Modal Logic and Metaphysics

Full course for one semester. This course is an introduction to modal logic, possible-world semantics, and associated philosophical issues. Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and one other 200-level course in philosophy. Conference. Not offered 2009-10.

Philosophy 405 - Senior Seminar

Half course for one semester. An intensive study of selected philosophical problems or works. Primary emphasis is on exercising and developing the skills required for original and creative work in philosophy. Open to philosophy majors with senior standing, and to others with consent of the instructor. Conference.

Philosophy 411 - Advanced Topics in Metaphysics: Powers and Counterfactuals

 

Full course for one semester. An examination of the relationships among causes, powers, and counterfactuals. Conference.

 

Philosophy 412 - Advanced Topics in Epistemology

Analyticity and the A Priori

Full course for one semester. Most contemporary work in epistemology has focused on empirical or a posteriori knowledge and the nature of the warrants we need in order to possess it. Traditionally, however, it has been assumed that we can also possess nonempirical or a priori knowledge and warrants. This claim came under intense critical scrutiny in the 20th century with challenges regarding the nature, the scope, and even the possibility of such knowledge. Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in and sympathy for the possibility of a priori knowledge. In this course, we will explore some of the more central moments in this debate­, paying particular attention to strategies for explicating and defending the possibility of a priori knowledge by appeal to the notion of analyticity. We will focus on debates about how to draw the distinction both between the a priori and the a posteriori and between the analytic and synthetic­-and whether there are ultimately any coherent distinctions to be drawn. We will consider various naturalistic worries about how we could ever learn anything a priori as well as various rationalist arguments that purport to show that appeal to a priori knowledge is unavoidable. Prerequisites: Philosophy 311, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Computation for Philosophers
Full course for one semester. A selective survey of computational results and methods that play an increasingly important new epistemological role in philosophical argumentation. Topics covered include: Turing machines, Chomsky hierarchy, run time complexity, Shelling's model, cellular automata, the Game of Life, Tierra, Packard's bugs, and DPD protocells, among others. Prerequisites: Two 300-level philosophy courses, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Philosophy 414 - Advanced Topics in Contemporary Philosophy: Information and Possibility

Full course for one semester. The concept of information is usually characterized in terms of possibilities: to acquire information is to eliminate possibilities.  In this course, we will examine kinds of information that seem to resist this characterization. Possible topics include mathematical and logical information, information about identities, information about possibilities, information about one’s location in space and time, and information about the qualitative character of experiences. Possible readings include texts by Frege, Perry, Lewis, Kripke, Stalnaker, Fine, Millikan, Jackson, Fiengo and May, and others. Prerequisites: One 300/400-level upper division philosophy course, or consent of the instructor. Conference. 

Philosophy 415 - Major Figures in Philosophy: Wittgenstein

Full course for one semester. This variable-topics course focuses on the work of a major figure in philosophy. In 2009-10 the topic is Wittgenstein. Prerequisites: One 300/400-level upper division philosophy course, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Philosophy 470 - Thesis

Full course for one year.

Philosophy 481 - Individual Work in Special Fields

One-half or full course for one year. Prerequisite: approval of instructor and division.