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? How can we justify our judgments about the merits of novels, paintings, poems, films, and symphonies? 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?

These questions are examined in most of the philosophy department’s courses, but 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 an adviser in the philosophy department.

Requirements for the Major

  1. One course in each of the following four areas: epistemology, ethics, logic, and metaphysics.
  2. Two courses in the history of philosophy, one of which is either Ancient Philosophy (PHIL 301) or Modern Philosophy (PHIL 302).
  3. Two courses at the 200 level.
  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. This course meets the department’s logic requirement. 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? This course meets the department's metaphysics requirement. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

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. This course meets the department’s ethics requirement. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Philosophy 204 - Introduction to Epistemology

Full course for one semester. An examination of the sources, structure, and scope of knowledge and justification. This course meets the department’s epistemology requirement. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

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? This course meets the department’s ethics requirement. 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.

Not offered 2011–12.

Philosophy 211 - Environmental Ethics

Full course for one semester. Environmental ethics concerns the nature and status of our moral relationship to other species and to the environment, and it raises deep questions about the nature and source of moral claims. The course aims to understand and critically examine the ethical principles and values that might be used to defend and justify our views about the value and moral status of the environment and its contents—animals, plants, ecosystems, etc. The course introduces basic concepts from moral philosophy and introduces the major themes in the contemporary debate about environmental ethics. This course meets the department’s ethics requirement. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Philosophy 212 - Existentialism

Full course for one semester. Despite (or because of) the incredible technological and economic innovations of the past two centuries in the Western world, many people still feel a persistent and sometimes profound sense of malaise and dissatisfaction with life. One of the key aims of existentialism is to diagnose this modern ailment, and at least gesture in the direction of a more fulfilling and worthwhile form of life. This course will introduce some of the basic concepts of existentialism: the existential crisis, authenticity, fundamental freedom, and the nature of the self. Thinkers to include: Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Sartre. This course applies to the department’s history of philosophy requirement. 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. This course applies to the department’s history of philosophy requirement. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

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. This course applies to the department’s history of philosophy requirement. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Philosophy 303 - The Place of Mind in the Natural World

Full course for one semester. Is the mind a natural thing or process, like other parts of nature such as trees, stars, and neurons? Do we live in a dualistic universe, with both mental and physical properties and things, or is the world composed only of the physical? Does science tell us what the world is really like, or do scientific theories distort and abstract from a more basic view of the mind as fundamentally embodied? We will consider different strategies for reconciling modern natural science with the mind, drawing readings from contemporary philosophy of mind and cognitive science, as well as relevant historical authors such as Descartes and Merleau-Ponty.  Prerequisite: one 200-level philosophy course. This course meets the department’s metaphysics requirement. Conference.

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. This course applies to the department’s history of philosophy requirement. 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. Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and one other 200-level course in philosophy. This course applies to the department’s history of philosophy requirement. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

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. This course meets the department’s metaphysics requirement. 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. This course meets the department’s epistemology requirement. Conference.

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. This course meets the department’s ethics requirement. 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 2011–12.

Philosophy 316 - Philosophy of Science

Full course for one semester. A philosophical investigation of the nature of science and the light science sheds on the world. Topics covered include the difference between science and pseudoscience, the Quine/Duham thesis on the underdetermination of theory by evidence, the problem of induction and the grue paradox, the problem of scientific confirmation, Bayesian approaches to confirmation, the nature of scientific explanations and scientific theories, the nature and philosophical implications of scientific revolutions, the rationality of science, the social construction of scientific facts, scientific realism and scientific social responsibility. Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and one other 200-level course in philosophy, or consent of the instructor. This course meets the department’s epistemology requirement. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

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 nature of life; the nature and epistemological status of biological mechanisms; the nature and epistemological status of species; evolutionary trends; implications of evolutionary theory for psychology, culture, epistemology, and ethics; and the social implications of contemporary biology and biotechnology (such as the human genome project, genetic engineering, and artificial life). Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and one other 200-level course in philosophy, or consent of the instructor. 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. This course meets the department’s logic or metaphysics requirement. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

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

The Material World
Full course for one semester. We will examine central topics in the metaphysics of the physical world, focusing on the nature of material objects and their relation to the matter or parts of which they are composed. We will consider both historical and contemporary theories and issues, such as: ancient atomism, hylomorphism, and Platonism; early modern views on matter and substance; and contemporary discussions of identity over time, the possibility of spatial and spatiotemporal coincidence, mereology, essentialism, the problem of the many, and nihilism. Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and either Philosophy 202 or 310, or consent of the instructor. This course meets the department’s metaphysics requirement. Conference.

Philosophy 412 - Advanced Topics in Epistemology

Computation
Full course for one semester. A selective survey of computational results and methods that play an important new epistemological role in philosophical argumentation. Topics covered include: Turing machines, the Chomsky hierarchy, computational complexity, Zipf’s law, cellular automata, the Game of Life, Tierra, Shelling’s model, and DPD simulations of self-assembly processes. Prerequisites: two 300-level philosophy courses, or consent of the instructor. This course meets the department’s epistemology requirement. Conference.

Philosophy 413 - Advanced Topics in Ethics

Full course for one semester.  Topics vary. This course meets the department’s ethics requirement. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Philosophy 414 - Advanced Topics in Contemporary Philosophy

Mathematics and Modality
Full course for one semester. Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and one 300-level philosophy course, or consent of the instructor. This course meets the department’s metaphysics requirement. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Philosophy 415 - Major Figures in Philosophy

David Hume
Full course for one semester. This course will study some of the major themes and problems from Hume’s work in philosophy of mind, epistemology, philosophy of religion, and ethics. Among the topics to be discussed are: the theory of ideas; skepticism about the external world and causation; arguments against miracles and the existence of god; the scope and nature of practical reason; and the nature of emotions. Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and one 300-level philosophy course. This course applies to the department’s history of philosophy requirement. Conference.

Philosophy 417 - Phenomenology and Intersubjectivity

Full course for one semester. This course will study our experience of other selves and related problems and topics. Readings will be drawn primarily from the work of twentieth-century phenomenologists such as Husserl, Stein, Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. Since these authors’ views on other selves are embedded in broader commitments about the relationship between self and world, some time will be spent examining that aspect of their thought as well. We will also look at recent applications of ideas drawn from these thinkers to contemporary philosophical problems, primarily in the philosophy of mind. Topics will include solipsism, collective intentionality, intersubjective conceptions of objectivity, empathy, otherness, and more. Prerequisite: one 300-level philosophy course. This course applies to the department’s history of philosophy requirement. 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.