Reed College Catalog

Steven Arkonovich

Moral psychology, ethics.

Mark Adam Bedau

Philosophy of biology, philosophy of science, artificial life.

Troy Cross

Metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind. On sabbatical 2017–18.

Mark Hinchliff

Metaphysics, philosophy of language, epistemology.

Paul Hovda

Metaphysics, philosophy of language, logic, philosophy of logic.

Margaret Elizabeth Scharle

Ancient Greek philosophy.

Philosophy systematically investigates and attempts to understand and solve some of the most enduring and challenging problems: 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?

Our courses address questions like these at different degrees 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.

Our graduates are admitted to top philosophy graduate schools, and our program is consistently ranked among the top philosophy undergraduate programs in the country. Our majors advance to graduate study and careers in many fields in addition to philosophy, including law, mathematics, medicine, business, education, and the sciences.

Requirements for the Major

The philosophy major includes area requirements, level requirements, and the thesis requirement.

A single course may satisfy both an area and a level requirement. No single course is permitted to satisfy two area or two level requirements. At most two courses at the 200 level may satisfy area requirements. Thesis (470) is not permitted to satisfy any area or level requirements.

1. Area requirements:

  1. one unit each in epistemology, ethics, logic, and metaphysics;
  2. one unit in either ancient or modern; and
  3. one additional unit in the history of philosophy.

2. Level requirements:

  1. two units at the 200 level;
  2. Junior Seminar (370);
  3. two units at the 400 level; and
  4. three additional units at the 300 or 400 level.

3. Thesis (470)

Philosophy 201 - Logic

Full course for one semester. This course is an introduction to the formal logic of propositions, identity, and quantification, which may include metalogic, philosophy of logic, alternate and deviant logics, and applying formal logic when evaluating real arguments. 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.

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.

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.

Philosophy 206 - Color

Full course for one semester. Do colors really exist? If so, what are they? These simple questions launch a grand tour of philosophy. We begin by surveying the current science of color and color perception and reviewing the philosophical theories of color from the Enlightenment (Boyle, Locke, Berkeley). We then ask how color terms refer, examine color-based arguments for dualism, and finally evaluate the various contemporary metaphysics of color: eliminativism, relativism, dispositionalism, identity theory, and sense data theory. This course applies to either the metaphysics or epistemology requirement, but not to both. Conference.

Not offered 2017–18.

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.

Not offered 2017–18.

Philosophy 208 - Philosophy of Religion

Full course for one semester. This course is an analysis of the nature and grounds of religious belief. Topics include classic and contemporary arguments for the existence of God, the problem of evil, the problem of freedom and foreknowledge, the relation between faith and reason, the meaningfulness of religious language, and the prospects for religious pluralism. This course meets the department's epistemology requirement. Lecture.

Not offered 2017–18.

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 2017–18.

Philosophy 220 - Introduction to Philosophy I

Full course for one semester. An introduction to contemporary perspectives on traditional issues and questions in metaphysics and epistemology through an engagement with original texts, both historical and contemporary. Topics may include: Does God exist? Is it reasonable to believe without evidence? Is mind material? What is knowledge? What is consciousness? How can we know about matters we have not observed? What is color? How can we know our own minds, or the minds of others? What is there? How can we know about the external world? What are we? Conference.

Not offered 2017–18.

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: two 200-level philosophy courses. This course applies to the department’s history of philosophy requirement. Conference.

Not offered 2017–18.

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 2017–18.

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: two 200-level philosophy courses. This course meets the department’s metaphysics requirement. Conference.

Not offered 2017–18.

Philosophy 306 - History of Modern Social and Political Philosophy

Full course for one semester. This course is an introduction to modern social and political thought and its epistemological foundations, covering authors from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, such as Machiavelli, More, Erasmus, Luther, Montaigne, Galileo, Descartes, Pascal, Hobbes, and Locke. This course applies to the department’s history of philosophy or ethics requirements. Prerequisite: two 200-level philosophy courses. Conference.

Philosophy 307 - History of Analytic Philosophy

Full course for one semester. The course will trace the historical development of central ideas in the analytic tradition. Figures considered will include: Frege, Russell, early Wittgenstein, Moore, Carnap, Ayer, Ryle, later Wittgenstein, and Quine. We will review the approaches of philosophers in this tradition to metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language and mind, ethics, and philosophical method. Prerequisite: Philosophy 201 and one other 200-level philosophy course. This course applies to the department’s history of philosophy requirement. Conference.

Not offered 2017–18.

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.

Not offered 2017–18.

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 2017–18.

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/Duhem 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.

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.

Not offered 2017–18.

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.

Philosophy 370 - Junior Seminar (Philosophy)

Full course for one semester. An intensive study of selected philosophical problems or works. The course aims to develop in each student the skills needed to do independent work in philosophy by having the student write a long research paper on a topic defined by the readings. For 2017—18, the course focus is on externalism of mental content. Prerequisite: junior standing and two 300-level courses in philosophy, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Philosophy 411 - Advanced Topics in Metaphysics

Structure and Grounding
Full course for one semester. The thesis that some properties, relations, or objects are more natural or more fundamental than others has been elaborated in a number of ways in the work of contemporary philosophers. David Lewis’s use of the notion of naturalness to play, simultaneously, central roles in philosophy of language, epistemology, and metaphysics is an important example. The course will closely examine Lewis’s theory, as well as related recent work by Theodore Sider and others. We will also consider how the idea of metaphysical grounding relations, running from the more to the less fundamental, connects to the issues raised by our main themes.  Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and one 300-level course in philosophy. This course meets the department’s metaphysics requirement. Conference.

Time and Modality
Full course for one semester. Through close reading and discussion of ancient, medieval, and contemporary texts, an examination of modalities that appear sensitive to time and tense, such as future contingencies, past necessities, and what is inevitable or “could not have been otherwise.” Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and one 300-level course in philosophy. This course meets the department’s metaphysics requirement. Conference. Not offered 2017–18.

Philosophy 412 - Advanced Topics in Epistemology

Higher-Order Evidence
Full course for one semester. What should one do when one encounters evidence that one is a defective epistemic agent, e.g., what should one do upon learning that one disagrees with one’s epistemic peers, that one is drugged, or that one is evolutionarily disposed towards a certain kind of bias? We will investigate the question of whether such “higher-order” evidence is genuinely distinctive, and whether such evidence poses a genuinely new skeptical threat, or whether it might be deflected by standard responses to skepticism. Prerequisite: Philosophy 201 and Philosophy 204, 311, or 316, or consent of the instructor. This course meets the department's epistemology requirement. Lecture. Not offered 2017–18.

Computation
Full course for one semester. This course surveys the important epistemological roles of computation in philosophy and science, especially concerning complex systems. The course surveys computation theory, and it includes computer laboratory exercises involving programming and computer simulations. Key course topics are illustrated with case studies, such as cellular automata, artificial life, and intelligent robot scientists. Prerequisite: two 300-level philosophy courses, or consent of the instructor. This course meets the department’s epistemology requirement. Conference. Not offered 2017–18.

Philosophy 413 - Advanced Topics in Ethics

Life and Death
Full course for one semester. This course will focus on two main areas of applied ethics: abortion and euthanasia. We will address the following questions: What is the moral status of a fetus (at any or all stages of its development)? Even if we assume that a fetus has a right to life, would abortion still be permissible (given the dependence of the fetus on the mother and/or the mother’s right to self-defense)? If abortion is morally permissible, does it follow that infanticide is morally permissible? Are there any circumstances under which it would be morally permissible for someone (e.g., a doctor or nurse) to engage in euthanasia? Is active euthanasia morally forbidden while passive euthanasia is morally required? Prerequisite: two courses in philosophy at the 300 level or higher, or consent of the instructor. This course meets the department’s ethics requirement. Conference. Not offered 2017–18.

Metaethics
Full course for one semester. This course will focus on the nature and justification of ethical claims. Possible questions to be addressed include: Is ethics objective? What are the prospects for ethical realism, antirealism, quasi-realism? What is the relation between ethics and practical reason? Does evolutionary theory have any bearing on the truth of moral claims? Prerequisite: two courses in philosophy at the 300 level or higher, or consent of the instructor. This course meets the department’s ethics requirement. Conference. Not offered 2017–18.

The Ethics of Partiality
Full course for one semester. This course will examine the extent and limits of morally justified partial treatment. Some questions we will examine are: Is loyalty a virtue? Is it ever morally justified? How might we distinguish morally acceptable forms of loyalty (e.g., patriotism) from morally reprehensible forms (e.g., racism)? How can we justify special obligations toward some individuals (e.g., members of our family) without thinking that they are morally more important? What is it to treat others “equally?” Is impartiality really a moral ideal we should strive toward? Prerequisite: one 300-level philosophy course. This course meets the department's ethics requirement. Conference. Not offered 2017–18.

Philosophy 414 - Advanced Topics in Contemporary Philosophy

Analysis
Full course for one semester. An examination of the nature and aims of philosophical analysis through a consideration of specimens and accounts from various periods and areas of philosophy. Prerequisite: Philosophy 201 and two 300-level philosophy courses. Conference. Not offered 2017–18.

Aesthetics and Criticism
Full course for one semester. This course is an exploration of the central theories of the philosophy of art and criticism in the Western tradition. We will examine and discuss theories of art, beauty, and aesthetic judgment, from Plato’s dismissal of poetry from the ideal republic, and Aristotle’s rehabilitation of it in the Poetics, to Arthur Danto’s twentieth-century announcement of the “death of art” in The Transfiguration of the Commonplace. Readings will include Hume’s writings on aesthetics, with emphasis on the conceptual relations among his aesthetic theory and his theories of morality, the emotions, and perception, and Kant’s conception of beauty and the aesthetic, and his analysis of judgments made about them, in Critique of the Power of Judgment. Some attention will be given to twentieth-century work on aesthetics, e.g., Frank Sibley on aesthetic concepts and Mary Mothersill on beauty. Prerequisite: one 200-level philosophy course, one 300-level philosophy course, or consent of the instructor. Conference. Not offered 2017–18.

Evolution
Full course for one semester. This course studies contemporary approaches to philosophical questions about evolution. Goals for the class include such things as delineating different kinds of evolutionary processes, including natural selection and genetic drift, and including attempts to quantify natural selection; identifying the causes and consequences of open-ended evolution and major transitions in evolution; explaining the similarities and differences between biological and cultural evolution, including whether cultural evolution can undergo natural selection; evaluating whether memetics is a legitimate and useful theory of cultural change, and whether evolutionary psychology is a legitimate and useful theory of human minds; and investigating the goals, methods, and achievements of computation models of evolution processes. Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and two 300-level philosophy courses. Conference.

Meaning and Interpretation
See English 393: Meaning and Interpretation for description. Not offered 2017–18.

Philosophy of Logic and Mathematics
Full course for one semester. We will examine central topics within and spanning the philosophy of logic and the philosophy of mathematics. Likely topics include mathematical Platonism, formalism, logicism, intuitionism, structuralism, conventionalism, Tarski’s theory of logical consequence, free logic, other nonclassical logics, and the status of second-order logic. Prerequisite: Philosophy 201 or one 300-level mathematics course, and one 300-level philosophy course, or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Philosophy of Technology
Full course for one semester. This course critically evaluates the central issues in contemporary philosophy of technology. These issues are evaluated after a survey of historical and empirical scientific background on new and emerging technologies (e.g., machine learning, artificial life, autonomous agents, and synthetic biology) and a case study on the evolution of patented technology. Prerequisites: Philosophy 201 and two 300-level philosophy courses. Conference. Not offered 2017–18.

Philosophy 415 - Major Figures in Philosophy

Aristotle
Full course for one semester. A close reading of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Politics. Prerequisite: two 300-level philosophy courses or higher. This course either meets the department’s ethics requirement or applies to the department’s history of philosophy requirement. Conference. Not offered 2017–18.

Descartes
Full course for one semester. A course on the philosophy of René Descartes primarily through close reading, study, and discussion of Descartes’s Meditations. Other works by Descartes are to be discussed occasionally, and some secondary literature is to be considered. Prerequisites: two 300-level courses in philosophy. This course applies to the department’s history of philosophy requirement. Conference.

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. Not offered 2017–18.

Wittgenstein
Full course for one semester. A close reading of Wittgenstein's Blue Book and Philosophical Investigations and Saul Kripke’s Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language. Prerequisites: one 300- or 400-level philosophy course, or consent of the instructor. Conference. Not offered 2017–18.

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.