Department of Philosophy

Philosophy 200 Course Descriptions

The central theme for each Philosophical Perspectives course is chosen by the faculty teaching that section. This list of themes from courses taught recently gives a sense of the wide variety of approaches different professors take in the course. For current information on which topics are being offered next semester, go to



Human Knowledge 

The word “Epistemology” comes from the Greek episteme, which means “knowledge” or “science” (the later word comes from scientia, which is the Latin counterpart for the Greek word episteme). Epistemology, then, basically means theory of knowledge. It is concerned with the following questions: What is knowledge? What are the sources of knowledge? How is knowledge related to truth and belief? What is the value of knowledge? Is it better than mere true belief? How is knowledge related to being rational or reasonable? What is evidence and how is knowledge related? What is the best way to gain knowledge, truth, or reasonable beliefs? What is it we do or can know? What are the limits of knowledge? Do we even have knowledge? Do we know anything at all?

This course is framed around key writings of René Descartes. Descartes’ thought played a seminal role in stage in the history of philosophy that can be called the "epistemological turn." The epistemological turn was a shift in philosophical inquiry that marked the beginning of modernity. Modern philosophers, beginning with Descartes, tended to believe that questions about realty and value could not be answered until we established how we know, and what we know. Thus, epistemological questions took priority over the other main kinds of philosophical question, namely questions about reality (metaphysics) and questions about value (ethics). A great part of epistemological turn was the “New Science,” in which Descartes was a key player.

In light of this history, we will consider a variety of rival perspectives and positions about the central questions concerning human knowledge—what knowledge is, how we know, and what we know, if anything at all. Chiefly, we will compare and contrast epistemological thought before and after Descartes. 


Philosophy in America

This course will examine the rise of modern scientific and commercial culture and its critique from key figures in the American Transcendentalist movement.


Knowing Our Selves: Self-Knowledge and Personal Identity

This course will explore the relationship between self-knowledge and personal identity. We will focus on questions such as, What is the relationship between beliefs and desires and the self? How do we know what we believe and desire? How much control do we have over what we believe and desire, and what does this mean for human agency? 

We will begin with Descartes’ Discourse on Method and then go forward in history through excerpts from John Locke, David Hume, J.S. Mill, and William James, before ending with 20th century theorists such as Anscombe and Frankfurt.



Human Condition

In this section of Philosophical Perspectives, we look at different perspectives on the human condition. We will read the works of  René Descartes, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Karl Marx, and Hannah Arendt. We will examine these philosophers' views on the meaning and purpose of life, as well as their views on freedom, labor, and action.



Philosophy of Science

In this course, students will analyze and interpret the methodological principles of the science of nature in light of significant works in the history of western philosophy from Aristotle, Descartes, and Newton.  Students will also engage the historical development of the ecological sciences in the 19th and 20th century through a close reading of the significant texts concerning principles such as causation, unit of selection, and succession.  Students will also develop analytic and interpretative skills involved in how scientific evidence and reasoning contribute to an understanding of contemporary environmental issues.  


Perception and Judgement

The PHIL 200 course, titled “Perception and Judgement,” entails reading Descartes' Discourse on the Method. We will use this as a starting point to investigate philosophical theories of perception and judgement. We will generally reflect on work from Descartes, Hume, Gibson, and Clark working through issues related to Philosophy, Psychology, and Cognitive Science. In particular we will focus on questions in Philosophy of Mind and Moral Psychology. In addition to the course content, the class will focus on building transferable competencies and developing writing skills.


Psychê, Perception & Reality


An introductory survey of issues in sense perception and the relation of sense perception to reality in ancient, modern, and analytic philosophy.  Direct realism is the position that our senses provide a direct, unmediated awareness of objects in the external world just as they are, but many philosophers reject this view.  The course examines debates about realism; whether perception fundamentally differs from illusion and hallucination; and the significance of these positions for the human condition



A study of self-knowledge divisible into the following questions: Is self-knowledge direct or indirect, immediate or mediated?  What are the roles of the material world, friends, and God in self-knowledge.  We will apply these questions to texts from Augustine, Aquinas, and Descartes.


Philosophy and Animal Life

Description: This course will ask how human beings differ from other animals and reflect on the philosophical, scientific, legal, and ethical aspects of this question. Starting with Rene Descartes, who famously claimed that nonhuman animals are automata, we will read works by philosophers, scientists, legal thinkers, and literary artists who reflect on the intersecting lives of human and nonhuman animals.




Expertise, Method, and Morality

This course examines the role of the concept of expertise in moral and political decisions. Are there authoritative notions of scientific method to which we should defer? Or is the notion of expertise itself morally suspect? Readings will include Plato, Descartes, Hume, and Feyerabend.


Knowledge and Action 

The course is an investigation of the processes of knowledge and their connection to human action