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





Faith, Reason and Science:

In this course we will discuss ancient Greek, Christian, and modern scientific approaches to an increasingly urgent question: How can philosophical dialogue be effective as a very real therapy (in the Platonic sense of therapeia) for the exposed nerves of our 21st century souls?  The emphasis will be on the quality rather than the quantity of challenging reading and written assignments.  The minimum of necessary lectures will maximize the amount of time for informed, critical dialogue about questions concerning God, human nature, and scientific knowledge. 


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.


Knowledge and Action


The course investigates solutions philosophers have suggested to problems involved in the search for knowledge and the implications of the suggested solutions for individual and collective action.



Philosophy in America:

This course will center on American thought in the nineteenth century as the country was growing into a commercial power. Authors include Descartes, Comte, Emerson and Thoreau.


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, Bacon,

Descartes, and Humboldt. 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 succession and multi-level organization. Students will also develop analytic and

interpretative skills involved in how scientific evidence and reasoning contribute to an understanding

of contemporary environmental issues.


The Public Sphere: 

This course will consider the emergence of the bourgeois public sphere in modern Europe with a focus on the societal and economic conditions that made it possible. We will examine the transformation of the public sphere from the 18th century to the present by means of a close examination of significant texts from the history of philosophy and political economy.


Searches for Truth:

We will read texts by Plato, Descartes, and Nietzsche that explore different ways of seeking understanding, the obstacles to knowledge, and the motivations of those who dedicate themselves to searching for truth.


Theory of Knowledge

What is knowledge?  What is truth?  How can we know?  What can we know?  How do we know when we know something?  How is knowledge different from opinion?  Is knowledge the same as wisdom?  As science?  Are practical and theoretical knowledge different?  Also, what is knowledge of?  How do questions of knowledge intersect with questions about the nature of reality?  And why do knowledge and truth matter (or do they)?  Is it worthwhile to know or care about knowing?  Why or how?  How do questions of knowledge intersect with questions of value?  In this course we shall explore these and related questions by examining various theories of knowledge from ancient to modern times.