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Chair, Associate Professor Sarah Borden

Professors Bruce Benson, W. Jay Wood

Associate Professors David Fletcher, Robert O’Connor, Mark Talbot

Assistant Professor Adam Wood


Philosophy is disciplined reflection on some of life’s most interesting and important questions--questions that arise across the whole range of human experience, particularly those about the nature of the world, human nature, and the conditions of human flourishing. Does God exist, and if so, what is God like? Are there objective moral principles binding on all persons? How can humans attain true happiness? What do the demands of justice require of me? To what extent, if any, are humans free? When, if ever, is it morally permissible to take a human life?

Philosophy’s questions are often life-orienting questions, the answers to which shape our self-understanding, and sometimes direct our life’s plans and purposes, making them important questions to address. These questions are pursued in the distinctive sub-fields of philosophy: Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Science, Political Philosophy, and Philosophy of Art, among others. These subject areas of philosophy, by their very subject matter, require that students think cross-disciplinarily. If, for example, one studies the philosophy of art, the theory and practice of actual artists must inform one’s thinking. To ask about the conditions for knowledge requires that one look at historical, scientific, interpersonal, and other forms of knowledge as they are pursued in various fields of inquiry.

Philosophy is characterized not just by questions and concerns it addresses, but also by the distinctive methodologies it employs to gain insight and understanding about them. Philosophical method often places special emphasis on:

*       The History of Philosophy: studying the contributions of historically significant philosophers.

*       Language: careful attention to the clear and precise use of language and an interpretive sensitivity to the meanings of texts.

*       Logic: facility with the formal structure of arguments and inference patterns, with an eye to frequently encountered lapses in logic.

*       Argument Analysis and Construction: the ability to evaluate the merits of arguments and assumptions encountered in texts and everyday discourse, along with the ability to construct arguments that support our preferred judgments about philosophical issues.

*       Implications: tracing out the implications and consequences of various philosophical positions for beliefs, actions and social policies. This requires, in our College’s context, that students cultivate a comprehensive understanding of how various philosophical positions affect and are affected by one’s Christian commitments. This sort of integrative thinking is constitutive of worldview development.

Why Study Philosophy?    

Philosophy deepens and refines a questioning and critical cast of mind that helps us to understand and evaluate complex and controversial ideas and perspectives. In particular, philosophical study fosters skills in critical thinking, argument analysis and construction, the ability to think independently, creatively, and to form reasonable judgments about the issues one encounters. It helps us to articulate and defend our considered judgments orally and in writing, as well as to develop an integrative vision that enables us to appreciate the ways in which philosophical concerns touch upon our personal and professional lives, other academic disciplines, and broader social concerns. These abilities are crucial transferable skills that can contribute to success in a variety of career and life contexts. In short, philosophy provides foundations for thinking across the academic disciplines and hones thinking skills that apply to nearly all walks of life.

Two Tracks for a Philosophy Major

Students can earn a philosophy degree by completing 32 designated hours of philosophical coursework. Since philosophical questions are raised across the whole range of human experience, and by our studies in a variety of academic disciplines, the department offers an “integrated 24 -16 major” that allows students to complete the major by taking 24 hours of required philosophy courses and 16 hours of designated courses in some companion discipline. So our majors may combine 24 hours of philosophy and 16 in art, theology, or English, or some other discipline to earn a philosophy degree. To explore the philosophical questions arising in, say, art, requires familiarity with the world and works of art. The integrated major allows students to pursue both interests simultaneously.

Students complete the studies in Faith and Reason general education requirement in philosophy by taking PHIL 101. Superior students may request department permission to substitute six hours from PHIL 216, 226, 241, 251, 261, 311, 312, 315, 318, 331 or 341 to meet the requirement. Courses numbered 200 to 399 are designed as second courses in philosophy for students in other departments, as well as for Philosophy majors. Courses numbered in the 400s are more specialized.

Requirements for a major in Philosophy are 32 hours including PHIL 101, 243, 311, 312; at least four additional hours from 300-level courses; and eight hours from 400-level courses, including at least one four-hour senior capstone course (494). An alternative program requires 24 hours of philosophy including PHIL 101, 243, 311, 312; one four-hour capstone course (494), and a bridge course; plus 16 acceptable hours in a supporting field (at least 12 hours upper-division), as approved by the department. For a list of approved courses, see the Philosophy Majors' Handbook. All majors are required to include at least one course on values (PHIL 215, 216, 241, 251 317, 318, 319, 328, 341, 494-3, 494-4 or approved 347, 447, and 455 courses), one on rationality (PHIL 244, 281, 315, 331, 341, 494-1, 494-2, 494-4 or approved 347, 447, and 455 courses), and one on religious issues (PHIL 226, 241, 315, 331, 494-1, 494-2, 494-4 or approved 347, 447, and 455 courses).

A departmental honors program requires an honors thesis, PHIL 499.

Requirements for a minor in Philosophy are 20 hours, including PHIL 101 or PHIL 215; 243, 311, 312; and six hours of electives. At least 12 hours of the 20 must be upper-division.

Philosophy Courses (PHIL)

PHIL 101. Introduction to Philosophy. Most college age students have heard the names of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, and Nietzsche, among many other famous philosophers. This first course in philosophy introduces students to the nature of philosophy, some of its major figures, and some of philosophy’s central areas of concern, especially those of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Students learn about philosophical method and argument, and how to articulate and defend their own philosophical judgments. This course satisfies the philosophy general education requirement.

PHIL 215. Contemporary Moral Problems. Explores contemporary moral questions, including: How do we know when a course of action is right or wrong? Is it ever morally permissible to lie, or steal, or kill? What rights do people have? Is it unjust to treat persons differently on the basis of their sex or race? Are there ethical objections to certain sorts of sexual behavior? What answers can be given to questions surrounding capital punishment, AIDS, drugs, euthanasia, abortion, the needy, and the environment? These are a few of the pressing moral questions faced by reflective people considering the nature of human life in society. In this course, we will address such questions from the perspective of moral philosophy, or ethics.

PHIL 216. Philosophy of the Arts. Examines philosophical issues in the arts, such as the nature of creativity, the categories of “art” versus “non-art” and “high” versus “low” art, the responsibility of the artist to the community, the role of art in society, and the relationships between art and religion. (2)

PHIL 226. Asian Philosophy. Philosophical traditions in the East have developed simultaneously with those in the West, albeit until recently with little demonstrable influence on one another. Philosophical systems arising within Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism represent fascinating alternatives to those associated with the Hellenic, Roman, and Christian worlds. In this course we will study philosophies of the East, paying close attention to their roots in the corresponding religious systems of Asia and their ongoing relationship to those traditions. We will view them in the comparative light of both Western philosophical thought and the Hebrew-Christian religious tradition. This course meets the College’s diversity requirement. (2)

PHIL 241. Suffering. “If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.” That, C.S. Lewis writes, “is the problem of pain, in its simplest form.” This course addresses that problem, using Lewis’ Problem of Pain as our stepping off point and then enriching our theological and philosophical horizons through readings from, e.g., Rudolph Otto, J. L. Mackie, Alvin Plantinga, Roderick Chisholm, William Rowe, and Marilyn McCord Adams. Prerequisite: PHIL 101.

PHIL 243. Introduction to Logic. This course teaches students to identify, analyze, and assess the sorts of arguments one encounters in philosophical texts and in everyday life, such as op-ed pieces, policy papers, and political writing. The course places special emphasis on constructing and refining arguments in order to draw appropriate conclusions in support of one’s own beliefs. Classical syllogistic arguments and other formal argument structures receive attention, as do the common fallacies of reasoning. This is an excellent course to enhance your critical thinking and writing abilities. (2)

PHIL 244. Symbolic Logic. This sequel to PHIL 243 focuses on the form or structure of valid deductive arguments, and the simple and compound sentences that form them. It analyzes the rules of deductive inference, replacement rules, and how to translate ordinary English sentences into their symbolic equivalent. Proving the validity or invalidity of arguments in Sentential Logic, Predicate Logic, and Quantified Predicate Logic comprises a major portion of the course. Like math courses, this class has problems and proofs that students will work through in class and as homework. Prerequisite: PHIL 243 or permission of instructor. (2)

PHIL 251. Global Justice. People around the world suffer hunger, oppression, from poor health, and many other causes. Is this merely misfortune or is it injustice? We will consider the main issues of global justice, such as whether one can speak of justice in a global context rather than simply within societies, the role of international human rights, the proper response to global economic inequalities, the morality of international conflict, and international environmental justice. This course meets the College’s diversity requirement.

PHIL 281. Philosophy & Postmodernity. People often think there is something called “postmodernism.” There isn’t. Instead, there are various postmodern thinkers, some of whom turn out to be people with a deep Christian faith. In this course, we read some of the (in)famous figures, such as Jacques Derrida and Richard Rorty. But we will also read the Jewish thinker Emmanuel Levinas and Jean-Luc Marion and Jean-Louis Chrétien, who are deeply Christian in their thinking and have radically changed the philosophical landscape. Prerequisite: PHIL 101.

PHIL 311. History of Philosophy: Ancient & Medieval. Ancient and medieval philosophers often worked to cultivate a deep sense of gratitude for that which they had inherited and out of which they built, while also being creative thinkers in their own rights. This course looks at a few of the major thinkers and texts from the nearly 2000 year period stretching from the beginnings of Western philosophy in 585 BC to the opening years of the European Renaissance. It traces common problems and themes that receive ongoing attention throughout this period, such as: the problems of the one and the many, the nature of the cosmos, the existence of God, the relationship between faith and reason, the problem of universals, the nature of the soul,  and others. Prerequisite: PHIL 101 or permission of instructor.

PHIL 312. History of Philosophy: Modern & Contemporary. This course, like PHIL 311, is dedicated to an overview of Western philosophy. In this semester, we look at modern and contemporary philosophy, beginning with the Renaissance rejection of scholasticism, moving through 17th and 18th century rationalists and empiricist, the Kantian synthesis, 19th century responses to Kant, and several major 20th century schools, including phenomenology, logical positivism, analytic philosophy, and pragmatism.  Prerequisite: PHIL 101 or permission of instructor.

PHIL 315. Philosophy of Religion. Is there a God, and if so, what is he like? Can God’s existence be established by philosophical argument? These are among Western philosophy’s oldest questions. The philosophy of religion course explores philosophical concerns arising out of theism in general and Christian theism in particular. Topics include: the reasonableness of belief in God, God’s nature, the problem of suffering, the problem of divine foreknowledge and human freedom, religious experience, religious pluralism, and more. Course readings touch mainly on contemporary authors, though students also read many historically important figures.

PHIL/Biology 317x. Biomedical Ethics. An interdisciplinary consideration of ethical issues in the biological and health sciences with an emphasis on those related to medicine, including issues in biotechnology, such as genetic engineering, end of life issues, abortion, human experimentation, and the role of race and gender in medical treatment and research. Taught jointly with the Biology Department. This course meets the College’s diversity requirement.

PHIL 318. Philosophy of Law. What is law? What separates law from mere orders backed by threats? Ought judges to “make” law, or only to interpret it? Is punishment justified, and if so, for what purpose? When should people be held responsible for their actions? What rights should defendants have? What goals of justice should the law serve? Are ordinary moral obligations suspended for the lawyer in performance of his or her duties? These are a few of the questions arising out of the attempt to understand the nature and role of law and legal systems in society.

PHIL 319. Political Philosophy. Examines some of the major issues and concepts in political philosophy, including political authority, freedom and coercion, civil disobedience, and justice, as construed in the liberal, Marxist, communitarian, and feminist traditions. (2)

PHIL/B EC 328x. Business Ethics. Corporations and the economy in the US and elsewhere are reeling from the effects of an unprecedented series of moral scandals. What ethical guidelines must be put in place to reestablish confidence in the integrity of business? Some of the questions are: is it ethical to pay bribes in foreign countries, or to go along with their treatment of people when those ways are seen as unjust in our society? What are the ethical obligations of truth telling in the context of business negotiations or advertising? What rights do employees have, and how can businesses best respect these rights? What is the proper place of capitalistic institutions in a just society? What is ‘fair treatment’ for women and minorities in business? In this course, we will have a brief survey of basic ethical concepts and general moral theory, and then discuss a variety of ethical issues that arise in the areas of business and work. The general orientation will be towards an integration of the theoretical with the practical. Taught jointly with the Business Economics Department. (2)

PHIL 331. Science and Christian Belief. This course looks at the nature of scientific reasoning, and how philosophers of science answer questions of knowledge and reality, with specific interest in the post-positivist, post-modern critiques of scientific presumption to knowledge. Special attention is devoted to the sometimes-troubled relationship between science and Christian belief, as these arise from contemporary accounts of the origins of the cosmos and evolutionary theory. This is an excellent course for science majors and philosophy double majors, though it does not presume any specific knowledge or even competency in the sciences.

PHIL 341. Nature of Persons. Starting with P.F. Strawson’s seminal work on the reactive attitudes, this course explores what it means to be a created person by working through various interpretations and crucial questions concerning our reactive attitudes (e.g., Is distinctively human life possible without these attitudes? Should we quench our retributive attitudes?), which prompts us to follow Harry Frankfurt in posing questions about the structure of created personhood, and then leads us to conclude the course with questions from Charles Taylor and Richard Rorty about the world of persons. Additional readings from, e.g., Gary Watson, Nietzsche, Rawls, Dennett, and Camus.

PHIL 347. Topics in Philosophy. A study of a contemporary philosopher or philosophical development of cross disciplinary importance. Suitable for non majors who have already taken PHIL 101. Topics include: Philosophical Theology, Language and Thought, Feminist Philosophy. (2 or 4)

PHIL 447. Advanced Topics in Philosophy. A study of a contemporary philosopher or philosophical development of cross-disciplinary importance. Suitable for philosophy majors or those having taken at least one semester of the history of philosophy (PHIL 311, 312). Topics include: Philosophical Hermeneutics, Virtue Ethics, Philosophy of Mind, Phenomenology, Aesthetic Theory. (2 or 4)

PHIL 455. Historical Seminar. Explores the writings of key historical figures from the following four periods in the history of philosophy: ancient, medieval, modern, and 19th century or contemporary philosophy. Each semester offers a different historical seminar, with all four periods being offered in a four-semester rotation.

PHIL 494-1. Epistemology. Surely, among the most distinctive features of humans are their cognitive powers and the knowledge they make possible: historical, empirical, apriori, interpersonal, moral, and religious knowledge, among others. Epistemology, or the theory of knowledge, explores knowledge and related intellectual goods such as understanding, rationality, and experiential acquaintance. It investigates human intellectual powers, the extent of their reach, and whether these powers must follow a particular method or be trained to certain intellectual habits to be used to greatest effect. Typical questions asked by epistemologists include: What are the nature and limits of human knowledge? What conditions must we satisfy in order to know or to have justified belief? What intellectual virtues characterize excellent intellectual agents? Do the arguments of skeptics show that we don’t have knowledge or justified belief? While this course focuses on more contemporary discussions, we will also discuss the epistemologies of many historically significant philosophers.

PHIL 494-2. Contemporary Metaphysics. This course takes a careful look at a number of pressing (and enduring) philosophical issues. We begin with the methodological question of realism and truth: can we in fact discern the hidden nature of reality? If so, how? We then look at various proposals as to the nature of persons, including questions of mind and body, free will and determinism, and personal identity. In addition to a fairly comprehensive survey of such topics as these, we will spend some weeks near the end of the semester looking at book-length treatment by a contemporary philosopher focusing in one or the other of these areas.

PHIL 494-3. Ethical Theory. The nature of ethical theory is a vigorously contested issue in philosophy today, and one that has very significant practical implications for society. What is the status of the moral principles of the Hebrew-Christian moral tradition? Can they be defended and argued on the basis of reason and common human experience, or are they only “house rules” for those particular communities that have religious allegiances? Can we still talk today of a “common morality”, accessible in principle to all people in society, that can be the basis of law and policy? Should ethical reflection be conducted in terms of action guiding precepts or ideals of moral character? Are questions of right and wrong capable of being decided on rational grounds? How, if at all, can rival moral judgments be established as true over competitors? How are moral principles to be applied in concrete situations? Such questions are but a few of those that arise in moral philosophy, questions that have occupied a great part of the energies of the West’s leading philosophers since Socrates. This course is an advanced undergraduate seminar course in ethical theory.

PHIL 494-4. Christianity and Postmodernity. An assessment of the postmodern critique of traditional Western metaphysical, epistemological, and religious claims in the light of the Christian faith. Includes thinkers such as Chrétien, Derrida, Heidegger, Henry, Husserl, Levinas, and Marion.

PHIL 495. Independent Study. Guided reading and research for the advanced student. (1-4)

PHIL 496. Internship. Independent study on philosophical issues related to internship or employment experience. Requires department approval of student's proposal. Graded pass/fail. Prerequisite: junior or senior standing with Philosophy major. (2 or 4)

PHIL 499. Honors Thesis. An independent philosophical project requiring original research and/or argumentation, developed in a scholarly paper and culminating in an oral examination. By application only.

Revision Date: June 1, 2013



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