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Course Descriptions

Corcoran Department of Philosophy

512 Cabell Hall
University of Virginia
P.O. Box 400780
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4780
(434) 924-7701 Fax: (434) 924-6927

Overview The main areas of study in philosophy are metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, logic, and the history of philosophy. In addition to these areas of study, the department also offers courses in aesthetics, philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, political philosophy, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of language, biomedical ethics, and philosophy of law.

Some courses in these areas aim to acquaint the students with the most important intellectual traditions of our civilization, while others emphasize the characteristically philosophical activity of exposing and analyzing the arguments for and against the positions under discussion. Quite often, these two approaches are combined in the presentation of the material. Students of philosophy should have the desire to investigate some of the most fundamental and perplexing problems in the history of thought. The abilities and skills inculcated by a philosophical education are of lasting intellectual and personal value, for the ability to form one’s own views in a reasoned and rigorous manner forms the foundation of our democratic society, and the critical and analytical skills fostered by philosophy are valuable across a wide variety of other subjects. As part of a complete education, every student should take at least one philosophy course.

Faculty The interests of the faculty members cover all the principal areas of philosophy noted above. The department has a long tradition of commitment to undergraduate teaching, and a number of the faculty have achieved national and international prominence in their fields. All faculty in the department, including its most senior members, regularly teach undergraduate courses and seminars, including the large introductory lecture courses.

Students More than one hundred students are currently pursuing a major in philosophy. Students can choose from over forty courses in the field. Introductory lecture courses are usually designed as broad surveys of intellectual thought; these survey courses usually have enrollments of between fifty and two hundred students. Introductory seminar courses, on the other hand, are limited to between fifteen and twenty students and focus on much more specific topics. Upper-level courses typically enroll thirty to forty students. Majors seminars and honors seminars are also offered; enrollment in these courses is limited to twenty. Some advanced students may prefer to pursue independent study with a faculty member. Because philosophy is not usually taught in high schools, students would do well to begin with a 100-level or 200-level course before trying a 300-level or higher course.

Students who graduate with a philosophy major do so with the knowledge that they are well prepared for graduate work (more than 50 percent go on to graduate work) or the job market. Many attend law school. According to a recent study by the University’s Office of Career Planning and Placement, the average LSAT score for a philosophy major was significantly higher than the average score for any other major. It is also worth noting that, according to a study recently completed by the American Medical Association, philosophy majors have the third highest acceptance rate into American medical schools. Those who do not attend graduate school often go into corporate work, with investment banking being the most popular career choice. Students who have studied philosophy are characterized by an independence and rigor of thought which serves them well in a wide variety of careers.

Requirements for Major The major in philosophy is designed to sharpen the student’s analytical and creative skills, and to enhance clarity of exposition. It also acquaints the student with some of the most important themes in the history of Western thought. In order to fulfill the requirements for a major in philosophy, a student must complete at least three credits of course work in each of the three areas of metaphysics and epistemology, logic, and ethics, and at least six credits of course work in the history of philosophy, with the courses to be selected from among those listed below.

  1. Metaphysics and Epistemology PHIL 331 (Metaphysics), PHIL 334 (Philosophy of Mind), PHIL 332 (Epistemology)
  2. Logic PHIL 242 (Symbolic Logic), PHIL 542 (Symbolic Logic), PHIL 141 (Forms of Reasoning)
  3. Ethics PHIL 351 (Ethics), PHIL 352 (Contemporary Ethics), PHIL 356 (Classics in Political Philosophy), PHIL 257 (Political Philosophy).
  4. History All majors must take either PHIL 211 (History of Philosophy: Ancient and Medieval) or PHIL 212 (History of Philosophy: Modern). Those who take PHIL 211 must also take at least one of the following: PHIL 315 (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz), PHIL 316 (Locke, Berkeley, Hume), or PHIL 317 (Kant). Those who take PHIL 212 must also take at least one of the following: PHIL 311 (Plato), PHIL 312 (Aristotle), PHIL 314 (History of Medieval Philosophy), PHIL 513 (Topics in Medieval Philosophy).

A philosophy major requires a total of 30 credits of courses numbered 200 or higher. Students who double-major may, in consultation with their major advisor or the director of undergraduate studies, count up to six credits from their second major towards their philosophy major. If a student elects to satisfy the logic requirement by taking PHIL 141, those credits do not count towards the 30 credit requirement.

Distinguished Majors Program in Philosophy The Distinguished Majors Program (DMP) is designed for students who wish to pursue their studies in philosophy beyond the requirements of the regular major. It requires both the study of a broad range of philosophical areas and a more concentrated examination of a single topic in the form of a senior thesis.

Students may apply to the DMP as early as the fifth semester before graduation and as late as the third semester before graduation. They must have completed at least two philosophy courses, and they must have and maintain a GPA of at least 3.400 in all philosophy courses taken. (In addition, they should have an overall GPA close enough to 3.400 to make it likely that they will be able to satisfy the College requirement of a final cumulative GPA of 3.400 for graduation with distinction.)

DMP students must complete 36 credits of course work in philosophy, no more than 15 of which are at the 200-level. Courses at the 100-level cannot be counted towards DMP requirements. The 36 credits must include at least 3 credits each of:

  1. logic, chosen from PHIL 242, 542 or 543;
  2. ethics or social philosophy, chosen from PHIL 351, 352, 356 or 257;
  3. metaphysics or epistemology, chosen from PHIL 331, 332 or 334.
  4. seminars for majors (PHIL 401, 402 or other designated courses).

DMP students must also take six courses in the history of philosophy, in accordance with the requirements laid out above for ordinary majors. In addition, six of the required 36 credits must be used for the thesis and allocated as follows: PHIL 493 (Directed Readings) to be used as a pre-thesis research course (the student must submit a thesis proposal to the undergraduate committee upon completion of this course); and PHIL 498 (Senior Thesis). The seminar for majors and PHIL 493 will satisfy the general DMP requirement for 6 credits of advanced course work.

Academic Standards Majors must maintain an average GPA of at least 2.000 in all their philosophy courses. Failure to do so will result in the students being placed on probation for the following semester. At the end of a probationary semester, if the students’ average is still below 2.000, the student may be asked to declare a different major. Majors are expected to obtain grades of C- or better on all their philosophy courses. More specifically, if majors receive a grade below C- in two philosophy courses, they are place on probation. If students on probation receive a grade under C- in a third course, they may be asked to declare a different major.

Philosophy Honors Program In addition to the major programs listed above, the department offers a program of two years of tutorial study leading to the B.A. degree with honors in philosophy. Candidates are required to pass an examination in logic by the end of their first year in the program. At the end of their final year, candidates are required to take written examinations in epistemology, metaphysics and the philosophy of mind, and ethics. In addition, a candidate must either submit a thesis upon a topic of his or her choice, or take a written examination in one of the following: political philosophy, formal logic, philosophy of science, aesthetics, the writings of a major philosopher. An oral examination is held following the written examinations. Students interested in the honors program should approach the department’s administrative staff about application procedures. Those accepted into the program should register for PHIL 490: Honors (15).

Requirements for Minor The minor in philosophy consists of 15 credits of which no more than three credits may be below the 200 level. The program of study should be developed in consultation with a departmental advisor.

Additional Information For more information, contact Talbot Brewer, Undergraduate Advisor, 508 Cabell Hall, P.O. Box 400780, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4780; (434) 924-7701; www.virginia.edu/philosophy.

Requirements for a Minor in Bioethics 21 credits including one course at the introductory level-either RELG 265 (Theology, Ethics, Medicine) or PHIL 252 (Bioethics: A Philosophical Perspective); BIOL 121 (Human Biology) or BIOL 201-202; 6 credits at the 300-level or higher in ethical and/or political theory, 3 credits of which must be in ethics; and 9 credits at the 300-level or higher in bioethics electives or closely related courses, 6 of which must be in regular bioethics courses.

In order to fulfill the bioethics electives requirement of 9 credits, students may opt to take one course that, while not specifically focused on bioethics, still relates in a substantial way to the issues or methods of bioethics–e.g., BIOL 425 (Human Genetics), PLAP 471 (Values, Resources, and Public Policy), ANTH 329 (Marriage, Mortality, and Fertility), SOC 426 (Health Care Systems). Students may not take all the electives from the same department. A list of electives is maintained by Professor John Arras, the program director.

While most such electives should be at the 300-level or higher, some exceptions are approved (e.g., ANTH 234, Race, Gender, and Medical Science) at the discretion of the program director.

Students may take up to 3 credits for an appropriately structured internship in partial fulfillment of the bioethics electives requirement.

No more than 12 credits may be counted toward both the student’s major and this minor. The type and number of courses that are eligible for double counting is handled on an individual basis by the program director in collaboration with the student and her or his academic advisor. The director of the bioethics minor works with closely related departments (e.g., philosophy and religious studies) to ensure that appropriate limits are set on the number of bioethics electives that may count toward the respective majors.

Additional Information For more information contact John Arras, Program Director, 524 Cabell Hall, P.O. Box 400780, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4780; (434) 924-7868; www.virginia.edu/bioethics.

Course Descriptions


PHIL 100 - (3) (Y)
Introduction to Philosophy
Introduces a broad spectrum of philosophical problems and approaches. Topics include basic questions concerning morality, skepticism and the foundations of knowledge, the mind and its relation to the body, and the existence of God. Readings are drawn from classics in the history of philosophy and/or contemporary sources.

PHIL 132 - (3) (IR)
Minds and Bodies
Do we really know what we think we know about our world and the other people in it? Discounting familiar sources of error, which we can obviate, the epistemological skeptic argues that there are other sources of error that may well infect our beliefs however careful we may be. Can he be answered? This aside, if we know anything at all, we would seem to know ourselves; are we essentially physical, or could we exist independently of physical bodies? Through reflecting on these and related questions, the course constitutes an introduction to basic problems in the theory of knowledge and in metaphysics.

PHIL 141 - (3) (S)
Forms of Reasoning
Analyzes the structure of informal arguments and fallacies that are commonly committed in everyday reasoning. The course will not cover symbolic logic in any detail.

PHIL 151 - (3) (Y)
Human Nature
Examines a wide variety of theories of human nature, with the aim of understanding how we can fulfill our nature and thereby live good, satisfying and meaningful lives. Focuses on the questions of whether it is in our nature to be rational, moral and/or social beings. Readings are taken from contemporary and historical sources.

PHIL 153 - (3) (IR)
Introduction to Moral and Political Philosophy
Examines some of the central problems of moral philosophy and their sources in human life and thought.

PHIL 154 - (3) (Y)
Issues of Life and Death
Studies the fundamental principles underlying contemporary and historical discussions of such issues as abortion, euthanasia, suicide, pacifism, and political terror. Examines Utilitarian and anti-Utilitarian modes of thought about human life and the significance of death.

PHIL 161, 169 - (3) (S)
Introductory Philosophy Seminars
Discussion groups devoted to some philosophical writing or topic. Information on the specific topic can be obtained from the philosophy department at course enrollment time.

PHIL 201, 205 - (3) (S)
Seminar in Philosophy
Seminars aimed at showing how philosophical problems arise in connection with subjects of general interest.

PHIL 206 - (3) (Y)
Philosophical Problems in Law
Examines and evaluates some basic practices and principles of Anglo-American law. Discusses the justification of punishment, the death penalty, legal responsibility, strict liability, "Good Samaritan laws," reverse discrimination, and plea bargaining.

PHIL 211 - (3) (Y)
History of Philosophy: Ancient and Medieval
Survey of the history of philosophy from the Pre-Socratic period through the Middle Ages.

PHIL 212 - (3) (Y)
History of Philosophy: Modern
Surveys the history of modern philosophy, beginning with Descartes and extending up to the nineteenth century.

PHIL 233 - (3) (E)
Computers, Minds and Brains
Do computers think? Can a persuasive case be made for the claim that the human mind is essentially a sophisticated computing device? These and related questions will be examined through readings in computer science, the philosophy of mind, logic, and linguistics.

PHIL 242 - (3) (Y)
Introduction to Symbolic Logic
Introduces the concepts and techniques of modern formal logic, including both sentential and quantifier logic, as well as proof, interpretation, translation, and validity.

PHIL 245 - (3) (E)
Scientific Methods
Introduces the philosophy of science. Topics include experiment, casual inference, models, scientific explanation, theory structure, hypothesis testing, realism and anti-realism, the relations between science and technology, science versus non-science, and the philosophical assumptions of various sciences. Illustrations are drawn from the natural, biological, and social sciences, but no background in any particular science is presupposed.

PHIL 252 - (3) (Y)
Bioethics: A Philosophical Perspective
Surveys biomedical ethics, emphasizing philosophical issues and methods. Includes moral foundations of the physician/patient relation, defining death, forgoing life-sustaining treatments, euthanasia, abortion, prenatal diagnosis, new reproductive technologies, human genetics, human experimentation, and the allocation and rationing of health care resources. Reflects on the various ethical theories and methods of reasoning that might be brought to bear on practical moral problems. Not open to those who have taken RELG 265.

PHIL 257 - (3) (Y)
Political Philosophy
Studies problems involved in understanding the relation between public power and private right.

PHIL 265 - (3) (Y)
Free Will and Responsibility
Examines whether our actions and choices are free and whether or to what extent we can be held responsible for them. Includes the threat to freedom posed by the possibility of scientific explanations of our behavior and by psychoanalysis, the concept of compulsion, moral and legal responsibility, and the nature of human action.

PHIL 266 - (3) (Y)
Philosophy of ReligionConsiders the problems raised by arguments for and against the existence of God; discussion of such related topics as evil, evidence for miracles, and the relation between philosophy and theology.

PHIL 311 - (3) (E)
Introduces the philosophy of Plato, beginning with several pre-Socratic philosophers. Focuses on carefully examining selected Platonic dialogues.

PHIL 312 - (3) (O)
Aristotle and Hellenistic Philosophy
Introduces the philosophy of Aristotle and the major Hellenistic schools (the Stoics, Epicureans and Skeptics). Emphasizes philosophy rather than history, with readings mainly in the fields of metaphysics, philosophy of nature, philosophy of knowledge, and ethics.

PHIL 314 - (3) (IR)
History of Medieval Philosophy
Examines the continued development of philosophy from after Aristotle to the end of the Middle Ages.

PHIL 315 - (3) (O)
Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz
Studies the central philosophers in the rationalist tradition.

PHIL 316 - (3) (O)
Locke, Berkeley and Hume
Studies the central philosophers in the empiricist tradition.

PHIL 317 - (3) (E)
Kant and Nineteenth-Century German Philosophy
Primarily a study of Kant’s metaphysics and epistemology, followed by a brief look at the views of some of Idealist successors.

PHIL 318 - (3) (IR)
Prerequisite: instructor permission (previous course in philosophy preferred)
A comprehensive study of the philosophy of Nietzsche, with an examination of his views on life, truth, philosophy, art, morality, nihilism, values and their creation, will to power, eternal recurrence, and more.

PHIL 329 - (3) (E)
Contemporary Philosophy
Studies some recent contemporary philosophical movement, writing, or topic.

PHIL 331 - (3) (Y)
Examines central metaphysical issues such as time, the existence of God, causality and determinism, universals, possibility and necessity, identity, and the nature of metaphysics.

PHIL 332 - (3) (Y)
Studies problems concerned with the foundations of knowledge, perception, and rational belief.

PHIL 334 - (3) (E)
Philosophy of Mind
Prerequisite: PHIL 132 recommended.
Studies some basic problems of philosophical psychology.

PHIL 350 - (3) (Y)
Philosophy of Language
Prerequisite: At least on course in philosophy at the 100 level or above, or instructor permission.
Examines central conceptual problems raised by linguistic activity. Among topics considered are the relation between thought and language; the possibility of an essentially private discursive realm; the view that one’s linguistic framework somehow "structures" reality; and the method of solving or dissolving philosophical problems by scrutiny of the language in which they are couched.

PHIL 351 - (3) (Y)
History of modern ethical theory (Hobbes to Mill) with especial emphasis on the texts of Hume (Treatise, Book III) and Kant, (Grundlegung), which will be studied carefully and critically. Among the topics to be considered: Is morality based on reason? Is it necessarily irrational not to act morally? Are moral standards objective? Are they conventional? Is it a matter of luck whether we are morally virtuous? Is the morally responsible will a free will? Are all reasons for acting dependent on desires?

PHIL 352 - (3) (Y)
Contemporary Ethics
Studies Anglo-American ethics since 1900. While there are selected readings from G. E. Moore, W. D. Ross, A. J. Ayer, C. L. Stevenson and R. M. Hare, emphasis is on more recent work. Among the topics to be considered: Are there moral facts? Are moral values relative? Are moral judgments universalizable? Are they prescriptive? Are they cognitive? What is to be said for utilitarianism as a moral theory? What against it? And what are the alternatives?

PHIL 356 - (3) (IR)
Classical Political Philosophy
Considers some of the perennial questions in political philosophy through an examination of classical works in the field, including some or all of the following: Aristotle’s Politics, Hobbes’s Leviathan, Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, and Rousseau’s Social Contract.

PHIL 359 - (3) (IR)
Research Ethics
Prerequisite: One course in ethics or bioethics, or instructor permission.Canvasses the history of research scandals (e.g., Nuremberg, Tuskegee) resulting in federal regulation of human subjects research. Critically assesses the randomized clinical trial (including informed consent, risk/benefit ratio, randomization, placebos). Examines the ethics of research with special populations, such as the cognitively impaired, prisoners, children, embryos and fetuses, and animals.

PHIL 361 - (3) (Y)
Critically investigates central philosophical issues raised by artistic activity: To count as an artwork must a thing have a modicum of aesthetic value, or is it enough that it be deemed art by the community? Is aesthetic value entirely in the eye of the beholder or is there such a thing as being wrong in one’s judgment concerning an artwork?

PHIL 363 - (3) (O)
Freud and Philosophy
Philosophical questions arising from Freud’s work. First studies Freud’s more general writings and examines some case histories; then critically reviews writings about Freud by philosophers, including Wittgenstein, Sartre, and Pears.

PHIL 365 - (3) (Y)
Justice and Health Care
Prerequisite: course in ethics of political philosophy from any department, such as RELG 265, PHIL 154, PLPT 301, etc.
Philosophical account of health care practices and institutions viewed against the backdrop of leading theories of justice (e.g., utilitarianism, Rawlsian contractarianism, communitarianism, libertarianism). Topics include the nature, justifications, and limits of a right to health care; the value conflicts posed by cost containment, implicit and explicit rationing, and reform of the health care system; the physician-patient relationship in an era of managed care; and the procurement and allocation of scarce life-saving resources, such as expensive drugs and transplantable organs.

PHIL 367 - (3) (IR)
Law and Society
Examines competing theories of law; the role of law in society; the legitimacy of restrictions on individual liberties; legal rights and conflicts of rights; and the relationships between law and such social values as freedom, equality, and justice.

PHIL 368 - (3) (IR)
Crime and Punishment
Critically examines the social force of legally proscribing certain conduct, and of convicting and punishing those who engage in it; the accepted notions of actus reus and mens rea, of action, intention, fault and responsibility; the nature and scope of excusing conditions, such as ignorance and mental incapacity; and theories of the nature and justification of criminal punishment.

PHIL 369 - (3) (IR)
Justice, Law, and Morality
Prerequisite: One PHIL course or instructor permission.
Examines contemporary liberal theories of justice and of communitarian, Marxist, libertarian, utilitarian, and feminist criticisms of these theories. Uses landmark Supreme Court decisions to illuminate central theoretical disputes.

PHIL 401, 402 - (3) (Y)
Seminar for Majors
Prerequisite: Philosophy majors.
Topic changes from year to year.

PHIL 427 - (3) (IR)
Prerequisite: two PHIL courses or instructor permission; PHIL 242 recommended.
Study of Wittgenstein’s major works.

PHIL 490 - (15) (S)
Honors Program
Prerequisite: Enrollment in the departmental honors program.

PHIL 493, 494 - (1-3) (S)
Directed Reading and Research
Independent study under the direction of a faculty member.

PHIL 498 - (3) (S)
Senior Thesis

PHIL 504 - (3) (Y)
Bioethics Seminar
Prerequisite: Fourth-year bioethics minor or interdisciplinary bioethics major.
The topic varies from year to year. Previous topics include Methods of Practical Ethics and Reproductive Ethics.

PHIL 505, 506 - (3) (IR)
Seminar on a Philosophical Topic

PHIL 510 - (3) (IR)
The Historiography of Philosophy
Examines the issues arising from the study of the history of philosophy. Authors include Aristotle, Hegel, Russell, Collingwood, and Rorty.

PHIL 513 - (3) (O)
Topics in Medieval Philosophy
Seminar on St. Augustine, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Duns Scotus. Topics include the existence of God, accounts of necessity and possibility, the justification and acquisition of concepts, and the interaction between Platonism and Aristotelianism in Christian thought.

PHIL 542 - (3) (E)
Symbolic Logic
Prerequisite: PHIL 242 or equivalent.
Examines various results in metalogic, including completeness, compactness, and undecidability. Effective computability, theories of truth, and identity may also be covered.

PHIL 543 - (3) (SI)
Advanced Logic
Prerequisite: PHIL 542 or instructor permission.
Continues the study of the metatheory of first order logic, introduced in PHIL 542. Includes the significance of the Lowenheim-Skolem theorem and of Godel’s incompleteness theorems for first order arithmetic; the limitations of higher order logic; and topics from specialized areas in logic: set theory, recursion theory, and model theory.

PHIL 546 - (3) (E)
Philosophy of Science
Logical analysis of the structure of theories, probability, causality, and testing of theories.

PHIL 547 - (3) (IR)
Philosophy of Mathematics
Prerequisite: Some familiarity with quantifier logic or instructor permission.
Comparison of various schools in the philosophy of mathematics (including logicism, formalism, and conceptualism) and their answers to such questions as "Do numbers exist?" and "How is mathematical knowledge possible?"

PHIL 548 - (3) (IR)
Philosophy of the Social Sciences
Prerequisite: Six credits of philosophy or instructor permission.
Problems studied include explanation in the social sciences; the place of theory; objectivity; the relation between social science and natural science, philosophy, and literature.

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