Michigan State University

The Philosophy Department offers undergraduate courses at several levels. Our 100-level courses lay the groundwork in logic and critical thinking. Then at the 200-level, students are introduced to the discipline of philosophy – classic philosophical texts, views, vocabulary, and modes of argument. Our 300-level courses connect philosophy to the social and political, covering professions, moral and ethical issues, logic and language, and the various kinds of sciences. Courses at both the 200- and 300-level do not have any prerequisites. Finally, our 400-level courses are designed for students who have taken a number of philosophy courses and have a serious interest in the field. While these courses are intended for philosophy majors, they are open to all students who satisfy the prerequisite requirements.

Our course index provides information on all offered philosophy and Integrated Studies in the Arts and Humanities (IAH) courses offered by the department. Students can find course descriptions, sample syllabi, and upcoming instructors.

Jump to a Section

Undergraduate Philosophy Courses

This course will introduce students to a selection of philosophical theories about knowledge, values, and reality. Topics such as objectivity, moral responsibility, and social and political philosophy will be explored.

Frequent Instructors: Kristie Dotson, Todd Hedrick, Catherine Kendig, Eric Lambert, John McClendon, Jason Mask, Ted Richards, and Elena Ruiz

Recent Syllabi: Jason Mask (Fall 2018)

This course focuses on the identification, evaluation, and construction of arguments. Students will learn how to assess arguments and how to identify common problems in reasoning. The training you receive in this course should help you to become a more sensitive critic of a variety of sources that you encounter on a daily basis and should provide you with tools to think more carefully and critically.

Frequent Instructors: David Godden, Matt Ferkany, John Grey, Greg Lusk, Jason Mask, Michael O’Rourke, and Lisa Schwartzman.

Possible Texts: Critical Thinking (12th Edition) by Brooke Moore and Richard Parker

Recent Syllabi: David Godden (Spring 2018)

Philosophical problems of existence, knowledge, and action as addressed in selected readings from the Presocratics, Plato, Aristotle, and Hellenistic philosophers.

Recent Syllabi: Emily Katz (Fall 2016)

This course is a survey of the rise of modern philosophy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Authors in this period attempted to provide systematic, scientifically informed solutions to a wide range of philosophical problems (e.g., what is the relationship between mind and body? Do we have free will? What is the nature of matter, space, and time? What is causation?) We will examine a number of influential philosophical systems developed to address these problems.

Frequent Instructors: John Grey

Other Relevant Majors: History, Mathematics, Science, Religious Studies

Debates about the nature of philosophy in Africa and specific controversies about knowledge, rationality, metaphysics, morality, and politics. African philosophy in a global context.

Frequent Instructors: Kristie Dotson, John McClendon

Indigenous philosophy is among the oldest philosophical traditions in the world, and perhaps among the most relevant for addressing today’s challenges, including peace, sustainability, and equity. Focusing primarily on Indigenous philosophies of North America, the course covers topics such as ethical relationships between humans and the environment, the nature of democracy and social justice, gender diversity and fluidity, and resistance to colonialism. The course also introduces students to Indigenous forms of dialogue and education, in terms of how the class sessions are conducted.

Frequent Instructors: Kyle Whyte

Other Relevant Majors: Indigenous Studies

Husserl, Jaspers, Kierkegaard, Marcel, Nietzsche, Sartre, and de Beauvoir. Topics such as hope, anxiety, bad faith, subjectivity, freedom, social being, phenomenological method.

Frequent Instructors: Elena Ruiz

Aesthetic theories, philosophies of art, the role of art and aesthetics in culture and society. Discussion of major positions within the history of aesthetics, and contemporary problems and figures such as Plato, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer, Adorno, Langer, and Danto.

Special topics supplementing regular course offerings.

Debates about the nature of philosophy in Africa and specific controversies about knowledge, rationality, metaphysics, morality, and politics. African philosophy in a global context.

Frequent Instructors: John McClendon

An introduction to the techniques of formal logic, including translation and derivation construction, up to and including the identity operator in first order predicate logic.

Frequent Instructors: David Godden, Ted Richards

Possible Texts: Essentials of Symbolic Logic (3rd edition) by R. L. Simpson

Recent Syllabi: David Godden (Spring 2018)

Other Relevant Majors: Theoretical Mathematics, Technical Writing

This course covers classical and contemporary approaches to a few major philosophical questions about ethics: When we make a moral judgment, are we asserting something possibly true or false or just expressing our feelings? By what standard(s) can we decide what we ought to do? What makes for a good life? The ethics of particular issues such as climate change, abortion, and campus speech codes will be addressed along the way.

Frequent Instructors: Matt Ferkany

Other Relevant Majors: Pre-Law, Sociology, Political Science, Natural Science

Traditional ethical theory has focused on the morality of human action directed towards other living humans. The impact of humans on other humans via the environment has not been addressed until recently, partly because of an assumption of a nature so plentiful and abundant that humans could not harm other humans through the environment. The problem of how humans are to act towards non-humans (or towards future humans) has been either ignored or left for later development of a theory that is often never accomplished. Recent concern over human impact on the environment has led to a surge of interest in the development of ethical positions that encompass more than direct human-human interaction. The work being done in this area often challenges the traditional ethical theories and calls for a reexamination of basic issues such as what are rights and what are morally significant beings. This course will provide an overview of the recent development of environmental ethical theory, highlighting the tensions between various approaches. The challenge these approaches pose to traditional theory, the tensions between different approaches, and what the various approaches call on us to do, will be discussed.

Frequent Instructors: Heather Douglas

Possible Texts: Environmental Ethics from the Roots Up: An Introductory Anthology (First Edition) By Heather Douglas

Other Relevant Majors: Fisheries and Wildlife, Animal Studies

Health care ethics (also known as bioethics) is an interdisciplinary field; however philosophical analysis plays a central role. The purpose of this course is to introduce you to a variety of ethical issues related to health care and to different philosophical arguments related to these issues. Readings will be made available via D2L. Topics include end-of-life decision-making and organ donation, resource allocation, consent, the physician-patient relationship, ethical issues in reproduction, and research ethics.

Frequent Instructors: Robyn Bluhm and Fred Gifford

Recent Syllabi: Robyn Bluhm (Fall 2018)

Other Relevant Majors: Biology, Nursing

This course examines a number of the main figures, texts, and ideas in the history of Western political thought. We will consider such issues as: the relationship between individual rights and sovereign authority, the nature of justice and political obligations, and the value of freedom as compared to other potentially competing goods like community, progress, security, etc., as well as the role of political institutions in both perpetuating and overcoming race, gender, and class hierarchy. After a look at Aristotle’s classical conception of politics, we will turn to the modern era (16th-18th centuries), studying some of the major figures in the development of liberal democracy, plus more radically egalitarian and socialist strains of thought. The second half of the semester considers more contemporary thinkers concerned with matters such as social justice, the welfare state, and redistribution; race and gender inequality; and sources of progress and instability in pluralistic mass societies with democratic forms of government.

Frequent Instructors: Todd Hedrick

Other Relevant Majors: Sociology, Political Science

This course will cover core themes in peace and justice studies, such as concepts of violence, institutional and practical approaches to nonviolence, and conflict and reconciliation as informed by problems of inequality, power, and recognition.

Frequent Instructors: Eric Lambert

Other Relevant Majors: Psychology, Sociology, Political Science

This course will introduce students to philosophical issues concerning the nature of law, legal reasoning, and the relationship between law and morality. We will also look carefully at philosophical questions that have arisen in various different areas of the law and at a number of highly contested contemporary legal issues, including affirmative action, the death penalty, and questions concerning sex and gender equality.

Frequent Instructors: Todd Hedrick, John McClendon, and Lisa Schwartzman

Possible Texts: Philosophical Problems in the Law (5th Edition) by David Adams. 

Recent Syllabi: Lisa Schwartzman (Fall 2018)

Examination of the desirability of technology, its social forms, and its alternatives. Conventional productivist, ecological progressive, and radical humanist outlooks.

Conceptual and normative issues in feminist theory. Topics such as sexism, oppression, coercion, control, power, equality, personhood, respect and self-respect, rape, separatism, community, intimacy, and autonomy.

In this class we will discuss central aspects of Marx’s philosophy and social theory. We will focus on his conception of society and the role of labor, on a few political aspects of his philosophy, as well as on his main economic work, Capital, which still is a fascinating, but very difficult book. We will exclusively deal with primary texts and exclude broader historical questions, such as the development of socialist philosophies in the 19th Century, or 20th Century developments within the great tradition of Marxism. As such, this course presents Marx as a systematic thinker who should be studied again if we want to understand the world we live in.

Frequent Instructors: Christian Lotz

Elementary topics in semantics, linguistic pragmatics, and philosophy of language. Meaning, denotation, speech acts, and linguistic relativity.

This course provides an overview of the central problems of metaphysics (the study of reality) and epistemology (the study of knowledge). Under the rubric of metaphysics, we will examine issues such as the analysis of causation, the notion of personhood, and the problem of free will. Under the rubric of epistemology, we will deal with topics such as the analysis of knowledge, the notion of justification, and the case for radical skepticism.

Frequent Instructors: John Grey

Other Relevant Majors: History, Mathematics, Science, Religious Studies

Conflicting views about science and values. Such topics as scientific methodology; the objectivity and value neutrality of science; the presuppositions, goals, and limits of science; and science and decision making.

Frequent Instructors: Catherine Kendig

Recent Syllabi: Heather Douglas (Fall 2018)

Special topics supplementing regular course offerings.

Plato’s writings cover an extraordinary number of philosophical questions that continue to interest philosophers and non-philosophers today. These include such questions as: What is knowledge and how do we know when we have it? What is virtue? What is justice? What is real and what is illusory? How should we live our lives? Which political structure maximizes happiness? What is love and what is friendship? In this course, we work through several dialogues, covering topics in ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology.

Frequent Instructors: Emily Katz

In this course, we will immerse ourselves in some of Aristotle’s most challenging and fascinating works. Depending on the year, the course has one of two primary foci: (1) theory of the soul and ethics, or (2) metaphysics and epistemology. The course involves close textual reading, seminar-style discussions, lecture, and writing.

Frequent Instructors: Emily Katz

Descartes and his Critics. We will focus on Descartes’ philosophy, particularly issues related to method, innate knowledge, the nature and relationship of mind and body, the nature and existence of God, human free will, and the structure of nature. We will read criticism of these Cartesian positions from his contemporaries and successors such as Hobbes, Conway, Arnauld, Gassendi, Spinoza, Locke, and Hume. In Spring 2021 these topics will continue in PHL 415 with Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

Frequent Instructors: Fred Rauscher

Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Philosophical method, the nature of a priori vs. innate knowledge, the nature and relation of mind and body, the existence of God, human free will, and the structure of nature. This course continues the discussion of these topics from Fall 2020 PHL 413 on Descartes and his Critics, but students need NOT have taken that course.

Frequent Instructors: Fred Rauscher

Hegel’s dialectic and its bearing on both the history of philosophy and issues about science, politics, art and religion.

Emphasis on attempts to overcome the limits on human knowledge postulated by Kant. Works by writers such as Fichte, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and James.

Frequent Instructors: Todd Hedrick

Emphasis on important philosophers or movements in the analytic or continental traditions of the 20th century, extending to the present. Variable by term in content and approach.

Recent Syllabi: David Godden (Spring 2017)

Emphasis on one of the less frequently taught themes, philosophers, and movements in the history of philosophy.

Fall 2020 topic to be determined.

Frequent Instructors: Todd Hedrick, Christian Lotz

Other Relevant Majors: Political Science

Students will critically examine a variety of logics in order to understand their rationales and techniques, assess their adequacy, and see their connections to philosophical topics such as the nature of vagueness, truth, rationality, and reality. By the end of the course, students will have developed an understanding of classical logic and its chief rivals that will enable them to appreciate some of the deep questions in the philosophy of logic.

Typically, it is classical logic that is taught in introductory logic courses offered by colleges and universities around the world (e.g., at MSU it is taught in PHL 130, PHL 330, and PHL 432). Our consideration of alternative logics will enable students to meaningfully engage the following questions in the philosophy of logic: How exactly, if at all, are these logics rivals to classical logic? Could there in principle be good reasons for adopting an alternative to classical logic? Are there reasons for adopting a non-classical logic for limited applications or must a change in logic be global? Students will have opportunities to develop their own answers to these and other questions in the philosophy of logic.

This is not a course in formal logic (e.g., it is not just an advanced version of PHL 330). It will be useful to have some familiarity with formal logic, but success in this course does not presuppose it. Our aim is not to master the formal techniques of the various logics we consider. Rather, the course aims to familiarize students with these techniques in order to enable them to engage the aforementioned topics and questions, i.e., in order to enable them to philosophize about logic.

Frequent Instructors: Matt McKeon

Possible Texts: Graham Priest’s Introduction to Non-Classical Logics, Mark Sainsbury’s Paradoxes 

Recent Syllabi: Matt McKeon (Spring 2018)

Other Relevant Majors: Mathematics, Science, Pre-Law

This course is a rigorous introduction to logical consequence, the central concept of logic. The primary aim of logic is to tell us what follows logically from what. We shall take logical consequence to be a relation between a given set of sentences and the sentences that logically follow from that set. A central question of the course is: what conditions must be met in order for a sentence to be a logical consequence of others?

In response, we shall develop an account of logical consequence for a symbolic language (specifically, a first- order language (FOL)). This will allow us to investigate formal methods of proof for determining when one FOL sentence follows from others, and will allow us to develop a method for showing that an FOL sentence is not a consequence of others. After becoming familiar with formal and informal methods of proofs of logical consequence, we shall study applications of formal methods of proof in the context of the axiomatic method. Students will be introduced to axiomatizations of Zermelo-Frankel set theory and of natural number theory (Peano Arithmetic). We’ll spend time using the formal proof techniques we’ve learned to derive theorems from the axioms of Zermelo-Frankel set theory and the axioms of Peano arithmetic. Along the way we learn about Russell’s paradox and about a very powerful rule of inference called the principle of mathematical induction. An inherent limitation with the axiomatic method will be highlighted when we come to Gödel’s Incompleteness theorems at the end of the course.

The “metatheory” part of PHL 432 concerns historically significant proofs regarding the formal methods we use to determine logical consequence. To understand the proofs, we develop a model-theoretic definition of logical consequence, which is a mathematical characterization of the informal notion of logical consequence that we work with during the first half of semester. Then we shall prove that Fitch, our formal method of proof, is sound. That is, we shall prove that if there is a Fitch-proof of a sentence X from a class K of sentences, then X is a model-theoretic consequence of K. We also prove the Completeness Theorem for Fitch (i.e., we prove that if X is a model-theoretic consequence of K, then there exists a constructible Fitch proof of X from K). The soundness and completeness proofs will offer an enlightening (meta-) perspective on the nature of formal proof, logical consequence, and their relationship. After proving the Completeness Theorem for Fitch, we draw two well-known consequences: the Löwenheim-Skolem Theorem and the Compactness Theorem. These are discussed and applied. The course concludes with a sketch of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems.

Frequent Instructors: Matt McKeon

Possible Texts: Language, Proof and Logic

Recent Syllabi: Matt McKeon (Spring 2017)

Other Relevant Majors: Mathematics, Computer Science

Twentieth-century discussions of universalization, utilitarianism, nature of a moral theory, moral language, relativism, skepticism, theory and practice, weakness of will, moral education, and justification.

Moral standing for non-human animals, basis for human moral obligations to animals, animal’s cognitive abilities. Ethics of using animals in specific ways: medical research, for food, in zoos, in the wild and in biotechnology.

Philosophically puzzling features of medical research, policy, and practice. Issues in theories of knowledge, personal identity, reference and meaning.

Main contemporary figures in the liberal tradition and their critics.

Philosophical issues about race and the black experience. Nature of racism, relationship of science to race, debates about identity, public policy and race.

Ethical issues such as racism, health care disparities, war, genocide, famine, agricultural intensification, economic liberalization, democratization, gender equity, globalization, and environmental degradation.

Frequent Instructors: Fred Gifford

Ethical issues about public health from a global perspective. Health and illness in the context of development, poverty, technological change, resource conflicts, the distribution of power, and social violence. Values and policy issues regarding resources, environment, and the distribution and quality of health care.

Frequent Instructors: Fred Gifford

Democratic legitimacy, constitutional crises, and democratic breakdown: this course will consider a set of normative and practical questions about the nature of political legitimacy in constitutional democracies. Should we think of legitimacy as deriving primarily from democracy or from the constitutional rule of law? Are constitutional systems of government sustained more by well-designed constitutional procedures, informal norms of cooperation and deference, or shared value commitments? What constitutes a breakdown of a constitutional system—what are their causes, and what can be done to avoid them?

Frequent Instructors: Todd Hedrick

Other Relevant Majors: Pre-Law, Political Science, Public Policy

Philosophical issues in a framework of feminist politics and critique. Standpoint theories, care/justice ethics, ontological status of genders/races, theories of power/domination, determinism/freedom.

Frequent Instructors: Lisa Schwartzman

Theories and concepts of knowledge, belief, epistemic justification, certainty, and reason.

Frequent Instructors: David Godden

Recent Syllabi: David Godden (Fall 2017)

Metaphysics is the study of reality. This includes the most fundamental notions we use to characterize the way in which something is real (existence, possibility, and necessity), as well as the properties and relations that structure reality (space, time, and causation). It also includes less fundamental—but no less important!—properties such as free will and personal identity.

Frequent Instructors: John Grey

Other Relevant Majors: History, Mathematics, Science, Religious Studies

In this course we will examine the way in which the mind has been understood in philosophy and in psychology and cognitive science. Topics covered will include introspectionism, behaviorism, functionalism, psychoanalysis and neuroscience. We will critically assess these different perspectives, including the similarities and the differences between philosophical and psychological theories and mutual influences between the disciplines.

Frequent Instructors: Robyn Bluhm

Possible Texts: Owen Flanagan’s The Science of the Mind, Andre Kukla and Joel Walmsley’s Mind: A Historical and Philosophical Introduction to the Major Theories 

Recent Syllabi: Robyn Bluhm (Fall 2016)

Other Relevant Majors: Neuroscience, Psychology

Cognitive processing of information by animals, humans, and computers. Relevant issues in philosophy, linguistics, psychology, neurophysiology, and artificial intelligence.

Problems, assumptions, and arguments of modern aesthetic theory examined in the context of debates over modernity and modernist artistic practice.

Structure of scientific theories and explanation. Causation, prediction, induction, confirmation, discovery, and scientific progress.

Frequent Instructors: Catherine Kendig

Recent Syllabi: Catherine Kendig (Fall 2018)

Explanations, theories, and concepts in social science. Topics such as historicism; reductionism; rationality and relativism; comparison of logical empiricist, interpretive, and critical theory approaches.
Current and future roles of biotechnology in agriculture: scientific basis, applications. Environmental, social, and ethical concerns.
Supervised special projects arranged by an individual student and a faculty member in areas supplementing regular course offerings.

Special topics supplementing regular course offerings, proposed by faculty on a group study basis.

Advanced, variable topic seminar for undergraduate majors. Presentations, substantial written work.

Frequent Instructors: David Godden

Individual research project supervised by a faculty member that demonstrates the student’s ability to do independent research and submit or present a major paper.

Graduate Philosophy Courses

The practice of graduate and professional work in philosophy: reading, writing, presentation, critique and revision; rigor of argument and clarity of expression; areas and methods of inquiry; cooperation and dialogue in inquiry; conferences, professional activities, and employment.
Theoretical and pedagogical issues in teaching philosophy: the nature of philosophy, designing a course and syllabus, lecturing, leading discussions, designing assignments, evaluation, classroom dynamics, using technology, teaching various areas of philosophy.
Major thinkers, themes, periods, or movements in the history of philosophy.
Major figures or themes in 19th and 20th century continental philosophy.
Major figures, themes, or periods in ethics or aesthetics. Topics vary.
Major figures, themes, or periods in social and political philosophy. Topics vary.
Selected topics in metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of mind.
Survey of how different disciplines explore the cognitive processes underlying intelligent behavior.
Ethical, political, theoretical, and methodological issues in medicine and health care.
Selected topics in the philosophy of the special sciences, in the metatheory of science, and in the social studies of science.
Special projects, directed reading, and research arranged by an individual graduate student and a faculty member in areas supplementing regular course offerings.
Study of ethical and policy issues in hospital and governmental agency settings.
Directed research leading to a master’s thesis in partial fulfillment of Plan A master’s degree requirements.
Doctoral dissertation research.

Integrated Studies in the Arts and Humanities (IAH) Courses

Exploration in how technology affects and is affected by our conceptions of ourselves, relations with others, and our ideals. Approaches and materials from philosophy, literature, art, music, and history as well as the natural sciences.
Explorations in how literature reflects, creates, and challenges cultural and individual identities. Approaches and materials from literature, philosophy, the arts, religion, and history. Selected themes and issues, variable by term.
Arts and humanities of the ancient world examined through the frame of urban and intellectual life. Literature, visual arts, music, religion and philosophy presented in historical context. Selected regions and themes. Variable by term.
Values of individualism, responsibility, love, community, and rationality. Students are introduced to diverse methods and materials from the arts and humanities.
Human conflict and moral dilemmas, addressed through diverse methods and materials from the arts and humanities.

Additional Courses Taught by Philosophy Faculty

Introduction to research and inquiry. Special disciplinary research topics proposed to engage the interests of Honors College students in the scholarly life of the university.
Directed original research and its presentation. Current topics in Arts and Letters. Open only to graduate students in the College of Arts and Letters. A student may earn a maximum of 12 credits in all enrollments for this course.
Close Menu