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.

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Undergraduate Philosophy Courses

Catalog Description: Theories of knowledge, values, and reality. Topics such as objectivity, relativism and cultural diversity, moral responsibility, aesthetic values, the self, existence of God, free will, minds and machines.

Detailed Description: Your Philosophy journey begins here! 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: Todd Hedrick, Catherine Kendig, Eric Lambert, John McClendon, Jason Mask, Ted Richards, and Elena Ruiz

Recent Syllabi: Ted Richards (Spring 2021), Eric Lambert (Spring 2020), Catherine Kendig (Fall 2019)Jason Mask (Fall 2018)

Catalog Description: Deductive, inductive, and practical reasoning. Topics such as rational argumentation, fallacies, definition, meaning, truth, and evidence. Techniques for critical reading and thinking.

Detailed Description: This is the entry-level course in our Logic curriculum. Employing a mixture of formal and informal methods, it 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, Jason Mask, Michael O’Rourke, and Lisa Schwartzman

 Sample Texts:  The New Critical Thinking: An Empirically Informed Introduction, by Jack Lyons and Barry Ward. Understanding Arguments: An Introduction to Informal Logic (9th ed), by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Robert Fogelin. A Practical Study of Argument (7th ed.), by Trudy Govier. The Excellent Mind: Intellectual Virtues for Everyday Life, by Nathan King. Critical Thinking (12th ed.) by Brooke Moore and Richard Parker; 

Recent Syllabi: Michael O’Rourke (Fall 2019), David Godden (Spring 2018) 

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

Frequent Instructors: Emily Katz

Recent Syllabi: Emily Katz (Fall 2018)

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: John McClendon

Recent Syllabi: John McClendon (Spring 2020)

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

Catalog Description: Central philosophical paradoxes and possible solutions. Topics vary and may include paradoxes about existence, infinity, space and time, knowledge, rationality, and truth. Students develop solutions to paradoxes, and work out the consequences and costs of those solutions.

Detailed Description: Paradoxes arise in almost every domain of inquiry: concepts such as truth, identity, infinity, rationality, evidence, and obligation all involve surprising and difficult paradoxes. In this course, students will analyze and develop solutions to a number of these paradoxes, exploring a wide range of philosophical subjects along the way.

Possible Texts: Sainsbury, R. M. Paradoxes. Third Edition. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Other Relevant Majors: Mathematics, Economics, Psychology, Computer Science, Physics

Recent Syllabi: John Grey (Fall 2020)

This course will be taught this coming term (Fall 2021) as a class in the philosophy of music. This will largely be an aesthetics class where we focus on just music as opposed to other “arts”, but it will also include some other things that wouldn’t normally be described as “aesthetics”. Our discussions will encompass both what is sometimes called “high-art” and “low-art” forms of music. Music is, for most people, really enjoyable: fun, beautiful, exciting… It’s also interesting – in fact, profoundly interesting! Engaging with it and thinking about it can raise lots of very intriguing questions. Some of these may be at least in part scientific questions, such as “Why does this piece of music make me sad?” or “What social role does music play in various cultures?” or “Why do different cultures use different musical scales?” Some of them are more directly philosophical: “Are aesthetic judgments about it objective, or are they just matters of subjective taste?” or “Does music have meaning? How?”

Frequent Instructors: Fred Gifford

Recent Syllabi: Fred Gifford (Fall 2021)

Other Relevant Majors: Music, RCAH, Theatre

Special topics supplementing regular course offerings.

Catalog Description: Podcasting as a media for philosophy understood as public, engaged dialogue. Topics include dialogue and conversation as a philosophical methodology, and the creation of philosophical podcasts. Philosophical topics vary by instructor.

Frequent Instructors: 

Recent Syllabi:

Notes: This course satisfies CAL’s Experiential Learning requirement.

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

Recent Syllabi: John McClendon (Spring 2020)

Catalog Description: Formal methods in deductive reasoning. Logic of connectives and quantifiers including identity, functions, and descriptions.

Recommended Background: PHL 130 – Reasoning and Argumentation

Detailed Description: 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 cnsequence to be a relation betoween 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?

We shall develop an account of logical consequence for an artificial, symbolic language (specifically, the language of first-order logic, “FOL” for short). This will allow us to investigate rigorous methods for determining when one FOL sentence follows from others, and will help us develop a method for showing that an FOL sentence is not a consequence of others. In addition to FOL, these two methods, the method of proof and the method of counterexample, will be the principle subject matter of the course. 

Frequent Instructors: David Godden, Ted Richards

Possible Texts: Essentials of Symbolic Logic (3rd edition) by R. L. Simpson; Language, Proof, and Logic (2nd ed.) by Dave Barker-Plummer, Jon Barwise, and John Etchemendy. Stanford, CA: CLSI Publications, 2011. 

Recent Syllabi: David Godden (Spring 2018), Ted Richards (Fall 2020)

Catalog Description: Formal methods in practical reasoning. Decision theory, including decisions under ignorance and risk, and game theory.

Recommended Background: PHL 130 – Reasoning and Argumentation

Detailed Description: 

Frequent Instructors: David Godden

Possible Texts: 

Recent Syllabi: 

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

Recent Syllabi: Heather Douglas (Fall 2019)

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

Other Relevant Majors: Fisheries and Wildlife, Animal Studies

Catalog Description: Termination of treatment, truth-telling, informed consent, human experimentation, reproductive issues, allocation of scarce resources, justice and the health care system.

Detailed Description: This course introduces students to contemporary issues in health care ethics, also known as bioethics. Health care ethics is an interdisciplinary field; however, philosophical analysis plays a central role. The course addresses a variety of ethical issues related to health care and philosophical arguments related to these issues.

Possible topics (Bluhm): Topics can include: end-of-life decision-making and organ donation, resource allocation, consent, the physician-patient relationship, ethical issues in reproduction, and research ethics.

Possible topics (Dean): Students will engage with bioethical and philosophical writing as well as popular media to explore three central questions: How should we do bioethics? What makes a good clinical encounter? And, what makes a good healthcare system? Specific topics will include informed consent, moral distress, resource allocation, medical racism, and disability. Throughout the semester there will be opportunities to consider how course material pertains to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Frequent Instructors: Robyn Bluhm, Megan Dean

Recent Syllabi: Robyn Bluhm (Fall 2018)  Ethical Issues in Health Care Fall 2022 M Dean

Ethical dimensions of the relationships between a business and employees, consumers, other businesses, society, government, and the law.

Frequent Instructors: Jason Mask

Other Relevant Majors: Business, Economics, Pre-Law

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, Fred Rauscher, 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.

Frequent Instructors: Christian Lotz 

Recent Syllabi: Christian Lotz (Spring 2021)

Catalog Description: 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.

Detailed Description: (Past Offering, Megan Dean, Spring 2022) This course introduces students to central concepts, thinkers, and issues in feminist theory. Students will engage with philosophical writing along with popular media to explore three major themes: What are sex and gender? What is gender oppression? And what is a “good” body? Topics will include the relation between biology, sex, and gender; intersectionality; the harms of stereotyping; and the ethics of beauty practices and weight-loss dieting. A variety of feminist perspectives and approaches will be considered. Throughout the semester, there will be opportunities to consider how course material pertains to current events and personal experiences. Please note that this course will regularly discuss topics of violence, harassment, and oppression.

Frequent Instructors: Megan Dean, Lisa Schwartzman

Sample Syllabi: Philosophical Issues of Feminism Spring 2022 M Dean

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

Recent Syllabi: Christian Lotz (Spring 2019)

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

Analyses those questions which emerge from a deliberate consideration of the methods and practices of science. Closely examines both the goals and limitations of science and scientific practice, as well as the conflicting views about science and values. As such, it encounters questions such as: How is the acquisition of scientific knowledge possible? Is there a clear distinction between science and non-science? Can scientific knowledge be verified, or falsified? How does scientific knowledge progress? Is science objective? What roles do values play in science? 

Frequent Instructors: Catherine Kendig

Recent Syllabi: Catherine Kendig (Spring 2020),  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

Recent Syllabi: Emily Katz (Spring 2020)

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

Recent Syllabi: Emily Katz (Spring 2019)

General Description: 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.

Possible Topics:

Possible Texts:

Frequent Instructors: Fred Rauscher

Recent Syllabi: PHL 413 2022 Syllabus

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.

This course is an in-depth look at the main currents in European philosophy during the 19th century. After a quick survey of Kant’s critical philosophy, we will examine the writings of the following major figures: Friedrich Schiller, G. W. F. Hegel, Karl Marx, Søren Kierkegaard, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Topics include: consciousness, self-consciousness, and knowledge; God and faith; the Enlightenment, capitalism, history and progress; the nature of morality and freedom; human nature and sociality; the distinctive character of modernity.

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.

Topic: Kierkegaard and Continental Philosophy

In this 400-level class we will read advanced works in existentialist philosophy by focusing on Kierkegaard’s conceptions of self, anxiety, despair, faith, and individuality in order to reconstruct more advanced existentialist issues. In addition, we will read and discuss essays on Kierkegaard by European philosophers, such as Lukacs, Adorno, Sartre, Buber, Schmitt, Derrida, and Theunissen. Texts to be read and discussed: Sickness unto Death, The Concept of Anxiety, Fear and Trembling, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Repetition.

Note: this is an upper-level academic seminar and, as such, a reading intensive course. If you are not willing to get engaged with the texts of one of the most important existentialist philosophers, then do not take this class.

Evaluation: Presentation, Weekend Assignments, Final Paper

Instructor: Christian Lotz

Recent Syllabi: Christian Lotz (Spring 2019), Christian Lotz (Fall 2019)

Other Relevant Majors: Political Science

Topic: Philosophy and Modern Social Theory – Consequences of Modernity

This course is a broad and in-depth exploration of modern European critical social theory, from some of its roots in figures like Karl Marx and Friederich Nietzsche, and the grand social theories of Émile Durkheim and Max Weber, through more recent figures like Jürgen Habermas, Axel Honneth, and Rahel Jaeggi. The main overarching themes are the political, social, and psychological consequences of the decline of traditional sources of authority (patriarchal, aristocratic, religious, etc.) in modern, economically and bureaucratically organized mass societies.

Instructor: Todd Hedrick

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

Why be moral? How is being moral related to self-interest, well-being, or living a meaningful life? And what is expected of us as moral persons in a complex, interconnected world? Many of the most important ethical crises of our day result not from our individual behavior, but from our collective behavior. What responsibility does any of us have for such problems? These questions seem especially pressing for contractualist and consequentialist approaches to ethics, in which what we must do depends on what we collectively agree to do and the consequences of our actions. This course will explore these questions with a special focus on climate change, personal identity, and the work of Derek Parfit.

Recent Syllabi: Matt Ferkany (Spring 2021)

Possible Texts: Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons; Jay Garfield, “What’s it like to be a Bodhisattva?”; various classics in contractarian and contractualist thought

Other Relevant Majors: Psychology, Sociology, Political Science, Environmental Science

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

The topic for spring 2021 will be “International Law”, tentatively examining four areas: 1. Basis and institutions for international law, 2. Law of war, conflict, and intervention, 3. Human rights, and 4. Economic relations. . In each case the topics will be approached philosophically. As a seminar it will be highly participatory. Prerequisite (official) is just Tier I writing, but recommended is courses in legal or political philosophy and at least one 300+ PHL course. PHL 354 is strongly recommended. Open to juniors or seniors in Philosophy, Pre-Law majors using it as a capstone, as well as philosophy and law minors.

Frequent Instructors: Todd Hedrick

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

Notes: This course satisfies CAL’s Experiential Learning requirement.

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

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

Recommended Background: At least one Philosophy course at the 300 level – ideally PHL361 Knowledge and Reality. Modern (PHL211) and Ancient Greek (PHL210) Philosophy also serve as good background.

Detailed Description: The course will provide an advanced, in-depth introduction to the contemporary study of epistemology (its central positions and traditional problems) through a survey of the standard literature in the field. Topics to be covered include skepticism and responses thereto, the traditional analysis of knowledge as justified true belief and challenges to this picture, externalist versus internalist theories of knowledge and justification, foundationalism and coherentism, naturalism and causal theories of knowledge; and social approaches to knowledge including contextualism and feminism. Throughout the course, a focus will be on developing a critical understanding of the arguments that support and criticize each position, and on getting a sense of the overall development of epistemology as a theoretical discipline.

Frequent Instructors: David Godden

Sample Texts: Michael Williams. 2001. Problems of knowledge: A critical introduction to epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Recent Syllabi: PHL460 Epistemology Godden 2020Fall

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

Recent Syllabi: Robyn Bluhm (Fall 2019)

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 

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.

Addresses fundamental questions concerning the nature and development of scientific knowledge and understanding as well as historical and philosophical problems and approaches to science. Questions such as: is science best understood in terms of a reductionist or antireductionist framework? Is ‘innateness’ a scientific category?; What is the role of replication in experimental methodology? are discussed. Scientific categories, underlying assumptions, and structural frameworks are examined in philosophy of biology, chemistry, anthropology, cognitive science, and neuroscience.

Frequent Instructors: Catherine Kendig

Recent Syllabi: Catherine Kendig (Fall 2020), Catherine Kendig (Fall 2019), 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.

Law & Economics consists of the application of economic theory – primarily microeconomics and the basic concepts of welfare economics – to examine the formation, structure, processes, and economic impact of law and legal institutions. The purpose of this course is: (A) to provide a brief review of i) microeconomic theory and ii) the history of law sufficient to (B) undertake a survey of the dominant schools of thought that comprise the field of Law & Economics. The various schools of thought that compete in this marketplace of ideas, include i) the Chicago approach to law and economics, ii) public choice theory, iii) social norms and law and economics, and iv) the new institutional economics. The course is primarily an economics course with a large history component, all in the context of American jurisprudence. The goal is to have students understand the jurisprudential niche occupied by those several schools of thought that comprise the field of Law & Economics in present-day legal scholarship … to come to appreciate the history of the people [some 20 recipients of the Nobel Prize in Economics], the places, the ideas, and the resources that established prestigious Law & Economics Programs and Centers at the nation’s elite law schools … always with a focus on their impact on our current political economy.

Instructor: Prof. Nicholas Mercuro (

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

Restrictions: Open to seniors majors in the Department of Philosophy or approval of department.

Recommended Background: Logic and History & Traditions area requirements for major, at least one previous 400-level Philosophy seminar, and at least 20 total credits in Philosophy.

Detailed Description:

The Idea Behind a Capstone Course: As a capstone class, this class is not like an ordinary seminar in philosophy of the sort you’ve probably already taken several of. It’s not going to be another class in ethics or epistemology, Descartes or Derrida. Instead, it is meant to offer a curated collection of cultivated learning experiences that marks the culmination of your undergraduate philosophy studies here at MSU.

It is designed to be both retrospective–drawing together a variety of your learning experiences throughout your undergraduate studies in philosophy–and prospective–prompting you to look forward into the future, and start planning and preparing for life after philosophy at MSU, whether that’s grad school, law school, a job, vocation, or career, or just taking some time to travel of go experience life beyond academia. We will be engaging in activities in this course that are designed to get you to reflect on your studies, what you have taken away from them, and how they have changed you, while at the same time orienting you to look beyond the classroom to where life might take you from here.

The class is also designed so that, by earning credit in it, you will satisfy two degree requirements that you need to graduate: (1) your Tier II Writing Requirement, and (2) the College of Arts and Letters’s Experiential Learning Requirement.

The Major Components of the Class: To do all of this, this class is is built around three major components, which will comprise the main learning activities we will be working on throughout the term:

  1. Tier II writing requirement — For this portion of the class, you will take a philosophy paper that you have already written for some other philosophy class, and re-work it from the ground up. You will learn what’s involved in taking a term paper written for a professor in order to get a grade, and turning that into a piece of research, scholarly, or activist writing aimed at an audience of your academic peers or the general public in order to do things like advance knowledge in a specialized research field, contribute to public awareness and understanding, provide the basis for informed, evidence-based policy, or to change the minds of some public or audience. One of the things that you will be working on a lot in this class is what’s involved in professional writing.
  2. Elenchus editorship — You might not have known this, but we have our very own journal of undergraduate philosophy here in the department: Elenchus. And, it’s published by and for students! Elenchus takes its name from the elenctic method of Socratic dialogue — a kind of cooperative, question-response argumentation aimed at generating a critical, reflective understanding and rational improvement of one’s own views. You are now all members of the Elenchus editorial board, and will be publishing its next annual volume.
  3. Seminar on trust — Trust is perhaps one of the most ubiquitous and pressing topics we might come to consider in philosophy. I chose it as the seminar topic for our class not only because it is relevant to all philosophical topics or pursuits–whether social/political, existential, moral, metaphysical, epistemological, or even logical (what is a conceptual analysis of trust as distinct from reliance or dependence?). Not only because it cuts across all philosophical methodologies–from analytic to continental, historical to logical, empirical to a priori. But, perhaps more importantly, it is a topic that bears directly on everyday life and society. It presents a problem, with deeply philosophical dimensions, that you will have to deal with in your everyday life–no matter who you are, where and when you are, what your role, or what you are doing. This kind of philosophical problem, and the work being done to address it, showcases just the kind of engaged, public, and practically-oriented practices of philosophy that Michigan State has distinguished itself for.

Frequent Instructors: David Godden

Sample Texts: Simon, Judith (ed.). 2020. The Routledge Handbook of Trust and Philosophy. New York: Routledge. Searle, Rosalind H., Ann-Marie I. Kienabar, & Sim B. Sitkin. (eds.). 2018. The Routledge Companion to Trust. New York: Routledge. Dreyer, Benjamin. (2019). Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. New York: Random House

Notes: This course satisfies CAL’s Experiential Learning requirement.

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.

Notes: This course satisfies CAL’s Experiential Learning requirement.

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.

Graduate-level investigation of logical concepts, the philosophical significance of results in logic and the philosophy of language over the past 150 years, and related issues in the semantics and pragmatics of natural language.

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.