Current Course Descriptions

Please refer to the UWM Schedule of Classes for each term before registering to confirm which classes are offered.

Fall 2022 Course Descriptions
UWM Philosophy Department

Philosophy 101  Introduction to Philosophy: Reflections on the Human Condition (3 credits; HU)

  • LEC 001 T 5:30-8:10pm. Curtin 209 Instructor: TBA
  • LEC 401 MW 11:00 AM – 11:50 AM
  • LEC 402 MW 12:30 PM – 1:20 PM
    Instructor: William Penn,  pennw@uwm.edu

Enrollment in one of the large lectures (401 and 402) requires enrollment in a discussion section.

May not be taken for add’l cr; may be repeated for higher grade. Prereq: none.

In this course, we will walk through the basic subfields of philosophy with an emphasis on historically important contributors and contemporary implications. In particular, we will consider the areas of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics in three successive units. We will focus on providing a broad, multicultural perspective on the history of these subfields, with the aim of demonstrating that philosophy is a practice found throughout the world and throughout the history of every culture. Topics to appear in each of these areas include: What are space and time? What is matter? What are the causes of events? How do we know through experience?How do we know through reason? What can we know? What is moral responsibility? How do ideas of divinity play a role in our understanding? And more.


Philosophy 111  Introduction to Logic- Critical Reasoning (3 credits; HU; QLA and L&S Math Requirement)

Instructor: Matthew Knachel, knachel@uwm.edu

  • LEC 401 MW 9:30 AM – 10:20 AM
  • LEC 402 MW 12:30 PM – 1:20 PM
  • LEC 201 ONLINE

Jointly offered with and counts as a repeat of MATH 111

Enrollment in one of the large lectures (401 and 402) requires enrollment in a discussion section.

Prereq Enforcement: Level 10 on Math Placement Test; or a grade of C or better in MATH 90, MATH 95, or MATH 102; or a grade of  D in MATH 94; or a ACT math score of 18 or higher.

There’s an ancient view, still widely held, that what makes human beings special—what distinguishes us from the “beasts of the field”—is that we are rational. What does rationality consist in? That is a vexed question, but one possible response goes roughly like this: we manifest our rationality by engaging in certain activities, chief among them the activity of making claims and backing them up with reasons—that is, constructing arguments. This reasoning activity can be done well and it can be done badly—it can be done correctly or incorrectly. Logic is the discipline that aims to distinguish good reasoning from bad.

Since reasoning is central to all fields of study—indeed, since it’s arguably central to being human—the tools developed in logic are universally applicable. Anyone can benefit from studying logic by becoming a more self-aware, skillful reasoner.

It is possible to approach the study of logic more or less formally. A more formal approach abstracts from natural language and develops sophisticated artificial symbol-languages within which it’s possible precisely to identify the logically relevant features of arguments. This approach has many virtues, but it is only one among many, and it focuses on only one kind of argument (deductive). In this class, we explore a diverse collection of methods and principles for evaluating many different kinds of arguments. We take a very brief look at the formal techniques mentioned above, but spend most of our time studying arguments presented in natural language, as they occur in everyday reasoning.


Philosophy 192 First-Year Seminar: Philosophy of Star Wars (3 credits; HU; freshman standing only).

Instructor: Ágúst Magnússon, magnusso@uwm.edu

  • SEM 001 MW 1-2:15pm Curtin 319

Prereq: None

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (Hollywood, California in 1977, to be exact) a young filmmaker named George Lucas created one of the most popular and culturally influential film series ever made. In this course, we will examine a variety of important philosophical questions and themes through the lens of Star Wars. The primary aim of the course is to introduce philosophy as both an academic field and as a way of life and to examine how films such as Star Wars can help us to ask important questions about ourselves and about the meaning of life. We will examine the philosophical notion of “The Force,” ask questions about the nature of good and evil, and try to answer the most pressing question of all: What is up with Jar Jar Binks?


Philosophy 204  Introduction to Asian Religions (3 credits; HU)

Instructor: Ágúst Magnússon, magnusso@uwm.edu

  • LEC 601 R12:30-1:20 [Requires enrollment in discussion section]

Prereq: none

This is an introductory course, no previous experience in philosophy is required.

The course will offer a philosophical examination of the primary religious traditions of Asia, with emphasis on Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. The primary purpose of the course is to familiarize the student with the significant philosophical concepts of each religion and to engage with these traditions in a philosophical dialogue that enables us to understand their contributions to our understanding of the nature of the human self, the nature of reality, and the nature of the divine. Although we will examine differences between views and critique philosophical argumentation, there is no intention to disparage or endorse any particular belief system.


Philosophy 211  Elementary Logic (3 credits; HU; QLB; L&S Formal Reasoning Requirement)

Instructor: Matthew Knachel, knachel@uwm.edu

  • LEC 202 ONLINE
  • LEC 401 M-W 2:30-3:20

Enrollment in the large lecture (401) requires enrollment in a discussion section.

Prereq: satisfaction of QL-A.

Humans are reasoning animals, and logic is the study of the rules and principles of correct reasoning, the science of what follows from what. Logic know-how is a skill, one of the most important skills you will ever develop, both for your college and later career and for your everyday life. It teaches you how to analyze concepts, ideas, arguments, and break them down into their simplest components. You are then in a position to recognize the relationships between those components, to see how they are connected together (or not), and thereby to understand how and why one thing follows from another. At the same time, it teaches you how to construct ‘paths of reasoning’, how to get from one idea to another, how, for example, to determine what is the best course of action in a particular situation.

Apart from its application in virtually every field of study, the study of logic will help you develop your analytical and quantitative skills, your writing skills, your communication skills, and your day to day reasoning. You’ll become a better thinker and a better reasoner. You may not be aware that you are doing so, but you’re using logic now, and you’ll use it every day, for the rest of your life.

This is an introductory course in formal (symbolic) logic intended for students who have had no previous work in logic. There will be 3 exams and weekly homework assignments. The course satisfies General Education Humanities and QLB requirements. The course also satisfies the L&S Formal Reasoning Requirement for the B.A. degree.


Philosophy 243  Moral Problems (1 credit each; HU)

Instructor: Miren Boehm, boehmm@uwm.edu

  • LEC 201 ONLINE WEB:  Abortion
  • LEC 202 ONLINE WEB:  Animal Ethics
  • LEC 203 ONLINE WEB:  Drug and Addiction

May be retaken w/chg in topic to 6 cr max. Prereq: none.

ABORTION

Abortion is one of the most divisive moral questions in our society. At the center of this important debate we find the following concepts: “person”, “right to life”, and “right to self-determination.” Some people think if the embryo/fetus is a person and therefore has the right to life, it follows that abortion is morally wrong. But, first, while it is obvious that the fetus is alive and a human being, it is not obvious that the fetus is a person. This is because “person” is a moral concept, not a biological one. Second, however, it is also not obvious that if the fetus is a person, then abortion is morally wrong. This is because, while the fetus has a right to life (if it is a person), the pregnant woman has a right to self-determination; she has a right to determine what to do with her body. In this class, we will investigate these arguments, but also consider the subject of abortion from the standpoint of the law, religion, and feminism.

ANIMAL ETHICS

We coexist on this planet with other animals, most of whom were here before we “arrived.” Homo Sapiens has developed a system of moral and legal rights that, at least in principle, protects members of its species from certain harms. We believe that each member of the Homo Sapiens species has the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. What about other animals? May we do with them as we please? As a matter of fact, we do. We eat them; we trapped them in farms; we separate parents from their offspring; we experiment on them; we kill them for our entrainment. Do we owe non-human animals’ moral consideration? Should they enjoy any legal protections? Non-human animals are not rational; they are not able to act on reasons. But most of us believe that they do possess the capacity to suffer, and indeed, that human action causes them a great deal of suffering. Is the capacity to suffer enough to include non-human animals in the circle of moral consideration?

DRUGS AND ADDICTION

This five-week course is concerned with moral and legal issues related to recreational drug/alcohol use. We discuss these questions:  Is it morally wrong to use drugs for fun?  Is it morally permissible to provide another person with drugs? Do individuals have the right to harm themselves? Should the state be able to determine what we do with our lives? Should drugs be legal?  If not, what is the justification for prohibiting drug use? Would it be better if drugs were legal? Is there such a thing as addiction?  What is our understanding of why people become “addicts”?  Are people under the influence responsible for their behavior?


Philosophy 244, Ethical Issues in Health Care: Contemporary Problems (3 credits; HU)

Instructor: Kristen Tym, tymk@uwm.edu

  • LEC 001 R 5:30pm-8:10pm

May be retaken w/chg in topic to 6 cr max. Prereq: none.

In this course, students will explore the critical ethical issues facing health care professionals, policy makers, advocates and patients as part of their encounters with the health care delivery system in the U.S. Students will engage in large and small group discussion and learning activities in order to understand the philosophical foundation of ethics and moral decision making and then apply ethical theory and principles to some of the most controversial and important issues in health care today. Issues students will consider include informed consent and confidentiality in health care; treatment decision making and futility; euthanasia and assisted suicide; assisted reproduction and stem cell research; genetic testing and screening; and, allocation of scarce health care resources. After completing this course, students will be well-equipped to look critically at a controversy in health care, analyze the complex ethical issues involved and identify practical solutions.


Philosophy 244, Ethical Issues in Health Care: Biomedical Ethics (3 credits; HU)

Instructor: Elizabeth Silverstein, silvers2@uwm.edu

  • LEC 202 ONLINE

May be retaken w/chg in topic to 6 cr max. Prereq: none.

In this course we will begin by overviewing the ethical theories that shape our answers to serious ethical dilemmas. In this part of the course we will first introduce philosophical moral theories, and look more closely at theories that apply particularly in biomedical ethics, and finally introduce and develop an understanding of the concept of autonomy and how it relates to issues in biomedical ethics, paying particularly close attention to how different social and cultural factors effect health care interactions. The course will be framed around issues of autonomy and especially on the autonomy of traditionally vulnerable populations. For the second half of the course we will apply these theories to particular moral dilemmas currently confronting health care providers, patients and their families, and society at large. These topics will include issues related to death and dying, pregnancy and birth, genetic testing and therapies, health care allocation, and research ethics. We will be particularly solicitous of issues that pertain to the health care issues of diverse populations and those that historically socially disadvantaged. Examples will be taken from the recent Covid-19 pandemic.


Philosophy 250 God, Faith and Reason (3 cr.; HU)

Instructor: Elizabeth Silverstein, silvers2@uwm.edu

  • LEC 001 MW 9:30 – 10:30am; Lubar N130

Prereq: none.

Is there a God? Is God good? What is the meaning of human existence? These are just some of the many questions we will tackle in our philosophical examination of some of the most pressing issues and concerns related to religion. We will evaluate various arguments for the existence of God, analyze questions related to morality and the existence of evil and suffering, explore to what extent religious belief can be harmonized with human rationality, and consider the nature of faith.


Philosophy 253 Philosophy of the Arts: Philosophy of Film (3 credit; HU)

Instructor: Ágúst Magnússon, magnusso@uwm.edu

  • LEC 001 TR11:30-12:45

In this course we will examine the relationship between philosophy and film and look at how films can be understood as a form of philosophical inquiry. We will explore how films help to deepen our philosophical thinking by raising questions related to ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics, but we will also be viewing films as a mode of doing philosophy. Students will have an opportunity to explore films from a variety of periods and genres, including such classics as Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Ridley Scott’s Alien, as well as a variety of more recent films.


Philosophy 337 and 337G, Environmental Ethics (3 units)

Instructor: Elizabeth Silverstein, silvers2@uwm.edu

  • LEC 001 M-W 1-2:15 Lubar N130

Prereq: jr st.

The course will cover major theories of environmental ethics and their practical applications. We will cover various theoretical approaches to environmental ethics including: Animal rights, the Land Ethic; deep ecology; social ecology; ecofeminism; and rethinking the good life. This will include discussions about the moral value of non-human life and nature; human responsibility to the environment;  and various contemporary moral issues related to the environment including: wildlife conservation; poverty as an environmental problem; the ecology of property rights; cost-benefit analysis and environmental policy; and environmental activism. We will pay particular attention to moral dilemmas that arise from the intersection of social justice issues, health disparities, and the climate crisis through a locally focused and ethically guided individual project.


Philosophy 341 – Modern Ethical Theories (3 units; U; OWCB)

Instructor: Stan Husi, husi@uwm.edu

  • LEC 001 MW 2:30pm—3:45pm; Lubar S231

Prereq: jr st., 3 cr in philos; satisfaction of OWC-A

In this survey course of contemporary ethical theory, we are going to investigate the nature of ethics, what exactly it demands and values and why, what objective status it enjoys (or does not enjoy), whether and how we could come to acquire ethical knowledge, whether and why we should care about being ethical, what relation ethics bears to religion, and its connection to moral responsibility. We are discussing the major ethical traditions such as consequentialism, the view that the one and only criterion for the moral assessment of actions is the quality of their consequences; deontology, the view that some actions, such as the keeping or breaking of promises, may be right or wrong irrespective of their consequences; contractarianism, the view that moral rules are based on actual or hypothetical agreements regulating basic social arrangements; and virtue ethics, the view that character is key for understanding ethics.


Philosophy 358 and Philosophy 358G:  Action, Will and Freedom (3 cr)

Instructor: William Bristow, bristow@uwm.edu

  • LEC 001 TR 1-2:15 Curtin 209

Prereq: jr st., 3 cr in philos; or grad student

We will examine the nature of human action and of the will.  The following questions will be discussed:  Do human beings possess the capacity of free will? Are human actions determined in accordance with laws of nature?  Is freedom of the will compatible with determination of actions according to natural laws? What is the faculty of the will and how is its freedom to be defined? How do we define the distinction between a free and an unfree action?  How do we distinguish an intentional from an unintentional action?  Must an action be free (or voluntary? or intentional?) in order for the agent who performs it to be morally responsible for the action?  –  The readings will mostly be classic articles on this topic published within the last 50 years or so.  (Philosophers read include PF Strawson, Harry Frankfurt, Christine Korsgaard, Hilary Bok, Gary Watson, and Elizabeth Anscombe.)


Philosophy 384 and 384G, The Philosophy of Law (3 units)

Instructor: Stanislaus Husi, husi@uwm.edu

  • LEC 201 MW 4:00-5:15pm, Curtin 175

Philos 384 & Pol Sci 384 are jointly offered; they count as repeats of one another. Prereq: jr st; 3 cr philos or previous course in political theory or law studies recommended.

In this course we will examine fundamental issues in the philosophy of law, including, among other things, the nature and content of law, the relationship between law and morality, the obligation to obey the law, and the justification of punishment. Readings will be drawn from both historical and contemporary sources.


Philosophy 430 and 430G, Great Thinkers of the Ancient Period (3 units)

Instructor: Nataliya Palatnik, palatnik@uwm.edu

  • LEC 001 MW 11:30-12:45, Lubar S220

Prereq: jr st & 3 cr in philos.

The history of philosophy is sometimes said to have begun in 585 B.C.E., when the Greek philosopher, Thales, is said to have predicted an eclipse of the sun. This, of course, is a somewhat arbitrary convenience, and there is nothing particularly philosophical about predicting an eclipse of the sun (what Thales is known for ‘philosophically’ is his conjecture that everything, at bottom, is made of water!). But Thales’s prediction is taken to be representative of a more general tendency away from understanding the natural world through a ‘mythological’ perspective, and towards an understanding of it through a more ‘rationalistic’, ‘scientific’ perspective. It is this general tendency that perhaps better characterizes the beginnings of philosophy. In this course we will consider how this tendency plays out in the thought of some of the central figures in early Greek philosophy – the Presocratics, Plato, and Aristotle – in order to understand how their ideas and theories about the natural world and human nature resulted in the development of natural science, ethics, and metaphysics.


Philosophy 519 and 519G Special Problems in Metaphysics and Epistemology: Putting One’s Self Together (3 units)

Instructor: Joshua Spencer, spence48@uwm.edu

  • LEC 001 M 4:30-7:15 Curtin 607

May be retaken w/chg in topic to 9 cr max. Prereq: jr. standing or grad; 3 cr. Philosophy.

Each of us has beliefs, desires, values, emotions, and various other characteristics. In some sense, who we are is determined by our beliefs, desires, values, emotions, etc. One could say that we are made up of those sorts cognitive characteristics. But how are we made up of our various cognitive characteristics? In this class, we will explore the composition of the self. We will ask about the components of the self and about the conditions under which those components can come together to form a self. We will ask about whether the components of the self can change and how they might change. Our exploration might shed light on what it means to be authentic to one’s self and alienated from one’s self.


Philosophy 522 and 522G Special Topics in the Philosophy of Science: Scientific Modeling (3 units)

Instructor: William Penn, pennw@uwm.edu

  • LEC 001 T 2:30-5:10pm Curtin 607

May be retaken w/chg in topic to 9 cr max. Prereq: jr. standing or grad.

In this course, we will cover some of the most recent developments in the philosophy of science, namely, the advances in interpretations of scientific models and modeling practice, and how success in interpreting models has implications for our accounts of explanation, confirmation, induction, realism/scientific metaphysics, and for specific science debates. Some of the topics we will cover include: the problem of representation, the problem of inconsistent models, the relationship between models and theories, scientific modeling as a source of knowledge, computer models, the problems of abstraction and idealization, realism about models, practical implications of evolutionary and medical models, how modeling practice plays a role in both scientific and broader communities, and the debate about whether models can offer us confirmation of scientific theory.


Philosophy 681 & 681G Seminar in Advanced Topics: Kant’s Practical Philosophy (3 credits)

Instructor: Nataliya Palatnik, palatnik@uwm.edu

  • SEM 001 MW 2:30 PM – 3:45 PM Curtin 607

May be retaken w/chg in topic to 9 cr max. Prereq: sr st & 12 cr in philos at 300-level or above; or grad st.

This course will be an in-depth study of Kant’s and Kantian practical thought. A large part of the course will be devoted to careful reading of Kant’s own key texts on moral philosophy, focusing in particular, on the Critique of Practical Reason, supplemented by selections from the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, the Critique of Pure Reason, The Metaphysics of Morals, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, and other works. Special attention will be paid to Kant’s conception of practical agency, his justification of morality and freedom, his account of moral self-consciousness, and moral psychology. We will then consider some important recent works in Kantian ethical theory, including papers and book chapters by Christine Korsgaard, Barbara Herman, Tamar Shapiro, Lucy Allais, and others.


Philosophy 685 – Senior Capstone Research Seminar: Human Equality and Dignity (3 units; satisfies L&S research requirement).

Instructor: William Bristow, bristow@uwm.edu

  • SEM 001 TR 4:00 – 5:15 CRT 104

May be retaken w/chg in topic to 6 cr max. Prereq: sr st; declared Philos major; or cons instr.

The theme of this capstone research seminar is human equality and dignity.  Famously, the US Declaration of Independence asserts that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,…”. These words echo similar assertions found in works of political and moral philosophy in the modern period of Western thought. The assertion of human equality has been variously interpreted in the modern period, and, in the ancient period, it seems to have been taken to be, if not “self-evident,” nonetheless obviously true that human beings are not by nature equal.  Some general questions we will consider: Is there a discernible historical development in the conceptions of human equality (and/or dignity) over the span of Western Philosophy?  Is the assertion of human equality in modern political and moral philosophy inextricably bound up with a religious worldview?  Are humans equal in some meaningful sense, and, if so, in what sense, exactly, and how is the claim that we equal justified?  We will explore the concepts of human equality and dignity in a number of philosophers, both historical and contemporary.  Students will develop their own philosophical essay through stages within this broad topic area.


Philosophy 758 – Seminar in Major Philosophers: Hume on Science, Epistemology and Skepticism (3 units; G)

Instructor: Miren Boehm, boehmm@uwm.edu

  • SEM 001 M 11:30-2:10 CRT 607

Retakable w/chg in topic to 9 cr max. Prereq: grad st; consent of instructor

In this class we will explore Hume’s philosophy of science, his intention to establish a secure foundation for all the sciences, his account of our knowledge of the world, and the question of how skepticism fits within the larger philosophical framework. We will study Book 1 of Hume’s masterpiece, A Treatise of Human Nature.  We will also turn to An Enquiry Concerning Understanding, and even his moral theory if there is the time and the desire to do so.  Fun is an essential ingredient of this class.


Philosophy 790 – Graduate Student Writing Workshop (3 units; G)

Instructor: Blain Neufeld, neufeld@uwm.edu

  • LEC 001 R 5:30-8:10 CRT 607

Retakable w/chg in topic to 9 cr max. Prereq: grad st; consent of instr.

In this seminar students will work on a single paper, which by the end of the term should be a piece of high-quality philosophy. Each week two students will submit drafts of their papers for our workshop. Other students will be expected to submit comments/questions on the papers. Our goal is to provide constructive feedback to the authors so that they may improve their papers. Students also will discuss drafts of their application statements.


Philosophy 941 Seminar in Ethics and Social and Political Philosophy: Public Reason (3 units; G)

Instructor: Blain Neufeld, neufeld@uwm.edu

  • SEM 001 W 5:30-8:10pm CRT 607

Retakable w/chg in topic to 9 cr max. Prereq: grad st; & consent of instr.

Citizens in contemporary societies endorse a plurality of religious, moral, and philosophical doctrines. This pluralism cannot be eliminated without the exercise of politically oppressive power—something that liberalism’s principle of toleration rules out. Yet accommodating this pluralism seems to threaten the ideal of consensual democratic decision-making. This is because decisions regarding deeply contested political issues—for instance, what the laws should be concerning abortion, education, or physician-assisted suicide—seem to involve citizens imposing political positions drawn from their respective religious, moral, and philosophical doctrines upon one another. In recent decades, however, the idea of ‘public reason’ has been developed to explain how citizens within pluralist societies can make mutually acceptable political decisions. The idea of public reason thus purports to harmonize the principle of liberal toleration with the ideal of democratic self-government.

This course will explore John Rawls’s influential ‘political liberal’ account of public reason. According Rawls and other political liberals, public reasons are reasons that reasonable citizens agree should be used to decide fundamental political questions. By means of public reasoning, all reasonable citizens can become politically autonomous. We also will consider the ‘convergence’ account of public justification that has been developed in recent years by Gerald Gaus and his students. According to the convergence account of public justification, the reasons that citizens should use to decide political questions need not be acceptable to all so long as those reasons converge in support of common political decisions.

The implications of Rawlsian public reason and Gausian convergence justification for thinking about political justice will be considered. Whereas the political liberal account of public reasoning aims to support egalitarian conceptions of justice—indeed, it developed out of Rawls’s concern with the realization of his conception of ‘justice as fairness’ under conditions of reasonable pluralism—the convergence account of public justification purportedly ‘tilts’ towards classical liberalism. We also will consider feminist and religious objections to the idea of public reason. The possibility of a ‘political liberal feminism’ will be discussed. Finally, the educational implications of the idea of public reason will be explored.