Current Course Descriptions

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

Fall 2020 Course Descriptions

Philosophy 101 – Introduction to Philosophy: Reflections on the Human Condition (3 units; U; HU)

LEC 001 T 5:00pm – 7:40 pm

Instructor:  TBA

LEC 402 MW 11:00am – 11:50am
LEC 403 MW 1:00pm – 1:50pm

Instructor: Ágúst Magnússon,

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

Enrollment in one of the large lectures (402 or 403) requires enrollment in a discussion section.

This course will serve as an introduction to philosophy, both as an academic discipline and as a way of life. No background in philosophy is required to take the course. We will examine key texts from the history of Western philosophy, examine modern philosophical developments in areas such as existentialism and feminism, and examine non-Western philosophical traditions such as Confucianism. We will discuss numerous philosophical topics, including the nature of good and evil, the immortality of the soul, and how to achieve happiness.


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

LEC 001 MW 10:00am—11:50am

LEC 002 MW 12:00pm—12:50pm
Instructor: Matthew Knachel,

Jointly offered with and counts as repeat of Math 111.

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 204, Introduction to Asian Religions (3 units; U; HU)

LEC 401 MW 9:00am – 9:50am

Enrollment in large lecture 401 also requires enrollment in a discussion section. Prereq: none.

Instructor: Ágúst Magnússon,

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.

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


Philosophy 211, Elementary Logic (HU, QLB, L&S Formal Reasoning Requirement)

LEC 001 T 5:00pm—7:40pm

Instructor: TBA

Instructor: Matthew Knachel,

LEC 403 MW 10:00am – 10:50am

LEC 404 MW 12:00pm – 12:50pm
Instructor: Michael Liston,

Prereq: satisfaction of QL-A

Enrollment in one of the large lectures (403 or 404) requires enrollment in a discussion section.

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, covering sentence and predicate logic.  It does not presuppose previous work in formal logic.  There will be 3 exams and weekly homework assignments. The course satisfies General Education Humanities and QLB requirements as well as Letters and Science Formal Reasoning requirements for the B.S. degree.


Philosophy 215, Belief, Knowledge, and Truth: An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge (3 units; HU)

LEC 001 TR 2:00pm—3:15pm
Instructor: Elizabeth Silverstein,

Prereq: none.

This course is an introduction to epistemology, the branch of philosophy that concerns itself with knowledge. We will examine the relationship between certainty, belief, and doubt; look at the boundaries of human knowledge; and consider the importance of skepticism and critical reasoning in human affairs. Some of the question we will examine are: What is the nature of truth and how does truth differ from mere opinion? Can human beings ever achieve absolute certainty? How do different philosophical traditions and cultures throughout the world differ in their views on certainty and truth?


Philosophy 217 Introduction to Metaphysics (3 units; HU)

LEC 001 MW 12:30 pm – 1:45 pm
Instructor: Joshua Spencer,

Prereq: none.

Metaphysics is the philosophical study of the fundamental nature of reality. In this introduction, we’ll focus on metaphysical questions related to the human nature and society: What is are we? Do we have free will? Do we have a soul or are we merely material beings? Is our identity preserved over time? What is race and what is gender? What would God be like, if there were a God? Is there a God? And, broadly, what kind of impact do various answers to these questions have on our lives and society?

By the end of the course, students will be acquainted with concepts and methods of philosophical ethics that apply to issues related to professional engineering. Students will learn to critically assess alternative approaches to, and defenses of, a code of responsible professional engineers (i.e., an “engineering ethic”), and gain a repertory of resources and skills with which to confront moral dilemmas presented in their professional careers.


Philosophy 243, Moral Problems (1 units; U; HU)

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

Instructor: Miren Boehm,

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


Is it morally right to abort a fetus? Does the answer to this question depend on whether or not the fetus is a person? What is a person anyway? Does a person have a right to life? And what rights does the mother have to determine her life? What does religion have to say about abortion? What does the law say? How is the question to be considered from a moral or ethical point of view? Does feminism have a particular point of view on the question of the morality of abortion? We will spend the next five weeks addressing these central questions.


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?


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 units; U; HU)

LEC 001 R 5:00pm-7:40pm

Instructor: Kristen Tym,

Retakable 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 units; U; HU)

Instructor: Elizabeth Silverstein,

Retakable 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. In particular, we will pay close attention to the role systemic racism in medical research, diagnosis, and treatment. 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. Given the current pandemic, we will allow current events to frame our discussion and examples whenever possible.


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

LEC 001 MW 3:30 pm – 4:45 pm

Instructor: Agust Magnusson

Prereq: none.

 Is there a God? Is there life after death? 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 examine various arguments for the existence of God, analyze questions related to morality and the existence of evil and suffering, and examine to what extent religious belief can be harmonized with human rationality. Course texts will include both classical and modern philosophical treatises as well as selections from literature and film.


Philosophy 332, Philosophical Problems: Metaphysics of Science (3 units; HU)

LEC 001, MW 11:00am – 12:15pm
Instructor: Peter van Elswyk,

Not open for cr to students w/cr in Philos 381 w/similar subtitle/ May be retaken w/chg in topic to 9 cr max. Prereq: jr st; 3 cr in philos

Metaphysics studies what exists, what existent things are like, and how they are related. The metaphysics of science investigates the metaphysical issues prompted by scientific theories. In this course, we will explore a variety of such issues. We will consider, for example, what scientific laws are, what biological species are, and how different sciences are related to one another. Along the way, we will discuss what explanation is as we try to understand what it means for a scientific theory to be explanatory


Philosophy 337, Environmental Ethics

LEC 001, TR 11:00 am – 12:15 pm

Instructor: Elizabeth Silverstein,

Prereq: jr st.

Have you ever asked yourself any of the following questions: Why should I care about the environment? What is my relationship to the natural world? What is my responsibility to the environment?

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. By the end of this course you will be acquainted with concepts and methods of philosophical ethics that apply to issues regarding humankind’s dealings with the natural world; be able to critically assess alternative approaches to, and defenses of, a code of responsibility to nature; have a repertory of resources and skills with which to formulate your own environmental ethic; and be able to articulate and defend your own ideas with clarity, consistency and coherence.


Philosophy 355, Political Philosophy

LEC 001, TR 9 :30 am – 10 :45 am

Instructor: William Bristow,

Prereq: jr st: Philos 242(P) or a course in ethics

What is the state (the polis) and what are its most fundamental functions?  What are the basic kinds of political organization, and which are best, and why?  What can justify (if anything) the employment of force by a state against its citizens?  What is the fair or just distribution of the benefits or goods of political society among society’s members, and how is the just distribution determined?  What rights and privileges do individuals retain in relation to their government, and which can (or ought to) be ceded to the government?  Do people always retain the right to revolt against the political order and, if so, under what circumstances?  How is the political society related to other social organizations, in particular, civil society and the family? What is the proper method for answering these questions?  — In this course we examine these and related questions by reading classic texts in the history of political philosophy (eg., texts by Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Marx) as well as influential contemporary political theorists (eg., Rawls, Nozick, Susan Moller Okin).  Especially since the first half of this course coincides with one of the most important national elections in our country’s history, we will also study some of documents establishing and justifying the distinctive political organization of the US, and then subject the US’s political organization to criticism according to the standards implied in the political philosophers we read.


Philosophy 430, Great Thinkers of the Ancient Period

LEC 001, MW 2 :00 pm – 3 :15 pm

Instructor: Nataliya Palatnik,

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 516 Language and Meaning

LEC 001, T 1:00 p – 3:40 pm

Instructor: Peter Van Elswyk,

Prereq: jr st & Philos 101(P) or 432(P)

This course will introduce students to contemporary philosophy of language within the analytic tradition. We will cover interdisciplinary work in linguistics and philosophy from the early 20th century to the present that remains influential. Authors covered include Frege, Russell, Kripke, Kaplan, Grice, Lewis, Stalnaker, Kratzer, and Roberts. Near the end of the semester we will focus on a topic to be decided upon by the students from this list: names, generics, epistemic modals, slurs.


Philosophy 532 Philosophical Problems” Aristotle’s Natural Philosophy

LEC 001, MW 3:30 pm – 4:45 pm

Instructor: Richard Tierney,

May be retaken w/chg in topic to 9 cr max. Prereq: jr st & 3 cr in philos.

In this course we will be studying Aristotle’s concept of nature, primarily with a view to understanding that concept and the related concepts of natural change and natural substance, but also with a view to certain current issues in Metaphysics and Philosophy of Mind. We will begin by considering change and the nature of inanimate substances, and progress to consider the nature of animate substances – their form, or soul. Perhaps we’ll ultimately get to consider the Active Intellect – what it is, and what its relation is to human thought and action. If we can figure that out, we will have achieved something! (We won’t.) Along the way we will address such questions as: ‘What is change, and how is change possible?’, ‘What is a natural substance?’, ‘How does a natural substance come into being?’, ‘How do animate substances differ from inanimate substances, and artifacts?’, and ‘Do animate substances have a separable soul?’. We will be reading significant portions of the Physics, Posterior Analytics, On Generation and Corruption, Meteorology, On the Soul, and Generation of Animals, as well as selections from the Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, and other works (all in translation).


Philosophy 681, Seminar in Advanced Topics: Hume on Moral and Aesthetic Judgments (3 units; U/G)

LEC 001, MW 11:00 am – 12:15 pm

Instructor: Miren Boehm,

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.

For Hume, the basic structure of moral and aesthetic judgments is this: the perception of some object or event in the world prompts or produces in us a feeling, for instance a feeling of delight or a feeling of disapprobation. Hume maintains that our belief that objects have moral and aesthetic properties is due to the mind’s “spreading” or “staining” of these feelings onto the objects. Some philosophers maintain that Hume’s talk of “staining the world with feelings” is metaphorical, and that for Hume, to issue a moral or aesthetic judgment is to give voice or to express the feelings we feel upon observing objects. On some readings, this account leads to the view that moral and aesthetic judgments don’t have truth value, appearances notwithstanding. Other philosophers take Hume’s talk of “staining the world with feelings” to be substantial: they argue that Hume is invoking a certain mental process that accounts for our perception of objects as possessing moral or aesthetic properties. The question then is how to understand this process. Then there is the question of whether moral and aesthetic judgments are systematically false for Hume. Despite insisting that moral and aesthetic properties are not in the objects themselves, that they are not mind-independent, Hume seems to assume that our ordinary moral and aesthetic judgments can be, and mostly are true. In the “Standard of Taste,” Hume argues that some aesthetic judgements are better than others, and he gives a central role to experts, who offer the best assessments of taste. How exactly does Hume explain the truth of moral and aesthetic judgments? In this class, we will discuss these and other related, fascinating questions.


Philosophy 758, Seminar in Major Philosophers: GWF Hegel’s

‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ (3 units; G)

LEC 001 TR 4:00 pm – 5:15 pm

Instructor: William Bristow

Retakeable w/chg in topic to 9 cr max. Prereq: grad st; cons instr.

This seminar is devoted to a study of G.W.F. Hegel’s work, Phenomenologyof Spirit (1807), which is one of the most important works of European philosophy of the last few centuries.  This work is a foundational text for the so-called “Continental tradition” of philosophy, contrasted with the Anglo-American or Analytic tradition, but, over the last few decades, owing in particular to the writing of contemporary philosophers such as Robert Brandom and John McDowell, the work is increasingly studied and discussed within the context of Analytic philosophy as well.  The Phenomenology is Hegel’s introduction to the system of philosophy.  He conceives of it as a conceptual ladder that leads us from naïve or natural consciousness to philosophical or absolute knowledge.  Each rung on the ladder, or each station on the dialectical path, is something like a worldview, and so the variety of topics that come up for examination in the work is very broad (eg., what is knowledge, human action, human selfhood, the relation of human individuality to sociality, reason, religion, modernity?) The plan is to proceed systematically and carefully through the text, with the help of selected commentary on the text.


Philosophy 960, Seminar in Metaphysics: The Metaphysical Toolkit (3 units; G)

SEM 001 M 5:00 pm – 7:40 pm

Instructor: Joshua Spencer,

Retakeable w/chg in topic to 9 cr max. Prereq: grad st & cons instr.

Philosophical tools matter. Philosophers are often honing their tools in order to carve more detailed positions in metaphysics, philosophy of science, and philosophy of mathematics. At the beginning of the 20th century, our primary tool was conceptual analysis. By mid-century, we were developing modal tools, including possible worlds. And now we are using post-modal tools like essences and grounding. At each step, our tools were sharper than at the previous step, allowing us to formulate positions that couldn’t have even been formulated or thought about before. In this class, we will be reading Ted Sider’s new book The Tools of Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Science. Sider looks at the development of our philosophical toolkit over the last century. He shows how those developments matter by looking at the applications of those tools in structuralist debates metaphysics, philosophy of science, and philosophy of mathematics.