Courses

This page displays the schedule of Bryn Mawr courses in this department for this academic year. It also displays descriptions of courses offered by the department during the last four academic years.

For information about courses offered by other Bryn Mawr departments and programs or about courses offered by Haverford and Swarthmore Colleges, please consult the Course Guides page.

For information about the Academic Calendar, including the dates of first and second quarter courses, please visit the College's calendars page.

Spring 2024 PHIL

Course Title Schedule/Units Meeting Type Times/Days Location Instr(s)
PHIL B101-001 Happiness and Reality in Ancient Thought Semester / 1 Lecture: 9:55 AM-11:15 AM TTH Old Library 116
Gadomski,M.
PHIL B101-002 Happiness and Reality in Ancient Thought Semester / 1 Lecture: 12:55 PM-2:15 PM TTH Taylor Hall G
Gadomski,M.
PHIL B211-001 Theory of Knowledge Semester / 1 Lecture: 11:25 AM-12:45 PM TTH Dalton Hall 25
Faller,A.
PHIL B212-001 Metaphysics Semester / 1 Lecture: 2:25 PM-3:45 PM TTH Carpenter Library 25
Faller,A.
PHIL B221-001 Ethics Semester / 1 Lecture: 2:40 PM-4:00 PM MW Dalton Hall 119
Bell,M.
PHIL B258-001 Data Ethics in Social Media Semester / 1 Lecture: 1:10 PM-2:30 PM MW Old Library 110
Faller,A.
PHIL B309-001 Topics in Philosophy: Truth, Science, & Politics Semester / 1 LEC: 1:10 PM-4:00 PM W Old Library 223
Gadomski,M.
PHIL B309-002 Topics in Philosophy: Hegel & Comedy Semester / 1 LEC: 9:10 AM-12:00 PM TH Taylor Hall, Seminar Room
Lumba,M.
PHIL B399-001 Senior Seminar Semester / 1 Lecture: 7:10 PM-10:00 PM M Dalton Hall 212E
Dept. staff, TBA
FREN B333-001 Nature and Freedom Semester / 1 Lecture: 1:10 PM-4:00 PM F Dalton Hall 6
Le Menthéour,R.
POLS B358-001 Freedom in the 21st Century Semester / 1 Lecture: 2:25 PM-3:45 PM TTH Dalton Hall 6
Schlosser,J.

Fall 2024 PHIL

(Class schedules for this semester will be posted at a later date.)

Spring 2025 PHIL

(Class schedules for this semester will be posted at a later date.)

2023-24 Catalog Data: PHIL

PHIL B101 Happiness and Reality in Ancient Thought

Spring 2024

What makes us happy? The wisdom of the ancient world has importantly shaped the tradition of Western thought but in some important respects it has been rejected or forgotten. What is the nature of reality? Can we have knowledge about the world and ourselves, and, if so, how? In this course we explore answers to these sorts of metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, and political questions by examining the works of the two central Greek philosophers: Plato and Aristotle. We will consider earlier Greek religious and dramatic writings, a few Presocratic philosophers, and the person of Socrates who never wrote a word.

Writing Attentive

Critical Interpretation (CI)

Inquiry into the Past (IP)

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PHIL B102 Science and Morality in Modernity

Fall 2023

In this course, we explore answers to fundamental questions about the nature of the world and our place in it by examining the works of some of the central figures in modern western philosophy. Can we obtain knowledge of the world and, if so, how? Does God exist? What is the nature of the self? How do we determine morally right answers? What sorts of policies and political structures can best promote justice and equality? These questions were addressed in "modern" Europe in the context of the development of modern science and the religious wars. In a time of globalization we are all, more or less, heirs of the Enlightenment which sees its legacy to be modern science and the mastery of nature together with democracy and human rights. This course explores the above questions and considers them in their historical context. Some of the philosophers considered include Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, and Wollstonecraft.

Writing Attentive

Critical Interpretation (CI)

Inquiry into the Past (IP)

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PHIL B103 Introduction to Logic

Fall 2023

Logic is the study of formal reasoning, which concerns the nature of valid arguments and inferential fallacies. In everyday life our arguments tend to be informal and sometimes imprecise. The study of logic concerns the structure and nature of arguments, and so helps to analyze them more precisely. Topics will include: valid and invalid arguments, determining the logical structure of ordinary sentences, reasoning with truth-functional connectives, and inferences involving quantifiers and predicates. This course does not presuppose any background knowledge in logic.

Quantitative Methods (QM)

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PHIL B206 Introduction to the Philosophy of Science

Not offered 2023-24

Scientific ideas and inferences have a huge impact on our daily lives and the lives of practicing scientists. But what is science, how does it work, and what does it able us to know? In this introductory course, we will be considering some traditional philosophical questions applied to the foundations and practice of natural science. These questions may include the history of philosophical approaches in science, the nature of scientific knowledge, changes in scientific knowledge over time, how science provides explanations of what we observe, the justification of false assumptions in science, the nature of scientific theories, and some questions about the ethics and values involved in scientific practice.

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PHIL B208 Black Political and Social Thought

Not offered 2023-24

In this class, we will focus our attention on the philosophical works of a diverse range of Black thinkers, both historical and contemporary, who take up questions about race, racism, oppression, authenticity, solidarity, justice freedom, power, identity, and beauty. This is a discussion-based class, and at least one previous course in philosophy is strongly recommended. Prerequisite: At least one previous course in Philosophy is strongly recommended.

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PHIL B211 Theory of Knowledge

Spring 2024

Epistemology focuses on three central philosophical questions: "What is knowledge?", "What can we know?", and "How do we know what we know?" In addition to their role in our daily lives, these questions are central to almost every discipline include the sciences, history, and philosophy itself. This course is an extended investigation into the nature of knowledge, understanding, and justification. We will look at a number of debates including skepticism, relativism, the value of knowledge, the nature of understanding, scientific knowledge, scientific realism, naturalistic epistemology, feminist epistemology, testimonial knowledge, and pragmatic influences on knowledge. The aim of this course is to develop a sense of how these concepts and theories interrelate, and to instill philosophical skills in the critical evaluation of them.

Critical Interpretation (CI)

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PHIL B212 Metaphysics

Spring 2024

Metaphysics is inquiry into basic features of the world and ourselves. This course considers two topics of metaphysics, free will and personal identity, and their relationship. What is free will and are we free? Is freedom compatible with determinism? Does moral responsibility require free will? What makes someone the same person over time? Can a person survive without their body? Is the recognition of others required to be a person?

Writing Intensive

Critical Interpretation (CI)

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PHIL B220 Dreams and Philosophy

Fall 2023

Philosophers have long puzzled over the nature of dreams and what they can teach us about ourselves and our world. This course surveys the philosophy of dreams, from Socrates' Dream in the Theaetetus, to Descartes' skepticism, to contemporary debates in cognitive science. Some questions that we will discuss include: Why do we dream? Are dreams different from hallucinations, and how so? Can you learn something new in a dream? Are dreams conscious, or are they more like false memories that you invent upon waking? How can scientists best study dreams? We will analyze arguments from philosophy and the relevant sciences in order to reveal the philosophical significance of dreams.

Critical Interpretation (CI)

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PHIL B221 Ethics

Spring 2024

An introduction to ethics by way of an examination of moral theories and a discussion of important ancient, modern, and contemporary texts which established theories such as virtue ethics, deontology, utilitarianism, relativism, emotivism, care ethics. This course considers questions concerning freedom, responsibility, and obligation. How should we live our lives and interact with others? How should we think about ethics in a global context? Is ethics independent of culture? A variety of practical issues such as reproductive rights, euthanasia, animal rights and the environment will be considered.

Writing Attentive

Critical Interpretation (CI)

Counts Toward Gender/Sex Studies (Min/Conc)

Counts Toward International Studies

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PHIL B225 Global Ethical Issues

Fall 2023

The need for a critical analysis of what justice is and requires has become urgent in a context of increasing globalization, the emergence of new forms of conflict and war, high rates of poverty within and across borders and the prospect of environmental devastation. This course examines prevailing theories and issues of justice as well as approaches and challenges by non-western, post-colonial, feminist, race, class, and disability theorists.

Critical Interpretation (CI)

Cross-Cultural Analysis (CC)

Counts Toward Gender/Sex Studies (Min/Conc)

Counts Toward International Studies

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PHIL B226 Authority, Obligation, and Justice

Fall 2023

What gives the government the right to tell us what to do? When and why should we obey the law? What is a just society? These are some of the most important questions of political philosophy. In the liberal tradition, one of the most influential answers to these questions is the idea of the social contract, which centers on the agreement of society's members to live by certain rules. In this course, we'll examine this idea from the early modern period to the present day. We'll also discuss its criticisms and alternatives from traditions such as utilitarianism, Marxism, feminism, and critical race theory

Critical Interpretation (CI)

Inquiry into the Past (IP)

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PHIL B234 Public Art, Historical Preservation, and the Ethics of Commemoration

Fall 2023

Philadelphia has the largest number of public artworks in the country and is also the first city in the nation to require that developers use a portion of their construction budget for public art. It is also home to a number of well-known memorials. In this course, we will take up a number of philosophical questions about the nature of public art, political aesthetics, and the ethics of commemoration using case studies drawn from Philadelphia. Some of the questions we will consider include the following: What is public art? What is public space? What is the role of public art in a democracy? Is there a distinct category of "street art" which can be distinguished from public art on the one hand and graffiti on the other? What is the moral value of commemorative art? What, if anything, do we have a moral obligation to commemorate and what grounds that obligation? How should we assess controversies surrounding the removal of art honoring persons or groups many judge to be morally objectionable, such as Confederate monuments? How should we memorialize victims of injustice? Prerequisites: At least one previous Philosophy class is suggested.

Course does not meet an Approach

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PHIL B238 Science, Technology and the Good Life

Not offered 2023-24

Science, Technology, and the Good Life considers the relation of science and technology to each other and to everyday life, particularly with respect to questions of ethics and politics. In this course, we try to get clear about how we understand these domains and their interrelationships in our contemporary world. We try to clarify the issues relevant to these questions by looking at the contemporary debates about the role of automation and digital media and the problem of climate change. These debates raise many questions including: the appropriate model of scientific inquiry (is there a single model for science?, how is science both experimental and deductive?, is science merely trial and error?, is science objective?, is science value-free?), the ideological standing of science (has science become a kind of ideology?), the autonomy of technology (have the rapidly developing technologies escaped our power to direct them?), the politics of science (is science somehow essentially democratic?, and are "scientific" cultures more likely to foster democracy?, or is a scientific culture essentially elitist and autocratic?), the relation of science to the formation of public policy (experts rule?, are we in or moving toward a technocracy?), the role of technology and science in the process of modernization, Westernization, and globalization (what role has science played in industrialization and what role does it now play in a post-industrial world?). To find an appropriate way to consider these questions, we look at the pairing of science with democracy in the Enlightenment project and study contemporary work in the philosophy of science, political science, and ethics.

Critical Interpretation (CI)

Inquiry into the Past (IP)

Counts Toward Environmental Studies

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PHIL B240 Environmental Ethics

Fall 2023

This course surveys rights- and justice-based justifications for ethical positions on the environment. It examines approaches such as stewardship, intrinsic value, land ethic, deep ecology, ecofeminism, Asian and aboriginal. It explores issues such as obligations to future generations, to nonhumans and to the biosphere.

Critical Interpretation (CI)

Cross-Cultural Analysis (CC)

Counts Toward Environmental Studies

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PHIL B248 Markets and Morality

Not offered 2023-24

Markets are everywhere today: if you want to find a job, if you want to buy some good, or if you want to sell some service, you will inevitably have to submit yourself to their norms. Yet, this omnipresence of markets raises fundamental ethical questions. Is it really good that we organize exchange and production largely through markets? How are societies and individuals impacted by centrally relying on them? Should we, much rather, prefer a planned economy? Or would such a planned economy unduly constrain people's freedom? And, if we opt for markets, what are their moral limits? Should human organs or access to lawmakers be distributed via a market? Should access to health-care be governed by market principles? This seminar explores these ethical and political questions through an unusually diverse set of texts. The syllabus brings together a broad set of perspectives from both the history of philosophy as well as from the contemporary Anglo-American debate. That way, we draw on a broad set of ideas in order to tackle the philosophical, moral and existential challenge that markets pose: and, while going along, familiarize ourselves with classic authors from both the European and Anglo-American traditions in social/political philosophy.

Writing Attentive

Critical Interpretation (CI)

Power, Inequity, and Justice (PIJ)

Counts Toward International Studies

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PHIL B249 Ideology and Propaganda

Not offered 2023-24

In contemporary political discourse, we often hear the accusation that a certain belief is "mere ideology" or that a certain piece of political speech is "pure propaganda". We sometimes even hear that we live in an age where 'ideological' conflicts are supposed to have immeasurably deepened, and where we are - for that reason - inundated by 'propaganda' in the news or on social media. But what, really, is ideology? What is propaganda? How are they related to one another? And what is their relationship to truth? Is propaganda always made up of lies? Can truth function ideologically? And: What is the ethics of ideology and propaganda? Is all propaganda unethical? Are there 'good' ideologies? And how can we overcome flawed ones? This course examines these questions from the perspective of contemporary social philosophy, with an emphasis on both the Marxist and the liberal tradition.

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PHIL B251 Women Philosophers in the Long 19th Century

Not offered 2023-24

The history of 19th century European philosophy is often told exclusively as a history of male voices - as a story 'From Kant to Hegel', 'From Hegel to Marx' and so on. By contrast, the voices of women philosophers (such as Karoline von Günderrode, Bettina von Arnim or Clara Zetkin) are rarely remembered, and even less frequently taught. This course aims to change that. Reading a wide array of texts written by women intellectuals of the time, we will aim to understand their philosophical contributions to German Idealism (e.g. Günderrode and Arnim), Feminism (e.g. Zetkin and Hedwig Dohm) and classical Socialism (e.g. Rosa Luxemburg). We will also examine their relationship to, and, more importantly, their critique of the work of some of their male counterparts (such as Fichte, Schelling, Marx and Nietzsche). Finally, we will consider why these women voices have been so frequently neglected - and why it is, from a contemporary philosophical standpoint, worthwhile to discover them again.

Critical Interpretation (CI)

Inquiry into the Past (IP)

Power, Inequity, and Justice (PIJ)

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PHIL B255 Philosophy of Love and Friendship

Not offered 2023-24

The course examines various philosophical accounts of the nature of love and friendship, approaching the topic from a number of perspectives that range from ancient dialogues to contemporary articles. By investigating several philosophical positions on love and friendship, we aim to clarify and understand what these phenomena mean to us. Readings will draw from various philosophical sources, including (but not limited to): classical dialogues and treatises, essays, psychoanalysis, sermons, political science, and literary studies. Among other questions, we will explore the following: What is love? Is it an emotion? a skill? an activity? What is friendship and what are its varieties? Do we need love and friendship to be happy? What do we love: someone's singular personality or the repeatable qualities that they possess? Are friends replaceable? Can lovers be friends? Should we love our enemies

Critical Interpretation (CI)

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PHIL B256 Scientific Modeling, Idealization, and Policy Making

Not offered 2023-24

This course will focus on the role of scientific models, theories, and research in democratic policy making. In particular, we will consider the epistemological and ethical questions surrounding the use of scientific models in conservation ecology, climate change, and other areas of biology. The goal of the course will be to focus on how scientific research ought to be funded, practiced and incorporated into policy within a democratic society.

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PHIL B258 Data Ethics in Social Media

Spring 2024

From sharing our life experiences to reading the news, social media permeates our daily lives. It affects how we communicate, what we buy, and who we vote for. It also generates an immense amount of data, which is eagerly collected by individuals, corporations, and governments. In this course we will investigate some of the threats (and promises) of this data. We will ask questions like: What is the value of privacy online, and how might it be protected? Are we being manipulated by algorithms? Are the algorithms that generate and moderate content biased? What are some of the ways online data can be used for good? Students will investigate these questions through practical and theoretical approaches. Course materials will be drawn from diverse sources including philosophy, data science, sociology, legal theory, and the Internet. Visiting speakers will enrich our discussion by offering academic and professional perspectives on the uses and misuses of data.

Critical Interpretation (CI)

Counts Toward Data Science

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PHIL B271 Minds and Machines

Not offered 2023-24

What is the relationship between the mind and the body? What is consciousness? Is your mind like a computer, or do some aspects of the mind resist this analogy? Is it possible to build an artificial mind? In this course, we'll explore these questions and more, drawing on perspectives from philosophy, psychology and cognitive neuroscience. We will consider the viability of different ways of understanding the relationship between mind and body as a framework for studying the mind, as well as the distinctive issues that arise in connection with the phenomenon of consciousness. No prior knowledge or experience with any of the subfields is assumed or necessary.

Writing Attentive

Critical Interpretation (CI)

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PHIL B305 Topics in Value: Moral Responsibility

Not offered 2023-24

This is a topics course. Topics may vary. This course will be offered Fall 2022.

Writing Attentive

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PHIL B308 German Philosophy: From Kant to Hegel

Not offered 2023-24

In the wake of Kant's critical philosophy, German philosophy goes through a period of philosophical excitement and intellectual upheaval. In a space of only roughly thirty years, philosophers such as Fichte, Schelling and Hegel compose a flurry of competing responses to the Kantian proposal, generating new approaches to epistemology, metaphysics, ethics and politics that, in turn, come to define European thought for centuries. But what was this controversy originally about? What aspects of Kant's critical project caused it? What are unifying themes in Fichte, Schelling and Hegel's responses to Kant? In what ways do they diverge? And what, if anything, can we today still learn from this brief, yet turbulent period in the history of philosophy? In this upper-level seminar we ask these questions through a careful examination of some of the most important primary texts of that time, and through a thorough discussion of their contemporary implications. Prerequisite: One previous Philosophy course or permission from instructor.

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PHIL B309 Topics in Philosophy

Section 001 (Fall 2022): Social Ontology
Section 001 (Spring 2023): Hope
Section 001 (Fall 2023): Language, Meaning & Society
Section 001 (Spring 2024): Truth, Science, & Politics
Section 002 (Spring 2024): Hegel & Comedy

Fall 2023, Spring 2024

This is a topics course, and the description varies according to the topic. Prerequistie: At least one previous Philosophy course is required.

Current topic description: "Every oak tree on Bryn Mawr's campus has at least three owls in it." You have never seen that sentence, but you understood it. How? Well, you know what the words mean. But what kinds of things do words mean? How do words even get their meanings? And how exactly do word-meanings combine to generate sentence-meanings? To answer these questions, we will study classic and contemporary texts on the philosophy of language. We will then apply what we have learned to study language's role in society, considering topics like testimony, free speech, and gender terms.

Current topic description: This is a course about the idea of truth, particularly as it relates to two areas of human life: science and politics. Examining the work of philosophers of science as well as moral and political philosophers on the nature of truth and objectivity, we'll consider how they can help us think through the challenges of the so-called "post-truth" moment of today. We'll ask, for example, whether we should think of truth in the same way across these domains, what the role of truth (both scientific and ethical) should be in diverse and democratic societies, and what the relationship between truth and politics more generally is.

Current topic description: What makes something funny? When is it okay (or not okay) to laugh? Can comedy be used as a tool for challenging injustice? What is the affinity between comedy and philosophy-and should we even take comedy seriously? Comedy has always been difficult to define. This upper-level seminar focuses on Hegel's historical and systematic treatment of comedy and how he anticipates not only the genre's timeless significance, but also its capacity to help us cope with socio-historical contingencies. For Hegel, there is an intimate relationship between art and social life. Comedy represents the very culmination of progressive art history, and it is with this genre that art reaches its "end" as the most relevant form of human expression and self-understanding. We will investigate Hegel's view of comedy in its historical context as well as its relevance today. In particular, we will discover how comedy informs and constructs our understanding of ethics, embodiment, identity, and social life.

Course does not meet an Approach

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PHIL B319 Philosophy of Mind

Not offered 2023-24

The conscious mind remains a philosophical and scientific mystery. In this course, we will explore the nature of consciousness and its place in the physical world. Some questions we will consider include: How is consciousness related to the brain and the body? Are minds a kind of computer? Is the conscious mind something non-physical or immaterial? Is it possible to have a science of consciousness, or will consciousness inevitably resist scientific explanation? We will explore these questions from a philosophical perspective that draws on relevant literature from cognitive neuroscience.

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PHIL B330 Kant

Not offered 2023-24

The significance of Kant's transcendental philosophy for thought in the 19th and 20th centuries cannot be overstated. His work is profoundly important for both the analytical and the so-called "continental" schools of thought. This course will provide a close study of Kant's breakthrough work: The Critique of Pure Reason. We will read and discuss the text with reference to its historical context and with respect to its impact on developments in epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, philosophy of religion as well as developments in German Idealism, 20th-century phenomenology., and contemporary analytic philosophy. Prerequisite: PHIL 102 or at least one 200 level Philosophy course.

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PHIL B334 Karl Marx and his critics

Not offered 2023-24

Karl Marx is one of those philosophers who are often cited, but not equally as often carefully read. This seminar aims to change this. It offers a close reading of Karl Marx's most important philosophical works, alongside the work of his most influential critics. We will begin, in the first part of the course, by considering Marx's early fragments, his revolutionary political writings and the economic-philosophical theory of Capital. In the second half of the course, we will examine criticisms from both the left and the right: criticisms that target Marx's labor theory of value, his theory of history, or his theory of alienation. Special attention will be paid to criticisms that argue that he lacks attention to the way that economic oppression intersects with structural racism, structural misogyny and colonialism. Reading Marx from this contemporary perspective will allow us to evaluate what parts of Marx's views, if any, still possess relevance for contemporary social thought. Prerequisite: One previous philosophy course or permission from instructor.

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PHIL B398 Senior Seminar

Senior majors are required to write an undergraduate thesis on an approved topic. The senior seminar is a two-semester course in which research and writing are directed. Seniors will meet collectively and individually with the supervising instructor.

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PHIL B399 Senior Seminar

The senior seminar is a required course for majors in Philosophy. It is the course in which the research and writing of an undergraduate thesis is directed both in and outside of the class time. Students will meet sometimes with the class as a whole and sometimes with the professor separately to present and discuss drafts of their theses.

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PHIL B403 Supervised Work

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PHIL B425 Praxis III: Independent Study

Praxis III courses are Independent Study courses and are developed by individual students, in collaboration with faculty and field supervisors. A Praxis courses is distinguished by genuine collaboration with fieldsite organizations and by a dynamic process of reflection that incorporates lessons learned in the field into the classroom setting and applies theoretical understanding gained through classroom study to work done in the broader community.

Counts Toward Praxis Program

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CMSC B325 Computational Linguistics

Not offered 2023-24

Introduction to computational models of understanding and processing human languages. How elements of linguistics, computer science, and artificial intelligence can be combined to help computers process human language and to help linguists understand language through computer models. Topics covered: syntax, semantics, pragmatics, generation and knowledge representation techniques. Prerequisite: CMSC B151 , or CMSC H106/H107, and CMSC 231, or permission of instructor.

Counts Toward Neuroscience

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CMSC B373 Artificial Intelligence

Fall 2023

Survey of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the study of how to program computers to behave in ways normally attributed to "intelligence" when observed in humans. Topics include heuristic versus algorithmic programming; cognitive simulation versus machine intelligence; problem-solving; inference; natural language understanding; scene analysis; learning; decision-making. Topics are illustrated by programs from literature, programming projects in appropriate languages and building small robots. Prerequisites: CMSC B151 or CMSC H106/107, and CMSC B231.

Counts Toward Neuroscience

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CSTS B203 Technology and Humanity in the Ancient World

Not offered 2023-24

In this course, we will study the development, impact, and ethical implications of technology in the ancient world. While investigating the attitudes toward technology expressed by scientific and non-scientific authors of the Graeco-Roman world, students will be exposed to perspectives and methods from a variety of disciplines including literary studies, anthropology, social psychology, and 4E cognition, engaging with questions related to areas of social justice, human ecology, artificial intelligence, urban planning, environmental management, and medicine. Through readings by authors such as Aristophanes, Euripides, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, Apuleius and Galen, we will discuss the technologies used to aid memory, carry out calculative activities, perform labor, influence human behavior, and improve quality of life. In addition to gaining a broad understanding of ancient technologies (real and imagined), students will a) become familiar with the major periods and events of Graeco-Roman history and be able to contextualize attitudes towards technology within those periods; b) become familiar with the styles of literature and material arts during major periods of Graeco-Roman history, and c) develop skills necessary for reading primary texts (literary, philosophical, and historical) as documents representing the intellectual history of classical antiquity. No previous knowledge of the ancient world is required.

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FREN B213 Theory in Practice:Critical Discourses in the Humanities

Not offered 2023-24

By bringing together the study of major theoretical currents of the 20th century and the practice of analyzing literary works in the light of theory, this course aims at providing students with skills to use literary theory in their own scholarship. The selection of theoretical readings reflects the history of theory (psychoanalysis, structuralism, narratology), as well as the currents most relevant to the contemporary academic field: Post-structuralism, Post-colonialism, Gender Studies, and Ecocriticism. They are paired with a diverse range of short stories (Poe, Kafka, Camus, Borges, Calvino, Morrison, Djebar, Ngozi Adichie) that we discuss along with our study of theoretical texts. The class will be conducted in English with an additional hour in French for students wishing to take it for French credit.

Critical Interpretation (CI)

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FREN B333 Nature and Freedom

Spring 2024

When referring to Rousseau's political theory, the conjectural state of nature first described in his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1755) has frequently been identified with native societies as observed in America since 1492. Many scholars have been opposing this primitivist interpretation of his second discourse and showed that Rousseau might instead be considered the father of all 'social construct' theories. But in spite of this scholarly consensus, Graeber and Wengrow still tend to assume Rousseau's state of nature is mostly inspired by the encounter of Europeans with native people. Why is this confusion still informing the way we read Rousseau? How did considerations on the so-called 'noble savage' taint his political theory? How can we assess the role an 'indigenous critique' played in defining Rousseau's state of nature? And incidentally: how 'indigenous' is this 'indigenous critique'? Answering to Graeber and Wengrow's (mis)reading of Rousseau will allow us to cast a new light not only on Rousseau's 'unnatural' anthropology, but also on Graeber & Wengrow's broader claims on human nature and political freedom. Our end goal is not to offer a scholarly take on either Rousseau's discourse of Graeber and Wengrow's book, but to answer this pressing question: should/could we discard the very notion of nature to regain political agency here and now? Authors include: Léry, Montaigne, Hobbes, Rousseau, Lévi-Strauss, Serres, Graeber and Wengrow.

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ITAL B213 Theory in Practice: Critical Discourses in the Humanities

Fall 2023

What is a postcolonial subject, a queer gaze, a feminist manifesto? And how can we use (as readers of texts, art, and films) contemporary studies on animals and cyborgs, object oriented ontology, zombies, storyworlds, neuroaesthetics? In this course we will read some pivotal theoretical texts from different fields, with a focus on race&ethnicity and gender&sexuality. Each theory will be paired with a masterpiece from Italian culture (from Renaissance treatises and paintings to stories written under fascism and postwar movies). We will discuss how to apply theory to the practice of interpretation and of academic writing, and how theoretical ideas shaped what we are reading. Class conducted in English, with an additional hour in Italian for students seeking Italian credit.

Critical Interpretation (CI)

Counts Toward Africana Studies

Counts Toward Gender/Sex Studies (Min/Conc)

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POLS B224 Comparative Political Phil: China, Greece, and the "West"

Not offered 2023-24

An introduction to the dialogic construction of comparative political philosophy, using texts from several cultures or worlds of thought: ancient and modern China, ancient Greece, and the modern West. The course will have three parts. First, a consideration of the synchronous emergence of philosophy in ancient (Axial Age) China and Greece; second, the 19th century invention of the modern "West" and Chinese responses to this development; and third, the current discussions and debates about globalization, democracy, and human rights now going on in China and the West. Prerequisite: At least one course in either Philosophy, Political Theory, or East Asian Studies, or consent of the instructor.

Critical Interpretation (CI)

Cross-Cultural Analysis (CC)

Counts Toward International Studies

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POLS B228 Introduction to Political Philosophy: Ancient and Early Modern

Not offered 2023-24

An introduction to the fundamental problems of political philosophy, especially the relationship between political life and the human good or goods.

Critical Interpretation (CI)

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POLS B231 Introduction to Political Philosophy: Modern

Fall 2023

A continuation of POLS 228, although 228 is not a prerequisite. Particular attention is given to the various ways in which the concept of freedom is used in explaining political life. Readings from Locke, J.S. Mill, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche and others.

Critical Interpretation (CI)

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POLS B245 Philosophy of Law

Fall 2023

Introduces students to a variety of questions in the philosophy of law. Readings will be concerned with the nature of law, the character of law as a system, the ethical character of law, and the relationship of law to politics, power, authority, and society. Readings will include philosophical arguments about law, as well as judicial cases through which we examine these ideas within specific contexts, especially tort and contracts. Most or all of the specific issues discussed will be taken from Anglo-American law, although the general issues considered are not limited to those legal systems. Recommended Prerequisite: sophomore standing, freshman only with professor's consent.

Critical Interpretation (CI)

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POLS B261 Sovereignty, Identity, and Law

Not offered 2023-24

What is sovereignty and what does it mean to say that a "people" is sovereign? Is popular sovereignty rule by the "will of the people?" Who is this "people" whose will is sovereign? What are the implications of our answers to these questions for our idea of law? Is law the expression of that pre-existing will, and of something that already exists, called "the people"? Or does law have a role in creating "the people" and its "will"? Drawing on theoretical, historical, and legal texts, this course will explore the idea of sovereignty and popular sovereignty and its relation to law and collective identity. Sophomore Standing. Freshman only with instructor's approval.

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POLS B272 The Power of the People: Democratic Revolutions

Not offered 2023-24

We often invoke "democracy" as the very ground of political legitimacy, but there is very little agreement on what democracy means, why we might desire it, or how state institutions, law, and political culture might embody it. In this seminar we will grapple with some recent and influential accounts of democratic governance and democratic movements today. Our objective will be to develop a critical vocabulary for understanding what democracy might mean, what conditions it requires, and what "best practices" citizens committed to democracy might enlist to confront political challenges such as the structural divisions that persist among class, gender, and race; persistent inequality and influence of money and corporations; and the potential for democratic, grass-roots power as a vital ingredient to democratic flourishing. Writing Intensive.

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POLS B358 Freedom in the 21st Century

Spring 2024

This course investigates what freedom means, how political communities organize themselves around freedom, and how contestation about freedom is essential in twenty-first century political life. We will take orientation from the argument developed by David Graeber and David Wengrow in The Dawn of Everything, which suggests that freedom and not equality is the site of political struggle today. We'll give some time to contextualizing Graber and Wengrow's historical inquiry as a political project in response to interrelated crises of ecology and democracy of the present moment. Expanding from this point of origin (which will be linked to the other courses in the 360), we'll then consider how theorists and practitioners around the world have considered freedom's perils and possibilities: abolitionist organizing in the work of Mariame Kaba; democratic socialism in the theory of Axel Honneth; freedom as a mask for state-sactioned violence in the critical queer work of Chanan Reddy; escape and flight from such states realized through "freedom as marronage"; and freedom as an Indigenous political project in the the work of Taiaiake Alfred, Glen Coulthard, and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. Each approach will offer an opportunity to think through the meaning and politics of freedom as well as to develop frameworks of political analysis that can illustrate how struggles for freedom shape and structure politics today. Prerequisite: One course in Political Theory or Philosophy or Permission of instructor.

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POLS B359 Depth Psychology, Politics, and the Social Order

Not offered 2023-24

In this course, we examine a variety of political and social issues (among them racism, the economic organization of society, and demagoguery) from the perspective of "depth psychology." By "depth psychology" we refer to the study of human activity in terms of individual and collective, conscious and unconscious psychic dynamics. Modern depth psychology grew up in the late 19th century; its two greatest theorists were Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud, the latter of whom founded what is now the broad and diverse field of psychoanalysis. We will draw on works by Nietzsche, by Freud, by later psychoanalysts, and by writers were deeply influenced by these, such as Richard Wright, Franz Fanon, and Herbert Marcuse. We will also draw on the insights of depth psychology to try to help understand the use and organization of hate within contemporary politics. Prerequisite: One course in theory OR consent of instructor.

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POLS B361 On The Human Condition: The Political Thinking of Hannah Are

Not offered 2023-24

Pursuing a close study of Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition, one of the most influential works of political theory written in the twentieth century, this course will investigate Arendt's magnum opus in its contexts: situated in the history of political thought, in the political debates of the 1950s, and as political thinking of urgent relevance today. While we study Arendt's texts, focusing specifically on The Human Condition, we will also seek to understand and practice her unique form of political thinking by not only reading her texts in their historical contexts but also considering our own contexts as readers of Arendt in the twenty-first century. Our approach to Arendt will thus seek to develop her idea of "political thinking" while also creating our own exercises in political thinking over the course of the semester, drawing together issues in politics today, the concepts and arguments Arendt proposes, and the history of political thought her work engages.

Course does not meet an Approach

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POLS B371 Topics in Political Philosophy

Not offered 2023-24

An advanced seminar on a topic in political or legal philosophy/theory. Topics vary by year. Prerequisite: At least one course in political theory or philosophy or consent of instructor.

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Contact Us

Department of Philosophy

Professor Macalester Bell
100F Dalton
Department Chair
Email: mcbell@brynmawr.edu
Phone: 610-526-5680