Skip Navigation
A Culture of Care

Read Smith’s UPDATED plans as of November 23, 2020,
for the spring 2021 semester.

Philosophy

Philosophy

Among the benefits of studying philosophy are the well-crafted tools it offers for approaching questions that we as human beings inevitably face: What is happiness, and can we hope to attain it? How do we balance our desires, needs and rights with those of other people and animals, now and in the future? Is there a God? Do people the world over think the same way about basic issues, or are there fundamental differences among cultures? If there are differences, must we respect them? At Smith, philosophy students learn to think with clarity, objectivity and precision; to become more skillful writers adept at expressing difficult concepts; to express themselves clearly in discussions; and to recognize and analyze the philosophical issues that arise in their other classes.

Announcements

Susan Stebbing, Alice Ambrose, Ruth Barcan Marcus: Iconic Figures in Symbolic Logic

The 2020 Alice Ambrose Lazerowitz-Thomas Tymoczko Lecture will be held on Thursday, December 3, at 7 p.m. The guest speaker will be Adriane Rini ’89, professor of philosophy at Massey University in New Zealand. Please contact Chrissie Bell at cbell@smith.edu for the Zoom link.

Interview with Theresa Helke

Theresa Helke, lecturer in philosophy, was recently interveiwed by Project Vox for their blog series, Revealing Voices. Project Vox concerns an important scholarly development in philosophy: the acknowledgement that a number of early modern women have been unjustly ignored in our narratives of the history of philosophy.

The Smith College Interdisciplinary Philosophy Journal

The philosophy department is pleased to present Eudaimonia, the Smith College Interdisciplinary Philosophy Journal. The latest issue is available in pdf format.

Requirements

We encourage our students to read philosophical texts from an array of traditions, historical periods and genres, closely and critically, in order to develop an awareness of complexity and nuance, and we wish them to use those texts, orally and in writing, as sites for their own critical thinking, moral and intellectual exploration, and engagement with the world in which they live.

Accordingly, students who complete the major in philosophy should be able to:

  • Understand and be familiar with major movements, authors, and philosophical traditions across the world.
  • Understand philosophy in relation to historical frameworks, both diachronic (contemporary texts in relation to prior texts) and synchronic (texts in their own time, in relation to the contexts that shape an era’s thought and expression).
  • Write clear, forceful interpretive arguments, which give voice to a complex understanding of philosophical texts, and marshal evidence carefully and persuasively.
  • Conduct scholarly research in print and electronic formats, citing sources accurately and responsibly—and using that research to enter the critical debates and conversations that texts provoke.
  • Make effective use of oral communication and presentation techniques.

Here is a small but representative sample of the kinds of questions raised in Smith philosophy classes which help students to achieve these goals:

  • What does it mean to be a cosmopolitan person—a global citizen?
  • In the United States and some other countries the gap between the super rich and everyone else has been growing in recent decades. Does this matter? Why (not)?
  • Which (if any) of your behaviors can be explained by appeal to biology?
  • What is the fundamental nature of reality? Is three one? Why should we care?
  • Does privacy matter only if you “have something to hide”?
  • A prison's warden has asked that you, a physician, participate in the execution of a death row prisoner by lethal injection. You are aware that the American Medical Association’s ethical guidelines prohibit doctors’ involvement in executions. You also know that if you decline to participate, the prisoner is at risk of greater suffering. What do you decide, and why?

Advisers: Members of the department
Study Abroad Adviser: Jay Garfield

Philosophy majors must take at least 10 semesterlong courses. You must include among those 10 courses:

  • Two courses in the history of philosophy, one in the Western tradition (e.g., PHI 124, PHI 125) and one in a non-Western tradition (e.g. PHI 112, PHI 127)
  • LOG 100 or LOG 101 or PHI 202
  • PHI 200, usually taken in the sophomore year
  • Two 300–level courses
  • Three 200–level courses (other than PHI 200), each from a different one of the following areas:
Value Theory

Including: PHI 221, 222, 233, 238, 241, 242, 255

Social/Political Philosophy

Including: PHI 225, 234, 235, 237, 242

Culture and Material Life

Including: PHI 221, 233, 234, 237, 241, 254, 255

Metaphysics and Epistemology

Including: PHI 209, 211, 213, 225, 230, 252, 253j, 254, 262

Language and Logic

Including: PHI 211, 213, 220, 236, 262

Science and Technology

Including: PHI 209, 224, 238

Advisers: Members of the department

The minor in philosophy consists of at least five courses, which typically will include:

  • A course in LOG
  • A 100-level PHI course
  • A three-course "concentration," to be built by the student in close consultation with her adviser and with the approval of the department

Honors Director: Jeffry L. Ramsey

PHI 430D Honors Project
Credits: 8
Normally offered both fall and spring semesters

PHI 431 Honors Project
Credits: 8
Normally offered both fall and spring semesters

PHI 432D Honors Project
Credits: 12
Normally offered both fall and spring semesters

Please consult the director of honors or the departmental website for specific requirements and application procedures.


Courses

For a current listing of course offerings, see the Smith College Course Catalog and the Five College Course Guide. For more information about the department and the academic year 2020–21, please see the philosophy brochure

Fall 2020

PHI 100 Thinking About Thinking
What is thinking? What is the distinction between mind and body, and ought we to accept it? Can the mind survive the death of the body? Can you be thoughtful and passionate at the same time? What kind of access can we have to the worlds of human beings from other cultures and historical periods? Readings from ancient, modern and contemporary philosophers primarily in the Western tradition. Designed to introduce beginning students to problems and methods in philosophy and to the philosophy department at Smith. Maximum number of students per section 20. {H} {S} Credits: 4
Theresa Sophie Caroline Helke, Jeffry Lee Ramsey

PHI 225 Continental Philosophy
This course provides a survey of major figures and developments in continental philosophy. Topics to be addressed include human nature and the nature of morality; conceptions of human history; the character and basis of societal hierarchies; and human beings’ relationship to technology. Readings from Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Marx, Heidegger, Sartre, Beauvoir and others. Prerequisite: one course in philosophy. {H} Credits: 4
Susan Levin

PHI 235 Morality, Politics and the Law
Close examination of the different but converging ways in which moral, political and legal contexts shape the analysis of an issue. For example: questions about the status of a right to privacy; the history of disgust as a ground for laws governing human behavior. {S} Credits: 4
Elizabeth V. Spelman

PHI 238 Environmental Ethics
This course prepares students to understand and critically evaluate various ethical perspectives on human beings’ interactions with nature and these perspectives’ applications to environmental issues. The principal ethical perspectives studied are anthropocentrism, biocentric individualism, environmental holism and environmental pragmatism. We study representative descriptions and defenses of these perspectives and examine in particular whether they can validly and effectively help us resolve environmental problems. We study controversies about biodiversity, wilderness protection, global climate change and pollution. Enrollment limited to 40. {H} {S} Credits: 4
Jeffry Lee Ramsey

PHI 262 Meaning and Truth: The Semantics of Natural Language
This course is an introduction to central topics in the philosophy of language. What is the relation between thought, language and reality? What kinds of things do we do with words? Is there anything significant about the definite article “the”? How does meaning accrue to proper names? Is speaker meaning the same as the public, conventional (semantic) meaning of words? Is there a distinction between metaphorical and literal language? We explore some of the answers that philosophers like Frege, Russell, Strawson, Donnellan, Austin, Quine, Kripke and Davidson have offered to these and other related questions. Prerequisite: LOG 100, LOG 101 or the equivalent. Credits: 4
Theresa Helke

Interterm 2021

PHI 222 Ethics 
An examination of the works of some major moral theorists of the Western philosophical tradition and their implications for our understanding of the nature of the good life and the sources and scope of our moral responsibilities. Enrollment limited to 25 students. {H} {S} Credits: 4 
Melissa Yates

PHI 310 Seminar: Recent and Contemporary Philosophy
Topics course: The Work of Repair
Human beings appear to spend a great deal of time on projects of repair–fixing objects, mending relationships, repairing the social and political damage left in the wake of past events. What do such projects require of the mender? What changes take place in the mended? When is repair desirable? When is it inappropriate or impossible? Among the topics for examination: the restoration of works of art; repair of the environment; the function of criticism and revision; the place of legal reparations; the meaning of apology and reconciliation; pleasure in ruins. {H} {L} {S} Credits: 4
Elizabeth V. Spelman

PHI 330 Seminar in the History of Philosophy
Topics course: Buddhist Ethics
This seminar asks what is distinctive about Buddhist ethical thought. In ways it is similar to systems of Western ethics, in what way different? We will read sections of the Theravāda scholar Buddhaghosa's Path of Purification, the Mahāyāna scholar Sāntideva’s How to Lead an Awakened Life, some selections from other Buddhist texts on ethics, and recent scholarship on Buddhist ethics. We will be interested in the overall structure of Buddhist ethical thought, its connection to broader ideas in Buddhist philosophy, and the ways it can be brought into conversation with Western ethical theory. {H} {S} Credits: 4
Jay Lazar Garfield

Spring 2021

PHI 101 Plausible and Implausible Reasoning: What Happened? What Will Happen Next? 
The course provides an introduction to deductive and inductive logic. It introduces classical Aristotelian and modern truth-functional logic; explains the relationship between truth-functional logic, information science and probability; and it introduces basic features of statistical and causal reasoning in the sciences. This course is designed for students who are uncomfortable with symbolic systems. It is not a follow-up to LOG 100. Students who have taken LOG 100 cannot receive credit for taking PHI 101 subsequently. Students who have taken PHI 101 can subsequently receive credit for taking LOG 100. Enrollment limited to 24. {M} Credits: 4 
Theresa Sophie Caroline Helke

PHI 108 The Meaning of Life
Same as REL 108. This course asks the big question, “What is the Meaning of Life?” and explores a range of answers offered by philosophers and religious thinkers from a host of different traditions in different eras of human history. We explore a variety of forms of philosophical and religious thinking and consider the ways in which philosophical and religious thinking can be directly relevant to our own lives. {H} {L} Credits: 4
Lois Dubin, Jay Lazar Garfield

PHI 125 History of Early Modern European Philosophy
A study of Western philosophy from Bacon through the 18th century, with emphasis on Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume and especially Kant. Maximum number of students per section 15. {H} {M} Credits: 4
Jeffry Lee Ramsey

PHI 200 Philosophy Colloquium 
Intensive practice in writing and discussing philosophy and in applying philosophical methods to key problems raised in essays written by members of the philosophy department. The spring semester course must be taken by the end of the student's sophomore year unless the department grants a deferral or the student declares the major itself during the spring of her sophomore year. Minors are encouraged but not required to take the class. Prerequisite: Two college courses in philosophy, one of which may be taken concurrently, or permission of the instructor. WI Credits: 4 
Susan Levin, Melissa Yates

PHI 204 Philosophy and Design 
Design is one of the most pervasive human activities. Its effects—intended or unintended—permeate our lives. Questions abound about the role of design and the significance of being able to exercise it and of being subject to it. For example: Are there particular pleasures, as well as special responsibilities, characteristic of designing? What is the nature of deprivation imposed upon people when they lack the opportunity or the knowledge to share in the design of their living or working conditions? How much control do designers actually have over the meaning and use of what they design? {S} Credits: 4 
Elizabeth V. Spelman

PHI 209 Philosophy and History of Psychology
Same as PSY 209. The course introduces you to the philosophical debates behind the psychology of the mind, focusing mostly on work from the 20th century onwards. We focus on the philosophical implications of major historical figures in psychology and their approach to Mind (James, Freud, Skinner). We read contemporary work on the problems of reductionism (can we just talk about brains?), consciousness (why do we have it, is it necessary? could we be zombies or automata?) and the nature of a coherent self (is there one? do we construct it? does it end with our bodies?). Discussion and writing are weekly requirements. It is not intended as an introduction to psychology or philosophy, which is why there is a prerequisite. Prerequisite: At least one college-level course in philosophy or psychology. Preference given to psychology and philosophy majors. {N} Credits: 4
Jill de Villiers

PHI 220 Incompleteness and Inconsistency: Topics in the Philosophy of Logic 
Among the most important and philosophically intriguing results in 20th-century logic are the limitative theorems such as Gödel’s incompleteness theorem and Tarski’s demonstration of the indefinability of truth in certain languages. A wide variety of approaches to resolving fundamental mathematical and semantical paradoxes have emerged in the wake of these results, as well as a variety of alternative logics including paraconsistent logics in which contradictions are tolerated. This course examines logical and semantic paradoxes and their philosophical significance, as well as the choice between accepting incompleteness and inconsistency in logic and knowledge. Prerequisite: one course in logic. Credits: 4 
Theresa Helke 

PHI 221 Ethics and Society
What does morality demand of us in the real world? How does ethical reflection inform our social, economic, and personal lives? Every informed citizen must ask these questions. We will address issues that arise in the context of environmental ethics (preserving species and places, genetically modified foods, global warming); animal rights (vegetarianism, vivisection, experimentation); biomedical ethics (abortion, euthanasia, reproductive technologies); business ethics (advertising, accounting, whistle-blowing, globalism); sexual ethics (harassment, coercion, homosexuality); social justice (war, affirmative action, poverty, criminal justice); and other such topics. {H} {S} Credits: 4
Melissa Yates

PHI 304  Colloquium in Applied Ethics
Topics course: Enhancing Humans: How We Could Do It, Whether We Should
Humans have always sought to elevate the conditions of their existence. What differentiates enhancement’s strongest proponents, so-called transhumanists, from earlier thinkers like the ancient Greeks is their belief that crossing the divide from our plane of being to a higher one is possible, even inevitable, through humans’ technological ingenuity. Given their content and implications, scrutiny of transhumanists’ views is essential. Areas this colloquium addresses include transhumanists’ and their critics’ views of human nature; the implications of existing brain science for transhumanists’ more extravagant claims; their notions of knowledge, values and education; and transhumanists’ handling of risks, including those that are potentially grave. {H} {S} Credits: 4
Susan Levin

The following courses are taught by philosophy faculty and listed under categories different from philosophy in the course catalog.

Fall 2020

FYS 176 Existentialism
The term “existentialism” refers to a nexus of twentieth-century philosophical and literary explorations focused on themes including human freedom, responsibility, temporality, ambiguity, and mortality. Existentialists Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre oppose a longstanding philosophical view that human beings flourish by understanding themselves and the cosmos in rational terms. In addition to exploring assigned readings in depth, the seminar addresses broader questions: “Are there insights involving existentialist themes that literary works are in a distinctive position to convey?” “Is there an existentialist ethics?” and “Do existentialists’ realizations about living well continue to have resonance today?”. Enrollment limited to 16.  WI {H} Credits: 4
Susan Levin

LOG 100 Valid and Invalid Reasoning: What Follows From What? 
Formal logic and informal logic. The study of abstract logic together with the construction and deconstruction of everyday arguments. Logical symbolism and operations, deduction and induction, consistency and inconsistency, paradoxes and puzzles. Examples drawn from law, philosophy, politics, literary criticism, computer science, history, commercials, mathematics, economics and the popular press. {M} Credits: 4 
Jay Lazar Garfield, Theresa Helke, Haoying Liu, Melissa Yates

Spring 2021

HSC 211 Perspectives in the History of Science
Topics course: The Scientific Revolution 
What was the Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries? Did a revolution even occur? If it did, was it really revolutionary? If it occurred, what forces produced it? How did the boundaries of “science,” which was known as “natural philosophy,” change during this time period? Readings are drawn from primary and secondary sources. {H} {N} Credits: 4
Jeffry Lee Ramsey

As an inherently interdisciplinary field, the philosophy department is associated with a number of other departments at Smith, including:

 

 


Resources

 

 

Contact

Department of Philosophy
Dewey Hall 106
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063
Phone: 413-585-3679
Fax: 413-585-3710
Email: cbell@smith.edu

Administrative Assistant: Chrissie Bell

Individual appointments can be arranged directly with the faculty.