Skip Navigation
Read Smith’s COVID-19 guidelines for the spring 2022 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

Browse course offerings

Fall 2022 Philosophy department courses can be found by going to the Registrar's course search.

Podcasts created by Smith Philosophy students

Spring 2022 students in PHI 252 Buddhist Philosophy: Madyamaka and Yogācāra explored the applications of Buddhist philosophy outside of the classroom. They created a series of podcasts to showcase their findings. Access the series: Buddhist Philosophy and Buddhist Practice in the Pioneer Valley.

Interview with Theresa Helke

Theresa Helke, Smith graduate and recent lecturer in the Philosophy department, was 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.

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 semester-long courses. You must include among those 10 courses:

  • At least two courses in the history of philosophy, one of which must be PHI 124 or PHI 125 

  • At least one course addressing non-Western philosophy

  • PHI 101 (formerly LOG 101) or PHI 102 (formerly LOG 100) 

  • PHI 200, usually taken in the sophmore 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, 225, 233, 238, 241, 242, 255

Social/Political Philosophy
Including: PHI 235, 237, 240, 242 

Culture and Material Life
Including: PHI 221, 233, 234, 237, 240, 241, 254, 255

Metaphysics and Epistemology
Including: PHI 209, 211, 213, 225, 230, 234, 252, 254, 262

Language and Logic
Including: PHI 211, 213, 220, 236, 262 

Science and Technology
Including: PHI 209, 224, 238

Note

  • Topics courses, such as 210, may fall under different rubrics in different years
  • Up to two courses  in related departments may be included in the major program of ten courses with approval of the department; petitions for approval must be filed with the department at least one week before the beginning of the semester in which the course is offered

Students and their faculty advisers together will regularly assess the student’s progress in the major in light of the following desiderata:

  • Skills and competencies: e.g., PHI 102, PHI 200, the ability to write papers of varying lengths (from 2 to 25 pages to honors theses), knowing how to locate and assess scholarly literature, being comfortable at presenting philosophical material orally. Philosophy majors are expected to master all of these; and
  • Breadth and depth of understanding of texts, topics and themes, traditions and perspectives. Each of the following is a strong desideratum for a philosophy major:
  1. systematic study of one or more major philosophical texts;
  2. topics and themes: such as human beings’ relationship to technology, to the environment; the relationship between language and reality; the nature and functions of human cognition; human flourishing; the human body; the significance of race, gender and class; the meaning of work; the meaning of life; and end-of-life care;
  3. traditions: tracing philosophical dialogues through time-ancient, medieval, and modern philosophy, continental philosophy, Indian philosophy, Buddhism, African philosophy, and so on;
  4. perspectives: understanding the joining or clashing of perspectives across cultures or subcultures—courses such as The Meaning of Life, Cosmopolitanism, Hermeneutics, Meaning and Interpretation, and those that explore the significance of race, class, gender and nation;
  5. extensive study of the philosophy of a single major figure;
  6. an element of study in a related field or fields.

 

Advisers: Members of the department

There are two versions of the minor in philosophy, each of which involves at least five courses.

Version 1 accommodates a wide range of philosophical interests on the part of individual students who pursue it. This version of the minor will typically include a PHI course at the 100 level, a course in LOG, and a three-course “concentration,” to be built by each student in close consultation with the student’s adviser and with the approval of the department.

Version 2 focuses on ethics. PHI 222 (Ethics) is required. Of the remaining four courses, at least two must be PHI classes. Because ethics is interdisciplinary, and students pursuing this version of the minor will likely come from a variety of majors, up to two of the four can be non-PHI courses that give a central role to ethics. The student’s courses besides PHI 222 are to be chosen by the student in close consultation with the student’s 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 for specific requirements and application procedures.


Courses

For up-to-date course schedule information for 2022 spring semester philosophy courses, use the Smith College Course Search.  The Five College Course Guide is a tool to search for courses throughout the Five Colleges.  The Smith College Course Catalog may also be a useful source of information.  

For more information about the department and the academic year 2021–22, please see the philosophy brochure.

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

Fall 2021

ENV 101 Sustainability and Social-Ecological Systems
We have entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, characterized by the accelerating impact of human activities on the Earth’s ecosystems. All over the globe, humans have transformed the environment and have sometimes created catastrophic dynamics within social-ecological systems. Scientists have studied these phenomena for decades, alerting both the general public and policy-makers of the consequences of our actions. However, despite convincing evidence of environmental degradation, humans continue to radically transform their environment. This course explores this puzzle and asks how we can remodel our social-ecological systems to build a more sustainable and resilient future. {H} {N} {S} Credits: 4
Efadul Huq, Jeffry Lee Ramsey

FYS 120 Philosophical Explorations of Humor and Laughter
A focus on some of the ethical, social and political issues raised by humor and laughter. Humor can be a forceful instrument, often deployed by the powerful to control the powerless and by the powerless to try to topple the powerful. Its effects, intended or unintended, can be benign or hurtful. Closely examining texts from a variety of philosophical perspectives, we explore questions such as: What have been the hopes for, and worries about, what humor achieves? Who offers instructions about the proper objects of and occasions for humor and laughter? What reasons have they given for doing so? Enrollment limited to 16. WI {M} {S} Credits: 4
Elizabeth V. Spelman

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
                                           

Spring 2022

FYS 105 Ethics of Big Data
The emergence and rapid development of networked information technologies has produced an enormous amount of data about us, from our consumer habits and financial histories to our health histories and social media identities. This class considers ethical and political questions in connection with the collection, use, and storage of this data, considering empirical research in the social sciences and computer sciences against the backdrop of philosophical conceptions of consent, privacy, personal identity, and equality. Students will analyze ethical questions prompted by the generation of big data, and social implications of data-driven governance, considering possible theoretical and policy-guiding responses. Enrollment limited to 16 first-years. (E) {WI} Credits: 4
Melissa Yates

HSC 211pn Perspectives in the History of Science
Pandemics 
How do we represent pandemics? How do these representations implicate science, politics and society? The prevalent ‘contagion’ frame is a story about seeing the microbe as the enemy, erasing or downplaying human agency and practices (especially the expansion into new ecosystems), and affirming epidemiology and medical science as the only solution. The frame carries over into politics and culture and provides a way to translate the science of contagious disease into social terms that influence the public and also public policy. This frame and others are used to explore past and current pandemics.  {H} {S} Credits: 4
Jeffry Lee Ramsey

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

 


Featured Programs


The Linguistics Minor

The linguistics minor at Smith delves into such questions as what common features do languages of the world share, and what are the connections between languages.

LEARN MORE ABOUT LINGUISTICS


Tibetan Studies in India 

Students spend interterm in Sarnath, India, studying Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan history with faculty from the Central University of Tibetan Studies.

LEARN MORE ABOUT TIBETAN STUDIES

 


Research Resources

Finding Philosophy eresources
Links to useful and popular philosophy databases to find articles, papers and other eresources.

Finding theses and dissertations
Links to databases for UK and international dissertations. MPhil theses and extended essays are also available at the Issue desk to consult in the library.

3:AM Interviews
Richard Marshall interviews a range of people, including many philosophers, on both their lives and their ideas/beliefs.

Philosophy Bites
Nigel Warburton and David Edmonds conduct “bite-sized” interviews of a vast group of distinguished philosophers. Topics include aesthetics, linguistics, ethics, metaphysics and politics.

History of Philosophy (Without Any Gaps)
Peter Adamson, Professor of Philosophy at the LMU in Munich and at King’s College London takes listeners through the history of philosophy, “without any gaps.” The series looks at the ideas, lives and historical context of the major philosophers as well as the lesser-known figures of the tradition.

Conference Calls for Papers from Conference Alerts

American Philosophical Association Conferences, Events and Seminars and Calls for Papers

 

 

Contact

Department of Philosophy
Wright Hall 106
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063
Phone: 413-585-3662
Fax: 413-585-3248
Email: pmckinnell@smith.edu

Administrative Assistant: Phoebe McKinnell 

Individual appointments can be arranged directly with the faculty.