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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 regarding these things? If there are differences, must we respect them? Since much of our lives depends on perceiving the world, how can we differentiate between correct and incorrect perceptions?

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.

News and Events

2019-2020 Speaker Series in Honor of Albert Mosley’s Half Century in Philosophy
 

Nkiru Nzegwu, SUNY Distinguished Professor, Department of Africana Studies, Binghamton University
Thursday, September 26, 2019, at 5 p.m., Campus Center 103/104

Gary Hardegree, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Massachusetts
Categorial Grammar and Categorial Logic
Thursday, October 24, 2019, at 5 p.m., Campus Center 103/104

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Professor of Philosophy and Law, New York University
Tuesday, February 4, 2020, at 5 p.m., Campus Center Carroll Room
Part of President Kathleen McCartney’s 2019-20 Presidential Colloquium Series

Joy James, Professor of Humanities and Professor of Political Science, Williams College
Angela Davis: Icon of a Revolutionary Era
Thursday, February 27, 2020, at 5 p.m., Location TBA

David Huron, Arts and Humanities Distinguished Professor, Ohio State University, School of Music and Center for Cognitive and Brain Sciences
The Science of the Sublime: How Music Takes Your Breath Away, Brings Tears to Your Eyes,
and Sends Shivers Up Your Spine

Thursday, April 9, 2020, at 5 p.m., Location TBA

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: Susan Levin

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.

Fall 2019

PHI 112 Chinese Philosophy
Introduction to some of the canonical texts and most influential ideas in the early Chinese philosophical schools, including those of Confucius, Mencius and Zhuangzi. Questions to be covered include: What is the nature of reality? How can we know what is the right thing to do? What is the self? How important is the family and obeying parents and guardians? Is there such a thing as "human nature"? Does anyone have access to the truth? How should we understand the relationship between humans and the natural world?  (E) {H} Credits: 4
Haoying Liu

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 213 Language Acquisition 
A detailed examination of how children learn their language. Theories of acquisition of word meaning, syntax and pragmatics are examined, as well as methodology for assessment of children’s knowledge. Cross-linguistic and cross-cultural data and perspectives are considered, as well as applications in language therapy and education. Students undertake an original research project using transcript analysis, and read original research literature. Background in linguistics or child development is necessary. Prerequisites: Any of the following is required for entry to the course: PSY 160, PHI 236 or EDC 235. Enrollment limit of 25 students. {N} Credits: 4 
Jill Gibson de Villiers 

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 233 Aesthetics
How are works of art like and unlike other objects in the worlds that humans inhabit and make, like and unlike other human projects? What capacities are called upon in the creation and understanding of such works? What is the role of art and the artists in contemporary society? We read essays on aesthetics by Aristotle, Hume, Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Bell, Dewey, Danto, Benjamin, Berger, Sontag, Nochlin and Lyotard, among others. Experience with art is welcome but not required. Assignments are hands-on and applied, involving extensive use of the resources of the Smith College Museum of Art. {A} {S} Credits: 4
Nalini Bhushan

PHI 234 Philosophy and Human Nature: Theories of the Self 
Topics course: Desire 
For many philosophical and religious thinkers, desire has been a source of some anxiety: depicted as being by their very nature powerful and insatiable, desires appear to weaken people’s capacities to control themselves and at the same time to open up opportunities for other people to control them. Focusing especially on the importance of desire to a consumer society, we examine questions such as: Is it possible to make a clear distinction between need and desire? To what extent are desires plastic, pliable, amenable to reshaping? Are we in any sense responsible for our desires? {S} Credits: 4 
Elizabeth V. Spelman

PHI 242 Medical Ethics 
An exploration of key issues in the area of medical ethics. Following the consideration of relevant philosophical background, topics to be addressed include patient autonomy and medical paternalism; informed consent; resource allocation and social justice; reproductive technologies and genetic screening; euthanasia and the withdrawl of life-sustaining treatment; and the experimental use of human subjects.  Prerequisite: one course in philosopny or health studies. {S} Credits: 4 
Susan Levin

PHI 254 African Philosophy
This course will explore the debate as to whether traditional African beliefs should be used as the foundation of contemporary African philosophy; the relationship between tradition and modernity in colonial and postcolonial Africa; and the relationship between African and African-American beliefs and practices. In exploring this issue we will read selections from Africans (Mbiti, Senghor, Hountondji, Bodunrin, Wiredu, Appiah, Sodips, Eze), African-Americans (Blyden, Dubois, Mosley, Gates, Gilroy), Europeans (Levy-Bruhl, Tempels, Horton), and European-Americans (Crawford, Bernasconi, Janz). (E) {H} {L} {S} Credits: 4
Albert Mosley

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

PHI 304 Colloquium in Applied Ethics
Topics course: Sustainability
An examination of the conceptual and moral underpinnings of sustainability. Questions to be discussed include: What exactly is sustainability? What conceptions of the world (as resource, as machine, as something with functional integrity, etc.) does sustainability rely on, and are these conceptions justifiable? How is sustainability related to future people? What values are affirmed by sustainability, and how can we argue those are values that should be endorsed? How does sustainability compare with environmental objectives of longer standing such as conservation? Preference given to majors in either philosophy or environmental science and policy. {H} {S} Credits: 4
Jeffry Lee Ramsey

PHI 310 Seminar: Recent and Contemporary Philosophy 
Topics course: Philosophical Explorations of Humor and Laughter 
This seminar focuses on philosophical accounts of some of the ethical, social and political issues raised by humor and laughter.  Humor can be a forceful instrument, often deployed by the powerful in their attempts to control the powerless and by the powerless to topple the powerful. Humor tends to operate in such a way as to include some and exclude others. Its effects, intended or unintended, can be benign or hurtful. Closely examining texts from a variety of philosophical perspectives, we will explore questions such as: What have been the hopes for, and worries about, what humor achieves? Who has taken it upon themselves to offer instructions about the proper objects of and occasions for humor and laughter? What reasons have they given for doing so?  Recommended preparation: at least one course in philosophy. {H} {S}
Credits: 4 
Elizabeth V. Spelman 

Spring 2020

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 
Albert G. Mosley

PHI 120 Introduction to Cognitive Science
Cognitive science is an interdisciplinary approach to the study of mind, drawing from cognitive psychology, philosophy, artificial intelligence, linguistics and human neuroscience. The class will cover five key problems: vision and imagery, classes and concepts, language, logic and reasoning, and beliefs.  We will look at both classic work and contemporary work highlighting the interesting questions. Students will be active participants in trying out classic experiments, exploring new ideas and arguing about the meaning and future of work. {M} {N} Credits: 4
Jill Gibson de Villiers

PHI 124 History of Ancient and Medieval Western Philosophy
A study of Western philosophy from the early Greeks to the end of the Middle Ages, with emphasis on the pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics and Epicureans, and some of the scholastic philosophers. {H} {M} Credits: 4
Susan Levin

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 
Nalini Bhushan

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 210 Colloquium: Issues in Recent and Contemporary Philosophy
Topics course: Angela Davis
This course will survey the life and work of Angela Davis. It will explore her upbringing in Birmingham, Alabama, her study in France and background in Marxism, her work on the aesthetic and political significance of Blues legacy in Black Feminism, her involvement with the incarcerated and her continuing work for prison abolition. {S} Credits: 4
Albert Mosley

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 224 Philosophy and History of Scientific Thought
Case studies in the history of science are used to examine philosophical issues as they arise in scientific practice. Topics include the relative importance of theories, models and experiments; realism; explanation; confirmation of theories and hypotheses; causes; and the role of values in science. {M} {N} Credits: 4
Jeffry Lee Ramsey

PHI 236 Linguistic Structures 
Introduction to the issues and methods of modern linguistics, including morphology, syntax, semantics, phonology and pragmatics. The focus is on the revolution in linguistics introduced by Noam Chomsky, and the profound questions it raises for human nature, linguistic universals and language acquisition. {M} {N} Credits: 4 
Jill de Villiers

PHI 250 Epistemology 
Topics course: Ignorance 
What is Ignorance? Is it simply lack of knowledge? What is its relation to illusion, deception, self-deception? What is the difference between being ignorant of something and ignoring it? Is ignorance something for which one can be held responsible? Something for which one can be punished? Something for which one can be rewarded? To what social and political ends has ignorance been put, and how? Credits: 4 
Elizabeth V. Spelman 

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

PHI 345 Practicing Philosophy in the Public Sphere: A Calderwood Seminar in Public Writing 
What is philosophy for? What creative forms might our philosophical practices take in the 21st century? We will explore how a philosophical education might help us navigate our natural, cultural, social and psychological worlds and their intersections, which, in turn, shape our complex identities as individual and determine our humanity. Readings will include philosophical essays that establish key concepts in the field, as students practice writing philosophy via non-traditional, public facing genres, including blogs, opinion editorials, podcasts, interviews, book and film reviews, a curated art exhibit and staged readings. Individual classes are structured as collaborate workshops where students switch roles as writers and editors, with the overall goal of producing a portfolio of polished work. Enrollment limited to 12.  WI Credits: 4
Nalini Bhushan, Melissa Yates 

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

Fall 2019

FYS 190 Borders, Indentity and Justice
As the mobility of information, goods, capital, and people has increased worldwide, so has the backlash against migration. This seminar examines contemporary bordering principles and practices in and asks moral questions about citizenship, mobility, and identity. We will investigate principles of inclusion and exclusion and ask how borders define moral status. We will then investigate bordering practices through social theory, ethnography, human geography, and art. Should democratic societies adopt more open or closed policies toward immigration? How should nations conceive of the rights of climate refugees? Should territorial bordering practices be subject to international law and scrutiny? Enrollment limited to 16. WI {H} {S}
Melissa Yates

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

PSY 313 Seminar in Psycholinguistics 
Topics course: Language and Thought 
The seminar considers contemporary work on the relationship between language and thought, including the recent rise in “Neo-Whorfianism” or cross-cultural work on whether the language we speak influences the way that we think, also the relationship of concepts and linguistic labels, and on the potential role of syntax on conceptions of events. Prerequisites: at least one of PSY 120, PSY 160, PSY/PHI 209, PSY/PHI 213, PHI 236,  PHI 262, or permission of instructor. {N} Credits: 4 
Jill de Villiers

Spring 2020

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:

 

 

 

 

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.