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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, 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
The Logic of Semantic Composition
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


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.


For a current listing of course offerings, see the Smith College Course Catalog and the Five College Course Guide.

Fall 2018

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 Ramsey

PHI 127 Indian Philosophy 
An introduction to the six classical schools of Indian philosophy. What are their views on the nature of self, mind and reality? What is knowledge and how is it acquired? What constitutes right action? We will read selections from the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Nyaya and Yoga Sutras, and the Samkhya-Karika, amongst others. At the end of the semester we will briefly consider the relation of these ancient traditions to the views of some influential modern Indian thinkers like Aurobindo, Vivekananda and Krishnamurti. Comparisons with positions in the western philosophical tradition will be an integral part of the course. {H} Credits: 4 
Nalini Bhushan 

PHI 210 Colloquium: Issues in Recent and Contemporary Philosophy 
Topics course: Animal Rights 
Speciesism is the view that human beings have an inherent right to dominate non-human species and use them for human ends. The course examines critics as well as proponents of the morality of speciesism. It involves synthesizing disparate areas in philosophy (ethics, philosophical psychology, philosophy of science) and applying them to the use of non-humans in areas such as agriculture, biology, psychology and medicine. Enrollment limited to 20. {S} Credits: 4 
Albert G. Mosley

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 221 Ethics and Society 
This course surveys current topics in applied ethics. It introduces the major sources of moral theory from religious and secular sources, and show how these theories are applied. Topics include biomedical ethics (abortion, euthanasia, reproductive technologies, rationing), business ethics (advertising, accounting, whistle-blowing, globalism), sexual ethics (harassment, coercion, homosexuality), animal rights (vegetarianism, vivisection, experimentation), social justice (war, affirmative action, poverty, criminal justice), environmental ethics (preserving species and places, genetically modified foods, global warming) and other topics. {H} {S} Credits: 4 
Eric Snyder  
PHI 230 American Philosophy 
Topics course: Pragmatism and Neo-Pragmatism 
This course will survey the unique contributions of American philosophers to the development of the Western philosophical tradition. Pragmatism rejected a number of the basic assumptions of ancient, medieval, and modern philosophy, and has played a leading role in reconfiguring our conceptions of knowledge, truth, beauty, and morality. We will read selections from the founders of pragmatism (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Peirce, William James, John Dewey, George Herbert Mead, Alaine Locke) and from neo-pragmatists (W.V. Quine, Hilary Putnam, Richard Rorty, Stanley Cavell, Richard Shusterman) in order to show the relevance of pragmatism to contemporary debates concerning the nature of science, technology, aesthetics, politics, and the law. Enrollment limited to 25. {H} Credits: 4 
Albert G. Mosley

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 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 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 2019

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 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 C. Dubin, Jay Lazar Garfield 

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 216 Theory of Meaning: Semantics of Natural Language 
Natural language semantics is central to philosophical logic and to linguistics. This course introduced students to the semantics of natural language, using the framework of Montague Grammar. Students will learn how to apply the formal techniques of intensional logic to understand how language expresses meaning and how the meanings of semantic wholes are computed on the basis of the meanings or their parts. {M} Credits: 4 
Eric Snyder 

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 
Eric Snyder 

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 
John Robison

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 241 Business Ethics:  Moral Issues in the Boardroom and the Classroom
An investigation of ethical questions that arise in the world of business, including the business of the academy; and scrutiny of the moral principles that may enable us to cope successfully with these questions. Issues to be discussed include the responsibilities of businesses and the academy toward their various stake-holders, including society at large and the environment; the ethics of investment, including endowments; product liability; advertisement and the principle of caveat emptor; sexual harassment; employee rights; spirituality and the workplace, and special privileges of the academy (academic freedom, tenure, etc.). The case-study method will be used. Not open to first-year students. Enrollment limited to 40. {S} 4 credits.
Wesley Anderson

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 310 Seminar: Recent and Contemporary Philosophy 
Topics course: Cosmopolitanism 
What does it mean to be a cosmopolitan person -- a global citizen? Can one simultaneously construct one's identity in terms of one's nationality, gender, ethnicity and/or other more local forms of community and be truly cosmopolitan? If so, how? If not, which is the better approach? Is there one distinctive way of being cosmopolitan, or might there be varieties of cosmopolitanism arising in different cultural contexts, for instance, under colonial rule or conditions of exile? Is it self-evidently true that being a cosmopolitan person is a good thing, for an individual or a society? What are some of its challenges? We will read essays by Kant, Mill, Nussbaum, Rawls, Rorty, Naipaul, Said, Tagore, Gandhi, Appiah and others with a view to examining and assessing different answers that have been proposed to these and related questions. {H} {S} Credits: 4 
Nalini Bhushan 

PHI 310 Seminar: Recent and Contemporary Philosophy 
Topics course: Race in Contemporary Philosophy
This course will survey discussions of race in contemporary philosophy.  We will examine issues such as whether races exist (Anthony Appiah), the status of mixed race people (Naomi Zackj), mixed race families (Sally Hasinger), race as a social construction (Ron Mallon), and racial realism (Joshua Glasgow).  We will also look at treatments of race by philosophers in Brazil, South Africa, India, and Malaysia. {H} {S} Credits: 4 
Albert G. Mosley

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

Fall 2018

FYS 137 Of Minds and Molecules: Philosophical Perspectives on Chemistry and Biochemistry
What is the "shape," "size," or "color" of a smell? We often use vision as a metaphor when describing our perceptions from our other senses, but does this limit what we perceive?  How do the (often visual) models that chemists use, and the metaphors that are associated with those models, affect what chemists study?  For example, what do we mean when we speak of molecular “switches” or “brakes”?  How do the metaphors and the kinds of languages that chemists use differ from those used in the arts?  Is chemistry a single discipline, sharing a common language?  Is it even an autonomous discipline at all, or is it reducible to physics?  We will explore these questions from a philosophical perspective, using examples drawn primarily from chemistry and biochemistry.  The course is designed for first-year students who would like to explore current conceptual issues that challenge some of the common beliefs about science.  Enrollment limited to 20 first-year students. WI Credits: 4 
Nalini Bhushan, David Bicker

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, Eric Snyder

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 2018

LOG 222 Set Theory 
This course is an introduction to the fundamentals of set theory. Emphasis will be on technical material, though there will be some philosophical discussion as well. On the mathematical side, topics covered include the standard axioms of set theory, basic operations on sets, cardinal and ordinal numbers, and the cumulative hierarchy. On the philosophical side, topics include the set theoretic paradoxes and indefinite extensibility. Prerequisite: LOG 100, MTH 153, or the equivalent. {M} Credits: 4 

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






Department of Philosophy
Dewey Hall 106
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063
Phone: 413-585-3679
Fax: 413-585-3710

Administrative Assistant: Chrissie Bell

Individual appointments can be arranged directly with the faculty.