Course Descriptions and Schedule

Course Schedule

fall 2023 Course Schedule (PDF)

Course Descriptions

To help you make an informed decision as to what courses to enroll in for the spring 2023 term, we have compiled a list of course descriptions composed by the professors who will be teaching these classes. We hope that this will give you more insight into what will be taught in these classes. If you have further questions about a specific course, we encourage you to contact the instructor directly via email.

Visit our YouTube channel to view our video course descriptions.

PHIL 3105 ​Landmarks in the History of Philosophy: Angelica Nuzzo

Mondays and Wednesdays, 3:40–4:55 p.m.,

This course covers “landmark” philosophical texts and theories from the Western tradition—from the ancients to the modern and contemporary period. We will pursue a close reading and detailed discussion of selections from texts that no philosophy student can ignore, among them Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Descartes’ Meditations, and Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Students will learn how to read and analyze philosophical texts, reconstruct and compare philosophical arguments, recognize the historical development of philosophical ideas, and relate such ideas and arguments to the discussion of contemporary issues.

PHIL 3111 Ancient Philosophy: Angelica Nuzzo

Mondays, 6:05–9:45 p.m.,

The course is a survey of some of the crucial texts and moments of ancient Greek philosophy. We will investigate the beginnings of philosophia as “love of wisdom,” address the historical question of the distinction between “wisdom” and “love of wisdom,” and look at the beginning of what has been since then called “metaphysics.” We will address problems of metaphysics, logic, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics by looking at texts of the Presocratics, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, and Epicurus. The format of the course includes lecture, class discussion, and student presentation. Particular emphasis will be placed on the careful reading, interpretation, and discussion of texts. Objectives of the course are learning how to read, analyze, and interpret philosophical texts as well as assessing the historical transformation of philosophical ideas.

PHIL 3121 Modern Philosophy: Andrew Arlig

Tuesdays, 6:05–9:45 p.m.,

European philosophy of the 17th and 18th centuries is often portrayed as the direct precursor of our present-day philosophical attitudes, approaches, and sensibilities. This is the age of the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment thinking, the age when the shackles of authority are broken and human reason is celebrated. This is a myth, but like many myths there is some truth that underlies the tales that we tell about this period of philosophy. In this course we will attempt to get a fuller sense of what philosophy in this period is all about. We will note the continuities with past traditions and uncover the places where innovations appear. To accomplish this, we will read three core texts from cover to cover. To get context, we will examine other selections from authors that these three core texts engage with. Presently, the planned core texts are Anne Conway’s Principles of the Most Ancient and Most Modern Philosophy, David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women. These texts will be put into dialogue with works by Christine de Pizan, Marsilio Ficino, Michel de Montaigne, René Descartes, Mulla Sadra, William Paley, and John Locke, among others.

This course is being offered in a hybrid format. Many of our meetings will be online and some amount of independent work will be expected. However, you will be required to attend some in-person sessions, most importantly when we have presentations. Absence from required in-person sessions will have a substantial effect on your course grade. In our first meeting, we will settle on a schedule that works for all participants.

PHIL 3204 Symbolic Logic: Matthew Moore

Mondays and Wednesdays, 11 a.m.–12:15 p.m.,

In this course we will undertake a rigorous study of such basic logical concepts as validity, entailment, and logical truth. We will define these concepts for a formal language with symbols for sentential connectives like “or” and “if . . . then”; for quantity terms like “all” and “some”; and for relations like “is taller than.” It will turn out that our basic concepts can be defined both semantically (in terms of meaning) and syntactically (in terms of truth trees). Do our two kinds of definitions—semantic and syntactic—match up? The positive answer to this question is called the Completeness Theorem, and in the final weeks of the course we will see why this is the right answer. Another important question is about what is called decidability: Can a computer be programmed to determine whether, e.g., an argument is valid? Here the answer is negative; we will also see why our logic is undecidable and will discuss the philosophical ramifications of that fact. Our treatment will be self-contained; no previous knowledge of logic will be presumed.

PHIL 3309 Environmental Ethics: Mike Menser

Mondays and Wednesdays, 11 a.m.–12:15 p.m.,

Climate chaos is here, from floods to fires to mass extinctions. Everyone now agrees that we need to act, but what should we do? What should we focus on? Who should pay? Who should benefit? The 21st century has brought with it a range of environmental problems that humanity (and the rest of the earth) have never encountered, so what is Brooklyn College going to do about it? Climate change gets much of the press, but mass extinction, soil degradation, water scarcity, and atmospheric and oceanic pollution pose problems potentially as catastrophic, and New York City is feeling the impacts, especially since Superstorm Sandy. Relatedly, a global economy heavily reliant upon oil, coal, and gas threaten to further destabilize the global ecology as do further processes of economic development, urbanization, and population growth. And New York City is in the midst of a rebuilding effort, which will spend tens of billions to make us safer, but what kind of city do we want to create?

Mission of this class: 1) to become familiar with a range of ethical theories, including human-animal rights, participatory democracy, environmental justice, and virtue ethics. 2) to be able to apply these theories to real-world environmental cases both global and local and critique them; 3) to understand the historical, cultural, political, and economic dimensions of environmental issues; 4) to critically assess the role(s) of the state, market, businesses, technologies, and social movements for achieving sustainable development and “resilience”; 5) to understand the meanings of key terms in the debates: ecological footprint, sustainability, resilience, environmental racism/justice, food sovereignty, global warming, climate justice, green capitalism, “organic,” and commons. A special focus this term will be Jamaica Bay and the New York City food system.

So what should be done and who should do it? This is a central question in applied ethics. We shall be especially focused on the issue of “sustainability” and sustainable development and related issues of agriculture, food, and democracy as they apply to both rural and urban areas. Brooklyn and Brooklyn College itself will be of particular focus as we look at activities and proposals to make the campus and the borough more “sustainable” and resilient and fights over just what that means. Also, students will be required to morally evaluate their own consumption practices and construct a project to make Brooklyn College more sustainable/resilient.

PHIL 3311 Neuroethics: Anna Gotlib

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m.–12:15 p.m.,

Neuroethics is an area of study located broadly within medical ethics. It addresses ethical dilemmas at the intersection of personal identity, free will and moral responsibility, public policy and law as well as the rapidly developing field of neuroscience. Over the last few decades, neuroscientific research into the nature and functions of the brain and the nervous system has resulted in revolutionary, and sometimes troubling, challenges to some traditional conceptions of: who we are, how we reason, how we make decisions and value judgments, how and why we remember (and forget), and so on.

This seminar provides an opportunity for students to become acquainted with neuroethics as an emerging interdisciplinary field, explore in detail some of the most serious and consequential questions raised within neuroethics. These include, but are not limited to, the nature of personal identity, the implications of cognitive enhancement strategies, the moral status of “brain reading” and similar technologies, and the impact of neuroscience on questions of social justice. The class is conducted as a seminar-style discussion with a strong emphasis on student participation. Assignments will consist of presentations, short argumentative papers, and a longer seminar paper or project.

PHIL 3320 Foundations of Ethics: Christine Vitrano

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:15–3:30 p.m.,

This course examines the most important moral theories in the history of philosophy. A person’s character plays a central role in ancient moral theories, and that is where this course begins. Starting with virtue ethics, we focus on readings by Plato and Aristotle, and then we turn to the work of Epicurus (hedonism), and Epictetus (stoicism). Next, we turn to Hobbes (egoism), Kant (deontology), and Mill (utilitarianism). The course ends with a discussion of Camus and Sartre (existentialism).

PHIL 3331 Happiness and the Meaning of Life: Christine Vitrano

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:30–10:45 a.m.,

This class will center on two important philosophical topics: happiness and the meaning of life. The first part of the course will focus on the concept of happiness, where we examine its nature and value. We’ll begin by considering the role happiness has played in the history of ethics, and then we explore how it continues to play a role in contemporary philosophical debates. The second part of the course is focused on questions concerning the meaning of life. As Albert Camus explains, “Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” In addition to readings on what makes a life meaningful, we also consider questions concerning love, death, suicide, and immortality.

PHIL 3401 Metaphysics: Saam Trivedi

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:05–10:45 a.m.,

Metaphysics, broadly understood as the study of reality, is often described as being at the abstract heart of philosophy, with important connections to other branches of philosophy, including epistemology; logic; the philosophies of mind, language, and science; ethics; and aesthetics. In this class, we will discuss some central issues in contemporary analytic metaphysics such as ontology, identity, properties, and causation. Both classic and contemporary readings will be used.

PHIL 3410 Epistemology: Robert Lurz

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:05–10:45 a.m.,

What you don’t know can hurt you! What are the limits to human knowledge and understanding? Can we know and understand anything? Can we distinguish appearance from reality? Are there things that we cannot (or should not) know or understand? What are they and why? This course is intended to introduce students to a number of important philosophical issues and theories on the nature of knowledge and rational belief. Issues such as skepticism, foundationalism, coherentism, and kinds of knowledge are examined and discussed from classical and contemporary philosophical perspectives. This is an excellent course for students who are interested in philosophy, philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychology, and philosophy of science.

PHIL 3420 Philosophy of Mind: Robert Lurz

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m.–12:15 pm.,

What is this thing you call your mind? How is it related to your body, your brain, your behavior? What are feelings and thoughts? Are they really inside your brain? Do they exist at all? How can your thoughts move your body? How do you know that others have minds like yours? Do animals have minds? Can science or philosophy answer such questions? If you’re interested in these questions, then this is the course for you. This is an excellent course for students interested in philosophy, psychology, and cognitive science.

​PHIL 3501 Philosophy of Art: Saam Trivedi

​Mondays and Wednesdays, 11 a.m.–12:15 p.m.,

Back in 1999, as part of the exhibition “Sensation,” the Brooklyn Museum displayed the artist Damien Hirst’s work The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, consisting of a large glass tank holding a 13-foot tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde. But is that art? More generally, what is art? Can we define art, and if so, how? Do artistic intentions matter to interpreting artworks? What is the relation between beauty in art and beauty in nature? How can we care for fictional characters given that we know they are not real? What role does music play in a culture? Why do many people seek and enjoy horror films even though they arouse fear? What is the value of art?

PHIL 3720 Philosophy and Feminism: Serene Khader

Mondays and Wednesdays, 11 a.m.–12:15 p.m.,

Feminist theory has both critical and constructive aims. Its critical aim is to reveal androcentric biases in our existing ways of thinking about the world. Its constructive aim is to develop ways of thinking about the world that do not distort the realities of women and other oppressed people. In this course, we will examine four questions that are central to feminist theory: (1) How does oppression affect people’s capacities for autonomy and choice, and does the fact that participation in an oppressive practice is chosen make it less oppressive? (2) What knowledge practices by Western feminists perpetuate injustice to women in the global South and how do they distort Western women’s conceptions of their moral obligations to them? (3) What is intersectionality and what are the purposes of the concept of intersectionality? (4) How do existing practices of scientific knowledge acquisition and justification serve the interests of the powerful, and how might we change our conceptions of knowledge so that we might arrive at claims about reality that are not distorted by the interests of the powerful?

​PHIL 3722 Asian Philosophy​​​: Saam Trivedi

Online async,

This online and asynchronous class broadly and critically surveys the classical philosophies of China and India, two of the world’s oldest civilizations that together account for more than one-third of humanity today and also happen to be two of the world’s largest economies. Using selections from original texts, we will discuss views associated with Confucius, Laozi, Zhuangzi, the Hindu sages who composed the Vedas and Upanishads, the Buddha, and others. These thinkers addressed issues concerning ethics, society, the nature of reality, the self, knowledge, enlightenment, and self-realization.

PHIL 3740 Philosophy of Law: Anna Gotlib

Tuesdays, 2:15–3:30 p.m., and Thursdays, 1:25–3:30 p.m.,

This course explores the issues that arise at the intersection of questions about law and justice. We will critically analyze the nature and sources of law and legal institutions from the perspective of moral and political philosophy. Specifically, we will focus on topics such as equality and discrimination, the nature and sources of rights, the relationship between liberty and social (and governmental) control, the justification for punishment (including the death penalty), and issues surrounding free speech and hate speech, immigration, public health, and war (among others). We will engage with texts in legal history, legal philosophy, social and political philosophy, and court decisions. The class is conducted as a seminar-style discussion with a strong emphasis on student participation. Assignments will consist of presentations, short argumentative papers, and a longer seminar paper or project.

PHIL 4105 Theory of Mind in Animals and Humans: Philosophical and Scientific Issues: Robert Lurz

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3:40–4:55 p.m. (online),

Do animals know what others are thinking and feeling? Theory of mind (ToM) is the ability to attribute mental states, such as beliefs, desires, feelings, and perceptions, to others. Human beings have ToM, and some philosophers and scientists think ToM is a defining feature of the human mind. However, in the past 30 years there has a been a lot of research on ToM in animals, some indicating that animals also have ToM. One of the hottest topics in philosophy and psychology today is the question of whether and to what degree animals have ToM. This seminar will examine seminal and pivotal studies and theories in philosophy and psychology on the nature, possibility, limits, and moral significance of ToM in animals.

Brooklyn. All in.