Department of Philosophy
The principal goal of the study of philosophy is to enable students to think more clearly, deeply, and appreciatively about themselves and their world. Study of philosophy enhances analytical, critical, and interpretive capacities that are applicable to any subject matter in almost any context. It provides many opportunities for expressing oneself, for reflecting on questions that human beings have pondered for millennia, for exchanging reasoned beliefs and engaging in focused debate, and for learning how to come to terms with problems for which there are no easy answers. A good philosophical education also helps to prepare students for responsible and intelligent participation in political and community affairs.
The most important outcome of philosophical study is the ability to engage in thinking that is at once disciplined and imaginatively creative. While such thinking lies at the heart of the philosophical enterprise, it is also needed for success in any complex intellectual or practical endeavor. Philosophy’s attention to critical thought, rigorous argument, and articulate expression makes the philosophical curriculum absolutely central to a liberal education and valuable as a basis for further training in a variety of pursuits.
Examples of philosophical questions are:
- How should we understand truth, existence, validity, fact, value, and free will?
- What are the principles or presuppositions of science, language, political systems, and religious and moral views?
- What is the nature of a person, of space and time, of a work of art?
- What is the wisdom of the past on these enduring questions? How do Western traditions differ from Eastern ones on these questions? And how do these historical approaches relate to our own, contemporary ones?
Students are encouraged to view philosophy not as a specialized, esoteric discipline, but instead as an activity integral to a liberal arts education, helping students to think more cogently and appreciatively about themselves and their world.
PHIL 101, PHIL 110, or PHIL 112 is recommended as a first course for those interested in philosophical issues and their cultural significance and for those who wish to examine a broad range of philosophical topics, problems, or historical figures. Other good starting points are PHIL 155, which deals with logic and the analysis of argument; PHIL 160, which deals with moral thought and experience; and PHIL 150, which deals with the concepts, methods, and foundations of the biological and physical sciences.
PHIL 155 is recommended for all students who major or minor in philosophy.
All majors and minors have a primary academic advisor from the Academic Advising Program. Students are strongly encouraged to meet regularly with their advisor and review their Tar Heel Tracker each semester. The department’s director of undergraduate studies works with current and prospective majors by appointment (see contact information above). Departmental academic advising is particularly important for those majors who are considering going on to graduate school. Further information on courses, undergraduate research opportunities, the honors program, careers, and graduate schools may be obtained from the department’s website. A brief video with information about the philosophy major is available here.
Graduate School and Career Opportunities
A major in philosophy offers excellent preparation for many careers in which clear thinking and analytical ability are valued. Some majors choose to pursue graduate work in philosophy in preparation for college or university teaching (Ph.D. normally required), but the philosophy major also provides the form of rigorous and systematic intellectual training that is of crucial importance in law, medicine, business, and other fields.
Marc Lange, C.D.C. Reeve, Geoffrey Sayre-McCord.
Luc Bovens, Thomas Dougherty, Thomas Hofweber, Matthew Kotzen, Mariska Leunissen, Alan Nelson, Ram Neta, James Pryor, John T. Roberts, Sarah Stroud, Rebecca Walker.
Markus Kohl, Alexander Worsnip.
Rosalind Chaplin, Carla Merino-Rajme, Daniel Muñoz.
Teaching Assistant Professors
Graham Clay, Rory Hanlon, Giulia Napolitano, Gerard Rothfus, Michael Vazquez, Erik Zhang.
Bernard Boxill, Thomas E. Hill Jr., Douglas C. Long, William G. Lycan, Douglas MacLean, Stanley Munsat, Gerald J. Postema, Michael D. Resnik, Robert D. Vance, Susan Wolf.
Courses numbered below 199 have no prerequisites. These serve as suitable first courses in philosophy for many students, as do some courses below 299, in particular PHIL 210, PHIL 213, PHIL 230, PHIL 266, and PHIL 280. Courses numbered 101 to 120 are general survey courses. (Non-majors, please note that PHIL 155 satisfies the quantitative reasoning General Education requirement.) Courses numbered 130 to 290 are oriented toward particular problems or topics. For instance, courses numbered 210 to 229 concern the history of philosophy. Courses numbered 300 to 399 are designed for advanced undergraduates and majors and carry a prerequisite of one course in philosophy. (Some may carry additional prerequisites.) Courses numbered between 400 and 699 are for advanced undergraduates as well as graduate students. Detailed information on upcoming courses is available on the department’s website.
Please note that not all courses are offered on a regular basis. For information on which courses are most likely to be offered in a given year or semester, please contact the department’s director of undergraduate studies.
Socrates is the quintessential philosopher--a man for all seasons, a foundational figure of the West.
Students will read some of the most important philosophical reflections of the 17th and 18th centuries.
Students will explore a variety of issues that arise when human beings begin to reflect on our own natures and will be introduced to main theories that have been developed. Honors version available.
What is time? Do the past and the future exist, or only the present? Is the "flow of time" an objective feature of reality?
Paradoxes have been a driving force in philosophy since the fourth century BCE. They force us to rethink old ideas and conceptions.
A general philosophical discussion of the value of life, the evil in death, and the wrongness of killing.
The goal of the course is to get a mature and correct understanding of race, racism, and affirmative action.
This course will explore the ethical dimensions of the responses to evil that we have developed over history. Revenge, retribution, reparation; hatred, resentment, forgiveness; punishment, pardon, mercy.
We will examine efforts in the history of philosophy to prove that God exists or that God does not exist. Our aim is to articulate and understand some of the underlying philosophical issues that are raised by these proofs and arguments.
This seminar examines Plato's philosophical and literary masterpiece, The Symposium, and its influence on later artists and writers: we explore the Symposium itself, the ways in which the Symposium influenced later European artists and writers, and the importance of the Platonic view of love and beauty for modern artists and writers. Honors version available.
Novels, memoirs, and aisles of self-help books attest to our desire to transform ourselves. Yet, the idea of self-transformation is puzzling. In this class, we will critically examine the idea of aspiration and transformation.
This seminar is designed to give students a unique, experiential perspective on philosophical inquiry by combining the philosophical study of ethics with virtual service in the community. We will examine philosophical questions about childhood and engage in philosophical interactions with children about a range of philosophical topics, with an emphasis on ethics and human values. Students perform 30 hours of service at a local K-5 school.
What are minds and how are they related to bodies?
This seminar introduces several of the central problems in philosophy through reflection on the nature of mathematics.
This seminar examines theoretical issues, relativism, utilitarianism, deontological ethics, and virtue ethics.
This seminar examines ethical issues in sports, including Title IX, gender equity, racism, sexism, cheating, violence, and drug use.
This course will explore the meaning of basic moral concepts as they are understood in philosophy, science, and art. Honors version available.
This course uses insights and techniques from philosophy, politics, and economics to answer questions like: What makes a modern civilization possible? How can our societies continue to improve? What role do property rights, markets, and political action play in creating flourishing civilizations? How do we address environmental degradation, distributive justice, and economic exploitation? Our answers will draw from rational choice theory, utility theory, game theory, public choice economics, etc. Course is limited to PPE minors.
What is evil? Who, if anyone, is responsible for it? How different are evil people from the rest of us? How should we respond to them? The course will explore the nature of evil through philosophy, nonfiction, fiction, and film.
This course will examine whether our belief in freedom of action is compatible with the modern picture of ourselves. Honors version available.
Is man's reason a powerful thing: if one had knowledge or belief about something that should be done, would that be enough to position one to do it?
This course explores both old and new questions regarding death. It will examine the presuppositions and cogency of the classical religious-philosophical conception of death.
In this seminar we will examine a number of constitutions and try to determine what makes a constitution better or worse, and when it makes sense to borrow constitutional principles from other countries. We will also try our hand at designing a constitution.
We will read short stories and social science articles that address social problems such as child-rearing; social mobility; mass incarceration and race; the opiate crisis; tradition versus science. Students will explore the different ways in which literature, the humanities and the social sciences construct issues of social relevance, the opportunities and limits of these constructions, and what might be gained by using each to understand and respond to these issues.
The arguments by which Galileo and his contemporaries defended the Copernican model of the solar system puzzle philosophers even today. Honors version available.
An introduction to the topic of personal identity, focused on epistemological, ethical, and metaphysical themes. The course examines what personal identity over time consists in, whether and how we can know such identity, under what conditions our personal identity is liable to change, and what this implies for our values and projects.
Special Topics Course. Content will vary each semester.
An introduction to philosophy focusing on a few central problems, for example: free will, the basis of morality, the nature and limits of knowledge, and the existence of God. Honors version available.
A course on how to identify, analyze, and evaluate arguments by other people and how to construct arguments. Topics include argument reconstruction, informal logic, fallacies, introductory formal logic, probabilistic reasoning.
An introduction to philosophy focusing on several great books from the history of Western philosophy. See course description at the department's website for which books will be covered each semester. Honors version available.
An examination of some of the most influential attempts to understand human beings, their lives, and their moral and political values. Authors may include Plato, Aristotle, and Nietzsche. Honors version available.
A philosophical inquiry into the problems of religious experience and belief, as expressed in philosophic, religious, and literary documents from traditional and contemporary sources. Honors version available.
An examination of questions about knowledge, evidence, and rational belief as they arise in areas of social life such as democratic politics, the law, science, religion, and education. Honors version available.
This course investigates philosophical issues arising from advanced forms of technology, in particular artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and biological augmentation. We will consider questions about the dangers and benefits of AI, survival in non-biological ways, moral constraints on AI, the relationship between human and machine morality, and others. Honors version available.
An examination of the differences between natural human languages and other communication systems. Includes a philosophical inquiry into how languages relate to the world and the mind. Honors version available.
What is distinctive about the kind of knowledge called "science"? What is scientific explanation? How are scientific theories related to empirical evidence? Honors version available.
How do social sciences explain human actions? Are there social facts over and above facts about various individuals? Do values enter into social science?
Introduces the theory of deductive reasoning, using a symbolic language to represent and evaluate patterns of reasoning. Covers sentential logic and first-order predicate logic. Honors version available.
A broader discussion of practical reasoning, including inductive and deductive logic, which provides a good introduction to decision and game theory that is important for the social sciences, especially economics. Honors version available.
Exploration of different philosophical perspectives about right and wrong, personal character, justice, moral reasoning, and moral conflicts. Readings drawn from classic or contemporary sources. Critical discussion emphasized. Honors version available.
Topics may include war, medical ethics, media ethics, sexual ethics, business ethics, racism, sexism, capital punishment, and the environment. Honors version available.
An examination of business ethics and the types of ethical dilemmas people may face in business practices.
An examination of ethical issues in the life sciences and technologies, medicine, public health, and/or human interaction with nonhuman animals or the living environment. Honors version available.
An examination of major issues in political philosophy, e.g., liberty, individual rights, social responsibility, legal authority, civil authority, civil disobedience. Readings include classical and contemporary writings. Honors version available.
A course on philosophical issues related to laughter and humor. Historical and contemporary philosophical theories of humor; connections between traditional issues in aesthetics and humor; moral questions about humor, such as what is involved in a joke being racist/sexist/homophobic; and connections between jokes and various epistemological fallacies.
The nature of art and artworks and their aesthetic appraisal. Honors version available.
The emergence of philosophy in Greece during the sixth century BCE and its development during the classical period. The major figures studied are the Pre-Socratic philosophers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Honors version available.
This course studies through the examination of several infamous, ignored, or otherwise uncharted Ancient Greek texts the views about gender and race as presented in ancient Greek philosophy, medicine, and science. Our aims are to generate a new understanding of how the male elite used such views to further promote or justify (or perhaps challenge) the existing marginalization and silencing of women, foreigners, and less privileged men.
An examination of some of the philosophical traditions of Asia. Possible topics include Advaita Vedanta, Nyaya-Vaisheshika, Madhyamaka Buddhism, neo-Confucianism, Mohism, and philosophical Taoism.
A survey of medieval philosophy from Augustine through Ockham. Topics: God and the world, faith and reason, knowledge and reality, the problem of universals. Additional main authors: Anselm, Aquinas, Duns Scotus.
A study of some major philosophical works from this period, including works by authors such as Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Berkeley, Leibniz, Hume, and/or Kant. Honors version available.
A survey of European philosophers in the phenomenological and existentialist traditions. Philosophers studied may include Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus. Honors version available.
An exploration of the distinctively American approaches to philosophy from Jonathan Edwards to the present.
An introductory survey of British and Continental philosophy in the 20th century.
Topics in metaphysics and/or epistemology, such as: Is your mind different from your brain? Is it possible for us to know anything about the external world? Do we have free will? What distinguishes reasonable from unreasonable belief? Honors version available.
This course examines the role that inductive logic plays in scientific reasoning. Questions to be considered include: Are scientific theories distinguished from pseudoscience by being testable against our observations? Can we prove our best scientific theories to be true? Are we justified in making predictions about the future on the basis of past observations? The course examines these and other questions about confirming scientific theories by using the apparatus provided by the probability calculus.
Ethics Bowl provides a unique experiential opportunity for students to apply theory to practical global issues. Students will prepare cases to present locally and at Ethics Bowl competition. Permission of the instructor.
In the near future, our taxis will be driver-less, our wars will be fought by autonomous drones, and our towns will be kept safe by algorithms foreseeing crimes. This course explores the ethical implications of this new technological revolution and invites students to debate the challenges it engenders. We will debate how new technologies ought to be governed and what limits should be imposed on their implementation.
An analysis of the moral significance of sports, the nature of sport and competition, and issues such as racism, gender equity, violence, and performance-enhancing drugs.
An analysis of ethical issues that arise in peace, war, and defense, e.g., the legitimacy of states, just war theory, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction.
This course will focus on justice and the common good, applying theoretical justifications to contemporary social and economic issues. Readings will include classical and contemporary literature on the nature of justice and rights. Honors version available.
Race, identity, discrimination, multiculturalism, affirmative action, and slave reparations in the writings of Walker, Delany, Douglass, Cooper, DuBois, King, and Malcolm X. Honors version available.
A survey of feminist perspectives on topics such as the meaning of oppression, sexism and racism, sex roles and stereotypes, ideals of female beauty, women in the workplace, pornography, rape. Honors version available.
This course studies how (oftentimes implicit) ideological commitments shape our culture and our social reality. We will explore the Marxist tradition and the Frankfurt School Critical Theory, as well as contemporary applications and critiques of ideology in thinkers such as Jaeggi, Fraser, Shelby, and Haslanger.
Explores issues in legal philosophy such as, What is law? Does it serve justice or undermine it? Can punishment be justified? When is a person responsible? Honors version available.
The philosophy of human rights addresses questions about the existence, content, nature, universality, justification, and legal status of human rights. The strong claims made on behalf of human rights frequently provoke skeptical doubts and countering philosophical defenses. These will be addressed through classical and contemporary history of philosophy.
A critical examination of the moral and philosophical issues in education: What does it mean to be well educated? What is a liberal education? Honors version available.
Permission of the instructor. This course combines on-campus structured learning with substantial on-site field work incorporating philosophy into the primary and/or secondary school curriculum. Philosophy subjects and school partners will vary by semester.
This is a high-impact service-learning course that aims to promote experiential learning in philosophy by combining traditional elements of classroom study with service in the community (HI-SERVICE). Students will have the unique opportunity to teach and learn philosophy alongside older adults in the Triangle area, thereby integrating the academic study of philosophy with community engagement.
An examination of general theories of the nature of reality. What kinds of things exist? What are space, time, and causation? Are abstract entities (such as numbers) real?
What is knowledge and how does it relate to belief, justification, and truth? What makes beliefs reasonable or irrational? Can skepticism be defeated?
The mind-body problem, the nature of thinking, the puzzles of consciousness, and the qualitative character of felt experience.
Survey of major topics in contemporary philosophy of language. Topics may include truth and meaning, speech acts, reference, descriptions, names, and demonstratives.
Topics may include the nature of space and time, the ontological status of fields and energy, or causation and locality in quantum physics. Honors version available.
Philosophical issues raised by biological theories, which may include the logical structure of evolutionary theory, fitness, taxonomy, the notion of a living thing, reductionism, evolutionary explanations, or teleology.
Philosophical questions raised by linguistics, computer science, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience. Topics may include the innateness of language, artificial intelligence, and the neural correlates of consciousness. Honors version available.
An interdisciplinary course on the weirdness of quantum mechanics and the problem of interpreting it. Nonlocality, the measurement problem, superpositions, Bohm's theory, collapse theories, and the many-worlds interpretation.
Quantificational logic with identity; basic meta-theory; modal logic.
Current accounts of evidence and observation, the confirmation of scientific theories, the logic of inductive reasoning, and the metaphysics and epistemology of chance.
PHIL 160 recommended. Major developments in the history of moral philosophy, from Plato to Nietzsche. Honors version available.
Using 20th- and 21st-century texts, this course explores some general questions about morality in depth. For example, Is there moral truth? Are any moral rules absolute? Why be moral? Honors version available.
Recommended preparation, at least one course in ethics (PHIL 160, 163, or 170) or one course in economics. Issues at the intersection of ethics and economics, including value; the relation between values and preferences; rationality; the relevance to economics of rights, justice, and the value of human life.
The meaning of environmental values and their relation to other values; the ethical status of animals, species, wilderness, and ecosystems; the built environment; environmental justice; ecofeminism; obligations to future generations.
Advanced discussion of competing philosophical approaches to questions of justice, authority, freedom, rights, and the like, including libertarianism, liberalism, communitarianism, Marxism, and feminism.
An examination of how philosophical issues are explored in the medium of film. Honors version available.
One course in economics strongly recommended. This interdisciplinary gateway course provides an introduction to subjects and quantitative techniques used to analyze problems in philosophy, political science, and economics. Honors version available.
Intensive exploration and discussion of selected topics in philosophy. Honors version available.
This is a capstone course in ethics designed for Parr Center Ethics Scholars completing the Mentored Research capstone project. The seminar will provide a collaborative learning space that will facilitate each student's independent research and writing. This course will begin with survey of major themes in practical ethics before transitioning to a thematically focused study of topics based on the research interests of the students in the course.
This is a philosophical research course for anyone with some background in philosophy and an interest in the topic. Special emphasis is placed on giving students the opportunity to immerse themselves in a research project that leads to an original final research paper.
Permission of the instructor. See the director of undergraduate studies of the department.
This course is designed to approximate the experience of a graduate seminar in philosophy. The course topic is different each year; class meetings are discussion-based and focused on developing professional writing and research skills. Recommended for all majors and minors.
Advanced Undergraduate and Graduate-level Courses
An examination of some representative works of Aristotle, with reference to common emphases and basic problems, together with an analysis of their philosophic content. The aim to provide students with a more thorough understanding of the key texts, doctrines, notions, and ideas in Aristotle's philosophy as a whole and with the capacities and confidence to conduct a short, independent, ancient philosophical research project on Aristotle's philosophy.
An examination of some representative works in the context of contemporary scholarship.
An intensive study of some medieval philosophical author (e.g., Aquinas, Scotus, or Ockham) or topic (e.g., arguments for the existence of God, universals, knowledge of individuals).
An in-depth study of such rationalist philosophers as Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz.
An in-depth study of such empiricist philosophers as Locke, Berkeley, and Hume.
An intensive introduction to Kant's accounts of space, time, concepts, perception, substance, causation, and the thinking self through a careful study of his masterwork, The Critique of Pure Reason.
This course studies closely Kant's practical philosophy, dedicated to understanding and assessing the answers that Kant gives to classic questions of practical philosophy, such as: What does morality demand from us? What is the morally right course of action? Is morality objective? Do moral norms depend on God?
This course examines the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, covering all three conventionally recognized periods of his philosophy in chronological sequence, tracing the historical and philosophical development of his views from the early Birth of Tragedy to the late Twilight of Idols. The main question we will face when studying all these different writings is how Nietzsche tries to solve the problem of nihilism. Completion of one previous PHIL course preferred.
In-depth study of Hegel's systematic philosophy emphasizing its roots in Kant's critical philosophy. Primary focus on Phenomenology of Spirit, supplemented by selections from the Encyclopedia and Philosophy of Right.
An in-depth study of American contributions to philosophy, including for example the transcendentalists, the pragmatists, Quine, Rorty, and others.
Frege, Russell, Moore, and Wittgenstein among others are considered.
Two courses in philosophy other than PHIL 155 strongly recommended. Recent work in epistemology and metaphysics.
At least two courses in philosophy other than PHIL 155, including PHIL 340, strongly recommended. An examination of dualism, behaviorism, the identity theory, and forms of functionalism with special focus on the problems of mental aboutness and the problems of consciousness.
At least two courses in philosophy other than PHIL 155, including PHIL 345, strongly recommended. A study of important contemporary contributions in philosophy of language. Topics include meaning, reference, and truth.
An in-depth survey of general issues in contemporary philosophy of natural science intended for advanced philosophy students. Topics include confirmation, explanation, theory-choice, realism, reduction.
Topics may include the nature of space and time, the ontological status of fields and energy, or causation and locality in quantum physics.
The logical structure of evolutionary theory, fitness, taxonomy, the notion of a living thing, reductionism, evolutionary explanations, teleology.
Topics may include reasoning, the relationship between language and thought, concepts, moral cognition, and emotions.
The nature of historical explanation, structural and functional explanation, the weighing of historical testimony, the concept of meaning, normative judgments and predictions in the social sciences.
Introduction for graduates and advanced undergraduates.
Presupposes propositional and quantificational logic as a basis of further deductive development with special attention to selected topics: alternative systems, modal and deontic logic, inductive logic, the grammar of formalized languages, paradoxes, and foundations of mathematics.
Natural and real numbers. Infinite cardinal and ordinal numbers. Alternative axiom systems and their consistency problems.
Philosophical problems concerning logic and the foundation of mathematics.
Examination of classic texts of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hobbes, Butler, Hume, Kant, and Mill. Selections may vary from year to year.
Advanced discussion of moral issues such as fact and value, reason and morality, the nature of morality.
Two courses in philosophy other than PHIL 155 strongly recommended. A detailed examination of one or more of the following contemporary issues: environmental ethics, animal rights, abortion, euthanasia, pornography, racism, sexism, public versus private morality.
One course in philosophy strongly recommended. Medical students welcome. The course will focus on the question of how scarce health care resources ought to be distributed in order to meet the demands of justice.
One additional course in philosophy strongly recommended. The course examines attitudes toward risk and how they affect our preferences for different public policies in the areas of environmental protection, technology regulation, and workplace and product safety.
Two courses in philosophy other than PHIL 155, including PHIL 170 or 370, strongly recommended. Explores the foundations of justice and authority in the idea of contract or covenant, the nature of law, rights, liberty, and democracy in the work of Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau.
An examination of central issues in social and political philosophy as they figure in the work of 19th Century Philosophy.
One course in philosophy other than PHIL 155 strongly recommended. The issue of unity and diversity in America is analyzed through the writings of Jefferson, the Federalists and Anti-Federalists, Calhoun, MacKinnon, DuBois, and Rawls.
This course traces the emergence and development of central themes of modern political philosophy from the 13th through the 17th century.
Examines in greater depth and complexity one or more of the issues addressed in PHIL 275, investigating issues of gender, race, and class within the dominant theories of philosophy.
Two courses in philosophy other than PHIL 155, including PHIL 370, strongly recommended. Investigation of major contemporary contributors (Rawls, Nozick, Dworkin, Cohen, Waldron, Arrow) to philosophical debate concerning justice, equality, liberty, democracy, public reason, or rights versus community.
An exploration of whether and under what conditions the state has the right to control crime by punishment of past crimes and preventive detention to prevent future crimes.
Philosophical readings of literary texts, including novels, plays, and poems.
Competing theories of art and art criticism. The relationship between art and emotional expression, the formal character of art, and standards of taste.
Interdisciplinary course to develop critical thinking capacities through philosophical study of the nature of scientific presuppositions and concepts, including events, causality, and determinism, with specific application to health care issues.
A study of one or two major systematic works by Sartre, Heidegger, or Merleau-Ponty.
Permission of the director of undergraduate studies. Advanced independent work in philosophy.
Ethics explores obligations to act in the interest of others as well as ourselves. Justice explores the ways people should organize and govern themselves. Course addresses such questions as, What principles govern our relationships with other people? What do we owe others and ourselves? How should we treat other people?
Permission of the director of undergraduate studies. See the director of undergraduate studies of the department.
Permission of the director of undergraduate studies. See the director of undergraduate studies of the department.
Permission of the department. This capstone course advances PHIL 384, focusing on such theoretical and philosophical issues as the analysis of rights or distributive justice and the institutional implications of moral forms.