Philosophy Curriculum

Our students must complete seven contracts, three Independent Study Projects and a senior thesis project to graduate. Contracts consist of three to five academic activities — courses, tutorials, internships, independent reading projects, etc. — that will develop your personal educational goals during a semester.

Here’s a list of recent course offerings in Philosophy:

Classical Philosophy
The ancient Greeks invented philosophy and, in doing so, they gave us many of our basic notions about reality, ethics, and knowledge. By focusing on the dialogues of Plato in the first module and the works of Aristotle in the second, we will explore the foundations of the Western philosophical tradition.

Ethics of Otherness
How can I ever "know" another person? How ought I treat him/her? Are these questions connected? Ought they be? In contemporary European philosophy, such questions are interrogated under the title of "otherness." This course will examine the paradigmatic paradoxes of "otherness" as found in the work of Hegel and Husserl. It will then inquire into the ethical articulation of "otherness" in the philosophies of thinkers such as Sartre, DeBeauvoir, Buber, Levinas, and Derrida.

Existentialist Themes
This course will be an introduction to some of the thinkers collected under the label of existentialism. Particular existentialist themes I want to stress in this course are freedom, responsibility and creation. Existentialism certainly discusses angst and despair and nausea, but there is also a very powerful creative message--we can create values, and we can create ourselves. The course will include: selections from Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov: "The Rebellion" and "The Grand Inquisitor", Soren Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals and The Gay Science, and Jean-Paul Sartre's "No Exit", Nausea, Existentialism and Human Emotions, and selections from his Being and Nothingness.

Formal Logic
This course will include work in syntax, semantics natural deduction for sentential logic and first-order predicate logic. The course may also include a brief introduction to some topics in basic metatheory and a similarly brief intruduction to sentential modal logic.

German Idealism
This seminar will examine key texts and issues central to understanding one or more major figure working in the tradition of German Idealism (e.g. Kant, Hegel, Schelling). Participation will be limited to fourteen, and completion of "Modern Philosophy" is strongly recommended.

Hegel offers a radical critique and development of the Kantian revolution in epistemology, ethics, and political philosophy. His approach has inspired many Marxist interpretations and is gaining new adherents today. This course will examine Hegel’s philosophy through close readings of The Phenomenology of Spirit and The Philosophy of Right as informed by commentators from Marx to contemporary thinkers such as Pippin, Brandom, and McDowell.

"Post-modernism" would have been unthinkable without the phenomenological innovations of Martin Heidegger's being-in-the-world and Maurice Merleau-Ponty's lived-body/flesh. This advanced seminar will center on close reading and discussion of large portions of Heidegger's Being and Time and Merleau-Ponty's The Phenomenology of Perception and The Visible and the Invisible. Seminar participation will be limited to fourteen, and some familiarity with European philosophy is required.

Edmund Husserl wrote that his phenomenological reduction was a sort of conversion experience and it's been joked that "Once you do the reduction you never get out." It at least seems to be the case that you never quite escape. Much of continental philosophy owes its impetus to an entanglement with Husserl's phenomenology. Martin Heidegger dedicates Being and Time to him; Merleau-Ponty and Sartre both pick up phenomenology and credit him as inspirations; Foucault finds it important to distinguish himself from him; Derrida's Speech and Phenomena is a prolonged critique of him—the list goes on. If you are seeking a firm foundation in your studies of continental philosophy, you should begin with Edmund Husserl. In this course, we will thus devote ourselves to this task.

The readings for this course will include selections from: Logical Investigations, The Idea of Phenomenology, Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology, Cartesian Meditations, and The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology.

Introduction to Ethics/Environmental Ethics
This course will begin with an historical introduction to important ethical theories that continue to influence our thinking about ethics today (e.g., virtue ethics, contract theory, sentimentalism, deontology, utilitarianism, and rational choice). It will then ask how such theories might be meaningfully applied to such environmental dilemmas as the extension of ethical principles to other species, competing needs of development vs. conservation, and the conflict between regional self-determination and global legislation and enforcement. The class will continually confront questions about whether traditional ethical theories can cope with the kind of responsibility care for the planet seems to demand.

Introduction to Philosophy
An introduction to some of the areas treated in philosophy: Logic, Philosophy of Language; Philosophy of Religion; Ethics; Epistemology. We will look into the various areas by examining one or more problems that are traditionally treated in each of the areas we treat.

Language, Thought, and the World
An introduction to the philosophy of language, in which we'll investigate such questions as: What makes a sentence mean one thing rather than another? When are two sentences (in the same or different languages) synonymous? How is the meaning of what we say related to our states of mind? To communal convention? To what extent must we know what we mean in order to mean it? What is it to understand what someone else says? We'll be focusing primarily on 20th century analytic approaches to these questions (especially those associated with Frege on one hand and Wittgenstein on the other), but other approaches will not be excluded.

Medieval Philosophy and Religious Thought
The period from 200 c.e. to 1400 c.e. has often been described as the Age of Faith. And such figures as Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas had important things to say about the nature of God, the relationships of human beings to God, and the nature of faith. They also discussed the nature of reality, analyzed language and its various uses, and offered a variety of theories about the nature of ethics. Their views became the foundation on which later philosophers and theologians constructed their systems. While we will pay special attention to the thought of Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas, we will also be concerned with the influential views of such thinkers as Boethius, Scotus Eriugena, Abelard, and Duns Scotus.

Metaphysics Survey
Metaphysics comprises philosophical reflection on the Nature of Things and of their most general characteristics and relations. Although the history of analytic philosophy includes a strong strain of hostility to metaphysics, there have always been metaphysicians among analytic philosophers, and contemporary analytic philosophy includes metaphysics as a prominent field of inquiry. To get a sense of the scope of contemporary metaphysical speculation, we shall consider a variety of different metaphysical issues. These might include some of the following: the nature of time, identity through time, necessity and possibility, cause and effect, and the nature of similarity and difference (a.k.a. the Problem of Universals).

Modern European Aesthetic Theory
In this advanced seminar, we will pursue a close study of the major works founding the European tradition of Philosophy of Art, centering on the 19th and early 20th centuries. Readings will included Burke, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche,Heidegger, and Benjamin.

Modern Philosophy
Building on the achievements of the Classical and Medieval Periods, thinkers such as Leibniz, Kant, and Hegel laid the foundation for our contemporary world and its methods of thought and analysis. By focusing on the British Empiricists -- Locke, Berkeley, and Hume -- and the Continental Rationalists-Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza -- we shall trace the thought of the Modern period and its synthesis in Kant's Critical Philosophy, and the Hegelian, Marxian, and Nietzschian reactions to that synthesis.

The Philosophy of Martin Heidegger
Heidegger is generally regarded as the most important “Continental” philosopher of the 20th Century. In this course, we will concentrate on Part I and II of Heidegger’s Being and Time, but will also consider key texts of the “late Heidegger” as well as discussions of Heidegger by thinkers such as Derrida, Merleau-Ponty, and Deleuze. Seminar participation will be limited to fourteen, and some familiarity with European philosophy is required.

Philosophy of Music
The purpose of this course is to think hard about fundamental issues concerning music: Does music have meaning? If so, what kind is it, and how may it be understood? How is music connected to emotion? If music is an art, what are its “artworks”? What, if anything, is special about written music, and what are the roles of composers and performers as musical creators? What values can music realize, and how can music be evaluated in terms of them?

Philosophy of Science
What makes science science and distinguishes it from other pursuits? How does the evidence cited by scientists support the theoretical claims they make? Is there good reason to believe that those claims are true? In this course, we'll consider these and other philosophical questions about science. We'll begin with a fairly orthodox description of scientific method, and proceed to successively more radical accounts of science and scientific knowledge or "knowledge", including recent feminist accounts.

Recent French Philosophy
French philosophy can seem both tantalizing and elusive. My hope in this course is to retain all that is tantalizing, but at the same time to place it all within reach. One method we will employ to this end is to keep an eye on the methods that the philosophers themselves employ in their philosophical investigations—what are their methods, how and why do they shift? We will begin with the French phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty (reading his Phenomenology of Perception). Next we will examine Foucault who rejects phenomenology early in his career in lieu of new tools of investigation: genealogy and archaeology. We will see these tools in action in History of Sexuality and Madness and Civilization respectively. Finally, we will study one of the most famous methods of recent French philosophy, namely deconstruction, and we will do so by watching Derrida himself deconstruct a Platonic text in Derrida’s work "Plato's Pharmacy".

Theory of Knowledge
'What is knowledge' is one of the traditional Big Questions of Philosophy. We'll be concerned with the conditions which must be satisfied in order to know something, with potential sources of knowledge (most notably sense perception and pure thought) and with the nature of evidence and reasons for belief. We'll also examine skeptical arguments purporting to show that nobody can know anything at all.

Thomas Aquinas
Aquinas is one of the key figures of the Middle Ages. His views on the nature of human beings, the existence of God, the nature of morality, to mention a few issues, have influenced subsequent generations in countless ways. In this seminar we will use Brian Davies's The Thought of Thomas Aquinas to come to understand this important thinker. Primary readings will be from a variety of texts, including his commentaries on Aristotle, the Summa Theologiae, and the Summa Contra Gentiles. We will devote equal time to metaphysical doctrines and ethical doctrines. Some background in the Middle Ages is recommended but not required.

Topics in Philosophy of Religion
This regularly scheduled course will feature two or three important problems that concern people working in philosophy of religion. For this semester we will, in the first module, look at the nature of the soul by examining theories of the soul offered by Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, and certain contemporary authors (Swinburne and Lynn Baker). In the second module, we will examine questions about free will and determinism. While our focus will be on the relationship between God's knowledge and human freedom, we will examine other forms of possible determinism. 

For detailed requirements, check out our General Catalog and the Philosophy Academic Learning Compact.

For a complete list of courses, click here.

[Did you know?]

Philosophy, eh?
When we surveyed our 1996–2007 philosophy graduates, 94% were employed or pursuing further education and 41% were working in the field of education.
(Take that, naysayers.)

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