The study of philosophy enables students to confront in a disciplined and constructive way fundamental questions and problems, both theoretical and practical, about themselves and their relation to the world. Philosophy enriches thought, imagination, understanding, and experience as a whole. Even beginning students of philosophy find themselves reflecting upon things they formerly took for granted, and they can often apply their philosophical perspectives to issues treated in their other courses.
Most courses in the philosophy curriculum require only the introductory course as a prerequisite; the department invites all students to construct programs in philosophy related to their studies in other disciplines. Qualified students are encouraged to study a foreign language to supplement their study of philosophy. The study of philosophy contributes valuably to academic pursuits and to the pursuit of almost any career.
The department requires that students who major in philosophy take the survey courses in ancient and modern philosophy and two advanced seminars. The department expects that each major will pursue as broad a liberal education as possible and build a suitable background for special interest in philosophy.
A minimum of 32 credits, 20 of which must be taken at Grinnell College. Required are 231, 233, and eight credits from the following: 336, 391, 392, 393, and 394. The required 300-level seminars are normally taken in the student’s senior year. Of 100-level courses, only either 101 or 102, and 111 may be counted toward the 32-credit minimum. With permission, up to four of the 32 credits may be taken in related studies outside the department. For students who plan to attend graduate school, four semesters of a foreign language are strongly recommended.
To be considered for honors in philosophy, in addition to meeting the College’s general requirements for honors, graduating seniors must also satisfy the following departmental requirements:
- After seven semesters of college work, a 3.60 grade-point average in philosophy and a cumulative grade-point average of 3.50.
- Knowledge of a nonnative language at a level demonstrated by
1) completion of fourth-semester college coursework in a modern language or demonstration of equivalent competence, or
2) completion of three semesters of college coursework in a single language, or
3) completion of two semesters of college coursework in Latin or Greek.
- Completion of Philosophy 102 or examination showing equivalent competence.
- Philosophy 491 or an approved MAP (PHI 499) that meets the description of the Senior Essay (491).
- Presentation of a paper to a colloquium of students and faculty during one of the students’ final two semesters.
An introduction to the formal rules of reasoning, with extensive practice in identification and analysis of types of argument and in evaluation of the validity of arguments. Topics include: the construction of arguments, the relation of ordinary language to standard logical form, inductive reasoning (including hypotheses, generalization, analogy, and probability), deductive reasoning, the syllogism, validity, truth, formal fallacies, nonformal fallacies, and practical applications of the rules of logic. An introduction to complex syllogisms and to symbolic notation may be included, but extensive treatment of these topics is reserved for Philosophy 102.
A study of the formalization of complex arguments, in particular those involving quantification and relations, using principles of deduction in sentential and predicate logic. Course may also explore the semantics of the formal system.
Designed to develop the ability to think philosophically about moral issues by examining ethical problems. Topics may include gender, abortion, class, race, affirmative action, and the environment. The course also examines some leading ethical and/or social theories in conjunction with these topics.
Designed to develop the habit of philosophical thinking by pursuing perennial problems as raised and developed throughout the history of philosophy. Readings include selections from Plato, Descartes, Hume, Kant, and other thinkers, including an introductory section on some basic principles of logical thinking.
Also listed as General Literary Studies 135. A general introduction to philosophical issues and topics through works of fiction. Readings include novels, short stories, and drama by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Voltaire, Goethe, Dostoevsky, Ibsen, Sartre, Camus, Borges, Kafka, Duras, Piercy, and others.
A study of the major existentialist thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries, including Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Camus, and others. Readings will include philosophical and literary texts that explore issues including the nature of the self and its relations with others, freedom and responsibility, anxiety, transcendence, ambiguity, and the absurd.
Also listed as Classics 231. A study of the philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome. Traces the growth of Western philosophy from its origins in the sixth century BCE through the third century CE Includes examination of the Presocratics, Sophists, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicureans, Stoics, Sceptics, and Plotinus.
A study of the intellectual world of the early modern period. Readings may include works by Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. Particular attention will be given to the complex relations between philosophy, science, religion, and politics during this period.
Survey of the major figures in 19th-century philosophy, emphasizing themes that lead to developments in 20th-century phenomenology, existentialism, and poststructuralism. Readings include selections from Hegel’s Phenomenology, Kierkegaard’s writings, Marx’s philosophical and political works, several texts of Nietzsche, and short works from the hermeneutic tradition.
Examination of the major themes in phenomenology, existentialism, hermeneutics, poststructuralism, and feminism. Readings may include works by Husserl, Heidegger, Habermas, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Beauvoir, Derrida, Foucault, and Cixous. Special attention will be focused on connections between philosophy and recent developments in humanities and social sciences.
See Chinese 241.
Examination of several problems that arise in ethical theory. Questions included for consideration are the identity of the moral self, the issues of moral relativism and how to ground norms, the question of the nature of the virtues and their relationship to one another, and the question of whether gender might be morally significant.
Designed as a survey of theories of art and beauty, this course acquaints students with influential aesthetic theories in the history of Western philosophy and relates them to more recent theoretical developments in the arts.
Examination of several issues in philosophy of mind. Topics include the metaphysics of mind (the mind-body problem, dualism, functionalism, eliminativism, and the computer paradigm), intentionality (internalism and externalism), and consciousness (subjectivity, the nature of qualitative experience). Readings from Descartes, Ryle, Smart, D. Lewis, Putnam, Dennett, Quine, Davidson, Searle, Churchland, Fodor, and Nagel.
Examination of several issues in metaphysics, with an emphasis on contemporary discussions in the Anglo-American tradition. Topics may include, among others: freedom and determinism, personal identity, causality, materialism vs. idealism, realism vs. anti-realism, mereology (part vs. whole), modality (necessity and possibility), universals and particulars, substance, time and identity. On occasion, the semester may be devoted to a more extensive examination of a single metaphysical problem. Readings will vary depending on the problems addressed. With approval from the department chair, may be taken more than once if the topic has changed sufficiently.
This course focuses on scientific change in 16th and 17th-century Europe — what is often called “the scientific revolution.” Particular attention will be paid to the relationships between science, philosophy, religion, and politics. We will focus on three incompatible alternatives to the Aristotelian science taught in the universities: that of Bacon, Galileo, and Descartes. Next we will turn our attention to Boyle, who attempted to consolidate these alternatives into one coherent program called mechanical or corpuscular philosophy. We will end our historical study with an examination of arguably the most important scientific figure of the period, Isaac Newton. The course will end with the larger philosophical question of what a scientific revolution is and whether the events of early modern Europe qualify.
A survey of the major issues in contemporary philosophy of language, as well as an examination of the major assumptions of empirical theories of language and cognition. Readings include works by Frege, Russell, Carnap, Ayer, Wittgenstein, Kripke, Putnam, Quine, Davidson, and Chomsky. Topics include theories of meaning, the nature of reference, and the cognitivist approach to mind and language.
An examination of the foundations of scientific inference (induction and confirmation), the nature of scientific explanation, the structure of theories, and scientific methodology. Discussion includes the possibility of objective knowledge and the nature of scientific revolutions.
A study of the major figures in classical and contemporary American pragmatism. Topics included for consideration are: what is the pragmatic method?; how does it engage traditional philosophical questions?; and what is its relation to other key philosophical approaches, such as logical positivism and realism? Readings may include selections from Peirce, James, Dewey, Mead, C.I. Lewis, Carnap, Ayer, Quine, Davidson, Rorty, Putnam, and Nagel.
This course examines the relationship between modern conceptions of race and gender from philosophical perspectives that may include historical materialism, phenomenology, critical theory, postcolonial theory, and whiteness studies. We will study the social construction of race and gender, as well as the way these concepts inform theories of the subject. Finally, we will consider how race and gender identities have become sites for pleasure, creativity, and productivity.
Also listed as Political Science 263. A selective introduction to the major concepts and themes of Western political philosophy from classical Greece to the Renaissance. Topics may include: human nature, the basis of society, the purpose and justification of government, types of government and their relative merits, the function of law, political virtues, and the civic role of religion.
Also listed as Political Science 264. A study of the central themes and concepts articulated by political theorists since Machiavelli. Focus will be on theories of human nature, social relationships, conceptions of justice, and the operations of power. May be repeated once for credit when content changes.
This class will consider the psychic/social processes of the constitution of the self. We will read highly theoretical texts from the psychoanalytic tradition, including works by Freud, Jessica Benjamin, Judith Butler, Hortense Spillers, Steven Mitchell, and Cornelius Castoriadis. We will study the way gender, race, and class become aspects of our individual and collective psychic identities, consider the role of power in the constitution of identity, and search for possibilities of individual and social psychic resistance.
Students begin by examining several key texts of the 19th century by Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud that lay the groundwork for the “Critique of Ideology” that has evolved in the 20th century into the interdisciplinary field of “Cultural Critique.” Focusing on thinkers who have fused the critical perspectives of Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, students explore the works of the Frankfurt School (Adorno, Marcuse, Benjamin, Arendt), structuralism (Althusser, Bataille), and poststructuralism (Foucault, Deleuze, Gamben, Mouffe, Butler).
This course examines the current "neuroscientific image" of mind and person, investigating the conceptual and ethical issues it raises. Neurophilosophy involves both the application of neurobiological findings to philosophical questions and the application of philosophical critique to the findings of neuroscience. Questions include: What is the neural basis of mental representation, consciousness, and the self? Is psychology reducible to neurobiology? What legal and ethical issues attend the new techniques of neural monitoring and intervention?
A detailed study of French philosophy since 1960. Possible topics include structuralism, deconstruction, poststructuralism, and postmodernism. Focus on issues of interdisciplinary concern, addressing questions of textuality, psychoanalysis, and politics. Readings may include works by Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, Lyotard, Cixous, and Irigaray, among others. With permission of instructor, may be repeated for credit.
An advanced investigation of a single author, text, issue, or problem in continental philosophy. Content of the course announced each year. With permission of instructor, may be repeated for credit when content changes.
An advanced investigation of a topic, text, or author in the analytic or Anglo-American tradition. Content of the course announced each year. With permission of instructor, may be repeated for credit when content changes.
An advanced investigation of a single author, text, issue, or problem in the history of philosophy. Content of the course announced each year. With permission of instructor, may be repeated for credit when content changes.
An advanced investigation of a single author, text, issue, or problem that addresses theories of value (ethics, politics, aesthetics, interdisciplinary studies). Content of the course announced each year. With permission of instructor, may be repeated for credit when content changes.
The preparation and writing of an original piece of philosophical work, not to exceed 7,500 words in length, based upon primary or secondary sources. Seniors must obtain approval of a department member as adviser for the essay and the department chair before the end of the semester preceding that during which the essay will be written.
- College Catalog