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Philosophy Curriculum at Wesleyan

Overview

Doing philosophy means reasoning about questions that are of basic importance to the human experience – questions like: What is a good life? What is reality? How can we know anything? What should we believe? How should our societies be organized? Philosophers typically approach these questions from within one or more traditions of inquiry, and the Philosophy Department therefore offers a wide variety of perspectives on the deep and perplexing questions that make up its subject matter.

We divide our courses into three levels (Introductory, Intermediate, and Advanced) and three broad subject areas (Historical, Value, and Mind and Reality). Introductory classes are suitable for all students, including prospective majors. Intermediate classes tend to have prerequisites or in other ways may be unsuitable for first-year students. Advanced classes are typically aimed at majors in Philosophy and other relevant disciplines.

Historical courses focus primarily on classical philosophical texts, whether within a period, across periods or traditions, or by a single philosopher. Courses in the Value area primarily address ethical, political, aesthetic, cultural, or religious practices and norms. Mind and Reality courses look at issues related to language, mind, reasoning, knowledge, and the nature of reality. The three subject areas are by no means mutually exclusive – often courses will fall into more than one area – but are intended to facilitate the Department's desire that serious students of philosophy be exposed to a range of issues and approaches.

We divide our courses into three levels (introductory, intermediate, and advanced) and three broad subject areas (historical, value, and mind and reality). Introductory classes are suitable for all students, including prospective majors. Intermediate classes tend to have prerequisites or in other ways may be unsuitable for first-year students. Advanced classes are typically aimed at majors in philosophy and other relevant disciplines. Historical courses focus primarily on philosophical texts, whether within a period, across periods or traditions, or by a single philosopher. Courses in the value area primarily address ethical, political, aesthetic, cultural, or religious practices and norms. Mind and reality courses look at issues related to language, mind, reasoning, knowledge, and the nature of reality. The three subject areas are by no means mutually exclusive.

There are two tracks within the Philosophy major – the general philosophy track and the social justice track. 

The general philosophy track allows students to be exposed to a range of issues and approaches from various historical periods in both the East and the West.

The social justice track recognizes that philosophers since antiquity have not only asked questions about what social institutions are needed to achieve justice, but have also worked as social reformers to promote social justice.  Philosophical methods of conceptual and contextual analyses and careful argumentation provide important tools for grappling with real world injustices.  The social justice track allows students to develop their philosophical skills to address questions of human rights, equality, and social responsibility.

Introductory courses. Introductory courses are numbered from 101 to 249; courses numbered 201 and above count toward major requirements. Most of our introductory courses are intended both for students interested in philosophy as part of their general education and for prospective majors. Unless noted otherwise in an individual course's description, all introductory courses fulfill the department's informal reasoning requirement. No more than four introductory courses (from 201-249) can count toward the major for a given student.

Introductory historical courses are numbered between 201 and 210. These courses introduce the texts and traditions of reasoning from major periods in the history of philosophy.

  • PHIL201 Philosophical Classics I: Ancient Western Philosophy introduces students to fundamental philosophical questions about self and knowledge, truth, and justice.
  • PHIL202 Philosophical Classics II: Early Modern Philosophy from Descartes Through Kant is an introduction to major themes of early modern European philosophy: knowledge, freedom, and the nature of the self and of physical reality.
  • PHIL205 Classical Chinese Philosophy introduces students to the major texts and themes of early Confucianism, Daoism, and their philosophical rivals.

Introductory value courses are numbered between 211 and 229. These courses introduce students to reasoning about values in a variety of realms.

  • PHIL212 Introduction to Ethics is an introduction to Western ethical thinking that draws on classic and contemporary readings to explore major traditions of ethical theorizing as well as topics of current social relevance.
  • PHIL215 Humans, Animals, and Nature explores the scope, strength, and nature of moral and political obligations to nonhumans and to other humans.
  • PHIL217 Moral Psychology: Care of the Soul examines the intersections of ethical theory, theoretical psychology, and forms of therapy.

Introductory mind and reality courses are numbered between 230 and 249. These courses introduce students to issues related to language, mind, and formal reasoning.

  • PHIL231 Reason and Paradox is an introduction to philosophical issues of mind, language, and reality by the study of conceptual paradoxes and the clarification and evaluation of reasoning.

Introductory courses that do not count for major courses are numbered between 101 and 199. In addition to the courses listed above, all of which count toward the major, the department periodically will offer introductory courses that do not fulfill any major requirements, and, thus, are intended solely for general education.

  • PHIL232 Beginning Philosophy is a general introduction to philosophy but is writing intensive, limited to 20 students, and open only to first-year students.

Intermediate classes. Intermediate classes are numbered between 250 and 299 and fall into all three of the subject areas. Often, these courses are not appropriate for first-year students; some have explicit prerequisites. Intermediate-level classes tend to introduce students to a particular area of philosophy or to the discipline's historical development at a higher level and in more depth than will introductory classes.

  • Intermediate historical courses are numbered between 250 and 265.
  • Intermediate value courses are numbered between 266 and 285.
  • Intermediate mind and reality courses are numbered between 286 and 299.

Advanced classes. Advanced classes, those numbered 300 and above, are typically organized as seminars. In many cases, students participate with a professor in exploring an area of particular relevance to that professor's research program. Other advanced classes will focus on a particular figure in the history of philosophy or on a topic of contemporary importance.

  • Advanced historical courses are numbered between 301 and 330.
  • Advanced value courses are numbered between 331 and 360.
  • Advanced mind and reality courses are numbered between 361 and 399.