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Comparative Philosophy Curriculum

Comparative Philosophy students grapple with their own habits of thought and those of others with the aim of critically analyzing assumptions, asking meaningful questions, and mapping landscapes of possible answers.

Comparison in philosophy enlarges our vision and imagination and thus our capacity for negotiating difficult problems of self and society.

Students wrestle with questions humans inevitably face:

  • What is knowledge and can we hope to attain it?
  • What does it mean to lead a good life?
  • What does it mean to die well?
  • Do people the world over think the same way about basic issues, or are there incommensurable differences among cultures?
  • If there are differences, must we respect them?

The goal of this work is just engagement in the global public square.

Course Offerings

Below is a list of available courses offered by the Comparative Philosophy Department. Consult the Registrar’s Office and the College Catalog for registration information.

CPHL 1111. Ancients and Moderns

Legendary educator Socrates claimed, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” highlighting the crucial role of philosophy in a life well lived. In the first half of the course, we survey the origin and evolution of philosophy in western cultures of the classical and medieval period through close attention to its pioneering questions, methods, and insights. In the second half, we consider the revolution in philosophy prompted by the challenge of reconciling classical thought with the rise of the new science and a new mechanistic view of the universe.

CPHL 1121. Philosophies of Latin America

Introduction to Latin American thought from pre-Columbian America and the Caribbean through the period of contact, conquest, and colony, to the influence and decline of positivism and the rise of Catholic and Marxist philosophies of liberation and decoloniality today. Topics include racial and cultural identity in the aftermath of colonial unities and hierarchies, epistemic justice and folk knowledge in plurinational societies, indigeneity and commodification, the social and political conditioning of reason, male privilege and the coloniality of gender, poverty and justice, and Latinx theories of belonging.

CPHL 1124. Introduction to the Philosophies of Asia

This class explores classical Indian and Chinese philosophical thought as found in the traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism. Comparing and contrasting Asian and European distinctions between terms like “religion” and “philosophy”, this class explores competing ideas about valid ways of knowing, and pays particular attention to each tradition’s claims about the nature of the self and possibilities for its transformation.

CPHL 1126. African and Africana Thought

The philosopher Hegel dismissed Africa as a “land of childhood” with “no part in world history.” African and Africana thought examine the difficult history linking Africa and the diaspora to Europe, drawing on the intellectual resources of pre- and postcolonial African and diaspora societies. Culturally and temporally diverse reckonings with the nature of knowledge, identity, community, and time sit alongside postcolonial analyses of race, justice and reconciliation, and late capitalism. Attention to Négritude, Nguni ubuntu, sage philosophy, decoloniality and more.

CPHL 1128. Hinduism and Visual Culture

What is seeing? Is it a universal and objective experience, or is it culturally mediated? Is it an act of devotion, or an act of creation? Is seeing shaped by belief, or does seeing itself transform those who see? This class poses these questions in the context of the creation and transmission of those traditions of South Asia commonly known as “Hinduism,” with special emphasis on that tradition’s use of visually mediated interactions such as film, comic books, murti, puja, and darshan. Topics to be examined include caste and class, brahmanical and renouncer traditions, women and gender, diaspora, and the continuing relevance of visual renderings of great epics such as the Ramayana.

CPHL 1132. Knowledge, Reality, and the Self

An introduction to philosophy through reading classical and contemporary authors on traditional issues. Topics will be selected from among the following: the ethics of belief, the grounds and limits of knowledge, mind and its place in nature, personal identity, determinism and free will, theories of the self, and the possibility of transformative experience.

CPHL 1133. Ethics and Public Life

An introduction to philosophical thinking about morality and public life. Readings address concrete issues such as world hunger, racism, sexual misconduct, and vegetarianism, as well as theoretical topics such as human happiness, the nature of right and wrong, and the relationship between morality and law.

CPHL 1141. Buddhist Thought & Film

This course examines Buddhist philosophy, ethics, themes, and motifs as they are explored and conveyed through the medium of film, with a particular focus on how this modern medium not only transmits but transforms traditional tenets.

CPHIL 1162. Anger, Anxiety, and Moral Concern

What is the relationship between our emotions and our values? What role do emotions that often appear negative, such as anger and anxiety play, in expressing and cultivating moral values? This course examines both historical and contemporary texts at the intersection of philosophy and moral psychology, with particular attention to the role emotions play in inspiring moral change.

CPHL 1165. Faith and Doubt

Is ‘faith’ a desperate pitch to gain influence over a world ill-suited to human desires? Is it a by-product of fear, resentment, wishful thinking, and/or a primitive stage in human intellectual development? Is it immoral? Is it coherent? This course investigates several historically significant instances of ‘doubt’ as representative of four general approaches to the critique of ‘faith.’ Special attention to repercussions for believers and to responses and strategies of response to critics.

CPHL 1168. Death, Dying, and Other Opportunities

What happens after we die? Is death an end, an interruption, or a beginning? How should the living relate to the dead? This course explores several Asian religions’ answers to these questions. By surveying a variety of beliefs, rituals, and cultural practices about death and the afterlife, this course demonstrates how views about death intimately shape our understanding of life.

CPHL 1175. Practical Reasoning

An introduction to the practice of reasoning with special attention to inductive logic and argument diagramming. Emphasis on the analysis of arguments and fallacies of the sort encountered in everyday discourse. Special attention will be paid to cultivating intellectual humility and the ethics of critical thinking.

CPHL 1199 Monsters

Monsters from a fringe beyond ordinary experience share our cultural landscapes, unsettling our present, our normal, and our futures with their/our unfinished business. Monsters views the strange power and persistence of ghosts, the occult, and ‘the night side of nature’ as opportunity for the study of how we construct knowledge, experience, and authority at the complex intersections of race, gender, and class. Topics include apparitions, vampires, zombies, and more across a wide range of literature and media.

CPHL 2214. Bioethics

A careful analysis of issues arising in medical practice and scientific research. Topics include abortion, euthanasia, surrogate parenting, allocation of scarce resources, experimentation on living subjects (human and nonhuman), the doctor/patient relationship.

CPHL 2217. Philosophy and Animals

Animals play an essential role in humanity’s self-understanding. In what ways are humans similar to animals and in what ways are we different? Are these differences a matter of degree, or do they constitute a metaphysical difference in kind? Is our treatment of animals an indicator of our moral selves? How have animals figured into the work of philosophers, artists, and others who have sought to understand the human condition? This course will explore these questions by engaging with a variety of philosophical writings and artistic depictions from antiquity to the present day.

CPHL 2221. Crime and Punishment

From spectacles of pain to supermax security prisons, why do we punish, how, and with what effect? This course examines the politics and poetics of crime and the social fallout of crime control policies and practices, with particular attention to the punitive turn in American life since 1945 and to the roles played by race, class, gender, age, and their intersections in the production of crime and punishment.

CPHL 2224. Epistemic Injustice

How do we recognize the legitimacy of one another’s knowledge claims? What role does power play in determining who counts as a knower in any given context? In this course, students will develop a sensitivity to epistemic justice and will create environments where knowledge claims can be exchanged without inappropriate dismissal. Special attention will be given to cases of racial and gender discrimination.

CPHL 2226. Thought Experiments

Thought experiments are used in philosophy, science, and artistic works to examine concepts, consequences, and counterfactuals that cannot be empirically tested. Such thinking tools are intended to extend our imagination and hold our focus. Students in this course will carefully analyze the role such experiments play in philosophical methodology in comparison to their use in science and art.

CPHL 2230. Logic

An introduction to formal logic covering propositional logic and predicate logic. Attention is given to the nature of proof in formal theories and to the evaluation of arguments in natural language.

CPHL 2233. Continental Philosophy

Continental philosophy (including existentialism) names a family of challenges to Enlightenment ways of thinking about self, society, reality, and value. Continentals radically rethink ‘enlightenment’ in order to avoid new forms of barbarism, inequity, and social control. Is reality built atop a series of exclusions? What is the relation between knowledge and power? Between truth and imagination? Continentals open the door to new modes of critique by loosening the grip of traditional accounts of being, doing, and knowing.

CPHL 2234. Existentialism

This course introduces students to the philosophical movement of Existentialism. Students will learn the historical roots of the movement and study a variety of existentialist thinkers from the 19th and 20th centuries, including Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Camus, and Sartre. Themes of the course include the nature of moral values, human freedom, the subjectivity of experience, and the anxiety of existence.

CPHL 2237. Philosophy of Mind

An advanced study of the views of contemporary philosophers on the mind and its place in nature. Topics include the mind-body problem, consciousness, and the problem of other minds. Students will also reflect on the relationship between scientific and philosophical investigation of the mind. The nature of representation, free will, concepts, emotions, perception, and the self may also be discussed.

CPHL 2239. The Art of Living

Once upon a time philosophy was a way of life, not a mere toolkit for thought. New stirrings of Stoicism, Cynicism, and other philosophical arts of living challenge our therapeutic culture of narcissistic self-help and shallow consumerism. Can philosophy deliver on promises of healing and happiness where that culture fails? We will experiment with philosophical pairings of intellectual and physical practices designed to improve the way we dwell in and move through our chaotic world.

CPHL 2241. Islamic Thought

An Islamic civilization stretching from central Asia to Iberia produced radiant contributions to philosophy and science and rekindled the fires of learning in the West. This course surveys the emergence and evolution of Islamic falsafa from translation movements of the Abbasid caliphate, through the heart of the ‘golden age’ under the Mamluk sultanate and Mongol conquest, to the modern ‘awakening’ under Ottoman rule and beyond.

CPHL 2251. Chinese Philosophy

This course explores the main topics and thinkers of Chinese philosophy. Focusing primarily on the schools that arose during the “classical period” of Chinese philosophy in the Warring States period, including Confucianism, Daoism, and Mohism, this class will also explore these schools’ later effects on the unique development of Mahayana Buddhism in China.

CPHL 2257. Hindu Philosophy

This course surveys the orthodox and heterodox traditions of classical Indian philosophical thought, focusing on the nexus of traditions labeled “Hinduism”. Surveying the six schools of Hindu philosophy and their articulations of logic and valid ways of knowing, this course also explores Hindu ideals of dharma or duty, karma or action, and bhakti or love for the lord.

CPHL 2262. Buddhist Philosophy

Buddhists assert that existence is suffering; this suffering results from a basic ignorance about who we are and what reality is. Buddhist philosophy and contemplative practices aim to eradicate this core misconception of how things are. This course explores Buddhist ways of analyzing the self, the world, and our place in it, focusing on Buddhist epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics.

CPHL 2265. Buddhism, Mindfulness, and Cognitive Science

Religion and Science are often portrayed as occupying separate, even antithetical, domains. While religions have, on the whole, ceded ground in the religion/ science debate, modern Buddhists make the startling claim that the discoveries of Science have been known by their tradition for millenia. This course examines the truth claims, processes, and values that produce both Buddhism and Science, with strong emphasis on the growing popularity of the Buddhist meditative practices as therapeutic techniques.

CPHL 2268 Gender & Buddhism

What is gender? How do ideas about gender differ in different philosophical traditions? This course uses scholarship from philosophy, religious studies, anthropology, and gender studies to examine the “great divide” between essentialist and post-modern conceptions of gender in western feminist thought, the various and sometimes competing Buddhist philosophical ideas about the nature of gender, the impact of Buddhist ideas about gender on Buddhists’ lived experience throughout time and space, and how western and Buddhist philosophical ideas about the nature of gender and reality can mutually inform, and possibly transform, each other.

CPHL 2280. Philosophy of Art

A survey of philosophical thinking about the nature of art. Students explore the most influential theories of art offered by philosophers from Plato to the present. Additional topics include the nature of artistic inspiration; the social function of art; art versus craft; art versus entertainment, aesthetic judgment, and the evolutionary origins of art and beauty.

CPHL 3361. Environmental Philosophy

An advanced study of ethical and aesthetic issues concerning the environment. Topics include the definition of nature; whether humans are inside or outside of nature; the moral standing of animals, plants, species, and ecosystems; the tension between environmental preservation and economic development; and, the value of wilderness.

CPHL3391. On the Shoulders of Giants

Detailed study and discussion of the work of a major philosopher or philosophical movement. Topics vary from year to year. May be repeated for credit when topic differs.

CPHL 4494. Senior Seminar

Detailed study and discussion of a problem or topic in contemporary philosophy, selected according to the interests and needs of the students enrolled. Examining Cultures, Engaging Thought, and Logic requirements must be fulfilled before enrolling in Senior Seminar.

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