Philosophy/Ethics

100,000 Years of War (Winter)

Ian Morris (Classics)

If you had been born 10,000 years ago, the chance that someone would kill you was more than 1 in 10, but if you were born in the twentieth century AD it was more like 1 in 100, despite that century’s world wars, genocides, and nuclear weapons. In the 2010s, it is just 1 in 150. This course tries to explain this astonishing shift away from violence. We will look at the history of war from the Stone Age to the robot age, including the conflicts of the 2010s; and we will draw on everything from anthropology and archaeology to biology and psychology, as we try to answer one of the biggest questions of all: will there ever be a world without war?  Students learn how to approach a big, complex, and often very politicized question in an analytical manner. 

CANDIDATES should be able to help students to think comparatively and on different geographical and temporal scales, to understand history as an evolutionary process.  For instance, students should learn to see how the experience of living through a particular war can be very different from the long-term effects of war across thousands of years, and to distinguish between studying the motives behind violence and the effects of the use of violence. 

SELECTED COURSE MATERIAL: Douglas Fry, ed., War, Peace, and Human Nature (Oxford 2013); William Golding, Lord of the Flies (London 1954); Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651, selections); Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract (1762, selections); Margaret Mead, “Warfare is Only an Invention” (1940); John Keegan, A History of Warfare (New York 1993); Ian Morris, War! What is it Good For? (New York 2014); Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011, selections)

The Cancer Problem (Spring)

Joe Lipsick (School of Medicine)

How has our approach to cancer been affected by clinical observations, scientific discoveries, social norms, politics, and economic interests?

This course will expose students to multiple ways of approaching the cancer problem, including laboratory research, clinical trials, population studies, public health interventions, and health care economics. We will start with the 18th century discovery of the relationship between coal tar and cancer, and trace the role of scientific research in revealing the genetic basis of cancer. We will then discuss the development of new treatments for cancer as well as measures to screen for and prevent cancer, including the ongoing debate over tobacco control. 

CANDIDATES should guide students through the important aspects of the scientific method including experimental design, data analysis, and the difference between correlation and causation.  Candidates should also be able to develop students’ ability to read and analyze scientific papers and narrative treatments of disease (including film).  

SELECTED COURSE MATERIAL: J. Michael Bishop, “How to Win the Nobel Prize: An Unexpected Life in Science”; Jonathan Levine, “50/50” (film); Michael Mann, “The Insider” (film); Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer; Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Design that Understands Us (Winter)

Ge Wang (Music and Computer Science)

What is the nature of design—and the meaning it holds in human life? Why do we bother to design beauty into useful things?  This course examines the nature, purpose, and meaning of design in human life, and asks the fundamental questions of what design is, why do we do it, and the ways in which the fashioning of technology can speak to who we are as humans.  It asks whether it is sufficient to design from practical needs (as we are often taught), and examines the idea of designing from the values underlying our needs. Students will learn about different aesthetic frameworks and the fundamental language of design so that you can begin analyzing everyday examples of media, tools, toys, and games—and apply them to the act of design conscientiously.  They will also learn to think critically about the design of social networks, artificial intelligence, machine learning, robots, virtual reality—in terms of needs and values, pragmatics and aesthetics.  

CANDIDATES should be able to help students think through philosophical concepts through concrete examples and literary texts. Candidates will also work with students in applying the ideas explored in the course to creative projects. Experience with design software is a plus.

SELECTED COURSE MATERIAL: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics; Mary Shelley, Frankenstein: or, the Modern PrometheusBruno Munari, Design as Art; Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things; Ge Wang, Artful Design: Technology in Search of the Sublime 

Education as Freedom (Autumn)

Lanier Anderson (Philosophy), Dan Edelstein (French & Italian/History),  Kathryn Gin Lum (Religious Studies)

What is college for? In most countries, its goal is professional: college trains students for a career. In the United States, by contrast, college is designed to give students a “liberal education.” From the Latin word for “freedom” (libertas), a liberal education prepares citizens for life in a free society, while also freeing their minds from social conventions. In this course, students explore different accounts of liberal education from classical antiquity up through the present, comparing canonical arguments with contemporary practices. The course considers the importance of liberal education for all areas of study, from STEM to the arts. 

CANDIDATES should be able to help students examine their own educational choices, write reflective essays, and practice arguing for their views on liberal education while respecting those of others. 

SELECTED COURSE MATERIAL: Ta Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me; Michelle Kuo, Reading with Patrick; Lucretius, On the Nature of Things; Montaigne, “On the Education of Children"; Tara Westover, Educated; Martha Nussbaum, Not for Profit

Emotion (Spring)

Chris Bobonich (Philosophy) and James Gross (Psychology)

In this course, we address basic issues about emotions and their place in human life from the perspectives of philosophy and psychology. We ask four fundamental questions: What is emotion? What is the appropriate place for emotions in our lives? How should we manage our emotions? Do emotions threaten the integrity of the agent?  For instance, in asking how we manage our emotions, students will consider the Stoic view that emotions must be extirpated alongside psychological perspectives on the theoretical and empirical frameworks on emotion regulation. 

CANDIDATES should be able to help students in close reading and critical analysis of philosophical texts and arguments, as well as writings on psychology, as well as write papers that speak to each.  They should be able to develop students’ understanding of key philosophical and psychology concepts, as well as the methods distinct to each discipline. 

SELECTED SOURCE MATERIAL: Plato, Republic; Lisa Barrett, “Emotions are real”; Aristotle, Nicomachean ethics; Selections from Xunxi; Selections from Stoic texts; Cicero, Tusculan Disputations; James Gross “Emotion regulation: Current status and future prospects”; Immanuel Kant, Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals;  Mark O’Leary, The Curse of Self; J. Knobe, “What Has Experimental Philospohy Discovered about Demographic Effects?”; J. Heinrich, S. Heine, and A. Norenzayam, “Most People are not WEIRD”

Heath Care, Ethics, and Justice (Winter)

David Magnus (School of Medicine)

Is there a right to a basic level of health care?   Are there limits to how much should be spent on health care? How should resources, like human organs, be allocated?  What obligations does the U.S. have regarding health care in resource poor environments, such as underdeveloped nations?

This course will provide students with the tools to address these questions through the theoretical framework of justice and ethics. We will address the question of allocation at the level of health policy and health economics before applying the concepts to the institutional and bedside level.  Using real world examples, students will be asked to actively engage in debating controversial topics such as organ transplants and how to assign scarce ICU beds. Using both empirical data and the framework of ethics, they will consider how a health care committee, or a hospital, or an individual doctor might make decisions.  

CANDIDATES should be able to engage students in debate and help them identify and apply ideas from ethical theory to contemporary problems.  

SELECTED COURSE MATERIAL: John Rawls, selections from Theory of Justice; Jennifer Prah Rugger, selections from Health and Social Justice

Justice and the University (Autumn)

Pam Karlan (Law School), Rob Reich (Political Science)

How do the fundamental purpose of the university, the pursuit of knowledge, and the pursuit of justice coincide?  Or do they conflict and pull us in different directions? Our goal in this class will be to focus on the intersection of justice and knowledge by examining how issues of liberty, equality, and security arise on college campuses. University campuses have a long history as sites of activism across a wide variety of domains and this course will cover a number of them including trigger warnings and “safe spaces”; free speech; ethics in research; Dreamer Act and college access for undocumented persons.  Our goal in this course is to get students to think critically about tradeoffs among society’s most treasured goals. When these goals come into tension, how should decisions be made about which goal must give way? We aim to teach students how to identify and think about these conflicts and how to craft arguments—both written and oral—in support of their positions, using a variety of source materials.  

CANDIDATES should be able to develop students’ skills of close reading and analytic writing.  They should be able to guide students form the level of abstract political theory to an examination of legal cases and their implications and help students craft persuasive oral and written arguments.  

SELECTED COURSE MATERIAL: John Stuart Mill, On Liberty; Court cases on affirmative action (Bakke, Grutter, Fisher), freedom of speech (Tinker); William G. Bowen and Derek Bok, The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions.

Preventing Human Extinction (Spring)

Paul Edwards (Freeman Spogli Institute) and Stephen Luby (Medicine)

99.9% of all species that have ever inhabited the earth are now extinct, yet the subject poses deeply disturbing implications for the only species that can anticipate its own demise. This course will explore several plausible scenarios by which human extinction could occur within the next 100 years. We will study the psychological, social, and epistemological barriers that frequently derail efforts to avert these catastrophes. Students will explore approaches to assessing risk, strategies, to reduce risk, and better ways to think and act as we move toward an uncertain future.

CANDIDATES should be able to guide student through reading and synthesizing academic and popular sources (including science articles, apocalyptic fiction, films, etc.) on human agency in the evolution of human extinction. Candidates should also be able to help students think through possible solutions and preventative measures to mitigate the risks of climate change and environmentally mediated disease.

SELECTED COURSE MATERIAL: Immanuel Nick Bostrom and Milan Cirkovic, Global Catastrophic Risks; Katharine Hayhoe, “The Roots of Science Denial”; Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow; Roy Scranton, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene; Dr. Strangelove (film, dir. Stanley Kubrick)

Rules of War (Winter)

Scott D. Sagan (Political Science), Allen S. Weiner (School of Law)

We will examine seminal readings on just war theory, investigate the legal rules that govern the resort to and conduct of war, and study whether these rules affect the conduct of states and individuals.  Students will engage actively with these questions by participating in an interactive role-playing simulation, in which they will be assigned roles as government officials, advisors, or other actors. The class will confront various ethical, legal, and strategic problems as they make decisions about military intervention and policies regarding the threat and use of force in an international crisis.  

CANDIDATES should be able to help students identify and understand the nature of ethical frameworks as well as the multiple disciplinary approaches to the study of war.  They should be able to guide students in discerning outcomes suggested by ethical norms, on the one hand, and legal rules, on the other. Candidates should be able to guide students through complex policy decisions related to real world politics—in both a historical and international context.  

SELECTED COURSE MATERIAL: Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations; Barack Obama, “A Just and Lasting Peace,” Nobel Peace Prize Lecture; McGeorge Bundy, “The Decision to Drop the Bombs on Japan”; The UN Charter; The 1949 Geneva Conventions 

Spirit of Democracy (Autumn)

Larry Diamond (Hoover Institution and FSI), James Fishkin (Communication)

This course provides an overview of the challenges and aspirations facing ideals of democracy. It deals both with competing visions of what democracy might be, and their actual realization not only in the US but around the world. It will begin with the debate over the American founding and move eventually to the “third wave” of democratization around the world in the late 20th century as well as its more recent retrenchment.  The problems of democratic reform are continuing and recurrent around the world. Democratic institutions are subject to a living dialogue and we intend to engage the students in these debates—at the level of democratic theory and at the level of specific institutional designs. 

CANDIDATES should be able to guide students in close reading of texts (classic and contemporary), evaluative reasoning about the ideals offered by different theories of democracy, and social scientific analysis of the empirical claims about institutional designs and how well they work in given national contexts. This would require candidates to help students understand US democracy in a global context.  Some experience with the deliberative polling method is helpful but not required.  

SELECTED COURSE MATERIAL: Larry Diamond, The Spirit of Democracy; Robert Dahl, Polyarchy; James Fishkin, When the People Speak: Deliberative Democracy and Public Consultation; Francis Fukuyama, Political order and Political Decay 

Thinking About the Universe (Spring)

Peter Michelson (Physics), Thomas Ryckman (Philosophy)

Cosmology (the study of the universe) raises profound questions about us, our place in the universe, and about the limits of our knowledge.  Only in the 20th century did cosmology develop from metaphysical and theological speculation to become an observational science and a recognized part of physics.  In this course, students will explore questions about the Universe, its beginnings, its structure, its extent, its fate, from several perspectives—philosophical, experimental and theoretical.  Students will be exposed to current research and the ongoing debates about the laws of nature on subatomic scales and the perplexing questions they raise regarding the universe and the limits of scientific inquiry.  

CANDIDATES should be able to help students read and analyze philosophical texts and arguments, as well as writings on physics and cosmology.  They should be able to develop students’ basic quantitative skills and their understanding of key philosophical and physics concepts in the study of the universe.

SELECTED COURSE MATERIAL: Jeremiah Ostriker and Simon Mitton, Heart of Darkness: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Invisible Universe; Thomas S. Kuhn, “Values, Objectivity, and Theory Choice,” B. Carr and GFR Ellis, “Universe or Multiverse?”