Course Descriptions

 

PHIL 1201

PHIL 2201

PHIL 3261

PHIL 3233

PHIL 3306

PHIL 3311

PHIL 3315

PHIL 3331

PHIL 3431

PHIL 3433

 

 

PHIL 1201 Ethics of Life and Death

This course concentrates on various areas of ethical debate. The initial classes will be concerned with a brief introduction to ethical theory, via excerpts from the works of Immanuel Kant and  John Stuart Mill. Possible subjects for consideration are those of abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, pornography, and terrorism.

Readings provided by the instructor and those from the text will be assigned throughout the term.  Students will have to be prepared to respond in class to questions posed by the instructor.

Rather than trying to resolve any of the moral issues covered in class, the objective of the course is three-fold: 1) to expose the student (via lectures, and class discussion) to philosophical literature on contemporary moral problems, 2) providing an opportunity for students to think these problems through for themselves and 3) to introduce students to the discipline of philosophy.

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PHIL 2201 Introduction to Ethical Classics

This course investigates some of the core problems and key authors in ethical theory. How should we evaluate ethical problems? We all do it. But we don’t always think about how we do it.

Suppose a friend comes to you in distress, on the brink of bankruptcy, and asks you to repay a loan.   You know he will use the repayment to feed an expensive addiction rather than to cover his past due mortgage payment.  There is no question that you owe him the money.   But do you also owe him something as a friend, namely, not to help speed his slide into bankruptcy and self destruction?  Or at very least, to do him no harm?   Perhaps you can even help him by witholding your repayment until he’s in a bettter frame of mind.  

Is there something about certain actions like murder, lying, or embezzlement that make them wrong in and of themselves--no matter what the consequences are?  Or are the consequences of an action what makes that action good or bad?  

So, is your refusal to repay your debt to your friend in this situation a violation of your duty because such an act--a willful refusal to repay a debt--is never justified?  Perhaps your refusal in this situation is a very good thing--because its consequences are actually better for your friend’s well being?

If you think the quality of an act is the crucial consideration then your view is probably in line with the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, whose work we’ll read, think about and write about in the course. If consequences are an overriding factor in your decision making then your view is probably in line with the work of English philosophers John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham who are known for the theory of utilitarianism.

This course explores these rival theories as they are expressed both in contemporary ethical literature and in their historical context by interesting and influential contributors to consequentialist and non-consequentialist thinking, such as Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John Stuart Mill, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant.  This course will also examine some possible alternatives to the above impasse such as in the work of Aristotle and his counterparts in twentieth century ethics who embrace human flourishing as a foundation for ethics.  In the last part of the course, we turn to another alternative--the work of Friedrich Nietzsche and his lively and influential critique of much of the Western ethical tradition that preceded him. 

This course provides a foundation in ethics that is contemporary minded, historically informed, and attentive to the “applications” of ethics at every turn. It is also a core course for the Department of Philosophy’s new Ethics certificate. 

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PHIL 3233 State Law and Globalization

Does the nation have the right to establish its own laws or is Socrates right when he argues at his trial that there can only be justice when a nation's laws are grounded in universal principles? This course will examine this question through the writings of such philosophers as Aristotle, Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mill and Jean-Jacque Rousseau. In the light of their argument we will explore whether or not there was justice at the Nuremberg Trials, the International Court at The Hague and the viability of the United Nations Charter. This question as to whether or not the International Community has the right to interfere in the internal workings of the nation state will be considered. For example, should it engage Egypt, Syria and Great Britian as a result of their recent internal problems and if so on what grounds? Students should note that there is a seminar component to this course.

PHIL 3261 Ethics and the Good Life

This course is the 3000 level version of the PHIL 2201 Introduction to Ethical Classics. The same texts and topics will be treated but the course requirements will be geared to the 3000 level. The class sessions will be blended with PHIL 2201, meeting together at the same time and  classroom.

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PHIL 3306 Introduction to 19th - 20th c Existential Philosophy

This course introduces students to the philosophy of Albert Camus. Like his contemporaries, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Edith Stein, André Malraux and others, Camus’ work is rooted in the European experience of WW II. His essay, The Rebel, asserts that rebellion and revolution are inseparable from what makes us human. But if this is the case, the main issue Camus confronts is; when, if ever, is it right for anyone to kill another human being? In responding to this question, Camus shows us the various faces of rebellion in European literature, politics, and philosophy from antiquity up to and including the 20th c.. In the process of his investigation, we see him point to rebels he believed are driven by hate, madness and despair as well as others who, in taking another person’s life, meet the ethical requirement of personal destruction.  The aim of the course is twofold: A) to investigate figures in the tradition of Existential philosophy and B) to prepare the student for more courses in philosophy.

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PHIL 3311 Nietzsche’s Critique of Socrates

Friedrich Nietzsche saw the beginning of western philosophy as the birth of a cultural death-wish that is glorified in the suicide of Socrates. This course will look into Nietzsche’s portrait of Socrates as a means to developing several central themes. As the course proceeds, we will come to see why Nietzsche is considered one of the founders of what would eventually be called “existential philosophy,” as well as his influence on postmodernism.  This course will look at Nietzsche’s critique of Socrates in order to access his perception of ancient Greek philosophy, tragic poetry and culture. In so doing, the course will clarify Nietzsche’s attacks on Christianity and Modernity as sources of the nihilism he believed would promote the death-wish he identifies with “Socratism.” The course will also give some consideration to Nietzsche’s confrontation with nihilism in terms of his conceptions of the Will to Power, the Ubermensche, the Revaluation of all Values, the Master race, and Eternal Recurrence.

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PHIL 3315 20th Century Women Philosophers

This course concentrates primarily on the philosophy of post-World War II women in the area of Continental philosophy. This year the philosophical texts of Simone de Beauvoir and Hanna Arendt will be explored; specifically, Simone de Beauvoir's Ethics of Ambiguity and Hanna Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil will be discussed. Through these works we will explore how the brutality, turbulence and genocide marking the Second World War led both women to speak about violence, freedom, ethics and evil through their existential and political philosophies.  Prerequisites: Open to 2nd year students and above.

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PHIL 3331 Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

Among the most influential of contemporary philosophers, Michel Foucault’s thinking stood directly opposed to what is known as existential philosophy. In glaring contrast to the humanism of post-WW II French philosophy, Foucault, largely influenced by Nietzsche, pursued what he called,  “genealogy.” This course will follow a close reading of Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, through which we shall see Foucault trace the transition of penal systems from the application of torture, to the more “humane” applications of punishment that, starting primarily in the in the 17th-18th centuries, are rooted in the simultaneous emergence of both the “Social Sciences” and penal institutions. The course will clarify Foucault’s analyses of the inseparable bond he sees between knowledge and power. In so doing, we will be looking at the role played by the social sciences in defining the “criminal” as an object of knowledge, “evidence” as self-surveillance, and “normalcy” as a “fact.” This investigation will be used to clarify Foucault’s recognition of the conditions of power that function within scientific discourse and interpretations of the “self,” along with how his philosophy serves as a critique of our currently emerging surveillance society.

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PHIL 3431: Introduction to Philosophy of Religion

Jokes are often made concerning the rationality of religious belief.  Here is a small sampling.

#1 A mountain climber is high on a mountain slope when a dangerous fog moves in and he cannot see.  He is huddled on a narrow, unstable ledge, afraid to move for fear of plunging to his death.  Suddenly, out of the fog, he hears a voice which tells him that it is safe to step off the ledge because there is a broad ledge immediately below upon which he can safely find shelter until the fog disappears. The climber feels reassured, but asks the speaker’s name.  The speaker says, “It is I, God.”  The climber then says, “Would you mind if I waited and got a second opinion?”

#2 A little boy is asked by a Sunday school teacher what faith is.  After long thought the little boy says, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t true.”

#3 I once heard a university professor say that “Philosophy looks in a coal bin that has no light for a black cat.”  He went on to say that “Theology looks in a coal bin that has no light for a black cat that is not there.”

Such jokes make us smile.  We should ask, however, whether the view they express concerning the rationality of religious belief is correct.  Is religious belief an affair of trying to believe something we know ‘ain’t true’ or is it possible to have good reasons for believing in God?  Do developments in various sciences such as cosmology and biology make it harder or easier to believe in God?  Can belief in God be reconciled with the existence of evil?  Can we believe in free will, yet hold that God foreknows all that will happen?  Can God be perfectly just and yet perfectly merciful?  Can human language meaningfully describe God?

These are important questions that we will be tackling in the course in an effort to assess the rationality of religious belief.  In the classroom we will use lectures, class discussions and videos.  Through the use of Blackboard we will also be looking at blogs and websites that express a variety of views.

A previous course in philosophy would be helpful for students.  Those not having a previous course, but who nevertheless are interested in taking the course, should seek permission from its instructor, Dr. Robert Larmer (rlarmer@unb.ca).

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PHIL 3433: Selected Topics in Philosophy of Religion

The Concept of Miracle

What is a miracle?  What kinds of evidence could there exist for the occurrence of a miracle?  Could one ever rationally believe in a miracle on the basis of another person’s testimony?  Do miracles violate the laws of nature?  Has the progress of science made it more difficult to believe in miracles?  Are there reports of miracles in contemporary times?

These and other questions surrounding the concept of miracle will be the focus in this course.  Emphasis will be placed on providing an environment in which courteous, lively discussions of contrasting views takes place.  A previous course in philosophy would be helpful for students interested in taking the course.  Those not having a previous course, but who nevertheless are interested in taking the course, should seek permission from its instructor, Dr. Robert Larmer (rlarmer@unb.ca).  

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