Here you find a selection of previous courses offered for the MA programme:
- UV The nature of judgement (Johannes Brandl)
In this course, we will look at the nature of judgments about what is true and what is false, such as the judgment that there will be more than ten billion people on Earth in 2050. Although judgments have many similarities with assertions, they are traditionally understood as psychic phenomena in themselves. Two ways in which judgements can be understood independently of our linguistic abilities have emerged: Philosophers who take a “content-first” view postulate a range of abstract (and presumably language-independent) statements as objective bearers of truth and falsehood. In contrast, philosophers who take an “act-first” view want to show that sentences exist only as correlates or products of (presumably language-independent) mental actions such as “acknowledging” or “predicating”. The course is divided into four parts: (1) the history of the “content first” view (B. Bolzano and G. Frege), (2) the history of the “act first” view (F. Brentano and W. Windelband); (3) the problem of the objectivity of truth (K. Twardowski and H. Moltmann), (4) the problem of the unity of propositions. (S. Soames and P. Hanks).
- UV Higher-Order Evidence (Brett Topey)
Suppose I am highly confident that I’ll soon get a promotion at work; I then gain some evidence indicating that I’m prone to wishful thinking in career-related matters. What effect should this evidence have on my confidence that I’ll soon get a promotion? Intuitively, it should make me less confident. But this evidence works in an unusual way. It doesn’t bear directly on how likely I am to get a promotion — instead, it is higher-order evidence, evidence that suggests that my own reasoning has up to this point been rationally subpar. Higher-order evidence, it turns out, has a number of features that are puzzling from the perspective of standard models of rational belief revision, and so the assessment of this evidence has been a much-discussed topic in the recent epistemological literature. This course will introduce students to this relatively new area of epistemology and, along the way, will provide an accessible entry point into formal methods widely used by epistemologists.
- SE Philosophy of Scientific and Epistemic Tools (Rawad El Skaf)
It is usually claimed that natural science in general, and physics in particular is a successful human enterprise, mainly because its theories are based on and/or tested against observations and experiments. However, in addition to theories, observations and experiments, a scientist’s toolbox contains several tools such as Scientific Models, Computer Simulations, Analogical Reasoning/Experiments, Thought Experiments. These tools play many roles in science and the aim of this course is to get introduced to the many philosophical and epistemic questions they raise, such as: can we learn something new about nature and/or our theories with these tools, that is without performing real direct experiments and obtaining new empirical data about our target system? If so, then what is the nature of the cognitive/epistemic good they aim at providing, e.g. knowledge, understanding, explanatory power, consistency, prediction, application of theories, etc.? Most importantly, are they reliable modes of inquiry for their intended purposes? If so, then how do they justify their outcomes? In addressing these questions, we will tackle topics in general history and philosophy of science such as empiricism/rationalism, confirmation/disconfirmation, inconsistencies in science, representation, surrogative reasoning, idealizations, abstractions, the role of fiction and imagination in science. The approach undertaken during this course will take scientific practice seriously: we will analyze the different philosophical/epistemic accounts of these tools found in the ‘recent’ literature and assess them in light of historically/scientifically analyzed case studies.
- SE Whose Lives Matter? (Beatrice Kobow)
In this course, we are aiming to understand the conditions of (normative) judgments. We focus on contemporary feminist critiques, such as standpoint theory, which we consider and evaluate. Our investigation primarily concerns the conditions of knowledge, scientific method and our understanding of a ‘scientific world-view’, but also economic and linguistic structures. Does the point of view of the knower come into our concept of ‘truth’ and if so, how? The course concerns itself with issues of epistemology and agency. The realm of deontic relations and the nature of brute, social and institutional facts, alongside a problematization of their proper theoretical rendering, and the use of heuristic fictions in general are discussed. Special attention is given to the application of such foundational concepts to contemporary questions, such as well-being, gender / race and value.
- SE Teleological Epistemology, Epistemic Consequentialism, and Virtue Epistemology (Raimund Pils)
Consider ethics. You are told: “You should not murder”. Why not? Because it brings an ethically bad state of affair about. Or so the ethical consequentialists tell us. Now consider epistemology. You are told: “You should not believe that 2+2=5”. Why not? Because it brings an epistemically bad state of affair about. Or so the epistemic consequentialists tell us. But cannot both statements have exceptions? And where do such norms and values come from anyway? Structurally, there are more similarities between normative ethics and normative epistemology than philosophers realized for a long time. The discussion around epistemic consequentialism is currently one of the hottest topics in epistemology, promising to solve many long lasting problems. This goes even as far as philosophers such as Riggs and Pritchard starting to speak of a “value-turn” in epistemology. After an introduction, the course starts with some classical text on epistemic value and virtue epistemology and then focuses on the current discussion of teleological epistemology and epistemic consequentialism. We analyze the main arguments in favor of such views; we discuss the disagreement about what the fundamental epistemic values can be or should be; and we examine the very recent attacks on epistemic consequentialism and teleological epistemology.
- Epistemology of disagreement and self-doubt (Mariangela Cocchiaro)
We are all fallible thinkers and we know it. We know that even if we assess the arguments and evidence on some topic as carefully as possible, we can still reach the wrong conclusion. In other words, we often make epistemic mistakes. But how should we accommodate evidence of our own epistemic imperfection? Should such evidence lead us to doubt ourselves and our beliefs? Or are we rationally permitted to dismiss it? One way in which we might get evidence of our own error is through disagreement. The discovery that someone you respect disagrees with you can make you lose confidence in or even abandon your beliefs altogether. But should it? Does disagreement provide evidence of a mistake? Is it epistemically significant? If so, why?In this course we will approach these questions by looking at current (formal and informal) work on the epistemology of disagreement and this will lead us to more general issues about evidence, such as higher-order evidence and rationality that are central to both recent and traditional epistemology.
- Introduction to the Philosophy of Economics (Mariangela Cocchiaro)
The science of economics has come to play a major role in both the public and the private sphere. It occupies a central position in contemporary political rhetoric – no other science gives rise to such heated emotion. It also informs our personal lives qua economic actors who exchange goods or services for money on a daily basis.In this introductory course we will consider basic philosophical questions concerning the role that economics plays in both spheres, by taking an interest in rational choice theory and welfare economics. More precisely, among others, we will address questions like how one can assess the rationality of individual choices as well as of social choices and examine how they are and ought to be related to the preferences and judgments of individuals. We will take a look at some intricate question concerning rationality in strategic situations in which the final outcomes depend on the choices of multiple individuals. We will conclude with questions concerning normative economics and the different possible ways to think of well-being.
- SE Ethics for a Broken World (Julien Murzi)
Imagine living in a not too distant future world damaged by humankind, where resources are insufficient to meet everyone’s basic needs and where a chaotic climate makes life precarious. Then imagine looking back to the past — to our own time — and assessing the ethics of the early twenty-first century. This is what Tim Mulgan’s Ethics for a Broken World does. The book is imagined to be a future textbook for studying the ethics and political philosophy texts of a past age affluence — our own. As it turns out, the ethical questions of our own time are shown to look very different from the perspective of a ruined world. After all, from the perspective of our grand grand children, it is in large part the ethics of the twenty-first century that is to blame for the degradation of future humans’ leaving conditions. In this seminar, we will read Mulgan’s Ethics for a Broken World, as well as a few more selected classics. The seminar has a twofold aim: to serve as an engaging and provocative introduction to contemporary political philosophy, and to stimulate critical reflection on the contingency of contemporary ethical and political ideas.
- SE Philosophy of Imagination (Christopher Gauker)
Philosophy of Imagination: Imaginative thinking is fundamental to problem-solving, both in science and in everyday life. But it does not conform to the familiar models of rationality deriving from logic and scientific methodology. In some ways imagining is free from the constraint of representing reality, but in other ways imagining must conform to reality in order to be useful. The topic of this course is the nature of imagination in its practical applications. We will consider both propositional imagination and sensory imagination. Texts will be drawn from psychology as well as from contemporary philosophy.
- SE Emergence and Reduction in Science (Patricia Palacios)
The topic of emergence and reduction is nowadays one of the liveliest areas of research in both science and philosophy. The reason for this is related with recent developments in a number of successful research programs within physics, biology, chemistry and social sciences. These developments have encouraged us to rethink the relationship between complex entities and their parts as well as the relationship between different theories and, in this way, to revise claims about reduction and emergence in science. In this course we will address issues concerning this topic from an inter-disciplinary perspective. We will begin with the study of contemporary classics that will allow us to grasp the concept of emergence and reduction, then move forward to analyse potential examples of emergence in physics, continue with the discussion of potential examples of emergence in biology, and lastly, consider possible examples of reduction in economics. The main goal of this course is to introduce students to recent discussions in emergence and reduction in dif- ferent sciences.
Since technicalities will be kept to a minimum, scientific background is not required.
- SE Self-Control (Hannah Altehenger)
Self-control is needed to resist the desire for the extra slice of cake while dieting, the urge to yell at someone who has angered us, or the ongoing temptation to look at one’s phone during a boring lecture. Self-control has been studied by psychologists for decades, but in recent years it has also become an important topic in philosophy. In this class, we will have a close look at some of the key topics within the philosophical debate on self-control: What is self-control and how does it relate to philosophical conceptions of intentional action? Is self-control a unified theoretical kind? Is self-control valuable and if so, why exactly? Is it possible to have too much self-control?
- Abstract Objects – For and Against (Peter Simons)
Since Plato first wrote about the forms, philosophers have discussed entities which are neither in space nor time, nor have any causal role. These are abstract entities or abstract objects. And ever since then, there have been philosophers who denied that there are such things, starting with Plato’s own student Aristotle. This course discusses in depth the fiercely disputed case of abstract objects: who accepts them (platonists) and who rejects them (nominalists), why one should or should not believe in them, and for what reasons. The kinds of abstract objects that have been put forward fall into at least five categories: universals, mathematical objects, semantic objects such as meanings, fictions, and states of affairs. These may or may not overlap, and the reasons for accepting or rejecting them vary from one to another. What are the advantages and problems for platonists, and conversely, what are the advantages and problems for nominalists? Is there any way in which the dispute between those for and those against abstract objects could be resolved? The course will provide a brief historical overview, a taxonomy, and detailed discussions of the arguments and tools available to both sides, enabling students to concentrate on a selected case or aspect of the dispute.
- Climate ethics (Iulian Toader)
Major climate changes, such as the increase of global temperatures due to accummulation of carbon dioxide in the air and the rise of global average sea level, as well as their undeniable harmful consequences, have called for transformations of both technology and human behavior. Mitigation based on emission cuts has been the main focus of our response strategies to keep global warming as far below under 2ºC as possible. This seminar will consider the moral questions raised by these strategies. In particular, we will discuss questions about fairness in sharing the associated economic burden among countries, questions about justice towards climate refugees, future generations, and non-human species, as well as questions related to what, if anything, each and every one of us is morally obligated to do in the face of imminent dangerous climate changes.
- Epistemology of the A Priori (Brett Topey)
How we can acquire knowledge about the world around us seems clear enough: we do so by observing. But not all of our knowledge can be acquired this way. We seem to know, for instance, that all reptiles are are animals, that 5 is a prime number, and that slavery is morally abhorrent, and none of those facts seems like something we can come to know by observation. Our knowledge of them, then, must somehow be independent of experience. But is this sort of knowledge really possible? If so, how? What, if anything, explains our ability to get at the truth in these domains? In this course, students will investigate possible answers to these questions by examining historical and contemporary work on the nature of a priori knowledge.
- Ethics, Theoretical and Applied (Christian Piller)
In this course we will discuss the following questions: Are sums of harms and benefits morally significant? Under what circumstances should we use lotteries in the distribution of benefits (or harms)? Is there a solid philosophical basis for wrongful-life lawsuits? What, if any, are our duties of procreation? Can actions be wrong which harm no one? What is the basis of our duties to future generations? These questions all point to a general issue in normative theory which concerns the relationship between facts about what is good for someone and facts about what is good. We will tackle this issue directly and, via the questions mentioned above, indirectly, thereby hoping to make some progress in both theoretical and applied ethics.
- Noncognitism in ethics (Julien Murzi)
What do moral statements mean? If killing is wrong, what, if anything, makes the sentence ‘Killing is wrong’ true? In this seminar we introduce and critically review a number of noncognitivist approaches to metaethics, i.e. approaches that deny that moral statements are true, or false, in virtue of objective features of the world. For instance, on some of these approaches, to say that killing is wrong is just to express an attitude of disapproval towards killing; on some other approaches, ‘Killing is wrong’ is true, even though there is no natural property in the world that makes this sentence true. But can a noncognitivist treatment of moral statements be viable? If so, what lessons can we learn about moral facts and the metaphysics of morality more generally? In answering these questions, we will largely follow Mark Schroeder’s excellent book Noncognitivism in ethics, but we will also read a few classic, and more recent, papers along the way.
- Reduction and Emergence in the Sciences (Patricia Palacios)
The topic of emergence and reduction is nowadays one of the liveliest areas of research in both science and philosophy. The reason for this is related with recent developments in a number of successful research programs within physics, biology, chemistry and social sciences. These developments have encouraged us to rethink the relationship between complex entities and their parts as well as the relationship between different theories and, in this way, to revise claims about reduction and emergence in science. In this course we will address issues concerning this topic from an inter-disciplinary perspective. We will begin with the study of contemporary classics that will allow us to grasp the concept of emergence and reduction, then move forward to analyse potential examples of emergence in physics, continue with the discussion of potential examples of emergence in biology, and lastly, consider possible examples of reduction in economics.
- The Cognitive Nature of Skills (Christopher Gauker)
Philosophers have generally conceived of reasoning as a passage from a set of proposition-bearing representations (the premises) to another proposition-bearing representation (the conclusion). Recently, philosophers have taken up the question whether this model fits also the reasoning involved in the execution of skills. These might be skills exercised in tool use or athletic competition or playing a musical instrument or drawing or even in building mental images. On one side are those who assimilate knowledge-how to a propositional attitude. On the other side are those who deny this but still maintain that the exercise of skills is not mechanical and involves a kind of rationality. The aim of this seminar will be to develop a clear theoretical analysis of the kind of rationality that may be exhibited in the exercise of bodily and mental skills.
- Varieties of Folk Psychology (Johannes Brandl)
Folk psychology is not a single thing but a variety of strategies for understanding other people that we use in daily life. According to cognitive psychology, what underpins our folk psychological skills is a specific faculty for “mindreading”. In this course, we will examine the debate in philosophy of mind arising from the psychological literature on mindreading. Part 1 focuses on the differences between a theory-theory approach and a simulation approach to mindreading. Part 2 considers objections that target both kinds of theories as well as so-called hybrid theories of mindreading. Part 3 looks at possible alternatives, emphasizing the role of embodied cognition, interpersonal engagements, and narrative practices. At the end of the course, students will appreciate the challenge of giving a pluralistic account of our folk psychological abilities.
- Views of Action (Johannes Brandl, Josef Perner)
How do we make sense of human action? In this seminar, we compare some of the currently discussed theories that offer widely different answers to this question: According to the dominant belief-desire model, actions are generated from what an agent wants and believes to be the case. According to the goal-based model, one can make sense of an action simply by recognizing the goal that performing the action realizes, irrespective of whether the goal is conceived as a worthwhile result. Finally, the normative teleological model assumes that we understand goal-directed behavior as a human action only when we regard the action as something that ought to be done to achieve some good. We will consider the advantages and disadvantages of these ways of understanding human action both from a conceptual (philosophical) and an empirical (developmental) point of view.
- What is rational belief? (Julien Murzi)
We typically value justified belief more than simple belief: after all, a justified belief is more likely to be true than a randomly selected one. Indeed, we value knowledge even more than justified belief, since, arguably, a belief that qualifies as knowledge is true. But when is a belief justified? Does our justification for a proposition depend on its likelihood to be true given our evidence? Can we rationally have inconsistent beliefs, such as the belief that no particular lottery ticket in a fair lottery will win? What is justification? And what is knowledge? Can it be defined? Is knowledge a particular kind of sensitive, or safe, belief? Do we know anything at all? Do you know that your cat is sleeping on the sofa, if you don’t know that you’re not a brain in a vat? Could we even understand the language of somebody whose brain was envatted, by an evil scientist, or malin génie? In this course, we’ll investigate these and other epistemological questions, mostly by looking at some deeply puzzling sceptical arguments, some of which are probably as old as Philosophy is, and all of which have sprung very lively debates in the recent philosophical literature.
- What is truth? (Brett Topey)
When we say that a sentence (or a proposition, or a belief) is true, we plausibly are attributing to that sentence (or proposition, or belief) a certain property: the property of truth. But what is this property, exactly? Intuitively, the answer seems simple: truth is just agreement with the facts of the world. But this on its own is only an uninformative platitude, and developing it into a full theory of truth turns out to be more difficult than one might think — doing so would require both explaining what sort of object a fact is and making sense of what it is for a thing of that sort to be in agreement with a sentence. Can we meet these requirements and thereby develop our platitude into a satisfactory theory, or are we going to need some different account of what the property of truth consists in? Or might we have been mistaken in assuming that truth is really a property in the first place?