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Graduate Seminars

For an official and real-time list of courses, please see Enrollment Services Course Search feature.

Below, you may find examples of seminars taught in the Department.

Spring 2022 | Fall 2021 | Spring 2021Previous

Spring 2022

PHIL 3910/5910.01 DuBois (H5/T4)

Lucius T. Outlaw, Jr. | M 16:40

This seminar will involve close readings and critical examinations of selected writings by William Edward Burghardt Du Bois included in W.E.B. Du Bois: Writings, ed. Nathan Huggins (New York: The Library of America, 1986). In particular, we will explore his arguments for particular approaches to: the identification, characterization, and understanding of African and African-descended people; the elimination of various forms of oppression, and of problems related to the oppression, of African-descended people in the United States, especially, in Africa and the African diaspora more generally; and Du Bois’ critical analyses of the historically significant persons and peoples in the United States of America and of the nation’s situation and prospects.

PHIL 3910/5910.02 Adorno (H5)

Idit Dobbs-Weinstein | W 16:40

Beginning with Adorno’s Radio Address “Why Still Philosophy,” reformulated into the question “Why Adorno Now,” the course will seek to make manifest the importance of negative dialectics, a historical, non-teleological dialectic, as an active political resistance to the barbarism at the heart of culture both in its explicit form as violence and, more important, in its insidious form as utopia or myth. The proximity of Enlightenment and myth in concrete historical forms in the Dialectic of Enlightenment will make possible an understanding of Adorno as a radical materialist heir to the questions of the relations of aesthetics and politics, theory and praxis, thinking and acting. Reading Adorno’s writings ‘after Auschwitz,’ from Minima Moralia to Negative Dialectics, and against spite about Adorno the mandarin, it will become evident that these works are singly focused upon the political consequences of the devaluation of thinking purportedly for the sake of praxis. Finally reading the Philosophy of New Music as the third excursus to the Dialectic of Enlightenment, a dialectic of extremes between Schoenberg (and Cage) and Stravinsky, the question of “Why Still Philosophy” will finally emerge as the question of the possibility of experience now, a question at once aesthetic and political.

PHIL 3920/5920.1 Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Language (T1)

Matthew Congdon | R 16:30

This is an intensive survey of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s later writings, focusing primarily on the Philosophical Investigations. Published posthumously in 1953, the Investigations is his wide-ranging magnum opus, written in a markedly strange and unique style, which shaped the course of many central philosophical debates in the latter half of the twentieth century up to today. Themes to be discussed include the relation between language, thought, and the world; the relation between inner life and outer behavior; the nature of social practices and forms of life; the normative structure of rule-following; the relation between the meaning and use of words; and the nature of philosophy itself. We will also devote some time to reflecting upon the ethical significance of Wittgenstein’s later work, as reflected in the writings of Elizabeth Anscombe, Stanley Cavell, and Cora Diamond.

PHIL 3920/5920.2 Kant’s Ethics (T2/H3)

Julian Wuerth | T 16:30

In this course we examine Kant’s metaethics and normative ethics across his recorded thought. We begin with an examination of Kant’s defense of moral sense theory in his earliest works, his break from moral sense theory to an ethics of reason in his lectures and notes, and the grounds for this switch. We then turn to Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals and consider its metaethical commitments and argumentative structure. Here we consider influential constructivist interpretations of Kant’s ethics. We next examine Kant’s normative ethics in his major works in ethics. What is the meaning of the categorical imperative, what are the various formulations of it, how do they relate to one another, and in what ways are they equivalent? We then consider particular lessons for moral living of the categorical imperative and the relationship of Kant’s ethics to alternative leading moral theories.

Fall 2021

PHIL 3900.01/5900.01 Marx Seminar

Professor Ng | T 3:10 

This course is an in-depth philosophical exploration of the work of Karl Marx (1818–1883), ranging from his early writings of the 1840s to the full development of his critique of political economy in the three volumes of Capital. In focusing on the philosophical contributions of Marx’s work, we will consider questions such as the following: How is Marx’s project a continuation or transformation of the philosophical tradition that immediately preceded him, particularly, the work of Kant and the German idealists? How does Marx’s work set the stage for the tradition of critical theory, and how does Marx understand the normative basis of critique? How might we understand the ethical dimensions of Marx’s philosophy? Does Marx present a philosophical anthropology, and if so, what role does it play in his critique of capitalism? How does Marx understand the relation between human beings and nature, and how does this relationship shape his understanding of history? The goal of the course is to understand Marx’s contributions to a number of longstanding philosophical questions, and how his answers to these questions lead to the conclusion that capitalism constitutes a normatively deficient form of ethical life. 

PHIL 3900.02/5900/02 Seminar on Spinoza’s Ethics 

Professor Costa | R 6:10

If philosophy is the art of making the real understandable by human thought, few texts can claim to be more philosophical than Spinoza's Ethics. In this seminar, we will explore Spinoza's masterpiece armed with patience and deductive reasoning. We will follow the metaphysical pathways that led Spinoza to support a fully monistic picture of reality, encompassing psychology, philosophy of mind, and even mystical ascension. 

PHIL 3900.03/5900.03 Plato Seminar

Professor Goodman | W 3:10

Close reading of the chief dialogues of Plato including the Republic, Symposium, Meno, Phaedrus, Gorgias, Theaetetus, Timaeus, Apology, Phaedo, Crito, Protagoras, Theaetetus, Sophist, Euthyphro and Laches – but also the Menexenus, the Alcibiades and the Seventh Letter. Secondary sources will include Jacob Howland’s Glaucon’s Fate and F. M. Cornford’s commentary on the Timaeus.

Previous Graduate Seminars

 View a list of Vanderbilt philosophy department graduate seminars from previous academic years here.