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Graduate Seminars

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

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


Fall 2024

PHIL 8000 Teaching and Research Methods: Graduate Proseminar, T 11:00a-1:00p

Professor Karen Ng

The graduate proseminar aims to provide first-year graduate students with a general orientation into graduate school and academic life in the department. Specifically, students will learn some basics pertaining to research and teaching methods, general practices within the discipline, professionalization towards a career in philosophy, and resources offered by the department and university for research and teaching. Students will also be introduced to the philosophy department faculty and their areas of research and have a chance to hear their unique perspectives on graduate school and the wider profession. In addition to faculty visits, each week we will discuss a different aspect of academic life, including topics such as: writing successful seminar papers; AOSs and AOCs; submitting papers to journals; forming a dissertation committee and dissertation writing; the APA; participating in conferences; the job market; applying for fellowships and grants; crafting a syllabus; scaffolding assignments; classroom dynamics; presentation skills; and more.


PHIL 9000 Maimonides and Friends (H2), T 1:00-3:20p

Prof. Lenn Goodman

Exploring Maimonides’ masterwork, the  Guide to the Perplexed. Exiled from Cordoba, the city of his birth, in the wake of the Almohad conquest, Maimonides (1138-1204) became an accomplished physician, jurist, and philosopher. The Guide, his magnum opus in philosophy, aims to show an educated reader how to navigate the straits between logic, science, and philosophy on the one hand and one’s religious commitments on the other. Our reading will center on the new translation from the Arabic original and the philosophical commentary on this text by Lenn Goodman and Phillip Lieberman. We'll also read Goodman’s companion volume, A Guide to the Guide. The “friends” examined will include the major Muslim philosophers that Maimonides studied closely: al-Farabi, Avicenna, the Ikhwan al-Safa, al-Ghazali, and Ibn Tufayl.

PHIL 9010-01 Kant’s Ethics (H3), W 3:35-5:55p

Professor Julian Wuerth

What Should I Do?  Kant identifies this as one of four questions that together comprise all of philosophy, and Kant answers this question with his ethics.  Kant sees an ambiguity built into this question that has undermined all previous attempts at ethics: is it a pragmatic question, a moral question, or both?  This course traces the evolution of Kant’s views in ethics and his strategy for disambiguating this question.  We start with Kant’s beginnings as a moral sense theorist, next review his grounds for a radical switch to an ethics of reason in 1769, and then, after considering his unpublished work from the “silent decade” of the 1770s, examine his mature ethics in the  Groundwork, the  Critique of Practical Reason, and the  Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone.  Here we pay special attention to Kant’s theory of action, the starting points of Kant’s arguments, the role of skepticism, Kant’s distinction between the pragmatic and the moral, his accounts of freedom and the “fact of reason,” and his views on character and our  Gesinnung, or moral disposition.

PHIL 9010-02 Marx (H4), R 2:45-5:05p

Professor Karen Ng

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 Hegel 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 social criticism? 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 labor, political economy, and history? The goal of the course is to understand Marx’s contributions to a number of longstanding philosophical questions and how his answers lead to the conclusion that capitalism constitutes a normatively deficient form of ethical life. 

PHIL 9020 Ideal and Non-Ideal Theory (T5), T 3:10-5:30p

Professor Jacob Barrett

This seminar will investigate the ideal and non-ideal theory debate, first, in political philosophy, and second, in neighboring fields. Within political philosophy, ideal theorists aim to characterize the perfectly or ideally just society. The first part of the course will focus on the value of this sort of ideal theorizing in relation to more directly practically relevant forms of non-ideal theorizing — for example, about how to solve the problems of injustice we currently face. Is ideal theory relevant to, or in some important sense prior to, non-ideal theory? If not, might ideal theory be important to do anyway — or might it, conversely, be pointless or even harmful? In the second part of the course, we will explore related debates in fields such as ethics and epistemology, with our precise focus depending on student interest.


Spring 2024

PHIL 9020.01 Ethics and Animals (T2) T 4:15-6:35 

Professor Raskoff

This seminar focuses on the morality of our treatment of nonhuman animals. We start with questions
about moral status. What is the nature of moral status and what does it take for something to have it? Is
moral status an all-or-nothing sort of thing, or does it come in degrees? Can something have rights
without also having duties? Next, we turn to questions about our treatment of animals. Do we have a right to harm or kill some animals in order to benefit or save others? We consider these questions from a variety of moral perspectives, including consequentialism, Kantian ethics, virtue ethics, and feminist
ethics. Finally, we apply these ideas to the morality of our treatment of animals in food, focusing in
particular on questions about ethical consumption and effective animal advocacy.

PHIL 9010.01 American Ethics (H5) W 3:35-5:55

Professor Heney

One way of understanding the history of moral philosophy is as the collected offerings of thinkers who
have studied the terrain around moral problems. Such philosophers have dedicated themselves to the
study of central questions of moral life, questions like: How should we live? What motivates people to be or do good? What is it to be good or do good? How does the pursuit of moral goodness contribute to human happiness? This course explores the moral philosophy developed over the span of a hundred years by a group of thinkers united by their methods and their meliorism: the American pragmatists. We are likely to engage with the works of Charles S. Peirce (1839-1914), William James (1842-1910), John Dewey (1859-1952), Jane Addams (1860-1935), George Santayana (1863-1952), Ella Lyman Cabot (1866-1934), Clarence Irving Lewis (1883-1964), and Alain Locke (1885-1954).

PHIL 9020.02 Liberalism (T5) W 6:10-8:30

Professor Talisse

Contemporary political philosophy has largely been devoted to developing, assessing, criticizing, and
revising a distinctive framework known as liberalism. Roughly put, liberalism holds that the state exists
for the sake of the people living within its jurisdiction, and thus must be justifiable to them. Several
questions arise: What is a state? What does it mean for it to exist for the sake of people? What would a
successful justification look like? Accordingly, there is a wide variety of conceptions of liberalism in
currency, and correspondingly many critiques. Paying special attention to the lineage of “public reason”
liberalisms, we will examine both the current internal debates among liberals, and external debates
between liberals and proponents of various alternatives.

PHIL 9010.02 Recognition and Relations of Right in Classical German Philosophy (H4) TH 1:25-3:45pm 

Professor Ng

In this course, we will explore classical German Rechtsphilosophien or “philosophies of right,”
represented by figures such as Kant, Fichte, Hegel, and Marx. We will focus on two features of Recht
developed in this tradition: first, rather than rights as entitlements, right is conceived primarily in terms of a particular kind of relation, both between persons and things and persons and persons; second, the fully developed concept of right requires relations of recognition, which form the basis of a rightful condition. Through the lens of and with an emphasis on the concept of recognition, we will investigate topics such as property rights and their limits, contracts, the relation and separation of morality and right, the role of the state, international right, and the limits of right as a concept for social and political theorizing.

Fall 2023

PHIL 9000 – Aristotle (H1)

Professor Lenn Goodman

Close study of Aristotle’s chief works and select modern studies – the Organon, Physics, biological writings, Metaphysics, De Anima, Nicomachaean Ethics, Politics, Rhetoric, and Poetics. Topics discussed will include logic, naturalism and determinism; inference, induction, and discovery; substance and the forms; moral and intellectual virtue; political ideals and political reality; reason and persuasion; tragedy and experience. Besides discussions of Aristotle’s ideas and arguments and comparisons with other philosophers, seminar members will make presentations and will prepare, present, and revise seminar papers addressing a philosophical question chosen in consultation with Professor Goodman. Given Aristotle’s protean interests, participants from disciplines beyond philosophy are encouraged to join the seminar.

PHIL 9010 – Spinoza’s Ethics (H3)

Professor Emanuele Costa

This seminar will undertake a close reading of Spinoza's magnum opus, the Ethics, published posthumously in 1677. Despite the title, Spinoza's work is a systematic piece of philosophy spanning through metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, affect theory, and ethics proper. The reading will mostly concentrate on the primary text, although secondary sources will be taken under examination to help with difficult interpretative claims.


PHIL 9020-01 Moral Psychology (T2)

Professor Matthew Congdon

This is an intensive introduction to moral psychology from the mid-twentieth century to the present, engaging philosophers from Aristotelian, Humean, Kantian, Hegelian, and other traditions. Moral psychology is rooted in the ancient idea that an understanding of the human soul (psyche) is a prerequisite for the study of ethics. The aim of moral psychology is to clarify fundamental ethical concepts by exploring how psychological elements like desire, emotion, habit, volition, intention, and reason come together in the constitution of moral agency. Topics will include the internal/external reasons debate; the nature of intention; moral perception; the role of emotions in ethical life; freedom and normative constraint; akrasia; and moral luck. We will read a combination of classic texts in twentieth century ethics (including works by Elizabeth Anscombe, Donald Davidson, Philippa Foot, Iris Murdoch, P.F. Strawson, and Bernard Williams), alongside more recent work in moral psychology (by Myisha Cherry, Robert Gooding-Williams, Christine Korsgaard, John McDowell, Amia Srinivasan, and others. In some cases, we will supplement our readings with excerpts from historical figures such as Aristotle, Hume, and Nietzsche. Our aim will be to develop a sophisticated understanding of this branch of ethics through an appreciation of the connections between diverse perspectives.


PHIL 9020-02 Inquiry (T3)

Professor David Thorstad 

The epistemology of inquiry studies the processes of inquiry which produce belief and other doxastic attitudes. This course will cover two topics within the epistemology of inquiry: the norms and metaphysics of inquiry. Within the metaphysics of inquiry, we will ask about the conditions under which agents count as inquiring, the relationship between inquiry and suspension of judgment, and the connections between inquiry and a class of interrogative attitudes including curiosity, wondering and doubt. As for the norms of inquiry, we will discuss recent normative proposals governing evidence gathering, double-checking, closing inquiry, and related activities. We will also discuss general topics in the normativity of inquiry, including the relationship between norms of inquiry and epistemic norms. 

PHIL 9020-03 The Epistemology of Democracy (T2)

Professor Jacob Barrett

In some domains, we believe that experts know best. If we fall sick, we do not seek out the medical opinion of just anyone, nor do we poll all the members of our community. Instead, we place far greater weight on the opinion of doctors and trust them with our care. Is politics like this? Would delegating political rule to experts result in better political decisions, or do we make better decisions through democratic procedures? Epistemic democrats defend the latter position. They argue that we should endorse democratic institutions, not (merely) because of anything intrinsically right or just about them, but because they lead to better political decisions. The goal of this seminar will be to investigate arguments for and against this view in order to arrive at a better understanding of democracy’s epistemic advantages and limitations. Although we will read some historical sources, our focus will primarily be on recent developments in the literature. Throughout, we will consider not only philosophical arguments, but also formal results such as the Condorcet Jury Theorem and the Diversity Trumps Ability Theorem, as well as empirical evidence both about democracy’s macro-level performance and about micro-level phenomena relating to voter information, bias, and the like.

Previous Graduate Seminars

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