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Philosophy Courses in English 

Fall Term 2018

20th Century Political Philosophy: Rawls and Nozick

Introductory Seminar

Marc Andree Weber

Course description in due course.



Plato's Meno and Republic

Professor Dominic Scott

Course description

In this course, we shall examine Plato's Meno and Republic. Of the two dialogues, the Meno is much the shorter, and is considered to have been written earlier. It provides an ideal introduction to Plato's philosophy, in part because it covers so many of the topics to be found in his later works, especially the Republic. Prompted by the question whether virtue can be taught, the Meno delves into such topics as the nature of virtue, definition, universals (or 'forms'), innate knowledge and the theory of education. It is also the first work to elucidate the distinction between knowledge and true belief. We shall focus on the Meno in the first four sessions of the course.

We then turn to the Republic, often considered Plato's greatest masterpiece. Like the Meno, it encompasses a wide range of topics, but discusses them at considerably more length. The main questions that drive the discussion concern the nature and value of justice: what is justice, and why is it in an individual agent's interest to be just? As well as discussing justice in the individual, the work discusses the nature of the just city, and constructs an 'ideal state', which is described in considerable detail. The work is therefore not only a seminal contribution to the ethics of the individual, but also to political philosophy. But the scope of the discussion extends still further. Plato has a great deal to say about education (because he is deeply concerned about the education of the rulers of his ideal state). This leads him to discuss very different aspects of education: sometimes he focuses on the role of the arts in education (hence the work is also concerned with aesthetics); and in the central books (V-VII) his interests extend more deeply into the theory of knowledge. In the course, we shall give equal weight to all these different topics, as well as discuss how this highly complex work fits together as a coherent unity.

There is considerable overlap between the two dialogues, and throughout my discussion of the Republic I shall make references and comparisons to the Meno.

The translations I shall use are:

  • G. M. A. Grube, Plato: The Meno. Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis, 1980.

  • G. M. A. Grube, Plato: The Republic, revised by C. D. C. Reeve. Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis, 1992.

(Both are reprinted in J. M. Cooper, ed. Plato, Complete Works. Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis, 1997.)

As general introductions to the two dialogues, I shall be referring to my own book on the Meno (D. Scott, Plato's Meno, Cambridge University Press, 2006), and to J. Annas, An Introduction to Plato's Republic, Oxford University Press, 1981.

I shall give out a more extensive reading list during the course.

Course Requirements:

Bachelor students: two papers, one of 4 pages, the other of 8 pages.

Masters students: two papers, one of 6 pages, the other of 12 pages.

Timetable

First weekend (August 4-5)

Day 1. Introductory session: 10.15am-11.45am; then sessions at 1.45pm-3.15pm and 5.15pm-6.45pm.

Day 2. Sessions at 10.15am-11.45am and 3.30pm-5pm.

Second weekend (August 11-12)

Days 1 and 2. Sessions at 10.15am-11.45am and 3.30pm-5pm.

Third weekend (August 18-19)

Day 1. Sessions at 10.15am-11.45am and 3.30pm-5pm

Day 2. Sessions at 10.15am-11.45am and 1.45pm-3.15pm. Concluding session at 5.15pm-6.45pm.

 

 

Spring Term 2018

Choosing Children, Assisting Death?

Introductory Seminar

Christian Wendelborn

6 ECTS

Tuesday, 10.15 - 11.45

Description:

There are some hard questions in bioethics concerning the beginning and the end of life. New biotechnologies today or in the future make or will make things possible that seem at firt glance or for many people ethically problematic. Should parents be allowed to „choose" their children, for example by testing their unborn child for down syndrom and then when indicated by aborting the pregnancy? And what about parents that are deaf and want their child also to be deaf? But it is not only new technologies that make it sometimes hard to evaluate claims and wants of particular agents: How should society respond to the request of many terminal-ill patients for euthanasia? Is there an ethically relevant difference between forms of euthanasia?

In this seminar we will discuss various arguments and views about ethical problems at the beginning and the end of life. We will read and critically evaluate classical texts as well as new contributions in view of newly available biotechnologies.

The reading assignments and the discussion will be in English.

Text:

We will read excerpts from book-lenghts treatments of particular problems as well as papers. All texts will be provided via ILIAS.

Requirements:

  1. You are required to do the assigned readings before the seminar each week. The sessions will be based on discussions, so you are required to prepare the texts in order to participate in these discussions. To prepare a text means: Write down in your own words the main theses or claims of the text and the arguments or reasons the author provides for his claims.

  2. There are two short essays (2-3 pages): The task is to explain (or reconstruct) the main argument of a paper to the readers of your own (ficticious or not) philosophy blog. You are required to write these two blog entries during the lecture period. The two essays will not be graded.

  3. There is, finally, an argumentative essay (5-8 pages) due at the end of the semester. The topic is of your own choosing. The essay must deal argumentatively with a controversy about one of the ethical problems that we were dealing with in the seminar. This essay will be graded.

 

Derek Parfit's Philosophical Legacy

Advanced Seminar

Tatjana Visak

8 ECTS

Thursday, 10.15 - 11.45

Description:

Derek Parfit, whom many consider to be the most important philosopher of the past decennia, died in 2017 at age 74. Until his death, Parfit was highly productive and he had just finished the third volume of On What Matters, which is one of his major works. Volume 1 and 2 appeared in 2011 and his second main work, Reasons and Persons, was published in 1984.

Who was Derek Parfit? What brought him the reputation of a genius? What are his major philosophical theses? The seminar will focus on these questions and offer an introduction to Parfit's work. In particular, we will explore Parfit's answers to the following questions:

1. What matters most nowadays?

2. What if anything, makes me the same person than the child that my mother carried in her arms and that has my name? Will I still be the same person in 30 years and does this matter?

3. What ought we to do if our actions determine how many people will exist and who will exist?

4. Are all reasons for action subjective, or are there objective reasons for action?

5. Why does anything exist at all, and why exactly the things that do actually exist?

The readings for this seminar will be made available online. The grade will be based on a written assignment (essay) at the end of the seminar.


 

 

Winter Term 2017 / 2018

Theories about territorial rights: Why may states control land and the people on it?

Introductory Seminar

Kerstin Reibold

6 ECTS

25. / 26.11.2017 + 2. / 3. 12.2017, 10.00 - 16.00, EW 169

Preliminary meeting: 17.11.2017, 17.00 - 18.30 pm, EW 169

Description:

Why may states claim land as their territory and who decides in territorial conflicts which party has a right to land and where the borders of each country should be? These questions become important in a variety of cases: We might ask what a fair solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine would be; whether the Catalans have a right to secede from Spain; or how borders should be drawn after a violent conflict. Different theories about territorial rights give different answers to these questions. Some argue that the historical and cultural attachment of a group justifies their claim to a certain territory. Others concentrate on the tasks of a state such a protecting peace and human rights and then justify territorial rights as a precondition for fulfilling these tasks. A third group justify individual ownership of land first and interpret the state's right to a territory as an accumulation of its citizen's property rights in land.

In the seminar we will first get to know these theories and their advantages and drawbacks. In a next step we will then use them to discuss real-world cases of territorial conflicts and the solutions each theory offers. The aim is to gain a deeper understanding of what justifies territorial rights of states and how these theories relate to border conflicts, secession, and cases of conquest. By the end of this course you should be able to hold an informed opinion about state's rights and understand the implications of each theory on our judgment of territorial conflicts.
You will be expected to attend class regularly, participate in the seminar discussions and to write an essay in order to get credits for the course.

Literatur

- Margaret Moore, A Political Theory of Territory, Oxford University Press
- David Miller, Territorial Rights: Concept and Justification.
- Anna Stilz, Nations, States, and Territory.

 

John L. Mackie: Ethics. Inventing Right and Wrong.

Advanced Seminar

Dr. Christian Wendelborn

8 ECTS

Monday, 10.15 - 11.45, EO 242

Description:

This seminar explores various questions about the metaethical position that is introduced in John L. Mackie's influential book Ethics. Inventing Right and Wrong. We will constrain our discussion to the first, metaethical part of the book. In that part, Mackie argues for his so called error theory, which is now a serious contender in the contemporary metaethical landscape. According to this theory, moral judgments are beliefs that ascribe moral properties, even though such properties do not exist, and therefore all (substantial) moral judgements are false. Mackie develops his theory by way of introducing a wide range of topics and arguments concerning semantic, ontological and epistemological issues within the debate about Moral Realism, Naturalism and Non-Cognitivism.

A large part of the seminar will focus on Mackie's own arguments and his discernment of different issues in semantics and ontology. In particular, we will investigate the structure and presuppositions of the error theory and the main arguments for this position. In the second part of the course, the focus will be on Mackie's critics: What responses are available for or in fact have been given by Moral Realists, Non-Cognitivists or Relativists? How persuasive is Mackie's Argument from Queerness and his Argument from Relativity respectively?

Basic knowledge in metaethics is of importance to participate in the discussion. The reading assignments and the discussion will be in English.

Text:

The main readings will come from Mackie's book. The other readings will be papers by different philosophers. All texts will be provided via ILIAS.

Requirements:

  1. You are required to do the assigned readings before the seminar each week. The seminars will be based on discussions, so you are required to prepare the texts in order to participate in these discussions.

  2. There are two short essays (2-3 pages): The task is to explain the main argument of a chosen passage from Mackie's book to the readers of your own (ficticious or not) philosophy blog. You are required to write these two blog entries during the lecture period.

  3. There is, finally, an argumentative essay (5-8 pages) due at the end of the semester (30 January). The topic is of your choosing. The essay must deal argumentatively with a controversy about one of Mackie's arguments or theses.

 



SpringTerm 2017

Population Ethics

Advanced Seminar 


Martin Brecher, M.A., M.Litt.  /  Dr. Helge Rückert

Tuesday, 17:15 - 18:45 pm

8 ECTS

Population ethics deals with questions like the following: How many people ought there to be? Can we have duties to bring people into existence? Under which conditions are we obliged to refrain from reproducing? Can there be overpopulation? Does a person's existence ever constitute a benefit (or a harm) to her? How should we compare a state in which some people enjoy lives of a very high quality with a state in which considerably more people live great, but slightly worse lives?

We will read and discuss selected chapters and passages from the seminal work Reasons and Persons (1984) by Derek Parfit (who in 2014 received the prestigious Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy). First, we will clarify basic concepts, problems and accounts in population ethics. Then, we will focus on possible solutions to three vexing problems of population ethics: the Non-Identity Problem, the Mere Addition Paradox, and the Repugnant Conclusion.

Literature:

- Parfit, Derek (1984): Reasons and Persons. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

 



Multiculturalism and the challenge of illiberal groups

Introductory Seminar

Kerstin Reibold

Seminar dates:

10.4.2017-13.4.2017: 10:00am - 4pm

6 ECTS

Today's societies are increasingly multicultural. This means that the liberal democratic state is increasingly challenged to equally represent, consider, accommodate, and reconcile different ways of living and diverse conceptions of the good in one political system. In this seminar we will first learn which groups make what kind of claims. We will look at ethnic and religious groups as well as immigrants and their respective calls to be exempted from certain general regulations or their wishes to be granted "special" rights. We will then analyze whether and how such accommodations can be justified by asking such questions as: Do minority rights increase or threaten the equality of all citizens in a state regardless of their culture and religion? Will minority rights strengthen or disintegrate the state's civil society and citizen's solidarity with each other? Can rights for groups be reconciled with the protection of individual rights guaranteed by the liberal state?

We will then focus on how multiculturalism should be put into practice and how a liberal state should deal with demands by illiberal groups that not only contradict liberal principles but also potentially hurt or oppress vulnerable members of such groups. We will discuss the merits and disadvantages of laissez-faire, deliberative and legal a priori approaches and their applicability and feasibility for different kinds of illiberal groups and claims.

If you have been admitted to this class, please check your ILIAS mailbox regularly as the reading list, the syllabus, and any other information regarding the course will be announced there. You will be expected to have read the assigned readings before the start of the seminar.

Literature:

Monique Deveaux: Gender and Justice in Multicultural Liberal States

Chandran Kukathas: The Liberal Archipelago

Will Kymlicka: Multicultural Citizenship

Jeff Spinner: The Boundaries of Citizenship



Fall Term 2016 

Rawls, A Theory of Justice

Introductory Seminar

Martin Brecher, M.A., M.Litt.

Wednesdays 5:15pm - 6:45pm
Offical start: 7 September 2016 
Due to the prolonged enrolment period, all weekly philosophy courses will start in the second week of the lecture period. Accordingly, the first course session will take place on the 14th of September 2016. 

Course description: 

John Rawls's (1921-2002) magnum opus A Theory of Justice (1971) is undoubtedly one of the most important works in 20th century political philosophy and is commonly credited with reviving interest in normative inquiry within practical philosophy.

The aim of the book is to develop an account of distributive justice. Rawls argues for a conception of justice he calls "Justice as Fairness" that is meant to reconciliate demands for liberty on the one hand and equality (in the distribution of goods) on the other. In order to defend this conception of justice, Rawls employs a thought-experiment (the "original position") that combines elements of social contract theory and rational-choice theory.

In the seminar, we will focus on the fundamentals of Rawls's theory: the idea of justice as fairness, the original position, the idea of a reflective equilibrium, Rawls's two principles of justice, and Rawls's criticism of Utilitarianism. We will base our discussion of the revised edition of A Theory of Justice (published in English in 1999).
In order to get credit points for this course, the participants are required (i) to closely read the texts for each session, (ii) to actively take part in the seminar discussion, (iii) to write a term paper (Hausarbeit; optionally in the form of shorter papers). Further details will be given in the first session.


Primary source:

- Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Revised Edition. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press 1999. [ISBN: 978-0674000780]

Introductory reading:

- Audard, Catherine. John Rawls. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press 2007.
- Freeman, Samuel. Rawls. Oxford: Routledge 2007.
- Pogge, Thomas. John Rawls: His Life and Theory of Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2007.
- Wenar, Leif. "John Rawls". In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Winter 2013 Edition. Ed. Edward N. Zalta.
URL: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2013/entries/rawls/

Further secondary literature (selection):

- Freeman, Samuel. "Original Position". In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Fall 2014 Edition. Ed. Edward N. Zalta.
URL: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2014/entries/original-position/
- Freeman, Samuel (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to John Rawls. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2003.
- Daniels, Norman (ed.). Reading Rawls: Critical Studies on John Rawls' A Theory of Justice. New York: Basic Books 1975. 2nd edition 1989.
- Daniels, Norman. "Reflective Equilibrium". In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Winter 2013 Edition. Ed. Edward N. Zalta.
URL: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2013/entries/reflective-equilibrium/
- Höffe, Otfried (ed.). John Rawls. Eine Theorie der Gerechtigkeit. Berlin: Akademie Verlag 1997. 2nd edition 2006. [NB. most contributions are in German.]
- Lovett, Frank. Rawls's A Theory of Justice: A Reader's Guide. London: Continuum 2011.
- Maffettone, Sebastiano. Rawls: An Introduction. London: Polity 2011.
- Mandle, Jon. Rawls's A Theory of Justice. An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2009.
- Richardson, Henry/Weithman, Paul (eds.). The Philosophy of Rawls: A Collection of Essays. 5 vols. New York: Garland 1999.





Philosophical Questions Concerning Death

Introductory Seminar

Dr. Tatjana Visak

Wednesdays 10:15am - 11:45am
official start: 7 September 2016

Due to the prolonged enrolment period, all weekly philosophy courses will start in the second week of the lecture period. Accordingly, the first course session will take place on the 14th of September 2016. 

What is death? Can death be good or bad for me and, if so, why? Is there a soul that survives the death of my body? Is it reasonable to fear death? Can suicide by justified? How should I live in the face of my mortality? Would it be better to be immortal? This seminar addresses these and other questions concerning death and thereby offers an introduction to philosophy for non-philosophers.
The seminar introduces various branches of philosophy, such as ontology, epistemology, history of philosophy, value theory, normative and applied ethics, and argumentation theory. Participants will be invited to think for themselves about various questions concerning death in a philosophical way. Each participant will give an oral presentation in preparation of his/ her paper.

Participants will read Shelly Kagan's book Death, which is very accessible even for non-philosophers. Participants should make sure that they have a copy of the book at the beginning of the seminar. The seminar will be in English. Participants can write their paper either in English or in German.

Primary source:
- Shelly Kagan. Death. London: Yale University Press, 2012. 376 pp.





Early Analytic Philosophy of Language

Advanced Seminar 

Prof. Kai F. Wehmeier 
Guest Professor


8-9 October 
15-16 October 
22-23 October 

[weekend block seminar]

This seminar will be devoted to reading and discussing seminal texts that played a crucial defining role in the early history of analytic philosophy, as well as a selection of papers that directly engage those original contributions. Seminar sessions will consist of a combination of lecture, student presentations, and discussions. Students are expected to submit ahead of time brief (1-2 pages) response papers to one of the primary texts to be discussed on any given day; they will develop one of these response papers into a longer term paper. In addition, we will have at least one student presentation at each of our sessions. Final grades will be determined on the basis of response papers, contributions to seminar discussion, in-class presentations, and term paper. Students enrolled in this seminar must be able to read and communicate effectively in English.

For the first six seminar meetings we will read and discuss work by Gottlob Frege (1848-1925), who developed modern quantificational logic and is perhaps the single most significant figure in early analytic philosophy of language. Specifically, the readings for the first six meetings are as follows (all texts by Frege can be found in Michael Beaney, The Frege Reader, Oxford: Blackwell 1997):

8 October: Early Frege
AM: Frege, Begriffsschrift: A Formula Language of Pure Thought Modelled on that of Arithmetic (1879): Preface and Part I
PM: Frege, The Foundations of Arithmetic (1884): Selections
9 October: Mature Frege
AM: Frege, "Function and Concept" (1891) and "On Concept and Object" (1892)
PM: Frege, "On Sense and Reference" (1892)
15 October: Late Frege
AM: Frege, "Thought" (1918)
PM: Robert May, "Frege on Indexicals," Philosophical Review 115 (4): 487-516 (2006).

We will then spend four meetings on Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), specifically his theory of descriptions, and influential reactions to it. 

16 October: Russell's Theory of Descriptions and its Aftermath
AM: Russell, "On Denoting," Mind N.S. 14 (56): 479-493 (1905).
PM: P.F. Strawson, "On Referring,"Mind N.S. 59 (235): 320-344 (1950).
22 October: Russell's Theory of Descriptions and its Aftermath
AM: Keith Donnellan, "Reference and Definite Descriptions," Philosophical Review 75 (3): 281-304 (1966).
PM: Saul Kripke: "Speaker's Reference and Semantic Reference," in P.A. French, T.E. Uehling and H.K. Wettstein (eds.), Studies in the Philosophy of Language, University of Minnesota Press, 255-296 (1977).

For the final two sessions we will be looking at two major themes of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), to wit, his picture theory of language and his rejection of the identity relation.

23 October: Early Wittgenstein
AM: Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, London: Kegan Paul (1922): Selections; and Peter Sullivan, "A Version of the Picture Theory," in W. Vossenkuhl (ed.), Ludwig Wittgenstein: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Berlin: Akademie-Verlag: 89-110 (2001).
PM: Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, London: Kegan Paul (1922): Selections; Roger White, "Wittgenstein on Identity," Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society N.S. 78: 157-174 (1977-78); Brian Rogers and Kai Wehmeier, "Tractarian First-Order Logic: Identity and the N-Operator," The Review of Symbolic Logic, 5 (4): 538-573 (2012).




Spring Term 2016 

Thomas Reid’s ethics and theory of action

Martin Brecher, M.A., M.Litt.
Wednesdays 5:15pm - 6:45pmEO 154, start: 17 February 2016 

Course description:

Thomas Reid (1710-1796) was an important figure of the Scottish Enlightenment and is regarded as the founder of the Scottish school of common sense philosophy. In general, his philosophical project aims at reconciliating philosophy and common sense; this enterprise shapes both Reid's inquiry into the 'intellectual powers' of the human mind responsible for our cognition of the world as well as his account of our 'active powers' responsible for action and in particular our moral agency.

Reid develops his moral philosophy as an alternative especially to the sentimentalist
accounts of morality (i.e., moral sense theories) of his time; his ethical system is founded on the notion of duty and draws on Stoicism and early-modern systems of natural law; finally, Reid argues for a strong, libertarian conception of free will, which he considers a necessary condition of moral obligation, and criticises contemporary determinist positions.
Main topics of the seminar will be Reid's defence of free will, his conception of practical rationality as well as his theory of moral judgement. Our primary textual basis will be Reid's Essays on the Active Powers of Man (published 1788).
In order to get credit points for this course, the participants are required (i) to closely read the texts for each session, (ii) to actively take part in the seminar discussion, (iii) to write a term paper (Hausarbeit; optionally in the form of shorter papers). Further details will be given in the first session.

Primary sources (details will be given in the first session):
- Thomas Reid. Essays on the Active Powers of Man (Edinburgh Edition of Thomas Reid). Eds. Knud Haakonssen/James A. Harris. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 2010.
- Thomas Reid. "Of Power". Ed. John Haldane. The Philosophical Quarterly 51 (2001), 3-12.
- Thomas Reid. On Practical Ethics (Edinburgh Edition of Thomas Reid). Ed. Knud Haakonssen. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 2007.

Introductory reading, available online:
Broadie, Alexander. "Scottish Philosophy in the 18th Century". In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Fall 2013 Edition. Ed. Edward N. Zalta. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2013/entries/scottish-18th/
- Cuneo, Terence. "Reid's Ethics". In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Spring 2011 Edition. Ed. Edward N. Zalta.
http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2011/entries/reid-ethics/
- Nichols, Ryan/Yaffe, Gideon. "Thomas Reid". In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Summer 2015 Edition. Ed. Edward N. Zalta. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2015/entries/reid/




 
 
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