Loyola University Chicago

Department of Philosophy

PHIL 398: Seminar in Contemporary Philosophy

PHIL 398: Capstone Seminar in Contemporary Philosophy

The Generic Catalog Description

The various sections of this course discuss a wide variety of contemporary issues. For philosophy majors who have already taken at least five courses in philosophy.

PHIL 398: Capstone Seminar: Special Topic: "Women, Labor, Property"

Dr. Julie Ward

This seminar-style course is designed for senior Philosophy majors needing a capstone course. Majors in Women's and Gender Studies are also invited to register if they have at least 6 hours in Philosophy; for all students, some knowledge of classical texts in political philosophy is desirable. The focus of the class will be an examination of the theoretical background of Marxist and socialist feminism in conjunction with issues relating to women and labor. We will be reading some classical theoretical texts, including Engels, Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State and selections from Marx' 1844 Manuscripts on the alienation of labor. As well, we will be discussing selected papers by contemporary feminist scholars such as Alison Jaggar, Heidi Hartman, and Susan Okin on issues relating to women and labor in developed economies.   

PHIL 398: Seminar in Contemporary Philosophy: Existentialism, Morality, and God

Thomas Carson

Existentialist philosophers have much to say about the connection between morality and religion. We will read and discuss some important existentialist writings on this topic. The class will begin with an examination of the divine command or divine will theory of morality which holds that valid moral standards can only come from God and then turn to the existentialist writers. Specific topics to be discussed include the following:

1. Does morality presuppose or require the existence of God?
2. Does Socrates’ argument in Plato's Euthyphro refute the divine command theory?
3. Kierkegaard's account of the story of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac. The "teleological suspension of the ethical" and its implications for our concept of morality and the alleged "overridingness" of moral considerations.
4. Nietzsche's criticisms of religion and religious moralities. Does Nietzsche accept the divine command theory? Atheism and the divine command theory. Nietzsche on the genealogy of morals and the origins of Christian morality.
5. Schopenhauer's arguments for pessimism. Schopenhauer on pessimism and religion. Suicide as a test or criterion for a life worth living.
6. Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Illych - Did Ivan have a good/meaningful life?  Religious themes in this story.
7. Other topics: God and the meaning of life. Is the existence of God (or belief in the existence of God) necessary for a meaningful life? Can life be meaningful or worth living if there is no afterlife?  Are the existence of God and an afterlife relevant to the meaning of life?

Required Readings:
Kierkegaard Fear and Trembling.
Nietzsche On the Genealogy of Morals
Erik Wielenberg, Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe
Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Illych
Klemke, ed., The Meaning of Life, third edition

Kierkegaard's Practice in Christianity
Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols and AntiChrist
Robert Adams, Finite and Infinite Goods

All Texts are in the University Bookstore.

PHIL 398: Seminar in Contemporary Philosophy: Reason & Knowledge

David Ingram  

Issues to be discussed in this seminar include: international law; human rights, neo-liberal economic policy and alternative proposals for global economic policy; global democracy; gender and cultural identity, and immigration. We begin with some preliminary readings on globalization. We then move to what is possibly the most widely debated contemporary philosophical treatise on global justice and human rights: John Rawls’s The Law of Peoples. This little book invokes a common sense of decency in articulating a theory of international justice and human rights that can be made equally persuasive to all reasonable persons, regardless of their particular religious and cultural identifications.

The second half of the course examines several very important books that have been written under the shadow of Rawls’s work. The first work, Thomas Pogge’s World Poverty and Human Rights, represents a rebuttal of Rawls’s narrow position on human rights and global justice. Pogge’s theory is premised on the idea that today’s global economy is much more like a unified system of social cooperation than Rawls is willing to concede, and so needs to be governed by principles of distributive justice that protect vulnerable peoples from domination by powerful ones. The third book we will read is Martha Nussbaum’s influential Women and Human Development.  Most interesting for our purposes is her argument  that the achievement of equal rights for women – or more precisely, the equal development of women as empowered agents of their own destiny – is crucial to addressing global problems revolving around overpopulation, poverty, and Third-World underdevelopment. Yet the cultivation of gender equality must also respect the cultural identity of women who live in religious communities in which differential gender roles predominate. We conclude with Seyla Benhabib’s The Rights of Others, which continues our focus on women and cultural identity, but this time within the context of the European Union’s complex regulations regarding the rights of immigrants.

PHIL 398: Seminar in Contemporary Philosophy: Bodies, Norms, Identities

David Ozar

This course is a descriptive and normative inquiry into the aims of health care, and specifically of the medical profession – i.e. what the aims are (descriptive) and what they ought to be (normative) -- as these aims are constructed within professional health care in America and in the larger environment of contemporary American culture.   

The aims of professional practice in health care are constructed in a complex dialogue between the members of the health professions and the community at large.  For our present purposes, as indicated, the focus will be principally on the medical profession, although many other health professions play a role in the dialogue between medicine and the larger community. The aims of professional practice necessarily function as standards for judging whether the conduct of relevant professionals is what it ought to be.  They are the criteria by which professionals and those they serve (and the larger society) judge was are appropriate steps (the proper means) to achieve the ends of health care practice, and what ends shall be appropriate.  In regard to the health professions, the aims or ends of professional practice are embodied in health professionals' and the public's understandings of health, deficit/pathology/disease, and illness, and the connections between people’s sense of who they are (their identity from the inside) and what bodies are good to have.  Yet another way to express this focus is to say that this course will focus on what “normal” means in contemporary American culture and medical practice, and especially in the dialogue between these two, and in what ways this understanding of normal-ness should be commended and/or criticized. 

More specifically, the course will examine the aims of health care in relation to conceptions of health, wholeness, and deficit for the disabled, in relation to the current debate on the proper treatment of intersex babies and other issues related to intersex conditions, in relation to issues of gender/transgender, in relation to enhancement of bodies for the sake of a “better match”  between body and identity, and possibly – depending on the time available towards the end of the course -- in relation to the impact of genetic information on health care. 

This is the annual special undergraduate seminar on health care ethics, focusing on different topics from year to year, with funding from an endowment to Loyola by a Loyola alumnus, Dr. John F. Grant, M.D.  Thanks to this special funding, it will be possible to invite a number of expert visitors to the class to make presentations and to discuss their views directly with the students.  There will also be a public lecture on a topic in health care ethics related to the topics of the course during the spring semester, usually with a lecturer whose work has been studied in the course.   

This course is an advanced undergraduate seminar for students with a special interest in health care and the ethics of health care practice. The background ordinarily presumed is that the students have taken a previous course in health care ethics, or have equivalent experience of some other sort.  This is not a formal prerequisite; but previous understanding of health care ethics issues and of ways of approaching them in moral/ethical reflection will be very valuable. 

Examples of the kinds of texts that have been used in the past in this course are:

--Susan Wendell, The Rejected Body (Routledge, 1996, 0-415-91047-1)

--Alice Dreger, Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex (Harvard, 2000, 0-674-00189-3)

--Alice Dreger, Intersex in the Age of Ethics (University Publishing Group, 1999, 1-55572-100-1)

--Jennifer Finney Boylan, She’s Not There,(Random House Broadway Books, 2004, 0-7679-1429-5)

--Carl Elliott, Better Than Well (Norton, 2003, 0-393-32565-2) 

This course is a seminar course, which means that class meetings will presume that students have done the reading and will consist principally in discussions of what has been read rather than lectures about it. Final grades will include credit for constructive participation in these class discussions. Students should also expect to do one or more (graded) presentations to the class during the semester, singly or as group presentations.  There will be a major final paper.  There will likely be other written exercises in conjunction with the reading and or the presentations of the visitors who speak to the class.   

Since some of the visitors may not be able to schedule their visits to match class time, some events related to the class may have to be scheduled in the evening.  Accommodations will be made as much as possible for any students unable to attend one or more of these events, but students registering for the course should be aware that several such events are likely to occur. 

As in all academic and professional work, failure to properly attribute quotations and close paraphrases of the work of others – i.e. presenting others’ work as if it was one’s own – is a serious ethical failing.  This includes material found on the web as well as print material. The same is true of material written by a student, but submitted for another course.  All students have a special responsibility, therefore, to closely monitor their research and keep track of sources so that materials authored by others (or by the student for another course) do not find their way unattributed into work presented as the student’s own work for this course.  Those who are judged to have failed in this responsibility run the risk of receiving a grade of “F” for the assignment and a grade no higher than “C” for the course, and possibly more serious disciplinary actions if appropriate.

PHIL 398: Seminar in Contemporary Philosophy: Kierkegaard's Philosophy of Religion

Paul Moser

This course will focus on Kierkegaard's most mature philosophy, in his work after Concluding Unscientific Postscript. It will approach his work in connection with some perennial problems in the philosophy of religion, problems that have importance across various domains of philosophy. Our work will bear especially on some central questions about rationality and knowledge.

PHIL 398: Seminar in Contemporary Philosophy: 25 Years of Bioethics

Mark Waymack

This seminar will explore ways in which bioethics has changed since its emergence in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. We will approach the question in two different ways: How have the issues of bioethics changed? And how have the methods of doing bioethics changed? There will be several guest speakers, experts in their fields, who will visit class through the semester to facilitate discussion of their particular area of endeavor in bioethics. 

The particular issues chosen will include: (1) the emergence of public health as an ethics issue, (2) the growth of interest in the idea of human rights and health care from an international perspective, and (3) how aging is emerging as a bioethics issue.

In terms of the methodology of bioethics, early bioethics was almost exclusively principle-based reasoning. We will explore (1) how feminism has challenged that orthodoxy, (2) narratival bioethics as yet another alternative method, (3) how such ideas have changed our ways of approaching bioethics education for medical students, and (4) how post-modernism might critique the “practice” of bioethics.

PHIL 398: Seminar in Contemporary Philosophy: Reason & Knowledge

One of the fundamental issues about and within philosophy is the role that reason plays in philosophy. There are longstanding disputes about (1) whether there is some class of truths that can be known or justifiably believed a priori or based on reason alone, or whether all knowledge is in some way dependent on experience, (2) what the scope of such a class is (if it exists), (3) what the appropriate methods for discovering such truths is or would be, (4) whether, how, and to what extent our beliefs about such truths are justified, (5) how the fact of human fallibility fits with the claim that there are such truths, (6) what to make of disagreement about such "truths," (7) whether such truths would have a special status within philosophical reflection, (8) how a priority relates to analyticity and to logical necessity, and (9) whether philosophers can dispense with such claims without sacrificing the possibility of any belief whatever being justified. This course is an undergraduate seminar in which we will examine these issues as well as reflect on the nature and purpose of the enterprise of philosophy. It is intended as a capstone experience for philosophy majors as well.

We will read a number of articles and selections (possibly contained in an anthology) in addition to two books, Laurence BonJour, In Defense of Pure Reason, and Albert Casullo, A Priori Justification.

As an undergraduate seminar intended as a capstone experience, this course will require extensive student participation (which will determine a substantial portion of the course grade). The format will center on discussion more than on lecture, so preparation for class is essential. Students will make presentations to the class and will each develop a term paper project in consultation with the professor that relates course issues to a philosophical topic or area of particular interest to the student.

Only students who have successfully completed at least five philosophy courses prior to the start of the semester are eligible for this course.

PHIL 398: Seminar in Contemporary Philosophy

Thomas Regan

This course will explore the topic of what is a "just" society. We will do so through the classic texts of the liberalism/communitarian debate, namely John Rawls'  A Theory of Justice, Robert Nozick's Anarchy State and Utopia, Michael Walzer's Spheres of Justice, Michael Sandel's  Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, and conclude with selections from Iris Young's Justice and the Politics of Difference, Martha Nussbaum's Creating Capabilities and Amartya Sen's The Idea of Justice.