Bard College at Simon's Rock: the Early College
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Philosophy Courses

Philosophy of Religion

Philosophy 103 | Ruhmkorff | 3 credits

This course focuses on doctrines common to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: that there is one, powerful, just God who created the universe, who has revealed herself to her creatures, and who requires certain conduct of us. We explore various questions raised by these doctrines, including: Can God’s existence be reconciled with the existence of evil? Is there compelling evidence for God’s existence? Should believers in God have evidence for the existence of God, or is faith without evidence permissible? Is the concept of God coherent? Do we have evidence for the existence of miracles? Is there an afterlife, and if so, is it just? How should we respond to the tremendous diversity of religious beliefs and practices? How should we understand religious language and faith in an increasingly scientific society?

This course is generally offered once a year.

Philosophical Problems

Philosophy 105 | ConollyRuhmkorff | 3 credits

This course serves as an introduction to some of the main issues in Western philosophy. Emphasis is placed on analytical thinking, speaking, and writing. Issues addressed include: External-world skepticism, the existence of God, determinism and free will, personal identity, the objectivity of morality, and the nature of science.

No prerequisites. This course is generally offered once a year.


Philosophy 113 | Ruhmkorff | 3 credits

Logic clarifies the structure of everyday and philosophical reasoning. At the same time, it brings with it paradox and controversy. We will explore sentential, predicate, multivalued, modal, and paraconsistent logic as well as elementary set theory, informal argumentation, debating, basic probability theory, formal linguistics, infinity, paradoxes, and some philosophical implications of logical theory.

This course is generally offered once a year.

Introduction to the New Testament

Philosophy 129 | Ruhmkorff | 3 credits

The Christian New Testament is a small group of works with profound historical, theological, and ethical implications generated in part by the many tensions they contain. These works attribute universal and eternal significance to the life, teachings, and death of a peasant in an obscure backwater of the Roman Empire; they reflect a deep-seated Judaism at the same time that they have led to the most vicious anti-Jewish oppression in history; they contain distinct and perhaps disparate messages from the two central figures, Jesus and Paul; they counsel a moral focus on the kingdom of God while containing decidedly political messages -- and having been themselves written, redacted, and collected as a result of intensely political processes. In this course, we explore the New Testament by means of a variety of methods: contextualization within the Hellenistic world and within Judaism of late antiquity; analysis of primary texts through comparison to similar texts in the New Testament, the Hebrew Bible, and noncanonical works; and reflection on the theological dimensions of the texts.

Prerequisite: Seminar I (FS100).


Philosophy 175 | Conolly | 3 credits

In this class, we will examine foundational questions in ethics. We will discuss the objectivity of morality, the nature of well-being, and the rules that govern right conduct. Is there an objective fact about right and wrong, or is morality relative to persons or cultures? What is it to live a good life? What rules—if any—determine what is right or wrong? How should we make moral decisions? Three applications of ethical theory will help guide our discussion: Our duties to the less fortunate, ethical vegetarianism, and the value of the environment. Grades will be assigned on the basis of papers, exams, and class participation.

No prerequisites. This course is generally offered once a year.

Biomedical Ethics

Philosophy 177 | Conolly | 3 credits

Some of the most contentious debates in public morality today arise in the context of the practice of medicine and medical research. Many of these debates are the result of continuously advancing medical technologies that challenge our conception of what it is to be a human being and force us to consider the relation between our conceptions of ourselves as biological beings and as moral beings. We shall thus study the ethics of cloning, genetic engineering, stem cell research, and various reproductive technologies and strategies, including abortion, IVF, and surrogate motherhood. In addition, because they encounter life and death decisions on an almost daily basis, healthcare professionals are frequently faced with moral dilemmas that have an urgency rarely found in other areas of human activity. It is with this urgency in mind that we shall examine the ethical guidelines that might be established for such end-of-life decisions as advanced directives, DNR orders, euthanasia, and physician-assisted suicide. Finally, because the accessibility and delivery of healthcare is increasingly associated with current notions of justice, we shall examine the ethical issues surrounding the distribution of resources and managed care, as well as associated issues involving the physician-patient relationship. The course will consider the differences in how these various issues are approached from competing ethical perspectives, including consequentialism, Kantian deontology, and virtue ethics, and special attention will be paid to whether and how the principle of double effect may be invoked to resolve some of these moral dilemmas.

Prerequisite: One course in social studies or one course in biology. This course is generally offered once every two years.

Religions and Philosophies of East Asia: Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and Shinto

Philosophy 206 CP | Coggins | 3 credits

This course examines the historical roots and modern practice of the religious and philosophical traditions of China, Japan, and Korea. First we start in northeast India in the 6th century B.C., examining Vedic traditions and the historical development and diffusion of Buddhism. Before tracing the spread of Buddhism to East Asia, we study the development of Daoism, Confucianism, and Shinto, and the cultural traditions with which they coevolved. The next phase of the course focuses on the coexistence of these philosophies and religions; changes in their collective and individual roles within society; and their integration into the visual arts, music, literature, martial arts, daily life, and cultural landscapes. In the final phase of the course, we examine the roles that these belief systems play in contemporary East Asian and North American culture. Guest speakers discuss their own experiences and practices. Students are encouraged (but not expected) to observe or participate in activities at local Buddhist and Daoist communities. Students are also encouraged to relate their own experiences and practices to the course.

No prerequisites. This course is generally offered once every two years.

Daoism through Texts, Talks, and Taijiquan

Philosophy 207 CP | Coggins | 3 credits

Daoism has had a major impact on Chinese intellectual and spiritual life for over two millennia. A philosophy that emphasizes individual development, immersion in nature, the rejection of societal convention, and the cultivation of natural virtue, it has been embraced by scholars, painters, poets, and political thinkers. A religion derived from classical philosophy, folk practices, Buddhism, and Yogic techniques, it perseveres in village rituals, global popular culture, and dissident sects like China’s Falungong. Taijiquan is a Daoist system of moving meditation and a martial art based on slowly flowing and subtly configured motions. Practiced worldwide, it is “the dance of Daoism,” providing insight and personal experience of Daoist principles found in major texts like the Dao De Jing, Zhuangzi, and Liezi. This course provides students with the opportunity to read classical texts on Daoism and Taijiquan and to study the Thirteen Postures, a Yang style form of Taijiquan. We also read Daoist nature poetry, Tang dynasty Daoist short stories, and an account of the life of Guan Saihong, a Daoist master (and if possible, we will have Guan visit the class). Our practice of Taijiquan and work on textual interpretation is supplemented with free-ranging discussions (talks) on Daoism in the spirit of the School of Pure Conversation, a Daoist group of the first millennium that emphasized free expression and a sharpening of the imagination.

No prerequisites. This course is generally offered once every two years.

Cognitive Science and the Philosophy of Mind

Philosophy 212 | Conolly | 3 credits

What is the mind? Is it a kind of independent immaterial substance, or is it merely a property or effect of the brain, in the way that light is a property or effect of a light bulb? Or is what we call mind really just a naive way of talking about the neurological processes within the brain? Can the whole of our conscious life, our cognitive, emotional, and moral experience, be reduced to complex chemical processes within the brain? This course will consider such questions as these, and explore how we think about the mind, what it is, how it is related to the body and brain, and whether, how, and to what extent mind is comparable to a computer. While our discussions will be informed by current research in psychology and cognitive neuroscience, we shall proceed primarily by means of conceptual and descriptive analysis, drawing from classic and contemporary readings in both the analytic and phenomenological traditions. The course will also consider several closely related problems, including personal identity and freedom of the will, and we seek to gain a better understanding of the mind and its relation to the world.

Prerequisite: Sophomore standing or permission of instructor.

Philosophy of Science

Philosophy 216 | Ruhmkorff | 3 credits

In this course, we will examine a number of issues that arise from philosophical reflection on the practice of science. These include: The nature of scientific theory change; the role that values play in scientific inquiry; the relationship between observation and theory; the confirmation of scientific theories; the nature of scientific explanation and natural laws; the debates between scientific realism and antirealism; and the distinction between science and pseudoscience.

Prerequisite: one course in social studies, science, or mathematics and Seminar II, or permission of the instructor. This course is generally offered once every two years.

Ancient Greek Philosophy

Philosophy 222 | Conolly | 3 credits

This course will explore the central doctrines and arguments of the three most important figures in ancient Greek philosophy: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Socrates appears not to have left any writings. So we shall begin by reading Plato’s Socratic dialogues and consider the problems associated with recovering the historical Socrates from these and other ancient sources. We shall then turn our attention to Plato’s own distinctive doctrines, focusing upon his theory of the soul, his theory of forms, his cosmology, and his ethics. Problems to be discussed include the relative chronology of Plato’s dialogues and the criticism and revision of the theory of forms apparent in some of Plato’s late dialogues. We shall also consider the possibility of recovering Plato’s so-called Unwritten Doctrine. Our study of Aristotle will involve the detailed examination of several texts central to his physics and metaphysics. We shall focus first upon his criticism of Plato’s theory of forms, as well as his criticism of Pre-Socratic philosophers, in response to which he developed several of his own characteristic doctrines. These include his theory of the categories of being and the primacy of substance; his analyses of change in nature and the doctrine of the four causes, the nature of time, space, and the infinite; and his theory of the soul in relation to body and intellect. Students will also have to the chance to read about and engage in some contemporary debates concerning the interpretation of Plato and Aristotle.

Prerequisites: Sophomore standing or above. This course is generally offered once every two years.

Metaphysics, Minds, and Morals: Hume and Kant

Philosophy 226 | Conolly | 3 credits

Immanuel Kant and David Hume are among the most influential philosophers of the last 300 years. Kant famously argues that the human mind cannot be considered a mere passive observer, but must instead be understood to be an active participant in structuring its knowledge of the world. Among the surprising positions that Kant argues for in his metaphysical works is the ideality or the subjective origin of space, time, and causality. His moral philosophy seeks to establish analogously a principle of morality that is at once subjective in origin yet objectively valid. While Kant must be considered a revolutionary thinker in the history of modern philosophy, his work needs to be understood largely as a response to the skepticism of David Hume. Like Kant, Hume was interested in placing strict limits upon what it is that human beings can claim to know. However, the skeptical arguments by which he achieves these limits, especially his attacks on the notion of causality and the inductive method, have the effect of apparently undermining the knowledge claims of physicists just as much as of the metaphysicians. We shall be interested in evaluating his arguments and determining how much of either science Kant is able to recover.. In this context, the course will also consider Hume’s predecessor’s within the tradition of British Empiricism, especially Locke and Berkeley, who in many respects provide the foundation both for Hume’s skepticism and Kant’s critical philosophy. Finally, we shall examine Hume’s emotivist anti rationalism in ethics as a sharp contrast to the rationalism of Kant’s moral philosophy. The course will involve the close reading of several seminal works in the history of philosophy, and there will be some emphasis especially on acquiring a precise understanding of Kants positions and arguments. While we shall always remain sensitive to the historical context of when these works were written, the class will consider the problems that were of concern to Hume and Kant as if engaging contemporary philosophers in dialogue over these issues. 

This course is generally offered once every three or four years.

Philosophical Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art

Philosophy 227/328 | Conolly | 3/4 credits

This course considers the philosophical analysis of the nature and meaning of art and beauty by reading and discussing classical and contemporary works concerned with both the ontology and the evaluation of works of art. We examine such theories as representationalism, expressionism, and formalism, and consider such questions as whether aesthetic judgments can ever claim objectivity or must instead be considered always merely matters of taste, whether the intention of the artist is relevant in the evaluation of works of art, and whether there can be anything other than context that determines whether an object is a work of art. Our concerns are with both fine art and popular art in general as well as the various distinct realms of art (e.g., the visual arts, music, theater arts, literature, etc.). Familiarity with the history of the arts is helpful, but not required.

Prerequisites for 200- and 300-levels are completion of Seminar II and at least one philosophy course at Simon’s Rock; additional prerequisites for 300-level are Junior or Senior standing. Permission of instructor is also possible. This course is generally offered once every year.

Islam, God, and the Philosophers

Philosophy 231 CP | Conolly | 3 credits

This course provides an introduction to the study of Islamic philosophy by examining the distinctive problems, doctrines, and arguments that characterize Islamic philosophy in its classical period (c. 800–1200 C.E.) Students will thus become familiar with the teachings of Alfarabi, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Suhrawardi, al-Ghazali, and Ibn Rushd (Averroes). Among the topics to be covered in the course are the attempts by some philosophers to reconcile Greek philosophical and scientific learning with Islam; the distinction—and conflict—between philosophy and theology in Islam; the role of reason in Islamic conceptions of human well-being; and the peculiarly Islamic philosophical treatments of such classic problems in metaphysics as the nature of the soul and its relation to the body, the eternity of the world, and the nature of causality. While some attention will be paid to the influence of Islamic philosophy upon the course of later Western philosophy, the focus will remain upon Islamic philosophy as its own distinctive tradition.

Prerequisite: Sophomore standing or above. This course is generally offered once every two years.

Environmental Ethics: A Global Perspective

Philosophy 283 | Conolly | 3 credits

Environmental Ethics is the study of the nature and extent of our moral obligations with respect to the natural environment as well as of the theoretical justification for such obligations. In this course we shall be especially interested in examining various theories about whether and how various regions of the environment can have an intrinsic moral value, and how such value should affect our attitudes and actions toward the environment. Among the specific topics to be covered are animal rights, and the conflicts that arise between animal rights theories and environmental ethics; various extensionist approaches to the assignment of intrinsic moral value to the environment; obligations to future generations; endangered species; deep ecology and ecofeminism as radical alternatives to the extensionist approach to environmental ethics; ethical issues in the restoration and preservation of wilderness areas; competing perspectives on just what wilderness is, and what is the place, if any, of human beings within those conceptions of wilderness; whether and how environmental ethics can be reconciled with demands for social justice; and whether and to what extent religion contributes to or helps to resolve the current environmental crisis.


Philosophy 313  | Conolly | 4 credits

This course investigates fundamental problems in metaphysics, such as universals, identity over time, time itself, necessity and causation, and the relation between mind and world. It will do so by examining how these problems are treated by contemporary philosophers and by examining how analogous problems were treated by philosophers from different epochs, with some emphasis upon late mediaeval philosophy. There will also be some discussion of why different generations of philosophers have come to treat rather differently problems that are at least generically similar.

Prerequisites: One course in philosophy, and Seminar II or permission of the instructor. This course is generally offered once every year.


Philosophy 317 | Ruhmkorff | 3 credits

Can we know that God exists? That neutrons exist? That each other exists? That Simon’s Rock exists? To answer these questions, we must first know what knowledge is. Epistemology is the study of knowledge and related notions such as justification, belief, and evidence. In this course, we will examine central questions in epistemology by examining primary texts, both historical and contemporary. We will study both traditional epistemology (which considers belief, disbelief, and agnosticism) and probabilistic epistemology (which takes belief to be a matter of degree). Topics will include: skepticism; the nature of knowledge; the nature of justification; the relationship between knowledge and justification; feminist epistemology; a priori knowledge; peer disagreement; self-locating beliefs; and applications of epistemological principles to puzzling and paradoxical situations, including Sleeping Beauty, Doomsday, Reflection, the Lottery Paradox, and the Cable Guy Paradox. Prerequisites: one class in philosophy.

This course is generally offered once every three or four years.

Philosophy Tutorial

Philosophy 300/400 | Staff | 4 credits

Under these course numbers, juniors and seniors design tutorials to meet their particular interests and programmatic needs. A student should see the prospective tutor to define an area of mutual interest to pursue either individually or in a small group.