New York University
Department of Philosophy
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Graduate Courses Spring 2006


Thursday 11:30-1:30

Advanced Introduction to BioEthics

William Ruddick




Tuesday 1:30-3:30

Roger White

We will explore a range of meta-epistemological questions. What makes a question an epistemological one? Why do the answers to epistemological questions matter? What are the main epistemological concepts, and are some more fundamental than others? How do epistemic considerations relate to practical or moral considerations? What is the relation between inquiry, belief, and truth? What is the relation between epistemic attributes such as rationality or justification and truth? We will then look at such matters as internalism and externalism, conservatism, foundationalism, and circularity with a view to understanding what of importance is at issue in these debates.



Metaphysics: The Metaphysics of Material Things

Kit Fine

Thursday 4:30-6:30



Mind and Language Seminar

Monday 5-6

Tuesday 4-7

Don Garrett/Beatrice Longuenesse

Consciousness and Self-Consciousness in Modern Philosophy

The Spring 2006 Research Seminar on Mind and Language will be conducted by Béatrice Longuenesse and Don Garrett. The seminar will trace attempts to understand consciousness, self-consciousness, and their relations to central issues about mind and language from Descartes to Hegel. Open meetings with seminar visitors will take place in the Seminar Room of the Philosophy Department on Tuesdays from 4:00 to 7:00 pm; a preparation session, restricted to students enrolled in the course, will meet on Mondays from 5:00 to 6:00 pm. Papers to be discussed at each Tuesday meeting, together with selected primary texts, will be available one week in advance, and will be distributed at the preceding Tuesday meeting. Copies will also be available at the Philosophy Department,SilverCenter, Room 503,100 Washington Square East. In addition, visitors’ papers will be available for downloading from the course website.

Schedule of Visitors Presenting Papers:

January 17: Alison Simmons (Harvard)

January 24: Don Garrett (NYU)

January 31: Wayne Martin (Essex)

February 7: Martha Bolton (Rutgers)

February 14: Ken Winkler (Wellesley)

February 21: Galen Strawson (CUNY and Reading)

February 28: Gideon Yaffe (USC)

March 7: Gary Hatfield (Penn)

March 21: Tyler Burge (UCLA)

March 28: Quassim Cassam (UniversityCollege, London)

April 4: Robert Brandom (Pittsburgh)

April 11: Wayne Waxman (NYU)

April 18: Michael Forster (Chicago)

April 25: Béatrice Longuenesse (NYU)



Topics in Epistemology

Wednesday 3-5

Paul Boghossian/Paul Horwich

The seminar will examine the relations between the following notions: rules, norms, normativity, meaning and epistemic justification. In particular, we will look at (a) what a rule is (b) what a norm is (c) what it is to follow a rule and what it is to be bound by a norm (d) whether meaning is a matter of following rules or norms (e) whether meaning is normative (f) whether being epistemically justified is a matter of following rules or norms.



Topics in Metaphysics: Causation

Wednesday 12-2

Liz Harman

A course on the metaphysics of causation



Topics in Metaphysics

Crispin Wright

Monday 7-9

Thursday 7-9

'Relativism' still commonly carries the connotation of a global and probably incoherent subjectivist stance (Protagoreanism). However recent philosophy has seen a substantial increase in sophisticated local relativistic proposals about a number of problematical issues, including not only the perennial war zones of value and taste but the nature of knowledge and epistemic possibility, truth about past and future, and the nature of the boundary between a vague expression and its complement. Broadly speaking, these proposals are designed to effect no-fault reconciliations of conflicting claims, but they have also been proposed to explain patterns in our apparent corrections and withdrawals of assertions about the relevant subject matters. Contextualism is broadly the thesis of the relativity of semantic content to context in ways exceeding what can be accounted for by the presence of indexicals and demonstratives. A famous instance of contextualism, developed by writers such as DeRose and Cohen, argues that the content of knowledge attributions is relative to the standards and priorities of the attributor, so that Moore and a Sceptic talk past each other when they respectively affirm and deny the knowledge of an ordinary thinker that he has hands. A quite different view to many of the same purposes, argued by MacFarlane, is that it is the truth, rather than the content of knowledge claims that is so relative—that knowledge is in the eye of the attributor, so to speak. And both these view stand opposed to the so-called Subject-Sensitive Invariantism of writers such as Stanley and Hawthorne, who argue that the intuitions which drive them are better explained by locating the relativity they seem to involve as pertaining to the subject of the knowledge claim in question, rather than the attributor.

The course will review these issues and disputes in relation to the subject matters noted above, and will attempt to develop a road-map of the differing possible positions, the data which allegedly motivate them, and the principal contributions to the recent literature. An overarching concern will be with the intelligibility of even local relativisms about truth and with whether there are any data that distinctively call for them, in contrast to their contextualist and invariantist rivals, or indeed call for any of these views

The Seminar will meet for seven sessions in each of the semesters, Mondays and Wednesdays 7-9pm, starting Monday September 12 and finishing Monday October 3; then starting again on Thursday January 19 and finishing Thursday February 9.

Course requirement: one term paper, to be submitted by Monday May 1.



Topics in Ethics

Thursday 2-4

Sharon Street

In this course, we will take a close look at contemporary versions of moral realism. We will divide our time roughly equally between naturalist and non-naturalist versions of moral realism. Readings will include works by Richard Boyd, David Brink, Ronald Dworkin, Philippa Foot, Thomas Nagel, Peter Railton, Thomas Scanlon, Russ Shafer-Landau, Michael Smith, Ralph Wedgwood, and others.



Tuesday 11-1

Topics in the Philosophy of Mind

Sydney Shoemaker

The seminar will be about the nature of self-knowledge, and the nature and epistemic status of "avowals."  We will look at "expressivist" views that deny that avowals are grounded on any sort of special epistemic access to the mental states avowed, views that hold that first-person authority is somehow based on the "transparency to the world" of avowals, views that see first-person authority as a necessary consequence of rationality, critiques and defenses of perceptual models of self-knowledge, and challenges to the authority of avowals based on externalist views of content. Readings will include works by Tyler Burge, Christopher Peacocke, Paul Boghossian, Crispin Wright, Gareth Evans, Richard Moran, Dorit Bar-On, and Alex Byrne, among others.



Wednesday 6-8

Topics in the Philosophy of Mind

Jim Pryor/Nico Silins

Explores a variety of views that make our beliefs or perceptual experiences “externalist.” We’ll consider: beliefs about natural kinds, de re and demonstrative beliefs, whether experiences have de re contents, “disjunctivist” views of experience, and “factivist” views like Williamson’s about what our perceptual evidence consists in. One line of inquiry will be whether these views permit us to have any special epistemic access to our own thoughts and experiences. A second line of inquiry will be what forms of mental causation externalist states can participate in. Here we’ll pay special attention to issues about the “basing relation.”




Topics in Philosophy of Psychology

Monday 1-3

Jerry Fodor

This course will examine the claim, currently widely endorsed both in philosophy and cognitive science, that some (many? all?) of our heritable cognitive traits are adaptations to the ecology of our early-human ancestors. We will consider some of the experimental data, but most of our attention will be directed to issues of theory and methodology. Among questions to be raised are:  What is the general structure of adaptationist explanations; in particular, how is the explanatory burden to be shared between adaptationism and selectionism? What are the assumptions implicit into attempts at explanation by "reverse engineering"?  To what extent ought  we suppose that adaptationist accounts of morphological traits should generalize to cognitive capacities?  What are the relations between the thesis that cognitive traits are adaptations and the claim that cognitive processes are computational? And so forth. We will also consider connections between adaptationist theories of cognition and various accounts of the synchronic architecture of cognition including, in particular, the thesis that the cognitive mind is 'massively modular'.

Requirements for the course: one 25 page term paper due the last day of term


Much of the readings from:

Barkow, Jerome H., Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby (eds), The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1992

David J. Buller, Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature, MIT Press


This is tentative. Readings subject to change without notice. Allotment of material to sessions will depend on the amount of class discussion.


Sessions 1&2: Classical Darwinism.(CD)

-Distinguish mutability of morphology (and/or species( from adaptationism.

-Distinguish adaptationism from gradualism.(Problem of `intermediate forms’).

-What is selected? Genotypes? Phenotypes? Traits? Whole animals?

-Teleology: Does CD support a notion of biological function? The relevance of counterfactuals; which does CD license?

-Methodology; `reverse engineering?)

Readings from:

Dawkins: The Blind Watchmaker

Elderidge: Reconstructing Darwin

Pinker: How The Mind Works

Dennett: Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.


Session 3: Belief/Desire Explanation.

-The problem of mechanical rationality.

Intentional theories of the cognitive mind.

-The Practical Syllogism as Paradigm.-

-Connection to the Computational Theory of Mind.

What is cognition for? (Guiding behavior? Detecting truth? Etc.)

Readings from:

Fodor:  The Language of Thought

Wells: Rethinking Cognitive Computation (etc.)


Session 4: Did intentional psychology evolve?

-The prima facie problem: extensional theories can’t distinguish among intentional states.

-Selection v. Selection for.

-The role of counterfactuals (which ones does CD support?)

-Connection to the `disjunction problem’ in the theory of reference.

Readings from:

Millikan (TBA)

Sober: The Nature of Selection

Fodor: A Theory of Content.


Sessions 5 and 6: Cognitive architecture

-The notion of modularity.

-The`massive modularity’ thesis. It raises the following issues:

Are cognitive processes domain specific?

Are there `central’ cognitive processes? (Induction; abduction; globality etc.)

Is there an executive (aka `Whatever became of the transcendental unity of apperception?)

The role of logical form in thought.

A test case: `Cheater detection’.

Readings from:

Fodor: The Modularity of Mind.

Sperber: `A defense of massive modularity’

Tooby and Cosmides (TBA)

Pinker: How The Mind Works

Fodor: The Mind Doesn’t Work That Way.


Session 7:

The psychological foundations of culture. John Tooby and Leda Cosmides.


Session 8

On the use and misuse of Darwinism in the study of human behavior. Donald Symons.


Session 9:

Natural language and natural selection. Steven Pinker and Paul Bloom.


Session 10:

The perceptual organization of colors: An adaptation to regularities of the terrestrial world? Roger N. Shepard


Session 11:

The evolution of psychodynamic mechanisms. Randolph M. Neese and Alan T. Lloyd


Session 12:

Beneath new culture is old psychology: Gossip and social stratification. Jerome H. Barkow.



Thesis Research

Friday 11-1

Stephen Schiffer