Chair: Patrick R. Frierson 
Mitchell S. Clearfield
Thomas A. Davis
Timothy Doyle
Rebecca Hanrahan 
Julia A. Ireland (on Sabbatical, Spring 2016)
Michelle Jenkins

Philosophy Department Website »

Philosophy courses provide the opportunity for the development of a critical and unified understanding of experience and nature. This is accomplished through their concern — from both historical and contemporary perspectives — with the ethical, social and political, aesthetic, religious, metaphysical, epistemological, and scientific dimensions of existence. All four-credit courses in philosophy meet the equivalent of three periods per week.

Distribution: Courses completed in philosophy apply to the humanities distribution area, except for Philosophy 488, which applies to quantitative analysis.

Learning Goals: Upon graduation, a student will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the history of philosophy and of classic problems within that history in their contemporary significance. Develop and pursue individual insights through the dialogue that takes place between texts, professors, and the process of writing and revision.

The Philosophy Major: The major in philosophy has three components: Readings in the History of Philosophy (12 credits), the portfolio, and for those who qualify, an honors thesis with its public oral examination (eight credits). All majors will take a minimum of 28 credits, 12 (three courses) in Readings in the History of Philosophy and eight (two courses) at the 300 or 400 level. Writing an honors thesis will raise the minimum credits to a total of 36.

I.     Readings in the History of Philosophy (12 credits)

Majors will take a two-course sequence, Philosophy 201 and 202, in which texts from Plato to Kant will be read closely. Having completed this sequence, majors will then take a third course of their choice in which they will follow out an interest generated from their reading. These three courses should be completed before the end of the students’ seventh semester. Finally, upon completion of these three courses, each major will write a 2,000-word paper that critically defines and discusses a topic that took on special interest and developed through their work in the three courses.

II.     The Portfolio

Each major will gather a portfolio of the following written work to be submitted to the department by the end of the third week of classes in spring semester of their senior year:

  1. The rewriting of a seminar paper from a 300- to 400-level course
  2. The 2,000-word narrative paper satisfying the Readings in the History of Philosophy requirement
  3. A 1,000-word intellectual autobiography describing how you have developed your own philosophical perspective through your work in the major that will be graded by the department as pass, fail, or pass with distinction
  4. Each major will then take an oral examination based on their portfolio to be scheduled before the last two weeks of spring semester of their senior year that also will be graded, pass, fail, or pass with distinction
  5. The Honors Thesis (a total of eight credits)

Majors interested in writing an honors thesis must:

  1. Submit a proposal to the department two weeks before the end of the spring semester of their junior year
  2. Get consent from a member of the department based on departmental approval of the proposal to conduct an independent study in the fall semester of their senior year
  3. Upon completion of a successful independent study, submit a new honors thesis proposal for departmental approval by the beginning of the last week of classes in the fall semester of their senior year. If approved, then write the honors thesis in the spring semester of their senior year due the end of the first week in April
  4. Successfully complete a public oral examination of the honors thesis before the end of the third week of April
  5. Honors in the major

To receive honors in the major a student must earn at least an A- on both the honors thesis and its public oral examination in addition to passing with distinction both the portfolio and its oral examination.

The Philosophy minor: A minimum of 20 credits in Philosophy, including Philosophy 201 and 202. Note: Philosophy 479 may not be applied to the minor.

100 Erotic Wisdom
4; not offered 2015-16

What is the transformational power of eros? How can it change, for better or worse, one’s way of life? We will use Anne Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet to help closely read Sappho’s invention of the erotic lyric voice and then work through Plato’s critically innovative response in the Symposium. Along the way we will use the complex Greek response to the erotic to consider the complexities of our response to the erotic today.

107 Critical Reasoning
4, x Hanrahan

Focuses on principles and standards applicable to thinking critically on any topic. Arguments and their analyses, the nature and use of evidence, fallacies both formal and informal, are included in the matters addressed in the course. Intended for first-year students and sophomores; open to juniors and seniors by consent only.

117 Problems in Philosophy
4; not offered 2015-16

An introductory study of some of the major problems of philosophy. Among those general problems considered will be the nature of philosophy; problems of knowledge; metaphysical questions concerning materialism, idealism, and naturalism; and questions of ethics. Other problems may be considered as time permits. This course is intended for first-year students and sophomores; open to juniors and seniors by consent only.

120 Environmental Ethics
4; not offered 2015-16

Does the nonhuman world have any intrinsic value or is it valuable only because of its relation to human interests? That is, does anything besides humanity have “moral standing”? If so, what is its basis? Should we, for instance accord rights to all those creatures that are sentient? If we do, will we have gone far enough, morally speaking? What about those creatures that lack sentience? What about the environment in which all creatures, human and nonhuman, live? Does it have moral standing? In answering these questions, we will consider the works of Aldo Leopold, Peter Singer, Karen Warren, Arne Naess, and Julian Simon, among others. This course is intended for first-year students and sophomores; open to juniors and seniors by consent only.

122 Banality of Evil
4, x T. Davis

After working through the response to evil in Jesus, Augustine, and Kant, we will examine Hannah Arendt’s concept of the “banality of evil” within her larger understanding of the nature of violence in the modern world.

127 Ethics
4, x Jenkins

Consists of the careful reading and discussion of several classical texts of moral philosophy. This course is intended for first-year students and sophomores; juniors by consent only; not open to seniors.

141 Punishment & Responsibility
x, 4 Clearfield

Nationwide, over two million people are now in prison, including over 2,000 at the Washington State Penitentiary here in Walla Walla. Yet as a society, there is no clear consensus regarding the goal(s) or purpose(s) of sending someone to prison. How can it be right intentionally to cause someone suffering? What is the connection between having done wrong and being justifiably made to suffer? What kind of suffering can be justified, and under what circumstances? In this course we will critically examine some of the ultimate philosophical justifications of punishment, such as deterrence, incapacitation, retribution, and rehabilitation. We also will examine importantly related questions about personal responsibility and the conditions necessary for punishment to be appropriate. Finally, we will consider the relevance and impact of excuses and mitigating factors like mental illness, age, addiction, and socioeconomic status. This course is intended for first-year students and sophomores; juniors by consent; not open to seniors.

148 Philosophy of Religion
x, 4 Frierson

An introduction to some of the central arguments in the philosophy of religion, focusing on proofs for and against the existence of God and discussions of the nature of religious belief. This course is intended for first-year students and sophomores; open to juniors and seniors by consent only.

151 Philosophy in Literature
4; not offered 2015-16

This course serves as an introduction to philosophy via literature. Students will read a selection of both literature (novels and/or short stories) and philosophy that is structured around a set of philosophically rich questions and issues. Authors read may include Philip K. Dick, Kobo Abe, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Julian Barnes, Franz Kafka, and Milan Kundera. Open to first years and sophomores; juniors and seniors by consent only.

177 Special Topics: Contemporary Problems for Thought

How is philosophy a necessary resource for responding to the most complex personal and social problems facing us today? The temptation, most especially for “pragmatic” Americans, is to see philosophy as a mildly interesting but ultimately abstract self-indulgence, and certainly not to see it as a necessary resource for, first, understanding, and then adequately addressing the most important problems we face. This course will explore the philosophical response to one such problem. Any current offerings follow.

177A ST: Truth and Truthfulness
4, x Doyle

This course introduces the study of philosophy through questions about truth and truthfulness: Why does truth matter to us? Why is lying wrong (if it is)? How does a promise create an obligation? How does truthful speech confer knowledge (if it does)? We will survey classical through contemporary thinkers on the value and role of truth and truthfulness in our cognitive and practical lives. Distribution area: humanities.

201 Readings in the Western Philosophical Tradition: Ancient
x, 4 Jenkins

This course is a survey of some of the central figures and texts in the ancient western philosophical tradition. Readings may include texts from Plato and Aristotle, from the Presocratic philosophers, the later Hellenistic schools (which include the Stoics, Epicureans, and Skeptics), and other Greek intellectuals (playwrights, historians, orators). May be elected as Classics 201.

202 Readings in the Western Philosophical Tradition: Modern
4, x Frierson

A survey of key 17th and 18th century European philosophers and texts, from Descartes’ Meditations through key works by Hume and Kant.

208 Ethics and Food: What’s for Dinner?
4; not offered 2015-16

The primary way most of us interact with both the animal world and the environment is through our choices in regards to what we will eat. How, though, should we make these choices? Is it wrong to eat meat? What is sustainable agriculture? How should we value the pleasures of food?

210 Epistemology                                                                                       
4; not offered 2015-16

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that examines the nature of knowledge and justification. We will consider questions such as: What is knowledge? How is knowledge different from mere opinion? Can we really know anything at all? What should we believe? How can our beliefs be justified? In the process, we will also consider how these kinds of epistemological questions relate to questions in other areas of philosophy and to scientific inquiry.

212 Environmental Thinking
4; not offered 2015-16

We will develop Thoreau’s understanding of dwelling in “Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows” through reading Thoreau, Wendell Berry, Martin Heidegger, and Barry Lopez.

215 German Moral Thought
4, x Ireland  

This course is intended as a one-semester introduction to key figures and texts within the German philosophical tradition. It begins by examining Arendt’s analysis of Adolf Eichmann’s deeply confused interpretation of Kant as a way to stage, first, the engagement with Kant and, next, the challenge that Nietzsche’s thinking poses to Kant and to traditional systems of morality in general. Using this analysis as a springboard, the course next addresses a series of talks and essays by Heidegger and Jaspers, each of whom understands the rise of National Socialism in terms of Nietzsche’s pronouncement, “God is dead,” and the increasing technologization of human existence. The course concludes with W.G. Sebald’s, “Air War and Literature” and The Emigrants, whose exploration of traumatic memory and Germany’s repression of its own destruction stands as a critique of the humanist vocabulary proposed by both Jaspers and Arendt.

217 Bioethics
x, 4 Jenkins

This course introduces students to a selection of current debates in bioethics, including topics such as artificial reproductive technology, abortion, health care resource allocation, disability accommodation, genetic testing, end-of-life care, physician-assisted suicide, and clinical research. In the context of discussing these issues, we will consider various ethical theories, including theories that emphasize the primacy of character, rights, consequences, and care for others.  The class will be discussion focused with an emphasis on philosophical argumentation and writing.

220 Special Topics: Philosophy and Literature

We will use texts from philosophy and literature to explore specific problems. Any current offerings follow.

221 Phenomenology of Religious Experience
x, 4 T. Davis

We will examine the experiential dynamics of specific religious phenomena, for example, the actions of forgiveness, of surrender in “conversion,” and of “turning the other cheek.” Readings will be taken from: Luke, Paul’s letters, Augustine’s Confessions, Kant’s Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience, Heidegger’s The Phenomenology of Religious Life, and essays by Levinas.

222 Education and Autonomy
4; not offered 2015-16

This course focuses on a particular issue in the philosophy of education: how to both respect and cultivate the autonomy of one’s students. Drawing primarily on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, and Maria Montessori, we will explore autonomy-based approaches to education, from raising infants through developing mature adults.

227 Concepts of Nature in Modern European Philosophy
4, x Frierson

This course explores a variety of philosophical conceptions of nature and the natural world in Modern European philosophy, from Francis Bacon to 20th century thinkers such as Heidegger. May be applied toward the Critical Thinking requirement for the Environmental Humanities major or the Humanities Foundation requirement for Environmental Studies majors. May be elected as Environmental Studies 227.

235 Philosophy of Feminism
x, 4 Hanrahan

This course will introduce students to some of the questions explored within the philosophy of feminism, questions such as: What is it to be a woman? Are women oppressed? How do institutions of motherhood, marriage, and sex shape the lives of women? To answer these questions, we will read works by Marilyn Frye, bell hooks, Andrea Dworkin, Susan Bordo, and Christina Hoff-Summers.

239 Aesthetics
4; not offered 2015-16

After developing a critical vocabulary through an examination of Hume’s notion of taste, Kant’s “reflective judgment,” and Heidegger’s reconceptualization of the work of art in “Building Dwelling Thinking,” we apply this vocabulary to architecture using Karsten Harries’ The Ethical Function of Architecture to help us critically assess the “aesthetic” governing Whitman’s Penrose Library renovation project. Then moving from the “public” to the “private,” we consider the sense of “aesthetics” at work in building your own home, using as a guide Witold Rybczynski’s The Most Beautiful House in the World. May be elected as Art History 249.

241 Environmental Aesthetics
4; not offered 2015-16

Beginning with an examination of the claim of the beautiful in Elaine Scarry’s On Beauty and Being Just, we will turn to experiment with the perception of sculpture in space working with reflections by Kant and Heidegger, and public artworks on campus. This will lead to an examination of architecture in Karsten Harries’ The Ethical Function of Architecture, and the Japanese garden in Marc Keane’s The Art of Setting Stones. Beyond the opening exercises in the aesthetic perception, you will design your own home with a garden. May be elected as Art History 241.

270 Metaphysics
4; not offered 2015-16

Metaphysics studies the ultimate nature of reality. In this course, we will focus on those questions central to this field of study, questions such as: What is the nature of the causal relation – cause and effect – that binds our world together? Is it possible to act freely? How does something (for example, a person) change and yet remain the same thing? What kinds of things exist? What is the nature of truth?

300 Emerson
x, 4 Davis

A close reading of selected essays by Emerson with critical responses based on work by Nietzsche, Levinas, and Stanley Cavell.

302 Heidegger and Architecture
4; not offered 2015-16

With their emphasis on place-making, Martin Heidegger’s later essays, “Building Dwelling Thinking,” “Poetically Man Dwells, and “The Thing,” have informed the work of a generation of architects. This seminar uses Heidegger as a touchstone for exploring the relationship between space and dwelling, placing these essays into dialogue with Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows, and Rybczynski’s The Most Beautiful House in the World, as well as the work and writings of contemporary architects. The seminar is writing intensive and highly collaborative, and will include biweekly papers and responses, and a final portfolio design project and seminar presentation. May be elected as Art History 240. Prerequisite: Philosophy 202 or consent of instructor.

311 Variable Topics in Plato

In this course we will engage in an in-depth examination of one or more of Plato’s dialogues. This examination may center on a particular dialogue, a particular question or set of questions, or a particular theme as it develops throughout the Platonic corpus. Students are encouraged to contact the professor for more information about the particular topic of the current iteration of the course. May be elected as Classics 311.  Any current offerings follow.

312 Variable Topics in Aristotle

In this course we will engage in an in-depth examination of one or more of Aristotle’s texts. This examination may center on a particular text, a particular question or set of questions, or a particular theme as it develops throughout the Aristotelian corpus. Students are encouraged to contact the professor for more information about the particular topic of the current iteration of the course. May be elected as Classics 312.Any current offerings follow.

312 VT: Aristotle on Persons and Personhood4, x Jenkins

This course is directed at answering one question: What, for Aristotle, does it mean to be a person?  Aristotle's answer to this question is complex and draws from across his corpus, weaving together many of his most central metaphysical, epistemological, psychological, biological, ethical, and political commitments.  In this course we will trace out his answer to this question, trying to better understand Aristotle's conception of personhood and, in so doing, better develop our own understanding of the concept.  Texts we will read include selections from the Metaphysics, Physics, De Anima, Posterior Analytics, Rhetoric, Nicomachean Ethics, and Politics. May be elected as Classics 312. Distribution: humanities.

315 Happiness
4; not offered 2015-16

This course is a focused exploration of the nature of happiness. In the course, we will look at the nature of happiness as it is articulated in both historical and contemporary contexts.  In the first half of the course, we will look at ancient conceptions of happiness, focusing on the accounts offered in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Cicero’s On Moral Ends.  In the second half of the course, we will turn our attention to contemporary accounts of happiness, looking at treatments of happiness in both psychology and philosophy. 

318 Hannah Arendt as Political Thinker
4, x Ireland

Hannah Arendt disavowed the title of philosopher, instead describing herself as a “political thinker.” This seminar will investigate what Arendt means by this description, focusing in particular on the notions of “world,” “natality,” and what she calls the vita active. Texts will include Between Past and Future, The Human Condition, and Eichmann in Jerusalem as well as selections from Arendt’s work on Kant and aesthetics and cultural theory. Biweekly seminar papers and a final research paper will be required. May be elected as German 318. Prerequisites: one course in philosophy 300-level or higher.

320 Contemporary Pragmatism
4; not offered 2015-16

Contemporary pragmatism largely defines itself in opposition to modern Western philosophy, which it sees as wrongly trying to establish a foundation for indubitable truth about a mind-independent and language-independent external world. This course will work through the views of some of the most important contemporary pragmatists, with particular focus on the writings of Richard Rorty.

322 Kant’s Moral Philosophy
4; not offered 2015-16

This course explores Kant’s moral theory and recent appropriations of that moral theory in contemporary neo-Kantian ethics. Prerequisite: Philosophy 127 or consent of instructor.

329 Wittgenstein
4; not offered 2015-16

Ludwig Wittgenstein was not one but two of the most important and original philosophers of the 20th century. Throughout his life, he emphasized the importance of understanding the nature of language, through which he addressed issues including logic, epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and ethics. But he did so in two radically different ways early and late in his career. In this course, we will work carefully through works from both periods, supplemented by relevant secondary sources.

331 Nietzsche and Heidegger
4; not offered 2015-16

A close reading of selections from Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Heidegger’s What is Called Thinking? Prerequisite: two courses in Philosophy or consent of instructor.

332 Reproduction
4; not offered 2015-16

In this class, we will explore the ethical and metaphysical questions associated with reproduction. So, for example, do we have a right to have a child? If we do, is there ever a situation when we should forego acting on that right? What obligations do we have to our offspring? Do those obligations change as our offspring grows? What relationship should heterosexual sex have to reproduction? Does this relationship shape when and whether two people engage in this activity? Finally, how does reproduction impact our understanding of our genders?

336 Language and Meaning
x, 4 Clearfield

This course is an introduction to the philosophy of language. The focus will be on the nature of linguistic meaning and the relationship between words and the world. We also will consider some of the implications of those issues on the nature of cognition and on our understanding of reality through language.

337 Philosophy of Mind
4, x Hanrahan

A study of the nature and function of mind and consciousness and their place in the world of physical stuff. Readings will include classical as well as recent and contemporary work. 

338 Special Topics: Philosophers and Philosophical Movements

An examination of a philosopher or philosophical movement. Any current offerings follow.

340 Special Topics: Philosophical Problems

An examination of a philosophical problem. Any current offerings follow.

345 Animals and Philosophy
x, 4 Hanrahan

Many people’s lives are intertwined with animals. But while animals are clearly very important, few wonder about what kinds of creatures they are. Are they merely organic machines or are they conscious in some way? Do they think? Do they feel pain? Can they have beliefs? Moreover, do animals have rights that oblige us to protect them from harm? These are the questions we will address in this class. Prerequisite: at least one other course in a related field.

351 What is the Human Being?
x, 4 Frierson

In a set of lectures to his students, Kant claimed that all of philosophy could be reduced to the question, “What is the Human Being?” This course focuses on that question. Almost half of the course will be spent exploring Kant’s answer to the question, which also will provide an opportunity to explore Kant’s philosophy as a whole. The rest of the course will look at several contemporary approaches to the problem (including, for example, scientific —especially evolutionary—accounts of human beings and existentialism). Prerequisite: Philosophy 202 or consent of instructor. 

356 Contemporary Philosophy of Science
4; not offered 2015-16

This course offers an advanced reading of several of the most important papers in contemporary philosophy of science, dealing with issues such as the nature of scientific “rationality,” whether scientific theories contribute to understanding what is real, the nature of scientific evidence and scientific laws, and specific philosophical issues in contemporary physics and biology. Prerequisite: one previous philosophy course or consent of instructor.

400 Values
4; not offered 2015-16

A substantive consideration of one or more values (such as justice, happiness, or charity), based on primary sources from Western philosophy. Prerequisite: Philosophy 127 or consent of instructor.

408 Special Topics: Studies in American Philosophy

A close reading of a text from the classic American philosophical tradition. Any current offerings follow.

410 Special Topics in Continental Philosophy

An examination of a text or problem from the Continental philosophical tradition. Any current offerings follow.

422 Heidegger’s Being and Time
4; not offered 2015-16

Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time (1927) is arguably one of the most groundbreaking works of philosophy published in the 20th century. This seminar is an intensive exploration of Heidegger’s most important conceptual innovations in that work. These innovations include the relationship between Dasein, care, and world; the analysis of being-toward-death, anxiety, and the call of conscience; and the “destructuring” of the Western philosophical tradition. The seminar will be focused on the close reading of Being and Time supplemented by other primary and secondary sources intended to facilitate the understanding of basic terms and concepts. The course is writing intensive, and will include biweekly papers and responses, a final seminar presentation, and a final paper. Prerequisite: Philosophy 201 or 202 or consent of instructor.

479 Philosophy Colloquium
1; not offered 2015-16

This one credit, team-taught seminar will be organized around a different theme each semester. Members of the Philosophy Department will rotate leading discussion about readings that approach that theme from their different philosophical backgrounds, methodologies, and interests. Its purpose is to foster dialog across the various areas of philosophy, and greater intellectual community among philosophy students. Requirements include attendance at all meetings and active participation in discussion. Graded credit/no credit. May be repeated but will only receive credit once. Open to junior and senior Philosophy majors; others by consent of instructor. Note: May not be applied to the Philosophy minor.

483, 484 Independent Study
1-4, 1-4 Staff

Study of selected philosophies or philosophic problems. Prerequisite: consent of and arrangement with instructor.

488 Tutorial in Symbolic Logic
4, 4 Staff

An introduction to the methods of symbolic logic, including the propositional calculus, quantification theory, and the logic of relations. Recommended for, and restricted to, advanced students who are considering graduate work in philosophy. Prerequisite: consent of instructor.

498 Honors Thesis
4, 4 Staff

A course designed to further independent research or projects resulting in the preparation of an undergraduate honors thesis and including an oral defense of the central issues of the thesis to be taken during the second term of the student’s senior year. Required of and limited to senior honors candidates in philosophy. Prerequisite: admission to honors candidacy.