Examples of MA courses in Philosophy
Below are some examples of MA level courses that we gave for the academic year (2014/2015). There will, of course, be more courses taught at the MA level, but these examples should give you an idea what kinds of topics we teach in the MA curriculum.
For more information on past and future courses in our Department please see our Courses in English page (this includes BA level courses).
For a full list of courses offered in English by the University please consult this list.
Daniel Cohnitz: Philosophical Methodology: Armchair or Laboratory? (Spring Term 2015)
In the past couple of years developed a growing interest in metaphilosophical questions, i.e. questions about the proper methodology of philosophy and how we should understand philosophy’s subject matter. Are experimental philosophers right in demanding that we philosophers should leave our comfy armchairs and get our hands dirty in empirical research? Does working on metaphysical questions make any sense? Are certain formal philosophers correct in demanding that we must increase the use of formal methods? In this seminar we will look at the contemporary discussions of the role of intuitions in philosophy, the possibility of metaphysics, and the use of formal methods.
For an overview, see the introduction by Matthew C. Haug to Philosophical Methodology: The Armchair or the Laboratory, Routledge 2014, 1-26.
Alexander Davies: The New Relativism and its Alternatives
In recent years, thanks in large part to the sustained work of John MacFarlane, relativism has been given new expression. MacFarlane has described how relativism can be understood for various regions of discourse through formal semantic analyses of the linguistic expressions employed in each such region of discourse. Others have nonetheless proposed alternative, non-relativist, analyses. This course will introduce students to the debate and aims to allow them to assess the alternatives.
For an overview of relativism see John MacFarlane's “Relativism” in The Routledge Companion to the Philosophy of Language, ed. Delia Graff Fara and Gillian Russell (New York: Routledge, 2012), 132-142. For a defence of contextualism see Tim Sundell's “Disagreements about taste” in Philosophical Studies 155(2) 267-288 (2011).
Alexander Davies: Disagreement in Civil Society
John Mill is famous for defending free speech in a liberal society on the ground that it improves the quality of ideas accepted within that society. Within analytic philosophy, several philosophers have uncovered ways in which the dynamics of linguistic exchange can go awry. This course will introduce students to the work of two such philosophers: Miranda Fricker and Rae Langton. Fricker's work centres upon injustices which can arise in linguistic exchanges which harm certain parties to that exchange. Langton's work centres upon the harm that can be done by the pervasive acceptance of myths about certain parties to a testimonial exchange.
For an example of Fricker's work see her Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing (Oxford: OUP, 2007). For an example of Langton's work see her “Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts” in Philosophy and Public Affairs 22(4) 293-330 (1993).
Ave Mets: World Picture
Topics of the course: Nature as spirited (animism, polytheism); monotheism and science; laws of nature as material or transcendent, abstract, from materialism to abstraction; human and nature, human and world; mathematics and technology in understanding the world; deep ecology.
Francesco Orsi: Meta-ethics: conceptual toolbox
Three boys are having fun setting a kitten on fire and watching it die slowly while it suffers excruciating pain. Most of us would agree that such an action is simply wrong. But what is it to make a moral judgment like this? Are we merely expressing our disapproval of the action, with no aim to correctly represent the action as wrong? Are we claiming something that is objectively true regardless of what others may think? Or maybe we are under the illusion of grasping a moral truth, in this and other cases? The course provides a toolbox for students to address these questions and evaluate the arguments for and against particular views.
Kadri Simm: Justice
Justice is, undoubtedly, one of the core topics of practical philosophy. From Plato to Nussbaum, there are few subject matters that have inspired so many. Perhaps this is due to the fact that justice is not simply a fascinating theoretical topic but that we all deal with questions of justice on a daily basis. When we discuss income taxes or ask ourselves whether the eldest child really deserved bigger piece of the cake, we are dealing with the question of what is just. Justice is central in contemporary political philosophy, where John Rawls' influential theory has stated it as the most important characteristic of institutions. At the same time debates continue on how to distribute social resources (eg. education, medical services, tax duties etc) - based of equality, merit, need or some other combination? Because justice is so central to debates in political philosophy, it is closely linked to concepts like equality, rights, liberty etc.The focus of the course is mostly on contemporary debates but we will begin with Plato and then proceed via Mill to the 20th century (Rawls, Singer, Nozick, Sandel, Nussbaum, Pogge et al).
Edit Talpsepp: Philosophy of Biology
The aim of this course is to introduce the main concepts and arguments of philosophy of biology and to provide some analysis of those, as well as to develop the students' analysis and argumentation skills. The course addresses the following topics from the perspective of philosophy of biology: different concepts of 'species', the questions related to biological classification, the structure of evolutionary theory, units of natural selection, the questions related to the notion of 'gene', the relationship between folk and scientific biology etc.
Edit Talpsepp: Essentialism, psychology, evolution and ethics
The aim of this course is to introduce the notion of essentialism in its different fields of application, focusing especially on essentialism in human reasoning – psychological essentialism – and its influence for the interpretation/explanation of natural and social world. Psychological essentialism has been claimed to underlie the formation of stereotypes, xenophobia, racism and other reasoning patterns concerning different human groups. Psychological essentialism also allegedly complicates the understanding of evolutionary theory. One of the paradoxes to be considered in this course is that whereas on the one hand essentialism is a psychological tendency that leads to some unwanted results - on the other hand it is also a useful thinking heuristics that underlies the processes of inductive reasoning and inferring.