Department Chair

  • Jennifer McErlean
    Professor of Philosophy
    Siena Hall 414
    (518) 783-4129
    mcerlean@siena.edu



Philosophy Courses Spring 2011

Philosophy and the Human Being, PHIL 101

Multiple Sections & Professors

Required of all Siena students in fulfillment of the Core Disciplinary Requirement.

Ethics, PHIL 210 (MWF 10:25-11:20A, Santilli)

Our persistent political and social conflicts about war, immigration, health care, and the economy stem from competing visions of the good life, human rights, and just policies. In short they are at bottom ethical problems. This course addresses such problems by drawing on the work of Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, using his textbook on Justice and his televised series of lectures on ethics. Students are introduced to important classical and modern ideas about the good, the right, and the just, but also encouraged to think theoretically about evil and injustice. Serious and weighty matters located in the texts of Aristotle, Kant, Mill, and Rawls, are certainly discussed, but the class will be sprinkled with good humor and lighter case studies having to do with commuter trains, cheerleaders, and golfers! (ARTS, CAP)

Ethics, PHIL 210 (Honors) (TTH 1:00-2:20P, Blanchard)

Human beings act and think in a variety of ways, and believe many things about what, how, and why we should act or think any one way rather than another.  We are all moral agents, whether we are conscious of any reasons underlying what we do, or not.  This course examines classical ethical theories in Aristotle, Kant, and Mill, and briefly some criticisms by Nietzsche, before reviewing specific human activities in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  Emphasis in the class will be on reading and interpreting primary texts, pursuing independent research, and participating in the regular class seminar. (ARTS, CAP, HSMR, ISP)

Philosophies of Love, PHIL 220 (TTH 4:00-5:20P, Williamson)

Philosophy itself is a kind of love—the love of wisdom—and for Plato it is the highest form of love. For many freedom workers, like Ghandi and James Lawson, love is the only way to create justice. Our examination of love will begin with the most common form of the emotion by studying the philosophy of emotion generally in order to give various accounts of the nature of love. For example, we will ask whether love is primarily a physiological response that is evolutionarily determined or whether it is a mental phenomenon. We will turn to psychology to explore the way that our original family dynamics inform our mature loving relationships, as well as the characteristics of happy marriages. Lastly we will consider the love that transcends couples and families, attempting to imagine the possibility of loving one’s enemy. (ARTS, CAP)

Philosophy and the Feminine, Phil 285 (TTH 2:30-3:50P, Soderback)

In The Second Sex (1949), Simone de Beauvoir offered the first wholly systematic account of the role and status of women within a patriarchal society, planting the seed for our current distinction between (biological) sex and (socially constructed) gender. This course aims at examining ways in which contemporary thinkers (such as Luce Irigaray, Judith Butler, and Rosi Braidotti, among others) have conceptualized the relationship between, and the making of, sex and gender. We will discuss ways in which thinkers address and tackle the question of how we are and become sexual beings. Is gender something that we perform, and hence can transform? Or is there an essential difference between women and men, one that we should embrace rather than try to reject? Is there a relationship between gender and desire? How much do our bodies matter, and what is the role of language and other discursive practices in the making of sex/gender? If gender is made, can it be un-made? (ARTS, WTSU)

Early Modern Philosophy, PHIL 294 (MW 3:40-5:00, Boisvert)

Who are we?  What is the human self?  Our 21st century notions, now in flux, are rooted in important contributions made by Early Modern Philosophy (1500-1800).  This course will explore the changes in human self-understanding that emerged in philosophers like Descartes, Locke, Hume, Leibniz and Kant.  These thinkers are crucial, since they set the context within which the contemporary debates about the nature of the self are taking place. (ARTS, PHY)

Philosophy and Knowledge, PHIL 300 (TTH 8:30-9:50A, Alexander)

Epistemology is the study of knowledge, justification, and rational belief. In this course, we will approach these topics through the lens of recent philosophical discussions about epistemic relativism, the view that there are no framework-independent facts about which epistemic norms (e.g., norms of justification or standards of rationality) are right. Our goal will be to gain a better understanding of some of the central issues in epistemology and a perspective on the viewpoints that have shaped contemporary discussion, as well as to begin to formulate our own questions, positions, and arguments on these topics.  (ARTS)

Philosophical Influences on Theology, PHIL 350 (TTH 10:00-11:20A, Davies) 

In this course we will read and focus on Plato and Aristotle and show how their thoughts influenced Theologians like Augustine and Aquinas and gave Christian Faith a vocabulary and intellectual framework in which to work.   Short selections from original sources and class discussion will be an important part of this class.  (ARTS, PHY)

Seminar: Crimes Against Humanity, PHIL 490 (W 6:00-8:00P, Santilli)

The idea that a human being is a citizen of the world or the cosmopolis, and not only of a nation, can be traced back to the ancient Stoics. With the development of international criminal law and the consensus that some atrocities are of concern to all of humanity, are in fact “crimes against humanity,” philosophers have come in recent times to re-examine the ancient idea of cosmopolitanism. Among these philosophers are Anthony Appiah (who will be lecturing at Siena next year), Seyla Benhabib, Jeremy Waldron, Jacques Derrida, and Martha Nussbaum—all of whom will be read in this seminar. We will also look at Kant’s very brief but extremely powerful discussion of world government, Toward a Perpetual Peace. Students will do research into the conceptual underpinnings of international conventions against torture, genocide, and other inhuman acts. Why indeed are they “inhuman?” Do such conventions suggest minimal moral principles to which all humans might consent?  (ARTS)