Courses Offered at Juniata College since 1999

Introductory Level Philosophy Courses

1. PL 101: Introduction to Philosophy

The course is designed to provide the beginning philosophy students with the background and conceptual tools necessary for more advanced study in the subject. Essentially, the course is a survey of some fundamental philosophical problems -- such as the meaning of life, free will, reality, the problem of evil, personal identity, and theory of knowledge --, and the efforts made by significant thinkers to solve them.

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2. PL 103: Life, Death and Meaning

The course is designed as an introduction to philosophy course through exploring the meaning of death as it figures in human life in terms of contributing the meaningfulness of such a life.  Ask yourself this: “if one is not able to die, is he really able to live?” (Paul Tillich)  In other words, could you live an authentic life without knowing the meaning of your life?  Could you know the meaning and value of your life without understanding the very end of your life journey, i.e., your impending death?  If you want to find out what many great philosophers and thinkers think about or want to figure out your own answers to those most fundamental existential issues of your life, come to ponder, think, debate, and argue with us.  This course will give you a deeper philosophical understanding of the meaning of death and consequently how to live your life in the face of death, which will ultimately bring you into true being and authentic existence.  

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3. PL 106: Introduction to Ethics

This course is designed to improve student's ability of critical thinking and examination of central moral issues encountered in their own lives. For this purpose, we will first introduce some classical moral theories in general, and will then apply these theories to examine some hot-button moral issues in today’s American society.

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4. PL 115: Human Nature

The course is designed as an introduction to philosophy through exploration of human nature.  Self-contemplation has long been a human preoccupation.  Socrates urged us to “know thyself.”  We are wondering who we are?  We want to know in what humanity consists.  Without a conception of what it is to be human, no one can say much about human society or human life.  Although people have been struggling to understand themselves for thousands of years, it cannot be said that human nature is currently “known,” nor does it seem likely to be fully understood any time soon.  Such efforts have been rewarding, however, and that is why you want to take (I sincerely hope so) and I want to teach this course.  No matter what human nature is, the fact that human reason is capable of such self-contemplation already tells us something of human nature.  To start to think this question itself is sufficient to make you as a Human Being.

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Intermediate Level Philosophy and Related Courses

5. PL 208 / MA 208: Symbolic Logic

Early in the twentieth century an artificial language was invented, which is simple, unambiguous, and precise. The language also allows the computer to perform logical deductions for us.  That language is the Language of First-Order Logic (LFOL).  This course is designed to introduce the basics of LFOL: the concept of artificial language, techniques for symbolizing ordinary English sentences and arguments, and formal inference systems.  The emphasis will be on the use of LFOL (a) as a means for the clarification of thought and (b) as a tool for the construction of good reasoning/argument in both your academic study and your everyday life.

No specific mathematical knowledge is presupposed to study symbolic logic.  However, you should be prepared to think in a rigorous and often abstract way.  Studying logic has roughly the same relation to thinking logically as studying ethics has to behaving ethically, or studying music theory has to playing, conducting, or composing music.  However, this is not a skill course; its goal is primarily for understanding.  You will end up with improved skills of logical reasoning and the ability to think abstractly, but that will owe less to the subject matter than to our treatment of it and the efforts you put into mastering it.

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6. PL 241: Philosophy of Love

It has become such a cliché to claim that “there is no greater human need than love; it is our ultimate source of meaning and happiness”, “love makes everything go around”, “love is everything”, “God is love”, even “love is God”.  However, what is love?  Especially what is so-called erotic or romantic love that all of us dream about and some of us will even die for? 

Let us put it bluntly from the very beginning: there is no such thing as the true or the ideal love as it is for us to discover; all we have are a series of metaphors, images, or conceptions of love created by different cultures, many of which are so entrenched in our psyche of love that we glorify selectively.  In fact, much of what we believe about romantic love in the Western society is mere mythology and pious illusions.  Love is simply socially structured human emotion (not just a feeling or desire, but structured mode of judgments, or ways of shaping and attuned to the world).  Historically, the love emotion was either inflated or idealized by Platonic eros tradition that bloats Eros and demeans sex, which was in turn enhanced by Christianity and blindly followed by most humanists (for them, “love is everything”; “love is the answer”; “love lasts forever”; “love is divine”; “love is unconditional”; “love is selfless”) or on the other extreme, has been deflated or materialized by cynicism, such as embittered feminists, jaded Freudians, sneering Marxists.  To them, “love is nothing but lust or sublimated sex”; “love is merely transiting feeling”; “love is capitalist conspiracy or even a form of prostitution”; “love is a political plot to maintain male superiority”.  Alternatively, love has recently been neutralized or sensitized by reductionist scientific studies of love: “love as an evolution tool”; “love as natural instinct programmed through human evolution”; “love as psychological attachment”; “love is produced by specific chemicals (i.e., elevated levels of dopamine or/and norepinephrine, as well as decreased levels of serotonin) and brain circuitry”, so “love is sort of chemical addiction”.              

Based on the above conviction, the course is designed as a philosophical reconstruction of our dominant conceptions of erotic/romantic love with an attempt to help us understand romantic love, maybe the most cherished human experience and emotion.  To do so, we will trace the historical development of the conceptions of love within the Western intellectual heritage and subject them to philosophical analysis and scrutiny with the intention to demythologize and de-deify love in the contemporary Western world.

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7. PL 245/CA 246: Chinese Philosophy

According to the tradition of Chinese Philosophy, the function of philosophy is to help human beings to achieve moral and spiritual perfection.  The highest form of achievement that a human being is capable of is to be a Hsien/Xian (a morally perfect person) or a Sheng (a sage or a spiritually perfect person).  A sage is the person who achieves the identification of the individual with Tian (“Heaven”). Philosophy teaches the Way (Tao/Dao) of how to reach such identification.  Therefore, the central problem of Chinese philosophy is this: If human beings want to achieve this identification, do they have to abandon society or even to negate life? Contrary to some superficial impression that Chinese philosophy is this-world philosophy, what Chinese philosophy has striven for is the synthesis between this-worldliness and other-worldliness.  A sage is the person whose character can be described as “sageliness within and kingliness without.”  The task of philosophy is to enable human beings to develop this character, and herein lies the spirit of Chinese philosophy (Fung Yu-Lan).

In the history of Chinese philosophy, the more influential thinkers have been those who have attempted to synthesize this-worldliness and other-worldliness.  Their philosophies have been the mainstream of Chinese philosophy in the past more than 2,500 years and have substantially shaped the Chinese mind.  Our course will focus on those thinkers and their philosophies.  We will start with ancient (pre-Chin) Confucianism (Confucius, Mencius, and Hsun Tzu) and its discontents (Mohism and the School of Names), Taoism (Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu), Yin-Yang Confucianism, via Chinese Buddhism, and end with modern Sung Ming neo-Confucianism (Chu Hsi and Wang Yang-Ming).

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8. PL 260: Introduction to Philosophy of Science

In this course, we will lay out some central philosophical problems raised by natural sciences.  Our goals are to develop an understanding of the nature of scientific inquiry and to develop your ability of philosophical thinking about scientific knowledge.  For the current semester, in part I and II, we will trace the development of contemporary philosophy of science from logical positivism to the science wars, that is, the current hot debate of the status of science in a democratic society.  The questions at stake are: Is scientific knowledge a social construction out of cultural, social, political, religious, or ideological backdrops in which scientists live (postmodernism and social constructionism) or an objective description of the reality out there (modernism and neo-modernism)?  More specifically, we will ponder over the questions like: Is scientific knowledge superior to other types of knowledge?  Is science rational and objective?  And what, if any, counts as rationality in science?  Is scientific knowledge value neutral?  Is science gender biased?  In part III, we will explore two most significant standard issues discussed by philosophers of science, i.e., scientific realism and scientific explanation. The questions to be answered are: What is the metaphysical status of the things which science investigates?  Is it ever legitimate to regard a scientific theory as true or an objective representation of reality?  What counts as a legitimate scientific explanation?  What does a scientific theory really explain?  

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9. IC 240: God, Evolution and Culture

This is a team-taught general education course that provides a thorough discussion of the creation-evolution debate and its cultural implications.

This course examines religious (e.g., creationist) and scientific (e.g., evolutionist) views of the origins of life and humans and their relevance to Western Culture. Both the cultural origins and implications of various views will be discussed. Critical thinking with an open mind will be encouraged. Although the instructors have their own specific viewpoints, a major goal of this course is not to promote any particular ideology, but to promote constructive dialogue regarding different perspectives and ideologies, especially those at the crossroads between science and religion.

General topics will include the nature of science, the nature of religion and the basics of evolutionary theory and creationism. The course will promote literacy in the dynamics of contemporary culture wars. Specific course objectives include:

1) To encourage students to have an open mind and to engage in critical thinking about diverse worldviews.
2) To discuss the similarities and differences between religion and science and whether these modes of thought can be bridged.
3) To understand the biblical stories of creation and the worldwide flood within their ancient historical and religious contexts.
4) To give a brief historical overview of the principle manifestations of religious and scientific views.
5) To describe the modern theory of evolution (neo-Darwinism), challenges to this theory, and its potential implications for religious thought.
6) To give an appreciation of the importance of the creation vs. evolution debate for our everyday lives including our views of morality and our search for meaning and purpose in life.
7) To help students develop a map of the history and current state of these intracultural conflicts.

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10. CA 200: Modernity, Knowledge and the Self

This a team-taught general education course focusing on the issues of culture and modernity.

Who are we?  In what kind of world do we live?  What can we know about the world and ourselves?...and how?  This course examines how the modern has changed our answers to these and other questions.  Particular attention will be paid to modern and post-modern understandings of scientific and narrative knowledge as well as cultural transformations in the comprehension of the self.  Materials include films, novels, essays, and the visual arts.

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Advanced Philosophy Courses

11. PL 304: Existentialism

The essential messages of existentialism is about as simple as can be: every one of us, as an unique individual, is responsible—responsible for what you do, responsible for who you are, responsible for the way you face and deal with the world, and responsible, ultimately, for the way the world is. Life may be difficult; circumstances may be impossible; obstacles you face seem originated from your own personality, character, emotions, limited means, or intelligence.  Nevertheless, you are responsible.  You cannot shift that burden onto God, onto nature, or onto the ways of the world.  “Nature is what we are put on this earth to rise above.”  That is what existentialism is all about.  You are responsible for yourself.  Consequently, your life and your fate are completely in your own hands. You determine the meaning of your life. There are no excuses!!!

The course is suitable for any serious thinkers who are wondering about the meaning of life, about their true identity, or about the relation between God and their personal lives, and who want to live an authentic life.  In our course, we will study the most important existentialist thinkers, both theistic and non-theistic, such as Albert Camus, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Soren Kierkegaard, Fredrick Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre's writings.

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12. PL 305 / CA 305: Modern Philosophy

The conceptual revolution of the 17th century and its consolidation and subsequent cultural revolution during the 18th century were perhaps the most profound intellectual and cultural transformation of the Western civilization. It marks the birth of the modern mind (the conceptual core of modernity), a new way of thinking about the world and about thinking, such as what is a legitimate authority or a proper mode of justification, what is morally right, what is real, how thing happened, what is knowable, and what is the potential of human life and human relationship to nature, etc. Such a conceptual and cultural revolution was associated most clearly with the scientific revolution during the 17th century. 

Philosophy is thinking about the way of thinking. The best way to understand the birth of the modern mind is to study the metaphysical foundation of all these intellectual/cultural transformations, that is, modern philosophy, which and modern science were the twin founding pillars of modern thought and modern culture.

The course is designed, firstly, to provide you with an overview of the dominant theories and conceptual tensions that shaped Western philosophical discussions during the modern period; secondly, to acquaint you first-hand with the canonical texts around which that discussion centered. We will trace the origin of the modern mind through careful examination of its philosophical and scientific foundations. Works of modern philosophers (Bacon, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant) are analyzed and interpreted in the broad historical context of the rise of modern science (Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Boyle, and Newton) with emphasis on the problem of the source, the scope, the limit, and the validity of rational knowledge. 


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13. PL 318: Knowledge, Truth and Skepticism

The theory of knowledge or epistemology is the study of the nature of knowledge and justification of beliefs. Educated people agree that knowledge is valuable, but philosophers disagree on almost all major issues concerning knowledge that are at the heart of epistemology, such as:

In this course, we investigate many contemporary treatments of these central issues of knowledge with focus on three conceptually related topics: (1) the nature and value of knowledge and the nature and structure of epistemic justification; (2) the nature of truth through discussing a few classical and contemporary theories of truth; (3) the challenges from skepticism and influential responses to it.      


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14. PL 321: Philosophy of Language & Communication

The course is designed to help the students study two closely related language-related areas of philosophical studies, that is, the well-established philosophy of language and the emerging philosophy of (linguistic) communication.  Humans are essentially linguistic beings.  We live, --perceive, feel, think, reason, will, act, and interact-- in and through human languages; we are linguistically and communicatively situated in the world.  Ordinarily, we would believe that the speakers of a natural language understand, or know the meanings, of the expressions of that language and are able to communicate effectively with others speaking the same language.  However, we all experience that, in real life, misunderstandings and communication breakdowns are rampant.  Understanding the members of one’s own language community, even the members of one’s own family, can be taxing; understanding and communication across different language communities can seem all but impossible.  To solve many difficult issues involved in language use, the philosophers of language have been attempting to provide a systematic account of the most essential aspect of language-use, namely, the linguistic meaning.  In fact, philosophy of language is motivated in large part by a desire to give a systematic account of our intuitive notion of linguistic meaning and related aspects of language-use, especially linguistic understanding and communication.  Traditionally, it includes, but is far from exhausted by, the following meaning-related questions:

In this one-semester long seminar, for the part on the philosophy of language, we can only focus on four central issues: the theories of reference, the theories of meaning, pragmatics and speech acts, and cross-language understanding.  Since our overall concern is with the question of how effective linguistic understanding and communication is possible, accordingly, the part on the philosophy of communication will examines a few well-known philosophical discourses or models of communication, including Locke’s transmission discourse, Gadamer’s hermeneutic discourse, and Habermas’ communicative-action discourse.

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Other Philosophy Courses Offered Elsewhere Before 1999

Metaphysics: upper-division seminar course with focus on personal identity, causation, and universals, taught at Trinity College, CT

Cognitive Science Lab: philosophical lab designed for Cognitive Science and Mind and Brain course, taught at Trinity College, CT

Critical Thinking: introductory course on informal logic with focus on the analysis of language and fallacies, taught at University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT

Introduction to Logic: computer-assisted introductory course on formal logic, including Aristotelian logic, propositional logic, and beginning of predicate logic, taught at University Of Connecticut, Storrs, CT

Philosophical Classics: historical introduction to philosophy with readings from Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant, taught at University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT

Marxist Philosophy: on Marxist historical materialism and dialectical materialism, taught at Huazhong University of Science & Technology, China

Contemporary Western Philosophy: survey course on 20th century analytic philosophy and continental philosophy, taught at Huazhong University of Science & Technology, China



Courses Under Consideration for Future Development

Human Happiness and Meaning



The page updated: August, 2013

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