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Graduate Courses  |  Spring 2023

PHI 505 History of Aesthetic Theory 
New Material Feminisms and The Arts
Professor Audrey Ellis

This course will trace the historical positioning of feminist theory within which new material feminisms were developed and the special ways in which the work of art mediates, inter-jects and materializes discursive gestures. Our readings will help us explore what constitutes “the material” of gender theory and how feminism has both utilized and “spoken back” to Marxism, poststructuralism, and psychoanalysis, while also paying attention to the theoretical and political conundrums that continue to make feminist theory an animated and animating practice of thought in both art and philosophy.

The course will begin with readings by Gayle Rubin and Judith Butler to illustrate constructionist approaches to gender in the 1970-1980’s which displaced gender from biological sex. Philosophies invested in the force of materiality emerged in response, which will be explored primarily through texts by Elizabeth Wilson, Karen Barad and Elizabeth Grosz. The course will conclude with an investigation of new materialist approaches to theories of colonization. How these “new materialisms” have resonance for our understanding of art will root, guide and frame our discussions.


PHI 506 Art and Its Problems*
Critical Phenomenology
Professor Anne O’Byrne

Originally conceived as something along the lines of a “Being and Method” proposal, it soon became obvious that the juxtaposition of ontology and epistemology in and by itself would not suffice: The hypothesis to be explored here is that language, understood as Discourse, may offer a (re)solution and place philosophy and ethics back on a pragmatic, material, “human” footing. To see the problem, we will analyze different methods of interpretation in literary study and the social sciences.

Students will learn (and critique) the methods of: Marxism, structuralism/deconstruction, reception aesthetics, post-colonial critique and hermeneutics. And (re)thinking rhetoric in terms of Discourse. Students will have ample opportunity to explore some other school of interpretation we can’t treat in class. Materials to test our grasp of these approaches will be drawn from both European and non-European historical contexts, as well as from current issues (Supreme Court cases, immigration reform, cinema, crises in higher education, energy and environmental debates and legislation, and so on), with emphasis remaining on method/s in a post-metaphysical universe. Student responsibilities include 2 short papers on topics assigned, a class presentation, and a term paper. Will have one or two guest speakers. Syllabus available as of May.

PHI 508* / 619 Contemporary Issues
Theorizing Improvisation
Professor Lorenzo C. Simpson 

“It is at the point of spontaneity that the performer is most apt to have recourse to his (sic) memory. He is not apt to make a discovery spontaneously. I want to find ways of discovering something you don’t know at the time that you improvise—that is to say, the same time you’re doing something that’s not written down, or decided upon ahead of time. The first way is to play an instrument over which you have no control, or less control than usual.”—John Cage

“Improvisation? Anyone who plays anything worth hearing knows what he’s (sic) going to play, no matter whether he prepares a day ahead or a beat ahead. It has to be with intent.”—Duke Ellington

“Improvisation is a human response to necessity.” – Muhal Richard Abrams “It seems to me what music is is everything that you do.” -- Cecil Taylor

At its most general level, improvisation plays a central role in all human experience and is an
omnipresent feature of human subjectivity and agency. While remaining mindful of this general feature of improvisation, in this seminar we focus primarily, though not exclusively, on its role in ethics and in music. It is a working hypothesis of this course that the dialectics of freedom and constraint and of assertion and responsibility suffuse both ethical decision and the improvisatory gesture in music.

Informed by this analytical framework, we examine the issue of normativity in jazz improvisation, raising such questions as, are there rules for improvisation, and are improvisatory moves subject to a rational reconstruction that appeals to reasons? If so, how are such reasons related to rules? To the extent that improvisation is a rules-based practice, can computers be said to improvise? Additionally, we inquire as to whether the relevant variables in a musical improvisation are restricted to those of melody, harmony and rhythm or whether the spontaneous production of sound itself, of musical timbre, has an important role to play. Further, we explore the relationships among musical composition, interpretive performance, and improvisation as well as the relationship of each to human temporality. We pursue these discussions with an eye to developing an account of improvisational agency that responds to Theodor Adorno’s (in)famous denigration of the “jazz” tradition. Though we devote special attention to improvisation in music and to ethical theory, we may also consider such “real time” artistic practices as Jackson Pollock’s “action painting” and interpretive dance and extend our reflections to consider the light that an understanding of improvisation can shed on the creative process more generally, e.g., in the production of literary metaphors.

The seminar will be a systematic exploration of these topics and will not be bound to any particular school of thought or of philosophical practice. However, it will be informed by hermeneutic conceptions of judgment, an Aristotelian conception of phronesis, a Heideggerian conception of temporality, and a Wittgensteinian conception of rule following.


PHI 602 Modern Philosophy 
Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason
Professor Jeff Edwards

First: an overview of the structure of the Critique of Pure Reason. Next: an account of the historical presuppositions and the overall development of Kant's metaphysics of nature and transcendental theory up to the Opus postumum. Thereafter: the close reading and explication of selected texts from the Transcendental Aesthetic, Transcendental Analytic and Transcendental Dialectic. The following topics will receive special attention: (i) Kant’s theory of space and time; (ii) the metaphysical and (1787) transcendental deductions of the categories; (iii) the analogies of experience; (v) the paralogisms of pure reason; (v) the ideal of pure reason (especially Kant’s criticism of the ontological proof); and (vi) the necessity of transcendental illusion and the regulative use of the ideas of pure reason. In the course of our discussion of these topics, we’ll attempt to explicate in some detail the significance of Kant’s references to his historical predecessors.

Required texts: (1) Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. P. Guyer and A. Wood (Cambridge: 1998); (2) Kenneth R. Westphal, Kant’s Transcendental Deduction of the Categories: (University of Helsinki Press: 2021 – open source: download for free at

PHI 631 Analytic Seminar
Issues in the Philosophy of Language
Professor Gary Mar 

Aristotle famously defined human beings as rational animals. Aristotle was not only citing a classic example of a real definition but centering the essential characteristic of human beings in our special relationship to logos, rationality, as evidenced in our unique abilities regarding logic and language. Understanding language therefore seems central to understanding our humanity.

In this seminar students will learn how to the analytic tools of explicating and evaluating arguments. The first module of the course uses these tools to investigate ontology—in particular, the arguments contained in Parmenides’s “The Way of Truth”, the paradoxes of non-being in Plato’s “Sophist” and “Theaeteus”, and Aristotle’s argument in the Metaphysics to show that being is not a genus. We will extract a set of theses about the nature of language that allows us to deduce the conclusions of the arguments contained in these texts.

In the next module, students will some of the basic conceptual tools of modern symbolic logic to cast light on the previous puzzles and to take an epistemological turn in the philosophy of language. Bertrand Russell’s “On Denoting” [1905], that “paradigm of philosophy”, emerged in response to the intentionalist ontologies of Franz Brentano and in particular Alexis Meinong, and from the research into the foundations of mathematics by Gottlob Frege. Students will compare, and contrast, two distinct the conceptual hierarchies provided by Russell’s and Frege’s philosophies of language.

In the third module, students will learn about two current streams of research in the philosophy of language—the modal metaphysics inaugurated 50 years ago with Saul Kripke’s lectures “Naming and Necessity” and the cognitive approach to language, including linguistics, inaugurated by Noam Chomsky.

These modules illustrate how the philosophical question, “What is Language?” can yield profound conclusions about ontology, epistemology, and philosophy of mind.


PHI 639 Social & Political Philosophy 
The Philosophy of Karl Marx
Professor Allegra de Laurentiis 

This is a reading-intensive, text-based seminar on Marx’s mature philosophy of capitalism.

Required readings (passages will be specified): Grundrisse (1857-58) [ordered through bookstore]; Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859); Kapital vol. I (1867) [ordered]; Critique of the Gotha Program (1875).

Previous acquaintance with Marx’s earlier writings (Manuscripts 1844, Holy Family, Theses on Feuerbach, German Ideology, Manifesto) is welcome but not necessary. Lectures will fill you in on relevant aspects of these. English translations and German originals are available at

Please have available any translation of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. I chs 1-7, and Bk. V chs 1-6; Politics Bk. I chs 8-11, Bk. III. 6-9, 12 and Bk. VII, 1; as well as Hegel’s [Outlines of the] Philosophy of Right (1820), §§ 182-183; 185-187; 189-201; 235-246. (These will be read and discussed in class at relevant points).

Contemporary readings suggested as background:

G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World (1981) [excerpts provided by me]

Norman Geras, “The Controversy about Marx and Justice” (1989) ( “Geras”)

Pablo Gilabert, “The Socialist Principle ‘From Each According To Their Abilities, To Each According To Their Needs.” Journal of Social Philosophy 46 (2015): 197-225.

Idem, “Kantian Dignity and Marxian Socialism.” (2017) [PDF provided by me]

  1. Bellofiore, G. Starosta, P. Thomas (eds), In Marx’s Laboratory. Critical interpretations of the Grundrisse (2013). [PDF provided by me upon request at course’s beginning.]


One final paper on a topic agreed upon with me; 10-20 (max.) single-spaced pp. 


*This course can be applied to the Advanced Graduate Certificate (AGC) in Art and Philosophy.

Full Philosophy Graduate Course Catalogue