2018-19 Graduate Seminars

Fall 2018

Lloyd Gerson, Plato’s Metaphysics

Monday, 9-12

The course is devoted to Plato’s metaphysics, including especially his so-called theory of Forms, his postulation of a superordinate Idea of the Good, which is the unhypothetical first principle of all, and the immateriality of intellect or soul. We will focus on those dialogues where these topics are the central focus, including PhaedoRepublic, and Sophist. Selected passages from a number of other dialogues will be brought in along the way. Also, we will pay some attention to Aristotle’s testimony about Plato’s metaphysics.


Peter King, Themes in Medieval Philosophy

Monday, 2-4

This course will be a graduate-level survey of medieval philosophy designed to acquaint newcomers with the field. To that end, we’ll look at several issues that cover several different periods of  medieval philosophy, with some attention given to the institutional and social role played by philosophy at different times. Some of the issues may include: epistemology (scepticism and the limits of what can be known); philosophy of mind (faculty psychology, the nature of the mind, relation of the soul to the body); metaphysics (identity, individuation, the problem of universals); natural philosophy (the eternity of the world, causation, determinism, the existence of a first cause); ethics (virtue and vice, free will).


Winter 2019

James Allen, Plato’s Gorgias

Wednesday, 6-9

Our aim in the seminar will be to read Plato’s Gorgias slowly and meticulously from beginning to end. Among the themes tackled by the dialogue are: the battle for supremacy between the nascent disciplines of philosophy and rhetoric; ‘the guise of the good’ (the dialogue is the first and most influential appearance of the idea), the fifth century BCE opposition between nature and convention (physis and gnomes); various forms of ‘amoralism’, championed by Socrates’ interlocutors; the nature of pleasure; the standards that must be satisfied by a genuine art or science and how they differ from inferior pursuits and practices (the dialogue contains the first statement of the opposition between reason and experience (empeiria and logos).


Jessica Gelber, Aristotle on Life

Wednesday 3-6

This seminar is intended to be both an in-depth study of the fundamental principles of Aristotle’s biology as well as a general introduction to his views about substance, essence, causation, and explanation. Among the possible questions to be addressed are the following: What does it mean for the soul to use the body or for the body to be “for the sake of” the soul? Why are growth, self-maintenance (nutrition) and reproduction all functions of the same vital capacity? How should we understand the soul as an efficient cause of generation? To what extent and in what ways do the details of the scientific explanations found in Aristotle’s biological treatises illuminate his metaphysics?


Deborah Black, Medieval Islamic Philosophy

Wednesday, 10-12

This course is an introduction to the major figures and themes in classical Islamic philosophy (falsafah) from the 9th to the 12th centuries, with a focus on the works of Al-Farabi, Avicenna (Ibn Sina), and Averroes (Ibn Rushd), as well as other less well-known figures from the classical period. We will consider a range of philosophical problems in the areas of metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and epistemology, as well as topics in ethics and political philosophy.  Some consideration will also be given to the views of the Muʿtazilite and Ashʿarite schools of theology (kalām), the rival intellectual traditions to philosophy within the medieval Islamic world.