Overview | Requirements | Courses | Faculty


The practice of philosophy provides students with the skills of conceptual analysis, logical reasoning, and critical thinking. These skills are intrinsically valuable throughout one's life and apply to a wide variety of professions, including law, medicine, education, journalism, business, public policy, and government. In addition, the methods and skills developed in a philosophical education aim to provide students with the intellectual grounds for reflecting on their beliefs, to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of alterative beliefs, and to understand how philosophical ideas have shaped their culture and history. Studying philosophy will help students develop these intellectual grounds. In both these respects, the mission of philosophy promotes responsible citizenship, social and economic justice, and the recognition of and respect for differences among groups and between individuals.


MAJOR: Ten courses (40 units) in philosophy are required for the major, including Philosophy 210; Philosophy 225; Philosophy 230; six additional courses in philosophy, three of which are upper division (in the 300-series); Philosophy 490. Philosophy 101 can be counted toward the six additional courses in philosophy, but is not a required course.

The three upper division courses must meet the following distribution requirements: one must concentrate on the history of philosophy (300; 305; 310), one on moral and political philosophy (300; 310; 330; 340; 345; 350), and one on metaphysics and epistemology (305; 325; 355; 360; 365; 370; 375; 380; 385). One course can fulfill two distribution requirements. For example, Philosophy 305 can count both toward the history of philosophy and metaphysics and epistemology; and Philosophy 300 and Philosophy 310 can count both toward the history of philosophy and moral and political philosophy.

The flexibility of the major allows students to pursue the study of philosophy broadly, or to tailor a course of study to their philosophical interests. The following course clusters are intended as guides for students interested in concentrating their studies toward a specific philosophical interest. These suggestions should supplement, rather than replace, significant and frequent discussion with a faculty adviser concerning designing and executing a coherent plan of study within the major.

Students interested in Law and Politics:
Philosophy 230: Introduction to Ethics
Philosophy 240: Philosophy of Race
Philosophy 235: Feminism and Philosophy
Philosophy 255: Environmental Ethics
Philosophy 300: Topics in Classical Philosophy
Philosophy 310: Hobbes to Kant
Philosophy 330: Globalization and Justice
Philosophy 340: Philosophy of Law
Philosophy 350: Contemporary Classics in Political Philosophy

Students interested in Physics and Mathematics:
Philosophy 285: Paradoxes
Philosophy 325: Metalogic
Philosophy XXX/Mathematics 354: Set Theory and Foundations of Mathematics
Philosophy 355: Philosophy of Space and Time
Philosophy 360: Philosophy of Science     
Philosophy 365: Philosophy of Science
Philosophy 375: Theory of Knowledge
Philosophy 380: Wittgenstein
Philosophy 385: Metaphysics

Students interested in Health and Bioethics:
Philosophy 230: Introduction to Ethics
Philosophy 240: Philosophy of Race
Philosophy 245: Bioethics
Philosophy 255: Environmental Ethics
Philosophy 365: Philosophy of Science

Students interested in Philosophy of Psychology and Cognitive Science:
Philosophy 325: Metalogic
Philosophy 360: Philosophy of Mind
Philosophy 365: Philosophy of Science
Philosophy 370: Philosophy of Language
Philosophy 375: Theory of Knowledge
Philosophy 380: Wittgenstein

Students interested in the History of Philosophy:
Philosophy 205: Introduction to Ancient Thought
Philosophy 210: Historical Introduction to Philosophy
Philosophy 230: Introduction to Ethics
Philosophy 300: Topics in Classical Philosophy
Philosophy 305: Topics in Modern Philosophy
Philosophy 310: Hobbes to Kant
Philosophy 380: Wittgenstein

WRITING REQUIREMENT: Students majoring in Philosophy will satisfy the final component of Occidental College's college-wide writing requirement by completing at least one writing-intensive upper division philosophy course with a grade of B-or higher (or appropriate course work). Students should familiarize themselves with the departmental requirement at the time of declaring the major. See the Writing Program and consult the department chair for additional information.

COMPREHENSIVE REQUIREMENT: Graduating seniors in philosophy enroll in Philosophy 490, the Senior Seminar, in the fall semester. The comprehensive requirement is met by achieving a grade of C or better in the seminar.

The work of the seminar includes the writing of a research paper in philosophy.  Students may choose from among the following three options: (1) A new paper on a topic previously studied in prior courses or summer research. The new paper must significantly advance the earlier work. (2) A critical book review based on a recent book in philosophy. (3) A paper on a topic chosen in consultation with a faculty member in philosophy. In all cases the goal of the comprehensive project is to synthesize and advance the senior philosophy major’s understanding of a major area of philosophy through the critical examination of an independently chosen topic, guided by faculty mentors, and carried out with the support of all the philosophy seniors.

The professor for the course is one of two readers for the senior comprehensive paper. Seniors select and work with a second philosophy professor who serves as the second reader. Selection of a second reader is done in consultation with the professor teaching the senior seminar. Students enrolled in the Senior Seminar present their work to the campus community in mid November.  The letter grade for Philosophy 490 is based on the quality of the comprehensive paper, the quality of contributions to the seminar discussions in Philosophy 490, and the quality of oral presentations. The philosophy faculty as a whole determines final grades. Work judged as exceptional will result in the designation “pass with distinction.”  In  addition, if the essay passes with distinction and the student's overall GPA is 3.25 or better, with 3.5 or better in philosophy, the student receives honors in philosophy.

MINOR (updated 12/5/11): Five courses (20 units) in Philosophy, including Philosophy 225. At least one course must be an upper division course (in the 300 series). Students who wish to craft a narrowly focused course of study for the minor should consult a philosophy faculty adviser and the concentration guides above (listed under "Philosophy Major").


GRADUATE STUDY IN PHILOSOPHY: Students interested in pursuing graduate study in philosophy should contact a faculty adviser as early as possible for assistance crafting an appropriate course of study both in philosophy and relevant cognate fields.

HONORS: There is no special class associated with honors. Honors in philosophy is awarded in recognition of excellence in work done for the senior essay, and will be determined by the philosophy faculty as a whole once final versions of the senior essays have been submitted. Seniors need a 3.3 GPA in philosophy and a 3.25 GPA overall to be considered for Departmental honors. See the Honors Program and consult the department chair for further details.


101 - Introduction to Philosophy

An exploration of some of the main issues in philosophy. Philosophical inquiry is an examination of the concepts we use to make sense of our world, our selves, and our predicament.  Philosophical method employs the imagination to put those concepts under stress, by seeking to understand how we would employ those concepts in non-actual situations. Rod's Serling's classic television series The Twilight Zone (1959 - 1964) will serve as the catalyst to our imaginations and our shared experience as we take up the practice of philosophy.

205 - Introduction to Ancient Thought

An examination of the problems in moral and political philosophy created by, and resulting from, the historical events surrounding Athens in the 5th Century B.C. The course will examine historical writings (Herodotus, Thucydides), Greek tragedy, Pre-Socratic thought and Plato, and developments in art, with as much reference as possible to their social and economic contexts.

210 - Historical Introduction to Philosophy

We will address some of the fundamental issues in epistemology and metaphysics while reading selections from the works of some important philosophers throughout history. Among the issues addressed will be the existence of the external world, the relation between the mental and the physical, and the foundation of our knowledge of the future. Philosophers covered will include Berkeley, Descartes, Hume, and Kant.

225 - Formal Logic

We will study the formal properties of arguments and sets of statements. This will involve learning two formal languages, the propositional calculus and the predicate calculus. Within these languages we will formalize the notions of validity, soundness, and consistency, and show how these properties can be tested.

230 - Introduction to Ethics

This course will address some fundamental questions in ethics, such as: What is the best life for a human being? Should I be good? Can I be good? Is morality objective, subjective, or relative to one's society? Is there any relation between ethics and religion?  What are our obligations to others, both friends and strangers?  What are our obligations to non-human animals?  We will read both classical and contemporary writings in ethics.

235 - Feminism and Philosophy

A critical analysis of contemporary feminist theories and their philosophical roots. Topics for discussion will include: equality, respect, meaningful work, parenting, friendship, sexual relations, abortion, rape, pornography, and prostitution.

240 - Philosophy of Race

This course will philosophically examine the concept of race and the way race informs identity. Topics include the reality of race, the origins and nature of the concept, and the extent to which race does and should impact our social and personal identities.

250 - Bioethics

This course is an introduction to the methods of ethics developed for addressing moral issues in the practice of health care and research.  Methods addressed will include: professional ethics (practice standards and professional norms), casuistry, the principles of biomedical ethics, applied normative theory, feminist bioethics, and narrative ethics.  We will use these methods to address a host of topics of concern to those participating in health care institutions, either (directly) as providers or (somewhat less directly) as policy makers.  Given in alternate years. 

255 - Environmental Ethics

This course will examine the nature of environmental values and their role in decisions and public policies concerning environmental protection. Some of the questions we will address include: What is the relation between the environment and human health and well-being? Are there reasons other than human health and well-being for protecting the environment? How do we compare environmental values against other values in making reasonable decisions? What are the ethical issues involved in cost-benefit analysis? What are our duties to future generations and non-human animals?

285 - Paradoxes

Paradoxes and their resolution have played a significant role in the development of philosophy; they still have an influence on philosophy today. While Zeno’s paradoxes of motion where first posed about 2000 years ago there is still not a consensus about what to say about them. Semantic paradoxes such as the liar paradox and the paradoxes of vagueness reveal problems with everyday concepts such as truth and implication. Supertasks reveal problems with our understanding of infinity. What to say about these problems, what they show us about how to understand space, time, infinity, truth and implication, for example, are some of the issues we will discuss in this class. We will examine various paradoxes, puzzles, and purported paradoxes, and discuss different proposed resolutions to them.

290 - Art: Form, Meaning, Value

This course will explore foundational questions in the philosophy of art: What is art? Is there a quality, or feature, or function that all works of art share? How does art get its meaning? Does the artist or the viewer (or both, or neither) determine the meaning of an artwork? (Why) do we value the authenticity or originality of an artwork? What determines whether something is a good work of art? Can art make us better (or worse) people? Can good works of art have morally bad properties? How can we be moved by fictions (that is, how can we fear the monsters of horror films)?

300 - Topics in Classical Philosophy

An examination of the moral and political philosophies of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Questions for discussion will include: how should I live and what sort of person should I be? What is the nature of happiness? Can I be happy and also morally vicious? Do I have any good reason to act in the interests of others when they conflict with my own interests? What is the nature of justice and the just state? How do states affect our desires and aims? Given in alternate years.

305 - Topics in Modern Philosophy

A detailed examination of some central philosophical texts from the 17th and 18th centuries.

310 - Hobbes to Kant

An examination of four great figures in Western moral and political philosophy of the 17th and 18th centuries: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant. Topics to be discussed include: the basis of political obligation, the nature of the just state, the basis of human rights and the right to property, the nature of human reason and its relation to passion, and the foundation of moral obligation. Given in alternate years.

325 - Metalogic

A survey of results in the metatheory of first order logic, including consistency, completeness, decidability, and undecidability. Prerequisite: Philosophy 225, Mathematics 210, or permission of instructor.

330 - Globalization and Justice

This course examines various theories of justice in international relations and evaluates them according to a range of practical problems facing globalization. Typically, we shall start by exploring the tension between universal values and cultural relativism, which underlies much of the theory and practice of international relations. We will then examine this tension in a number of controversies concerning globalization, including war and peace, international political economy and distributive justice, environmental issues, human rights, and terrorism.

333 - Transnational Justice

When we discuss, study and call for 'justice' we often do so in the context of (more or less) stable political institutions. In the contemporary global community we frequently face unstable or non-existent political institutions of the kind assumed in a great deal of our political theory. These transitional contexts often exist in the aftermath of large-scale human rights abuses (such as genocide, apartheid and other crimes against humanity). This raises an important question: what constitutes justice in these transitional contexts? This course explores this foundational question, through more particular topics, such as: the nature and value of truth and reconciliation commissions, reparations, restorative justice, the normative foundations of international criminal law, and the nature of evil and atrocity.

340 - Philosophy of Law

The course covers both analytical and normative jurisprudence and provides students with a comprehensive foundation for study of the law. Analytical jurisprudence examines the nature and justification of the law including alternative conceptions like natural law theory, positivism, critical legal studies, and law and economics. In addition, the course covers the problem of legal interpretation and the role of judicial review in constitutional democracies. Normative jurisprudence concerns the ethical issues raised by the law including freedom of expression and hate speech, freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, civil liberties and rights, theories of punishment and the death penalty, and equal protection doctrine.

345 - Contemporary Moral Philosophy: Authenticity, Identity, and Freedom

This course focuses on some issues in moral philosophy that arise for us as reflective and responsible citizens in a multicultural world. Topics for discussion will include: to what extent am I free, and to what extent am I the product of circumstances beyond my control? What is the nature of moral agency and moral responsibility? How can I live authentically and establish my own identity? How ought I to relate to the majority and minority cultures that surround me and of which I may be a part?

350 - Contemporary Classics in Political Philosophy: Justice, Liberty, and Equality

This course focuses on John Rawls's Theory of Justice, arguably the greatest work in political philosophy since the 19th century. Attention will also be given to two important, but differing, responses to Rawls, in the work of Robert Nozick and Susan Okin. Topics for discussion will include: what is the nature of the just state? Can a just state guarantee both the liberty of its citizens and their equality? Which economic distributions are just? Is there a right to property, and if so what is its basis? What is the best life for human beings, and how far can a just state go in providing that life for its citizens?

355 - Philosophy of Space and Time

The course will cover such topics as whether space and time exist, how we know what the geometry of space and time is, whether any sense can be made of the claim that time has a direction, and the "paradoxes" of time travel. We will examine these questions in the context of both pre-relativistic and relativistic theories. The readings will range from historical figures, such as Newton, Leibniz and Mach, to contemporary work by both philosophers and physicists, including Hawking, Thorne and Sklar. This course does not require previous exposure to Special or General Relativity and will not require as a prerequisite technical skills that go beyond high school mathematics and physics, but the student is expected to be comfortable with algebraic and geometric reasoning.

360 - Philosophy of Mind

A philosophical treatment of consciousness (including sensation, mental imagery, and emotion) and intentionality (including mental representation and "aboutness"). Questions to be asked include: "Is it possible to construct a computer which feels pain?" "What is the status of our folk psychological concepts concerning consciousness?" "Is intentionality the mark of the mental?" and "What is the relation between thought and language?" Given in alternate years.

365 - Philosophy of Science

We will look at a number of episodes in the history of science. Among the issues that will be addressed will be the following: When should we consider evidence as confirming a theory? What considerations should we use to decide between competing theories? Should we view our best theories as true or merely empirically adequate? Can there be a logic of scientific discovery? We will read works by philosophers and scientists including van Fraassen, Reichenbach, Feyerabend, Newton, and Galileo.

370 - Philosophy of Language

We will examine a number of recently proposed accounts of meaning, truth, and reference. Issues that will come up will be whether there could be a private language, what the role of mental content is, how we should understand metaphor, and whether truth is a redundant notion. Philosophers covered include Frege, Russell, Tarski, Quine, Putnam, Kripke, and Searle. Given in alternate years.

375 - Theory of Knowledge

This course will examine: (1) the theories of knowledge of such philosophers as Price, Russell, and Chisholm ("Foundationalists"), (2) some of their critics, such as Sellars and Quine, and (3) recent work in naturalized epistemology.

380 - Wittgenstein

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) is a central figure in the two most important philosophical traditions of the twentieth century: First, the attempt early in the century to characterize language, thought and the world in terms of the newly available formalism of modern logic, and second, the attempt to show that any such formalization will fail to do justice to the rich complexity of language as a form of life, a form inseparable from the social and historical context from which it springs. We will examine two principal works, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and the Philosophical Investigations. There will also be some treatment of the historical and philosophical context of Wittgenstein's work and life.

385 - Metaphysics

The course will focus on contemporary readings that raise some of the most fundamental issues in metaphysics. The following questions are among those that will be addressed: Can we make sense of the idea that we are free agents? Can we understand the concept of causation? Is there a compelling argument for the existence of God? Is there any sense to be made of the claim that some claims are true by necessity while others are only contingently true? Are there true mathematical claims?

397 - Independent Study in Philosophy

Prerequisite: permission of instructor.
2 or 4 units

490 - Senior Seminar in Philosophy

Prerequisite: senior standing in philosophy.


Regular Faculty

Carolyn Brighouse, chair

Associate Professor, Cognitive Science, Philosophy

B.A., University of Liverpool; M.A., Ph.D., University of Southern California

Marcia Homiak

Professor, Philosophy

A.B., Mount Holyoke College; Ph.D., Harvard University

Clair Morrissey

Assistant Professor, Philosophy

B.A., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; M.A., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Ph.D., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Saul Traiger

Professor, Cognitive Science, Philosophy

B.A., State University of New York, Binghamton M.A., Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh

On Special Appointment

Dylan Sabo

Adjunct Assistant Professor, Philosophy

Ph.D., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill