Please note: This is NOT the most current catalog.


Chair, 2007-08: Corliss Swain, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, Hume, value theory

Faculty, 2007-08: Karen Gervais, biomedical ethics, ethics and health policy, philosophy of law, social and political philosophy, feminist philosophy; Geoffrey A. Gorham, philosophy and history of science, early modern philosophy, metaphysics, logic, medieval and ancient philosophy; Jeanine Grenberg, ethics, Kant, history of modern philosophy; Vicki Lynn Harper, ancient Greek philosophy, logic, ethics; Edward Langerak, ethics, Kant, social and political philosophy; Jennifer Manion, moral philosophy, social and political philosophy, feminist theory, gender/sexuality studies; Gordon Marino, Kierkegaard, existentialism, ancient Greek philosophy; Anthony Rudd, Kierkegaard, epistemology, philosophy of mind, ethics, history of philosophy; Edmund Santurri, ethics, aesthetics, philosophy of religion, political philosophy; Charles Taliaferro, philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, ethics

The aim of the Philosophy Department is to engage students in disciplined and imaginative thinking about philosophical issues. Philosophical questions fall primarily into four groups: questions about the nature of reality (metaphysics), about reasoning and inference (logic), about knowledge (epistemology), and about values and society, including moral values (ethics) and aesthetic values. These questions, which arise naturally in the course of a liberal education, are not only fascinating in their own right, they also touch on issues central to understanding and improving human life in our own society and in the world. Because they involve complex and controversial issues, there are no easy answers. Yet it matters greatly which answers are accepted, and it is therefore important to engage in discussion with others who face these questions and to seek to learn from the philosophers of the past and present.

Engaging in philosophy develops skills in careful and fair-minded interpretation, creative but rigorous argumentation, and perceptive, wise evaluation of complex issues. These valuable abilities are applicable to any subject matter and in any human context and are useful for negotiating the ambiguities of today’s career paths.

Students can find philosophy courses that satisfy each of the six categories of core general education requirements. Also, a significant number of the courses that satisfy the EIN requirement are taught by philosophers. In the philosophy common room and on the department’s website, the department provides for each term a prospectus that describes the special focus and the expected reading and writing for each course and section.


A major in philosophy is highly recommended not only for those who wish to pursue graduate study in philosophy but also as preparation for other careers that require the ability to think in a creative and disciplined manner about questions that are new or whose method of solution is debated, including careers in law, theology, business, management, medicine, journalism, politics, and education.

Philosophy majors are encouraged to participate in the student-run Philosophy Forum, to attend special lectures and events sponsored by the department, to explore study abroad programs, and to participate in departmental social events.


A major in philosophy may be attained by completing the requirements for either a regular major or a contract major. Most philosophy courses simultaneously count toward the major and toward one or more general education requirements. Because the philosophy major can be tailored to the needs and goals of individual students, all philosophy majors are encouraged to work closely with an advisor in the philosophy department.

A regular major requires at least nine courses in philosophy, including Philosophy 235 (Ancient Philosophy), Philosophy 236 (History of Modern Philosophy), Philosophy 240 (Formal Logic), and three Level III seminar courses. These specifications seek to first assure a major’s grasp of the history and methods of philosophy and then to provide practice in advanced philosophical inquiry.

A contract major involves a contract drawn up between the student and the Department of Philosophy. The contract combines seven courses in philosophy, including Philosophy 235 and 236, two Level III seminar courses, and either a logic project or Philosophy 240, with three Level II or III courses in another department chosen to complement the work in philosophy.

These requirements give students a great deal of leeway to pursue their own interests. Those who wish to develop a balanced understanding of philosophy should take a number of courses in each of the following categories: I. history of philosophy (118, 233, 235, 236, 251, 374); II. metaphysics and epistemology (231, 240, 241, 244, 371, 372); and III. ethics and value theory (119, 120, 147, 153, 243, 245, 250, 252, 254, 256, 257, 261, 373). Categories for 375 and 399 vary year by year. It is also possible to specialize in one of these areas, but students are strongly encouraged to take at least one, and preferably two, courses in each of the areas outside their specialization.

Students who complete the Great Conversation receive credit for one philosophy course toward the major.


Departmental distinction in philosophy is awarded by a vote of the department to those graduating students whose discourse, both oral and written, exhibits such philosophical virtues as clarity, coherence, and sensitivity to the full range of relevant considerations, fair-mindedness, rigor, and creativity. Candidates submit a portfolio of papers by April 15 to the department chair. Additional information about applying for distinction is available on the department’s website and in the philosophy common room.


The Howard and Edna Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf is an internationally acclaimed center for the study of Søren Kierkegaard, the 19th-century Danish philosopher who is widely recognized as the father of existentialism. The library offers a visiting fellows program, and every year scholars from around the world come to do research. It is an invaluable resource for students. A number of philosophy students have worked in the library, and seniors and recent graduates have participated in its fellowship program. The library sponsors The Reed, an undergraduate journal of existential thought.

The Eunice Belgum Memorial Lectures are delivered annually by leading philosophers from around the world. Recent lecturers include Bas van Fraassen of Princeton University and Jonathan Lear of the University of Chicago. The Belgum lecturer for 2006-07 was Galen Strawson from the University of Reading and CUNY. Julia Anna (University of Arizona) is scheduled for 2007-08.


General Education 111 First-Year Writing

First-year writing courses are sometimes taught by philosophers. Consult the General Education 111 prospectus for details.

118 The Making of the Modern Mind

This course examines historically significant conceptions of reality and knowledge focusing on philosophy's contributions to Western culture. Major philosophers from ancient, medieval, and modern Western philosophy are introduced and assessed for their contributions to our understanding of the universe, human nature, and values. Some sections offer a survey of Western philosophy; others stress intensive study of central figures and works. Consult departmental prospectus for details. Open to first-year students and sophomores only. Offered both semesters.

119 Moral Psychology

This seminar provides an introduction to psychology that focuses on psychological issues related to moral behavior. The course examines the nature of those states of mind that are thought to constitute moral (or evil) character and produce moral (or evil) actions, relationships, and societies. States considered may include humility, self-respect, beneficence, compassion, caring, anger, forgiveness, courage, and truthfulness. Open to first-year students and sophomores only. Offered every year.

120 Philosophy in Literature

Literature provides rich resources for thinking through central philosophical questions, including the metaphysics and ethics of freedom, the problem of evil, the role of character in choice and action, the nature of morality, rebellion and human solidarity, God's existence and relation to the world, and the nature of truth. Designed primarily for first-year students, this course explores philosophical ideas in literary works of several different genres by studying plot, character, point of view, imagery, and symbolism. Offered during Interim.

147 Death and the Meaning of Life

This course introduces philosophical ideas and methods through reading, discussing, and writing about basic questions that arise when we reflect on the human condition. What is meant by "meaning" when one asks whether (a person's) life has meaning? How do our beliefs about human nature, religion and morality affect how we ask or answer the question? How does our mortality affect our living? Classical and contemporary writings -- philosophical and autobiographical -- are used. Offered during Interim.

231 Philosophy of Mind

Is there anything about the human mind that cannot in principle be understood scientifically? Are we just complex physical machines? This course looks at recent attempts to answer such questions. Students examine the philosophical foundations of various approaches to the study of the mind and consider the possible moral and social implications of these approaches with respect to questions of free will, personal identity, and our responsibility for our actions. Offered every year.

233 Kierkegaard and Existentialism

An introduction to Kierkegaard's work and to existentialism, this course emphasizes the aesthetic, ethical, and religious "stages on life's way." Existential questions concerning the meaning of human existence, passion and faith, freedom and choice, despair, and the absurd are examined. Offered every year.

235 Ancient Western Philosophy

This course surveys the origins and development of Western philosophy starting with the pre- Socratics. Students explore the historical foundations of natural science, metaphysics, and ethics in the works of the pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle, Stoics, Epicureans, and Skeptics, usually through primary texts. The course concludes with a brief examination of some medieval attempts to synthesize the Greek philosophical tradition and the Judeo-Christian religious heritage. Prerequisite: one course in Philosophy or consent of instructor. Offered every year.

236 History of Modern Philosophy

This course examines the development of Western philosophy in the 17th and 18th centuries. Students explore the historical foundations of central issues in metaphysics and epistemology in the works of such thinkers as Descartes, Pascal, Hobbes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. Topics may include conceptions of God, freedom, knowledge and skepticism, the nature of ideas, and the foundations of modern science. Prerequisite: One course in philosophy or consent of instructor. Offered every year.

240 Formal Logic and Philosophy

Formal systems of logic attempt to make principles of good reasoning explicit. This course introduces two such systems of logic: propositional and predicate calculus. Students learn to use formal techniques to analyze arguments and explore philosophical issues related to meta- theory, including consistency and completeness, the paradoxes of material implication, ontological commitment, and the interpretation of quantifiers. Offered every year.

241 Philosophical Theology

This course is a philosophical inquiry into the core commitments of Christian theism in the context of other world religions and naturalism. Central themes include beliefs about the existence and nature of God, the doctrines of the trinity and incarnation, redemption and ritual, human free will and responsibility, revelation and reason, religious experience, the problem of evil, different views of life after death, miracles and historical inquiry, and religious pluralism. Offered every year.

243 Aesthetics

Philosophers have long been interested in art: its nature, its value, its meaning, and the standards by which it should be judged. This course investigates those issues and others related to creativity and the visual and other arts. Students develop their appreciation and understanding of the aesthetic properties of art by analyzing particular works in light of major texts in the philosophy of art and art criticism. Offered every year.

244 Philosophy of Science

Using examples from the natural sciences, this course examines fundamental concepts of science, including scientific method, the nature of scientific theories and hypotheses, objectivity in data collection and analysis, the use of technology in making observations, confirmation versus falsification, and explanation versus prediction. To illustrate why non-scientists need to understand scientific practice the course also considers controversies such as global warming and intelligent design.

245 Philosophy and Feminism

Students examine feminist critiques of aspects of contemporary culture that shape women's lives, such as conventional morality, science, education, art, medicine, law, religion, and marriage. Students critically examine philosophical views that underlie these institutions, including views of human nature, gender, rationality, knowledge, morality, justice, and the value of autonomy. Alternative feminist views that promote feminist aims are explored and evaluated.

250 Biomedical Ethics

This course clarifies central concepts and distinctions developed in the literature of moral philosophy and applications of those concepts and distinctions to concrete moral problems that arise in the practice of medicine. Issues may include euthanasia, abortion, medical paternalism, allocation of scarce medical resources, culturally sensitive medical care, pandemics, and conflicts of loyalty in managed care. Readings are drawn from both philosophical and medical discussions. Prerequisite: completion of BTS-T. Offered every year.

251 Asian Philosophy

This course surveys the influential philosophical traditions of India and China. Students explore the traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism and Taoism and consider other traditions with which they have interacted. Where appropriate, comparisons are drawn to Western philosophical traditions. Offered every year.

252 Ethics and the Good Life

This course examines the main Western ethical theories and their application to contemporary moral concerns. Theoretical issues may include rights, duties, virtue, hedonism, egoism, the relation between ethics and theology, the fact-value distinction, relativism, and pluralism. Students discuss current topics such as global economic justice, euthanasia and the death penalty, animal rights, censorship, racism, privacy rights versus public safety, reproductive ethics, and environmental ethics. Prerequisite: completion of BTS-T. Offered every year.

254 Law, Politics, and Morality

This course considers the relationships between moral principles, law, and the practice of governments. Topics may include the "Just War" debate, censorship, property rights and distributive justice, natural law, political liberalism and its critics, whether governments should act in accordance with specific moral principles or remain neutral, the tensions between individual rights and the good of the community, and the role of religion in public life. Prerequisite: completion of BTS-T. Offered most years.

256 Friendship, Love, and the Good Life

Moral issues concerning friendship and love are analyzed from the perspective of normative moral theories and various theories of value. Issues may include the role of friendship in the moral life, exploitative versus fulfilling relationships, and the conflict between altruism and self-love. Since loving is itself a form of valuing, value theory is approached by investigating philosophical and theological works concerning the basic types of love: philia, eros, and agape. Prerequisite: completion of BTS-T. Offered most years.

257 Environmental Ethics

Valuing nature raises significant philosophical and ethical issues. This course considers the nature of animal life, the character and control of pollution, the conflict between preservationism and conservationism, corporate and governmental responsibility for the eco-crisis, the use of economic categories to assess wilderness areas and endangered species, the conflict between eco-holism and individualism, and the philosophy of wilderness management. Prerequisite: completion of BTS-T. Offered every year.

261 Freud and the Study of Human Behavior

Students examine Freud's thesis that our thoughts and actions spring from the darkness of our unconscious. Because Freud based his theory on a small sample of case studies, the course scrutinizes this qualitative data and discusses the role of case studies in the study of human behavior. Students evaluate the criteria for a scientific theory of human behavior and consider whether Freud's theory meets them. Offered during Interim.

294 Academic Internship

298 Independent Study

371 Studies in Epistemology

Students explore contemporary approaches to classical issues in theory of knowledge which include the nature and limits of knowledge; theories of justification; conceptions of truth; relativism and skepticism; and knowledge in the sciences, mathematics, history, ethics and religion. Specific issues discussed vary year to year. May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisites: two courses in philosophy, one of which must be either 235 or 236, or permission of the department chair. Offered 2008-09 and alternate years.

372 Studies in Metaphysics

Students investigate contemporary approaches to classical issues in metaphysics, which include the mind-body problem; personal identity and immortality; space and time; causality; and realism, anti-realism, and truth. Specific issues discussed vary from year to year. May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisites: two courses in philosophy, one of which must be either 235 or 236, or permission of the department chair. Offered 2007-08 and every two years.

373 Studies in Ethics and Theory of Value

Students examine contemporary approaches to classical issues in ethics and theory of value: the nature of moral judgments; theories of moral obligation and value; the concept of moral responsibility; and the relation of morality to science, religion, and law. May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisites: two courses in philosophy, one of which must be either 235 or 236, or permission of the department chair; completion of BTS-T.

374 Studies in the History of Philosophy (Seminar)

Students consider a selected figure or movement from the history of philosophy. May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisites: two courses in philosophy, one of which must be either 235 or 236, or permission of the department chair.

375 Advanced Topical Studies

Students participate in intensive discussion of a philosophical topic selected from areas such as philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of logic, aesthetics, social and political philosophy, and feminism, with emphasis on contemporary approaches. May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisite: two courses in philosophy, one of which must be either 235 or 236, or permission of the department chair.

394 Academic Internship

396 Directed Undergraduate Research: "Topic Description"

This course provides a comprehensive research opportunity, including an introduction to relevant background material, technical instruction, identification of a meaningful project, and data collection. The topic is determined by the faculty member in charge of the course and may relate to his/her research interests. Prerequisite: Determined by individual instructor. Offer based on department decision.

398 Independent Research

Prerequisite: one Level III course in philosophy.

399 Senior Seminar

Intended as a capstone course for the major, the seminar studies a selected topic, figure, or movement in philosophy, with emphasis on independent research and student presentations. Consult department's prospectus for details. May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisite: upper level philosophy major or consent of instructor. Offered every year.


Great Conversation 310, Ethical Issues and Normative Perspectives: The Great Conversation Continued
Interdisciplinary 238, War and Peace