Department of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy

Nicole Smith


LecturerPhD, Bowling Green State University

Contact

  • Phone: (512) 471-4857
  • Office: WAG 321
  • Office Hours: W 3 to 5; by appt.
  • Campus Mail Code: C3500

Interests


Ethics and Moral Psychology

Courses


PHL 301 • Introduction To Philosophy

42285 • Spring 2017
Meets MWF 12:00PM-1:00PM WAG 201

A survey of principal topics and problems in areas such as ethics, theory of knowledge, and philosophy of religion. 

PHL 365 • Health And Justice

42605 • Spring 2017
Meets MWF 10:00AM-11:00AM WAG 302

Mass disparities exist in the health of humans across the globe. It may seem obvious from a moral point of view that if we can do something to alleviate the global and local disparities in health and access to healthcare, that we should do something about it. Once we scratch the surface of this apparent truism, however, we find a number of assumptions in need of defense. What would ground such an obligation after all? Do humans have a right to health? If so, do they also have a right to healthcare? It may seem that these two concepts are intertwined, but consider an analogy. Someone’s right to life makes it impermissible to kill that person (unless you would be justified in doing so, say, in a case of genuine self-defense). Nevertheless, the right to life plausibly does not entail that you are obligated to protect or preserve the life of everyone who has such a right. Similarly, if humans have a right to health, then it would be impermissible to undermine their health. But it is a different question whether individual’s are obligated to protect and preserve the health of others by, for example, ensuring their access to healthcare. The course will evaluate rights-based arguments, among others, that aim to show the injustice of current disparities in health. Proponents contend that we do have a moral obligation to secure health and access to healthcare across racial, gender, socio-economic, as well as national boundaries.

PHL 304 • Contemporary Moral Problems

42235 • Fall 2016
Meets MWF 10:00AM-11:00AM SZB 104

Chances are you’ve confronted an ethical choice recently: Should I pay someone to write my essay or do it myself? Should I recycle this plastic bottle or throw it in the trash? Ought I to help the homeless person asking for change or walk on by? Should I donate blood or can it wait until next time? Should I report the harassment I witnessed or pretend it didn’t happen? By contrast, there are many other ethical questions that you may never have explicitly considered, but that nonetheless apply to you, such as: Do I have an obligation as a person of privilege to give aid to people living in other parts of the world who are far more worse off than me? Is it wrong to use non-human animals as a food source? Is it permissible to buy clothes that contribute to child labor and unsafe working conditions? A further set of questions in ethics concerns the moral status of institutions or policies: what moral (and legal) constraints or permissions should exist with respect to decisions related to both the beginning of life (e.g., the ethics of abortion) and the end of life (e.g., the ethics of euthanasia)? Is the institution of punishment justified? What is terrorism and is it ever justified? Is torture ever permissible? This course will introduce you to the concepts, ideas, and theories relevant to understanding what these questions are asking, as well as evaluating possible answers.

PHL 321K • Theory Of Knowledge

42435 • Fall 2016
Meets MWF 12:00PM-1:00PM WAG 308

“Knowledge is power”—as the familiar phrase goes. Individuals are liable to be exploited by social and political systems they fail to understand. Knowledge is also valuable. If you are trying to survive in the Alaskan wilderness, it is useful to know that the otherwise edible wild potato seed acts as a paralyzing neurotoxin when consumed by someone undernourished. Knowing this information may have saved the life of Christopher McCandless, the subject of John Krakuer’s /Into the Wild/. But what is knowledge anyway? Traditional definitions run afoul of counterexamples. Furthermore, justification and evidence—two concepts thought to be central to many definitions of knowledge—are also fraught in various ways. Suppose a definition of knowledge is able to withstand scrutiny, we might find that we thought we had more knowledge than we in fact have. Skepticism, in its more ambitious form, says that knowledge is impossible: despite appearances to the contrary, we cannot know anything at all. As we shall see, it is surprisingly difficult to refute the skeptic’s argument. Most people assume not only that they know a lot, but that they are, for the most part, rational in forming their beliefs. Nevertheless, contemporary cognitive psychology provides us with a very different picture. This course will introduce you to these and other related ideas, while providing you with the tools necessary for critically evaluating arguments for positions on each side the debates mentioned above. 

 

Readings / Texts:

/Epistemology: A Contemporary Introduction/, Alvin I. Goldman and Matthew McGrath (eds.). Oxford University Press, 2015.

 

Grading Policy:

10 reading questions 15%

5 short essays 50%

1 final paper20%

Attendance/participation 15%

PHL 325K • Ethical Theories

42465 • Fall 2016
Meets MWF 2:00PM-3:00PM WAG 208

This course surveys the major ethical theories (Consequentialism, Kantianism, and Virtue Ethics), and proposes several challenges to these theories from the point of view of moral psychology.  The first of these is the “partialist” challenge. Several theories seem to require us to ignore, in many (if not all) cases, our cares and loved ones when determining what we are obligated to do. This leads to a more general problem known as the “demandingness” challenge. One plausible constraint on an ethical theory is that it be realistic about the psychological limitations of creatures like us, and, yet, several theories appear to fall short of meeting this constraint. Virtue ethics, by contrast, has been touted as a psychologically realistic alternative to other theories. Nevertheless, it faces its own set of moral psychological challenges; namely empirical claims to the effect that most people fail to possess the virtues. In the light of the challenges mentioned above, we will consider the merits of two other proposals: Ethical Particularism and Bernard Williams’s “Anti-theory.”

PHL 301 • Introduction To Philosophy

41440 • Spring 2016
Meets MWF 11:00AM-12:00PM BEL 328

What are we essentially? Are we merely sophisticated machines: brains and bodies composed of matter? Maybe our bodies are dispensable so that with the right technology we might one day be able to survive with our brains alone. (Think here of Futurama and all those talking heads in vats). Some think we don’t need either our bodies or our brains to survive because each of us has a soul. Souls aren’t physical things, so plausibly they can survive without a body or a brain. Returning now to the first suggestion, if we are just sophisticated machines, then maybe someday we can “invent” creatures like us—androids with machine intelligence. Would such creatures (ourselves included) have free will? What if one of them went on a murderous rampage? Would it be morally responsible for its actions? But wait a minute. I began with the question, “What are we?” Perhaps that was premature. How do you know you are anything at all? What if your entire existence has been nothing more than a grand illusion? Answers to these and other mind-blowing questions will comprise the subject matter of this course.

PHL 318 • Introduction To Ethics

41635 • Spring 2016
Meets MWF 1:00PM-2:00PM WAG 201

What sort of life should I live? What kind of person should I be? What sort of actions am I obligated to perform? Such questions are in the province of ethics. They ask not how you have lived, or who you are, or what you have done, but how you ought to live, what sort of person you should be, and what actions you are obligated to perform. Normative (or ethical) theory—the topic of this course—attempts to provide systematic answers to these questions. You may be wondering why we need such theories when the answers may initially seem obvious. Perhaps you feel as though you should bring about as much happiness for yourself as possible even if it means ignoring the happiness of others. But this would be to neglect the very things that make one happy; namely, friendship and other valuable relationships that require for their existence and maintenance caring about others and their interests, as well as acting on their behalf even when it is difficult or inconvenient to do so. Thus, in ethics we often find that what looks like an easy question to answer, raises puzzles instead. Normative theorists set out to resolve these puzzles. They also offer comprehensive ethical theories that, when applied to specific cases, specify a verdict about what one ought to do in that situation. In this course, we will critically evaluate competing theories, as well as asking questions about the nature of ethics itself.

PHL 301 • Introduction To Philosophy

41290 • Fall 2015
Meets MWF 10:00AM-11:00AM GSB 2.126

What are we essentially? Are we merely sophisticated machines: brains and bodies composed of matter? Maybe our bodies are dispensable so that with the right technology we might one day be able to survive with our brains alone. (Think here of Futurama and all those talking heads in vats). Some think we don’t need either our bodies or our brains to survive because each of us has a soul. Souls aren’t physical things, so plausibly they can survive without a body or a brain. Returning now to the first suggestion, if we are just sophisticated machines, then maybe someday we can “invent” creatures like us—androids with machine intelligence. Would such creatures (ourselves included) have free will? What if one of them went on a murderous rampage? Would it be morally responsible for its actions? But wait a minute. I began with the question, “What are we?” Perhaps that was premature. How do you know you are anything at all? What if your entire existence has been nothing more than a grand illusion? Answers to these and other mind-blowing questions will comprise the subject matter of this course.

PHL 304 • Contemporary Moral Problems

41370 • Fall 2015
Meets MWF 12:00PM-1:00PM CLA 0.126

Chances are you’ve confronted an ethical choice recently: Should I help my roommate study for an exam rather than going out? Should I recycle this plastic bottle? Ought I to give money to the homeless person asking for change? Am I obligated to donate blood? Should I report the harassment I witnessed? By contrast, there are many other ethical questions that you may never have explicitly considered, but that nonetheless apply to you, such as: Do I have an obligation as a person of privilege to help those worse off than me? Is it wrong to use animals as a food source? Do the clothes I buy contribute to child labor or slavery in some other part of the world? Do the things I say and do perpetuate harmful gender and racist stereotypes or contribute to a culture of racism or misogyny? Other questions in ethics take a more general form: What kind of person should I be? How should I live? Is my life meaningful? This course will introduce you to the ethical concepts, ideas, and theories that will help us to understand what these questions are asking, as well as going some way toward offering answers.

PHL 318 • Introduction To Ethics

41545 • Fall 2015
Meets MWF 11:00AM-12:00PM WAG 201

What sort of life should I live? What kind of person should I be? What sort of actions am I obligated to perform? Such questions are in the province of ethics. They ask not how you have lived, or who you are, or what you have done, but how you ought to live, what sort of person you should be, and what actions you obligated to perform. Normative (or ethical) theory—the topic of this course— attempts to provide systematic answers to these questions. You may be wondering why we need such theories when the answers may initially seem obvious. It may strike you, for instance, that you should live your life in such a way so as to bring about as much happiness for yourself as possible even if it means ignoring the happiness of others. But this would be to neglect the very things that make one happy; namely, friendship and other valuable relationships that require for their existence and maintenance caring about others and their interests, as well as acting on their behalf even when it is difficult or inconvenient to do so. Thus, in ethics we often find that what looked like an easy question to answer, instead raises puzzles. Normative theorists set out to resolve these puzzles, and to offer comprehensive ethical theories that when applied to specific cases specify a verdict about what a person ought to do in that situation. In this course, we will critically evaluate the competing attempts to offer such a theory in addition to addressing questions about the nature of ethics itself.

 

* This course satisfies the Ethics and Leadership Flag.

 

PHL 301 • Introduction To Philosophy

41475-41500 • Spring 2015
Meets MW 12:00PM-1:00PM CLA 0.130

A survey of principal topics and problems in areas such as ethics, theory of knowledge, and philosophy of religion. 

PHL 316K • Science And Philosophy

41820 • Spring 2015
Meets MWF 10:00AM-11:00AM MEZ 2.124

This course will examine the growth and development of science in modern times
through the history of certain crucial debates and breakthroughs that have taken place
since the beginnings of modern science in the 17th century. Topics considered will
include: what is the nature of science? Does it have a distinctive method (or methods)
that distinguish it from other forms of inquiry? What are its criteria of truth? Can science
ever achieve certainty, and if not, does it have any distinctive claims on our belief, and if
so why? What are the mechanisms of scientific progress and change? How does science
relate to, and differ from, other forms of intellectual inquiry?

PHL 301 • Introduction To Philosophy

42520-42545 • Fall 2014
Meets MW 10:00AM-11:00AM GAR 0.102

We will be considering five major questions in this course: Is it possible to know anything for certain? Is immortality possible? What is the nature of consciousness? Do you ever act freely and are you morally responsible for your actions? And, what sort of things are right and wrong and what is the nature of the properties of rightness and wrongness? Throughout the course, we will entertain several skeptical hypotheses in response to these questions. One of your tasks in this course will be to try to refute the skeptic.

 

List of Proposed Texts /Readings:

Reason and Responsibility (5th edition), Feinberg and Shafer-Landau (eds.), Wadsworth Cengage Publishing.

 

 

Proposed Grading Policy:

20% Reading questions

20% Quizzes

30% First exam

30% Second exam

PHL 318 • Introduction To Ethics

42970-42980 • Fall 2014
Meets MW 12:00PM-1:00PM WAG 214

Chances are you’ve confronted an ethical choice today: Should I help my roommate study for an exam rather than going out? Should I recycle this plastic bottle? Ought I to give money to the homeless person asking for change? Am I obligated to donate blood? Should I report the harassment I witnessed? By contrast, there are many other ethical questions that you may never have explicitly considered, but that nonetheless apply to you, such as: Do I have an obligation as a person of privilege to help those worse off than me? Is it wrong to use animals as a food source? Do the clothes I buy contribute to child labor or slavery in some other part of the world? Do the things I say and do perpetuate harmful gender and racist stereotypes or contribute to a culture of racism or misogyny? Other questions in ethics take a more general form: What kind of person should I be? How should I live? Is my life meaningful? This course will introduce you to the ethical concepts, ideas, and theories that will help us to understand what these questions are asking, as well as going some way toward offering answers. 

 

 

List of Proposed Texts /Readings:

The Moral Life: An Introductory Reader in Ethics and Literature, edited by Pojman and Vaughn (5th edition), Oxford University Press.

 

Ethics: The Fundamentals, Julia Driver (1st edition), Blackwell Publishing.

 

 

Proposed Grading Policy:

20% Reading questions

20% Quizzes

30% First exam

30% Second exam

PHL 325K • Ethical Theories-Phl Majors

43330 • Spring 2014
Meets MWF 1:00PM-2:00PM PAR 210

This course will consider three classic moral theories in detail, those
of J. S. Mill, W. D. Ross and I. Kant – otherwise known as Utilitarianism, Intuitionism and
Kantianism. We will do this by studying one classic text by each author in detail.

PHL 301 • Introduction To Philosophy

42764 • Fall 2013
Meets MWF 2:00PM-3:00PM CLA 0.112

A survey of principal topics and problems in areas such as ethics, theory of knowledge, and philosophy of religion. 

PHL 325K • Ethical Theories

43055 • Fall 2013
Meets MWF 10:00AM-11:00AM WAG 208

This course will consider three classic moral theories in detail, those
of J. S. Mill, W. D. Ross and I. Kant – otherwise known as Utilitarianism, Intuitionism and
Kantianism. We will do this by studying one classic text by each author in detail.

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