Curriculum Overview 

Most philosophy fits into one of four loose and overlapping groups. The first studies action: What should we do and how can we get ourselves to do it? This group includes ethics and social and political philosophy. A second group studies the nature and reliability of our knowledge. Here you’ll find epistemology and philosophy of science. A third group investigates the nature of the world and the self: What does it mean for something to exist? What distinguishes things from their properties? What (besides a body and a social security number) is a person? This group includes metaphysics and the philosophy of mind. A fourth group analyzes symbolic systems through which humans represent meaning to themselves and to each other. These are studied in logic and the philosophy of language.

You could easily narrow these four fields to two, or expand them to 17. Philosophy has no single topic, but at the same time every part of philosophy is connected with every other in countless ways. It is hard to talk about what there is in the world without also analyzing how we can know about it, so metaphysics and epistemology often overlap. Some claim that without language humans can’t know anything, so epistemology and philosophy of language come together. If you want to study why people act the way they do, you’ll draw on ethics as well as philosophy of mind; the two merge in moral psychology. And so forth. Philosophy also analyzes the social and historical conditions that make it possible to ask such questions in the first place. Philosophy, therefore, always includes a study of its own history.

The Philosophy program at Franklin & Marshall aims to acquaint students with all of these areas of philosophy by examining the great historical traditions in philosophy as well as a broad range of contemporary issues and topics in philosophy. In addition, students are encouraged to cultivate skills in critical thinking and philosophical argument with the goal of helping them to become participants in the philosophical enterprise. Lower-division courses in the department aim to provide students with a broad background in the history of philosophy and contemporary problems in philosophy, while upper-division courses seek to engage students in discussion concerning cutting edge scholarship in the field. The work of philosophy majors culminates in the senior year when students compose a senior thesis in the context of the Senior Research Seminar. Majors have the further option of expanding senior theses with the goal of presenting the project for departmental honors.

A major in Philosophy  consists of 11 courses. Requirements are:

  • PHI 244.
  • One core history course from PHI 210, 213, 271, 317, 381 or 382.
  • One value theory course designated (V).
  • One course in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, or philosophy of mind designated (ME).
  • Two semesters of PHI 301 (each semester is .5 credit)
  • Five electives.
  • At least four courses besides PHI 301 must be numbered 300 or higher. At most, two courses may be numbered below 200.

The department’s program heavily emphasizes critical thinking, logically correct reasoning and clear, concise writing. The writing requirement in the Philosophy major is met by completion of the normal courses required to complete the major.

A minor in Philosophy requires six Philosophy courses, which must include: PHI 244; either PHI 210, 213, or 317; PHI 301 and three other Philosophy electives that are approved by the chairperson or designee. At least two courses total must be numbered 300 or above. At most, one course may be numbered below 200.

Majors in the Department of Philosophy have studied abroad in the following programs in recent years: Sarah Lawrence College Program, Oxford University; F&M in Italy; F&M Travel Course in Tohoku Gakuin, Japan; SEA Semester; American Jr. Year in Heidelberg Program. See the International Programs section of the Catalog for further information.

Courses Offered 

A list of regularly offered courses follows. Please note the key for the following abbreviations: (A) Arts; (H) Humanities; (S) Social Sciences; (N) Natural Sciences with Laboratory; (LS) Language Studies requirement; (NSP) Natural Science in Perspective; (NW) Non-Western Cultures requirement; (WP) World Perspectives requirement.

100. Introduction to Philosophy. (H)
Examination of traditional philosophical problems of method, knowledge, the nature of reality, religious belief and ethics.    

122. Introduction to Moral Philosophy. (H)
Survey of attempts to understand the nature and significance of moral thought. Theories will be assessed in part in light of current controversies, which may include capital punishment, freedom of expression, and the limits of state authority.    

130. Good Reasons. (H)
We aim to have good reasons for the beliefs we have and the decisions we make.  Our class is about acquiring skills to accomplish this goal.  We draw from a wide array of disciplines (including philosophy, cognitive psychology, behavioral economics, and decision theory) to address questions such as: What kinds of mental processes are involved in reasoning? What makes a line of reasoning valid or strong? Why do people tend to become more certain of the views they started with? Are there strategies we can use to avoid common errors in reasoning? What is evidence, and how does it interact with our background knowledge? What are the features of a community that respects good reasons?    

170 179. Special Topics. (H)
An introductory-level course on a topic chosen by the instructor. Topic changes from year to year. May be taken more than once.

210. Ancient Greek Philosophy. (H)
How should one live? What is happiness for a human being? These questions are the focus of the philosophy of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. In the work of these thinkers, such questions lead to wide ranging philosophical inquiry in ethics, moral psychology, epistemology, metaphysics, political theory, aesthetics, and beyond. This course surveys their main arguments and theories, which became the cornerstone of the western European philosophical tradition. Same as CLS 210.    

213. 17th- and 18th-Century Philosophy. (H)
In the 17th and 18th centuries, scientists and philosophers emerged from the scholastic traditions of the middle ages to develop the modern scientific world view and a new understanding of our own constitution and abilities. Ranging from astronomy, optics, and geometry to metaphysics, religion, and ethics, this course will study texts by the experimenters, princesses, and lens-grinders who shaped this period.     

217. Existentialism. (H)
Existentialism is a label for a loose grouping of writers who investigate the personal and individual nature of our relation to the world and to others. They focus especially on questions about truth, commitment, responsibility, freedom, and death. This class surveys some key texts in the existentialist tradition and traces the emergence of existentialist concerns in the history of philosophical thought.     

218. Nietzsche. (H)
In-depth study of Nietzsche’s thought through close reading of his major writings.     

220. Moral Theory. (H) (V)
A careful study of classic texts in moral philosophy, with an emphasis on questions about the foundations of ethics and the objectivity of moral judgment.    

223. Biomedical Ethics. (H)
A survey of ethical issues related to developments in biology and medicine, including controversies at the beginning and end of life, autonomy and informed consent, and limits on medical research. Same as STS 223. 
Merli, Mensah

225. History of Political Philosophy. (H)
This course introduces classic texts of Western political philosophy. Topics include the role of the state and the extent of its legitimate power over citizens, the nature of property rights, and the nature and origin of our norms of justice. We also read contemporary texts that speak to the themes of the classic texts and that address modern concerns such as poverty, global justice, and personal liberty.  

227. Contemporary Political Philosophy. (H) (V)
This course surveys contemporary debates in political philosophy. Topics may include the foundations of liberalism and democracy, feminist and antiracist critiques of liberalism, the case for various kinds of equality, the challenge of global justice, and multiculturalism and minority group rights.    

235. Philosophy of Religion. (H) (ME)
In this course we will survey both perennial and contemporary topics in the philosophy of religion, such as, arguments for the existence of God, the problem of evil, the coherence of divine attributes, and the consistency of freedom and foreknowledge. We will approach these questions using both classical and contemporary texts.    

236. Language, Knowledge and Reality. (H) (ME)
This class is an advanced, but accessible, introduction to two central branches of philosophy: epistemology and metaphysics. Epistemology, loosely characterized, is the study of knowledge, evidence, and rationality. Metaphysics, even more loosely characterized, is the study of the general features of reality. We’ll work through some of the central topics that fall under these two studies, paying careful attention to how foundational questions about the nature of language interact with questions in epistemology and metaphysics.

238. Bad Language: Meaning and Use. (H) (ME)
Language allows for a cooperative exchange of information. But, as we all know, cooperation is an ideal that is often met.  There is also much more to language than asking and answering questions.  Our class will investigate language that doesn’t fall into the “cooperative exchange of information” model. Topics include lies, bullshit, slurs, pejoratives, lexical effects, stereotypes, presupposition, linguistic oppression, silencing, consent, and testimony.  

244. Symbolic Logic. (H)
Deductive reasoning, emphasizing primarily symbolic; some discussion of issues in the philosophy of logic.    

250. Philosophy of Mind. (H) (ME)
A general introduction to the philosophy of mind, addressing four key philosophical issues: the nature of psychological explanation; the mind-body problem; the possibility of artificial intelligence; and the nature of persons. Prerequisite: one course in PHI or PSY or SPM.    

270 279. Special Topics. (H)
An intermediate-level course on a topic chosen by the instructor. Topic changes from year to year. May be taken more than once.

301. Current Work in Philosophy.
This course directly engages students in the collective practice of doing philosophy while introducing them to current philosophical research. We will bring leading scholars to campus with each scholar delivering a public lecture, followed by a small colloquium or workshop that brings students directly into conversation with the visitor. Prior to each visit, we will cover readings related to the scholar’s current research and have a discussion session to prepare for entering the conversation with the scholar. Prerequisite: 2 prior philosophy classes. One half credit.

317. Kant and Hegal. (H)
Close examination of the two most important and influential views of the German idealist tradition: Kant’s critical philosophy and Hegel’s historicist reaction to it. Prerequisite: one prior course in philosophy, or permission of the instructor.    

319. 20th-Century Continental Philosophy. (H)
Close examination of emergence of modern phenomenology and hermeneutics. with particular attention to Heidegger’s Being and Time. Prerequisite: one prior course in philosophy, or permission of the instructor.     

320. Normative Ethics. (H) (V)
Survey of theories of right and wrong action, including examination of related questions concerning the good, well-being, obligation, etc. Literature will include defenses and criticisms of consequentialism, deontology and virtue ethics. Prerequisite: one prior course in philosophy, or permission of the instructor.    

321. Meta-ethics. (H) (V)
Examination of the metaphysics, epistemology and semantics of moral discourse. Topics include objectivity of moral judgment, varieties of realism and anti-realism, cognitivism and competing accounts of practical rationality. Prerequisite: one prior course in philosophy, or permission of the instructor.    

331. Free Will. (H) (ME)
An examination of contemporary theories concerning the nature of free choice. Special attention is given to the nature of moral responsibility and the relationship between free choice and determinism. Prerequisites: one prior course in philosophy, or permission of the instructor.    

335. Belief and Knowledge. (H) (ME)
Investigation of some issues in contemporary epistemology, including the competing analyses of the concept of justification, the case for skepticism, and the analysis of the concept of knowledge. Prerequisite: one prior course in philosophy, or permission of the instructor.    

336. Metaphysics. (H) (ME)
Metaphysics asks what the most general features of the world are, why there is a world that has those features and how we human beings fit into that world. Examples of topics to be considered include: Is there a real, physical world outside the mind? What is the nature of time? What is required for things to persist through time? What is the nature of causation? Why does anything at all exist? Have we free will? Prerequisite: one prior course in philosophy, or permission of the instructor.    

337. Philosophy of Natural Science. (H) (NSP) (ME)
The goals, methods, assumptions and limitations of natural science. Special attention will be paid to the philosophy of psychology, cognitive science and evolutionary biology. Prerequisite: one prior course in philosophy, or permission of the instructor. Same as STS 337.    

339. Philosophy of Language. (H) (ME)
Investigation, based on contemporary writings, of the diverse functions served by language, of its conceptual presuppositions, and of its relationships to other symbolic media.    

342. Rational Choice. (H) (ME)
An introduction to decision theory; topics include the rationality of the policy of nuclear deterrence, the rationality of pursuing self-interest in every situation, the impossibility of devising a democratic voting procedure, the irrationality of accepting all that is probable, and others. Less frequently offered.     

351. Mind-Body Problem. (H) (ME)
A philosophical examination of the apparently problematic relationship between the mind and the natural world. Prerequisite: One prior Philosophy course or permission. 

352. Philosophy of Emotions. (H) (ME)
Detailed philosophical investigation of the emotions, focusing on the implications the study of emotions has for the mind-body problem, the nature of consciousness and intentionality, and the nature of rationality. How are emotions related to other mental states like beliefs, desires, and bodily sensations? What distinctive contribution, if any, do the emotions make to our mental lives? Prerequisite: one prior Philosophy course.

353. Phenomenology and Cognitive Science. (H)
In-depth study of phenomenology, covering both its history and contemporary debates, and phenomenology-inspired research in cognitive science and psychology. Prerequisite: One prior Philosophy course and one prior Psychology course. Same as PSY 353.    

360. Concept of a Person. (H) (V)
A careful examination of what it is to be a person, as an autonomous moral agent whose life can be meaningful, and of what distinguishes persons from the “lower” animals. Prerequisite: one prior Philosophy course.    

361. Moral Psychology. (H) (V)
Moral psychology is the study of human moral agency. As such, it is constrained by, and must cohere with, the facts about human psychology; but its primary focus is on human good, an evaluative notion. Central questions include: What are reasons and what role do they play in action? What is character and how is it related to virtue? What is free will, can we have it, and how do we best explain weakness of the will? Prerequisite: One prior Philosophy course or permission.  

362. Love and Friendship. (H) (V)
Investigation of philosophical aspects of love and friendship, examining a variety of accounts of what they are as well as questions concerning their justification, their bearing on the autonomy and identity of the individual, and the place their value has within a broader system of the values, including moral values. Prerequisite: one prior Philosophy course.    

363. Respect, Responsibility, and Ethics. (H) (V)
Recently many philosophers have argued that certain interpersonal emotions, such as resentment, indignation, guilt, gratitude, and approbation, are fundamental to a host of interconnected issues in ethics, including the nature of respect, dignity, freedom and responsibility, and the origins of moral values. This class will closely examine these claims and arguments with the aim of understanding more clearly how moral psychology and metaethics intersect. Prerequisite: one prior Philosophy course.    

370 379. Special Topics. (H)
An intermediate- or advanced-level course on a topic chosen by the instructor. Topic changes from year to year. May be taken more than once.

381. Plato. (H)
An intensive treatment of some of the major philosophical themes in selected dialogues of Plato. Prerequisite: one prior Philosophy course. Same as CLS 381.  

490. Independent Study.
Independent study directed by the Philosophy staff. Permission of the chairperson required.

498. Philosophical Research.
Intensive research and writing on a topic of the student’s choice carried on in a seminar setting. Includes several oral presentations by each student. Permission of instructor is required. Offered every Fall.    

Topics Courses Expected to be Offered in 2022-2023 


  • Philosophy of Law.
  • Philosophy of Education. 
  • Philosophy of Psychiatry. 
  • Ancient Metaphysics. 
  • End of Life Ethics.