Program Highlights

There is a widespread view of philosophy in which philosophical study is viewed as purely theoretical, as purely speculative, and as having no practical relevance. “The Thinker,” a figure deep in thought and apparently doing nothing, best represents this image. We contend that this view is a serious mischaracterization of philosophical study. Philosophical study is not a form of purely detached speculation and contemplation. Rather, philosophical study is a kind of activity, a kind of doing. And it is practical in what we believe to be the most important senses, the senses that lie at the heart of Millikin’s mission. Serious philosophical study is a rigorous activity that facilitates the development and growth of skill sets that are essential to any occupation or vocation, to any effort to engage in democratic citizenship, and to any attempt to develop a life of meaning and value. These skills sets include:

  • The ability to think critically, analytically, and synthetically.
  • The ability to comprehend dense and difficult readings.
  • The ability to convey ideas clearly and creatively in both written and oral form.

These skill sets are always already practical. For example, in any field of inquiry or vocation, individuals will have to problem solve, think critically, assess arguments or strategies, communicate clearly, spot unspoken assumptions that may be driving a certain position, etc. Since we encourage the development and growth of the skill sets that are essential to doing any of these things well, philosophical study is inherently practical.

Philosophy and Law School

Undergraduates who plan on attending law school should seek an undergraduate major that will develop the skills that are necessary for success in law school and for success in the practice of law. Among the most important of these skills are analytical and logical reasoning, persuasive argument writing, and research skills. The Law School Admissions Council provides the following description of law school pedagogy. This discription is accurate and makes self-evident the value of philosophy as the ideal undergraduate major for those interested in law school:

Most law school professors employ "the case method" of teaching. The case method involves the detailed examination of a number of related judicial opinions that describe an area of law. The role of the law professor is to provoke and stimulate. For a particular case, he or she may ask questions designed to explore the facts presented, to determine the legal principles applied in reaching a decision, and to analyze the method of reasoning used. In this way, the professor encourages you to relate the case to others and to distinguish it from those with similar but inapplicable precedents. In order to encourage you to learn to defend your reasoning, the professor may adopt a position contrary to the holding of the case. The case method reflects the general belief that the primary purpose of law school is not to teach substantive law but to teach you to think like a lawyer. Teachers of law are less concerned about rules and technicalities than are their counterparts in many other disciplines. Although the memorization of specifics may be useful to you, the ability to be analytical and literate is considerably more important than the power of total recall. One reason for this approach to legal education is that in our common-law tradition, the law is constantly evolving and changing; thus, specific rules may quickly lose their relevance.

Law is more an art than a science. The reality lawyers seek in analyzing a case is not always well-defined. Legal study, therefore, requires an attentive mind and a tolerance for ambiguity. Because many people believe incorrectly that the study of law involves the memorization of rules in books and principles dictated by learned professors, law schools often attract those people who especially value structure, authority, and order. The study of law does not involve this kind of certainty, however; complex legal questions do not have simple legal solutions.

The American Bar Association also emphasizes the importance of skill development. For more information, please see the ABA website:

Departmental Course Offerings

PH113. Introduction to Logic (3)
We will translate standard English into symbolic notation, then use both Aristotelian and truth functional techniques to test for validity of arguments. The aim is to understand the rules and relationships that define rational thinking. From logical puzzles to Venn diagrams to symbolic proofs, this course is an excellent preparation for the GRE or LSAT or MCAT. It requires both quantitative thinking and facility with language. To fulfill the quantitative reasoning requirement a student must have an ACT Mathematics subscore 22 or higher or placement score of at least 3 on the QR placement or complete MA098.

PH210. Freedom and the Self (3)
This course introduces students to a number of specific content areas of philosophical investigation: metaphysics, epistemology, history of philosophy, and social-political value theory. The course is arranged by topics that are related to freedom and the self, both broadly construed. Topics may include the nature of knowledge and the issue of what, if anything, the self can know; the nature of the relation between mind (consciousness) and body (brain); free will and determinism; the persistence conditions for persons over time; the nature and value of political liberty; etc. The course will include a discussion of the views of historical and contemporary thinkers.

PH211. Ethical Theory and Moral Issues (3)
In this course, we will examine issues in ethical theory, including such foundational issues as the relationship between ethical behavior and rational behavior, the relationship between ethics and theology, and the issue of whether ethical principles are objective or subjective, absolute or relative. We will examine both action-centered as well as character-centered approaches to the resolution of ethical dilemmas. Finally, we will turn our attention to the practical application of theory. Readings may include Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Hume, Kant, and Mill. Ethical theory may be applied to such issues as abortion, capital punishment, lying, and sex.

PH214. Philosophy of Religion (3)
In this course we will examine some of the central issues in the philosophy of religion. We will begin by examining some of the most influential arguments for the existence of God, including the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, and the teleological argument. We will examine the problem of evil as well as various replies by theists to the problem of evil. We will also examine the claim that the religious life is a matter of faith, not reason. Readings may include Anslem, Augustine, Aquinas, Leibniz, Paley, Hume, Kant, Kierkegard, Adams, Swinburne, Hicks, Mackie, Plantiga, and others.

PH215. Business Ethics (3)
This course will critically examine the role of ethics within a business environment. We will examine both ethical relationships within a business such as employers and employee relations and well as ethical relationships between business and broader society such as business and consumer relations. Possible issues or topics of examination include: corporate social responsibility; rights and obligations of employees and employers; justice and fair practice; distributive justice, and advertising marketing; and the consumer, among others. Issues and topics will be examined by considering both historical and contemporary texts and case studies.

PH217. Bioethics (3)
This course will focus on issues that come about as a result of the interaction between medicine and modern technological advances. Biotechnologies span issues of health from birth until death, including ethical debates concerning: cloning, genetic screening, invitro fertilization, and physician assisted suicide, to name a few. Bioethics quite clearly encompasses the entire life course. Issues or topics that may be investigated include: justice and autonomy in health care; life and death; biomedical research and technology; and public health, among others.

PH219. Environmental Ethics (3)
This course will focus on ethical issues related to our natural environment. It is a truism that all persons live, work, and play within the confines and richness of the natural environment. For this reason there is simply no separating the natural environment and its ethical status from the well-being of people. Further, our present ethical relationship with our natural environment is uniquely important as it has the strong potential to impact the well-being of later generations. Not only does our treatment of the environment impact those living now but it also impacts human beings that will live in fifty or even five-hundred years. Issues and topics that may be investigated include: Who counts in environmental ethics: animals, plants, ecosystems; Is nature intrinsically valuable; frameworks of environmental ethics; sustaining, restoring, and preserving nature; and the environment and social justice including intergenerational justice, among others.

PH223. Scientific Revolutions: History and Philosophy of Science (3)
This course sketches the evolution of views of nature and how best to study and explain it. We will begin with the ancient world and investigate how the ideas and beliefs of the ancients shaped how the medievals viewed science and nature. We will then study the so-called scientific revolution that gave birth to modern science. We will look at what changed -- and what didn't -- about how we conceive of and study nature. We will also look at contemporary ``revolutions'' in science that have fundamentally changed the way we think about the world and our place in it. This course fulfills the historical studies requirement in the College of Arts and Sciences.

PH300. Ancient Philosophy (3)
A contemporary philosopher said, “All of philosophy is a footnote to Plato.” Certainly, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics are the keys to understanding much of the intellectual roots of the Western tradition. We will read some of the major texts of these philosophers in their historical context as they attempt to answer the questions, Who am I and what is the nature of the Good and the Right? What is my role in society? What is knowledge and how do we acquire it? What is a well-run state? What is real? And how should I live? This course fulfills the historical studies requirement in the College of Arts and Sciences.

PH301. Modern Philosophy (3)
In this course, we will examine the attempts by modern philosophy to answer two central questions. The first is the epistemological question of what human beings can know. In particular, we will examine the issue of whether human beings can justifiably claim to know that there is a mind-independent external world. The second central question with which modern philosophy struggles is the metaphysical question concerning the place of consciousness (mind) in a material universe. What is the relation between mind and matter, between mind and body? Is the mind distinct from the body? Or is the mind identical to the body? What is the self? Readings may include Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant with attention to their historical context. This course fulfills the historical studies requirement in the College of Arts and Sciences.

PH302. Contemporary Philosophy (3)
In this course, we will examine some of the most influential philosophical movements in the contemporary period. The contemporary world of philosophy continues to focus on the epistemological and metaphysical questions placed at the center of philosophical thought during the modern period. In addition, contemporary philosophy pays special attention to the role that language plays in our understanding of the world around us. Movements to be examined may include phenomenology/existentialism, logical positivism, and philosophy of language. Readings may include Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Ayer, Quine, and Kripke with attention to their historical context. This course fulfills the historical studies requirement in the College of Arts and Sciences.

PH305. Philosophy of Law (3)
In the first part of the course, we will examine various theories concerning the nature of law. Of particular interest will be the issue of how these theories view the connection between law and morality. Is there a connection between law and morality? If there is such a connection, is it a necessary connection? Theories of law to be examined include legal positivism, natural law, and legal realism (critical legal studies). We will employ Peter Suber’s fictional work, The Case of the Speluncean Explorers, to examine how these theoretical issues intersect with legal adjudication. In the second part of the course, we will focus on issues surrounding theories of judicial interpretation. Of particular interest will be constitutional interpretation. Questions to be considered include the following: How should judges interpret the constitution? What role (if any) should moral principles play in their adjudication? What is the role of judges in relation to democratically elected legislatures? In hard cases, do judges create law (legislate from the bench) or do they work to discover the correct answer (apply the law to the case before them)? Interspersed with these more theoretical readings will be excerpts from actual legal cases. We will be interested in seeing how the theoretical issues identified above get played out in actual legal decisions.

PH310. Political Philosophy (3)
In this course, we will examine attempts by philosophers within the Western philosophical tradition to answer the following three questions. First, what justification (if any) can be given for the existence of the state? Second, what reason is there (if any) for preferring one kind of state to another? Third, what justification is there (if any) for placing limits on the power of the state to intervene in the lives of its citizens? Readings may include Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Mill, Berlin, Taylor, Nozick, Rawls, and others. This course fulfills the historical studies requirement in the College of Arts and Sciences.

PH311. Ethical Reasoning – Ethics Bowl (1-3)
This course prepares students to compete at the regional Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl competition. This course covers the essential elements of ethical reasoning and involves in-class Ethics Bowl matches, which are designed to strengthen students’ reasoning and oral communication skills. The course is designed around the Regional Ethics Bowl cases, which are supplied each fall by the Association for Professional and Practical Ethics. This course requires no outside research, but requires careful analysis and argumentation regarding the ethical issues raised in the aforementioned cases. Pre-requisite: consent of the instructor.

PH312. Minds and Persons (3)
In this course, we will examine the nature and relationships between minds and persons. Some central questions include: What is a person? What is the mind and what is its relationship to the brain and to the self? What is consciousness, how is it possible, and why do we have it? What makes a person at two different times one and the same person? These and other related questions may be approached from a variety of philosophical perspectives, including, historical texts, the philosophy of psychology and science, cognitive science, and contemporary philosophical work.

PH313. Ways of Knowing (3)
In this course we will examine the nature, value, and acquisition of knowledge. Some central questions include: What is knowledge? What can I know? What is the nature and value of scientific knowledge? How can I know? What is the value of knowledge, in general? What justifies a knowledge claim? Is it morally wrong to believe something without justification? Texts may include historical and contemporary sources.

PH366. Appellate Legal Reasoning – Moot Court (1-3)
The course will rely heavily on a simulation model in which we conduct mock appellate hearings in class. Students will role-play as both attorneys and judges. The course will employ the closed case method that is used at most moot court competitions. Each closed case file will include numerous items, including: a statement of the facts of the case, the rulings by the lower courts, select court case precedents, and specific federal and/or state statutory and/or constitutional language. The course involves no research that goes beyond the materials provided in the closed case files. On the basis of this material and this material only, students will complete a range of assignments designed to engage students in the central aspects of appellate legal reasoning including legal brief writing, oral argumentation, and judicial opinion writing.

PH391, 392, 393, 394. Independent Study in Philosophy (1-3)
Pre-requisite: approval of subject by Department and consent of Department Chair.

PH400. Seminar in Philosophy (3)
In this course, students will examine at an advanced level a specific philosophical topic, issue, period, or philosopher. Course content will be determined by the faculty member teaching the course. All students will compose a substantive research thesis. For philosophy majors, this research thesis will serve as their capstone philosophy thesis. In addition, all philosophy majors will provide an oral defense of their thesis. The oral defense will be open to all Philosophy Department faculty as well as Philosophy Department majors and minors. Pre-requisite: philosophy major with junior or senior standing, or consent of the Department Chair.

Philosophy Careers

Given the rigorous and challenging course work that is required of all students taking a philosophy course, the student who chooses to major in philosophy tends to be the kind of student who is attracted to the life of the mind.

Hence, it should come as no great surprise that a substantial majority of our graduating majors continue their education in graduate programs of study. What may surprise some is the diverse range of programs of study into which our graduates enter. The explanation for this, however, is not difficult to identify.

Philosophical study emphasizes the development of essential skill sets including critical, analytical, and logical thinking, reading comprehension, clarity of writing, and creative thinking. Because these skill sets are essential to any area of graduate study (or employment), philosophical study provides our graduating majors with a great deal of flexibility.

Our graduates put that flexibility to use by pursuing a wide variety of graduate programs of study and/or occupational opportunities.