Practical reason can be distinguished from theoretical or speculative reason in many ways. Traditionally, some philosophers have distinguished the two by urging that speculative or theoretical reason aims at truth, whereas practical aims at good. More recently, some have urged that the two are best known by their fruits. The theoretical exercise of reason yields beliefs, or knowledge, or understanding whereas the practical exercise of reason yields action, or an intention to do something, or a decision about which action to choose or which policy to adopt. In this course, we will focus on practical reason, looking at dominant accounts of practical reason, discussions of the distinction between practical and theoretical reasons, accounts of rationality in general and with respect to practical reason, and related topics.
Led by Anselm Mueller and Candace Vogler.
PHIL 20098/30098 Medieval Metaphysics: Universals from Boethius to Ockham
Any language contains terms that apply truly, and in the same sense, to indefinitely many things; for instance, species- or genus-terms, such as hippopotamus or animal. How things admit of such “universal” terms has engaged philosophers ever since Plato, who proposed participation in the forms. In the third century, the neoplatonist Porphyry wrote an introduction to Aristotle’s Categories, in which he raised, but did not even try to answer, three metaphysical questions: whether genera and species are real or only posited in thoughts; whether, if real, they are bodies or incorporeal; and whether, if real, they are separate entities or belong to sensible things. A century or so later, Augustine, though not addressing Porphyry’s questions, offered a neoplatonically-inspired Christian alternative to Plato’s forms. Then at the beginning of the medieval period, yet another neoplatonic thinker, Boethius, took up Porphyry’s questions. He offered a strict definition of universals, explained the difficulty of the questions, and proposed (without fully subscribing to) what he took to be Aristotle’s way of answering them. Boethius’s treatment oriented the approach to universals by philosophers up through the 12th century. The tools at their disposal, however, were mostly those provided by ancient logical works; and perhaps for this reason, the discussion reached a kind of impasse. But then there appeared translations of numerous hitherto unknown writings of Aristotle and Arab thinkers. Aristotle’s hylomorphism and his doctrine of (what came to be called) abstraction, together with the notion of “common nature” proposed by Avicenna (also a neoplatonist), seemed to show a way out of the impasse. But they also raised new questions of their own – partly because of their sheer difficulty, and partly because of theological pressures, in the late 1200s, against the standard Aristotelian account of individuation by “matter.” The topic of universals thus tracks various other prominent themes in medieval metaphysics. We will look at background passages in Aristotle and Porphyry, and study texts of some of the most important authors, including Augustine, Boethius, Abelard, Avicenna, Albert the Great, Aquinas, Scotus, and Ockham.
Led by Fr. Stephen Brock.
This multi-disciplinary course draws insights from medicine, sociology, moral psychology, philosophy, ethics and theology to explore answers to the unique challenges that medicine faces in the context of late modernity: How does one become a “good physician” in an era of growing moral pluralism and health care complexity? Students will engage relevant literature from across these disciplines to address issues regarding the legitimate goals of medicine, medical professionalism, the doctor-patient relationship, vocation and calling, the role of religion in medicine, and character development in medical education. The course will first introduce the challenges that moral pluralism in contemporary society presents to the profession of medicine along with the subsequent calls for a renewed pursuit of clinical excellence in today’s complex health care system. It will then survey the resurgence of a philosophical discipline (virtue ethics) that has begun to shape contemporary debate regarding what types of “excellences” are needed for a good medical practice dominated by medical science and technology. Students will examine scholarship in three primary areas: First, students will examine traditional religious accounts both of medicine and of moral formation, to consider how they might inform answer to the question, How does one become (and remain) a good physician? Second, students will examine recent research in the field of moral psychology that is shaping contemporary views regarding moral and professional formation and identity. Finally, students will examine studies from the vocational psychology literature on work motivation, focusing particularly on the construct of calling and its application to the pursuit of clinical excellence in medicine.