Samuel C. Rickless

Professor of Philosophy


Winter 2019

PHIL 165: Freedom, Equality, and the Law
[Registered students, see TritonEd]

In this course we will explore the way in which the concepts of freedom and equality have been understood and applied under the United States Constitution. We will ask whether the Constitution is a moral document designed to implement justice or a document designed to enshrine a particular set of traditions into law. We will then look at how the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment has been applied to cases in which government has discriminated on grounds of race, ethnic background, gender, undocumented status, wealth, and sexual orientation. We will also look at how the Due Process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments have been applied to cases involving the right to make crucial decisions about one’s own life, such as whether to use contraceptives, obtain an abortion, marry a person of a different race, and marry a person of the same sex. Course readings include some of the most important cases in the history of United States law: Dred Scott, The Slaughterhouse Cases, Yick Wo, Plessy, Lochner, Brown, Palko, Carolene Products, Korematsu, Bakke, Grutter, Craig v. Boren, U.S. v. Virginia, San Antonio v. Rodriguez, Plyler v. Doe, Griswold, Roe, Casey, Bowers, Lawrence, and Obergefell. At every stage, we will be asking whether the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law in these cases is consistent with justice and the values underlying our constitutional republic.

PHIL 111: History of Early Modern European Philosophy
[Registered students, see TritonEd]

This course focuses on the development of Early Modern European metaphysics and epistemology through the works of René Descartes (1596-1650), Elisabeth of Bohemia (1618-1680), Margaret Lucas Cavendish (1623-1673), Anne Conway (1631-1679), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), John Locke (1632-1704), Catharine Trotter Cockburn (1679-1749), George Berkeley (1685-1753), David Hume (1711-1776), and Mary Shepherd (1777-1847). The Early Modern period is governed by gradual evolution away from the doctrines of Aristotle (384-322 BCE), and towards a new way of looking at the world that is sympathetic to the emerging sciences conducted within the research program of corpuscularian mechanism. It is common to think of the main figures of this period as divided into two camps: rationalists, for whom some ideas are innate and reason can penetrate into the fundamental truths about the nature of the universe, and empiricists, for whom there are no innate ideas and all knowledge of non-self-evident truths is founded on sense experience. But the interplay among the philosophers of the early modern period reveals a far more complex story, one in which the rationalist/empiricist division is only one of many. There is, for example, a divide among materialists (those who think that all is matter—e.g., Cavendish), anti-materialists (who deny the existence of matter—e.g., Conway and Berkeley), and dualists (those who think that matter exists, but is not the only kind of finite thing that exists—e.g., Descartes and Leibniz). There is a divide between those who think that mind and body can causally interact (e.g., Descartes and Locke) and those who think that causal interaction between mind and body is impossible (e.g., Leibniz and Berkeley). There are those who think that we can know a great deal about the nature of the world (e.g., Descartes, Cavendish, Leibniz, and Berkeley) and those who think that our ability to know is quite limited (Locke, Cockburn, and Hume). Understanding the evolution of metaphysics and epistemology in the Early Modern period is one of the keys to understanding the views of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). [Prerequisites: Departmental Stamp, course designed for philosophy majors.]