Department of PhilosophyWestern Arts and Humanities

Meet Our Courses

What?  Philosophy 2702F: Modes of Normative Reasoning I, the first of a pair of courses that examines the nature of rationality with respect to various kinds of reasoning and judgment.

When?  Fall 2015, T 12:30-1:30 and Th 11:30-1:30

Why?  Rationality is the bedrock of philosophy, but what is rationality?  Philosophers equate rationality with reasoning.  The paradigm of rationality is the deductive reasoning of logic, which produces conclusions that are necessary, certain, and universal, i.e., correct conclusions.  In moral philosophy and bioethics deduction is the reasoning of the “applied ethics” that subsumes facts under moral principles to derive right answers.  But moral problems are conflicts between principles, and the general terms of principles are abstract, and there are no higher principles for deducing right answers to those crucial problems.  In the law applying legal rules encounters the same problems as applying moral principles, and applying precedents uses argument by analogy.

Deduction, argument by analogy, and interpretation are examined with examples from moral philosophy, law, and bioethics.  Deduction quickly runs out, and argument by analogy and interpretation do not have the rationality of deduction.  So where is the rationality?

Who?  Professor Barry Hoffmaster


What?  Philosophy 2703G: Modes of Normative Reasoning II, the second of a pair of courses that examines the nature of rationality with respect to various kinds of reasoning and judgment.

When?  Winter 2016, T 1:30-2:30 and Th 1:30-3:30

Why?  Narrative reasoning inheres in the telling of stories, but how can telling stories be rational?  Moreover, real problems in morality, law, and bioethics are highly contextual.  Their particularity and complexity are far removed from abstract principles and rules.  What features of a problem are relevant?  What values and principles are implicated?  How should a decision be made?  When has a resolution been reached?  All of that requires judgment, but philosophers ignore judgment because they have no way of accounting for the rationality of judgment.  A more expansive account of rationality – non-formal reason – locates the rationality of judgment in the process from which the judgment emanated.  At the end of the course, the film, “Twelve Angry Men,” is shown to illustrate, surprisingly, the rationality of the process the jurors used in reaching their verdict.  Judgment is ubiquitous in our lives, and there is more rationality in our lives than in our philosophy.       

Who?  Professor Barry Hoffmaster