Traditions & Fields of Focus
Our commitment to integrated pluralism involves engagement with the major traditions of contemporary Western philosophy. Amidst our diverse teaching and research projects, one also finds overlapping and complementary interests. In certain instances, this complementarity forms a field of focus that involves several faculty working in an area, often across various traditions. Such fields of focus allow our students to pursue a single problem or set of problems in a variety of classes, engage it from a variety of perspectives and disciplines, and, should they choose to, write a dissertation in that area with the help and support of multiple faculty members.
The following briefly describes current traditions and fields of focus in the department. Of course, our interests are always developing in new directions, and the following list has not limited the areas of specialization for our graduate students.
- American and Pragmatist Philosophy
- Analytic Philosophy
- Continental Philosophy
- Critical Theory
- Environmental Philosophy
- Feminist Philosophy
- History of Philosophy
- Latin American Philosophy
- Native American Philosophy
- Philosophical Psychology
- Philosophy of Disaster
- Philosophy of Media and Culture
- Philosophy of Race
- Social/Political Philosophy
Faculty working in this area share the conviction that questions pertaining to aesthetics lie at the heart of all philosophical inquiry and human existence. Aesthetics is not only about the creation, experiencing, and judging of works of art, but also about everything that gives form, value, and significance to all aspects of human experience. Aesthetics, therefore, is broadly construed as bearing on issues surrounding cognition, meaning, knowledge, truth, ethics, and politics. In its wide scope it covers the full range of artistic expression from literature to myth to painting to music to film. Because of our comprehensive understanding of aesthetics as crucial to what makes us human, our courses typically draw from a wide variety of traditions and perspectives. In addition to classic sources from the history of Western philosophy, recent analytic developments, and pragmatist orientations, we cover feminist, critical theory, Latin American, and non-Western and indigenous traditions and points of view.
Because of current faculty research and interests, recent courses have focused on themes such as the following: embodied aspects of art and aesthetic dimensions of experience, aesthetic cognition, art as a form of social and political criticism, issues pertaining to the aestheticizing of the political, truth and knowledge as related to works of art and to aesthetic experience, aesthetic judgment as a model of all human evaluation, art and emotion, environmental aesthetics, and the tension between linguistic expression and non-linguistic graphic works.
American & Pragmatist Philosophy
American philosophy is a pluralistic and broad tradition that includes currents of pragmatism, idealism, feminism, African American philosophy, and indigenous philosophy.Working at the intersections of these currents, American philosophy begins with an ethical and ontological focus on human beings in interaction with each other and their environments. From the perspective of these interactions, this approach affirms a commitment to pluralism, the framing role of human communities, and the inseparability of knowledge and value.
Our approach to American philosophy at the University of Oregon is distinctive in its breadth: we encourage work with the major classical pragmatists (John Dewey, William James, Josiah Royce, and Charles Sanders Peirce), their contemporaries (including W. E. B. Du Bois and Jane Addams), as well as mid-century pragmatists (Wilfrid Sellars and C.I. Lewis) and more recent variants of neopragmatism (as developed by Richard Rorty, Cornel West, and others). Our approach to the American tradition embraces thinkers who have contributed to the development of pragmatism as well as others who share a commitment to philosophical engagement with issues raised by life in the diverse societies of the Americas. American philosophy at Oregon is thus understood as a living philosophy focused on present problems continuous with a long and rich tradition of philosophical inquiry grounded in American experience.
Coursework and research focuses on three connected areas. The first involves using the ideas and methods of American philosophy to address pressing philosophical matters across a range of subfields:ethics, politics, theories of knowledge, logic, cognitive science, aesthetics, embodiment, race and gender, and metaphilosophy. The second area expands the boundaries of American philosophy by exploring its thematic and historical relations with traditions in continental (especially genealogy, phenomenology, and critical theory), analytic, and feminist philosophy. The third area expands the tradition of American philosophy inwardly by recovering a broader history of philosophy in America that focuses on the role of African American, Latin American, Native American, and American feminist thought as central.
In course offerings, and theses and dissertation preparation, there is engagement with Analytic Philosophy through dialogues between analytic texts and thinkers and alternative traditions, such as pragmatism, continental philosophy, feminist philosophy, and philosophy of psychology. This interaction has taken several forms: a focus on empirical research on concepts, meaning, and language from the cognitive sciences to help clarify and resolve questions in the philosophy of mind and language; a naturalized approach to epistemology that unites empirical research on cognition with cultural studies of knowledge formation; insights from phenomenology and developmental psychology toward a conception of mind as embodied and situated within networks of social relations; a focus in moral theory that includes cognitive research on moral reasoning and character development in addressing issues in virtue ethics, moral realism, and ethical naturalism. Our work in aesthetics and the philosophy of art, which encompasses hermeneutics and film and literary studies also includes key analytic texts and problems. In addition to this comparative interest, faculty and students take up analytic methodologies and authors, particularly in a focus on twentieth century Anglo-American philosophy, and in terms of traditional interpretations of the history of philosophy. This intrinsic interest has resulted in author’s courses in Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, C.I. Lewis, and Quine. The graduate pro-seminar in the history of twentieth century Analytic Philosophy has focused on philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, moral philosophy, and philosophy of science. Philosophy of Science, critical thinking, and logic are also taught at the undergraduate level with GTF assistants.
“Continental Philosophy” concerns a cluster of questions and themes prevalent in 19th and 20th Century European thought, for example, the nature and possible end of metaphysics; critical social and political theory; ethics as first philosophy; the interplay of time, history, and narrative; the grounds of embodiment, gender, and the situated subject; and the entwinement of art, myth, and truth.
While certain patterns of inquiry orient our pursuit of these issues (e.g. critical theory, feminism, genealogy, hermeneutics, phenomenology, and post-structuralism), Continental philosophy at Oregon remains in conversation with other philosophical traditions. For example, present concerns include the relation of antiquity to thinkers such as Hegel, Schelling, and Heidegger; dialogue between Anglo-American and Continental feminist discourses; opportunities of mutual enlightenment and constraint between phenomenology and the cognitive sciences; conversations between Marxism and deconstruction on the one hand and pragmatism on the other; the relation of phenomenological descriptions of nature to contemporary evolutionary ecology; and Levinas’s relation to earlier generations of Jewish thought.
Amidst such dialogues, which are the hallmark of our department, the close reading of texts and figures is also esteemed, particularly with regard to Hegel, Kierkegaard, Marx, Nietzsche, and Schelling in the 19th Century, and Adorno, Beauvoir, Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, Husserl, Heidegger, Irigaray, Levinas, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre in the 20th. One will thus find courses that work exclusively with one thinker or text as well as courses that move across texts and traditions.
Critical Theory at the University of Oregon is a vibrant locus of debate, coursework, and research. We understand Critical Theory broadly as part of a tradition following Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche that assesses the legacy of modernity and analyzes the entanglement of freedom and domination, autonomy and subjection, recognition and power, reason and irrationality. Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Hannah Arendt, Julia Kristeva, and Enrique Dussel are some central figures for research in Critical Theory at Oregon. We also understand Critical Theory narrowly in terms of the legacy of the Frankfurt School. From TW Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Walter Benjamin to Jürgen Habermas, Axel Honneth, Nancy Fraser, and Amy Allen, thinkers of the Frankfurt School have given accounts of the crises of capitalism and critique, and in response have offered conceptions of social justice informed by normative concepts such as freedom and alienation. At Oregon, we also examine the status of notions of critique and social justice within the Frankfurt School in light of the strictures of feminism and the challenge of coloniality.
Courses in environmental philosophy investigate the various meanings of the terms “nature” and “environment,” explore the intellectual history of these concepts, and examine what it means to have aesthetic experiences of and ethical relations with the larger world. At its core, our approach to environmental philosophy places equal weight upon metaphysical and ethical inquiry, convinced, as we are, that justice can only be served if one knows the nature of the beings with whom one would live justly.
Our approach to issues in environmental philosophy is multifaceted. Among the perspectives that receive a hearing in our effort to explore the moral and ontological standing of the human and more-than-human world are critical animal studies, critical theory, deep ecology, ecofeminism, environmental justice, indigenous philosophy, land ethics, phenomenology, pragmatism, and social ecology. Such inquiries are also complemented with questions and insights drawn from the history of philosophy, thus bringing a thoroughly historical perspective to reflection on the environment. Our interests include philosophical work on eco-phenomenology, the question of our animality, the role of place in human experience, and Native American perspectives on the environment understood within the broader context of Native thought. Recent courses include Animality, Ecophenomenology, Ecotheory in Philosophy and Art, Environmental Philosophy, Environmental Aesthetics, Native American Philosophy, Philosophy of Ecology, and Philosophy of Disaster.
The philosophy department works closely with the University’s Environmental Studies Program, including offering a joint doctoral program in Environmental Science, Studies, and Policy with a focus in Philosophy.
We situate our approach to ethics within a broad and multidimensional account of moral experience, which includes not just moral obligation, but the full scope of various conceptions of human flourishing, character, values, institutions, and practices. Our pluralism includes methods and insights drawn from theories of moral development, social and cultural studies, cognitive science, virtue ethics, phenomenology, feminist ethics, race studies, critical theory, and literature and the arts.
Faculty research and teaching interests currently include the following orientations: empirical research on moral development and moral cognition, naturalized approaches to ethics, virtue ethics, pragmatist moral theory, feminist ethics in relation to issues of freedom and responsibility, environmental ethics, ethical issues in the arts, war and conflict studies, and critical theory. We are strong in many parts of the history of moral philosophy, especially from the Enlightenment through the twenty-first century.
Recent upper-division and graduate courses in ethics have focused on topics such as naturalized approaches to ethics, Aristotelian ethics, Kant’s Moral Theory, Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity, Dewey’s Ethics, Rorty, Sartre, and environmental ethics.
Feminist Philosophy is best understood as a way of doing philosophy that arises out of and seeks to articulate the emancipatory aspirations of women. Feminist philosophers work within and across other philosophical traditions. To say that our work is “feminist” is to acknowledge that gender can be a central lens through which we conduct inquiry. Feminist philosophy considers what it means to enter the philosophical project as a sexed, raced, embodied, historically and culturally situated subject. The particular strengths of our department in feminism include phenomenology, embodiment, intersubjectivity, philosophy of science, pragmatism, poststructuralism, ethics, and politics, and we have particular interests in philosophies of sexuality and intimacy as well as the intersections between feminist theory, race theory, and other liberatory theories.
Recent courses in Feminist Philosophy include author’s courses on Beauvoir, Irigaray, Judith Butler, Monique Wittig, and Collette Guillaumin. Topics have included Feminism and Aesthetics, Feminist Ethics, Feminist Political Philosophy, Feminist Phenomenology, and Sex/Gender: Nature and Culture Before and After the Linguistic Turn.
History of Philosophy
Research into the history of philosophy at the University of Oregon is itself a philosophical task, inseparable from the questions, discourses, and theories that we take to define philosophical practice. Many courses take an explicitly historical approach to the philosophical themes and questions they address. The general interest in our department in the history of philosophy opens up the question of the diversification and continuity of philosophical inquiry, and affirms the need to be receptive to the many differing accounts of the transmission of thought and practices. If the history of philosophy always implies some sort of philosophy of history, then historical research becomes a compelling way to address difference itself.
We require all majors to fulfill requirements in a series of history courses, stretching from antiquity to the 19th century. Doctoral candidates complete a history paper as part of the comprehensive examinations. In addition, this overall commitment to history is continuous with our interest in the philosophical themes that emerge in the 20th century. A prominent feature of the department’s course offerings is the “author’s course,” which devotes an entire term to an in-depth study of one or two philosophers. These courses comprise a variety of philosophers, including the Pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Hume, Locke, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Schelling, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Bergson, Dubois, James, Wittgenstein, Freud, Husserl, Dewey, Heidegger, Benjamin, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Beauvoir, Derrida, Irigaray, Deleuze, and Butler. The department also offers a number of courses which approach the material with an unmistakable emphasis upon context and history. Such courses include Eastern Philosophy, American Philosophy, Philosophy of Science, and Feminism.
Latin American Philosophy
Our department is one of the very few in this country offering the opportunity to study Latin American philosophy on a par with other Western traditions, both at the undergraduate as well as the graduate level. The study of Latin American philosophy at University of Oregon covers its vast history as well as its recent developments. Students can learn crucial ideas, issues, problems, and forms of thinking that occur in some of the most important periods, movements, and figures of Latin American thought. The study also involves working across traditional disciplines, given that Latin American thought develops in many other forms (pictographs, chronicles, poetry, literature, essays, oral traditions, letter writing, and political discourses).
From its beginnings, Latin American philosophy concerns a history of diversity in the formation of identities. It arises in the encounters between indigenous, African and Afro-Caribbean, Islamic-Jewish (from the period of Al-Andalus), Spanish, Mediterranean, and Central European traditions of thought. Moreover, its origins are most dramatically marked by the invasion of the continents we know today as the Americas. Latin American philosophy has as its pivotal mark the events that begin with the arrival of the conquistadors in 1492, and it concerns the ways of thinking that precede as well as those that follow the colonization of the Americas.
With its proximity to the Western tradition and its critical and distinct position as a non-Western tradition, Latin American philosophy offers the occasion to rethink and reflect on the Western past and present traditions in new, radical, and concrete ways. With its rootedness in diversity, the study of Latin American philosophy is continuous with the diversity that distinguishes the Philosophy Department at the University of Oregon as well as with many of its specific fields of focus such as: American philosophy, Continental philosophy, critical theory, environmental philosophy, feminist philosophy, ethics, Native American philosophy, and philosophy of race. The approach to the study of Latin American philosophy is hermeneutical in its attentiveness to close reading and interpretation of the traditions, critical deconstructive, and decolonial in its exposure and aim to dismantle the presently operative structures of power and oppression, phenomenological in its remaining with the concrete lives and experiences of existence of the peoples of the Americas, trans-American in linking Latin American philosophies with American philosophy and with the unfolding Latino/a philosophies in North America, and, always geopolitically conscious. As such, Latin American philosophy offers a new field of studies, the possibility for new and original interpretation of the tradition, as well as a path toward developing world philosophies in pluriversal dialogues.
Native American Philosophy
While academic philosophers have only recently recognized Native American philosophy, it has long been part of the landscape of philosophy as it is lived in the Americas. Of particular interest in our program is the philosophical work that emerged at the border between Native and European peoples particularly in North America from the 17th century to the present day. From the first arrival of Europeans, American Indian thinkers have tried to make sense of the encounter. The result is a long tradition of Native philosophy directed to Native and non-Native peoples to provide a means of finding both common ground and the recognition of sharp and perhaps irreducible differences. The tradition includes the Indian orators and prophets of the 17th, 18thand 19thcenturies and American Indian intellectuals of the 20thand 21stcenturies. These thinkers were and are Western-educated and writing in English in order to find ways to understand and promote indigenous cultural survival. In recent years, some of this work has become central to environmental philosophy, the philosophy of education, and very recently to new work in metaphysics and epistemology. Authors in this tradition include Vine Deloria, Jr., Daniel Wildcat, Winona LaDuke, Gregory Cajete, Taiaiake Alfred, Sandy Grande, Thomas Norton-Smith, Thurman Lee Hester, Gerald Vizenor, Dale Turner, and Margaret Kovach among others.
In addition to a regular course on Native American philosophy, material from the tradition plays a role in a variety of other courses including courses in the history of American philosophy, Latin American philosophy, American feminism, philosophy of race, and environmental philosophy. Students interested in Native philosophy can take advantage not only of resources in the philosophy department but also of work in the tradition done by Native and non-Native faculty in other departments, including Ethnic Studies, English, Women and Gender Studies, Environmental Studies, History, Anthropology, the Law School, and in the College of Education. The Philosophy department also participates in the recently added undergraduate minor in Native Studies. Combined with the study of Latin American and classical American philosophy, including pragmatism, Native American philosophy is a cornerstone of a comprehensive understanding of the philosophy of the Americas.
Our approach to mind is multi-dimensional and interdisciplinary. We conceive of “mind” as realized via multiple levels or dimensions of the interaction of certain types of intelligent organisms with their physical, interpersonal, and cultural environments. We seek to understand what it means to be human in the deepest and most profound sense of that term, rather than merely in terms of cognitive operations. This means that we pay special attention to the role of feelings, emotions, embodiment, imagination, and values in who we are, what we care about, and how we live. We therefore draw from a broad range of perspectives, including physiology, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, phenomenology, race and gender studies, and the entire range of social sciences. Faculty members have strong connections with members of the UO Institute of Cognitive and Decision Sciences and have offered team-taught collaborative courses through the Institute. There are also ties to researchers in various UO language and literature departments (including East Asian Languages and Literatures) where work is done on the nature of the self.
Philosophy faculty interests in this field currently revolve around three principal topics. The first concerns personal identity and the development of a sense of self, as seen from the perspective of the biological sciences, cognitive science, phenomenology, and hermeneutics. What does it mean to be a person and how do we develop our mature sense of selfhood? A second orientation focuses on the psychology of human and animal conceptualization and reasoning. This encompasses our study of the embodiment of mind and the roots of cognition in patterns of our sensory and motor experiences and activities. Faculty members also have been doing work on the origins of meaning, thought, and language. The third focus is on issues of character formation, especially in the development of moral understanding and deliberation. This involves the study of such topics as virtue, moral development, character, and moral reasoning.
Philosophy of Disaster
Disaster appears as a new twenty-first century subject for philosophers, even though Jean-Jacques Rousseau, concerning the Lisbon earthquake of 1752, first noted that what societies experience as disasters is largely socially constructed, resulting from their prior architectural choices and infrastructure, their attachment to material possessions, and their tolerance for risk. Internationally, in recent years, the United Nations community has begun to approach disaster less as a technological and natural problem and more as an issue of human security, to be addressed in terms of future development in the Third World. Within the United States, contemporary large scale disasters are primarily administered by the federal government as part of the Homeland Security apparatus. Philosophers have recently begun to consider disaster as both an ethical subject and an expression of ongoing oppression insofar as the elderly and racial minorities tend to be disproportionately harmed by any given disaster—wherever it may occur. Ongoing critical work has taken the form of ethical criticism of prevailing models of crude utilitarianism, connections between disasters and more broad environmental issues raised by climate change, and linkage with longstanding multidisciplinary environmental issues. In the UO Philosophy Department, an undergraduate course in Philosophy of Disaster, with GTF assistance, is taught regularly and graduate students are supported and encouraged to pursue primary or secondary topics relating to disaster.
Philosophy of Media and Culture
The study of media and culture, ranging from the history of print to the emergence of the internet, now permeates a number of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Philosophical approaches can offer unique analytical and critical perspectives on the currently received tools of interpretation in other fields, as well as direct interpretation itself. Political philosophy, genealogy, critical theory, pragmatism, racial theory, and feminism can all provide fruitful insights about mediation, representation, identity, social reaction, and the contents of our communications, from mass media news to peer-to-peer video sharing. In recent years, faculty and students have advanced work on the politics of information, the history of communications, control power in new media contexts, the vampire craze, humor, memorialization, online iconography, and other aspects of our public and private imaginaries. Our work in this vein ranges from research projects to new course topics, for example Philosophy and the News and The Politics of Information, to collaboration with the recently-formed New Media and Culture (http://newmediaculture.uoregon.edu/) graduate certificate program . Such interests overlap with implementations and uses of current technology, as for example in the presentation of philosophical videos on the department’s Philosophical Installations (http://philinstall.uoregon.edu).
Philosophy of Race
Philosophy of Race consists of descriptive and normative inquiries that draw on history, political theory, social theory, public policy, literature, and the biological and social sciences, in practical and applied as well as theoretical dimensions. The philosophical contribution can be divided in ways that include cultural criticism, ethics, political and social philosophy, and philosophy of science. Topics encompass the reality and ontology of race in society and science, analyses and remedies of racism, the phenomenology of racialized existence, racial identities, and different conceptions of racial and ethnic pluralism and multi-culturalism. Students and faculty in the department have approached philosophy of race as either a distinct subject or an inflection of scholarship in the history of philosophy, feminism, political philosophy, social philosophy, media and culture studies, philosophy of literature, philosophy of psychology, phenomenology, American Philosophy, Latin American Philosophy, global studies, immigration, identity theory, ethnicity, and international studies. Within the UO Department, as well as the profession of academic philosophy, Philosophy of Race is a pluralistic field of study, well represented by scholars from analytic, continental, American pragmatist, and feminist traditions. Courses in Philosophy of Race are offered on graduate and undergraduate levels and research on race and related topics is supported and encouraged on all levels of the curriculum.
Many of our faculty and graduate courses reflect a strong interest in social and political philosophy. We are interested in a wide array of issues including agency, freedom, and subjectivity; liberalisms and neoliberalisms; art, the aesthetic, and the political; civil rights and discrimination; environmental justice; the state and legitimation; violence, war, and disaster; and cultural criticism.
We approach the political from a variety of perspectives, including critical theory, decolonial thought, deconstruction, environmental philosophy, feminism, genealogy, pragmatism, and race theory. Moreover, such inquiries are pursued in dialogue with the history of philosophy and across disciplinary boundaries (with faculty in other departments including political science, law, ethnic studies, women’s and gender studies, and education).
Recent courses and reading groups in social and political philosophy at the University of Oregon have focused on such topics as Recognition, Critical Theory, Feminist Political Theory, Animality, Capitalism and Critique, Biopolitics, Liberal Pluralism, as well as author-centered courses on figures including Arendt, Foucault, and Marx. Recent and current dissertation topics in this area include studies of dignity, equality, immigration and citizenship, transnational feminisms, revolutionary praxis and theory, disability and biopower, economic liberties, and public reason liberalism.