Syllabus

Last updated: 07/02/24

Course Information

Sex, Gender, and Love: An Introduction to Social Philosophy
Phil 130, Fall 2024
T&R 9:30–10:45am, Harvill 305

Course Overview

What is sex? Is it a mere accident that the English term ‘sex’ refers to both an activity and a system of categorization? How does sex relate to gender and love, and how might the experiences of queer and trans people both complicate and illuminate these connections? What counts as having sex in the first place, and what counts as having good sex? How should we think about consent, desire, objectification, and sexualization in connection to sexual autonomy and gender equality? This course surveys these central questions about sex, gender, and love, and in so doing, aims to introduce students to the burgeoning interdisciplinary field of social philosophy.

Expected Learning Outcomes

In Phil 130, students will learn to

  1. Analyze major conceptual and normative issues about sex, gender, and love;
  2. Charitably interpret and critically assess philosophical texts and arguments;
  3. Construct original, well-reasoned arguments in response to philosophical questions about sex, gender, and love;
  4. Discuss ways in which philosophical analysis and contemporary social justice movements may shed novel light on each other;
  5. Discuss ways in which philosophical reflection may help to clarify and express minority experiences that are otherwise masked by oppressive social structures.

Phil 130 is an Exploring Perspectives–Humanist course with a Diversity & Equity (U.S. Context) attribute.

  • General Education: Exploring Perspectives–Humanist. Students will identify the approaches and methodologies of the humanist perspective, use evidence and/or knowledge generated within the humanist perspective to critically analyze questions, ideas, and/or arguments, and describe contributions of the humanist perspective to finding solutions to global and/or local challenges.
  • General Education: Diversity & Equity (U.S. Context). Students will demonstrate knowledge of how historical and contemporary populations have experienced inequality, considering diversity, power, and equity through disciplinary perspectives to reflect upon how various communities experience privilege and/or oppression/marginalization and theorize how to create a more equitable society. Our course will focus on the context of the United States.

Course Objectives

Phil 130 achieves these learning outcomes by [under construction].

Required Texts

You will need to acquire the following texts on your own. There are usually excellent bargains from used bookstores.

  • Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, trans. Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier (New York: Vintage Books, 2011). Paperback, 978-0307277787, $16.00. Edition/translation is important.
  • Plato, Symposium, trans. Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1989). Paperback, 978-0872200760, $11.00. Other editions/translations also work, but make sure you get one with those quirky little page numbers in the left/right margins (they are called “Stephanus numbers” and are consistent across editions). And if you are really serious about your bookshelf, consider getting John M. Cooper and D. S. Hutchinson eds., Plato: Complete Works (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1997).
  • Catharine A. MacKinnon, Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press). Paperback, 978-0674298743, $25.00.

I will make all other required readings available digitally. If there are any barriers (technical, financial, etc.) that make it difficult for you to access any of the texts, please don’t be afraid to let me know.

Assessment

Final course grades will be awarded on the following basis:

  • Participation: 10%
  • Reading Discussions, or “Shorties”: 10%
  • Midterm and Final Exams: 50%
  • Final Project: 30%

All course requirements must be completed in order to pass this class. An F received on any work due to academic dishonesty is grounds for an F in the course.

Requests for an incomplete (I) or withdrawal (W) grade must be made in accordance with university policies, which are available at http://catalog.arizona.edu/policy/grades-and-grading-system.

Participation

In approaching a philosophical issue, we will often find ourselves in the middle of a long conversation among many different authors. A hallmark of what we do in philosophy is the way we participate in this conversation and position ourselves in relation to these authors: we are not outside observers just here to absorb what each author has said and perhaps to summarize some of the points of agreement and disagreement; rather, we are equal parties to the conversation, just like every other philosopher. It’s helpful, then, to think of philosophy classes not as where you come to be lectured about particular philosophical views, but as where we gather to do philosophy together, to contribute our own insights to ongoing philosophical conversations and think through these difficult issues for ourselves.

Participation in philosophy courses also serves a wide range of pedagogical purposes: class discussions help students make sense of difficult ideas and arguments in the texts; they help students learn to explain and apply concepts, analyze and assess arguments, and formulate and respond to worries and objections; in addition, they contribute to other students’ learning experience by helping to build a vibrant, mutually supportive classroom environment that encourages questions, exchange of ideas, and philosophical reflection.

You are expected to regularly contribute to class discussions and participate in class activities, and to do that, you are expected to have read the assigned texts carefully and critically in advance of class (remember to bring a copy with you as we will often look at difficult passages together!). It’s useful to keep in mind that philosophical writing is, at bottom, argumentative—that is, its goal is to defend or criticize a particular view. As you do the readings, be sure to:

  • Keep track of what the author says they mean by a particular term or distinction, and take note of terms and distinctions that don’t quite make sense to you.
  • Identify the view the author is defending and the argument they are offering in support of their view (be careful to distinguish passages where the author is speaking for themself and where they are explaining another author’s view or considering objections!), and write down thoughts and questions in the margin as you react to each step in the argument.
  • Ask yourself if you think what the author is saying is not only plausible but well-argued. If not, think about why not: Is it because the author’s argument relies on a false premise, or is it because the author’s reasoning is fallacious? Is there a more plausible or more arguable way of formulating the point the author hopes to make? Are there countervailing considerations, alternative positions, or further complications that the author fails to take into account? Even if you agree with the author, try to anticipate objections that other readers may reasonably raise and think about how you can respond to them on the author’s behalf.

Class participation will make up 10% of your final grade.

Shorties

For each of our three modules (sex, gender, and love), you will be asked to pick one class and write a short discussion post responding to that day’s reading(s). These “shorties” are a beloved tradition of Arizona Philosophy. They should ideally be 150–250 words, and definitely no more than 500 words (for reference, this subsection on shorties is 231 words). They are due to the D2L discussion board by noon the day before the class.

The purpose of the shorties is threefold: they invite you to critically engage with the readings, offer low-stake opportunities for you to learn to do philosophy through writing, and will inform and shape our discussions in class. The shorties are not summaries. Instead, try to raise a question (and consider how the author might wish to answer it!), motivate a puzzle or a worry, defend a view against a worry, connect the reading to an idea or argument we discussed previously, or apply it to a current context, a historical event, or your own lived experience and see how it holds up. If there are two or more readings for a given class, you may choose to either focus on one of them or reflect on a broader theme/common thread.

The best of your three shorties will account for 5% of your final grade, and the other two together another 5%.

Exams

There will be a midterm and a final exam. A study guide, including possible essay prompts, will be distributed in advance of each exam. The final exam is comprehensive, but will focus on the second half of the class.

The midterm exam is scheduled for Thursday, February 26 during our regular class period, and the final exam Tuesday, December 17, 8–10am (the Registrar picked this time for us, and I’m really sorry). If you have a conflicting final exam, please contact me as soon as you can to arrange for a make-up.

The midterm and the final will make up 20% and 30% of your final grade, respectively.

Final Project

[under construction]

Honors Credit

If you would like to take this class for honors credit, please contact me as early as possible—and definitely by Friday, September 13—to discuss your idea. The honors contract will require you to complete an additional independent project that explores one of our course themes in greater depth. For more information, please consult https://honors.arizona.edu/academics/honors-contracts.

Excused Absences

Please email me if there is a reason you can’t come to class, but you don’t need to show me any kind of documentation. This is an honor system, and I trust you not to abuse it—all I ask is you also be flexible and considerate when you are in a position of power to do so.

The UA policy concerning class attendance, participation, and administrative drops is available at http://catalog.arizona.edu/policy/class-attendance-participation-and-administrative-drop.

The UA policy regarding absences for any sincerely held religious belief, observance or practice will be accommodated where reasonable: http://policy.arizona.edu/human-resources/religious-accommodation-policy.

Absences preapproved by the UA Dean of Students (or the Dean’s designee) will be honored; see http://policy.arizona.edu/employmenthuman-resources/attendance.

Late Assignments, Extensions, and Make-Ups

No late assignments will be accepted, but an extension will ordinarily be granted as long as you (1) have a clear plan for completing the assignment and (2) let me know your plan by email no later than 6 hours before the deadline (unless the delay is justified). Likewise, there is no need to show me any kind of documentation.

As an instructor, I always appreciate students asking for extensions ahead of time when possible. Make-ups for missed assignments after the fact are generally disfavored, and will be granted only to accommodate emergencies and other unexpected circumstances, such as physical (including mental) health, child care, family emergencies, and military duty. We can always work something out, but it’s important that you contact me as soon as you can.

Academic Integrity

Code of Academic Integrity

Students are encouraged to share intellectual views and discuss freely the principles and applications of course materials. However, graded work/exercises must be the product of independent effort unless otherwise instructed. Students are expected to adhere to the UA Code of Academic Integrity as described in the UA General Catalog. See http://deanofstudents.arizona.edu/academic-integrity/students/academic-integrity.

Plagiarism

I view plagiarism as a very serious violation of the university’s Code of Academic Integrity, and you should as well. I strongly encourage you to review this helpful guide prepared by the university library: https://new.library.arizona.edu/research/citing/plagiarism. I understand different instructors may draw the line somewhat differently; if you have any questions about what constitutes plagiarism for the purposes of our course, please don’t hesitate to ask me.

Use of Generative AI Tools

I consider it an important component of digital literacy that students appreciate the strengths as well as limitations of generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as ChatGPT.

For philosophy in particular, while generative AI tools may be very useful for finding the right phrase, clarifying and polishing prose, coming up with examples, brainstorming objections, and outlining and summarizing texts that the user puts in, they are prone to fabricate facts, misunderstand views, produce word salads, maintain forced neutrality and balance of sides, default to popular rather than critical, considered perspectives, and approach issues in ways uninformed by our course materials and class discussions. To experienced and sophisticated readers of philosophy, these are not only telltale signs, but serious problems with both the writing and the substance.

My own policy is to prohibit students from turning in as their own work either (1) passages (beyond a single word or phrase) directly generated by generative AI tools, or (2) ideas, arguments, distinctions, claims, analyses, and the like substantially informed by their use of generative AI tools. The most salient consideration here, in my view, is misrepresentation: what I care about is whether a student’s failure to acknowledge the origin of a passage or idea is likely to mislead, that is, to falsely imply that the student has written or come up with it themself. Contrast this with searching “synonyms for ‘retroactive laws’” on Google and with brainstorming ideas for a paper with a friend. In the Google case, acknowledgment is unnecessary because no one would think the phrase ‘ex post facto laws’ is therefore implied to have been invented by the student (but if the student uses a specific way of explaining what it means for laws to be ex post facto, which they have found through the Google search, then that would require proper citation). In the friend case, acknowledgment is necessary because the friend is a significant reason that the student could think of the paper idea in the first place (this is even more obvious when the friend helps the student to come up with specific ways of putting the idea into words).

Use of Class Notes and Course Materials

Disseminating class notes or course materials beyond the classroom community, such as selling them to other students or to a third party for resale, is strictly prohibited. Violations to this rule are subject to the Code of Academic Integrity and may result in course sanctions. Additionally, students who use D2L or UA email to sell or buy such notes or course materials are subject to Student Code of Conduct violations for misuse of student email addresses. This misconduct may also constitute copyright infringement.

(Lack of) Diversity in Philosophy

Unfortunately, philosophy as an institutionalized discipline is remarkably white, cis male, straight, able-bodied, and middle-class. This lack of diversity is often apparent just from the topics and authors typically taught in introductory philosophy courses. However, philosophy as a whole is becoming more and more diverse thanks to the efforts of several generations of philosophers. As a philosophy student, you can also help the profession address its diversity and inclusiveness problems by seriously engaging with minority authors and supporting your fellow minority students.

The American Philosophical Association (APA) has a useful handout for minority undergraduate students in philosophy, which you can read here: https://www.apaonline.org/resource/resmgr/diversity/Advice_for_Undergrads.pdf.

A valuable local opportunity is the Arizona Feminist Philosophy Graduate Conference organized annually by graduate students at the UA Department of Philosophy. The conference brings together graduate students working on feminist issues from around the country and the world. The recordings of many talks in the past are available freely on the conference website: https://femphilaz.com.

Schedule

Respect, Support, and Care for One Another

Materials in This Course

Since many of the issues we will cover in this course are not only intellectually but also personally relevant, you might find it difficult to read and discuss certain course materials. I want to acknowledge that. It’s perfectly understandable.

It’s therefore important that we respect, support, and care for one another throughout the course. Please always feel free to talk to me if you anticipate certain topics will be especially difficult for you, or if you think the way they get discussed in the class is disrespectful or otherwise problematic.

Some Concrete Examples

Class Discussions

  • Value everyone’s contribution to class discussions;
  • Disagree in a way that takes other people’s ideas seriously and sincerely;
  • Challenge remarks, jokes, and examples that are racist, sexist, heterosexist, cissexist, misogynistic, transmisogynistic, xenophobic, ableist, ageist, classist, etc.;
  • Keep discussions inclusive by avoiding talking to only a few specific people.

Classroom Behavior

  • Try to remain quiet if you have to arrive late or leave early;
  • Avoid starting to pack things up until class is completely over;
  • Listen attentively and avoid distracting or interrupting behavior, such as chatting with the person next to you or checking your phone.

Gender Identity & Sexual Orientation

  • Use the pronouns and name you are asked to when you refer to a person, and avvoid assuming a person’s pronouns, gender identity, or sexual orientation based on their appearance, voice, or name;
  • Be careful not to disclose anyone’s gender identity or sexual orientation (i.e., out them) without their permission, even if they are already out in the classroom—it can put lives in danger;
  • Never inquire about anyone’s genitalia, deadname, “before” photos, medical history, assigned gender at birth, sex life, and so on;
  • Use inclusive language (for helpful examples, see https://www.apaonline.org/page/nonsexist and https://transjournalists.org/style-guide).

If you feel any aspect of this course makes it difficult for you to participate fully, I want to know. This is very important to me.

University Statements

To foster a positive learning environment, students and instructors have a shared responsibility. We want a safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment where all of us feel comfortable with each other and where we can challenge ourselves to succeed. To that end, our focus is on the tasks at hand and not on extraneous activities (e.g., texting, chatting, reading a newspaper, making phone calls, web surfing, etc.).

The University of Arizona is committed to creating and maintaining an environment free of discrimi-nation. In support of this commitment, the University prohibits discrimination, including harassment and retaliation, based on a protected classification, including race, color, religion, sex, national ori-gin, age, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or genetic information. For more information, including how to report a concern, please see http://policy.arizona.edu/human-resources/nondiscrimination-and-anti-harassment-policy.

Our classroom is a place where everyone is encouraged to express well-formed opinions and their reasons for those opinions. We also want to create a tolerant and open environment where such opinions can be expressed without resorting to bullying or discrimination of others.

The UA Threatening Behavior by Students Policy prohibits threats of physical harm to any member of the University community, including to oneself. See http://policy.arizona.edu/education-and-student-affairs/threatening-behavior-students.

For a list of emergency procedures for all types of incidents, please visit the website of the Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT): https://cirt.arizona.edu/case-emergency/overview. Also watch the video avail-able at https://arizona.sabacloud.com/Saba/Web_spf/NA7P1PRD161/common/learningeventdetail/crtfy000000000003560.

Additional information about evacuation plans in buildings across campus are in the process of being available now through the campus map (https://map.arizona.edu). If you click on the building, you have access to the safety plan.

Student Support Resources

Campus Health

Student Assistance

Advising

Writing

Campus Programs

Accessibility and Accommodations

At the University of Arizona, we strive to make learning experiences as accessible as possible. If you anticipate or experience barriers based on disability or pregnancy, please contact the Disability Resource Center (520-621-3268, https://drc.arizona.edu/) to establish reasonable accommodations.

Syllabus Change

Information contained in the course syllabus, other than the grade and absence policy, may be subject to change with advance notice, as deemed appropriate by the instructor.