Rhode Island School of Design
2 College St., Providence, RI 02903

Donald Keefer
Professor of Philosophy
Department of History, Philosophy and Social Science

Office Hours: TBA
: College Building, Room 537A
Phone: (401) 454-6263
Email: dkeefer@risd.edu




Courses 2009-10



Socrates described philosophy as an intellectual preparation for death. He recognized that how we react to, think about, and cope with finality tells us a great deal of what we think about the core of our existence. Philosophers have been divided between a "bald scenario" that death is nothing but the end of our material existence to which we are limited, and the more reassuring view that death is a door to another personal plane of existence. Death is nothing vs. death is everything. We will examine these phenomena from philosophical points of view through reflection primarily on philosophical works but will include religious sources and literary works. While philosophers have primarily focused understandably on the individual confronting death, we will constantly place these questions and their answers within interpersonal and social spheres of consideration. We will focus on: What is Death? The role of death in the meaning of life; personal survival in various scenarios; ethical issues surrounding suicide, euthanasia, and other voluntary ending of life. We will look at a few of the social practices surrounding death and examine their meaning and functionality. Intensive reading, writing, and participation in seminar format.


We live amid a world of signs without which we could scarcely communicate or find our way through life. The theory of signs, or semiotics, seeks to understand the nature of signs as vehicles of meaning in our perceptions and messages we send and receive in our spoken, textual, and visual communications. This course moves from the analysis of signs and communication to a critical examination of the extension of semiotics to the surface and hidden meanings of dreams, handwriting, literary and art works. At each step, we will endeavor to test the theories “in practice,” to carefully evaluate their merits and limitations. Through this, semiotics will emerge as a humanistic discipline that underwrites our critical and creative understanding of the world as well as funds our creative efforts to make the world anew. Problem-based, discussion and lecture oriented with quizzes, practice-assignments, and short papers.

THE MATRIX OF WISDOM:  Introducing Philosophy through Science-fiction (WS)

Philosophy, the quest for wisdom, seeks answers to life's deepest and most enduring questions. How should we live? What is the Truth? What is real? What and who are we in a universe of things unlike ourselves? At its core, philosophy is a discursive, argumentative probing that pokes at our fundamental assumptions about the world. The philosophical mind, of course, welcomes the challenge.  In addition to philosophers raising these questions, fiction has been a vehicle for raising these issues and challenging the status quo mindset of its readers. Science fiction in particular, has long been occupied with questions regarding man's place in the universe and the limits and potentials of science. While such philosophical probity rarely makes for great television viewing, there are a few shows, such as Star Trek, The X-Files and others, that are distinguished by their consistent philosophical focus. This course serves as a lively introduction to philosophy through reading of philosophical texts in conjunction with the study and discussion of selected episodes from these extraordinary television series. Several short papers and group presentations are required.


The literal translation of the Greek word "philosophia" is the love or quest for wisdom. What is wisdom? How do we get it? Philosophers around the world since very ancient times have struggled with these fundamental questions of our existence. There have been a myriad of inquiries across time and some have ended in the denial of the possibility of wisdom itself. This course will examine the ways in which some of these philosophical traditions have contributed to our understanding the pursuit of wisdom. Lecture and discussion with frequent writing assignments. This course is reserved for Freshman students.