Department of English & Philosophy Courses

The department teaches a robust core-course sequence, along with numerous electives that support our cadets majoring in English or Philosophy. The core sequence includes EN101 (Composition) and EN102 (Literature), taken in the first year; and PY201 (Philosophy and Ethical Reasoning), taken during the sophomore year.

Our academic outreach also extends beyond West Point to organizations such as the Center for the Army Profession and Ethic, the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, the National Military Academy of Afghanistan, and the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law, and Armed Conflict.

Core Courses

EN101 - Composition

Course Overview

The goal of EN101 Composition is to significantly contribute to the accomplishment of the following statement taken from the Communication Goal chapter in Educating Future Army Officers for a Changing World (EFAOFACW):

“By the end of their first year, cadets meet a college-level standard of basic proficiency in argumentative writing and establish their competence as writers ready to develop their skills in future undergraduate assignments.” 

Course Outcomes

  1. Instruct cadets in the four elements of effective communication listed in EFAOFACW, Section II, Communication: Substance, Organization, Style, and Correctness.
  2. Help cadets to become better academic writers by emphasizing effective use of a writing process and the responsible use of sources in the preparation of argumentative essays.
  3. Improve cadet ability to read and think critically by exposing them to a variety of important and interesting essays that investigate profound and enduring themes and issues.
  4. Develop cadet awareness of the rhetorical dimensions of different writing projects and the need to employ appropriate conventions for each.

Representative Course Texts

  • Little, Brown Essential Handbook (9th ed.). ISBN-13: 978-0134515212.
  • Smith, Zadie. Intimations: Six Essays. ISBN-13: 978-0593297612.
  • Marcus Aurelius. The Meditations: A New Translation. ISBN-13: 978-0812968255

Course Leadership

EN102 - Literature

Course Overview

EN 102 is an introductory-level literature course informed by intellectual curiosity. In this course, students are encouraged to follow their natural curiosity through the examination of various forms of literature. In line with this idea, students can choose between three literature modules: History & Society, Arts & Culture, or Science & Technology. Once in their respective module, students in EN 102 are at a minimum exposed to an assortment of poetic forms, Shakespearean drama, and the novel.

Course Outcomes

EN 102 studies ways in which writers use language. Students will learn the art of close reading and hone their ability to discuss, analyze, and engage with multiple literary genres. The course also introduces ethical issues represented in literature so that cadets can carefully interpret evidence. This reinforces writing techniques from EN 101 and facilitates the later development of ethical reasoning in PY201. 

EN102 assesses the ability of cadets to: 

  1. Listen actively, read critically, and develop an informed understanding of the communications of others.
  2. Think innovatively and accept risks to pursue solutions in the face of ambiguity.
  3. Value reflection and creativity; envision possibilities.
  4. Pursue knowledge in areas of personal or professional interest.
  5. Analyze the history, diversity, complexity, and interaction of cultures.

Representative Course Texts

  • The Norton Shakespeare: Essential Plays and The Sonnets, Greenblatt, et al., eds. 

Course Leadership

Course Leadership


PY201 - Philosophy

Course Overview

This course helps third class cadets develop their capacities to think clearly and critically. It acquaints cadets with various viewpoints on major philosophical issues, assists them in acquiring a facility with the language, arguments, and methods of moral discourse, and gives special attention to the subject of war and morality.
PY201 supports cadet achievement of the following United States Military Academy Academic Program Goals:

  • Ethical Reasoning:  Graduates recognize ethical issues and apply ethical perspectives and concepts in decision making.
  • Critical Thinking and Creativity:  Graduates think critically and creatively.
  • Communication:  Graduates communicate effectively with all audiences.

Key terms in PY201 include:

  • Critical Thinking: world view, claims, arguments, validity, soundness, deductive vs. inductive arguments, and fallacies.
  • Ethical Theory: objectivism, relativism, consequentialism, egoism, utilitarianism, principle of utility, deontological ethics, Kant’s categorical imperative, virtue ethics, and the concept of the mean.
  • Just War Theory: jus ad bellum (just war criteria, interventions, preemptive/anticipatory attacks, preventive war, “minimally just” states, and rights of “minimally just” states), jus in bello (discrimination, noncombatant immunity, doctrine of double effect, moral equality of combatants, and proportionality), jus post bellum, realism, pacifism, terrorism, and supreme emergency.

Course Outcomes

Cadets who complete PY201 will be able to:

  • Describe relevant philosophical concepts.
    • Describe and identify the essential characteristics of PY201 critical thinking terms.
    • Describe and identify the essential characteristics of PY201 ethical theory terms.
    • Describe and identify the essential characteristics of PY201 just war theory terms.
  • Think critically in identifying, analyzing, and evaluating claims and arguments when listening, reading, and speaking.
    • Think critically in the course of identifying claims and arguments when appraising the works of others or composing one’s own.
    • Employ critical thinking concepts in the course of analyzing claims and arguments when appraising the works of others or composing one’s own.
    • Employ critical thinking concepts in the course of evaluating claims and arguments when appraising the works of others or composing one’s own.      
  • Identify moral issues and examine the implications of these issues.
    • Demonstrate ethical self awareness.
    • Understand different ethical theories and concepts.
    • Recognize and identify ethical issues.
    • Apply different ethical theories/concepts.
    • Evaluate different ethical theories/concepts.
  • Possess a critical understanding of the moral dimensions of war and the philosophical bases of those dimensions.
    • Understand key just war theory concepts and apply them to typical and unique cases.
    • Explain philosophical bases of key just war theory concepts.
    • Critically evaluate key just war theory concepts.
  • Create written arguments that are logically rigorous and conceptually precise through the writing process.
    • Understand and respond appropriately to the assignment. 
    • Develop a clear, coherent, and consistent argument.
    • Fairly treat opposing views.
    • Employ appropriate evidence.
    • Use language that is especially effective, evincing a clear argumentative style in speech and prose.
    • Keep to standards of college-level composition and be attentive to technical language as expected in the course.

Course Leadership

English Elective Courses

EN300: Literary Methodologies

This course provides cadets the methodological tools required to analyze and evaluate primary and secondary sources. Through the study of representative primary sources ranging from the ancient to the postmodern, cadets will learn the critical vocabularies and theoretical contexts necessary for the meaningful study of literature. Attention to the nature and history of literary genres, the historical development of literary criticism, and a variety of theoretical approaches to literature will provide cadets with the foundational knowledge required of an English major.

EN311: Ancient to Early Modern Literature

This course provides an introduction to some of the foundational literary works that have helped shape Anglophone literary history and culture. The course may examine classical texts as well as representative works through the Early Modern period.

EN321, EN322: American Literature I & II

You do not have to take these courses in sequence. “American literature” shouldered its way onto the world literary scene during the Age of Exploration, when EN321 begins. Advancing toward the Civil War, we read works from the traditional Puritan canon as well as from authors such as Emerson, Lincoln, Dickinson, and Whitman. The investigation of cultural and intellectual history will also lead us to literature by Native Americans, French and Spanish colonizers, and African captives. EN321’s examination of a broad range of genres and modes of writing will serve as prologue to EN322’s consideration of traditional and nontraditional writings from the Civil War to the present. Central to both courses is the question of what, exactly, constitutes American Literature.

EN331, EN332: British Literature I & II

You do not have to take these courses in sequence. They examine the tradition and innovation that has shaped British literature and culture over the centuries, devoting attention not only to “major authors” but also to authors writing against the established tradition. EN331 will examine works of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, and others, while EN332 will focus on works by a range of authors including Wordsworth, Austen, Woolf, Joyce, and Yeats. An enriched understanding of the many strands of British Literature will also help us to understand our own complicated literary history.

EP342: Film and Film Theory

Why is the play the thing? Why and how does it capture our imagination and entertain us even as it stirs our emotions, provokes us to thought, and maybe even teaches us a thing or two? As the literary genre that lives on both page and stage, drama demands not merely the reading of the text but also the imagining of the play's stagecraft, the delivery of the lines, the appearance and attitude of the actors, and many other theatrical details. EP367 ranges from the classical to the contemporary with several stops in between. Drama's susceptibility to a staggering variety of responses and interpretations is guaranteed to nurture the creative spirit.

EN340: Contemporary Literature

This course examines literature of the later 20th and the 21st centuries. In addition, it may explore the implications of contemporary information technologies for traditional literary forms, the role of globalization in literary production and reception, or the relation of literature to pressing current issues, such as persistent violent conflict, immigration, and climate change.

EN351: World Literature

They say the world is shrinking, and maybe that’s so; but its literature is growing day by day. To be a well-read citizen of the global village you need to take this course. In EN351 our mission is to explore literary, cultural, and political difference. Toward that end we might pair Bashō’s travel writing with Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels or Conrad’s Heart of Darkness with Chinua Achebe’s critique of Conradian imperialism. Crossing genres and historical periods, we will acquire knowledge of the development of literary forms, insight into the dynamic relationship between art and political change, and appreciation of the strange echoes that carry across cultural, religious, and geographical expanses. Take this course before you find yourself a lieutenant in a foreign land.

EN352: Power and Difference

This course examines the complex relationship between language and power through in-depth study of both literary and theoretical texts. The course’s focus may include but is not limited to Indigenous literature, Asian-American literature, African-American literature, postcolonial literature, and LGBTQ literature.

EN353: War Literature

As one who aspires to a career in the profession of arms, you can’t go wrong by exploring the various ways in which writers, artists, and filmmakers have come to terms with the subject of war. One recent version of the course has asked questions like these: Was the Great War all that great? Was the Good War entirely good? How has the First World War affected and shaped modern memory? Why is Hollywood still revisiting the experience of World War II? Whatever a given version’s approach, it is worthwhile to traverse the territory of human conflict with creative figures who have attempted to capture at least part, if not all, of the truth of war. Cross the line of departure to a heightened awareness and appreciation of the aesthetic and moral dimensions of the military experience.

EN354: Special Topics

This course explores an advanced topic in literary studies. Specific subject matter will vary with the expertise of the senior faculty member conducting the course. Recent versions of this course include “Violence and Irish Literature” and “Postcolonial Literature and Theory.”

EN361: Poetry

Embracing a wide variety of authors, works, periods, traditions, and forms, this course considers the literary genre through which human beings have expressed their most intensely imaginative visions of themselves and their world, and connections between the two. Some consideration of poetics and prosody will complement the cadets' reading of verse that ranges from Japanese haiku through the Shakespearean sonnet to the free-verse creations of modern and contemporary poets.

EN362: Film and Film Theory

Andy Warhol once claimed, “It’s the movies that have really been running things in America ever since they were invented. They show you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how you feel about it.” EN362 examines film as the major new art form of the twentieth century and considers its potential as perhaps the most electric and influential medium of the twenty-first. Through the screening of films and the reading of screenplays, essays, and articles, we will learn about film form and genre, the history of Hollywood and world cinemas, the evolution of film criticism and theory, and the relationship between film and technology. What is Rosebud anyway?

EN363: The Novel

In this course the word novel designates any extended fictional narrative, almost always in prose. In addition to becoming better readers, we will work toward understanding the culturally complex world within and around the novel. We might travel from the alleyways of Defoe’s London to the mean streets of Dreiser’s Chicago, from the chill of Hawthorne’s New England to the Irish pubs of Joyce’s Dublin.

EN364: Drama

Why is the play the thing? Why and how does it capture our imagination and entertain us even as it stirs our emotions, provokes us to thought, and maybe even teaches us a thing or two? As the literary genre that lives on both page and stage, drama demands not merely the reading of the text but also the imagining of the play’s stagecraft, the delivery of the lines, the appearance and attitude of the actors, and many other theatrical details. EN364 ranges from the classical to the contemporary with several stops in between. Drama’s susceptibility to a staggering variety of responses and interpretations is guaranteed to nurture the creative spirit.

EN370: Shakespeare

Shakespeare . . . in love or out, in war and peace, in verse and prose. The man Ben Jonson loved to hate and Dr. Johnson hated to love—the glove-maker’s son who was so extraordinary yet anonymous that some eccentric scholars persist in believing he was himself a fiction, that someone else wrote his plays: Christopher Marlowe, perhaps, or Francis Bacon, or maybe the Earl of Oxford. This course investigates William Shakespeare’s unique genius. You will read tragedies, histories, comedies, and the so-called “problem plays,” as well as representative sonnets. Topics of inquiry may include language, the theatrical and political contests of the English Renaissance, contemporary criticism, and the enduring influence of Shakespeare’s work on popular culture. You will also have the opportunity to contribute to the staging of one of Shakespeare’s plays on Projects Day.

EN371: Single Author Colloquium

This course provides in-depth study of a single author (not Shakespeare). The course provides Cadets a window onto the literary, autobiographical, and historical arc of a particular writer through a deep and sustained examination of the writer’s oeuvre.

EN400: Senior Seminar in Advanced Literary Studies

This seminar challenges English majors to study a topic in depth and to refine the tools essential for the analysis and evaluation of literary and other texts. One of the primary goals of the course is to assess the value and the limitations of varied critical approaches (such as feminism, historicism, Marxism, cultural studies, postcolonial theory, and psychoanalysis) as tools for reading the literature centered on the special topic. As is the case with all departmental core and elective offerings, this course also provides the foundation of knowledge and skills necessary for an officer’s critical thinking, creativity, and pursuit of lifelong learning.

Philosophy Elective Courses

PY300: Philosophical Methods

This course provides cadets the methodological tools required to analyze and understand the important moments and topics in philosophy, developing the philosophical language necessary for success within the philosophy curriculum. Through the study of philosophy within the western tradition, cadets will learn about major developments in logic, metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, among other areas. This background provides the foundational knowledge required of a philosophy major.

PY305: Logical Reasoning

This course blends two areas of study that are often kept separate in university courses on logic: informal logic and formal (or symbolic) logic. Informal logic emphasizes natural language arguments, rules of valid inference (called traditional logic), and the identification of mistakes in reasoning that make arguments logically weak though possibly persuasive (fallacies). By contrast, formal logic builds a symbolic representation of sentences and arguments, describes rigorous tests for determining whether symbolized arguments are valid, and provides the means to assess arguments of far greater complexity than the rules of traditional logic can manage. Although symbolic logic may look like mathematics, it is really a useful means for examining sentences and arguments solely in terms of their logical meaning, much as x-ray machines enable a skillful eye to examine skeletons. The course will make some attempt to connect these two approaches to logic instead of leaving them in a state of tension or contrast or emphasizing one at the expense of the other.

PY310: Reality and Knowledge

At some point we all want to know what is—and how we know it. Addressing those very questions, PY310 tackles the problems of ultimate reality (metaphysics) and human knowledge (epistemology). Are we really free, or are all of our actions determined? Do we have souls or spirits that survive after our death, or are we just material bodies with complex brains that in the end disintegrate? Is there life after death? If those metaphysical questions seem tough, what will you do with these epistemological puzzlers? Can you know anything for certain? What does it mean to say you know something? How can you justify your beliefs? By the end of the course, you will be able to articulate your own view of what is and how you know what is. Your roommate will be impressed.

PY320: Ethics

This course offers a systematic examination and comparison of standard Ethical doctrines as well as an analysis of some of the fundamental concepts and assumptions belonging to the nature of ethical thinking itself (Meta-ethics). The ethical doctrines to be studied include those associated with renowned philosophers such as Aristotle (virtue theory), Kant (deontology), and Mill (utilitarianism). The focus will be not only on original texts which advance the doctrines but also on criticisms and defenses of them by contemporary philosophers. The texts of Meta-ethics to be studied belong to the analytic tradition of Philosophy and concern the meaning and status of normative language in general. PY320 provides a worthwhile background cadets may apply in any course in applied Ethics, such as PY325 Military Ethics and PY326 Cyber Ethics. It will also prove useful to cadets in other academic majors, particularly in Political Theory, Law, and History.

PY325: Military Ethics

This course builds within the framework of Just War Theory introduced in the core course, PY201. The central concepts include justified responses to aggression, proportionality in the use of force, the rights of non-combatants, and the moral (as distinguished from legal) responsibilities of soldiers and their officers. PY325 works with these concepts in three creative ways. The course traces the underlying ethical principles of Just War Theory; it applies these principles to the contemporary context of asymmetrical warfare, such as found in the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan, and it examines case studies of situations requiring officers to make moral decisions under combat pressure within the fog of incomplete or conflicting information.

PY326: Cyber Ethics

This multi-disciplinary course will examine the current ethical, social and legal issues related to cyberspace, with a particular focus on: (1) the regulation or regulability of cyberspace; (2) the inherent tensions between traditional government surveillance and public safety efforts, and the growing necessity for strong cyber security practices; (3) the ethical concerns surrounding government secrecy; (4) privacy and anonymization in cyberspace; and (5) cyber weapons and cyberwar.

PY329: Topics in Ethics

This course provides cadets an opportunity for reading and analysis in depth of some of the seminal philosophical works in ethics. Taught in seminar format, the course challenges first-class and second-class cadets to take responsibility for discussion and analysis and for drawing connections between ideas as they occur throughout history and across cultures. The cadets will gain a deeper understanding of the human condition and of the complex world of values.

PY330: Political Philosophy

Combine contentious recent election campaigns, a controversial war, and a labyrinthine debate about what globalization means. What do you get? A great setting for philosophical investigation into the nature of justice, rights, liberty, equality, and other central political ideas. In PY330 we will haul classical and contemporary political theories before the tribunal of logic and experience. The effort will help us better to understand our political choices and ourselves.

PY345: Philosophy of Religion

What are the arguments for and against the existence of God? How can a good God allow the presence of evil? Are miracles possible? Is there life after death? Is it rational to believe in God, or does faith demand the suspension of reason? Is there a necessary relationship between ethics and religion? Is there a single true religion? If these questions have ever intrigued you, you already know that you need this course, in which you will confront the words of the Oxford philosopher Anthony Kenny: “If there is no God, then God is incalculably the greatest single creation of the human imagination.” Real or imagined, what subject could be more compelling than God?

PY350: Philosophy of Science

It has long been acknowledged that mathematics and the natural sciences provide knowledge of the world—if any disciplines do. But “the” scientific worldview has proved suspiciously unstable, thanks to Darwin, Einstein, and quantum theory. In PY350 you will roam the halls of science and learn how the structure was built. Knowing the equation is critically important, of course, but understanding the processes that led to our search for the equation provides insight into the whole scientific enterprise. Take this course to understand science better.

PY355: Philosophy of Mind

A mind is a terrible thing to waste. It’s also a very difficult thing to understand. How can there be room for conscious beings in a world apparently composed of physical stuff and governed by physical laws? Are minds supernatural entities, souls that lie beyond the reach of science? Or are minds just very complicated physical structures? What is the relationship between psychology and physics, or psychology and computer science? Could a properly designed computer think? Could it experience emotion? This course—properly designed and loaded with emotion—will help you and your mind attempt to find plausible answers to fundamental questions.

PY360: Ancient Philosophy

The ancient Greek philosophers gave Western culture its central ideas about humanity, science, ethics, and politics. You will examine the exciting theories about human nature and the nature of reality that set philosophy on its thoughtful way, including the works of such luminaries as Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, Epicurus, and the Early Christian philosophers who sought to develop a rational framework for their faith. You will also examine some current scholarship on these philosophers, with an eye toward learning how and to what extent philosophy has changed, and how it is done today.

PY369: Eastern Thought

In seeking understanding of the Eastern way, you will explore diverse primary sources such as the I Ching, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, The Analects, the Bhagavadgita, the Tao Te Ching, and the Code of the Samurai. We will study the philosophical significance of the ideas, images, symbolism, and methods of understanding in systems of thought like Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. Attention to C. G. Jung’s conception of archetypes of the collective unconscious and to his commentaries on some of these classics may move us from the unconscious to the conscious. We may practice divination as described in the I Ching (what does the future hold?) and then analyze its philosophical importance.

PY370: 17th- & 18th-Century Philosophy

This course examines a selection of texts written by central figures in the formative centuries of modern European philosophy. Their ideas have had continuing influence on philosophers down to our present day, as well as profound influences on the development of political thought and the scientific understanding of human beings. Two schools of thought will be covered: Rationalism and Empiricism. Associated with the first school are the continental philosophers Descartes (widely accepted as the founder of Modern Philosophy), Spinoza and Leibniz. The school of Empiricism includes the British philosophers Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley and Hume.

PY275: Kant & 19th-Century Philosophy

Kant is arguably the most important philosophical figure in the modern era. This course examines Kant’s reactions to early modern philosophy and explains his enormous innovations in epistemology, metaphysics, and political and ethical thought. Paying special attention to Kant’s influence, the course also examines major philosophical movements in the 19th century. These movements might include idealism (both in Germany and Britain), pragmatism, utilitarianism, existentialism, and the late-century birth of analytic philosophy. Hegel, Marx, J. S. Mill, William James, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and G. E. Moore are possible subjects of close study.

PY380: 20th-Century Philosophy

Join with the thinkers of the famous Vienna Circle or engage Sartre and the existentialists in engaging the philosophical ideas of the 20th Century. This period saw an entire host of new views and fields emerge in the discipline of Philosophy. We’ll explore the rise (and sometimes fall) of major new movements such as Logical Positivism, Naturalism, Existentialism, Pragmatism, and the Philosophy of Language. Some of the important philosophers we’ll meet include A. J. Ayer, Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell, Sartre, Heidegger, Charles Pierce, and John Dewey.

PY390: Inter-Department Seminar

This course brings together a senior faculty member from DEP and one other department with cadets majoring in those two departments with the aim of conducting a joint investigation of an important topic or cluster of topics, or the work of a single author, of recognized significance and shared interest. It will be taught every other year, on each occasion combining Philosophy with another discipline. Examples of second disciplines include History, Political Theory, Psychology, and Law. Examples of topics include justice, philosophies of history, the evolution of human rights theory, the relationship between morality and law, cognition and mental phenomena, and evolving conceptions of citizenship. Examples of single author investigations include Locke, Rousseau, Hume. The course will count as credit towards the major in both of the paired departments.

PY400: Senior Seminar

This course provides cadets with the opportunity for advanced study in the discipline. Through the advanced study of a topic in philosophy, cadets will build on the foundation established in PY300 and throughout their academic career at West Point. They will deepen their mastery of philosophical concepts and methods and grow as scholars by applying those concepts and methods to a number of different disciplinary perspectives. Through intensive study of primary and secondary texts, this course broadens the knowledge base by bridging disciplinary approaches and setting the stage for cadets’ continued educational development.