On this page, I hope to give visitors an idea of the breadth of courses I am capable of teaching beyond those which I have taught already. You may click on any course title to view a sample syllabus for that course.
Basic Problems (100-level)
In this course, we’ll be thinking about brains in vats, zombies, and androids. We’ll be thinking about right and wrong, and whether we can even tell the difference. We’ll be thinking about our own beliefs, and whether they pass muster as knowledge. We’ll consider the role that arguments play in shaping public discourse, and whether truth is in the eye of the beholder. These problems have practical consequences for how we approach each other, other animals, and technology. In short, the perennial philosophical problems and questions are as relevant now as ever, and in this course, we will push ourselves to go beyond stock responses or the YouTube echo chamber and really work to understand the world around us.
Ethics & Moral Psychology (100- or 200-level)
Are we ‘hard-wired’ to be ethical? Philosophers have long sought an ethical system that can neatly divide actions into either ‘moral’ or ‘immoral’ that we can all agree on. Even though philosophers have yet to find such a system, their persistence speaks volumes about how people think and respond to the world. Why would we keep at it if we weren’t sure that an answer was out there? Recent advances in moral psychology suggest that there are reasons for why we respond to the world the way we do, and how we might navigate those responses.
In this course, we will combine traditional approaches to ethics with contemporary research in moral psychology to develop a well-rounded understanding of moral behaviour. We shall study four major normative accounts of ethics found in the Western tradition: utilitarianism, deontology, ethics of care, and virtue ethics. We shall relate each of these accounts to major topics in moral psychology: preferences, responsibility, emotions, and character, respectively. Figures studied include Bentham, Kant, Gilligan, and Aristotle.
The Metaphysics of Freedom (300- or 400-level)
Guilt, shame, indignation, and other responses to someone’s behaviour all have the same underlying belief that the agent in question could have acted otherwise. Why would we feel guilt over how we acted if we were not responsible for our actions? Why do we ostracize those who have no control over theirs? These behaviours do not make sense without an understanding of what it means to act and how the universe responds—or doesn’t respond—to those actions.
In this course, we will consider two topics central to contemporary metaphysics. First, we will ask what it means to act on an intention. Is an intention a particular kind of mental state? Is it characterized by a particular feeling? Are we irrational when we act against our intentions? Second, we will consider the way the world must be for our intentions to have any effect. If the world is a closed, deterministic system, then our intentions have no causal efficacy. Is there a way where both determinism and free will can coexist? What picture do the sciences paint for us about this? How could we conceive of personal responsibility in such a world?
Philosophy of Mind (300- to 400-level)
In this advanced seminar, we will focus on two recent and growing avenues of inquiry in philosophy of mind and cognitive science: embodied cognition and extended cognition. Both topics challenge mainstream thought about the mind in interesting and provocative ways. Embodied cognition is the idea that the character of cognition is shaped in a deep way by the physical features of the agent’s body—and not just the brain. For example, figures such as Damasio or Prinz argue that our emotions (and all the physical processes which constitute them) are an integral part of our reasoning processes; thus, cognition includes affect. This takes cognition out of the head and into the whole body, considering things like body language, linguistic abilities, and so on. Extended cognition takes this a step further and argues that cognition extends beyond the body, and includes all features of the environment that the agent uses to reason or make decisions (such as the computer used to write this introduction).
Philosophy of Psychology (300- to 400-level)
This course is an advanced introduction to the philosophy of psychology. The philosophy of psychology is a growing and vibrant area of study concerned with drawing out the implications of the empirical findings of psychology for traditional philosophical problems, especially those in the philosophy of mind. In this course, we will study three of the most active questions in the philosophy of psychology. First, we will consider one of the most longstanding issues with psychology: How is an empirical science of the mind possible? Second, we will consider what work in the psychology of judgement and decision making means for our conception of rationality, or of humans as being ‘rational animals’. Finally, we will consider the role of intentional states—broadly speaking, mental events that are about the world in some way—in cognitive psychology, and whether we can reconcile the existence of intentional states with a naturalistic worldview.
Great Books: James’s Varieties (400-level)
In his 1902 bestselling book The Varieties of Religious Experience, James sets out on a quest no less ambitious than to articulate the foundations for a science of religion. His purpose behind this is better revealed in the subtitle: A Study of Human Nature. To James, religious experiences were a central aspect of what it means to be human. James argued, controversially, that religious life was not limited by the performance of particular religious rites or even adherence to a particular religion. Rather, religious life was founded exclusively on individual, and intensely personal, experiences wherein the individual came into contact with something bigger than herself (including nothingness, in some cases). In this course, we will work our way through James’s fascinating and exciting text, confronting such topics as the weakness of will, the sick soul, healthy-mindedness, the divided self, conversion, and meliorism. We will bring in other works and other philosophers as needed.
More to come!