Ready to Roll
Everyone is trying to convince us of something: companies try to convince us to buy their products; politicians try to convince us to support them; or, our friends try to convince us to go out instead of studying. The primary means by which these attempts at persuasion are carried out is through arguments—a series of premises used to convince you to accept a conclusion. This course is designed to improve your ability to spot, assess, and respond to arguments, and to create strong arguments of your own. You will learn the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning, and the unique methods of dealing with them. You will learn how to recognize logical fallacies and will be able to avoid them in your own writing. Finally, you will learn about cognitive biases and how they are used to exploit our reasoning.
This course is very similar to the course above, except spread over a full academic year.
This course introduces students to two important branches of philosophy—epistemology, the study of the nature of knowledge) and, metaphysics (the study of the nature of reality)—as well as the basic principles of good argumentation and critical analysis. Students will have the opportunity to explore a number of central philosophical questions, including: the difference between knowledge and opinion; the role of evidence in fixing beliefs; cognitive biases and other impediments to critical thought; the nature of consciousness; the relationship between mind and body; and, the possibility of free will; and, the existence of a god.
This course will have two recurring themes. First, we will regularly consider the relationship between these two branches of philosophy, and how our understanding in one may shape our conclusions in the other. Second, we will pay close attention to how these seemingly abstract questions are grounded in practical considerations.
It’s getting harder to separate the signal from the noise. Each new YouTube account brings in a new voice clamouring for your intention, convinced in its own absolute correctness. “Believe me,” they say, “for I have The Facts.” What should you believe? For that matter, how do you form beliefs? And when can you say that you know something? Is that different from just being right? With so many voices all saying contradictory things, can we really know anything at all?
In this course, we will consider three foundational topics of epistemology, the branch of philosophy that studies the possibility, sources, and justification of knowledge. First, we will consider whether knowledge has a particular structure that sets it apart from true belief. Second, we will consider whether knowledge has a particular source that sets it apart from true belief. Lastly, we will consider the social dimension of knowledge, and whether being with others affects the possibility and/or extent of knowledge available to us. Recurring themes include epistemic luck, epistemic responsibility, and epistemic injustice.
“What is?” The preceding sentence was not a typo, but a central problem of metaphysics, the branch of philosophy that studies, broadly speaking, the kinds of things that exist and how they interact. Is the universe made up of tiny, indivisible atoms? Nothingness? Or maybe it ought to be expressed as a mathematical function? And how do these things interact?
In this course, we will discuss two longstanding problems of metaphysics that involve many of the questions mentioned above, and have significant consequences for how we understand ourselves and our relation to the world around us. First, we will consider the problem of free will versus determinism. Topics will include: the nature of causation; the concepts of freedom and the different forms of determinism; the problem posed by the possible existence of a god or gods; and, our understanding of natural laws. Second, we will consider the mind-body problem. Topics will include: substance; mental states and qualia; the existence or non-existence of time; and, the concept of change.
This is an introductory course in formal logic that covers the use of symbolic techniques for the analysis and construction of good arguments. As it is with any worthwhile endeavour, starting out down the path can be equal parts intriguing, exciting, and terrifying. You may find yourself asking, with some degree of alarm, why the As are upside-down and the Es are backwards, or what double-sided arrows have anything to do with philosophy. Yet this is a worthwhile endeavour: Acquiring the ability to represent arguments in a formal manner will allow you to cut through the fluff that often accompanies philosophical positions and see them for what they are. Formal logic is a tool to be used to sharpen language and thought in order to bring clarity and precision.
This course is an introduction to formal logic. While an introduction, by the end of the course you will have competence with the foundational tools of formal analysis: truth tables, operators, and derivations. We will study both propositional and predicate logic.
Ethics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the governing principles of moral action. Moral psychology is an interdisciplinary, empirical approach to determining the conditions under which moral decisions are made. 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: 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. Applications may include redistribution of wealth, organ donation, capital punishment, etc.
Very few questions receive as passionate responses as the question “Do we have free will?” That we have the freedom to do otherwise is the basis of our ethical, legal, and educational systems, yet a growing body of evidence in physics and biology suggests that we have very little, if any, control over our behaviour. How can we maintain that we have free will if it seems like there is no place for it? Why should we punish people for acting in certain ways if it was never possible for them to act otherwise? What do such systems say about the possibility of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good divine being?
In this course, we will examine central questions in the debate between determinism and free will from both a historical and topical standpoint. We will learn about the various kinds of determinism, and the distinct challenges they pose for defenders of free will. We will consider the metaphysics of causation and how this informs our accounts of action. We shall consider whether we truly have the ‘ability to do otherwise’, and what it means to act against our best judgement. Finally, we will consider how we may conceive of moral responsibility in a deterministic universe.
Consider all of the emotions that you have experienced today. You may have been irritated by other commuters. You may have been happy to hear that your favourite sports team won last night. You may have been proud to tell a friend about how well you performed last term. In fact, most of our experiences have some sort of emotional content. Despite playing a vital role in our mental lives, the emotions were not considered to be important either philosophically or psychologically until the mid-twentieth century. Several questions persist: What characterizes emotions from other mental states? How do they relate to these other states? How can thoughts influence our emotions, and vice versa? How do we determine which emotional responses are reasonable or unreasonable to a given stimulus in a given context? How does emotional content affect rationality?
In this course, we will examine potential answers to these and other questions from both philosophical and psychological perspectives using both historical and contemporary resources.
In this course, we’ll be thinking about brains in vats, zombies, and androids. We will consider whether any of these characters can think, feel, or reason, and, if so, whether they think, feel, or reason in the same way that we do. These problems have practical consequences for how we approach each other, other animals, or technology. If consciousness can be reduced to brain processes, and brain processes can be replicated by sophisticated computers, can we cheat death by downloading our consciousness to a robot? Would we be the same person? Or, consider first contact with an extraterrestrial species. Is there any reason to think that they would believe in the mind in the same way in which we think about mind? Would they accept the same rules of logic? And, most importantly: Do androids dream of electric sheep?
This course is an introduction to philosophy of mind, the branch of metaphysics that deals with theories of the mind and the mind-body relation. This course is divided into three units. In the first unit, we will examine some of the historical accounts of the mind-body problem, such as dualism, materialism, and structuralism. In the second unit, we will consider whether machines can think, and under what conditions this must occur. Finally, we will consider whether non-human animals can think, and if so, if it is anything like how humans think.
This course is an advanced introduction to major topics in contemporary Action Theory. Action Theory is a division of metaphysics concerned with providing an account of behaviour. Specific topics include: the relation between trying and acting; how to act on reasons; the relation between desires and actions; and, our freedom to choose between different courses of action. We shall study figures such as Wittgenstein, Davidson, Hornsby, James, and more.
William James has fascinated and stimulated his readers for over a century. Underneath his clear, lively prose one can find valuable insights about enduring philosophical problems. James’s influence can be found in a great deal of contemporary analytic philosophy, but yet he is rarely included in the analytic canon. In this course, we will study some of James’s most significant works and relate it to issues in contemporary analytic philosophy. Topics include: the pragmatic method; the ‘Will to Believe’ doctrine; and, the ‘Sentiment of Rationality’ doctrine. In each case, we will be relating our topics to contemporary analytic philosophy to show how live and relevant James’s work remains to this day.
- History & Philosophy of Psychology (200-400 level, S/L)
- The Origins of Pragmatism (300-400, S)
- British Empiricism (200-300, L)
- Any course I’ve already taught, such as those here.