This page gives overviews for some of the classes I have taught or plan on teaching. You can use the links below to jump to the corresponding point on the page.
Please contact me if you would like to see copies of the syllabi.
Teaching a cow about genuine modal realism
Taught at Colgate University in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021
A systematic study of central issues involved in theorizing about reality at the most general level. Is the world a world of substances or a world of events? What is the nature of causation? Do concepts and statements refer to the world as it is in itself, or is such a notion idle or incoherent? How are such things as possibility and necessity and laws of nature to be understood? The topics are handled in a way that stresses the historical persistence of the debates over these issues but focuses on recent and contemporary discussions of the topics.
In this iteration of the class, we will explore issues related to realist and anti-realist positions in Philosophy. A realist about some x is (approximately) a person who thinks that x (or x’s) exist. An anti-realist thinks that x’s don’t exist. As an example, people are (pretheoretically) usually tempted to say that, while atoms and molecules do exist, ghosts and witches don’t. But what does that mean? What does it take for something to exist? And how can we talk about something if it fails to exist at all? We will begin, in the first half of the course, by introducing ourselves to what it means to be a realist or an anti-realist generally; What kinds of things should get into our ontology (our account of what exists)?; In what kinds of ways might we argue that something doesn’t ‘exist’?; Why might someone by a global anti-realist? In the second half of the course, we will look a specific realist and anti-realist positions. For example, we will look at realist and anti-realist positions on color; What kind of a thing is color?; Does it exist outside of the human mind?; Is it accurate to say that some thing in the external world has color, or can we only say that our sense data have color? Other topics will include science, mathematics, and possibility.
Introduction to Philosophy
Taught at Colgate University in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021, Cornell University in Spring 2020, Auburn Correctional Facility in Spring 2015 and Spring 2017
Does God exist, or does the prevalence of evil make that impossible? What makes an action right or wrong? What does it mean for something to be true, and if it is true, how do we know it? What is the structure of time, and how does that impact our freedom? Philosophy is occupied with these sorts of fundamental questions about ourselves and the world. In this introductory class, students will survey the various branches of philosophy and learn the skills necessary to engage with them thoughtfully and effectively.
Introduction to the Philosophy of Science
Taught Cornell University in Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Fall 2018, Fall 2017
Most of us think of science as having a mainline to the truth; if some claim is supported by science, then it is surely true. What gives science this special status? And what exactly gets to count as ‘scientific’ in this sense; just the natural sciences, or the social sciences too? What about anthropology and history? Do all ‘sciences’ really share the same methodology, and is that methodology really more reliable than other methodologies? Is science always our best tool in finding out about the world, or are there some aspects of the world that science (even a fully developed science) can’t tell us about? In this class, we will explore these questions and others with a view to literature in the philosophy of science.
Introduction to Logic
Taught at Auburn Correctional Facility in Spring 2018 and at Five Points Correctional Facility in Fall 2017
This course will introduce you to the world of formal logic. Formal logic is concerned with making arguments strong and convincing. When I say ‘arguments’, I don’t mean verbally abusive shouting matches, of course. I mean the kinds of tools you use when trying to convince someone of something. For example, if you and your buddy, Joe, are discussing whether Frank will be in the yard this evening, you might make the following argument: ‘No, Frank will not be in the yard this evening, because it’s a Tuesday and Frank has English Literature class every Tuesday evening.’ In this example, you use an argument to convince your friend that Frank will not be in the yard this evening. As this example demonstrates, we use arguments constantly in our everyday lives. They can be quite simple (like the one above), and they can be very complicated (like when you make a case to the parole board). They can be rather trivial (like arguing over what to have for dinner), and they can be of the utmost importance (like deciding whether to go to college or get a job). Since argumentation plays such a big role in our lives, it is important to understand the processes and forms that make arguments good or bad. That is exactly what we will study in this class. We will ask what an argument is, what makes on good or bad, and we will learn how to formalize arguments into deductive proofs.
Introduction to Ethics
Taught at Five Points Correctional Facility in Fall 2016
In this class we will explore the concepts of good and bad/right and wrong. Our general questions will be ‘what makes an action right or wrong?’, ‘which are the right actions, and which are the wrong ones?’ and ‘what kinds of things are moral truths (if there are any)?’ We will do this by considering the work of established philosophers, considering our own intuitions on the subject and conducting written and verbal exercises that exercise our skills of reasoning and argumentation. As a result, you will have the opportunity to learn more about the ethical positions of respected philosophical thinkers, to learn more about your own ethical position and perhaps refine it, and to practice your critical thinking and argumentation skills.
This course is an introductory ethics course. Its purpose is to give you an initial exposure to a variety of theories in ethics and to give you experience in writing and arguing philosophically. While there are no formal prerequisites for this course, it will help if you have had some previous exposure to philosophy. Formal argumentation and logical inferences will be discussed explicitly in this course, but not at the level that they would in introductory philosophy course.
Special Topics in Philosophy: Philosophy of Mind
Co-Taught with Chad McIntosh at Auburn Correctional Facility in Spring 2016
This course will focus on issues in the philosophy of mind. The format includes reading, in-class discussion and student presentations. The course is separated into three modules which focus on different proposals in the philosophy of Mind. Module 1 will ask ‘is the mind a non-physical thing?’ We will look at the classic Cartesian conceivability argument for Substance Dualism (the view that the mind is an immaterial substance) and some responses to that argument. Are conceivability arguments in general effective? What does it take for an argument to be successful or persuasive? How can we become better reasoners? In Module 2 we will consider the thesis that the mind is identical with the brain (the ‘Identity Theory). We will ask whether this theory can avoid the problems for Substance Dualism, and what problems of its own it might have (Can our mental lives really be explained purely in terms of neurons and grey matter?). Finally, in Module 3, we will look at theories that try to have the best of both worlds (Non-Reductive Physicalisms) and ask whether they really achieve this aim or whether they end up giving us the worst of both worlds.
Special Topics in Philosophy: Space and Time
Taught at Auburn Correctional Facility in Fall 2015 and at Cayuga Correctional Facility in Summer 2015
In this introductory metaphysics class, we will focus on questions about space and time. In particular we will be asking: ‘do space and time exist, and if so in what manner do they exist?’ We will start by asking whether space is a ‘thing’ in it’s own right or whether what we call space is just a name for relations between objects, for example, if all the objects were removed from the world, would there be anything left over? And is it possible for a lone object to be spinning? These considerations will lead us to ask what kind of role time might play in inquiries into space. We will survey of some of the competing theories of time and ask questions like ‘does the past exist?’ ‘Does the future?’ ‘Does time really pass or is it just a series of static snapshots of the world?’ ‘Is there just one privileged present time, or is presentness just another word for simultaneity?’ We will then look at accounts of how things persist through time. If the past does exist, do I exist both in the past and the future? Does that mean I exist in two places at once? And if the past doesn’t exist, how can it be the case that I used to be 4 feet tall? Finally we will use our collected knowledge of space and time to ask whether time travel is theoretically possible. If I had a time machine, could I go back in time and can I change the past? Could I go back and meet myself? Could I go back and kill my own grandfather?
Naturalism in the Philosophy of Science
Not yet taught
A common belief is that the really real things in the world can all be reduced to the basic elements of physics (electrons, fields, etc.). This kind of assumption results in difficult questions about what to do with those categories (such as ethical values, rules, laws, nations, and markets) that don’t seem to have a complete description in the hard sciences; are all such categories ‘subjective’? Socially constructed? Unimportant? Less true? In this class, we will consider examples of categories that do not obviously reduce to physics, and ask what kinds of conclusions we should draw from this.
In order to provide the necessary grounding in the literature, the first half of the course will center around historical positions in the philosophy of science. We will discuss views in the history of philosophy of science such as varieties of logical empiricism (verificationism, falsificationism, operationalism etc.), the Kuhnian picture of science and its opponents (Lakatos, Laudan, and Feyerabend), and the more recent naturalisms (especially accounts of natural kinds). Additionally, the first half of the course will present historical problems from the philosophy of science such as the problems of confirmation, the theory-ladenness of observation, the underdetermination of theory by data, and the pessimistic meta-induction.
The second half of the course will investigate ‘applied’ issues that make use of the tools we have developed in the preceding weeks. We will investigate various topics including the problem (are species natural kinds), issues about morality (are moral facts, insofar as there are any, ‘scientific’?), and issues about disability and mental illness (are illnesses objective and/or scientific, are they inherently social?)
Philosophy of Sex and Gender
Not yet taught
This seminar investigates being, saying, and knowing from the standpoint of feminist philosophy. The course is split into four modules. In the first we investigate the ways in which facts about sex and gender can influence what we can and do say. For example, what I feel able to say is surely influenced by my social standing in a community. Does that constraint go even further limit the range of what I can literally say? Similarly, our language is certainly gendered in a variety of ways – pronouns are gendered as are many nouns – just how deep does the gendered aspect of language go? And in what ways does this effect our everyday lives? In the second module, we move from issues about saying to issues about knowing. Here we look at work in feminist epistemology and ask questions like; does my gender affect what I am taken to know?; does it affect what it is possible for me to know? Can being a member of a certain social category (e.g. ‘woman’) give one a privileged ability to discover scientific truths? If so how might that affect our scientific practices? In the third module, we look at existence form the feminist perspective. Here we will ask questions about ontology from the feminist perspective. What exactly is the category ‘woman’ anyway, such that it can have such wide-reaching affects? Are there any properties that a have essentially in virtue of being a woman? In the previous module, we asked whether my social position can affect my ‘access to the truth.’ We now ask the related question, ‘do social facts such as the fact that women are disadvantaged in the workplace affect what is true about atoms and quarks?’Finally, in the fourth module, we will look briefly at some of the ameliorative projects that have been proposed. We will have time only to begin to think about the ways in which we can combat the practices and issues explored in the course so far.