Our central goal in this course is to cultivate the ability to hold a productive philosophical conversation. There are many ways to hold a productive philosophical conversation, but for practical reasons we will focus on conversations within Anglophone philosophy. We will closely examine influential works of the Western canon, including those of Plato, Anselm, and Hume. While we will come to these texts on our own terms, we will also observe how they represent the concerns of Anglophone philosophy. Consequently, our class sessions will feature a mix of discussion and lecturing. Our assignments (two papers and four conversational "podcasts") will asses our ability to relate the material to our own perspectives.
Courses Previously Taught
Metaphysics is the area of philosophy that explores the underlying reality of the world, which can create the impression that metaphysics is dry, uninteresting, and irrelevant to our lives. This, however, is not the case, and in this course we will explore metaphysical topics that matter. Some questions along these lines are: How do I freely choose my actions, or is the future fixed? What sort of thing are we, and what happens to us when we die? What is the nature of race and gender? Along the way we will learn key metaphysical concepts, including essence, possible world, existence, naturalness, personhood, and causation. The course is primarily discussion-based and will emphasize philosophy as a collaborative activity.
Groups: What They Are and What They Can Do
(with Rebecca Chan)
We are all members of groups. Some of us are members of a sports team, the staff of the Observer, or the band. We are all members of the community of Notre Dame. Groups are commonplace. Yet, they raise a host of interesting philosophical questions: What kind of thing is a group? How are groups formed or dissolved? What sort of actions can groups perform? Are they responsible for their good (or bad) actions the way that individuals are? These questions are essential for our everyday lives. Answering them guides us in how we think about ourselves and our roles in groups. And apart from our personal investment, groups constitute some of the most crucial features of the world -- governments, churches, and corporations, to name a few.
We’ll have two main goals for this course. First, we’ll familiarize ourselves with answers philosophers have given to the above questions. Second, we’ll develop the resources necessary to intelligently discuss how these issues relate to our everyday lives. Potential topics here may include: How many members of a band or team can be replaced before the resulting band or team is no longer the same? Are mob bosses responsible for all the crimes members of their mob commit? Can corporations speak and hold moral or political views the same way individuals do?
Rationality and Action
In this course we will focus on the sense of rationality associated with action, practical rationality. We will approach the topic in four discrete units. In the first unit we will focus on issues concerning decision theory, the study of how best to satisfy preferences. In the second unit we will consider more robust conceptions of practical rationality. Then, in the third unit, we will consider some cases where it seems like we systematically act deficiently. Finally, in the fourth unit we will discuss particularly hard choices concerning what to do.
Ultimately, students can expect to become better actors. Along the way, students should expect to develop the skill to critically engage with the material, hone their ability to articulate and defend their own beliefs, and apply those beliefs to real-world situations. These three more concrete goals will be measured by students' participation, short weekly writing tasks, four unit quizzes, and one medium-length paper on a topic of their own choice. Students will be guided on each of these tasks.
Death and Dying
Like everyone else, philosophers have always thought about death. But the conclusions philosophers reach on this topic are not idle: they have important consequences for how we live and how we die. Death, of course, is personal. But it is also public. Many contemporary social issues revolve around death and dying. The first goal of this course is to learn and explore both historical and contemporary philosophical treatment of death. Topics include: What, precisely is death? What happens to us when we die? Why is death bad? Are there circumstances in which death is good? When is it permissible to end a life? How does the possibility of immortality affect the value of life and death? The second goal of this course is to help students discover their own beliefs about death and improve their ability to articulate, defend, and act upon those beliefs.
Imagine you are a member of a city council faced with a decision. Currently, there is a large track of land on the outskirts of the city limits. A company has offered to buy the land from the city to turn into a golfing facility. A group of community activists wants to retain the land for public access and conservation. The city would financially benefit from the sale. Local wildlife would benefit from conservation. The proposed golf facility would create new jobs. But it would also prevent future generations from freely accessing the preserved land. How would you vote?
In this course, we will confront ethical dilemmas concerning our engagement with the environment. To do so, we will anchor ourselves around contemporary "case studies" (for example, the Paris Agreement on climate change). The primary goal of the course is to develop our ability to competently explain our positions on the case studies, as well as on related issues in environmental ethics. To meet this goal, we will first identify the relevant philosophical issues at stake. We will then familiarize ourselves with the philosophical concepts necessary to understand these issues. Finally, we will synthesize all of this material to justify our own conclusions about what we ought to do and why we ought to do it.
Introduction to Philosophy
When we do philosophy, we attempt to use reason to resolve seemingly irresolvable disputes about the nature of the world and our place in it. Our central goal in this course is to develop the ability to do just that. In our pursuit of this goal, we will explore questions like: How can we live good lives? What do we know? Does God exist? How should we improve society? To reach our goal, we will have to improve our ability to use reason. This course will provide the resources to do so; we will develop skills in argumentation, logic, and precision of thought. This course will also provide the opportunity to practice these skills; large portions of class time and many assignments will be dedicated to the application of these skills in collaborative discussion.