Prepared Courses

Introductory Courses

Intermediate and Advanced Courses

  • Consciousness
  • Epistemology
  • Speech Act Theory
  • Philosophy of Biology
  • Philosophy of Cognitive Science
  • Philosophy of Mind

Courses I Can Teach with Advanced Notice

Introductory Courses

  • Biomedical Ethics
  • Critical Thinking
  • Philosophy and Time Travel

Intermediate and Advanced Courses

  • Metaphysics
  • Minds and Machines
  • Modern Philosophy
  • Philosophy of Language
  • Philosophy of Science
 

Good teaching is a balancing act between challenging students to grapple with difficult material and keeping them interested, attentive, and engaged. The best way to achieve this, in my experience, is to alternate between short accessible lectures and interactive in-class activities.

What makes teaching philosophy unique is that students are not expected to accept, uncritically, an established theory or set of facts. Instead, students are expected to learn how to reason effectively about candidate answers to philosophical questions. Accordingly, I expect my students to learn to read and understand philosophy, challenge philosophical views, and develop philosophical views of their own.

A typical day in my introductory classes begins with a short quiz that motivates attendance and careful reading. This is followed by a lecture period that sets the stage for the day's topic, after which I pose a question for discussion. Posing specific questions makes it clear what sort of participation is expected and it helps to teach them what counts as a philosophical question. I usually ask them to discuss the issue among themselves in small groups before addressing the entire class. This helps to foster a sense of comradery among the students and it gets them comfortable talking. Many of the questions I ask challenge students to come up with a counterexample of some kind. I like to spend the first week or two of class discussing what counterexamples are and how to craft them. On the first day of class I often ask my students to define a simple word like "chair" or "table" and then I challenge them to come up with counterexamples to one another's definitions.

After they have talked through the question among themselves, they write down their answers and I invite them to share their thoughts with the rest of the class. I begin discussion by calling on one or two students that haven't participated recently. Quiet or shy students that might otherwise avoid participation often become quite vocal after being called on and, in my experience, are much more likely to volunteer their answers later on. I then open the floor for all students to share their answers.

In order to keep my teaching fresh, I like to include material in my courses that speaks to both the students' interests and my own. Often this involves selecting material to teach that has recently appeared in the news, the movies, or popular literature. Recently, for example, I devoted several weeks to the philosophical issues surrounding gender and transgender. Many students reported finding this topic very interesting and chose to write their final papers on it.

I expect introductory students to learn the fundamentals of philosophical writing. I ask them to write, in turn, a short expository paper, a short critical paper, and finally a longer argumentative paper. Before turning in the argumentative paper they are required to finish a draft and attend a mandatory peer review session. If the class is small enough I also like to schedule individual consultations with them to go over any weak points in their argumentative paper before they turn them in.

Although I have yet to teach intermediate and advanced courses, I have thought about what changes I would make. Beyond assigning longer and more challenging papers, I would allow discussion periods to be more open-ended and I would expect students to participate more in guiding and directing discussion. In intermediate courses I would still quiz students to motivate reading, but in advanced courses I would replace the quizzes with daily writing assignments that prepare students to make their own contributions.

Philosophy teaches students to challenge foundational assumptions that in other areas of academic study may go unchallenged or even unmentioned. While challenging such assumptions is often inappropriate outside of philosophical discussion, having some awareness of them is useful and significant for any path a student might decide to take in life—it makes for more critical scientists, more incisive journalists, and morally better people.