If philosophy is a conversation defined by a set of questions and answers, then to learn philosophy is to learn about that conversation, and to learn how to do philosophy is to learn how to contribute to the conversation. Philosophers ask questions about the nature of knowledge, beauty, freedom, rules, meaning, causation, blame, responsibility, identity, explanation, understanding, wisdom, belief, emotions, value, duty, mentality, and many other things. Many of these questions overlap, as do the answers philosophers have offered. So perhaps it's better to think of philosophy as a set of conversations all going on at once, many of which overlap in their content and participants.
Metaphorically, I like to think of each philosophical conversation as a long twisting hallway, indeterminate in length. The footpath is the question being pursued and each archway a proposed answer, potentially the point at which you should stop your trek down the hallway. Along the way there are many corridors where other hallways, equally long and twisting, intersect the one you're on. A philosophy course introduces you to a hallway, highlights some of its most important and interesting features, and draws attention to some of the adjoining paths.
I teach philosophy as both a conversation and a form of inquiry. I try to help my students appreciate the conversation and to improve at inquiry. Appreciating the conversation requires knowing the questions being asked and why they matter, and it requires knowing the answers being offered and the evidence that supports them. Becoming proficient at inquiry requires identifying and evaluating arguments, and talking and writing clearly about complex ideas.
Here is what you’d achieve if you took a course with me, depending on your level of study* (and, of course, dedication):
You got a sense of what the conversation is about and started cultivating communication skills that will serve you well in any intellectual task. You were often surprised at the answers and arguments that philosophers give. You see the value in thinking carefully about these questions and might even be excited to continue thinking about them.
You achieved deeper understanding of what the conversation is about and sharpened the skills required to make your own contribution. You now feel at home in the give and take of a philosophical conversation. But there is a lot left to learn. Be patient and remember that a little learning is a dangerous thing.
You now know the content of a conversation well enough to think independently about it. Only two things separate you from making a contribution of your own: a moment of creative insight that provides a promising idea, followed by many hours of hard work spent developing, defending, and contextualizing your idea. True mastery is yet to come, but you are well on your way.
*Beginner courses have no prerequisites and are usually aimed at first- and second-year university students. Intermediate courses have prerequisites and are usually aimed at students pursuing a major or minor in philosophy. Advanced courses are aimed at senior undergraduates in an honors program and graduate students.
Here are some undergraduate courses I have taught.
a sampling of philosophical problems: determinism, free will, personal identity, art, science, space, reasoning, and knowledge
European philosophy c. 1600-1800 CE: Descartes, Princess Elisabeth, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Reidsample handout
A hands-on introduction to an exciting field of research at the intersection of philosophy and experimental sciencesample handout
knowledge, truth, belief, evidence, assertion, action, understanding, explanation, and skepticismsample handout
time, change, attribute agreement, abstract objects, modality, and causationsample handout
Reid's epistemology, metaphysics and methodology; Reid’s relationship to Descartes, Berkeley, Locke, Hume, and Wittgenstein
dualism, physicalism, behaviorism, functionalism, consciousness, perception, cognition, mental content, the self, other minds.
cognitivism, non-cognitivism, subjectivism, reductionism, nihilism, intuitionism, evaluative judgment, moral motivation
Here are some graduate courses I have taught.
A research area covering theoretical and experimental work on identity and agency, with a focus on judgments of personal identity and evaluations of character.
A research area covering theoretical and experimental work on attributions of knowledge, belief and certainty, with a focus on the evaluative consequences of these judgments.
A research area covering theoretical and experimental work on the role of counterfactual comparisons in moral judgment and knowledge attributions.
A research area covering recent theoretical work on knowledge and skepticism.
A graduate seminar covering an assortment of topics in contemporary analytic epistemology, including knowledge, skepticism, assertion, and luck.
A graduate seminar covering recent work on the norms of belief, action, and assertion.
I have supervised or served on the committee for the following postgraduate work, including postdoctoral research, Masters theses, and PhD theses. An asterisk indicates that I was primary or co-supervisor.
Postdoctoral research producing theoretical and experimental work in epistemology, ethics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychiatry, philosophy of science, and philosophical methodology.
A PhD thesis reporting experimental work on how children judge a speaker’.s credibility based on verbal cues, non-verbal cues, and their relationship.
A PhD thesis reporting experimental work examining the mechanisms and consequences of learning associations based on correlations between stimuli.
A PhD thesis reporting an experiment designed to test how effectively, and why, imagery rescripting reduces social anxiety.
A MSc thesis reporting theoretical and experiemntal work on the relationship between ownership judgments and utilitarian moral judgments.
An MA thesis synthesizing theoretical work in theory of mind and experimental work on corvids and parrots to argue persuasively that these birds attribute mental states to conspecifics.
A PhD thesis synthesizing theoretical and empirical work to argue for a new theory of knowledge, which incorporates elements of virtue theory and Bayesianism.
An MA thesis reporting theoretical work on the nature of evidence and defending a new hybrid view.
A PhD thesis defending the view that knowledge is the norm of assertion and critiquing the views that knowledge is the norm of belief and action.
A PhD thesis reporting new theoretical and experimental work on memory tasks, with a focus on estimating the true effect of providing cues (hints).
A PhD thesis criticizing the view that knowledge is the norm of assertion and defending an alternative contextualist view.
An MA thesis reporting theoretical work on the relationship between knowledge and morality, arguing that knowledge can depend directly on moral factors.
An MA thesis synthesizing theoretical and historical work to argue for a theory of conceptual change and meaning.