philosophical science

teaching

A Metaphor

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 knowledge, beauty, freedom, meaning, causation, responsibility, 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.

“A little learning is a dangerous thing.”
— Alexander Pope

Goals

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 dedication:

beginner stance

Beginner

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.

Beginner courses have no prerequisites and are usually aimed at first- and second-year university students.
intermediate punch

Intermediate

You achieved deeper understanding of what the conversation is about and sharpened some 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, grasshopper, and remember that a little learning is a dangerous thing.

Intermediate courses have prerequisites and are usually aimed at students pursuing a major or minor in philosophy.
advanced kick

Advanced

You're experienced enough to productively think independently about the conversation. 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 on your way.

Advanced courses are aimed at senior undergraduates in an honors program and graduate students.
“Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting.”
— Ivan Illitch

Courses

Here are some undergraduate courses I have taught:

handshake

Introduction to Philosophy

A sampling of philosophical problems: determinism, free will, personal identity, art, science, space, reasoning, and knowledge

sample handout
european landmarks

Early Modern Philosophy

European philosophy c. 1600-1800 CE: Descartes, Princess Elisabeth, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Reid

sample handout
flask and beaker

Experimental Philosophy

A hands-on introduction to an exciting field of research at the intersection of philosophy and experimental science

sample handout
evil genius

Epistemology

knowledge, truth, belief, evidence, assertion, action, understanding, explanation, and skepticism

sample handout
butterfly

Metaphysics

change, time, attribute agreement, abstract objects, modality, and causation

sample handout
common cents

Thomas Reid

Reid's epistemology, metaphysics and methodology; Reid’s relationship to Descartes, Berkeley, Locke, Hume, and Wittgenstein

sample handout
brain

Philosophy of Mind

dualism, physicalism, behaviorism, functionalism, consciousness, perception, cognition, mental content, the self, other minds

sample handout
cat on fire

Metaethics

cognitivism, non-cognitivism, subjectivism, reductionism, nihilism, intuitionism, evaluative judgment, moral motivation

sample handout

Supervision

I have supervised or served on the committee for the following work:

concepts

Concepts

YeounJun Park

An MA thesis reporting new research on concepts and conceptual analysis.

Philosophy and Cognitive Science
University of Waterloo
MA thesis
piggy bank

Ownership

Haider Riaz

An MA thesis reporting new research on the concept of ownership.

Philosophy and Cognitive Science
University of Waterloo
MA thesis
self

The Self

Aubrieanne Schettler

An MA thesis reporting theoretical and experimental work on the human sense of self.

Philosophy and Cognitive Science
University of Waterloo
MA thesis
dolphin

Animal Minds

Ashley Keefner

A PhD thesis covering theoretical and empirical work on how we do and should view animals.

Philosophy and Cognitive Science
University of Waterloo
PhD thesis
relativity

Linguistic Relativity

Blake Freier

A PhD research area covering theoretical and experimental work on the relationship between language and concepts.

Philosophy
University of Waterloo
PhD research area
medical knowledge

Medical Epistemology

Ramesh Prasad

A PhD research area covering theoretical and empirical work relevant to the epistemology of medical judgment and decisions.

Philosophy
University of Waterloo
PhD research area
understanding speech

Linguistic Comprehension

Peter Blouw

A PhD thesis defending a novel view of linguistic comprehension, combining insights from philosophy with techniques from machine learning.

Philosophy and Theoretical Neuroscience
University of Waterloo
PhD thesis
purse

Pragmatism

Nathan Haydon

A PhD thesis reporting theoretical work on Charles Peirce's philosophy.

Philosophy
University of Waterloo
PhD thesis
communication

Communication Cues

Randall Gillis

A PhD thesis reporting experimental work on how children judge a speaker’s credibility based on verbal cues, non-verbal cues, and their relationship.

Clinical Psychology
University of Waterloo
PhD thesis
contingency table

Contingency Learning

Olivia Lin

A PhD thesis reporting experimental work on the mechanisms and consequences of learning associations based on correlations between stimuli.

Cognitive Psychology
University of Waterloo
PhD thesis
leaves in wind storm

Virtue Epistemology

Daniel Pinto

An MA research paper reporting theoretical work on virtue epistemology.

Philosophy
University of Waterloo
MA thesis
stuff we trust

Trusting Science

Janet Michaud

A PhD research area producing theoretical and experimental work on trust in science.

Philosophy
University of Waterloo
PhD research area
person and qualities

Identity and Traits

Sara Weaver

A PhD research area producing theoretical and experimental work on attributions of personal identity and character traits.

Philosophy
University of Waterloo
PhD research area
social cognition

Social Cognition

Ashley Keefner

A PhD research area producing theoretical and experimental work on social cognition in primates and birds.

Philosophy and Cognitive Science
University of Waterloo
PhD research area
anxious

Social Anxiety Disorder

Susanna Gehring Reimer

A PhD thesis reporting an experiment designed to test how effectively, and why, imagery rescripting reduces social anxiety.

Clinical Psychology
University of Waterloo
PhD thesis
sacred geometry

Homeostatic Epistemology

Kate Devitt

A PhD thesis synthesizing theoretical and empirical work to argue for a new theory of knowledge, incorporating elements of virtue theory and Bayesianism.

Philosophy and Cognitive Science
Rutgers University
PhD thesis
corvid

Avian Theory of Mind

Ashley Keefner

An MA thesis synthesizing theoretical and experimental work to argue that some birds attribute mental states to conspecifics.

Philosophy and Cognitive Science
University of Waterloo
MA thesis
lab equipment

Experimental Philosophy

Wesley Buckwalter

‍Postdoctoral research producing theoretical and experimental work in philosophy and cognitive science.

Philosophy and Cognitive Science
University of Waterloo
Postdoctoral research
owning stuff

Ownership and Moral Judgment

Charles Millar

An MSc thesis reporting theoretical and experimental work on the relationship between ownership judgments and utilitarian moral judgments.

Developmental Psychology
University of Waterloo
MA thesis
lab equipment

Experimental Philosophy

Peter Blouw

A research area covering theoretical and experimental work on the role of counterfactual comparisons in moral judgment and knowledge attributions.

Philosophy and Cognitive Science
University of Waterloo
PhD research area
evidence

Theory of Evidence

Janet Michaud

An MA thesis reporting theoretical work on the nature of evidence and defending a new hybrid view.

Philosophy
University of Waterloo
MA thesis
golden ratio

Rationality

Patrick Bondy

A PhD thesis reporting theoretical work on the nature of rationality.

Philosophy
McMaster University
PhD thesis
rules

Knowledge Norms

Matthew Benton

A PhD thesis defending the view that knowledge is the norm of assertion but not belief or action.

Philosophy
Rutgers University
PhD thesis
who knows?

Knowledge and Skepticism

Ian MacDonald

A PhD research area covering recent theoretical work on knowledge and skepticism.

Philosophy
University of Waterloo
PhD research area
pool balls

Free and Cued Recall

Jason Ozubko

A PhD thesis reporting new theoretical and experimental work on memory tasks, with a focus on estimating the true effect of providing cues (hints).

Cognitive Psychology
University of Waterloo
PhD thesis
penalty cards

Moral Encroachment

Nathan Haydon

An MA thesis reporting theoretical work on the relationship between knowledge and morality, arguing that knowledge can depend directly on moral factors.

Philosophy
University of Waterloo
MA thesis
assertions

Assertion

Rachel McKinnon

A PhD thesis criticizing the view that knowledge is the norm of assertion and defending an alternative contextualist view.

Philosophy
University of Waterloo
PhD thesis
changing concepts

Conceptual Change

Chris Grisdale

An MA thesis synthesizing theoretical and empirical work on how concepts and meanings change over time.

Philosophy
University of Waterloo
MA thesis