My teaching is oriented toward maximizing opportunities for my students to exercise their philosophical skills, in both senses of ‘exercise’ – to develop them, and to use them in meaningful ways. Below, you can view syllabi of courses that I have developed with this in mind. In particular, I try to create many low-stakes opportunities for students to try their own hand at writing clear analytic prose, and playing (though in an ultimately serious way) with ideas, where I provide targeted feedback to help them improve. I take the skills of clarity of thought and exposition that this develops to be broadly applicable and useful for students across many disciplines and domains of life.
If you are yourself a teacher, feel free to borrow ideas, reading suggestions, and so forth from these syllabi as you wish. And if you have suggestions for me for how to refine this material further, I am eager to hear from you!
Sample Course Designs with Syllabi
This course examines two fundamental questions at the heart of issues about expertise: what is expertise, and how should non-experts rely on experts? We will explore natural answers to both questions – roughly, that expertise is a matter of knowing things that others do not; and that non-experts should simply accept the pronouncements of experts. We will also entertain second thoughts. Along the way, we will keep an eye on one of the most fundamental values of the Enlightenment – autonomy – and see how feasible autonomy is in a world, like ours, marked by deep and complex reliance on expertise.
This book-club-style seminar is a sustained, active reading of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations (Philosophische Untersuchungen), a book of immense philosophical significance, unusual form, and intensely original argumentation. The principal goal is for us – students, instructor, and guests – to come to grips with this difficult text. Unlike as in more conventional seminars, your instructor is not an expert on this particular text, but will use his background philosophical training and experience to guide our activity.
The formal requirements of this course reflect how experienced philosophers approach unfamiliar texts. In meeting those requirements, students will practice careful and close reading, and philosophical comprehension at multiple levels of granularity.
This course addresses two philosophical questions. The identity question is: what is the nature of manipulation? The ethical question is: if it’s wrong to manipulate people, why? A popular way to answer both is to say that manipulation is wrong because it undermines autonomy, and it does that because its nature is to interfere with our ability to think rationally about what we will do. In the first part of the course, we spell out this idea with rigor and entertain serious second thoughts. In the second part, we creatively apply the lessons learned to novel topics.