Most of my undergraduate teaching has been in ethical theory, applied ethics, and philosophy of science. I teach biomedical ethics and philosophy of science each at least once a year, and both are now being taught in online formats as well as in traditional classrooms. My graduate seminars have been on a range of topics, from the ethics of war to the work of Charles Darwin to experimental philosophy.
Phil 2010: Introduction to Ethics
Course Description: Ethics is concerned with how we should live our lives and with what separates right from wrong action. In these inquiries, we can focus on overarching normative theories, or else on particular topics to which these theories can be applied; we will spend roughly half the course in each regard. Starting with normative theories, we will consider: the virtue ethics of Plato and Aristotle, the social contract theories of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism, and Immanuel Kant’s deontology. After our survey of normative theories, we will consider a range of topics in applied ethics: abortion, cloning, euthanasia, animal rights, capital punishment, terrorism, and torture. Our study of ethics will be complemented by movies that develop moral themes; a principal focus will be on integrating our abstract inquiries with popular media in the hopes of augmenting the ways in which we think about ethics.
Phil 3310: Moral Philosophy
Course Description: Ethics is frequently divided into three branches: meta-ethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics. In this course on theoretical ethics, we will study the first two branches. We will begin by studying two traditional challenges to morality: cultural relativism and amoralism. Next, we will study some issues in meta-ethics, especially focusing on the meaning of moral claims. For the latter half of the course, we will discuss the three most dominant moral theories: utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics. For each of these theories, we will consider classical formulations, as well as the associative criticisms.
Course Syllabus (Spring 2006)
Phil 3340: Biomedical Ethics
Course Description: Biomedical ethics is composed of two separate fields: bioethics and medical ethics. Bioethics is the study of the ethics of life (and death), and includes familiar topics such as abortion, cloning, stem cell research, allocation of scarce medical resources, and euthanasia. We shall spend approximately the first two-third of the course on these issues. For the last third of the course, we shall discuss topics in medical ethics, which is concerned with “micro” issues such as the moral underpinnings of doctor-patient relationships as well as “macro” issues such as the structures of medical institutions or the duties that societies have to provide health care for those in need. No previous coursework in philosophy is required for this course and fundamental concepts in moral philosophy (e.g., consequentialism and deontology) will be explained as they become relevant. This is a course on theoretical (as opposed to clinical) bioethics.
On-Campus Course Syllabus (Fall 2005, Spring 2006)
@University of Michigan [Moral Principles and Problems, Phil 160/Issues in Bioethics, Phil 356]. Course Syllabus (Fall 2010)
Phil 3550: Philosophy of Science
Course Description: Science appears to be extraordinarily successful is two crucial respects. First, science apparently serves as an extremely reliable vehicle for arriving at the truth (as contrasted with astrology or palm reading). Second, the methodology of science seems eminently rational (again as opposed to the methodologies of astrology or palm reading). Philosophers have been quite interested in these two apparent virtues of science. Some philosophers think that the two virtues are illusory and that, upon reflection, science is not significantly superior to astrology or palm reading. Some philosophers even reject concepts like truth and rationality as somehow bogus or illegitimate. Our basic goal in this course is to survey 20th century philosophy of science as centered upon such disputes. To this end, our focus will be upon the following question: are truth and rationality genuine features of scientific inquiry, or are they mere illusions?
Phil 430: Topics in Ethics: Ethics of War
Course Description: There has been a long, intellectual tradition in thinking about the moral justification of war, ranging at least from Thomas Aquinas’s writings in the 13th century to Michael Walzer’s instant classic, Just and Unjust Wars. The contemporary advent of terrorism arguably challenges central tenets of the just war tradition, replacing the doctrine of preemption with that of prevention, blurring the distinction between civilians and combatants, accelerating both the speed and potential damage of attacks, and so on. How, if at all, should these features of terrorism lead to a revision of just war principles?
@University of Michigan. Course Syllabus (Fall 2010)
Phil 4800: Senior Seminar: New Atheism
Course Description: In recent years, so-called “New Atheism” has garnered increased attention. Names like Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett have emerged as the most energetic and outspoken defenders of this program, and the sales of their books have routinely earned high-ranking spots on national bestseller lists. Who are the targets of these books? A recent Gallup poll has shown that only 12% of Americans believe in Darwinian evolution, and 53% believe in creationism. In other words, ours is still a very religious country, and the majority of our citizenry denies the worldview that the scientific community has articulated since Darwin.
In this senior seminar, we will read and evaluate the arguments of the new atheists. What are their principal objections to religion? Are the objections filed against a real or imaginary audience? Is it possible to dispel religious belief? Would that even be good? As a senior seminar, this topic allows us to incorporate queries from a range of philosophical disciplines: philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Note that this seminar does not purport to be a defense of new atheism, but rather an evaluation thereof; students of any religious proclivity are encouraged to participate.
Course Syllabus (Spring 2010)
Phil 6000: Darwin & Darwinism
Course Description: In 2009, we will celebrate the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth and the sesquicentennial of his On the Origin of Species. There will undoubtedly be a tremendous amount of discussion regarding his life and works, so this seems an appropriate time to conduct a thoroughgoing discussion therein. Despite his renown, Darwin remains, at least popularly, far less read than he should be. Much of contemporary thought ascribes to him views or certainty that he lacked, and his popularity obscures some of his failings (e.g., his theory of heredity); nevertheless, Darwin’s central ideas remain among the greatest successes in intellectual history. In this seminar, we will read the most important elements of the Darwinian corpus, as well as reflect upon the philosophical themes that it contains.
Course Syllabus (Fall 2007)
Phil 6000: Philosophy of Biology
Course Description: This course will address central issues in philosophy of biology and, in particular, will focus on the philosophical issues and implications of evolutionary theory. We will start by considering some fundamental conceptual issues: fitness, units of selection, and adaptationism. Next, we will discuss the notion of developmental constraints, and then arguments for and against evolutionary psychology. In the third part of the course, we will think about traditional topics in the philosophy of science—laws and reductionism—and how they apply to biology. Next, we will move on to systematics and consider the species concept and phylogenetic inference. Finally, we will discuss cultural evolution, altruism, and evolutionary ethics.
Course Syllabus (Spring 2008)
Phil 6000: War, Terrorism, and Torture
Course Description: There has been a long, intellectual tradition in thinking about the moral justification of war, ranging at least from Thomas Aquinas’s writings in the 13th century to Michael Walzer’s contemporary classic, Just and Unjust Wars. The contemporary advent of terrorism arguably challenges central tenets of the just war tradition, replacing the doctrine of preemption with that of prevention, blurring the distinction between civilians and combatants, accelerating both the speed and potential damage of attacks, and so on. How, if at all, should these features of terrorism lead to a revision of just war principles?
In the war on terror, much controversy has emerged over the use of torture. The Third Geneva Convention protects prisoners of war against torture, but there are at least two ways around this convention: either by denying that it applies or else conceiving of torture in such a way that hostile measures nevertheless fall short of it. Should it apply? And what is torture? Independently of the historical and legal status of torture, we can ask whether it could be morally justified. In particular, imagine that the torture of a terrorist will reveal actionable intelligence that is necessary for the protection of innocents. If so, is torture permissible? Regardless, are such scenarios anything other than philosophical fiction?
Course Syllabus (Spring 2009)
Phil 6000: Sesquicentennial of Origin of Species
Course Description: In 2009, we celebrate the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth (February 12) and the sesquicentennial of the publication of On the Origin of Species (November 24). This year portends tremendous amount of discussion regarding his life and works, and is therefore a brilliant opportunity to conduct a thoroughgoing discussion therein. Despite his renown, Darwin remains, at least popularly, far less read than he should be. Much of public thought ascribes to him views or certainty that he lacked, and his popularity obscures some of his failings (e.g., his theory of heredity); nevertheless, Darwin’s central ideas remain among the greatest successes in intellectual history. In this seminar, we embark on a sustained investigation of his most influential work, On the Origin of Species. We will read the text in its entirety, along with the reactions of Darwin’s most pointed critics and contemporary scholarship.
Course Syllabus (Fall 2009)
Phil 6000: Experimental Philosophy
Course Description: Philosophy has traditionally taken place from the armchair; experimental philosophy portends a philosophical revolution wherein the methodologies for doing philosophy are expanded from armchair reflection to include broader engagement. As philosophers’ intuitions are thrown into conflict with those of more diverse populations, what should be the status of received philosophical wisdom? Do philosophers’ intuitions occupy some sort of privileged status? Can “folk” intuitions be informative in the construction of our philosophical theories, or can experimental results only undermine traditional work? What do cross-cultural differences tell us about the epistemic status of our intuitions? What is the relationship between experimental philosophy and empirical approaches to philosophy more generally? In this seminar, we will explore these and other questions; particular coverage will be dictated by student interest.
Course Syllabus (Spring 2011)
PHIL 6320: Ethical Theory/Philosophy of Law
Course Description: This course will explore ethical theory through tort law. We will investigate: intentional torts, privileges, negligence, causation in fact, proximate cause, defenses, and damages. In these investigations, our focus will be less on what the law is, than why it is what it is and whether it should be as it is. Furthermore, we shall consider case-based approaches to moral methodology, as opposed to principle-based approaches or alternatives (e.g., reflective equilibrium). To put this another way, torts doctrine is largely constructed from the common law, and we can query the advantages and disadvantages of this method.
Course Syllabus (Spring 2012)