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?
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 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)
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)
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)
Course Description: This seminar explores the ethical, legal, philosophical, and scientific dimensions of memory. The first set of unit surveys these dimensions, as well as the related topics of remembering, forgetting, and false memories. The second set of units looks at more purely philosophical topics, including personal identity and external memory. We then explore amnesia, before turning to collective and historical memories. What does it mean for “us” to remember the Holocaust—or the Civil War? Should atrocities be remembered or forgotten? Does forgiveness require forgetting? The last series of units looks at applications, including memory dampening as a prospective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder or rape, the fallibility of eyewitness memory, and Europe’s so-called right to be forgotten.
Course Syllabus (2018)