I have taught courses in metaphysics, normative ethics, applied ethics (including environmental and biomedical ethics), and logic. Below are course summaries and syllabi for the philosophy courses I have taught.
Metaphysics, Spring 2020
This course will focus on three classic topics in metaphysics: God, time, and free will. Before diving into the question of the existence and nature of God, we will clarify what counts as a metaphysical topic, and we will briefly consider a classic metaphysical question: why is there something rather than nothing? We will then turn to God, time, and free will, often using questions about the metaphysical possibility of time travel as a portal to other issues in metaphysics, including causation and personal identity. Some paradoxes of time travel (including the classic “Grandfather Paradox”) concern the abilities, or the freedom, of time-travelers, so our discussion of time will segue into an examination of the nature of free will and various potential threats to free will.
Introduction to Philosophy, Fall 2019, Spring 2020
In this course, several core questions in philosophy will be introduced by way of science fiction. We will begin with questions that pertain to knowledge (epistemology), using skeptical hypotheses from stories like The Matrix to raise doubts about what we know. Turning to science-fictional examples of artificial intelligence (for example, from Isaac Asimov’s “The Bicentennial Man”), we will explore several questions in metaphysics and philosophy of mind, ranging from the nature of consciousness and of persons to what is required to have free will to whether backward time travel is (metaphysically) possible. Along the way, we will be introduced to several ethical and political questions about how persons ought to be treated, but we will end the course by focusing more directly on questions in value theory, including questions about what is the correct normative ethical theory, what counts as a meaningful life, and how we ought to design artificial intelligences.
Washington University in St. Louis
Biomedical Ethics, Spring 2019
This course aims to familiarize students with some of the central issues in biomedical ethics. At the same time, more generally, this course will provide some of the necessary tools for thinking critically, being rational, arguing for what one believes, and investigating the question of how to live morally. We will begin with a bit of moral theory, with an emphasis on consequentialist and deontological approaches. Next, we will turn to a host of issues connected with health care and the doctor-patient relationship. In roughly the second half of the course, we will turn to topics that are specifically concerned with life and death, such as euthanasia and abortion. Along the way, we will ask questions about when death is bad (if it ever is), whether immortality would be desirable, and whether life extension is a good idea.
Environmental Ethics, Fall 2018 (two sections), Spring 2019
This course aims to familiarize students with some of the central issues in environmental ethics. At the same time, more generally, this course will provide some of the necessary tools for thinking critically, being rational, arguing for what one believes, and investigating the question of how to live morally. In the first section of the course, we will investigate ethical issues related to sentient life, including other human beings as well as non-human animals. Next, we will turn to ethical considerations regarding non-sentient life, including plants, landscapes, and ecosystems. Finally, in the third and final part of the course, we will examine our moral obligations—both individually and collectively—with respect to climate change.
Present Moral Problems, Fall 2018, Spring 2019
This course has two parts. In the first part, students will be introduced to several of the ethical theories that have been most popular in the history of philosophy, including utilitarianism, Kantianism, and virtue ethics. Building on this theoretical background, the second part of the course turns to applied ethical issues. Many of these are familiar problems that are widely debated by philosophers and non-philosophers alike, such as the morality of abortion and the death penalty, whereas others are less widely discussed but (arguably) still very important contemporary moral issues, such as the morality of robotic labor and the value of work.
Introduction to Logic, Summer 2017
This course provides a basic introduction to sentential (i.e., propositional) logic. We begin with the basic notions of argument, validity, and inference. We then learn how to symbolize arguments in natural languages like English by translating them into a formal language, the language of sentential logic. Sentential logic is the logic of truth functions, which serves as the basis of other logics. (Truth functions are also crucial to a number of other fields, especially computer science, linguistics, and mathematics.) The core of the course is learning sentential logic. The system comes in two parts. The first part is truth tables, which give the meanings of the truth functional connectives and can be used to establish a number of logical properties that sentences and sets of sentences have. The second part is the proof theory of sentential logic, where we learn to construct derivations that prove the validity of certain inferences.
Logic is a field of study on its own and the logic of sentential logic is the entry ticket into that field. Moreover, in addition to its centrality to the disciplines already mentioned, the material covered in this course has broader application, as it is key to problem solving in general and being a good critical reasoner. One place where this application is most apparent is with the logical reasoning and logic game questions on the LSAT exam required for entry into most law schools. We will end the course with a discussion of these problems, practicing applying some of the more abstract and formal techniques learned earlier in the course to these problems, and with a discussion of the limits of sentential logic.
Mortal Questions, Summer 2015
In this course, we will carefully consider some of the central philosophical questions pertaining to the metaphysics and ethics of mortality. The first half of the course will focus on issues that more directly pertain to death itself—whether we are mortal, whether death can be bad for the one who dies, whether it is rational to fear death—and the second half of the course will focus on (apparently) related issues—whether immortality is desirable, what gives meaning to life, and whether we have free will.