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I recently served as a Lecturer at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). In spring quarter, 2015, I taught a freshman introduction to ethics and political philosophy, Right and Wrong (Hum/Pl 8), and an upper division undergraduate course in metaethics, Moral Philosophy (Pl 185). I spring 2016 I taught two sections of Right and Wrong. I also taught Ethics (Phil. 330) at Azusa Pacific University (APU) in the fall 2015 semester, and Introduction to Philosophy (Phil. 220) at APU in the fall 2014 semester.

GUEST LECTURE

Audio recording of guest lecture on “The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility” by Galen Strawson and “Human Freedom and the Self” by Roderick Chisholm, for Professor Pamela Hieronymi, Philosophy 154B: Moral Responsibility and Free Will, UCLA Philosophy Department, April 2013.

TEACHING STATEMENT

Philosophy is an art: to do it well requires creativity and imagination. However, it also requires a set of skills and knowledge of a subject matter. In these latter two respects philosophy resembles any craft, like carpentry or cooking. The subject matter is, of course, the content of the many sub-disciplines of philosophy (e.g., ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, etc.). The skills—which are central to any good education—include reading historical and contemporary texts, following and engaging in discussion, thinking logically, and writing papers. As a teacher, my primary aim is to help students make progress in learning both the subject matter and the skills of philosophy in an environment that stimulates creativity and imagination. … (continue reading)

STUDENT EVALUATION DATA

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SAMPLE COURSE DESCRIPTIONS

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Introduction to Philosophy

This introductory course will focus on three standard problems in philosophy. First, we will address the notorious debate over free will and moral responsibility. Robert Alton Harris was subject to severe mental and physical abuse as a child. Because of this, his character was formed in a way that inclined him toward violence and that made it virtually impossible for him to sympathize with others. In 1978 he remorselessly murdered two teenaged boys. On the one hand, given Harris’s upbringing, it seems such a deed was, in some sense, inevitable. On the other hand, many would want to affirm that Harris was “free” to refrain from such an act, and so that he is morally responsible for what he did. In the first part of the course we will explore the tension between these two positions. In the second part of the course we will reflect on a famous moral dilemma called the trolley problem. Suppose a run-away trolley is about to kill five people. Suppose further that you could throw a switch that would divert the trolley to another track where it would only kill one person. Most people think you should throw the switch. However, if your only option to save the five were to push someone in front of the trolley (thereby killing him), most people think you should not do so. But what is the difference between these cases? Finally, in the last part of the course we will consider the perennial question of whether God exists. In particular, we will consider several “cosmological” arguments for the existence of God— arguments that infer the existence of God from the nature of the universe. Exploration of these three philosophical areas will expose students to a range of topics and methods in ethical theory, metaphysics, and epistemology that may serve as a basis for further study of philosophy. The course has no prerequisites.

Introduction to Ethical Theory

Most of us think that torturing innocent children is wrong. But, what makes it wrong? It seems that the consequences of an act bear on its moral value. Do our motives also affect its moral value? What role do happiness and feelings play in determining the moral value of an action? Why should we care about morality? In this course we will take up these and other related questions in an effort to clarify our thinking about foundational ethical matters. We will explore these questions through the works of four of the most influential moral philosophers in Western culture: John Stuart Mill, David Hume, Aristotle, and Immanuel Kant. No prior knowledge of philosophy will be assumed.

Introduction to Political Philosophy

Governments routinely exercise coercive power over their citizens: if we fail to obey the laws of the land we can be fined, imprisoned, or even killed. What, if anything, makes the exercise of such enormous power acceptable? What justifies political authority? In this course we will explore this question and others closely related to it by way of a range of important historical and contemporary writings in political philosophy. Other topics will include an exploration of the value of liberty in social and political arrangements, the nature of property, and the nature and value of justice. We will also consider a range of assumptions about human nature that frequently drive philosophical views about the questions and issues noted above. No prior knowledge of philosophy will be assumed.

Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion

Does God exist? Can we know whether God exists? To what extent can we reason about religious claims, or are they just a matter of faith? Are miracles possible? Does the existence of evil in the world imply that God does not exist? What is the relationship between God and ethical principles? Questions like these have held the interest of philosophers and theologians for centuries. The aim of this course is to introduce students to the philosophy of religion—the philosophical discipline that engages such questions. Students will explore historical and contemporary views of these and other topics, and will be introduced to basic methods of reasoning in philosophy. No prior knowledge of philosophy will be assumed.

Virtue Ethics

In this course we will explore the approach to ethical theory sometimes referred to as “virtue ethics”. One typical mark of this movement is a conscious return to elements of ethical theorizing employed by the ancient Greeks, especially virtues of character such as courage, wisdom, moderation, and justice that feature prominently in the ethical theories of Plato and Aristotle. Given this lineage, the course will begin with brief summaries of the basic ethical views of Plato and Aristotle as given in the Republic and the Nicomachean Ethics. The remainder of the course will survey seminal writings in the contemporary virtue ethics movement. The course will, of course, address the question of the proper role of virtue in ethical theorizing. However, it will also address questions about the nature and structure of virtues, the nature of ethical motivation, and the role of claims about human nature in virtue ethical theorizing.

Philosophy of Action

Human beings blink; it is something that we do. However, more often than not, our blinking is not what we would consider an action; rather, it is a kind of reflex activity in which we are passive in some sense. We can, of course, blink as a genuine action too. But, what exactly distinguishes these two ways of blinking? More generally, what is an action, and what distinguishes it from a mere “happening”? Many philosophers have thought that human actions are distinguished by the intentions that lie behind them. However, this picture is complicated by cases in which we do something intentionally without forming an intention to do it. For example, a runner might wear down her shoes over the course of a race and be aware that she is doing so. If so, then she acts intentionally in wearing down the shoes. And yet, she never had an intention to wear them down. Such cases suggest that it is not so simple to understand the proper relationship between actions and intentions. In this course we will take up these and a range of related issues that make up part of the subject matter of the philosophy of action. The course is an upper division undergraduate course. Thus, it is highly recommended that students have previously taken at least two philosophy courses.

Metaethics

People disagree over the morality of practices like capital punishment and abortion. In debates about such matters, it can seem very difficult to decide which side of the disagreement is correct. Such disagreement and difficulty have left many with the feeling that there may be no correct answers in the ethical realm: maybe morality is all smoke and mirrors. In this course we will try to address this and other worries philosophers have had about the domain of ethics, and we will explore corresponding efforts to put ethics on a solid intellectual footing. More specifically, we will explore a range of answers to fundamental questions such as, “What is the meaning of ethical terms like ‘good’ and ‘wrong’?”, “What makes an action good or wrong?”, “How can we know what morality demands?”, and “Why act ethically?” The readings for the course will traverse a sampling of influential 20th– and early 21st-century metaethical writings in the analytic philosophical tradition, representing a wide range of answers to these questions.

Ancient Ethics: Plato and Aristotle

How should we live? It has seemed to many that the best human life aims at happiness. It has also seemed to many that the best life involves acting in accord with morality. But, these two elements of the good life might seem at odds. For example, morality often seems to curb our happiness. Do both happiness and morality both have a role in a life well lived? If so, how should they fit together? In this course we will explore ancient answers to these and related questions offered in two of the great works of western literature, Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. No prior work in philosophy is required for this course, though students would benefit from a prior course in philosophical ethics.

Philosophy of Religion: Theistic Metaphysics of Morals

For most of human history some have thought that moral truths depend on God. But, if there is a God, how exactly do God and morality fit together? In this course we will consider a range of philosophical views about the relationship between God and morality. First, we will consider the view that the moral value of actions depends on God’s commands, i.e., divine command theory. Second, we will consider the view that moral norms are one aspect of God’s eternal law, i.e., theistic natural law theory. Third, we will consider several moral arguments for the existence of God. Since this is an upper division undergraduate course, students are expected to have at least one prior course in ethics and one prior course in some area of metaphysics.

Seminar: The Nature of Love and Friendship

Love can seem puzzling. For example, what is it, exactly? Is it a feeling? A desire? A kind of action? A practice? A virtue? Are there different kinds of love, and if so, what distinguishes them? How does love come about? Is love for people different from love for inanimate objects? Similarly, friendship can also seem somewhat puzzling. For example, to what extent can friendship be self-interested and still remain friendship? What is the proper basis of friendship? Can we be friends with people that are not our “equals,” in some sense? What, exactly, is so good about friendship? In this seminar we will explore a range of influential historical and contemporary philosophical writings on love and friendship that take up these and other related questions. The aim of the seminar will be to think more deeply and critically about the nature of love and friendship.