TEACHING 

TEACHING PHILOSOPHY SINCE 2005

AREAS OF COMPETENCE: Metaphysics and Epistemology, History of Philosophy, Philosophy of Language, Kant, Ethics, Environmental Philosophy, Logic and Aesthetics

COURSES PREPARED TO TEACH— Email dow@hendrix.edu to request Syllabi...

Introduction to Philosophy

Philosophy of Mind

Philosophy of Cognitive Science

Philosophy of Psychology

Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence

Evolution of the Mind

Metaphysics

Epistemology

Philosophy of Language

History of 20th Century Analytic Philosophy

Philosophy of Science

History of Ancient Philosophy

History of Modern Philosophy

Kant

Ethics

Business Ethics

Consciousness and Self-Consciousness

Mind and World

Selves and Others

Philosophy of Expert Bodily Action

Environmental Philosophy

Aesthetics

Logic 

Advanced Logic

Human Nature



TEACHING PHILOSOPHY— 

The guiding principle of my teaching is that learning involves balancing being receptive to new ideas and being autonomous in one’s thinking.  While it is important for students to understand the awe-inspiring ideas of philosophy, it is also important for students to share their opinions and experiences. The goal of teaching is always to generate a conversation about important philosophical ideas and keep that conversation going.  As an educator, it is my responsibility to shake up students’ assumptions by introducing them to different worldviews and thereby enable them to become self-aware thinkers, agents in their own learning.

Philosophy is a discipline that is particularly suitable for widening students’ horizons.  Philosophical inquiry can sometimes bring students to a sense of awe and mystery by introducing them to new ways of thinking.  However, students should not persist in the impression that understanding is beyond their reach, but instead should be guided to probing questions and illuminating answers, which are provided by the traditions of philosophy:  the history of philosophy, the analysis of logic and language and interdisciplinary study.  The history of philosophy offers us the opportunity to recognize that the deepest and most profound questions that grip us arise out of assumptions made in intellectual history.  For instance, students inclined towards relativism are intrigued to discover that Protagoras said “Man is the measure of all things” more than 2,000 years ago.  The analysis of logic and language provides us with standards of success in philosophy, benchmarks of clarity and precision.  For instance, when students understand the import of Unger’s distinction between absolute and relative terms for skepticism, they grasp the role that the study of language plays in epistemology.  Interdisciplinary connections with the arts and sciences enable an even wider discussion than is possible by merely analyzing arguments.  For instance, when students learn about people with blindsight and interviews with neuroscientists such as Ramachandran, they understand that the study of consciousness is an interdisciplinary endevour.

I teach my students that philosophy begins with wonder, but that there are clear-cut activities that philosophers engage in.  A successful course begins with communicating to students the basic requirements of good philosophy.  The practical activity of doing philosophy takes the form of reading, writing, discussion and reflection.  I teach strategies for how to read philosophy, so that the dusty pages of philosophical tradition become a living language.  For instance, I developed a reading lesson taking passages from Hume’s Treatise which illustrates how to make a difficult text comprehensible.  I focus on the activity of writing by encouraging students to write in journals, to free-write in class, and write in blogs and discussion boards, enabling them to find their voices through informal, low-stakes assignments.  My strategy for promoting class discussion is to provide a brief narrative or story (a “hook”) that engages the topic.  I focus primarily on examples that resonate with students, trying to make connections with everyday life.  Throughout discussion, I try to provide the philosophical background for the topic, focusing on the theory under consideration and the arguments for and against that theory.  Finally, I end my contribution to the class period with questions, leaving my students with something to reflect upon. 

Outside of the classroom, I try to build a rapport with every student.  One of my first exciting experiences with philosophy was with a philosophy professor who encouraged me to talk in office hours.  Many hours of the next four undergraduate years were spent talking with this professor about my fledgling ideas.  It was from this professor that I learned how to encourage my students to engage in free and reflective discussion.  I am always available to my students in office hours, by appointment, by email or by phone.  I am interested in the many ways that a department can develop a sense of community for students.  For instance, the connections between faculty and students that are made in philosophy clubs, department websites, undergraduate conferences or interdisciplinary discussion groups are extremely valuable.  Such venues enable students to come together outside of class in an informal environment to share ideas with their peers, and make connections between philosophy and the world outside of the university.

            The responsibility of a professor is not merely to students, but also to the institution.  To this end, one role of a faculty member is to merge the goals and objectives of the institution with the needs and wants of the students.  Such a project requires collaboration at all levels of the university.  The project also requires engagement with faculty colleagues to share in a discussion about ongoing projects and best pedagogical practices, to enable the department to grow into a thriving community.  As a fellow with the Writing Across the Curriculum program, I lead several workshops with faculty on incorporating writing into the curriculum, and learned that the development of practical materials, like syllabi and handouts, in workshops is extremely beneficial to the teaching practices of the faculty.

The vocation of a professor of philosophy does not end with the analysis of texts and arguments, but extends to encouraging students to develop in their humanity.  As a teacher of philosophy, I try to be an exemplar of the tradition of philosophy as well as a humble servant to the community.  I invite them into the practice of doing philosophy— giving and asking for reasons and evidence— and encourage them to use the skills and abilities developed in the philosophy class to initiate change in their lives and in the lives of others.