Syllabi

Upcoming (Fall 2021, Johns Hopkins University)

AS.150.451 (01) Animal Points of View

(Upper Level Undergraduate & Graduate Seminar, Johns Hopkins University, Fall 2021, In Person - Co-taught with Ian Phillips)

Are non-human animals conscious? Do they possess a stream of consciousness like our own? This course will explore these questions by asking what it is for an animal to possess a point of view and a temporal point of view in particular.

Syllabus will be posted here and on blackboard in August.

Past Courses

AS.150.432 (01) Philosophy of Memory

(Upper Level Undergraduate & Graduate Seminar, Johns Hopkins University, Spring 2021, Online)

Memory is amongst the most fundamental capacities of the mind. Without memory, we would be limited to our present experience, and many of our other cognitive capacities and social practices would be impossible. In this course we will investigate interconnected questions including: What is the nature of memory and of its different varieties? How should we study memory: what should be the roles of psychology, neuroscience, and introspection? If someone loses many of their memories due to injury or disease, are they still the same person—and should we still respect their past wishes and hold them responsible for their past deeds? What kinds of memory do other animals have and is this morally significant? Is forgetting always bad? Do we have a duty to remember? How do collective memory and public memorials relate to individual memory, and what lessons does the study of individual memory have for the politics of collective memory?

Syllabus

Advisor: AS.150.300 (01) Prometheus Editorial Workshop (1 Credit)

(Advisor to Undergraduate Committee Running a Philosophy Journal & Conference, Johns Hopkins University, Spring 2021, Online)

Prometheus is an international undergraduate philosophy journal published by students at Johns Hopkins University. The purpose of the journal is to promote philosophic discourse of the highest standard by offering students an opportunity to engage in open discussion, participate in the production and publication of an academic journal, and establish a community of aspiring philosophers. Students enrolled in this workshop will act as the staff readers for the journal. For more information, please visit www.prometheus-journal.com. Prerequisite: MUST have taken one philosophy course.

The Nature and Significance of Animal Minds - Fall 2018

(Upper-Level Undergraduate Seminar, Columbia University, developed and taught as GSAS Teaching Scholar)

Humans have a complicated relationship with other animals. We love them, befriend them and save them. We hunt, farm and eat them. We experiment on and observe them to discover more about them and to discover more about ourselves. For many of us, our pets are amongst the most familiar inhabitants of our world. Yet when we try to imagine what is going on in a dog or cat’s mind - let alone that of a crow, octopus or bee - many of us are either stumped about how to go about this, or (the science strongly suggests) get things radically wrong. Is our thought about and behaviour towards animals ethically permissible, or even consistent? Can we reshape our habits of thought about animals to allow for a more rational, richer relationship with the other inhabitants of our planet? In this course, students will reflect on two closely intertwined questions: an ethical question, what sort of relationship ought we to have with animals?; and a metaphysical question, what is the nature of animal minds? Readings will primarily be from philosophy and ethics and the cognitive sciences, with additional readings from literature and biology. There are no prerequisites for this class. It will be helpful but certainly not necessary to have taken previous classes in philosophy (especially ethics and philosophy of mind) or in cognitive science.

Syllabus Updated Syllabus for Future Iterations

Epistemology - Summer 2018

(Intermediate-Level Undergraduate Class, Columbia University Summer School)

Epistemology is the study of knowledge. We will begin by looking at classic reasons for worrying about whether we know anything at all, and some important responses to those worries. This will lead us to examine particular sources of knowledge, such as perception, testimony and reasoning. In thinking about these sources of knowledge, we will consider such questions as: How does sensory perception give us knowledge (and does it)? Do we have a special kind of access to our own minds? Whom we should listen to and rely on for information? Can we justify our practices of reasoning and justification? We will read a combination of classic texts and contemporary work.

Syllabus Updated Syllabus for Future Iterations

Proposed Syllabi

Introduction to Philosophy

Philosophy is about asking big questions and reflecting on - maybe rethinking - the things we ordinarily take for granted. What is the difference between right and wrong? How can we know? Do we really know anything? What are we, anyway - what is the relationship between our minds, our bodies and the rest of the world? These are some of the questions you will think about if you study philosophy. This course introduces students to some of the central areas of philosophy, including history of philosophy, metaphysics, and ethics, and teaches students skills they will need to pursue more philosophy courses. These skills - including ways of engaging closely with historical texts, forming and analysing arguments, and using thought experiments to help one think clearly about deep issues - will also be useful for other academic subjects and, more generally, for basing choices in life on good reasons.

Syllabus

Introduction to Philosophy of Science

What is science? What is the difference between science and pseudo-science? Is the scientific method better than other methods for learning about the world, and if so, why? What makes some explanations better than others? Given that many of the most important theories in the history of science got the fundamental structure of the world wrong, should we trust our current best theories? What is it for a theory to be approximately true? How do the different sciences fit together - in what sense are some more fundamental than others? We will discuss these and other issues. This is an introductory course, suitable for both (social or natural) science majors without any background in philosophy, and philosophy majors with only limited knowledge of science and mathematics. We will begin with textbook readings aimed at students, but by the end of the course we will tackle some papers from the recent literature.

Syllabus

Introduction to Philosophy of Mind

How does the mind relate to the body? Are we just brains in bodies in a purely physical world, or do our minds involve more than this? If they do, how do they control our bodies without contradicting the laws of physics. How can we know the answers to any of these questions? Can we ever understand consciousness in a scientific worldview? This class introduces classic and contemporary answers to these and related issues. Previous classes in philosophy will be an advantage but not required.

Syllabus

Metaphysics

What is the nature of ordinary objects and their properties? What are the most fundamental categories of things? What is causation? What is the nature of time? Do numbers exist, and how do they relate to the physical world? How about minds? What is the physical anyway? We will discuss these and other questions in this introduction to metaphysics. There are no prerequisites but this is an intermediate-level course and previous philosophy classes will be an advantage.

Syllabus

Philosophy of Psychology & Cognitive Science

Since the 1950s, psychology has been transformed by the rise of computer science, especially artificial intelligence, and increasingly sophisticated techniques of neuroscience. How do these different disciplines fit together: does the mind relate to the brain like a computer relates to software, and if so, what does this mean for how we should study the mind? And how do these sciences relate to our everyday understanding of each others’ minds? Does science tell us that states like belief and perception don’t really exist? What kind of mental states do exist, and what is the difference between different kinds of mental states? Do recent developments in machine learning suggest that we will not really be able to understand the mind, even when we can fully predict behaviour? Are the foundations of the sciences of the mind solid: why have there been recent failures to replicate prominent results from psychology and do they show that the field is in crisis? An intermediate-level course suitable for psychology or neuroscience majors interested in the foundations of their field, or philosophy majors interested in philosophy of mind or philosophy of science.

Syllabus

Philosophy of Biology

This intermediate-level undergraduate course explores the philosophical foundations of some of the fundamental concepts in biology. Can we define life? Given that all organisms are part of one tree of life, do species exist, and if so, what are they? What does it really mean to say that the heart has the function of pumping blood or that a frog’s bright colour signals that it is dangerous? Does natural selection operate on genes, organisms, or more theoretically complex entities? Does evolution operate in a law-like way, and why does this matter? We will see how these questions are difficult to answer but also important: the way they answer them has the potential to shape how we understand the rest of biology, psychology and the nature of science generally. Suitable for philosophy students with limited background in biology, biology students with limited background in philosophy, and any others with a willingness to think hard and learn.

Syllabus

Philosophy of Neuroscience

Neuroscience is one of the fastest-growing areas of human inquiry today. But how does it work? How well do the current methods and assumptions of neuroscience fit its aims? What kind of explanations should neuroscientists aim to give? What does it mean to discover a system in the brain, or to discover the function of a system in the brain? Should we expect the different branches of neuroscience to be unified with one another or with the rest of biology? In this class, suitable for upper-level undergraduates and graduate students in neuroscience or philosophy, we will discuss recent treatments of these and other issues in the philosophical foundations of neuroscience. Readings will be by both neuroscientists and philosophers.

Syllabus