Philosophy of Mind
(Online Term 1, 2019; on-campus Term 1, 2019 & 2018)
Many people think that the mind is a part, or a feature, of the body; perhaps the mind is the brain. However, there seem to be aspects of mental life — features of consciousness, for example — that not only defy explanation in physical or biological terms but seem to do so in principle. For this reason, some have argued that the mind must be something different from the body and brain. Yet if this is the case, then how do the mind and body communicate? How does something physical interact with something that is not physical? Many philosophers who believe the mind is physical maintain that it is a computer. But again, there are problems with this view. For example, computers can carry out very complex tasks, but they do not seem to have any kind of understanding of what they are doing. If minds are computers, then how do we achieve this understanding? Or is this achievement really an illusion? This course aims to introduce you to various answers to these two central questions about the mind.
(Online Term 1, 2019; on-campus Term 2, 2017 & 2018; )
Critical thinking skills are useful, including in law, business, computer science, medicine, and simply in everyday life. What is the best way to distinguish real from “fake” news? We will examine several methods. Should we believe what our doctors, mechanics, or financial advisors tell us, just because they are experts in their fields? Maybe we should, at least sometimes, but not at other times. What is the important difference between claiming that LDL cholesterol is linked to heart disease and claiming that eating vegetables prevents cancer? By addressing questions like these, we will learn how to reason well. We will also examine the ways in which reasoning can go wrong and how to avoid them. Students who successfully complete the unit will be better at evaluating evidence, critiquing arguments, and will be able to use these abilities in a wide variety of situations, both in and beyond the classroom.
Time, Self, and Mind
(On campus Term 2, 2017 & 2018)
This course is an introduction to metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and epistemology. It deals with questions about the nature of time, causation, human freedom, personal identity, and the possibility of artificial intelligence. Each topic is introduced by way of a science fiction story. On completing the course, students will have an understanding of some main theories in metaphysics and will have reflected on the impact of recent developments in science and philosophy on our most fundamental views about ourselves and our place in the world. The course will further develop capacities for critical thought by introducing students to the systematic study of techniques for the evaluation of arguments and reasoning.
(On-campus Term 1, 2018)
In this honors seminar, we will examine two linked strands of recent work on free will. After bringing ourselves up to speed on mainstream debates about free will, we will first look at the recent literature on how the concept of free will might be thought to refer, and thus at the conditions for the existence of free will. Much of this work departs significantly in its methodology from mainstream debates. Second, we will look at recent work on the phenomenology of free will, and consider how such phenomenology might influence the reference of the concept. Meetings will be once per week for two hours.
Often, we do things simply because we want to do them (e.g., eat candy). But often we do things because they seem right — not just “right” because they will get us what we want, but morally right (e.g., telling the truth/ not lying). Even so, what we think is right in this sense sometimes conflicts with what we want to do (e.g., we might want to steal candy, yet know that it is wrong to steal). Why do the right thing, if it conflicts with what you want to do? In the first part of this course, we will ask what the major ethical theories are able to say in answer to this question.
In the second part of the course, we will consider a number of questions in applied ethics — the sorts of questions that we encounter in our daily lives or read about in the news. Is killing in war wrong? If so, why? If not, why not? Is homosexuality wrong? Is affirmative action or racial profiling wrong? For each of these questions, we will read a philosopher who defends one answer, and then we will read a criticism of that defense. But you will also make up your own minds, and you will acquire the tools needed to express and defend considered views on these complex issues.
Philosophy of Mind
Florida State University
This graduate (MA, PhD) seminar in the philosophy of mind explores central themes in the philosophy of action and moral psychology, with a special focus on recent work in the philosophy and science of self-control. The course also focused on issues related to manipulation, free action, and moral responsibility. (Co-taught with Al Mele)
This course explores some central problems of the human condition, such as love and sexuality; the meaning of life and death; right and wrong; free will; personal identity, and the nature of the self.
In this course, we consider the human sensory modalities: seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling. How many senses are there? How many could there be? What makes one sense different from another? How do different senses interrelate with each other? How do the senses extract perceptual content from receptoral information? What sorts of objects do we perceive? Can multiple senses perceive a single event? Is perception influenced by cognition? Is there a sharp distinction to be made between perception and cognition? Does perception guide action? Is there a sense of agency?
This introductory course focuses on five philosophical topics related to value and human life. As we consider these topics, we will be required to question our usual assumptions and beliefs about the issues involved. Our aim will be to think more clearly and carefully than we usually do about them. A central theme will be how to reconcile our subjective view of ourselves with the objective view provided by, for example, science. We will motivate each topic by watching movies (science fiction), but we will also read work by some of the world’s best philosophers. Philosophy is difficult, and although watching the movies will be fun, we certainly won’t be taking it easy. An integral part of the course will be learning how to do philosophy. In particular, you will learn how to assess whether arguments for a given position are good or bad, and you will learn how to come up with good arguments of your own.