I regularly teach Introduction to Philosophy and upper-division courses aimed at majors, including Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Language, and Epistemology. In addition, I teach a range of undergraduate and graduate seminars. Here are some recent topics they have covered.
Faces of Metaphor (Fall 2022)
Metaphor and other forms of figurative language saturate everyday discourse and thought. Beyond the realms of literature and poetry, metaphor is central to scientific inquiry, medical and psychiatric practice, religious life, and political debate. Our central questions here will include: How do metaphors achieve their effects? How do we creatively deploy linguistic, psychological, and sociocultural resources in making and interpreting metaphors? How can metaphors provide us with distinctive insights or ways of understanding? Are there things that can only be said or thought using metaphor? Can there be visual, pictorial, or cinematic metaphors? What values do metaphors convey?
Philosophy of Technology (Spring 2022)
Humans are a technological species. Our world, from the air we breathe to the food we eat, has been reshaped by technologies as varied as industrial farming, automatic rifles, vaccines, and networked computing. In this course we will investigate the nature and uses of such technology. We will consider how to define technology, whether technology is morally or politically neutral, what are the ethics of technological risk and innovation, and how technology might change not just the natural and social environment, but human nature itself.
Philosophy of Neuroscience (Fall 2020)
This seminar will cover recent philosophical work on neuroscience from a practice-oriented approach. We will focus on unpacking how the field’s epistemic, technological, representational, and social practices contribute to our understanding of complex systems such as the mind/brain. Topics addressed include: causation, explanation, and experimentation; the strengths and weaknesses of mechanistic, dynamical, and network modeling; reductionism, anti-reductionism, and the unification of neuroscience with psychology; the scope and limits of neuroimaging; the rise of “big data” in neuroscience; the roles of instruments and tool development; “brain reading,” neuroprediction, and the sociopolitical implications of neuroscience.
Art and Anti-Art (Spring 2019)
Art, it’s been argued, ended sometime in the 20th century. Understanding this provocative claim requires bringing into focus the structure of modernist art and the narrative to which it belongs. While the impulse to test, extend, and subvert art’s boundaries is inherent to modernism itself, many contemporary artistic practices, from Dada onwards, have also explicitly positioned themselves as “non-art” or “anti-art”. Anti-art thrives on negation, actively resists classification, and stubbornly eludes judgment. It has manifested in the collapse of traditional distinctions between established arts such as painting, sculpture, and photography, as well as the proliferation of new and hybrid art forms (collage and readymades, installations, happenings, film and video). In this seminar, we will investigate the various permutations of anti-art and consider how it forces us to rethink our conceptions of objecthood, materiality, and medium. We will also discuss whether there are cogent critical standards by which it might be assessed. The aim of the course is to understand how some of the core theoretical pillars of modernist art came to be disassembled, and to better conceptualize contemporary art as a coherent phenomenon–to construct the narrative frames and theoretical tools needed for understanding the present.
Concepts and Cognitive Architecture (Spring 2016)
Concepts are the building blocks of thoughts and other higher cognitive states. They are the mental representations that we deploy in categorization, reasoning and theorizing, decision-making, planning, and other processes by which we attempt to understand and change the world. In this seminar we will investigate the nature of concepts from the point of view of philosophy, psychology, linguistics, and neuroscience. We’ll survey the major theories of concepts with an eye towards understanding their structure, content, acquisition, and processing, paying special attention to how concepts interact with other mental systems such as perception, language, and memory.
Images and Words (Fall 2014)
To describe something in words is one thing, to show it pictorially or visually is another. But what is the difference between linguistic or descriptive representation and imagistic or pictorial representation? In this course we will consider how language is related to visual mediums such as drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, film, etc. General issues covered will include the nature of pictorial representation, depiction and abstraction, representations that combine images and text, the limits of what can be expressed in pictures and languages, the difficulties of expressing the content of pictures in language, how pictures differ from diagrams, graphs, and other structured visual mediums, and the depictive representation of narrative and time.
Images (Spring 2013)
This course will focus on a cluster of questions concerning the nature of images. How are images distinguished from other forms of representation? What does it mean for an image to depict something, or to be “realistic”? Do images express something essentially uncapturable in language? How are images and vision related, and how can we disentangle the biological and cultural influences on how we see and interpret images? How have the advent of photography and the “pictorial turn” in the culture shaped our interaction with images? What, if anything, is distinctive about photography as a practice of making images? We will address these questions as they arise with respect to a range of art and non-art images, particularly those from the sciences, medicine, religion, and practices of vernacular and technical image-making.
Models of a Complex World (Fall 2012)
The world is a tapestry of interlocking, multilevel complex systems. The primary task for the sciences is determining how to model these systems in a way that is cognitively and computationally tractable, but that also gives us some predictive and explanatory purchase on them. In this seminar we will discuss some foundational issues concerning the success conditions of such modeling in a range of sciences (physics, ecology, economics, climatology, neuroscience, etc.). Our focus will be on how representation, explanation, and causality work in various real-world modeling contexts. We will consider when models are representationally accurate or veridical, ways in which veridicality and prediction can come apart, and the role of fictions and other simplifying heuristics in modeling. We will also discuss the metaphysics of complex systems, including the prevalence of modularity in living systems, whether complex systems are always mechanisms, what the alternatives to mechanistic modeling might look like, and how to understand causality in distributed systems.
Varieties of Kinds (Spring 2011)
Dividing the world into categories is essential to everyday thought and language, as well as more specialized cognitive practices such as scientific explanation and modeling. We often want these taxonomic divisions to capture the structure that the world has naturally; we want to group things together in virtue of some deep, underlying, or otherwise important properties that they have in common, not because of some potentially idiosyncratic or arbitrary features having to do with our psychology, our language, or our disciplinary practices. The search for the classificatory structure that the world possesses objectively is the search for so-called ‘natural kinds’. In this seminar we will survey much of the contemporary debate over natural kinds as well as other types of kinds that exist (artifact kinds, functional kinds, human kinds, etc.). Kinds have played a central role in many important debates: over scientific realism and anti-realism, semantics, the structure of concepts, the laws of nature, causation and explanation, inductive inference, essentialism, reductionism, and multiple realization, inter alia. We will touch on all of these topics, and we will take a fairly detailed look at how debates over kinds play out in several of the special sciences, including biology, chemistry, psychology, and psychiatry.