Category Archives: Teaching

Logic and Scientific Method PHL 221, Spring 2019

Suppose there is a barista who makes coffee for all and only those Staten Island residents who don’t make coffee for themselves. She is a resident of Staten Island. Does she make her own coffee? If she does, then she can’t. But if she doesn’t, then she must. How is this possible? In this course, in addition to occasionally being confronted with logical puzzles such this one, you will learn how to identify the structure of arguments, how to employ truth tables and other formal methods to test the validity of arguments, you will learn about computer logic, the logic of sets, and the logic of paradox. Logic is abstract but practical: it can improve your reading and writing, and it can help you to argue more persuasively. Moreover, it can be fun. We will work hard, but the result, I hope, will be worth it.        Filtre-pour-une-tasse-cafe


Step on a tack with bare feet and it will hurt. Why? Pain receptors at the site of the injury will send electrical signals via nerve fibres to your spinal cord and ultimately to your brain where they will pass into areas responsible for physical sensation, thought and emotion. The end result is that unpleasant feeling we call “pain.” But is the neurophysiology of pain, all there is to pain?  Granny Smith apples look green to me. And if you have normal colour vision, they look green to you too. Or at least, both you and I will describe Granny Smith apples as green. But how do I know that when you look at a Granny Smith, you experience the same colour as I do? Computers are becoming increasingly better at performing cognitive tasks once thought of as distinctively human. Not only do computers excel at chess, they can recognize faces, engage in conversations, and much more. Do computers, then, think? And even if they do, could there ever be computer consciousness? These are some of the philosophical puzzles that we’ll be tackling this semester in PHL 220.


Philosophy of Science

Steven Baumann and I are co-teaching the Philosophy of Science in the nursing doctoral program at the Graduate Center (NUR 700). In it, we investigate questions such as: What is Science?  How can we tell the difference between science and pseudo-science?  What is distinctive about scientific reasoning and explanation? How are we to understand scientific revolutions? What role does gender play in science?


Introduction to Philosophy Fall 2014

What is the meaning of life? What is the relation between the mind and the body? How ought I to live? Does God exist? We shall explore these and other big questions of philosophy via the work of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato and various contemporary philosophers.


Syllabus: Welcome to Introduction to Philosophy

Midterm: Introduction to Philosophy Midterm

Experience and Knowledge PHL 220: What is it like to be really good at something?

What is it like to be really good at something?  If you are an expert soccer player, do you need to think about what you are doing as you are doing it?  If you’re a guitarist and you think about the position of your fingers while playing, will this mess you up?  Are expert ballet dancers really performing effortlessly, or does their movement only look effortless?  More generally, after you have developed a high level of skill, do you have explicit knowledge of your actions as you are doing them, or does it all just happen without a “you” even being there? In this course, we’ll delve into these and other questions concerning the relations between thought, action, experience and knowledge.


Metaphysics, Graduate Center PHIL 77000, Fall 2013

Metaphysics: On How it All Hangs Together


The early twentieth century physicist Sir Arthur Eddington famously described how, in settling down to the task of writing, he must draw up his chair to two tables: the one, familiar to him from his earliest years, is extended, comparatively permanent, colored and, above all, substantial, while the other, a more recent acquaintance, is almost entirely empty space. “Yes,” he exclaims, “there are duplicates of every object about me—two tables, two chairs, two pens.” Philosophers, with their similar predilection for tables and chairs, have also been interested in how higher-level substantial objects are related to the physicist’s streams of particles rushing about in mostly empty space and recently such interest has given rise to a burgeoning literature on the question of “grounding,” that is, on how higher-level things are metaphysically dependent on (relatively) fundamental things. In this course, we shall delve into this literature as well as the related topics of levels of organization, physicalism, and fundamentality. We shall also consider whether a priori metaphysics, as it is exemplified in much of the current literature on grounding, is a viable means of investigation into the topic at hand.

For students in the class, readings are posted on a password protected post. Prior to our first meeting, please read the syllabus regarding access.