Below are descriptions of courses that I have developed and taught at West Virginia University, Fayetteville State University, and Florida State University. Complete syllabi for these courses are available upon request.
Introduction to Philosophy
This course is designed to familiarize students with some of the central topics and problems in philosophy, including the existence of God, questions concerning free will and moral responsibility, the nature of mind and personal identity, prominent ethical theories, and ethical problems. Questions include: Can the existence of God be proven? Is religion compatible with science? Do we have free will, or are our characters and actions merely the result of factors outside of our control? Are we purely physical beings, or is the mind a non-physical entity? Is it possible for us to survive our bodily deaths? Why should I be moral? Is morality relative? What makes certain actions right and others wrong?
In this course students learn to (i) reconstruct an argument from prose, (ii) identify its structure, and (iii) evaluate whether it is a good argument. The first third of the course is devoted to deductive arguments, where students develop the skills to evaluate arguments for validity and soundness, identify suppressed premises, diagram arguments, and identify inference rules employed in an argument. The second third of the course focuses on inductive reasoning, including inductive strength, arguments from analogy, explanatory standards, and basic probability theory. The final third focuses on informal fallacies, as well as common, systematic errors in reasoning that result from heuristics and biases.
Current Moral Problems
We make decisions of moral importance every day. Since we are moral agents, such decisions present a challenge: what is the morally right thing to do? What is the morally right position to adopt? This course examines a number of relevant contemporary moral issues from a philosophical perspective, including: Do animals have rights (and if so, is eating meat morally wrong)? Is there a moral difference between active and passive euthanasia? Is abortion ever morally permissible (if so, under what conditions)? What obligations, if any, do we have to the global poor? Are laws against recreational drugs unjust? Is health care a moral right? Along the way, we will see what various ethical theories imply about the issues we discuss.
This course is primarily focused on different theories of the right and the good. Guiding questions include: What makes right acts right? Is the only relevant factor the amount of good an act produces, or are other considerations also relevant? What is it for something to be good or valuable? Can anything be intrinsically good or bad beyond what we subjectively experience? Are genuine moral dilemmas possible? Lastly, the course explores metaethical questions: Do we have good reason to be moral even when it’s not in our self-interest? Do moral judgments make claims that can be true or false? If so, what sorts of evidence could there be for them? Are moral judgments the products of reason or of feeling?
Health Care Ethics
The course provides a framework for the ethical principles and concepts at work in medical decision-making, including the nature of rights, autonomy, justice, benefit, and harm. It explores difficult and controversial issues that arise in healthcare ethics, including autonomy and informed consent, life-sustaining treatment, reproduction, conscientious objection, justice and health care, organ donation, and emerging technologies. Questions include: What does consent involve, and to what extent must a patient be informed about what they consent to? How can we balance competing rights among patients, their families, and health care providers? How should we make medical decisions concerning patients who fail to meet the standards of competence but lack an advance directive? To what degree should we prioritize the life of a fetus? Is healthcare a moral right?
Philosophy of Religion
This course explores a number of questions about religious belief and the nature and existence of God as conceived in the major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Questions include: Is God required as an explanation for the existence or order of the universe? Are miracles possible, and is it ever rational to accept a miracle claim? Does science threaten the rationality of religious belief? What bearing does the pervasiveness of religious experience have on the rationality of religious belief? Does the existence of evil or of divine hiddenness disprove God? What is the relationship between God and morality? If God exists and has infallible foreknowledge of all future events, can humans nevertheless act freely? Should religious belief be based on reasoned evidence, faith, or both?
Free Will and Moral Responsibility
This course examines various accounts of the nature of and conditions on moral responsibility. The course is divided into three general topics, each of which cover a number of important questions in the current philosophical literature:
Free Will & the Control Condition: What is free will, and is it compatible with determinism? What sort or degree of control do we need to have in order to be morally responsible for our behavior and character? Does moral responsibility require the ability to do otherwise?
The Nature of Moral Responsibility: What is it to be morally responsible for something? When someone is morally responsible for something, what kinds of responses are appropriate?
The Epistemic Condition: Does ignorance ever excuse? If so, under what conditions? When are people culpable for their ignorance?
Early Modern Philosophy
This course explores some of the central issues and figures in philosophy through the study of one of Western philosophy’s most active and important periods. The course focuses primarily on metaphysics and epistemology in the rationalist and empiricist traditions. Questions include: What is the self ? Are we purely immaterial beings? Is innate knowledge possible? What is our concept of substance? Can we have knowledge of cause and effect? How can our minds and bodies interact? Figures covered include René Descartes, Nicolas Malebranche, Gottfried Leibniz, John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume.