My aim in teaching philosophy is not to turn my students into philosophers.  I want to help them become philosophical.  At the very least, this means learning how to pay attention as they ponder difficult questions:  Who am I?  How should we live?  What is really valuable?  To catalyze this kind of focus, I begin each class with a one-minute silent meditation.  The purpose of this is to help students put aside they were just doing (a previous class, talking on the phone, etc.), quiet their minds, and focus on our class time together.  I want to help my students build the skills to grapple with important existential, social, and political questions.  In this vein, I am guided by one of the morals of Plato’s allegory of the cave:  the philosophical spirit cannot idle in the ether, but must return to the messiness of life.   When students have left my classes more attentive to their lives and less mired in what William James called the “gray chaotic indiscriminateness” of the dispersed mind, I consider it a success.

I currently teach at Boston College, where I will be teaching:

Perspectives on Western Culture:  We begin this year-long course from the premise that we cannot understand the moral, political, cultural, and spiritual dimensions of the present age apart from the Western philosophical tradition, and that we cannot understand that tradition apart from the history and theology of Judeo-Christianity.  We confront the greatest thinkers and texts of these traditions from historical (“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”), theoretical (“What is the relationship between faith and reason?” and practical (“What is the best way to live?”) angles.  The first semester traces the flowering of philosophy in ancient Greece, the history of the Jewish people and birth of Christianity, and how they came to serve as the pillars of Western civilization.  The second semester charts the birth of modernity up to the present, returning to the animating questions of the first half through the lenses of the Protestant Reformation, classical liberal political thought, the Scientific Revolution, the ubiquity of technology, the rise of secularity and the threat of nihilism.  Our aim is to identify, compare, and evaluate the forms of life on offer in the present age.

 

Prior to this appointment, I was at Fordham University, where taught for six years.  I have taught the following courses there and at various institutions:

Philosophy of Human Nature:  Philosophy, in the broad sense of beliefs about the way things are, surrounds and defines us; it’s just that it’s invisible.  If we think of ideas as composing an invisible medium that envelops us and subtly guides our beliefs and behavior, the inner lining of our lives, then philosophy is for us what water is for fish.  It is so basic, so obvious, so directly in front of our nose that we rarely, if ever, attend to it, even though it bears upon our very being.  In this course, we’re going to take a break from swimming, and take a look at the water.  Guided by the thoughts of philosophers East and West, ancient, medieval, and modern, we will investigate the myriad faces of human existence (logic, psychology, politics, economics, myth, religion) and the hard questions they pose.

Philosophy of Human Nature Syllabus

Philosophical Ethics:  How should I live? How should we live together? What is happiness? What is virtue? Who should I vote for?  We all face these questions. In this course, we approach them with the help of some of the greatest philosophers of the Western tradition. You will be engaged on four levels:  existential (what do these ideas mean for my life?), political (what do these ideas mean for our society today?), theoretical (do these theories make sense?), and practical (how do these theories apply to real-world cases?). We will examine the major streams of ethical thought in the tradition, especially Virtue Ethics (Aristotle), Utilitarianism (John Stuart Mill), and Deontology (Immanuel Kant). Moreover, we analyze several case studies through the prism of these theories, including abortion, euthanasia, famine relief, economic inequality, same-sex marriage, just war theory, counter-terrorism, climate change, and animal rights.

Philosophical Ethics Syllabus

Environmental Ethics:  In this course, we examine the major schools of environmental ethics, including biocentrism, deep ecology, and ecofeminism and address questions such as the following:  Do animals have rights?  Do natural beings have intrinsic value?  What is humanity’s proper place in nature?  Is the clash between economic growth and ecological health a zero-sum game?  In addition to these questions, we explore the social, political, and economic dimensions of environmental problems such as climate change, sustainable business, renewable energy, and food.

Environmental Ethics Syllabus

Eastern Philosophy:  an introduction to the major Eastern traditions (including          Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism) that explores key concepts such as karma, samsara, nirvana, and Tao through an analysis of classical texts (e.g., Bhagavad Gita, Tao Te Ching, Lotus Sutra, and Analects) and contemporary sources.

In addition to these courses, in the future I aim to teach courses in biomedical, health care, and business ethics.