Intro to Philosophy of Science
Science is widely thought to be a way to acquire knowledge about the natural world. However, many issues about the nature of science, including claims of scientific knowledge, are subject to debate by not only philosophers of science but practicing scientists too.
What is science and how exactly does it work?
What distinguishes science from pseudoscience?
Does science inform us about reality or only of our experiences?
Which current scientific theories (if any) should we accept as true?
What is the nature and scope of scientific explanation?
Should we always side with a scientific consensus?
In cases where scientists disagree about an issue, who should we trust?
In this course, we will survey answers to these questions while studying historical narratives from two leading philosophers of science: Peter Godfrey-Smith and Michael Strevens. The aim is to obtain a better understanding of science by using philosophical, historical, political, and sociological lenses.
Philosophy of Animal Minds
Montclair State University
Do chimpanzees have a sense of right and wrong? Do insects have subjective experiences? What is it like to be a bat? Philosophers have long speculated about the existence and contents of nonhuman animal minds. In the 21st century, science now offers us some answers, but much is still up for debate. This course will explore the foundations of two relatively new scientific disciplines: sensory ecology and cognitive ethology. Sensory ecologists study how animals sense their environment and try to understand what their perceptual worlds (known as umwelts) are like. Cognitive ethologists study how animals think and try to understand the content of their thoughts.
Philosophy of Animal Minds intersects between at least three important sub-branches of philosophy: philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and epistemology. Early in the course, we will gain understanding of each area and how they can be applied to the scientific study of animal cognition and perception. Throughout the remainder of the course, as we become empirically informed about the current state of animal mind science, we will uncover and examine hidden assumptions, evaluate arguments, and consider their implications.
Minds, Machines, and Persons
In this course, we will study and discuss competing philosophical theories about the nature of the human mind and the possibility of creating machines that are intelligent. We will also consider the ethical implications of creating machines with minds like ours. The course will be broken into three sections. The first section will focus on philosophy of mind, the second on the foundations of cognitive science and artificial intelligence research, and in the third section, we will discuss the philosophical and ethical issues surrounding the possibility of mind uploading and robot rights.
Current Moral and Social Issues
This will primarily be a course on applied ethics, though we will discuss political, social, legal, scientific, and metaphysical issues as well. We regularly form judgments about what is right and wrong and about who is and isn’t a good person. While we may have strong views about moral and social issues, what kinds of arguments and reasons do we have for holding them?
We will start with looking at meta-ethical and normative ethical theories. With an understanding of the different theoretical standpoints, we will then move forward to applying these theories to the real world. Throughout the course, we will read and discuss articles written by not only moral philosophers, but journalists, academics, and scientists as well.
Philosophical Ideas in Science Fiction
Thought experiments are important tools for exploring philosophical concepts and theories. In this course, we will treat science fiction stories, novels, and films as extended thought experiments to explore some of the metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical questions surrounding virtual worlds (e.g. the Matrix), parallel universes, time travel, free will, and utopian societies. We will read short stories and novel excerpts from sci-authors like Ted Chiang, Arthur C. Clarke, Ursula K. Le Guin, Robert A. Heinlein, and Aldous Huxley. Here are some of the questions we will discuss:
What is reality?
Are virtual worlds part of reality?
Can we know whether we are in the Matrix?
Is free will an illusion?
Should we plug into an experience machine?
Is time travel metaphysically possible?
What is the ideal kind of society?
Seminar in Philosophy of Mind
This course will be a survey of hot topics in philosophy of mind. We will discuss the following five topics:
The relation between the mind and brain
Theory of Knowledge
This course will be a comprehensive introduction to epistemology. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that investigates the nature of knowledge, justification, understanding, and other related concepts. Throughout the course, we will read and discuss a wide range of essays, both historical and contemporary. Here are some of the questions that we will raise and try to answer:
Can we know anything? If knowledge is possible, are there any limitations to what we can know?
How do we know that the world, as it appears to us, reflects reality rather than some illusion (e.g. the Matrix)?
Can we know that a world external to our own minds exists, or are we just limited to knowledge of our own mental states?
When are laypeople justified in accepting the testimony of experts? Which experts should we trust?
Is moral knowledge possible? If so, how are moral beliefs justified? Are they justified on the basis of consensus, divine authority, rational intuitions, or some by some other means?
Intro to Philosophy
This course is an introduction to Western philosophy: what philosophy is, its objectives, its major areas of focus, and its methods. The course is organized around the study of a number of important questions in philosophy, including the nature of reality, the extent of human knowledge, the relation between the mind and the brain, the existence of god, ethics, and the meaning of life. Throughout the course, we will study a wide range of philosophical theories and arguments developed throughout the history of Western thought.
Logic, Reason, Persuasion
In this class, we will learn how to construct, criticize, and effectively deliver arguments. Unlike traditional critical thinking classes, which emphasize logical fallacies and methods in formal logic (e.g. truth tables), we will utilize argument mapping and incorporate findings and methods from fields outside of philosophy such as cognitive science, social psychology, mathematics, and behavioral economics. Using these methods and insights, we will then carefully study and evaluate recent debates in politics, ethics, and science (e.g. climate change, gun control).
In this course, we will learn how to identify and construct valid arguments, strong inductive inferences, and how to make rational decisions under uncertainty. No previous exposure to philosophy or formal methods will be necessary. We will begin by studying the fundamentals of probability theory, as well as some more advanced concepts (e.g. Bayes’ theorem). We will then apply our newly acquired conceptual tools to real world cases, ranging from game shows to scientific research. Lastly, we will look at recent empirical work—from the field of behavioral economics—to understand how decisions are routinely affected by cognitive biases and other errors in reasoning.
This course will be an introduction to the sub-branch of applied ethics known as bioethics. Bioethics deals with moral questions raised by advances in the biological and medical sciences, especially when it comes to issues surrounding the creation and termination of human life. Throughout the course, we will read and discuss a wide range of essays written by empirically informed philosophers and philosophically minded scientists. Specifically, we will deal with the following topics: natalism, abortion, euthanasia, genetic engineering, neuroethics, resource allocation, and pandemic ethics.
Upcoming Youtube Course
Evolution of Minds
Summer 2024 (Tentative)
The course will involve four 30 minute lectures that will review cutting edge work in the philosophy of cognitive science. Recent books include Burge's "Perception: first form of mind" and Tye's "Vagueness and the Evolution of Consciousness".
-What are minds?
-When did minds originate in the universe? Have they always existed?
-What form did the first mind take?
-When did consciousness arise?
-Why does consciousness exist?