Current Teaching

Fall 2013

RESC 98: Revolutions in Science

Part of the new Discovery Residential College
Moodle | Syllabus

Discovery College LogoKarl Popper, an influential philosopher and historian of science proposed that "Science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths." From this perspective, we can trace the historical origin of science back to creation stories and the metaphysics of ancient philosophy. But how did science as we know it today emerge from this myth-infused origin? Is science a special or privileged way of expanding our knowledge of the world? What makes a theory "scientific"? What propels scientific revolutions? In addressing these questions, course will contest a common (if unspoken) myth about science: that it has no creation story, that it had to be the way it is. Our attention to the history and philosophy of science will focus on the themes of the role of science in society and in the development of our conception of ourselves in relation to nature.

MWF 1–1:52PM (Academic West 200)
Common Hour: F 2–3:52PM
(Academic West 108)

PHIL 222: Analytic Philosophy: Paradoxes

Course Blog | Moodle | Syllabus

Roughly speaking, a paradox occurs when apparently good reasoning from innocent starting points leads us into contradiction. Philosophy (particularly analytic philosophy) is riddled with paradoxes — but they have a constructive role analogous to experimental data in science. In this course, we shall examine how philosophy has grappled with paradoxes in logic (Russell’s Paradox, the Liar), philosophy of language (the Heap, Frege’s Morning Star/Evening Star Puzzle), epistemology (external world skepticism, Newcomb’s paradox), and metaphysics (the Problem of the Many, free will and determinism, and the various paradoxes of time travel). In addition to these ground-level issues, we shall also attend to some fascinating methodological questions concerning the role of paradoxes in guiding and informing various contemporary philosophical theories.

Prerequisite: PHIL 100 and a willingness to have your mind curled into an MC Escher-esque pretzel (or permission).

TR 2:30–3:52PM

Escher Construction Site


Spring 2014

PHIL 100: Belief & Reality

Course Blog | Syllabuscoming soon. . . .

This course introduces students to some of the central methods and problems of metaphysics and epistemology — that is, the theory of the fundamental nature of reality and our grounds for forming beliefs about it. We generally take ourselves to know many things. I know that I am currently in Pennsylvania, that I work at Bucknell University, that I have a dog named Mabelle, and so on. But it doesn't seem that I can decisively rule out the possibility that I am dreaming — and if I can't rule it out, how can I be correctly said to know any of those things? Perhaps they are just figments of my dreaming imagination! This is the Dreaming Argument for radical skepticism about the external world. It challenges our basic conception of knowledge as justified true belief by raising the possibility that our justification can always be defeated. Must we accept skepticism? Can any of our beliefs be justified? Can we ever be certain about the nature of reality? Speaking of reality, what are its basic components? What are material objects? How do they persist through change? Is reality entirely material or might there be immaterial or abstract objects? Where do minds fit in? Is time an objective feature of the world? Such questions have puzzled philosophers for millennia. By studying them, you will get a taste for some major fields of philosophy but will also learn how to practice philosophical methods. In the process, you will gain skill in attentive reading, logical analysis, careful writing, and critical discussion/argument. In short, you will become a better thinker, learning about philosophy by doing some philosophy.

MWF 1–1:52PM

PHIL 272: Philosophy of Biology

Course Blog | Syllabuscoming soon. . . .

Are species real? Is there a single objective tree of life? Is biodiversity intrinsically valuable? What are the units of natural selection? Is biology an autonomous science or is it reducible to chemistry and physics? What are functions? Is there such a thing as evolutionary progress or is the structure of life on earth purely contingent? If so, could there yet be “natural laws” within biology? How much can evolutionary theory inform us about ourselves and our societies? Is race a biological reality or a social construct? Is there such a thing as “human nature” or are we blank slates to be inscribed by culture? Questions like these continue to divide philosophers and biologists alike — we shall engage them primarily through current philosophical and biological research. The course will primarily function as a seminar, with student presentations setting the tone and directing the discussion, though lecture will sometimes intrude.

R 7–9:52PM