Effective Animal Advocacy (Fall 2018)
Effective animal advocates attempt to use evidence and reason to do the most good they can for animals. In this course we examine this approach to animal advocacy from theoretical and practical perspectives. First, what does it mean to do the most good we can, and how do effective animal advocates attempt to pursue this aim? Second, what are the main theoretical objections to effective animal advocacy? For example, does it involve too much cluelessness, demandingness, or implausibility? Third, what are the main practical objections to effective animal advocacy? For example, does it focus too much on direct, short-term, individual change and not enough on indirect, long-term, structural change? Along the way we will consider broader moral and political questions related to effective altruism and animal advocacy, and we will discuss these questions with people doing cutting-edge work in these areas.
Moral Status (Summer 2011)
This course examines the nature of moral status. First, we ask about the nature of moral status. Can you have moral rights without having moral duties? Second, we ask what it takes for individuals to have moral status. Do you have to be Human? Rational? Sentient? Alive? Part of relationships of care and interdependence? Third, we ask what it takes for groups to have moral status. Under what circumstances, if any, can families, nations, species, or ecosystems have moral rights and/or moral duties? Fourth, we ask whether parts of individuals can have moral status. Under what circumstances, if any, can our past or future selves have moral rights and/or moral duties? Finally, we ask when in life moral status begins and ends. Do fetuses and/or corpses have moral rights? Do past and/or future generations have moral rights at present? We also consider implications for a variety of individuals, ranging from insects to robots.
Animal Minds (Spring 2018, Spring 2014, Spring 2013, Fall 2011)
This course examines the nature and limits of our understanding of animal minds from a primarily philosophical perspective. We start with a survey of philosophy of mind and cognitive ethology. What is a mind, and who or what can have one? How can we learn about animal minds, and what are the main research methods that scientists use to study them? We then ask what, as far as we know, animal minds are like. How do animals perceive the world? Do they have memories? Self-awareness? Language? Rationality? Pleasure and pain and emotion? Finally, we consider the philosophical implications of our answers to these questions. What, if anything, does this discussion tell us about the human/nonhuman divide, and about the nature, value, and meaning of human and nonhuman life?
Bioethics (Summer 2016, Summer 2008)
This course is an introduction to bioethics. We start with a survey of moral theory. What is morality, and what does morality require of us? Should our priority be promoting happiness, respecting autonomy, cultivating virtues, or something else? Also, what, if anything, do we morally owe to fetuses, animals, plants, species, and ecosystems? We then apply these ideas to particular topics in bioethics, including the nature and value of mental and physical health and wellbeing; autonomy, paternalism, and trust; abortion, euthanasia, and physician assisted suicide; human and nonhuman subjects research; genetic modification of human and nonhuman animals; distribution of scarce medical resources in society; and public health impacts of food, war, and other such industries.
Ethics and Activism (Spring 2016, Spring 2014)
This course is an introduction to practical ethics with special focus on the ethics of activism and advocacy. We will start with a survey of moral philosophy. Is there a moral difference between causing and allowing harm? What, if anything, do we owe to people in other nations and future generations? We will then consider some of the moral problems that come up in legal activism and advocacy, including abolition vs. regulation, intersectional vs. single-issue activism, and symbolic vs. strategic activism. Finally, we will consider some of the moral problems that come up in illegal activism and advocacy. For example, do we ever have a moral right, or duty, to engage in civil disobedience, property destruction, or violence?
Ethics and Animals (Fall 2017, Fall 2013, Fall 2012, Spring 2012)
This course examines the morality of our treatment of nonhuman animals. We start with a survey of moral theory. Do animals have moral status? Do we have a right to harm or kill some animals in order to benefit or save others? We consider these questions from a variety of moral perspectives, including utilitarianism, rights theory, contractualism, feminism, and contextualism. We then apply these ideas to different kinds of animal use. For example, what is the morality of our treatment of animals in food, research, entertainment, captivity, and the wild? Finally, we will explore the connections between human rights and animal rights; the legal, economic, and psychological barriers in the way of reform; and the ethics of activism and advocacy.
Ethics and the Environment (Fall 2017, Summer 2013)
This course examines the morality of our treatment of the environment. We start with a survey of ethical theory. Do we have moral obligations to plants, species, and ecosystems? Are we morally responsible for what we do collectively? And how should we treat people in other nations and future generations? We then apply these ideas to different environmental problems. For example, do we have a duty to conserve or preserve natural resources or the wilderness? And do we have a duty not to contribute to pollution or climate change? Finally, we consider how environmental ethics relates to other issues in applied ethics. For example, how would a commitment to protect the environment interact with our commitment to feed the hungry and respect individual human and nonhuman animals?
Ethics and Speech (Fall 2017)
This course is an introduction to moral and political philosophy with special focus on speech. We start with a survey of moral and political philosophy. Is morality more a matter of promoting happiness, respecting rights, or cultivating virtue, and is justice more a matter of equality, liberty, or community? We then consider a variety of practical questions concerning speech including: What is the difference between education, manipulation, and propaganda? How should we morally and politically evaluate offensive speech, and what role if any should privilege and oppression play in these evaluations? Finally, what limits if any should the state place on free speech and why? Along the way, we also consider the relevance of slurs, microaggressions, outing, social media, and more.
Ethics of the Anthropocene (Spring 2018)
Many people believe that we are now in the Anthropocene, a geological age in which human activity is the dominant force on the planet. This course examines the nature and ethics of the Anthropocene. How is human activity affecting the world, and what is the moral significance of these effects? For example, do we have different moral obligations to other humans, nonhumans, or the environment if our activity is harming them than if not? Can we effectively intervene in human-caused harms to other humans, nonhumans, and the environment, and, if so, should we do so? Finally, are some interventions more acceptable than others? For example, should we consider bioengineering or geoengineering as options, or would that simply make the problem worse?
Food, Animals, and the Environment (Fall 2015, Summer 2014, Summer 2012)
This course examines the impacts of contemporary food systems on humans, animals, and the environment, as well as the ethical questions that these impacts raise for food production, consumption, activism, and advocacy. We start with a survey of ethical theory. Do we have moral obligations to animals and the environment? Is morality a matter of intentions, consequences, relationships, or something else? We then discuss the welfare and environmental impacts of industrial food, local food, organic food, GMOs, and more. Finally, we consider the ethical questions these impacts raise in everyday life, including questions about individual vs. collective responsibility; abolition vs. regulation; consumer vs. political activism; intersectional vs. single-issue activism; legal vs. illegal activism; and more.
Life and Death (Summer 2009)
This course examines the philosophy of life and death. We start by considering the metaphysics of life and death. What is the nature of life and death, and is it possible to have an afterlife? If I destroy your body and then create an exact replica, am I keeping you alive or replacing you with someone else? We then consider the ethics of life and death. Do we have moral duties to animals, plants, embryos, corpses, or past and future generations? And is there a moral difference between killing and letting die? Finally, we consider the meaning of life and death. Does life have a purpose? Is life worth living? How should we think and feel about our own death? If you could live forever, or repeat this life an infinite number of times, would you want to?
Logic (Spring 2011)
This course is an introduction to the basic techniques of sentential and predicate logic. We examine how to put arguments from ordinary language into symbols, how to construct derivations within a formal system, and how to ascertain validity using truth tables or models. We start by discussing the difference between formal and informal logic and the difference between soundness and validity within formal logic. We then discuss the basic elements of formal logic: atomic sentences, connectives, conditionals, quantifiers, and formal methods of proof for each. By the end of the class we will be able to combine these elements to create sophisticated proofs for a wide range of theorems.
Philosophy of Comedy (with Matthew Kotzen) (Fall 2016)
This is a course on various philosophical issues related to laughter and humor. The course is roughly divided into four sections, though part of the aim of the course is to explore connections among the topics in these sections: 1) Historical and contemporary philosophical theories of humor; 2) The science of laughter and humor, including evolutionary accounts of each; 3) Connections between more traditional issues in philosophical aesthetics and the philosophy of humor; and 4) Moral questions about humor, including the question of what makes some jokes racist/sexist/homophobic, the question of how the moral properties of a joke depend on the speaker and audience, and the question of how humor and morality interact.
Philosophy of Law (with Colin Marshall) (Summer 2010)
This course is an introduction to philosophy of law. We start by considering the nature of law. What is law, and what is the relationship between law and morality? We then consider philosophical questions about some of the central concepts in law, including contracts, property, causality, responsibility, and interpretation. We also consider special problems that arise in the case of international law. Finally, we consider critiques of traditional approaches to philosophy of law, and we consider feminism and critical race theory as alternative approaches. Our readings draw from historical as well as contemporary sources. The course is discussion-based, with each student doing at least one in-class presentation on a topic of their choice.
Political Theory and Animals (Spring 2013)
This course examines how political communities ought to treat nonhuman animals. We start with a survey of political theory. What is the relationship between ethics and politics? What kind of legal and political status can, and should, nonhuman animals have? We consider these questions from a number of political perspectives, including utilitarianism, liberalism, communitarianism, marxism, feminism, and anarchism. We then consider how these ideas apply to particular political problems. For example, should domesticated animals count as citizens, and should wild animals count as sovereign communities? Also, what rights, if any, should animals have with respect to trials, contracts, property, and representation? And how can we put these ideas into practice?
Population Ethics (Spring 2017)
This course is an introduction to practical ethics with special focus on procreative ethics, population ethics, and duties to future generations. We will start with a survey of moral philosophy. Is morality more a matter of promoting happiness, respecting rights, or cultivating virtue? We will then consider some of the moral questions involved with procreation, such as whether existence is a harm or benefit and whether or not we should avoid contributing to overpopulation. Finally, we will consider some of the moral questions involved with duties to future generations more generally, such as what kind of population would be ideal and how responsible we are for bringing that population about and leaving these individuals a good world.