I regularly teach Introduction to Philosophy and upper-division courses aimed at majors, including Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Language, and Epistemology. In addition, I teach a range of graduate seminars. Here are some recent topics these seminars have covered.

Concepts and Cognitive Architecture (Spring 2016)

SYLLABUS


Concepts are the building blocks of thoughts and other higher cognitive states. They are the mental representations that we deploy in categorization, reasoning and theorizing, decision-making, planning, and other processes by which we attempt to understand and change the world. In this seminar we will investigate the nature of concepts from the point of view of philosophy, psychology, linguistics, and neuroscience. We'll survey the major theories of concepts with an eye towards understanding their structure, content, acquisition, and processing, paying special attention to how concepts interact with other mental systems such as perception, language, and memory.

Images and Words (Fall 2014)

SYLLABUS


To describe something in words is one thing, to show it pictorially or visually is another. But what is the difference between linguistic or descriptive representation and imagistic or pictorial representation? In this course we will consider how language is related to visual mediums such as drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, film, etc. General issues covered will include the nature of pictorial representation, depiction and abstraction, representations that combine images and text, the limits of what can be expressed in pictures and languages, the difficulties of expressing the content of pictures in language, how pictures differ from diagrams, graphs, and other structured visual mediums, and the depictive representation of narrative and time.


Images (Spring 2013)

SYLLABUS


This course will focus on a cluster of questions concerning the nature of images. How are images distinguished from other forms of representation? What does it mean for an image to depict something, or to be "realistic"? Do images express something essentially uncapturable in language? How are images and vision related, and how can we disentangle the biological and cultural influences on how we see and interpret images? How have the advent of photography and the "pictorial turn" in the culture shaped our interaction with images? What, if anything, is distinctive about photography as a practice of making images? We will address these questions as they arise with respect to a range of art and non-art images, particularly those from the sciences, medicine, religion, and practices of vernacular and technical image-making.


Models of a Complex World (Fall 2012)

SYLLABUS


The world is a tapestry of interlocking, multilevel complex systems. The primary task for the sciences is determining how to model these systems in a way that is cognitively and computationally tractable, but that also gives us some predictive and explanatory purchase on them. In this seminar we will discuss some foundational issues concerning the success conditions of such modeling in a range of sciences (physics, ecology, economics, climatology, neuroscience, etc.). Our focus will be on how representation, explanation, and causality work in various real-world modeling contexts. We will consider when models are representationally accurate or veridical, ways in which veridicality and prediction can come apart, and the role of fictions and other simplifying heuristics in modeling. We will also discuss the metaphysics of complex systems, including the prevalence of modularity in living systems, whether complex systems are always mechanisms, what the alternatives to mechanistic modeling might look like, and how to understand causality in distributed systems.


Varieties of Kinds (Spring 2011)

SYLLABUS


Dividing the world into categories is essential to everyday thought and language, as well as more specialized cognitive practices such as scientific explanation and modeling. We often want these taxonomic divisions to capture the structure that the world has naturally; we want to group things together in virtue of some deep, underlying, or otherwise important properties that they have in common, not because of some potentially idiosyncratic or arbitrary features having to do with our psychology, our language, or our disciplinary practices. The search for the classificatory structure that the world possesses objectively is the search for so-called ‘natural kinds’. In this seminar we will survey much of the contemporary debate over natural kinds as well as other types of kinds that exist (artifact kinds, functional kinds, human kinds, etc.). Kinds have played a central role in many important debates: over scientific realism and anti-realism, semantics, the structure of concepts, the laws of nature, causation and explanation, inductive inference, essentialism, reductionism, and multiple realization, inter alia. We will touch on all of these topics, and we will take a fairly detailed look at how debates over kinds play out in several of the special sciences, including biology, chemistry, psychology, and psychiatry.