I regularly teaching the
following courses. Click on a course name to learn a little
more about the course.
PHIL 206: Introduction to Logic and Scientific Reasoning
This course introduces students to basic principles of
logic, argumentation and critical reasoning. These are
fundamental tools that you can apply to all areas of
your school, work and personal life. You'll learn why
good argumentation is important, what makes an argument
good or bad, how to spot bad arguments and how to
develop good arguments of your own. You'll also learn
about different forms of reasoning (e.g. deductive vs.
inductive, reasoning about statistics, causal
arguments, reasoning by analogy, scientific reasoning,
etc.) and the most common fallacies and pitfalls
associated with them.
The text for this course is a packet of photocopied
readings that you won't find in the University or
Campus book stores; they're available at Prints Copy
Center (I'll give directions in class).
PHIL 380: Philosophy of Science (fall)
This course explores a range of philosophical questions
concerning the nature of science, scientific reasoning
and scientific theories. In Fall 2008 we looked at the
1. What is science?
2. What do the terms "theory", "hypothesis" and
"fact" mean in the context of science?
3. What is the relationship between the methods of
science, the success of scientific theories, and the
truth of those theories?
4. What are the limits of scientific reasoning?
5. What is the relationship between scientific belief
and religious belief?
Along the way we cover a range of topics in the
history of science, including the transition from
Aristotelian to modern science, Galileo's
confrontation with the Church, the nature of Darwin's
theory of evolution, and creationism and intelligent
design. I normally use a course packet for this
PHIL 485: Philosophy of Physics (spring)
The topics covered in this course may vary from year to
year, as they usually are organized around a particular
theme. In 2007, for example, the whole course was
devoted to the philosophy of quantum mechanics.
This year (Spring 2009) the theme is "What is the
World Made Of?". We'll be looking at the history of
the concept of "matter" and its development from
antiquity to the 21st century. We'll also cover a
range of standard topics in the philosophy of
conceptual issues in Newtonian
the origins of the "field" concept, and debates
over the ontological status of fields
conceptual issues in relativistic physics,
including the relativity of space and time, and the
nature of gravity
conceptual issues in quantum mechanics
(indeterminism and uncertainty, the measurement
problem, entanglement, locality and realism)
scientific realism vs. antirealism and the
interpretation of physical theories
determinism and indeterminism
the role of symmetry principles in the
interpretation of objects and processes in
Common questions: Do I have to be a physics
major to take this course? Is there going to be lots
of math involved? The short answer is no, you don't
have to be a physics major. Some past exposure to
math and physics will certainly be helpful, but for
the most part the readings focus on conceptual issues
rather than mathematical formalism. Having said that,
if you don't have a strong interest and some
background in either philosophy or physics, this
course probably isn't for you. In general I would
discourage freshman and sophomores from taking this
PHIL 496/596: Ecology and Society (fall)
This course is aimed at senior undergraduates and
graduate students in ecology, environmental science and
environment-related disciplines (natural resource
management, sustainable agriculture, environmental
studies, etc -- in previous years we had a number of
students from the MA program in Creative Writing and
the Environment take the course).
The course introduces students to the philosophy and
science of ecology by examining it's conceptual
development over the past one hundred years and the
contributions of central figures in the history of
ecology (Clements, Gleason, Tansley, Odum, MacArthur,
etc.). We look at a number of central debates in the
intellectual history of ecology, including debates
over the metaphysical status of communities and
ecosystems, the nature and causes of community and
ecosystem development, and general issues concerning
holistic versus reductionistic methods and research
perspectives in ecology.
The second half of the course is devoted to topics in
applied ecology and conservation science
(conservation biology, restoration ecology,
wilderness preservation, ecological economics) and
environmental ethics. Here we focus on the
relationship and relevance of the history and
philosophy of ecological science for debates in
applied ecology and environmental ethics.
The course is co-taught with Professor Arnold van der
Valk from the Department of Ecology, Evolution and
Organismal Biology. It counts for graduate credit in
EEOB and for undergraduate or graduate credit in