Below are descriptions of five courses of my own design that I have recently taught and two that I plan to teach in the immediate future. Links to the syllabi are provided under the titles. For a description of a pedagogical tool that I have found very successful see the entry on “the chain” appearing in any of the syllabi below.
Ancient Philosophy: Being, Being Alive, and Living Well
This course surveys a number of authors and topics in ancient Greek philosophy. The main authors whose work is investigated are Plato and Aristotle, perhaps the two most influential philosophers in the history of western philosophy. Close attention is paid to a number of their pre-Socratic predecessors in an effort to retrieve some of the philosophical culture of Plato’s and Aristotle’s time, a culture that was engaged and criticized by these two philosophical luminaries in the process of creating their own philosophical revolutions. The course consists of three units the earlier portions of which are designed to give the student important information about ancient philosophical thought that will make the reading of subsequent material easier and more profitable. We begin by investigating questions of being and becoming in pre-Socratic and Aristotelian philosophy. From there we will be in a good place to investigate two other topics with which the Greeks were most enchanted, the soul, and the good for the individual and the state. The course aims to help students see the nature of the problems that made the philosophical revolutions of Plato and Aristotle a reality and then to explore what it means to be, to be alive, and to live well according to Plato and Aristotle.
Ancient and Medieval Philosophy
This course is a survey of ancient and medieval philosophy. It is always difficult to decide what material to include when a course must cover such an expansive tract of philosophical history in only 15 weeks. The beginning of this course is built upon a condensed version of the “being” and “soul” core that forms the first two thirds of Ancient Philosophy: Being, Being Alive, Living Well. Instead of concluding with a section on classical ethics and politics, however, the second half of this course is a section on the existence and nature of God according to late antique and medieval philosophers. As with the above course, the units on “being” and “soul” are designed to progressively introduce the student to philosophical topics without the knowledge of which other philosophical topics would remain opaque—in this case not classical ethics and politics, but rather medieval natural theology. Though the material for this course is difficult, I find that students are not only capable of handling it, but are even excited about it, as long as they are assigned manageable portions of reading, and the instructor’s enthusiasm for the material is apparent.
Introduction to Philosophy
This introductory philosophy course is designed to give the student a sense of the movement of the history of philosophy up through the modern period. The aim is to display several important constructive features of ancient philosophy and their preservation and development in the late antique and medieval periods, before showing various modern critiques of these earlier ideas and systems. The readings begin with the less doctrinaire Socrates of the Apology, but then quickly show the more speculative Socrates of the Republic alongside several of the most important speculative features of Aristotle’s philosophy. We trace some of these early themes into the works of St. Augustine and St. Thomas, and then examine the critiques of classical and medieval philosophy found in the works of Descartes, Hume, and Nietzsche. By the end of the course, I hope that the student will have not only learned a good number of facts about the history of western philosophy, but will have some tools and ideas for judging the merits (or demerits) of the different systems and critiques encountered.
Ethics: Virtue and After Virtue
This course is designed to introduce students to a number of authors and topics in philosophical ethics. Its primary focus is virtue ethics, the dominant ethical tradition for much of western philosophy’s long history. The course begins by tracing the concept of virtue through several important Platonic dialogues before investigating the ethical system of Aristotle presented in his Nicomachean Ethics. Toward the end of the course students will examine St. Thomas’s adaptation of Aristotelian ethics as well as Kantian and Nietzschean responses to their forerunners in ethics. A student who completes this course will have a good grounding in the history of normative ethics, and will have acquired useful tools for thinking through questions in metaethics and applied ethics.
PLS: Philosophical Inquiry
This course is the first of three philosophy tutorials necessary for the completion of Notre Dame’s Program of Liberal Studies. The curriculum is determined by PLS, which describes the course as follows:
“While serving as an introduction to philosophical inquiry, both as a distinct discipline and within the context of an integrated liberal arts curriculum, this course seeks to help students cultivate a philosophical habit of mind. In addition to familiarizing them with the fundamental modes and questions relevant to philosophy as a discipline, the course examines the formal and informal principles of logical reasoning and argumentation. Readings include selections from the Pre-Socratics, Plato’s Meno, selections from Aristotle’s Organon, Physics, and other texts, and from such other authors as Boethius, Descartes, Aquinas, and Nietzsche.”
This is a contemporary metaphysics course that I aim to teach in the near future. It is designed for undergraduate philosophy majors, but could easily be adapted to suit either undergraduate non-majors or graduate students by lowering or raising its difficulty/work load. The student who successfully completes the course will have a solid foundation in contemporary metaphysical topics upon which they may base further study. The course covers topics in properties, contemporary hylomorphism, material beings, grounding, modality, and metaontology.
Philosophy of Religion
This is a philosophy of religion course that I aim to teach in the near future. It is designed for undergraduate philosophy majors, but could easily be adapted to suit either undergraduate non-majors or graduate students by lowering or raising its difficulty/work load. The course begins with a consideration of the existence and nature of God according to two important classical theists, St. Anselm and St. Thomas, which is then followed by inquiry into two further theistic arguments. From there, we investigate questions concerning evil and divine hiddenness, before inquiring into the nature of the human being and the possibility of life after death. Having considered both God’s nature and that of the human being, we are in a good position to finish the course with an examination of two doctrines central to the Christian religion, the Trinity and the Incarnation. Upon completion of the course, the student will have made a good start in contemplating the questions and problems of classical and contemporary, western monotheism, as well as key doctrines peculiar to the Christian faith.