Below are descriptions of courses that I teach at the University of St. Thomas, Houston, or have taught at the University of Notre Dame.
Teaching at University of St. Thomas, Houston:
This course will consist of two parts, 1) a preparatory part that will focus on close readings of several of Plato’s dialogues that were of great importance to neo-Platonic philosophers, and 2) a main part that will focus on the work of the pagan Neo-Platonists Plotinus and Proclus, as well as the Christian Neo-Platonist Dionysius.
Philosophy of Nature (graduate)
This course will consist primarily of a close reading of the first five books of Aristotle’s Physics, as well as the Commentary on these five books by St. Thomas Aquinas. We will also read the fragments of several of the most important pre-Socratic philosophers engaged by Aristotle in the Physics.
Aristotle’s De Anima (graduate)
This course will consist of a close reading of Aristotle’s De Anima. Our reading will be augmented by one medieval commentary (Aquinas) and one contemporary commentary (Shields). The latter commentary is a particularly recent addition to the commentary tradition by a world-class scholar of Greek philosophy, while the former inspired Pico de Mirandola to remark that “without Thomas, Aristotle would be mute.”
Philosophy of Nature and the Human Person
This course is both introductory and topic-specific. As an introduction to philosophy, the course aims to familiarize students with philosophical argumentation and the written work of influential philosophers, as well as provide a narrative of the development of philosophy from ancient times to contemporary. As topic-specific, the course will explore the subjects of nature and the human person with a focus on the Aristotelian tradition.
Teaching at Notre Dame:
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.
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.
This course is a survey of medical ethics. After a brief introduction to several important normative ethical theories, it covers a great many topics in medical ethics including but not limited to patient autonomy, informed consent, truth-telling and confidentiality in medicine, the ethics of clinical trials, access to experimental drugs, animals in medical research, genetic control, reproductive control, abortion, euthanasia, and justice in healthcare systems.
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.”
Introduction to Philosophy
This introductory philosophy course is designed to give the student a sense of the movement of the history of western 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 Gorgias 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.