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“I have had the good luck to have found myself, as early as my youth, upon certain paths which led me to certain considerations and maxims, from which I formed a method through which, it seems to me, I can gradually augment my understanding, and raise it, bit by bit, to the highest point which the mediocrity of my mind and the short duration of my life will allow.”


Teaching summary

I find the quotation from Descartes inspiring because of its suggestion that with proper preparation, a person of ordinary intelligence can gradually augment his or her knowledge. I am an egalitarian about learning, in the sense that I assume that all of my students have the capacity to succeed in my classes. I have maintained this belief despite the extreme disparities in skill sets, background knowledge, English competence and degree of intellectual exposure of the students I have taught. In general, I have dealt with this diversity by making my courses as self-contained as possible. If it is a reading-intensive course, then I try to provide them with the tools necessary for effective philosophical reading; if it is a writing-intensive course, then I teach them how to do the writing the coursework requires.

My teaching interests are broad. I have taught courses in history and philosophy of science, bioethics and philosophy of medicine. Some representative course descriptions and syllabi may be found below. 

The History of Theories of


What is space? It seems to be all around us, but we can’t see it (and not because it is too small, for it may be infinite). It is part of the physical realm, for it is studied in physics (in classical physics physical objects are located in space, and in relativistic physics one studies the physical curvature of space), but it is not a material object like other physical objects. Space is at once familiar and unfamiliar. This course looks at the history of scientific and philosophical attempts to come to grips with these questions, from antiquity to modern times.

  • My syllabus from fall 2023 is available here.

History and Philosophy of


This course is intended as an introduction to scientific reasoning and to the practice of analyzing and interpreting evidential claims and the arguments made in their support. It also serves as an introduction to the history of philosophy of science, for the readings largely consist of philosophical texts on scientific method, from Aristotle to the present. Students are then asked to evaluate these philosophical theories against real episodes in the history of science. Throughout, we are concerned with the question: what is “the scientific method?” Are there just one, several or no scientific methods? The rationale for this approach is that the skills students develop by seeking to understand science itself will serve as the foundation for evaluating science-related claims and arguments made in both scientific and non-scientific venues. We also examine general argument types and scientific claims in daily life.

  • My syllabus from fall 2016 is available here.

History & Philosophy of the 

Historical Sciences

This seminar will explore the epistemology of the historical sciences—paleontology, archeology, cosmology, paleoclimatology, etc. Of the many tasks undertaken in science, one is striking both in its scope and the epistemic difficulties it faces: the reconstruction of the deep past. Our epistemic access to past events is limited, often severely so. Despite the problem of access, some claims about prehistory enjoy strong epistemic support. In this seminar, we will analyze the problem of epistemic access for historical reconstruction. We will focus on paleoclimatology as a running example. The reconstruction of climates of the distant past is one of the principal sources of evidence for climate change before the advent of meteorological instruments. As a result, paleoclimatology has come to play a key role in developing models of future climate change. In this seminar, we will explore general epistemological questions like, can we observe the past? What can historical scientists do to overcome the impossibility of performing experiments on the past? To what extent can they overcome the destruction of traces of past events over time? The answers philosophers have proposed to such questions will be compared with the history of efforts to gain epistemic access to past climates. Doing so will enrich our understanding of how science works in general, as well as of one of the crucial sciences of our time.

  • My syllabus from Spring 2024 is available here.

Introduction to Philosophy

What is philosophy? One way to start answering the question is to note that philosophers ask difficult questions about the most basic issues in human life. What can we know about the world? How should a just society be organized? What makes an action right or wrong? and so on. This course examines philosophy as a way of thinking clearly and critically about such questions, but also as a way of living by the answers to them. Taking a historically oriented approach, we will examine the work of four great exemplars of critical thought and practice and undertake a critical comparison and contrast of them. 

  • My syllabus from Fall 2024 is available here.

Magic, Medicine and Science

Science is the result of a long process of formation starting in Antiquity and culminating in the late seventeenth century with the so-called Scientific Revolution. Before the Scientific Revolution science, magic and medicine were strongly related. This course examines the historical processes by which science became an independent sphere of human endeavor in the Western world.


The course focuses on the emergence of a distinctive scientific method as opposed to, say, philosophical or religious or magical methods of acquiring knowledge of nature. Historians and philosophers agree that a distinctive feature of modern science is its use of experience and, especially, experimentation to acquire knowledge. But this feature conflicts with the supposedly bookish orientation of pre-modern “natural philosophers,” who shared the prejudice of the elite of their times against manual work. This conflict creates a puzzle concerning the social origins of the experimental method. Guiding questions addressed in the course are therefore: Where did the experimental method come from? What social actors contributed to its development? How important were empirical contributions to the emergence of modern science, relative to theoretical contributions? Who were the main actors in the Scientific Revolution? Were they mainly individuals, or groups? What social, as opposed to merely intellectual, processes drove the revolution? Were there winners and losers in the “revolution?”

  • My syllabus from fall 2019 is available here.

History of Early Modern


The aim of this course is to present students with a survey of canonical thinkers and texts from the Early Modern period of philosophy. Thinkers such as Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz, Hume and Kant all struggled to balance concerns about skepticism and the limits of what we can know with the optimism of the European Enlightenment and new scientific advances. This struggle, in turn, motivated some of philosophy’s most enduring and challenging questions about the existence of God, the basic structure of reality, the nature of causation, human freedom, and personal identity, as well as the sources and consequences of our moral capabilities. In order to capture the breadth and systematic structure of these philosophers’ concerns, we will devote roughly half of our time to examining each thinker’s theories of reality and knowledge, and the other half to the implications of these theories for ethics and morality.

  • My syllabus from Spring 2024 is available here.

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