Introduction to Philosophy: A Free Course

Below are the syllabus and materials for my Introduction to Philosophy course. You are welcome to use any of the material as a student or as an instructor. The usual creative commons license applies to my portion of this—i.e., only the stuff to which I would have a copyright. (If you are my student, remember that you can be quizzed on the contents of the syllabus.)

I. Introduction to Philosophy

Did you know that people who study philosophy make significantly fewer reasoning errors than others? (See Livengood et al 2010 and Byrd 2014). And did you know that philosophy majors outperform basically everyone else on the GRE? And did you know that the median mid-career salary for people who major in philosophy is $81,000? And did you know that philosophy majors were projected to be the top-paid humanities major in 2016? Find out more about philosophy majors here. And if you’ve never taken a philosophy class, you might want to read this 3-4 page intro. Continue reading Introduction to Philosophy: A Free Course

My Daily/Weekly Routine: 4 Rules Of Thumb

A handful of people have asked me about my daily and weekly work routine. Some people just want to know what philosophers do all day. Others — e.g., my fellow grad students — are looking for ways to impose structure on their work week. In this post, I will share four rules of thumb that have helped me be more productive and less stressed.

Continue reading My Daily/Weekly Routine: 4 Rules Of Thumb

Writing Bloopers

Early in graduate school, I attended a writing workshop that began with a Writing Bloopers activity: in small groups, outline a really bad paper on a topic with which we’re all familiar. Unsurprisingly, the activity was fun. But the activity was also instructive. I learned how some of my writing habits can annoy my readers. And more importantly, I realized just how easy it is to write badly.

1.  Modified Writing Bloopers Activity

I sometimes wonder if the Writing Bloopers activity would work with high school or college students. When I pitch the idea to other teachers, they are sometimes skeptical. The skeptics worry that the students do not sufficiently understand what makes writing good or bad. After all, students sometimes turn in papers that contain comically bad writing.

I take the skeptic’s point. However, I wonder if the activity could be modified to work for less experienced writers. For example, perhaps I could present examples of bad writing and let students explain how they are bad. I find that this works well for teaching students about arguments. So it perhaps it would work for teaching students about writing as well. If you’ve done a Writing Bloopers activity, then feel free to share your experience in the comments.

2.  A List of Writing Bloopers

Here’s a (growing) list of writing bloopers that could be used for the activity. Feel free to add writing bloopers in the comments.

Introduction Bloopers

“From the beginning of time, philosophers have argued about abortion.”

“Since the beginning of time, there has been American history.”

“Since the dawn of time, man has wondered whether computers can think.”

“Since the dawn of time the sun has risen in the East.  (Well, that first dawn?  The sun may have risen all over at once, but after that things settled down.)”

“Throughout history, man has wrestled with the concepts of cyclic versus linear time.”

“Since the invention of the Nintendo game controller in the 1980’s, scientists have been increasingly worried that computers will take over the world…”

“Throughout the ages, women have been the cause of trouble for men. I, personally, have seen this.”

Continue reading Writing Bloopers

You Should Have an Academic Social Network Profile (and Maybe a Website): Here’s why and how

Reality check: if I am not automatically notified of your research, I’ll almost certainly never know about it. And if I can’t find you online, you might as well not exist beyond your classroom, office, or lab. So if you’re an academic who wants people to actually read your work or even know that you exist, then read the following 250 words. They explain how to make your research followable and visible. It’s really, really easy. Don’t believe me? Check out the video below where I make a website in less than 10 minutes. So stop making excuses. In the words of the great philosopher, Shia Lebouf:


Continue reading You Should Have an Academic Social Network Profile (and Maybe a Website): Here’s why and how

Research Questions & Mental Shortcuts: A Warning

Daniel Kahneman talks extensively about how we make reasoning errors because we tend to use mental shortcuts. One mental shortcut is ‘substitution‘. Substitution is what we do when we (often unconsciously) answer an easier question than the one being asked. I find that I sometimes do this in my own research. For instance, when I set out to answer the question, “How can X be rational?” I sometimes end up answering easier questions like, “How does X work?”. In an effort to avoid such mistakes, I will (1) explain the question substitution error, (2) give an example of how we can distinguish between questions, (3) give a personal example of the substitution error, and (4) say what we can do about it.

1.  Substitution

In case you’re not familiar with Kahnemen’s notion of ‘substitution’, here is some clarification. In short, substitution is this: responding to a difficult question by (often unintentionally) answering a different, easier question. People use this mental shortcut all the time. Here are some everyday instances:

Difficult QuestionEasier Question
How satisfied are you with your life?What is my mood right now?
Should I believe what my parents believe?Can I believe what my parents believe?
What are the merits/demerits of that woman who is running for president?What do I remember people in my community saying about that woman?

For further discussion of mental shortcuts and substitution, see Part 1 of Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow (2012).

Now, how does this mental shortcut apply to research?  Continue reading Research Questions & Mental Shortcuts: A Warning