Applied Philosophy Courses Outside Value Theory


Philosophy departments face increasing pressure to demonstrate their value to their universities. One type of response is to attempt to increase enrollment in philosophy courses. There are various ways to do this. One way is to offer courses that apply philosophy to matters of personal or social concern. The result is a familiar variety of courses in applied ethics, social and political philosophy, philosophy of law, and aesthetics. 

Less familiar are ideas for applied philosophy courses outside the domain of value theory, for example in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, phenomenology, etc., or courses on specific “real world” or cultural topics (e.g., space exploration, the Internet, disability) that are not primarily focused on questions of value. If you teach such a course, or have ideas for one, please share it in the comments.

Dora Budor, "One Million Years of Feeling Nothing"

Dora Budor, “One Million Years of Feeling Nothing”

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Jordon
Jordon
5 years ago

free idea: Thoreau and colonizing Mars; an American Idyll.Report

Brian Weatherson
5 years ago

Ishani Maitra is teaching a philosophy and sport class here at UM.

http://www.lsa.umich.edu/cg/cg_detail.aspx?content=2110PHIL196001&termArray=f_16_2110Report

njmatch3
njmatch3
5 years ago

I teach a Personal Identity course that guides students through western philosophical thinking about the topic while also exploring real wold issues: most recent version incorporated the documentary WHOLE (on BIID) and V. Spiridinov’s quest for a head transplant.Report

;lakfkjj
;lakfkjj
5 years ago

Philosophy of religion can cover a wide range of M&E, and is relatively popular with students.Report

Doc F Emeritus
Doc F Emeritus
Reply to  ;lakfkjj
5 years ago

Addressing religion and its philosophical underpinnings is certainly a practical endeavor, but for the fact most people won’t confront the issues of debate in their religions — and that is the purpose of addressing the phil of religion. Confront the issues and it can strengthen your belief or get you to look and question them — the point being that you are actually thinking about your faith.Report

Alessio
Alessio
5 years ago

The University of Twente has a M.Sc. in Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society. Beyond the approaches in the fields of value theory, we are also taught classical approaches to technology and more contemporary ones (post-phenomenological mediation theory, which can be applied to concrete technologies), following Peter-Paul Verbeek’s book “What things do” (2005), and analytic philosophy of technology (questions about the ontology of technical artifacts and their function), following Vermaas book “A philosophy of technology” (2011).
Philosophy of technology is a very broad field thanks to technologies’ pervasive presence, and offer concretely relevant and philosphically engaging case studies, that may also lead to the development of new philosophical theories.

Here’s a quick ref to Verbeek’s theory:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter-Paul_Verbeek#Theory_of_Technological_Mediation

Here you can find all first year subjects:
https://www.utwente.nl/en/education/master/programmes/philosophy-science-technology-society/programme/Report

Doc F Emeritus
Doc F Emeritus
Reply to  Alessio
5 years ago

I refer back to Steven Weinberg’s comment (prize winning physicist), “Nothing philosophers can say affects what I do in the lab or in my theoretical field.” His point being that the practice of science and scientists do not take into account such philosophical theory and it doesn’t change their actions in practice. I believe this is true. However, that is not to say what phil of sci or such have to say is unimportant, only that it really doesn’t change the actions and practices of scientists. Kind of a mixed bag, no?Report

PeterJ
PeterJ
Reply to  Doc F Emeritus
5 years ago

I’d be embarrassed to admit that my theoretical work in Physics was not deep enough to be affected by Metaphysics, or that I couldn’t see the connection and had learned nothing from it, and certainly wouldn’t boast about it. Weinberg’s comment makes him a lab technician.Report

CW
CW
5 years ago

Tennessee has a program for high school students called the “Governor’s Schools.” (Used to be for college credit, I think, but it may have changed to enrichment only.) UT Knoxville housed one of the Governor’s Schools, and their program focused on science. One of the classes the students took was called “The Logic of Science.” It looked at inductive reasoning, logic more generally, and raised some questions about scientific method and practice. Anyway, I’ve thought something like this might work at the college level. E.g., I’ve considered offering a class on animal experimentation that takes a close look at actual animal experiments as well as philosophical questions about inductive and analogical reasoning. There are a lot of moral issues that could be considered too, but I think you could sustain a class of this sort without raising any of them if you wanted to.Report

Doc F Emeritus
Doc F Emeritus
Reply to  CW
5 years ago

Don’t forget the “philosophy for children” movement that endorses and creates courses in philosophy/logic from K to 12. Stresses critical thinking and values.Report

Matt
5 years ago

Those interested in this topic might profit from looking at the soon-to-be out Blackwell Companion to Applied Philosophy, edited by Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen, Kimberley Brownlee and, David Coady. (Oddly, Blackwell doesn’t seem to have it on their home page, but a kindle version is available on Amazon here:

https://www.amazon.com/Companion-Applied-Philosophy-Blackwell-Companions-ebook/dp/B01LZK7ZHN/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1476287407&sr=8-3&keywords=Blackwell+Companion+to+Applied+Philosophy

(I contributed to the volume, in a paper that’s in the “value theory” area, but much, perhaps most, of the volume is on applied philosophy topics beyond value theory, making it useful for people interested in doing work in this area.)Report

Sebastian Lutz
5 years ago

Kristin Shrader-Frechette’s “Tainted – How Philosophy of Science Can Expose Bad Science” is an introduction to the philosophy of science based completely on case studies. There are four parts (“Conceptual and logical analysis”, “Heuristic analysis and developing hypotheses”, “Methodological analysis and justifying hypotheses”, and “Value analysis and scientific uncertainty”), each with three to four chapters on a specific topic in the philosophy of science, motivated and discussed on the basis of some real life example.Report

Michel X.
Michel X.
5 years ago

The philosophy of art, though often lumped in with “value theory” (except when it comes to hiring, when it’s usually explicitly excluded!), is actually more of an exercise in applied LEM (the “value” part comes from aesthetics, which is different). The nature of the cases at issue, however, tends to make it pretty interesting to students outside philosophy.

So, for instance, courses on attempts to define ‘art’ are really, really popular with students in the arts and performing arts. There’s some serious metaphysics being done on the ontology of abstract objects, where musical works are a paradigm example. Relatedly, the recent resurgence in descriptivism (à la Thomasson) is pretty closely tied to some meta-ontological arguments originating in the philosophy of art (the discussion is particularly well-developed in the philosophy of music), and can easily be tied to topics in epistemology (like the epistemology of testimony). These kinds of courses are hard for non-majors, but need not be inaccessible–and the added perspective of, e.g., music majors can do wonders for adding a more empirical twist to the intuitions under consideration.

There’s a great deal to gleaned about the ontology of social kinds and the reference of social kind-terms, too, from some recent work in the field. There’s a clear connection here to work in science (especially biology) and the philosophy of science. The literature on fiction is pretty closely connected to the philosophy of science literature on thought experiments (again, attractive to science students), and the truth in fiction stuff is squarely attached to the philosophy of language (and attractive to students in languages and linguistics). With respect to mind, there’s tons in the philosophy of art on the nature and importance of concepts of art and art-kinds, the cognitive value of art, etc.

On a different note, since nobody has mentioned them, there’s solid enrollment potential for courses on moral and mathematical realism/anti-realism, or the philosophy of geometry. The trick, as with all of these suggestions, is to advertise (and design!) them properly.Report

Henri Perron
Henri Perron
5 years ago

My undergraduate institution runs a Philosophy in Film course that was awesome.

Idk if it counts as applied philosophy (although the movies certainly applied philosophy to drama in an artistic way), but enrollment was high.Report

E
E
5 years ago

I took a course, years ago, in the logic and epistemology of conspiracy theories.

I’ve taught non-value theory centric iterations of courses on nature and environment, including climate change.Report

Doc F Emeritus
Doc F Emeritus
5 years ago

My usual first response to this issue has always been: Logic and Critical Thinking are crucial to anyone who wishes to be a thinking, learning person throughout their life. The current election campaign certainly cries out for logic and critical thinking, as opposed to emotion and media manipulation by candidates.

Next, certainly applied ethics courses such as medical ethics and business ethics are important. I have taught both, as well as general ethics courses that incorporated current issues and stressed philosophy’s contribution to the discussions of those issues. Philosophy of Law and Constitutional Issues was a seminar I taught for years, it highlighted the philosophical background to the Constitution and law in general, then addressed issues from abortion to politically correct speech codes on college campuses; each issue related back to the philosophies behind the Constitution or specific legal theories (Locke, Blackwell, Hart, Hobbes, Aristotle, Plato and others, including the Federalist Papers.

Finally, I had a course in my undergrad years, though it was a grad level course, that traced the history of psychology and psychological schools back to their philosophical origins: for example, Gestalt Psych back to Kant or behaviorism back to Hume, Hobbes and others. Those who see the history of philosophy’s contributions to other fields might value current philosophy more.

And, just to be a bit snarky, why is it always philosophy that needs to prove its worth in everyday life? What, pray tell, does theoretical higher math contribute to one’s daily life? Topography? Yes, this is tongue in cheek since I know these are important and valuable fields. Maybe we should ask, “Why is philosophy unimportant for the lives of thinking, voting, persons in living a life of flourishing rather than a life of toiling away in a minimal, satisfactory life.

Finally, an article from the Detroit papers a few years ago, in which they interviewed CEO’s of auto companies and other industries that supply them, the CEO’s said they valued generally educated workers who could think, adapt to changing conditions and technology, and who had a sense of duty and ethics. Could anything be more relevant to producing such thinking, adaptable workers than philosophy?Report

Steve Geisz
5 years ago

I regularly teach several courses at the University of Tampa that focus on Chinese or Indian philosophy and involve meditation and/or body practices such as hatha yoga, qigong, and taijiquan. These courses arguably count as a kind of “applied philosophy,” albeit a different kind of applied philosophy than is described in the comments above. (One of the courses in question is offered under the “REL” course designation rather than the “PHL” designation, but our philosophy majors can count it toward the philosophy major.)

I’ve recently written about my experiences teaching these courses in “Body Practice and Meditation as Philosophy: Teaching Qigong, Taijiquan, and Yoga in College Courses” (Teaching Philosophy, vol. 39, no. 2, June 2016: 115-135).

The courses are:

PHL 235 Philosophy of Martial Arts (involving taijiquan practice as part of class): http://ut.smartcatalogiq.com/en/current/catalog/Course-Descriptions/PHL-Philosophy/200/PHL-235

PHL 236 Philosophy and Yoga (involving hatha yoga as part of class): http://ut.smartcatalogiq.com/en/current/catalog/Course-Descriptions/PHL-Philosophy/200/PHL-236

And REL 288 Chinese Yoga and Meditation (involving qigong and Daoist meditation practices as part of class): http://ut.smartcatalogiq.com/en/current/catalog/Course-Descriptions/REL-Religion/200/REL-288

In addition to the above three intro-level courses, I have also taught an upper-level special topics course on “Philosophy of the Body” that involved a bit of mindfulness meditation that tied in with the content of some of the readings, and I have sometimes experimented with including qigong practice in upper-level undergrad courses on Chinese philosophy.Report

Alex Worsnip
5 years ago

I’m going to be teaching an applied intro epistemology course (so, to include some or all of the follow: epistemology of democratic politics, of law, of science, of religion, of education, etc) here at UNC starting next academic year. It’ll be designed for undergraduate students with no philosophy background (in contrast to our traditional epistemology course, which is designed as an intermediate course), probably as a large-ish lecture course (though we might pilot it as a smaller class first). My hope is that as well as getting students to think critically about socially and politically relevant questions, looking at these topics will also provide a window onto more general questions about knowledge, belief, evidence and the like (in the same way that an applied ethics course can provide a window onto more general/theoretical ethical questions even for students who start with the applied stuff).

I’ll be using some of the social epistemology literature, but also casting my net more widely into sources that don’t conceive of themselves as doing epistemology (or even perhaps in some cases, philosophy) in the traditional sense, but contain epistemological insights. I have received lots of suggestions for readings already, but I am still keen to hear more!Report

Matt
Reply to  Alex Worsnip
5 years ago

I have received lots of suggestions for readings already, but I am still keen to hear more!

If you have not done so, look at work by J.D. Trout and Ryan Muldoon! (Trout has some work in the Blackwell Companion to Applied Philosophy I noted above.)Report

Max
Max
5 years ago

In my class on life and death, we ask questions that are especially pressing, and troublesome, when raised in their first-personal form. What am I, and why am I still the same person I was twenty years ago? What is a good life, and how should I live my life? What is friendship and what do I owe to my friends? Should I be afraid of death? What is the meaning of life, and how can I give my life meaning? In the class, students have the occasion, and are encouraged, to use the theories and practices we consider to reflect on their own lives. The syllabus can be found at http://www.max-barkhausen.com/files/LifeDeathSyllabusFall2016.pdfReport

Andy Lamey
5 years ago

Philosopher David Coady has written a book called, “What To Believe Now: Applying Epistemology to Contemporary Issues,” which is a work of applied epistemology. From the book’s description:

“Coady calls for an ‘applied turn’ in epistemology, a process he likens to the applied turn that transformed the study of ethics in the early 1970s. Subjects dealt with include:

Experts-how can we recognize them? And when should we trust them?
Rumors-should they ever be believed? And can they, in fact, be a source of knowledge?
Conspiracy theories-when, if ever, should they be believed, and can they be known to be true?
The blogosphere-how does it compare with traditional media as a source of knowledge and justified belief?”

For more info see:
http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-EHEP002800.html

Another work of applied philosophy that is not applied ethics is On the Internet, by Hubert Dreyfus (Routledge). See: https://www.routledge.com/On-the-Internet-2nd-Edition/Dreyfus/p/book/9780415775168Report

Sara L. Uckelman
5 years ago

What about philosophy of science? Philosophy of economics? Logic? Epistemology?

I guess I’m unsure what you mean by “applied philosophy”, since I don’t see how you can teach/do philosophy without applying it.Report

Trevor Hedberg
5 years ago

I recently taught a variation of Introduction to Philosophy that focused on what makes for a flourishing human life. The course addressed topics like the relationship between money and happiness, the meaning of life, finding the proper balance between work and leisure, and what it means to have a good death. Based on the end-of-semester evaluations, this course was extremely well-received by my students.

Course Syllabus: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzQsGqF1kStKUm9ieHRhSjU4M3M/view?usp=sharing
Course Schedule: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/10CVk9iZfNw9_beHN5OWPrgKV6nuhtomAWfXheuDaJLI/edit?usp=sharingReport

Trevor Hedberg
Reply to  Trevor Hedberg
5 years ago

I should probably add, given the title of the post, that much of the course would probably fall under the Value Theory label, but many of the background issues, particularly those concerning how we should understand happiness and meaningfulness, strike me as being as much about metaphysical questions (e.g., what exactly are these phenomena?) as questions of value theory.Report

PeteJ
PeteJ
5 years ago

It seems unlikely that fiddling around with the details is going to work. It is worrying that the Blackwell Guide has been quoted as being helpful, for If it’s anything like their guide to metaphysics then these books are part of the problem and a serious obstacle to any solution. I cannot grasp why the department assumes that more of the same can ever be a solution. It seems unable to see its own faults. A bigger question might be – Is this a temporary glitch or the beginning of the end for an unsuccessful approach to philosophy? This is not a snide remark but a serious question.Report

PeteJ
PeteJ
5 years ago

Pardon me. Too late I see that my first post was not quite on topic, or at least the connection was tenuous. I was agitated by the idea in the OP that ethics is within the domain of value theory and metaphysics outside of it, and wondered how such an approach can be successfully defended let alone promoted to prospective customers. I’d expect them to notice that this reduces ethics to the realm of conjecture, and this is not going to help philosophy sell itself.Report