New and Unusual Philosophy Courses


I’ve been hearing about some unusual and interesting philosophy courses that are currently being taught or developed. 

One is Black Mirror and Philosophy, developed by Rebecca Tuvel (Rhodes). The ethics-oriented course makes use of ten episodes of Black Mirror, the superb “anthology” television show that depicts the near future in a realistically horrific (or horrifically realistic?) fashion. You can see a draft of the syllabus here.

Another is Modern Russian Literature, Art, and Philosophy, developed by Elvira Basevich (University of Massachusetts, Lowell). It’s  fascinating and unlike any philosophy course I’ve seen—and I mean that as a compliment. Here’s the course description on the syllabus:

As observed by Karl Ove Knausgård in a recent New York Times article, Russians still have a reputation for a “deep” and “wild” heart—a penchant for pathos, pride, and resilience that marks Russians’ collective self-consciousness, manifesting in everything from refined cultural objects to the self-understanding of ordinary Russians. In this course, we will study the history of the Russian heart through major literary, artistic, and philosophical movements in modern Russia (18th -20th century), with a special focus on poetry. We will develop a keen eye for appreciating how writers poignantly express their experience of historical tragedies, from the Napoleonic invasions, war, famine, and state repression. We will learn that the depth and sensitivity of the Russian heart is matched only by its capacity for melancholy and quiet striving—a social phenomenon best captured by the untranslatable word «Тоска», about which Nabokov famously writes: “No single word in English renders all the shades of ‘toska.’ At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody, of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”

If those two sound a bit on the depressing side, there’s also a course in the works from Rebecca Kukla (Georgetown University) centered around the extraordinary animated Netflix comedy series Bojack Horseman. Oh wait. Part of what makes Bojack extraordinary is that it is also a show about personal dysfunction, social decay, and existential anguish. Sigh. But at least it is also very funny. I don’t have many details about this course, but I can share with you its title, which includes a joke for fans of the show: Bojack Horseman and Philosophy: What Do We Know? Do We Know Things? Let’s Find Out!

Have you developed an unusual philosophy course lately? (Or are you now?) Know of any such courses? Let’s hear about them.

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Rebecca Kukla
Rebecca Kukla
3 years ago

The Bojack course just got definitively approved this morning, almost to the minute when you posted this! I am so excited!Report

Salr
Salr
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
3 years ago

Bojack Horseman is cool, but I am not to sure it would go down in a non-elite uni.Report

ajkreider
ajkreider
Reply to  Salr
3 years ago

I certainly couldn’t put the course up with that title. But if you have flexibility with how you teach your courses (which almost everyone does, I think), then you could do an epistemology course, or maybe an intro course with this theme. To get enrollment, you’d probably have to go directly to students you know, and have the course capped in such a way that you would have to override students in. That’s to avoid unsuspecting students from finding themselves in a course that’s very different from what their expecting (and different from the description in the course catalogue).

I think it’s important that professors get to teach courses like this, especially at non-elite places – at least every once in a while. It helps stave off the soul-destroying effect of teaching the same thing year after year. But to your main point, it does highlight the fact that students at the elite places probably have more freedom to experiment with taking classes for pure enjoyment/intellectual challenge. And threads like this will only reinforce (in their minds at least) the right-winger claims that the professorate is self-indulgent and detached from the real world. And further, that parents waste money and their kids time by sending them to college.Report

Ian
Ian
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
3 years ago

Oh man, my students at Emerson College would do *anything* to take a class called “Bojack Horseman and Philosophy: What Do We Know? Do We Know Things? Let’s Find Out!”Report

Philosoraptor
Philosoraptor
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
3 years ago

I’m a philosophy student and I absolutely love Bojack, this is very exciting. Can others somehow obtain course material? I am curious about what the class will be like.

Also, since I’m already commenting here, the Black Mirror course also sounds super interesting, I somehow end up referencing episodes of the show pretty often in sociopolitical discussions.Report

Rebecca Kukla
Rebecca Kukla
Reply to  Philosoraptor
3 years ago

Hi Philosoraptor! The class will actually be online, with zoom discussion sections with me, and run through Georgetown’s school of continuing studies, so anyone can take it and get transferable Georgetown credit for it, but I expect it’s probably expensive for you (which speaks to the above comments about ‘elite schools’ I guess, but there’s not much I can do about the fact that I teach at one).

Short of that, if you remember to email me in the spring (my email address is trivial to google) I would be happy to share the syllabus with you and any materials I can!Report

Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

I have a course called “Philosophical Ideas in Literature,” which I have taught several different ways. One thing I’ve always made sure to do is stay away from the very well-worn stuff, whether from the Existentialist canon, Greek theater, etc.

The last version of the course centered around the question of the American Dream, and took quite a negative cast. Books included:

Nathanael West, The Day of the Locust
Joan Didion, Play it as it Lays
Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly
Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero

“A Scanner Darkly” went down so well that after about 5 years of teaching this version of the course, I have just changed it to a course entirely devoted to the works of Philip K. Dick, with one opening work by Robert Heinlein.

Robert Heinlein, The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag
Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle
Philip K. Dick, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
Philip K. Dick,. Flow My Tears the Policeman Said
Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly

I taught this version for the first time last year and it was a wild success.Report

Matt King
Matt King
3 years ago

I teach a course called, “Philosophy and Superheroes”, which tackles a wide range of philosophical issues through the lens of superheroes and the worlds they inhabit. Lots of time is spent on ethical questions, like the ways in which Peter Parker and Peter Singer defend very similar moral principles, and what that means for whether Superman can be a good friend. But a lot of the course is also devoted to familiar topics from an intro class: mind-body problem, personal identity, theories of names, qualia, etc.Report

Matt
Reply to  Matt King
3 years ago

I really, really hope you include this in the superheros course:
http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2305

In many ways, it’s one of the more insightful commentaries on super powers I’ve seen.Report

Matt King
Matt King
Reply to  Matt
3 years ago

My door is covered with comics from SMBC and similar sources. We definitely discuss this very possibility under the demandingness objection and worries about alienation. But I must’ve missed this older comic, so thanks!Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
Reply to  Matt King
3 years ago

On the demandingness problem for superheroes, there is some interesting stuff about this in Kavka’s classic ‘Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory’. He specifically discusses whether Superman can get time off to fool around with Lois Lane.Report

Matt
Matt
3 years ago

Over the last few years, I’ve taught a course on “Videogames and Philosophy” a few times. I’ll be teaching it again in the spring. The central conceit of the course is that we can play and think about videogames to shed light on philosophical ideas and arguments (I focus mostly on ethics, free will, and a bit of epistemology), and we can also use philosophical work to think about the aesthetic issues that videogames raise (e.g. defining “art”, the problem of tragedy, interactive fiction).

I’ve taught such games as:
The Walking Dead
BioShock
Spec Ops: The Line
Papers, Please
Portal
Tacoma
The Stanley Parable

I tend to mix things up every semester depending on what I’m interested in at the moment. I’d be happy to share a copy of my most recent syllabus if anyone wants to see what we read and how I organize the course.Report

Caitlin
Caitlin
Reply to  Matt
3 years ago

I would like a copy op that syllabus, please!Report

Ben
Ben
Reply to  Matt
3 years ago

I’d also like a copy of the syllabus! What are your thoughts on working in Life is Strange and/or The Talos Principle?Report

Matt
Matt
Reply to  Matt
3 years ago

You can find a copy of an older syllabus on my (very outdated website) here: https://sites.google.com/site/matthewcarlsonphilosophy/teaching

The course is PHI 109.
In response to Ben:
I think Life is Strange is a really interesting game and I have considered teaching it. I’m not quite sure where it would go, though. In constructing the course, I found it surprisingly difficult to get the various pieces of the semester to fit together. The main problem is that many philosophical games take on many ideas all at once, so I have to find careful ways to focus on only some of those ideas so I can build a coherent course structure.

I have also thought about teaching The Talos Principle, but I ultimately decided against it for (mostly) selfish reasons: I didn’t really like the game all that much, so I didn’t want to commit more time to playing it. In addition to Portal, other games that take on philosophical issues concerning AI are Tacoma (which I taught last fall) and Event[0], which is really cool, I think. I will probably teach Event[0] the next time I teach this course.Report

Kristo Roland
Kristo Roland
3 years ago

That would be cool!Report

ABC789
ABC789
3 years ago

There’s a course at Penn in the Religious Studies Department called “Existential Despair.” The format is very unique, meeting for an 8 hour session every week. From the description:
“…there is no homework, no class participation, no outside reading, and no research papers. There will be no work given to students or expected of them outside of class. All work is done in class and class is very long (8 hours straight, once a week, from four PM to midnight). Students will eat together in class, there will be three bathroom breaks, but there will be no internet, no phones, no computers, and no auditors. Each student must be fully committed to the class and 75% of the grade will be determined by class participation.”

https://www.sas.upenn.edu/religious_studies/pc/course/2018C/RELS256Report

Furry Boots
Furry Boots
Reply to  ABC789
3 years ago

“This course is different from most others in that there is no homework, no class participation, […] 75% of the grade will be determined by class participation.”

That should induce some despair, existential or otherwise.Report

Rebecca Kukla
Rebecca Kukla
Reply to  ABC789
3 years ago

This is creepy AF.Report

ChrisTS
ChrisTS
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
3 years ago

Oh, bless you, I found this very, very disturbing.Report

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
3 years ago

‘This is creepy AF’ Why?Report

Kenneth
Kenneth
Reply to  David Mathers
3 years ago

At least partly because the conditions in which students will attempt to learn seem to be conditions very much like those in which someone might attempt to start a cult. Perhaps also partly because those conditions seem to be ones in which the instructor is establishing improper power (for example, by requiring no phones, no internet, no computes–that is no means by which to reach out for help). The “no-outsiders” requirement (that is the requirement that no auditors are allowed) in combination with the other requirements makes it all the more strange.Report

Outis
Outis
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
3 years ago

I don’t know if it makes it less ‘creepy’ to point out that the person teaching the class spent years as a Buddhist monk before returning to academia. Part of his academic training came from monasteries, one-on-one teaching, and other sources that might seem very foreign to those of us trained in traditional Western educational institutions. So the course might seem odd, but ‘creepy AF’ seems like a pretty hasty judgment. A little more context here:
https://www.thedp.com/article/2017/03/penn-7-hour-class-on-existential-despair-this-fallReport

Fool
Fool
Reply to  ABC789
3 years ago

Just wanted to counterbalance some of the hostile comments here by saying that I think this sounds ace.Report

H.A. Nethery
H.A. Nethery
3 years ago

I teach a course entitled “Philosophy and the Weird.” In the course, we begin by tracing the development of weird ideas like ghosts over the history of philosophy. Most of the course, however, is focused on pessimism, horror, and weird fiction. We read a lot of Lovecraft, Ligotti, Thacker, and Trigg.Report

Willie Costello
3 years ago

A few years back I taught a course called “‘Can Good People Like Bad Music?’ And Other Questions” – a first-year introductory seminar on the philosophy of art and taste. It was a big hit with students and a blast to teach! There was even a bit of experiential learning – a class karaoke night. You can check out the syllabus & assignments here: https://williecostello.com/teaching.htmlReport

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
3 years ago

I have two (split-level) courses which are perhaps a little out of the ordinary, though perhaps not as way out as some of the others described above.

The first is a ‘Why Be Moral?’ Course which addresses the issue in part by asking what it is like to *be* either an amoralist (like Thrasymachus) or a moral immoralist (like Callicles) – someone who thinks that they have the *right* to overstep the ordinary bounds of good and evil. The first half of the course is largely devoted to Plato (Apology Protagoras, Gorgias, and the first two books of The Republic) and is therefore not particularly unusual. But the second half addresses the issue via a series of works of literature, Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Laclos’ Dangerous Liaisons, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Deons/Devils/the Possessed, Shakespeare’s History Plays, specifically Richard III, Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 and Henry V (who I suggest was deliberately intended by Shakespeare as the model of a Machiavellian Prince), concluding with Jane Austen’s Persuasion, focusing on the figure of Mr Elliot. We also discuss Russell ’s flirtation with what I call humanistic amoralism and my speculation that it was his contact with the Bolsheviks that led him to give this up. I recommend movie version of the selected texts when available and I have a question asking the students to compare Stephen Frears’ Dangerous Liaisons with the Roger Kumble’s Cruel Intentions which tells what is basically the same tale but sets it 1990s New York rather that 18th Century France. The course is one of the most popular that my department puts on and I tend to get good student reviews as well as plenty of student essays which surprise me with their thoughtfulness and intelligence.

The second course focuses on Bertrand Russell specifically but endeavours to combine a selection of topics from his technical philosophy (the philosophy of mathematics, the nature of truth define descriptions and the question of whether external objects are to be construed as logical constructs or inferred entities etc) with a consideration of his work as an ethicist, an activist and a political thinker. The course is based on an earlier Soames-based paper on the history of analytic philosophy. I dropped the material on Wittgenstein (with whom I was becoming increasingly fed up) and much of the material on Moore replacing it with sections on Russell’s critiques of Marxism and Bolshevism (not quite the same things in Russell’s opinion), his arguments for a different form of socialism, his writings on behalf of women’s suffrage, his antiwar activities (and writings) during WWI, his reluctant support for WWII (using Anscombe’s anti-war polemics as a set of compare-and-contrast texts) and his later writings as an anti-nuclear activist. I’ve even got an optional question on why his love-life was such a series of train-wrecks. Part of the object of the exercise was to make the revised course more attractive to Philosophy, Politics and Economics majors who represent a sizeable proportion of our clientele. Russell dealt with many of the big moral and political issues of the Twentieth Century many of which remain with us into the Twenty-First. I have run this course (or this pair of courses) once (this year) and having, as I hope, sorted out some of the teething troubles, I expect to run it again 2020.

Both courses give the class plenty of opportunity to discuss issues of class power and gender power.

The teaching format in both cases is two two-hour seminar/lectures per week for a thirteen week semester with most of the assessment going on three longish essays (about 3000 words maximum). We usually kick off with a five-minute student presentation to which I respond with an impromptu lecture (impromptu because I never know exactly what the student presenter is going to say) which broadens out via Q&A to a general discussion.

I attach detailed syllabuses in separate posts.Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
3 years ago

Syllabus

Course Title: PHIL 335: Why Be Moral?
Points: 18 points
Prerequisites: One 200-level PHIL paper
Co-Taught with: PHIL 406
Restrictions: PHIL 406

Course Description
Why be Moral?’ is a question that dates back to Plato. Some suppose that morality is socially necessary, a culturally evolved device which counteracts our nasty natures and allows us to ‘get along’. Others believe that morality is pernicious, since it serves as an excuse for cruelty and a prop to predatory elites. I reply that society would be better off believing in a sane and humane morality than none at all. (Though we would be better off believing in no morality rather than – say – the morality of the Nazis.) But even if a sensible and humane morality is socially necessary, why should I, the individual, subscribe to the myth? Or, if morality is not a myth, why should I do the right thing if the wrong thing would pay better? I reply, using examples drawn from literature, that the life of an amoralist would tend to be emotionally empty. Another anti-moral claim is the idea, preached by Hegel, Nietzsche and (perhaps) by Machiavelli, that some people, ‘Napoleons’ or ‘great men’, have the right to transcend the ordinary bounds of right and wrong. We discuss these issues in the light of Plato’s dialogues (Apology, Gorgias, Protagoras and Republic) with side-glances at Karl Marx, Max Stirner, Bertrand Russell and the meta-ethics of Bolshevism. The course concludes with some fictional amoralists and putative ‘great men’ – Dorian Gray from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Valmont and Merteuil from Laclos’ Dangerous Liaisons, Raskolnikov from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Stavrogin from Dostoevsky’s Demons, Richard III, Falstaff and Prince Hal from Shakespeare’s history plays and Mr William Elliot from Jane Austen’s Persuasion. In case you are concerned, you don’t have to read all the relevant texts – movies are sometimes an option to bring you up to speed

Topics covered
Why Be Moral? (Bradley and Prichard)
Socrates on virtue and happiness. (Apology, Crito)
The function of morality in Protagoras’ ‘Great Speech’ (Plato Protagoras)
Thrasymachus ‘Justice is the Advantage of the Stronger’ (Plato, Republic)
Polus on rhetoric and tyranny (Plato, Gorgias)
Callicles and why ‘the strong’ ought to rule (Plato, Gorgias)
Glaucon’s challenge – does it pay to be just? (Plato, Republic)
Bertrand Russell and humanistic amoralism.
Bertrand Russell and the meta-ethics of Bolshevism (Russell on Ethics)
Truth in literature
McGinn, Oscar Wilde and The Picture of Dorian Gray. ‘For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’
Two amoralists: Merteuil and Valmont in Laclos’ Dangerous Liaisons.
Raskolnikov and the Napoleon Idea (Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment)
Stavrogin : amoralist superman (Dostoevsky, Demons)
Machiavels versus Machavellians (Shakespeare, Richard III, Henry IV parts 1& 2, Henry V)
Falstaff and Prince Hal: the amoralist and the Machiavellian prince (Shakespeare: Richard III, Henry IV parts 1&2, Henry V)
Hume, Jane Austen and a sensible knave (Jane Austen’s Persuasion)
Conclusion: though there are definitely drawbacks to amoralism and the Great Man ethic there are no decisive refutations.Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
3 years ago

Syllabus 239/339: Bertrand Russell: Ethics, Logic, Pacifism and Truth
These papers address a range of issues in ethics, philosophy and politics via a critical engagement with thought of Bertrand Russell (1872-1970). Russell was perhaps the greatest philosopher and one of the greatest logicians of the 20th century, but also a political thinker, a public intellectual and an activist, who was twice imprisoned for his anti-war activities. He was one of the founding fathers of analytic philosophy, one of the co-inventors of symbolic logic and a noted philosopher of mathematics, specifically a proponent of logicism, the thesis that mathematics reduces to logic. He defended the correspondence theory of truth against pragmatists such as William James who thought that truth is what pays and Hegelians such as Harold Joachim who argued the truth consists in coherence. He was interested in our knowledge of the external world, at first reducing physical objects to logical fictions and then redefining them as inferred entities.

Under the influence of G.E. Moore, he began as a believer in the objectivity of ethics but subsequently became a pioneer of both emotivism (moral judgments are neither true nor false) and the error theory (moral judgments are all false). He was philosopher of science, writing about the nature of science as intellectual enterprise and its impact on society and culture. In addition to all this he was an advocate of utilitarianism, a critic of Marxism, an analyst of power, a champion of democracy (especially votes for women), a proponent of socialism, a pacifist during World War I, and a campaigner against both nuclear weapons and the Vietnam War. His books on these and related topics (he wrote over seventy) remain in print, sometimes after more than a century.

In these papers we grapple not only with abstract problems such as the nature of value, the nature of truth and the foundations of mathematics, but also with the issues of war and peace, democracy and capitalism, socialism and communism –- on all of which Russell had something to say.

Week 1
A General Introduction and Historical Background . Russell’s Life and Works
B Sidgwick , Russell and the ‘Dualism of Practical Reason’.
(Is it always rational to do the right thing?)
Week 2
Russell’s Critique of Marxism
Week 3
A The Nature of Truth: Analytic correspondence versus Hegelian coherence
B The Democratic Ideal and Votes for Women:
Russell’s arguments for and against democracy, Edwardian and otherwise
Week 4
Russell, Moore and Metaethics:
Russell, G.E Moore and the ‘Naturalistic Fallacy’. Russell versus Moore: two Kinds of Consequentialism.
Week 5
Logic, Existence and Definite Descriptions:
Non-existent entities, especially the present King of France.
Week 6
Russell versus the Pragmatists:
A Is it OK to believe in God even if the evidence does not support this belief?
B Is Truth what it pays to believe?
Week 7
Logical Atomism:
Are physical objects logical constructions out sense-data? Logical constructions versus inferred entities. Do negative truths require negative facts (such as absences or lacks)? Causality Dismissed.
Week 8
Logicism, Paradox and Type Theory:
Can mathematics be reduced to logic?
Russell’s Paradox and what to do about it.
Week 9
A Against World War I:
Russell’s Consequentialist Pacifism.
B Capitalism and Socialism:
Russell’s Critique of Capitalism and the Case for Guild Socialism.

Week 10
Non-cognitivism and the Error Theory:
Russell’s Arguments Against Objectivism. Emotivism versus the Error Theory. Non-cognitivism and moral commitment.
Week 11
A Russell’s Critique of Bolshevism:
Critical analysis of Russell’s ‘The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism’.
B Problems of War and Peace:
‘I set out with a belief that love, free and courageous, could conquer the world without fighting. I came to support a bitter and terrible war’. Russell’s response to the Rise of Nazism
Week 12
A Russell’s (structural) Scientific Realism:
Inferred Entities rather than Logical Constructions. Non-Deductive Inference. Empiricism Modified. Causality Reinstated. How to talk about the External World.
B. Paradox and the Aftermath of Principia:
Ramsey versus Russell. Logical and Semantic paradoxes. Tarski versus the Ramified Theory of Types. Theories of meaninglessness versus paraconsistent logic.
Week 13
A. The Retreat From Pythagoras:
‘I sought to understand the Pythagorean power by which number held sway above the flux’. But Russell subsequently came to doubt whether numbers had any such powers since numbers themselves were logical fictions and mathematical truths tautologies. Was Russell right to retreat from Pythagoras?
B. Nuclear Weapons and World Government:
Critical analysis of Russell’s ‘Man’s Peril’ and ‘Common Sense and Nuclear Warfare’.Report

ChrisTS
ChrisTS
3 years ago

I guess I started too late or worked at too ‘traditional’ programs. My last program was large-ish for a slac but smallish for anything else. We could sometimes do ‘special topics’ courses, but mostly we were committed to our ‘core’ (quite broad but very oriented to traditional major/minor courses and gen ed stuff). I did manage to teach utopianism 3 times in 30 years. 🙁Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  ChrisTS
3 years ago

Actually, our Phil Lit course was already a fixture in the curriculum, when I arrived twenty years ago. I was hired in part to teach it — that and philosophy of mind and aesthetics.

However, we have the freedom to teach our courses pretty much as we like, so when I took over the course, I changed it pretty radically.Report

Unknown Philosopher
Unknown Philosopher
3 years ago

I teach a first-year seminar on social, political, and ethical issues in relation to science. Readings include some of Galileo’s writings, Brecht’s play about Galileo, some 19th Century medical literature, Shelley’s Frankenstein, some 20th Century historical readings in relation to the US and German atomic programs, Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen, Heinar Kipphardt’s In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer, and excerpts from Kitcher’s Science in a Democratic Society. Over the final few weeks of the semester, students present (in small groups) about some contemporary scientific issue, drawing upon readings from the mainstream press (e.g., the science pages of The New York Times), accessible scientific journalism (e.g., Nature, or Scientific American), and peer-reviewed scientific publications. The objectives of the course are to get students to explore questions about the ethical obligations of scientific investigators themselves, and about the values that do (and should) inform the public’s support of scientific research. They also consider the conditions under which the public should—or should not—accept the reported findings of scientists.Report

E
E
3 years ago

One of my undergrad professors regularly taught a philosophy course on conspiracy theories, which covered the logic, epistemology, and metaphysics of conspiracies.

He was also a very new age-y type and regularly taught courses on “bookstore metaphysics” (crystals, healing, etc)Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
3 years ago

I should say that the person who got me started teaching literature-based courses was Martha Nussbaum. During the nineties I successfully taught a course based on her excellent ‘Fragility of Goodness’ (together with the texts she discusses) and it was this that gave me the courage to strike out on my own about fifteen years ago.Report

Jared
3 years ago

I’ve taught a course on the epistemology of conspiracy theories for a few years now, with much success: https://www.academia.edu/10401112/The_Epistemology_of_Conspiracy_TheoriesReport

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
Reply to  Jared
3 years ago

Not hard to do, of course, Jared, since there is plenty good stuff our there already plus two more forthcoming collections; Dentith ed (2018) Dentith ed. Taking Conspiracy Theories Seriously, Rowman and Littlefield, and Loukola ed. Secrets and Conspiracies, Rodopi . (I know about them because I have a chapter in each. ) Might I suggest supplementing the philosophy texts with some relevant history? I recommend Kathryn Z Olmsted’s (2010) Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11. It’s very good on the way the genuine conspiracies and conspiracy theories that range from the true and well-proven to the batshit crazy interact in the history of the USA.
I’ve sometimes thought of running such a course myself (since the philosophy conspiracy theories is one of my research specialities) but my colleagues have not been very enthusiastic about the idea.Report

Jared
Reply to  Charles Pigden
3 years ago

Thanks for the recommendations Charles! Yes, it was not a difficult course to pull together and I think it’s a good topic to elicit interest in philosophy and epistemology in particular. I always include your work when I teach this course.Report

Dave Baker
Dave Baker
3 years ago

At U Michigan, our freshman seminars are often used for unusual topics. Derrick Darby taught a seminar on BLM last year, and is doing one on hate speech now. Gordon Belot has been focusing on recent science fiction movies, with a course on Interstellar and Philosophy a year or two ago, and one on Arrival and Philosophy this semester. In the winter I will be teaching a seminar on the ethics of nuclear weapons for the second time. There are a lot of good papers on that topic from the 1980s; it was one of the earliest issues Jeff McMahan explored in his research on ethics of war.Report