Teaching Philosophy

Teaching Philosophy

Moral theory is not an abstract topic, and it can't be removed from policy via clever metaphysics. Even if there is one true morality, if your plan is to convince your political rivals of it from first principles before you will work on the issues at hand, you will get nothing done. And even if morality is relativitic and up to the individual or her culture, in the real world of policy there are debates over which we can't just agree to disagree. Teaching moral theory to policy students is about how to make choosing policies under the permanent conditions of value pluralism more constructive and intelligent.

In general, I try to combine the reflection on the "big picture" that is the luxury (and obligation) of philosophers with a firm grounding in concrete issues.  In all of my Public Policy courses, students are expected to show facility with both theoretical concepts and the nitty-gritty details of policy decisions.  It is my firm conviction that philosophy is not "too hard" or "too abstract" for any student, and should not be dumbed down (this may not be a popular view with my students).  In the end, I hope that students walk away from my classes with improved critical thinking skills, improved abilities to engage constructively with those who hold different moral views, and a stronger committment to doing what is right.  I also wouldn't mind if they remember something about what individual thinkers said about this or that.


In the Spring of 2012, I started experimenting with elements of an "inverted classroom" strategy in Moral Dimensions of Public Policy.  In particular, I began recording my lectures* and posting them to YouTube and Blackboard, then using the class time for discussion, presentations, and the occasional more offbeat exercise (like Bully Pulpit's Cap and Trade).  The Spring 2012 lectures aren't bad, but they represent my first foray with both the technology and the format, and I hope to refine things and perhaps expand to my other classes in the future.  

Moral Dimensions of Public Policy - Spring 2012 (YouTube playlist)

* For the tech geeks... my computer is a trusty Asus netbook running Ubuntu Linux (at the time I recorded the Spring 2012 lectures, running 11.10 and then 12.04).  I began by using RecordMyDesktop, but that was a bit buggy, so I just decided to just record things directly using ffmpeg.  There may be more frills if I learn how to make them!