Category Archives: Teaching


Here’s a small commercial announcement that might be of interest to you. You may be familiar with Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute (PIKSI), which “is designed to encourage undergraduate students from under-represented groups to consider future study in the field of philosophy.” You can read more about it here:

There’s currently a fundraising drive on to support PIKSI. You can read more about this drive at:

This is certainly a worthy cause, given some of the recent less-than-edifying-reports of the experiences of women in the Philosophy world, and so please do consider supporting it.


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Bleg-Readings for a Morality of War Course

Hi everyone.  I’m conducting an advanced undergraduate course on the morality of war next erm and would be very appreciative if anyone has any suggestions on which books or articles to assign.  Obviously, I know Walzer’s book is a classic, and there’s McMahan’s book Killing in War — but I’m not a specialist, so I could really use some help.  Many thanks in advance to everyone who posts a suggestion!

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19th Century Philosophy: How to make it coherent and interesting?

The 19th Century Philosophically is full of exciting developments that changed our world and that changed philosophy.  The problem that I’ve been having as I work to put together a syllabus for a seminar on it in the spring is that I am tired of a 19th Century course that either just shows the development of German Idealism or that is a hodgepodge of stuff from the aforesaid idealists, utilitarians, darwinians, pragmatists, and positivists (though I think the latter approach better represents the century).  I want to make my course both coherent and interesting, while being faithful to the diversity of approaches found in the anglo-american and european traditions during this time.  My solution follows.  I would love comments that would help me to flesh out this idea (maybe suggesting primary texts that I might use) or to firm the idea up a bit and to focus it. Basically, what I want to do is look at the relationship between scientific knowledge and political power in the 19th Century.  I am thinking of using Rabinow’s French Modern to give some context and to look particularly at theory of and for colonization.  In addition to this anchor text, I plan on looking at Fichte’s Foundations of Natural Right, Bentham on laws, the panopticon and some of his plans for housing of the poor, Saint-Simon, Comte (of course), Marx and Engels, Mill on philosophy of science, and Herbert Spencer.  I would love some other figures to check out, especially women philosophers as this list is unfortunately bereft of them.  Will the idea fly?  Am I not really doing 19th Century Philosophy if I follow through with this plan?  Will I have harmed my students’ philosophical education if I don’t teach Hegel and Nietzsche?


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Political Essays

Here are two questions that strike me as worth thinking about.

Say you wanted to teach a liberal arts-style freshman seminar that introduced students to the idea of reflecting on politics and society, but you didn’t want to turn it into yet another Applied Ethics or Introduction to Political Philosophy class that crammed in all the essential philosophical problems and texts: Capital Punishment, the Duty to Obey the Law, Abortion, Euthanasia, etc., on the one hand, and Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Marx, Mill, etc., on the other. Instead, you’d much rather just use plain old essays — well-crafted, accessible, insightful, evocative, memorable essays — written by people who may or may not be academics or part of the academic tradition.

The kind of essay I’m thinking of would be one that didn’t so much need to be explained as experienced, that presents a viewpoint that seizes your imagination in some way, rather than an argument or conceptual apparatus that needs to be taken apart, dusted a little by a qualified technician, and then put back together in sound working order. These would be essays that have a force that can’t really be conveyed to someone who has not read them, and that become part of the background framework of your way of thinking about the political and social world and the stuff in it that matters. They would ideally be long enough to be a substantial read, worth assigning as a text, but not too long to be a task that requires the threat of academic sanctions to be completed. Above all, they must not be difficult to read or boring to think about. They should be the sort of thing people mean when they talk about the art of the essay.

Posted in Posts, Problems, Teaching | 13 Comments

What is a Means of Production?

Though I’m a political philosopher, Marxism/Socialism is not my area of expertise.  Still, I was surprised when, while teaching an essay by Kai Nielsen the other day, I discovered that I really don’t know what a means of production is supposed to be.

The claim that the means of production ought to be owned publicly, rather than privately, seems to be one of if not the defining characteristics of socialism.  So it seems pretty important to be clear on what it refers to.

On the most natural reading, a “means of production” would be anything that’s used to produce.  But that seems very, very broad.  Sure, factories are means of production, but so are muffin trays.  So is my brain, and my muscles.


Posted in Discussion, Posts, Problems, Teaching | 16 Comments

How can I teach Kant–without too much Kant?

Hi all,

I just joined Public Reason (having met Simon at a conference) and am looking forward to participating.  I’ve already seen lots of terrific material, and realize that I should have joined long ago.

I have what may seem a strange problem.  I’ll be teaching an undergraduate lecture course in Political Ethics next Spring quarter, as I have in the past.  This is a conceptual rather than a practical course, it covers not bribes and whistleblowing, but the basic theoretical works relevant to political ethics issues (though we will treat a few actual cases).  We’ll be reading Pitkin on representation, Machiavelli’s Prince, Weber’s “Politics as a Vocation”–and a bit of moral philosophy on an introductory level: utilitarianism, deontology, Bernard Williams on integrity and personal projects and shooting one to save ten, that sort of thing.  While the course is nominally upper level, there are no prerequisites (UCLA’s bureaucracy won’t allow it), and UCLA has no core requirements in moral and political philosophy such that I can count on students’ knowing some.   Nor is this a course for philosophy (or political theory) majors.  The students are political science or public policy majors interested in the substantive issues, not in ethical theory.


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