Current & Recent Teaching

Fall 2017

Phil 334/634: Social & Political Philosophy (syllabus)

Political philosophers are interested in whether, and to what extent, government use of coercion can be justified. This question involves many facets, including what gives the government the legitimate authority (if any) to coercively enforce the rules, what limits there are (if any) to the legitimate kinds of rules the government can enforce (and why), what obligations (if any) the government has to the citizens that are governed by its rules, and what claims (if any) citizens of a state can make upon one another. This course provides a systematic investigation of such questions as well as the concepts that are often appealed to in political theory, such as "justice", "equality", and "fairness". Readings will be comprised of classic and contemporary theorists from within the liberal political tradition as well as theorists critical of this tradition and its ability to live up to the lofty ideals it espouses.

Phil/His 449: Ethics, History, & Public Policy Capstone:
Autonomous Vehicles in Pittsburgh

The broad topic of this year's course is the growth in autonomous vehicle (AV) development and testing in the Pittsburgh region and beyond. Uber opened its local Advanced Technologies Center and began driverless research in 2015, and Mayor Bill Peduto took the inaugural driverless Uber ride in September of 2016. Other AV projects are also underway in the Pittsburgh metro area, which is host to Argo AI, Delphi, Aurora, and others. The surge in development locally has played a central role in the recent tech boom in Pittsburgh, contributing to both economic revitalization and city plans to improve livability. However, a central feature of the city's approach to attracting AV research and development to Pittsburgh early on was to take a very hands-off approach with respect to the regulation of AV testing and use on city streets, and to try and partner with companies - Uber in particular - to further the city's agenda. More recently, there have been signs that the city and Mayor Peduto may be regretting that approach as the relationship with Uber has soured. As Uber continues to grow its presence in the region, and as more AV companies are attracted by the strong AI and robotics communities in Pittsburgh, there are several questions that must be answered. What are the costs and benefits associated with the growth of AV? How should city, state, and federal regulations be structured so as to best promote the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers as AVs become a larger and larger proportion of cars on the road? How should AVs be programmed to take into account ethical considerations about the preservation of human life and the protection of private and public property? How should liability be construed for damage or injury caused by AVs? What responsibilities do AV companies, the city, and society as a whole have to workers who are displaced in cab, delivery, and trucking industries, among others?

Spring 2017

Phil 835: Structures of (In)Justice (graduate seminar; syllabus)

This course aims to provide students a graduate-level familiarity with contemporary political philosophy. We will begin with an introduction to the Rawlsian liberal political tradition and some of its detractors, with a special focus on the role of the "basic structure" in Rawlsian political theory. Within this discussion, we will also consider the debate between ideal and non-ideal theory, a thread that will continue throughout the semester. The second part of the class will explore difficult questions regarding how collective action - both coordinated and uncoordinated - contributes to (in)justice, including the nature of complicity, what it means to contribute to injustice, and how responsibility for (in)justice should be distributed. The final third of the class will be focused on the structural nature of racial injustice and potential causes and remedies of these defects in the basic structure.

Fall, 2016

Phil 334: Social & Political Philosophy (syllabus)

Phil/His 449: Ethics, History, & Public Policy Capstone:
Gentrification and Urban Development Policy in Pittsburgh

The purpose of the EHPP capstone course is to challenge students to use the knowledge and skills they have developed throughout the EHPP program. Their goal is to work together in a collaborative way to engage with an important social issue. Students' analysis of the course topic should be informed by historical, ethical, legal, and policy considerations.

The broad topic of this year's course is the recent tech boom in the city of Pittsburgh and how this economic advancement has impacted housing for low- and fixed-income residents. As more high-skilled labor migrates to Pittsburgh, this puts pressure on affordable housing in multiple ways. More people are competing for existing housing stock, driving prices up. Neighborhoods transitioning due to an influx of higher-income residents generate new construction as well as significant amounts of renovations. Increases in property values drive increases in property taxes, often forcing families out of homes that they own when they can no longer afford the tax bills. Construction of new housing often involves the demolition of older, low-income housing. Gentrification also historically disproportionately affects people of color. How should the city balance the benefits of technological and economic progress against the potential harms of gentrification to low-income city residents? Are there policies that can and should be implemented to mitigate the negative effects of economic progress on low-income groups, or to ensure that those groups also benefit from the revival this city has seen over the last decade? How should policies going forward take into account persistent segregation along racial lines and the disproportionate housing impacts of economic progress on Pittsburgh residents of color?

Spring, 2016

Phil 336/636: Philosophy of Law (syllabus)

In recent years, the U.S. legal system has been beset by claims of overcriminalization, racially discriminatory enforcement, and inadequate or unequal protection of individual civil rights. What should we make of these claims, and what, if anything, would be implied by their truth? In seeking to answer these questions, this course will examine the nature of the law and its enforcement. We will begin by discussing the issue of overcriminalization and why the expansion of the criminal law is or is not problematic. From there, we will turn to the more foundational questions of what, precisely, the law is, and what its connection to morality is or should be. Are we obligated to obey the law, and if so, why? Finally, we will ask whether it is possible for the law to remain neutral with regards to morality and politics, and whether the supposed "neutrality" of the law may itself be an instrument of oppression. If the legal system lacks the kind of neutrality that many legal theorists claim for it, what (if anything) does that license us (as citizens) to do?

Phil 348/648: Health, Development, & Human Rights (syllabus)

Approximately 1.1 billion people live on less than $1 a day in a condition the World Bank refers to as extreme poverty. Those who live in extreme poverty frequently lack effective access to proper nutrition, adequate shelter, safe drinking water, and sanitation. As a result, they also bear the greatest burdens of famine and epidemic disease and frequently face social and political conditions of unrest and systematic oppression. This course aims to introduce students to human rights theory and its intersection with global public health. We will ask what constitutes a human right, and on what basis or bases the existence of human rights might be defended. If human rights do exist, whose responsibility is it to see that they are defended/provided/not violated, and why? What is the relationship between health deficits and human rights deficits, and what would a "human right to health" look like? Are global institutions such as the protection of strong intellectual property rights consistent with respect for a human right to health?

Fall, 2015

Phil 447/747: Global Justice (syllabus)

Until recently, the dominant view of international relations has been that the governments and citizens of one country have no moral obligations to those beyond their borders. With the rapid growth in globalization has come a drastic shift in attitudes about our obligations to those with whom we share global institutions of trade but neither legal systems nor national identities. This course aims to introduce students to the problem of global distributive justice in the context of a globalized world, with emphases on both theoretical accounts of justice and the practical implications of those accounts for important current issues. Theoretical topics will include the nature of justice, the sources and limits of our moral obligations, and how and whether those notions of justice extend to global society; while applied topics will include our obligations with regard to the environment, human rights deficits, the status of women, and global economic policy.

Recent Graduate Seminars

  • Structures of (In)Justice, Spring 2017 (syllabus)
  • Autonomy, Freedom, and Non-Domination, Spring 2015 (syllabus)
  • Democracy & Equality, Spring 2014 (syllabus)
  • Global Justice & Bioethics, Fall 2012 (CWRU School of Medicine)