TEACHING PHILOSOPHY

Every year, students ask if they can bring friends to my class. I've developed a reputation for making philosophy relevant to modern life. We discuss how Chimamanda Adichie could have avoided her controversial, trans-exclusionary comments by being more careful in her definition of womanhood. We map the existential themes of Kendrick Lamar’s music video, “Alright.” We distinguish toxic and non-toxic masculinity through the characters portrayed in Barry Jenkin's Moonlight.

Talking through these difficult, often personal, topics requires a classroom setting where everyone’s voice can be heard, but rather than emphasizing civility, I follow Barbara Applebaum in employing a “pedagogy of discomfort and critical hope.”  I encourage students to embrace their feelings of guilt, anger, and vulnerability. Those who dominated the conversation learn how to listen, and those who were reluctant to speak, find their voice.

I also encourage a conversational approach to reading. In my work for the ELL Reading to Write Program, I have learned that some students face language barriers, while others are crossing disciplinal boundaries and have only ever related to texts as authorities. I teach my students how to challenge and charitably reconstruct difficult philosophical texts and also how to recognize and correct flawed arguments in online spaces. These skills will serve them long after graduation.

 

Note to current students: These are archived syllabi. An up-to-date syllabus is available on Quercus.

Introduction to Philosophy

EXISTENTIALISM (syllabus featured on the APA Blog's Syllabus Showcase)

The first half of the course introduces the concepts that drive existentialist thinking: authenticity and absurdity. Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, and Beckett blur the lines between good/evil, truth/fiction, and philosophy/literature.
All these writers share a common experience: rich, white, European, male. The second half of the course considers other versions of existentialism: Feminist existentialism (de Beauvoir and Spelman) and Black Existentialism (Du Bois, Fanon, Lamar, and Jenkins).
The course concludes by combining the two challenges during a discussion of Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Beyoncé’s Lemonade. Do these count as existentialist works? Can we stretch existentialism so far beyond its roots in rich, white, mid-century France, or is existentialism necessarily limited to a particular cultural milieu?

Intermediate Undergraduate Course

Bioethics: Caring for Vulnerable Populations (SYLLABUS)

The Physician’s Pledge details the ethical duties of a physician. It focuses on protecting the autonomy and dignity of the patient, and it lists groups who are particularly vulnerable to mistreatment and require special attention: “I will not permit considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing, or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient” (World Medical Association Declaration of Geneva).

This course explores the implications of the Physician’s Pledge. How do we care for the elderly without treating them like children? Should disability be treated as a medical or a social problem? Who takes on these caregiving roles? How can medical professions be trained to resist stereotypes about race and ethnicity? What role should gender and sexuality play in medical treatment recommendations? These issues have become particularly pressing in recent weeks. The current pandemic has shone a spotlight on health disparities within vulnerable populations. We will conclude the class with a discussion of how to balance competing healthcare needs and the opportunity we have to create a more just future, after this crisis passes.

Advanced Undergraduate Course

DECOLONIAL AND INTERSECTIONAL FEMINISM(S) (SYLLABUS)

winner of the Arts and Sciences Superior Teaching Award and the Philosophy Department Martha Lile Love Teaching Award 

This course begins by correcting common misconceptions about feminism and explaining the concept of intersectionality. Then we turn to ongoing problems within the North American feminist movement: making feminism more inclusive, paying attention to small harms without degenerating into call-out culture, and maintaining the energy of the #metoo movement.

In the second half of term, decolonial feminism pushes the boundaries still further. We problematize not just white feminism, but Western and Eurocentric feminism—both abroad and here in Canada.

The semester culminates on a note of hope. We discuss non-toxic forms of masculinity, and watch Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight together on the last day of class. This film acknowledges the pressures of modern society but challenges us to choose “Who is you?”

 

COURSES TAUGHT

Courses Prepared to Teach

Introductory Undergraduate Course

Introduction to Philosophy (SYLLABUS)

Philosophy allows us to ask the big questions about our lives and our place in the world: Who
are we? How do we know? What could we become? What choices do we have? What do we
value? What should we change?
In this course, you’ll learn how to answer these questions and how to engage in arguments with
people who disagree with you about the answers. We’ll be spending time in this course learning
how to read complex philosophical texts, how to produce your own writing on these issues, and
how to participate in discussions in your daily life. Philosophical argumentation is a skill, but like
all skills, you can master it, if you practice.

Intermediate Undergraduate Course

Philosophy at the Movies (SYLLABUS)

Philosophy allows us to ask the big questions about our lives and our place in the world. Movies
raise these same questions and explore different answers we could give. Sometimes our first
response to a film is just say, “I liked it,” but in this course, we’ll go deeper than personal
aesthetic preferences and search for more fruitful conversations. We’ll discuss questions like:
Who are we? How do we know? What could we become? What choices do we have? What do
we value? What should we change?
In this course, you’ll learn how to answer these questions and how to engage in arguments with
people who disagree with you about the answers. We’ll be spending time in this course learning
how to read complex philosophical texts, how to produce your own writing on these issues, and
how to participate in discussions in your daily life. Philosophical argumentation is a skill, but like
all skills, you can master it, if you practice.

Advanced Undergraduate Course

Philosophy and Literature: Dystopias Real and Imagined (SYLLABUS)

Dystopias explore two kinds of questions. The first looks towards the future: What are we in danger of becomingShould we fear a robot uprising, or should we worry more about humans enslaving conscious AI? Will the world become overpopulated, or will we be decimated by environmental catastrophe? What should we prepare for? What should we prevent?

The second kind of question focuses on the present, and the vestiges of the past: Are some of us already living in dystopian conditions? Consider missing and murdered indigenous women, migrant workers forced into slave-like conditions, police violence against people of color and people with disabilities, the disbelief and distrust of rape survivors and the trans/non-binary community. These groups already face the questions that the rest of us fear might one day have to ask: Will anyone look for us when we disappear? Will anyone be left to mourn us, if we die? If we can't trust the police, the courts, or our fellow citizens, who will protect us? How will we survive?

 

©2019 by Emma McClure.