Teaching is an essential part of my approach to philosophy. I learn much through teaching and value guiding and participating in my students’ discussions in class. My courses are always accompanied by extensive lecture notes. I prefer lecturing from my own notes rather than following a text book. It allows me to give my courses a personal bent by incorporating material that reflects my own research and interest. Text books are useful and essential, but I prefer to suggest a selection in the reading lists that accompany my courses. This gives students a varied diet of reading, in the form of a choice of text books and general resources they can consult. My lecture notes supplement the essential readings of a course by commenting on classic and contemporary philosophical articles. This allows students to delve immediately into the primary texts, guided by my lecture notes. It also means that students do not have to buy a course text book and do not have to rely on the availability of text books in the library.
My teaching is mainly in logic and related areas, such as philosophy of language, metaphysics and philosophy of mathematics. Contrary to what seems to be the case amongst philosophers, I really enjoy teaching elementary logic courses! I began teaching elementary logic as a PhD student in King's College, as Wilfried Meyer-Viol's teaching assistant. I taught the same course in UCL, this time as lecturer with my own assistant, when I got a job there and the intercollegiate University of London degree still existed. Great stuff, an assistant. They mark all the exercises. Seeing the amount of introductory logic text books, apparently I'm not the only one who thinks that none of the ones you have to teach from are ideal. So I started to write my own to accompany my lectures. In King's and UCL, I was tied to a set text book, so I wasn't free to use my preferred formal systems and methods and there was little space to talk about what I find most interesting in logic. That changed when I taught an intermediate logic course in Sheffield. Finally, I could do whatever I wanted. I decided not to bend to any text book and only use my own lecture notes. Great idea. It took up most of my time and was much harder than I thought it would be. I used Gentzen's systems of natural deduction. Contrary to expectations, it wasn't an entire disaster at all, but really rather successful, even if I say so myself. But I had almost no time to for anything else -- try typing up those proofs ... and this time I had no assistant anymore, I had to do the exercises myself ... what was I thinking?! So what. As I'm not entirely happy with any of the text books available, one day I'll probably write another one and now I have the basis for that. I haven't taught the course again since. In Birkbeck, I was again tied to a text book. Bliss.
My favourite logic text book, incidentally, is Neil Tennant's Natural Logic. It's out of print, but you can download it for free!
I think it's a problem for logic that so many introductory logic text books hardly mention why logic is important for philosophy -- or important at all, apart from some pleonastic remarks that it helps you think "logically". It is very difficult for students (and myself, for that matter) to see why they should learn logic if all they ever do is translating pointless examples of dubious comical quality into symbols. And after the course they rarely, if at all, apply formal methods again or even just see them applied. My ideal would be a book that integrates formal logic with philosophy. It's much harder than you might think. But I'm working on it.
I also taught widely outside my area of research, in particular in philosophy of mind, which I taught first for the Department of Philosophy at the University of Kent, Canterbury. I knew fairly little about philosophy of mind, and it was daunting taking responsibility for the course. Another term where I did almost nothing else but preparing lectures. I enjoyed the topic. I developed the course further when I was employed in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield. My lecture notes for courses in Philosophy of Mind are entirely self-contained. They are more extensive than what could be covered in a term. They expand on points that I could only touch upon in the lectures and which I find particularly intriguing. They give students some additional guidance through further aspects of the topic and further reading. I give the course a personal note by making use of a bit of logic here and there. I think it’s import to use formal methods, to remind students why they are learning logic, but anything I do in the course could be followed by students who haven’t done a logic course. I've got plans to develop the course further. Eventually, I might turn these lecture notes into a book on philosophy of mind directed at undergraduates or a general readership. In Canterbury, I also taught a course on the Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence together with Laurence Goldstein, David Corfield and Barry Richards. The topic crosses quite nicely various of my interests.
I wrote a Study Guide for Philosophy of Mind, which is used in the International Programme of the University of London.
I had always taught a bit of epistemology in seminars and tutorials, but at Birkbeck I was asked to give some lectures on epistemology for the MA course. Yes, of course I would do Gettier. Also some epistemology of mathematics, to give the lectures a personal touch. What else ... ? Nothing took my fancy. Then the Muses must have kissed me. Inspiration struck and I remembered that I know some things about Plato! Let's start with a lecture on Plato. I always loved Plato's dialogues, but I had never lectured on Plato. So why not start with a lecture on the problems that occupied Plato and the different ways in which he addressed them in the dialogues. Best decision ever. It was eye opening. Reading once more some of the dialogues and collecting material for the lecture was the most rewarding philosophical experience I had had in a while. It made me realise the significance of the claim that philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato. Take only the Theaitetos. It's astonishing. I made a cursory list of philosophical ideas that according to common wisdom only appear much later. None of them are news to Plato. The views are already there and their refutations too. Not spelled out in all tedious detail, to be sure, but clearly put forward nonetheless. Naturally, the lecture on Plato lasted longer than a lecture.
Inspiration struck a second time, when I needed to think about what to teach in the General Seminar at Birkbeck. In the previous year, I had followed the guide of my colleagues and discussed various papers on a topic within my area of research or interest that are suitable for undergraduates. I chose Lewis Carroll's "What the Tortoise said to Achilles". The next year, I didn't want to do the same again. I also didn't want to do philosophy of mind. It would overlap too much with other courses. I wanted students to attend the seminar and get something out of it, so that posed a problem. It took me a while to figure out what to do. The Muses kissed me again, and it became obvious: do the Theaitetos. A whole term reading the Theaitetos. And nothing else. No secondary literature. Just the primary text. The perfect choice. It almost taught itself. My students loved it.
The general seminar is supposed to be a discussion group, mostly student led, under the guidance of a lecturer. As the terms lasts for ten weeks, I could divide the text into manageable pieces to be read from week to week. Where necessary, we spent a bit longer than a week on a section. The students class loved following the course of the argument as presented by Socrates and developing their own ideas, arguments and questions in reaction to the text. It was a very satisfactory seminar to teach, philosophically and pedagogically. I think it is very important that students are confronted with the primary, classic texts of philosophy. I have previously taught seminars, where we read only Frege’s Foundations of Arithmetic to accompany my course in Philosophy of Mathematics, with similar success. With texts such as these ones, students’ time is better used focussing on the primary sources, leaving secondary literature for later investigations into details of the text and essay writing. The classic texts present core philosophical positions with a clarity, directness and richness that ensures that students are find points for discussion that interest them. In my experience, being directly confronted with the entirety of a work by truly great thinker inspires students much more to engage in fruitful philosophical dialogue than looking at excerpts and secondary literature.
In Sheffield, I supervised BA and MA dissertations on Sartre and on Ethics. I think Sartre has some interesting things to say about negation. You'll hear more about this here once I've figured it out.
Here are some details of the courses I taught. Please click on the buttons. This time something should happen.