PPL 492: Philosophy of Punishment Policy

In the United States, legal punishment takes various forms, but primarily consists of incarceration or fines. Yet what justifies the state in putting people in prison or taking their money? Put another way, why do we punish people? There are competing philosophical theories for what justifies punishment, but which is correct? Understanding the purpose of punishment can help us conform our methods of punishment accordingly. For instance, if the purpose of punishment is to rehabilitate offenders, we will need to make sure that whatever methods of punishment we use actually rehabilitate. In this way, understanding why we punish informs how we should punish. But recently, some have suggested there is no justification for some forms of punishment, like incarceration. Others have argued that the state isn’t justified in punishing in any way at all. We’ll spend some time considering those arguments and what policy alternatives to prison or punishment there could be.

PPL 370: Philosophy of Leadership

We all think we know leadership when we see it: the charismatic prime minister reassuring her citizens during a national crisis and laying out a recovery plan, the brave general inspiring his troops forward into battle, the ruthless CEO showing investors how she increased profits. But what makes all of these instances of leadership? Is leadership more than just the heroic leader commanding others that we’re so familiar with in the US? If this is all leadership is, it would be rare indeed. Few of us could ever expect to be leaders. But how important is leadership anyway? After all, recently there have been so-called leaderless social movements, like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, so perhaps we don’t need leadership. Or do these movements simply have leadership in a different form? It may be that we don’t always know leadership when we see it, depending on what leadership really is. So it’s worthwhile to explore the nature of leadership so that we can recognize it and appreciate the opportunities we have for leadership in its various forms.

But we don’t just want to be leaders; we want to be good leaders. Once we understand leadership better, we can ask what good leadership looks like. Is good leadership just being effective, and doing whatever gets results for those one is leading? Or does it require being ethical as well? After all, sometimes being an effective leader seems to require doing things that might be considered unethical, like lying, or even worse. When, if ever, is a good leader justified in getting her hands dirty in these ways?

Throughout the course, we’ll focus on these two key questions: (1) What is leadership? (2) What is good leadership? As we explore these questions, we’ll encounter others, such as who can be a leader and whether democratic leadership is contradictory. As a PPL course, we’ll focus mainly on political leadership, but students are encouraged to draw comparisons with other types of leadership as well.

PPL 300: Public Policy and Ethics

In a democracy, reasonable citizens may disagree about what is right and wrong, and consequently about what policies should be in place. One way to try to adjudicate these disputes and determine whether policies are ethical is by appealing to various moral considerations (e.g. consequences, rights, duties, virtues), highlighted by competing moral theories. In this course, we will explore several of these moral considerations and their corresponding moral theories, with an eye toward how to determine whether some policy is ethical and thus resolving moral disputes about public policy issues. In the first part of the course, we will explore theoretical moral foundations, pausing with each to see how they can be applied to some policy issue. In the second part of the course, we will dive into a few timely public policy issues in more depth. By exploring some of these controversial policy topics, we can see (1) how moral theories underlie the disagreements, (2) how to effectively argue for good public policy, and (3) how to create public policies that are ethical and that respect the diversity of our American democracy.

PPL 212: Critical Thinking, Communication, and Public Policy

We all spend a significant amount of time thinking about issues and policies that are important to us. Few of us, however, spend time thinking about how to think about those things. If we do not think critically and rationally about policy issues, we may not be creating or supporting the best policies for ourselves or for society, nor can we effectively argue for those policies. Yet the best arguments will fail if they are not communicated well. And in a society that seems increasingly polarized and uncivil, even the best arguments can go unappreciated. So, in addition to helping students improve their skills in thinking critically, this course is designed to help students improve their skills in reading, writing, and communicating civilly through written work, individual presentations, and debates.

Students will learn the nature of arguments, the nature of deductive and inductive reasoning, common reasoning errors and how to avoid them, and some keys of good communication and public speaking. Students will also learn to apply their critical thinking skills in analyzing, criticizing, and strengthening arguments pertaining to contemporary issues in public policy.

PHIL 328: Biomedical Ethics

In January of 2020, I taught an honors section of Biomedical Ethics with StudyUSA. During the first part of the course, students learned the basics of biomedical ethics. Then we traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with policymakers, lobbyists, researchers, and more to discuss how bioethics bears on a variety of contemporary issues, including:

  • Phyllis Arthur, Vice President for Infectious Diseases and Diagnostics Policy at BIO (The Biotechnology Innovation Organization)
  • Ronald Bailey, science correspondent for Reason magazine
  • Dr. Teresa Blankmeyer Burke, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Gallaudet University
  • Dr. Kate Blizinsky, Policy Director for the All of Us program
  • Dr. Evan DeRenzo, Assistant Director of the John Lynch Center for Ethics at MedStar Washington Hospital Center
  • Grace Graham, Health Policy Director, the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
  • Jill Hamaker, Vice President of Federal Government Affairs at Emergent BioSolutions
  • Kahlia Kéita, Clinical Ethics Educator at the John Lynch Center for Ethics at MedStar Washington Hospital Center
  • Klon Kitchen, Senior Research Fellow of Technology at The Heritage Foundation
  • Senator Trent Lott
  • Dr. Maximilian Muenke, CEO of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics
  • Taunton Paine, Program Director of Clinical Research at the National Institutes of Health
  • Amy Pellegrino, Health Policy Director, the US Senate Special Committee on Aging
  • Dr. Khara Ramos, Director of the Neuroethics Program at the National Institutes of Health
  • Dr. Meredith Weaver, American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics
  • Senator Roger Wicker

Below are some selected photos of those we met with during our visit. I look forward to the opportunity to lead students to D.C. again! 

The class at the Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health. We met with Taunton Paine, Dr. Kate Blizinsky of the All of Us Program, and Dr. Khara Ramos of the BRAIN Initiative, among others.

Past Courses

At Florida State University and the University of Florida, I also taught the following courses (syllabi available upon request):

  • Philosophy of Mind (FSU, Summer 2015)
  • Reasoning and Critical Thinking (FSU, Fall 2014 & Fall 2012)
  • Introduction to Philosophy (FSU, Summer 2014, Summer 2011)
  • Ethical Issues and Life Choices (FSU, Spring 2014, Summer 2013)
  • Contemporary Moral Issues (UF, Summer 2010)