My first philosophy courses changed my life, not just because the subject fascinated and challenged me, but also because I walked out of each philosophy class a clearer thinker, a better writer, and a more conscientious person. I tell all of my students that I want the same for them.
In class, we spend our time discussing various philosophical questions (about, for example, what it means to be ethical, how to define justice, the existence of God, the mind-body problem, etc.). Exploring these topics also serves as a vehicle for teaching philosophical skills, like assessing whether a conclusion follows from a set of premises, identifying an argument’s assumptions, or testing the limits of a theory or principle with possible counterexamples.
Throughout the semester, we recognize the importance of critical reasoning and emphasize the use of precise language, strong evidence, and clear argumentation. We develop our abilities to read and appreciate literature from a range of disciplines, and write and express ourselves well about our own positions.
As students who have taken multiple courses with me know, the primary goal of every course is to encourage ourselves to approach questions in new ways, and to deepen our abilities to think critically and analytically about important issues that may have a real impact on our own lives and on the lives of others.
I am fortunate to teach a broad range of courses at all levels of the College’s curriculum. My research and teaching are very interdisciplinary, so I have the chance to engage with students from across all fields. For example, I teach PHIL 225: Philosophy of Mind, which is an elective in the neuroscience major; PHIL 270: Feminist Philosophy, which is an elective in the women’s, gender, and sexuality studies major; PHIL 245: Bioethics, which draws students from biology and other sciences, including many pre-med students; and PHIL 255: Environmental Ethics, which serves as an elective in the environmental studies major. PHIL 102: Basic Social Questions is a course that fills the Values requirement of the common course of study, so it draws students from all class years and all majors.
Many of my courses deal with complex and often emotionally charged issues such as abortion, affirmative action, artificial intelligence, personal identity, gun control, drug laws, and mass incarceration. Of course, these topics generate lots of discussion in numerous venues and media platforms across the world; but in the philosophy classroom, we have the chance to discuss the topics with more patience, nuance, and open-mindedness than they often are elsewhere. Our courses focus on close readings of texts, civil and constructive dialogue, and the practice of spelling out an author’s reasoning in detail, in an environment in which we can better understand the various and often subtle positions available on a given topic. Each day, students and I challenge ourselves to examine our own beliefs with candor and humility, which helps foster our intellectual, social, and personal growth.
I’m fascinated by questions surrounding knowledge and language: What can we know about? How do we learn new things? What, if anything, can we learn about the nature of knowledge from how we talk about knowledge? And how might evidence and inquiry play a role in knowledge production?
In my work, I explore the idea that the process of learning something new involves moving through a series of steps toward an underlying question. We may begin a project by wondering what the answer to that question is. If motivated enough, we might then map out and investigate some possible answers. Evidence acquired helps us rule out some possibilities, and thus helps us zero in on what the correct answer is. When we eliminate enough wrong answers, we may believe that what remains is correct. This is knowledge by elimination. I’m interested in every step of this investigation and how we can move between the various stages in effective ways.
In addition to these theoretical questions, I’m also interested in more specific and applied knowledge- and language-related questions. In my research, I explore the possibility of empathizing with others, and I investigate whether empathy can actually allow us to know what another is feeling or what it’s like to experience what another has experienced. I also write about our ability to learn from what others know. Learning from someone else requires us to trust what they have to say. But how do we make appropriate judgments about whom to trust? How do we learn about the nature of ourselves and about features of our identity (including our gender), and how can we adequately communicate this knowledge to others?
My interest in these topics began when I was a student at Lafayette. In my senior honors thesis, I explored semantic puzzles about belief and the ways in which we interpret the beliefs of others. Luckily, when it comes to the human mind and language, the questions never expire! There’s always more to investigate and think about.
Spending my days engaging with curious, passionate, and attentive college students is a delight. For many students, Lafayette’s smaller class sizes allow them to get to know other classmates, and students are more comfortable joining the conversation in this type of personal environment. The small campus allows me to talk with and learn from brilliant and supportive colleagues from departments and programs across the College, as well as form lasting relationships with students. I enjoy mentoring students at all stages, from the beginning when they’re first adjusting to college life and figuring out what subjects fascinate them and what organizations excite them, to the end when they are making post-graduation plans and deciding their next steps.
Lafayette offers several forms of support for faculty research, student research, and faculty-student collaboration. Working with student EXCEL Scholars on some of my own scholarly projects has benefited my work, and it gives the students an opportunity to gain valuable research skills that can support their own success and development. I’m glad to be at an institution that also provides resources for students to pursue their own scholarly projects and share their scholarship with a larger academic community.
I also regularly talk with students about my ongoing research. I hope that, in doing so, I model the kind of lifelong learning that I hope for them. Additionally, knowing that the questions we take on in class are at the cutting edge of professional debates helps enliven class discussion and often motivates students to take the questions even more seriously than they might otherwise. This enhanced interest was palpable, for example, in my Feminist Philosophy class when I presented a conference paper discussing the nature of women and the meaning of “woman” at the end of the same week we discussed this topic in class. Upon my return, students seemed eager to hear about the views defended by other scholars and the objections raised to the various positions we had been discussing. Similar things have happened in Philosophy of Mind and Philosophy of Psychology when discussing empathy. Learning that I am working on the topic seems to remind students that our discussions are not mere academic exercises, but real attempts at making progress on vexing philosophical issues with real practical import.
I am an avid podcast listener. (And, as my students know, I’m always looking for recommendations!) I love being outdoors—walking on the beach, hiking in local parks, running long distances very slowly, and cheering on others in their own sports. I also enjoy developing my very amateur photography skills. It’s so lovely that there’s always so much more to learn.