Derek A. Leben

Derek A. Leben, Philosophy of Language, Fall 2018

Course Description

Philosophers have been interested in language for two reasons. First, it has always been a mystery how strings of sounds or marks on paper get such important properties like “being about things” and “having a meaning.” Second, it might be the case that finding out what we mean by certain words and claims can help clarify or even eliminate some apparent philosophical problems. We will consider four approaches to how sounds, gestures, and markings become meaningful: (1) Standing as a model or representation of states of affairs in the world, (2) Having a causal connection to physical environments, (3) Being a part of goal-directed social practices, or (4) Being a part of a specific kind of psychological system.

Required Texts:

Philosophy of Language (2nd Ed.), by William Lycan
Words and Rules, by Steven Pinker
The Stuff of Thought, by Steven Pinker

Syllabus: 

Derek A. Leben, Philosophy of Religion, Fall 2018

Course Description:

This course will examine arguments for and against the existence of a traditional monotheistic God, as understood in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Texts:

Exploring Philosophy of Religion (2nd), ed. Steven Cahn

Syllabus: 

Derek A. Leben, Concepts of Human Nature, Fall 2018

Course Description:

This course will examine historically important views of human nature and critically evaluate them. Discovering what features are natural to humans is important for personal identity, the ethical treatment of humans, and political planning. We will divide these views into four broad categories: (I) noble animals, (II) satisfiers, (III) environmental products, (IV) evolutionary and historical products.

Texts:

De Anima by Aristotle
Civilization and its Discontents by Sigmund Freud
Beyond Freedom and Dignity by B.F. Skinner
The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker

Syllabus: 

Derek A. Leben, Introduction to Ethics, Fall 2017

Course Description:
All humans make judgments about actions that are permissible, forbidden, and required. In order to justify these judgments and make them consistent, a theory is needed. This class is an introduction to ethical theories, and is divided into two sections. The first half investigates the most successful ethical theories, and the second half applies these theories to specific topics in food production, medicine, war, and everyday life.

Required Texts:

Exploring Ethics by Steven Cahn (4th edition)

You are officially encouraged to buy your book at the campus bookstore. I am fine with purchasing copies of the book elsewhere (i.e., Amazon), but you are expected to have the book by the second class to keep up with the readings.

Syllabus: 

Derek A. Leben, Ethics for Artificial Intelligence, Spring 2018

Course Description
As machines become capable of simulating human intelligence to a greater degree, there is an urgent need for a set of algorithms specifying which actions are wrong and which are permissible. There is a non-negligible likelihood that, without these ethics algorithms, the human species faces imminent destruction. This course will discuss the prospects for developing ethics algorithms for artificial intelligence systems.

Required Texts:
• Superintelligence, by Nick Bostrom
• Life 3.0, by Max Tegmark

Derek A. Leben, Philosophy of Technology, Spring 2018

Course Description

This class satisfies a general education requirement for the “World of Science and Nature.” One of the goals of the class is to analyze the structure and function of technology as both a social phenomenon and a natural phenomenon.

Required Texts:

• Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence
• Mediated: how the media shapes the world and the way you live in it
• The Case Against Perfection: Ethics in an age of genetic engineering
• The Economic Singularity: Artificial Intelligence and the Death of Capitalism

Syllabus: 

Derek A. Leben, Introduction to Philosophical Problems, Spring 2018

Course Description

Philosophy is the use of arguments and evidence to address foundational issues in human experience. This class will be an introduction to these issues, the methods philosophers use to address them, and some arguments that have been proposed to answer them. The topics are divided into six sections:
(I) Religion: Does God exist, and why does that matter?
(II) Mind: What kind of thing am I?
(III) Epistemology: What can we know, and how can we know it?
(IV) Ethics: How should we treat each other?
(V) Society: How should we organize society, and who should be in control?
(VI) The Purpose of Life: Why is death to be avoided, and life to be preferred?

Required Texts:

Exploring Philosophy (ed. Stephen Cahn)

Derek A. Leben, Introduction to Ethics, Fall 2017

Course Description:

All humans make judgments about actions that are permissible, forbidden, and required. In order
to justify these judgments and make them consistent, a theory is needed. This class is an introduction to ethical theories, and is divided into two sections. The first half investigates the most successful ethical theories, and the second half applies these theories to specific topics in food production, medicine, war, and everyday life.

Required Texts:

Exploring Ethics by Steven Cahn

Syllabus: 

Derek A. Leben, Environmental Ethics, Fall 2017

Course Description:

This course deals with ethical issues having to do with humanity's relationship to the environment. The course is divided into an introductory segment followed by three units. The first unit is about “anthropocentric” approaches to the environment, which view humans as the only thing of moral value. The second unit looks at attempts to expand the realm of moral standing to animals, species, life, and even nature itself. The third unit addresses corporate and governmental responsibilities, if any, to the environment.

Required Texts:

No textbook- all readings are available on courseweb.

Syllabus: 

Derek A. Leben, Social Philosophy, Spring 2017

Course Description:

Other animals have what we might call ‘societies,’ but humans have developed a unique kind of society involving a specialized distribution of labor, central political authorities, trade, specialization, and class hierarchies. Social groups are even essential to how we identify ourselves as individuals. But which social organizations are better or worse? This course will present both classic and contemporary views on the nature of human societies- emphasizing both their virtues and their problems. It is divided into four units:

Unit I: A Flourishing Society- what are the essential features of human societies, and what are their virtues?

Unit II: Class and Individuals- how are social hierarchies created, especially economic classes? Are these hierarchies an acceptable part of a good society?

Unit III: Social Identities- how do race, gender, and other social categories become part of a person’s identity? Should people identify themselves and others by membership in a social category?

Unit IV: Social Justice- what are the unfair ways in which our society is structured, and how do we fix them?

Texts:

All readings will be provided electronically through Courseweb! I am asking that, in appreciation for not needing to buy books, you please go to the trouble of reading the texts. You can pass the class without doing the readings, but why would you want to? These are some of the most important things ever written in human history, and now is your opportunity to read them!

Syllabus: 

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Derek A. Leben