The Human Condition

This course focuses on three main topics. First, the notion of authenticity is examined. Here the focus is on getting a clearer understanding of the place of the human subject in the world. The course considers this topic from both a historical perspective (how did people understand their place in the world througout history) and a contemporary perspective (what sort of factors shape our understanding of who we are today). In examining this topic, the course relies upon two books: Charles Guignon's On Being Authentic (Amazon) and Charles Taylors's The Ethics of Authenticity (Amazon). Here is a sample set of slides that focuses on the pre-modern view of the self: The Premodern View of the Self (PDF slides).

The second topic considered is death. Here I rely upon Ben Bradley's excellent book Well-Being and Death (Amazon). This book introduces the topic of death first by outling various theories of well-being, e.g. hedonism, truth-adjusted hedonism, desire-fulfillment theories, etc. It then proceeds to introduce a principle for evaluating the harm (badness) of death called the difference-making principle before turning to puzzles about death an applied issues (e.g. abortion, psychology, animals, and minimizing the harm of death). A video on the difference-making principle is provided below.


The third topic considered is economic inequality. Here I rely upon Harry Frankfurt's book On Inequality (Amazon). This book considers the argument that since economic inequality is intrinsically bad, economic equality is intrinsically good. Frankfurt argues against the claim that economic equality is an intrinsic good (arguing that in some cases equality is the worst outcome) and for the view that we ought to be focused on ensuring that individuals "have enough" rather than "having the same."

The Good Life

I taught an earlier version of the Human Nature course as a first-year seminar titled "Philosophy of the Good Life." The course introduced students to aspects of life at the university (e.g. how to communicate with faculty, maintaining a healthy school-life balance, etc.) but also focused on theories of well-being. Some theories included: hedonism, desire-fulfilment theory, objective list theories, perfectionist theories, the happiness theory, and hybrid theories. In examining these theories, the course relied primarily on Guy Fletcher's 2016 book The Philosophy of Well-Being: An Introduction (Amazon link). The course concluded with an examination of economic equality and love, using Harry Frankfurt's On Inequality (Amazon link) and The Reasons of Love (Amazon link) respectively.

The handouts for this course can be found here: Philosophy of Well-Being Handouts, but they have largely been superceded by the content found in the Human Condition course.