I see teaching as a foundational element of my work as a philosopher. It was in lively seminars as an undergraduate that I first fell in love with philosophy. I recreate such classrooms for my students: inclusive learning environments, in which philosophical texts and questions become authentically meaningful for students. Further thoughts on pedagogy and on creating a diverse and inclusive classroom are available upon request (rhanlon11 [at] uchicago [.] edu).
As Sole Instructor (Syllabi Available upon Request)
Dividing the Mind: A History (Spring 2023)
We often readily accept the thought that a person (or their mind, soul, or self) can be divided. We find it natural to speak of a self as made up of distinct parts (“a part of me wants that doughnut, even though I know it’s unhealthy”). Versions of this idea have been embraced throughout the history of philosophy, psychology, and biology. In this course, we will trace and examine the history of this idea. In doing so, we will come to see how differently, and in such different contexts, the idea of a divided mind or self has been employed. In the first half of the course, we will examine the origin of the notion as it emerged in Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, especially in the works of Plato and Aristotle. In the second half, we will observe how these themes were later recycled for new problems, or how they were rejected as views of the mind and nature changed, up until contemporary philosophy, psychology, and cognitive science, in thinkers like Du Bois, Freud, Fodor, and Davidson.
An Introduction to Philosophy Through Film (Spring 2022)
Film has been and is perhaps our central artistic medium, influencing and reflecting the values of our time, while also exploring perennial aspects of the human condition. Movies then present powerful avenues through which to engage with our deepest and most enduring philosophical questions. This course serves as a general introduction to philosophy, using films to explore the practice of thinking philosophically, as well as the broad range of questions and themes with which philosophers have concerned themselves for over 3,000 years, such as: How can we be free if we are subject to the laws of nature? How can we know or perceive anything with certainty? What is a just political community? Can we ever determine the right answer to ethical dilemmas? To explore these questions, we will discuss a wide selection of films, from The Third Man to Office Space to Blade Runner; we will examine how philosophers themselves have engaged directly with those films; and we will study philosophical texts, both historical and contemporary, that address questions raised by those films.
Ancient Philosophies as Ways of Life (Winter 2023)
Contemporary philosophy is often seen as one academic discipline among many. But throughout much of its history, philosophy was not conceived of as narrow discipline, but as an all-encompassing “way of life”—even the most abstract theoretical contemplation was embedded within concrete, practical concerns and a view of the good life. We will explore this alternative conception of philosophy by examining central ancient Greek and Roman philosophical traditions, seeing how those philosophers saw their thinking as describing, instantiating, and guiding entire ways of living. Thinkers to be discussed include Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Marcus Aurelius, and Sextus Empiricus. We will also look to interpreters of the ancient tradition that seek to revitalize this alternative conception, such as Pierre Hadot, John Cooper, and Michel Foucault. In doing so, we will not only survey ancient Greek and Roman thought, but assess whether this alternative conception of philosophy remains viable and how one might live an examined, philosophical life.
The Philosophy of Film (Fall 2022)
Film has arguably become the central artistic medium of our time. It is not surprising, then, that philosophers have turned to movies as a fruitful subject for philosophy. But how have and should philosophers interact with film? In this course, we will try to answer this question. In the first part, we will explore how philosophers have reflected on the nature of film, exploring questions such as: is film “art”? Do films have authors? What is the metaphysical and epistemological status of films or the worlds that they depict? Do movies tell the truth or represent reality? Why do we watch horror movies if they disgust us? In the second part, we will examine the relationship between philosophy and film. Can films do philosophy? Can they express complex thoughts, or even arguments? Can films corrupt or improve us morally? Can movies perform social critique? To answer all of these questions, we will both read philosopher’s written reflections on film and watch philosophy rich films.
Philosophical Perspectives 1 (2022)
A Core course that explores the ways that Ancient Greek and contemporary texts engage and question the activity of philosophy. We consider how ancient thinkers saw philosophy as a way of life, and what implications this thought had for their beliefs about central philosophical issues: e.g., the nature of souls, the authority of law, the good life, self-knowledge, the limit of reason. Texts include Plato’s Apology, Euthyphro, Crito, and Phaedo, Sophocles’ Theban Trilogy, Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.
Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind (Winter 2022)
What is a mind? How does the mind relate to one’s brain and body? In what sense can nonhuman animals or computers think? How does our subjective experience relate to the objective world? Versions of these questions have been the focus of reflections on the mind since the beginning of philosophy, which have been grouped under the banner of ‘philosophy of mind’. In this class we will examine central questions in the philosophy of mind, looking to theories that contemporary philosophers have given about the nature of the mind, and their relationship to the increasingly detailed accounts of the natural world that physical and biological sciences provide. Key topics to be investigated are the mind-body problem, as well as its implications for our understanding of consciousness, intentionality, mental content, and personal identity.
Ancient Greek and Roman Conceptions of Soul (Winter 2022)
This course traces a central thread in ancient Greek and Roman thought—the nature of the soul (psuchê). Standing far from what we now associate with the word ‘soul,’ psuchê was treated as the distinguishing mark of life, and the subject of activities like perceiving, feeling emotions, and thinking. Yet the notion also went through radical transformations: from the soul’s mythical beginnings in the Homeric epics, to its immortalization in the Platonic dialogues, to its scientific treatment in Aristotelian biology, to its materialist character in Stoic and Epicurean philosophy. These changes reflected evolving answers to a variety of fundamental questions, such as: what is the relation of soul to body? What is the nature of human reason and thought? Do nonhuman organisms have souls? Is the soul immortal? We will explore these changes, seeing how they were symptomatic of diverging explanations of the natural world, life, the gods, the human good, and immortality. We will also explore how these conceptions foreshadow or depart from contemporary theories of mind, life, and personal identity.
Human Being and Citizen (Fall 2021)
A Core course that explores the ways that Ancient Greek and Abrahamic texts conceive of, express ideals about, and articulate tensions in conceptions and practices of justice, human and divine law, and emotion. Texts include Homer’s Iliad, the book of Genesis, Plato’s Apology, Symposium Laches, Sophocles’ Antigone, and Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.
Philosophy goes to the Movies (Summer 2021)
A seminar for the University of Chicago’s Collegiate Scholars Program, introducing high-achieving students from Chicago public schools to central topics in philosophy through popular films (such as Blade Runner and Arrival).
Aristotle’s On the Soul (Spring 2020)
Aristotle’s De Anima (On the Soul) contains his general account of soul, understood as the principle and cause of life. This text has been foundational to much of the philosophical and scientific reflections on life and the mind that have followed. Philosophers from Aquinas to Hegel have praised its richness and insight; contemporary psychologists, cognitive scientists, and biologists have found in it a predecessor to contemporary conceptions of mind, perception, and life. In reading De Anima, then, we can come face to face with the origins of our own conceptions of life. Yet it has also struck some modern readers as quite alien. De Anima’s scope doesn’t fit neatly within contemporary philosophy of mind, psychology, or biology; it instead offers an idiosyncratic ‘metaphysics of life’, which to some has appeared hopelessly antiquated in our post-Cartesian age. We will engage in a close reading of the whole of De Anima, giving particular attention to Aristotle’s greatest achievement in De Anima: his hylomorphic conception of soul, according to which the soul is ‘form’ and ‘actuality’, and the body is ‘matter’ and ‘potentiality’. We will use an understanding of this doctrine to address Aristotle’s most infamous and enigmatic claims in De Anima: that the soul and the body are one, that nutrition and reproduction are imitations of the divine, that perception is a reception of form, and that intellect is both nothing and everything. Our goal will be not only to understand Aristotle on his own terms, but also to see how modern philosophical problems about life and mindedness (e.g., AI, consciousness) look from an Aristotelian perspective.
As Teaching Assistant
History of Philosophy 1: Ancient Philosophy (Fall 2019)
A survey of ancient Greek philosophy, focusing centrally on Plato and Aristotle.
Ancient Greek Aesthetics (Winter 2018)
A survey of Greek conceptions of beauty and its ethical force, focusing on the aesthetic theories of Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus.