“Marc’s performance was as if Socrates was reincarnated with Robin Williams. It is hard to get a class engaged right off the bat, but he did.”
(Anonymous student, from the 2020 Dean of Arts Teaching Award nomination)

Because of my interest in C. S. Peirce, I have done quite a bit of work on diagrammatic reasoning and the role of iconic signs in cognition, so obviously I use a lot of visuals when I teach. One of the things that my research emphasizes is that evaluating beliefs (and the reasons for those beliefs) is far more productive when one employs diagrams instead of speech. In fact, to replace the usual “Philosophy Club” and “Debate Team” templates, I have started a pilot project called the Reason Mapping Team. Using signs that aren’t indexed to an individual but instead reside in some external medium shifts the focus from the person to the ideas. Speech comes naturally to us, so we tend to construe conversation and dialogue in those terms. But, if one is after truth (and, by extension, the possibility of some eventual consensus), there is no reason to assume that our voice is the best tool for the job. Real time conversations fail to work precisely because they are conversations and unfold in real time, neither of which are conducive to rationality (that tiny function of our evolved brains). Debate is futile, so we need better signs.

For diagrams to reach their full potential and reveal surprising connections, reasoners must be left free to toy playfully with ideas, without the burden of commitment or the fear of reprimand. In keeping with this, the general outline of my class time is always prepared in advance, but so long as we cover what is on the daily menu, I purposely let the collective exercise unfold in an unscripted manner that leaves room for spontaneity, productive mistakes, and discoveries. My goal is to get students involved in a genuine deliberative process. “You feel strongly about an idea or cause?,” I ask them. “Great. But, many honest people besides yourself likely champion opposite ideas or causes that they also deem worthy. So, a sense of conviction will not amount to much unless we can get clear on the pros and cons of the various reasons. That requires hard work and proper tools.” When, in the course of learning those tools and putting in that hard work, it (slowly or suddenly) dawns on individual students that respect for reason and evidence holds real promise for the resolution of conflict and uncertainty, I feel I have made a lasting impact. I thus aspire to be a tattoo artist of the mind: I want our classes to hurt one’s brain a bit while they are happening and leave a permanent trace once they are over.

COURSES TAUGHT (as sole instructor of record):

Philosophy of Mind: Consciousness
Advanced Topics in Metaphysics and Epistemology
Seminar in Pragmatism
Business Ethics
Philosophy of Emotion
Early Modern Philosophy
Love and Desire
Philosophy of Sport and Recreation
Philosophy of Law
Sustainability: Analysis and Ethics
Great Philosophers of the Twentieth Century
Introduction to Formal Logic
Advanced Formal Logic
Critical Thinking
Introduction to Philosophy

Super Prof