Ph.D., Princeton University (1974)
Before coming to Columbia, I taught at the University of California, San Diego, and before that at the University of Minnesota. Early in my career, I was primarily interested in philosophy of mathematics and general philosophy of science. During the late 1970s, I became very concerned with the philosophy of biology. That concern led me to investigate not only conceptual and methodological issues in biology, but also questions about the relations of biological research to society and politics. During the 1990s, my interests broadened further to embrace the role of scientific inquiry in democratic societies. Since coming to Columbia, that line of investigation has been further elaborated in relation to pragmatism (especially William James and John Dewey). Part of this work advances a program for naturalistic ethics (one I take to be Deweyan in spirit). I have also developed a program of research in philosophical themes in literature and music, focusing so far on Joyce and Wagner, and, in a new book, on Thomas Mann and Mahler.
During my time as Director of Undergraduate Studies (2008-11), most of my teaching was in undergraduate classes. Now I am once again teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. For graduate students, I offer seminars on pragmatism and on naturalistic ethics. I am also prepared to work with graduate students individually and in small groups, if they want to prepare themselves to write in areas of my research where a critical mass of qualified students for a seminar is more difficult to achieve (e.g. Philosophy of Biology, Science and Democracy, Philosophy in/and/of Literature). At the undergraduate level, I have taught in Columbia’s Core Curriculum, serving as Chair of Contemporary Civilization from 2004 to 2007, and, more recently, teaching Literature Humanities. I teach undergraduate courses on Dewey, Science and Religion, Darwin, Philosophical Problems of Climate Change, Philosophy and Literature, and (in the Department of English and Comparative Literature) on Joyce and on Finnegans Wake.
Following Dewey, I believe in the need for a reconstruction of philosophy (so that it will not be a “sentimental indulgence for the few”), and I worry about the increasing narrowness and professionalization of academic philosophy. In working with graduate students, I hope to instill a capacity for clarity and rigor without sacrificing the sense of why philosophy matters.
The Ethical Project, Harvard University Press, 2011
Science in a Democratic Society, Prometheus Books, 2011
Preludes to Pragmatism, Oxford University Press, 2012
Philosophy of Science: A New Introduction (with Gillian Barker), Oxford University Press, 2013
Deaths in Venice: The Cases of Gustav von Aschenbach, Columbia University Press, 2013
My Terry Lectures, delivered at Yale in the Spring of 2013, will be published during 2014. The title is presently undetermined, but the topic is Secular Humanism as a positive perspective.
Pragmatism (especially Dewey); Science and Social Issues; Naturalistic Ethics; Philosophy in Literature