Lorraine Besser

Professor of Philosophy

 work(802) 443-5098
 Twilight Hall 310

Lorraine Besser earned her PhD in philosophy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has MA degrees from UNC and the Claremont Graduate School, and a BA from Tulane University. Before joining the philosophy department at Middlebury College, she held positions at the University of Waterloo and Stanford University.

Professor Besser’s primary area of research is in moral psychology. Her book, Eudaimonic Ethics: The Philosophy and Psychology of Living Well was published by Routledge Press in 2014. In it, she develops a eudaimonistic virtue ethics that is based in a psychologically-informed account of human nature. Professor Besser has also published a number of articles on David Hume's moral psychology and is the co-editor of the Routledge Companion to Virtue Ethics.

She teaches classes on both historical and contemporary ethical theory, applied ethics, and early modern philosophy.



Course List: 

Courses offered in the past four years.
indicates offered in the current term
indicates offered in the upcoming term[s]

FYSE 1295 - Visions of Mortality      

Visions of Mortality
In this seminar we will examine the nature, meaning, and implications of our mortality. We will begin by examining historical and contemporary philosophical views on death and by considering questions such as: Can an understanding of death tell us anything about what makes life good? How should the fact of our mortality influence the lives we lead? We will then address contemporary biomedical issues regarding death, considering questions such as: How does technology influence our conception of death? What attitude ought we to embrace regarding increasing advances in life-extending medical treatments? Readings will likely include works by Tolstoy, Lucretius, Nagel, Camus, and Callahan. 3 hrs. sem. CW PHL

Fall 2015

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FYSE 1519 - Happiness      

Once the philosophers’ domain, research on happiness is now burgeoning across disciplines. This interdisciplinary push re-awakens longstanding philosophical questions (What is happiness? What is the connection between happiness and virtue?) and breathes new life into our philosophical analyses of happiness. In this seminar we will explore new research on happiness. We begin with tough philosophical questions about the nature of happiness and how best to characterize happiness. We will then explore leading theories and interdisciplinary research on what makes us happy and the implications these theories have for the study of happiness. 3 hrs. sem. CW PHL

Fall 2018

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NSCI 0700 - Senior Research      

Senior Research
This course is for senior NSCI majors who plan to conduct one or more semesters of independent research, or who plan to complete preparatory work toward a senior thesis, such as researching and writing a thesis proposal as well as, if appropriate, collecting data that will form the basis for a senior thesis. Senior NSCI majors who plan to complete a senior thesis should register initially for NSCI 0700. Additional requirements may include participation in weekly meetings with advisors and/or lab groups and attending neuroscience seminars. (Approval required, open to seniors only)

Winter 2016, Winter 2017

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NSCI 0701 - Senior Thesis      

Senior Thesis
Senior NSCI majors who have completed one or more terms of NSCI 0700, who have a GPA of 3.3 in their major courses, and who plan to complete a senior thesis should register for NSCI 0701 for the final semester of the senior thesis process. Students enrolled in NSCI 0701 write a thesis, give a public presentation of their research, and present an oral defense of the thesis before a committee of at least two Neuroscience faculty members. Faculty may recommend High honors in Neuroscience after considering the quality of these components of a student’s thesis and the student’s GPA in major courses. Additional requirements may include participation in weekly meetings with advisors and/or lab groups and attending neuroscience seminars. (NSCI 0700, Approval required)

Spring 2016, Spring 2017

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PHIL 0156 - Contemporary Moral Issues      

Contemporary Moral Issues
We will examine a selection of pressing moral problems of our day, seeking to understand the substance of the issues and learning how moral arguments work. We will focus on developing our analytical skills, which we can then use to present and criticize arguments on difficult moral issues. Selected topics may include world poverty, animal rights, abortion, euthanasia, human rights, just and unjust wars, capital punishment, and racial and gender issues. You will be encouraged to question your own beliefs on these issues, and in the process to explore the limit and extent to which ethical theory can play a role in everyday ethical decision making. 2 hrs.lect./1 hr. disc. PHL

Fall 2016, Fall 2018, Fall 2019

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PHIL 0205 - Human Nature & Ethics      

Human Nature and Ethics
This course offers a historical introduction to different views of morality and human nature, and the relationship between them. We will cover the central figures of both the ancient and modern periods of philosophy and consider their answers to questions fundamental to our lives and the decisions we make. We will consider the nature of the good life, happiness, and the virtues; whether or not a moral life is in our nature, and whether reason or emotions are the best guides to morality; and the nature of justice, and what role it plays for creatures like us. The philosophers we will study include Aristotle, Hobbes, Butler, Mill, and Kant. 3 hrs lect. EUR PHL

Spring 2016

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PHIL 0250 - Early Modern Philosophy      

Early Modern Philosophy
This course offers an introduction to some of the most influential European philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries: Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. We will consider and critically examine the responses these thinkers gave to various questions in metaphysics and epistemology, including the following: What is the relationship between reality and our perception of reality? What is the nature of the mind and how is it related to the body? What is the nature of physical reality? Which of our beliefs, if any, do we have good reason to maintain in the face of radical skepticism? 3 hrs lect. EUR PHL

Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2019, Fall 2019

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PHIL 0310 - Moral Psychology      

Moral Psychology
Moral psychology is the study of human behavior in the context of morality. How do we think about morality? How do we make moral judgments? How do we behave in moral situations? Answering these questions forces us to think deeply about the nature of our actions and the way we do and should evaluate them. In this course we will explore these questions and more. Specific topics covered may include altruism and egoism, moral judgment, moral responsibility, practical deliberation, intentional action, virtue and vice, character, and moral development. Readings will be drawn from both philosophy and psychology. 3 hrs sem PHL SOC

Spring 2017, Spring 2019

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PHIL 0410 - The Good Life      

The Good Life
What is the good life? In this course we will explore the philosophy of happiness and well-being in an effort to better understand the nature of the good life. Specific topics will include the nature of human flourishing and the role that virtue and interpersonal relationships play in the development of the good life. Readings will be primarily by contemporary authors and will be drawn from both philosophical and psychological perspectives. (Junior or Senior Philosophy Majors, or by waiver) 3 hrs. sem. PHL

Fall 2016

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PHIL 0500 - Resrch In Philosophy      

Research in Philosophy
Supervised independent research in philosophy. (Approval required).

Fall 2015, Winter 2016, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Winter 2017, Spring 2017, Fall 2018, Winter 2019, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Winter 2020, Spring 2020

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PHIL 0700 - Senior Thesis      

Senior Thesis
(Approval Required)

Fall 2015, Winter 2016, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Winter 2017, Spring 2017, Fall 2018

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PHIL 1010 - Philosophy of Happiness      

The Philosophy of Happiness
This is a course on the philosophy of happiness, well-being, and human flourishing. We will consider both the big questions about the nature of these states (for instance, “What is happiness?” and “Is it necessary for a worthwhile life?”) and the specific topics typically taken to be essential to these states, such as pleasure, life satisfaction, virtue, and agency. While working from a philosophical perspective, we will integrate psychological research from the field of “positive psychology” into our analyses. Our readings will draw on contemporary works by both philosophers and psychologists, and will include works by Haybron, Feldman, Csikszentmihalyi, Diener, and Seligman. (Not open to students who have taken FYSE 1519). PHL WTR

Winter 2019

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Select Publications

Eudaimonic Ethics: The Philosophy and Psychology of Living Well (Routledge Press,  2014).

The Routledge Companion to Virtue Ethics (Routledge Press, 2015). Co-edited with Michael Slote.

“Two Objections to Virtue Ethics.” Ethics and Politics (forthcoming). Special Issue on Virtue Ethics, ed. Alessio Vaccari. 

“The Pursuit and Nature of Happiness.” Philosophical Topics, 41(1), (2013), pp. 103-122.

“The Role of Practical Reason in an Empirically Informed Moral Theory.” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 15(2), (2012), pp. 202-220.
“The Motivational State of the Virtuous Agent.” Philosophical Psychology, 25(1), (2012), pp. 93-108.
“Hume on Pride-in-Virtue: A Reliable Motive?” Hume Studies 36(2), (2010), pp. 171-193.
“Social Psychology, Moral Character, and Moral Fallibility.”  Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 76(2), (2008), pp. 310-332.
“The Role of Justice in Hume’s Theory of Psychological Development.” Hume Studies 32(2), (2006), pp. 253-276.

Department of Philosophy

Twilight Hall
50 Franklin Street
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753

802.443.6011 fax