Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Lorraine Besser-Jones 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-Jones’s primary area of research is in moral psychology. She is currently writing a book manuscript in which she develops an empirically constructed account of virtue. She also has interests in the history of ethics and, in particular, David Hume’s moral psychology. Her most recent work on Hume explores the extent to which a concern for one’s character plays into Hume’s understanding of moral motivation.
She teaches classes on both historical and contemporary ethical theory, applied ethics, and early modern philosophy.
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.
Spring 2010, Fall 2012
PHIL 0151 - Intro Phil: Mortal Question
Introduction to Philosophy: Mortal Questions
This course is an issue-based introduction to core philosophical questions such as the following: What is the nature of reality, and can we ever know it? What is the relation between mind and body, and could computers ever think? What is the nature of the self? Do humans have free will? Is there such a thing as an objective right and wrong? Can we say God exists in the face of all the evil in the world? Readings will be drawn from both traditional philosophers (e.g., Descartes, Hume, Locke, Russell) and contemporary reflections on the issues (e.g., Nagel, Searle, Williams). Cannot be taken by students with credit for PHIL 0150. 3 hrs. lect., 1 hr. disc.
Fall 2009, Fall 2010
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.
Spring 2011, Fall 2013
PHIL 0206 - 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.
Fall 2012, Fall 2013
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.
Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2013
PHIL 0326 - Biomedical Ethics
The field of biomedical ethics explores ethical issues pertaining to both the practice of medicine and the pursuit of biomedical research. In this course we will explore topics central to biomedical ethics at an advanced level. We will consider topics fundamental to the study of life and death, such as reproductive technologies, physician-assisted suicide, and euthanasia, as well as the micro- and macro- issues specific to medicine and biomedical research, such as consent, confidentiality, and paternalism, experimentation with human subjects, and resource allocation. (Previous philosophy course or waiver) 3 hrs. sem.
Fall 2009, Spring 2013
PHIL 0404 - Morality and Its Critics
Morality and Its Critics
In this course we will examine critically the three main methods of morality: consequentialism, deontology, and virtue theory. Questions to be considered include: What should be the aim of a moral theory? To what extent should considerations of the good life enter into a moral theory? Is morality even compatible with the good life? Do moral obligations have to play a central role in moral theory? To what extent should morality be compatible with social psychology? Familiarity with consequentialism, deontology, and virtue theory will be helpful, but not required. (Designed for senior majors; open to others by waiver.) 3 hrs sem.
PHIL 0500 - Resrch In Philosophy ▲ ▹
Research in Philosophy
Supervised independent research in philosophy. (Approval requiredl.
Fall 2009, Winter 2010, Spring 2010, Fall 2010, Winter 2011, Spring 2011, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014
PHIL 0700 - Senior Thesis ▲ ▹
Fall 2009, Winter 2010, Spring 2010, Fall 2010, Winter 2011, Spring 2011, Fall 2012, Winter 2013, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014
PHIL 1009 - Self-Defense and War
Self-Defense and War
Self-defense is widely accepted as the sole justification for war. In this course we will investigate moral and legal justifications for self-defense on both the individual and collective levels. We will consider questions such as: Why is self-defense justified between individuals? Can similar justifications be used to justify self-defense between states? Can appeals to self-defense be extended to modify international legal policies to include, for example, humanitarian intervention and/or preemptive strikes? In exploring these questions, we will read historical and contemporary authors such as Augustine, Grotius, Walzer, McMahan and Buchanan. Students will pursue independent research for a final project.
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.
“Hume on Pride-in-Virtue: A Reliable Motive?” Hume Studies, forthcoming.
“The Role of Practical Reason in an Empirically Informed Moral Theory.” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, forthcoming.
“The Motivational State of the Virtuous Agent.” Philosophical Psychology, forthcoming.
“Social Psychology, Moral Character, and Moral Fallibility.”Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 76(2), (2008), pp. 310-332.
“Personal Integrity, Morality, and Psychological Well-Being.”Journal of Moral Philosophy, 5(3) (2008), pp. 361-383.
“The Role of Justice in Hume’s Theory of Psychological Development.” Hume Studies 32(2), (2006), pp. 253-276.
“What Drives the Virtuous?” American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division (Boston, MA) December 2010.
“Hume on the Enjoyment of Character.” 37th International Hume Conference (Antwerp, Belgium) July 2010.
“Virtue, not Jealousy: Hume’s View of Social Dependency.” American Philosophical Association, Pacific Division (Vancouver, BC) April 2009.
“Contingency and Comparison in Hume’s Enjoyment of Character View: A Commentary on Michael Gill’s The British Moralists on Human Nature and the Birth of Secular Ethics.” Author –Meets- Critics Session, The Hume Society, (Iceland) August 2008.
“Driven By Comparison? An Analysis of Pride and Amour-Propre.” Canadian Philosophical Association (Vancouver, BC) June 2008.
“The Efﬁcacy and Plausibility of Aristotelian and Kantian Accounts of Moral Motivation: Is It Really Better to Enjoy What We Do?” Society for Philosophy in the Contemporary World Session at the American Philosophical Association, Central Division (Chicago, IL) April 2008.