John Spackman
Office
Twilight Hall 309
Tel
(802) 443-3271
Email
jspackma@middlebury.edu

John Spackman earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University. He also has an M.A. in Religion from Columbia University, where he focused on Buddhist philosophy and religion, and he received his B.A. in philosophy from Grinnell College. His primary teaching and research interests are in the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of language, the philosophy of religion, and aesthetics. He regularly teaches courses in all of these areas, including PHIL 0252 Philosophy of Mind, PHIL 0360 Consciousness, PHIL 0354 Philosophy of Language, PHIL 0232 Philosophy of Religion, and PHIL 0232 Aesthetics.

The focus of Professor Spackman’s current research is on the relation between experience and language, and in particular on recent debates about whether various types of experience should be viewed as conceptual or non-conceptual - as mediated by concepts, or as independent of concepts. He is currently working on several articles specifically about whether everyday visual experience is conceptual or nonconceptual, but he is also interested in this question as it concerns religious experience and aesthetic experience. A background interest for these questions concerns the nature of concepts themselves, specifically whether and how they are structured, and what this structure implies about the categorization of experience. He also has a special research interest in Buddhist philosophy, and in particular on Buddhist perspectives on the relations between mind, language, and reality

Courses Taught

Course Description

Faith and Reason
In this seminar we will explore perennial and contemporary questions in the philosophy of religion: Is there a God? Are objective proofs of God possible, or is religious belief founded on subjective feelings? What is faith? The modern period has been a time of unprecedented crisis for religion, and we will focus in particular on these challenges and responses to them. Is religion, as Freud thought, just wish-fulfillment? Is religious belief compatible with science? Can any religion claim to be the true religion given the plurality of religious faiths? Readings will include works by St. Augustine, St. Anselm, Kant, Kierkegaard, William James, Freud, and contemporary philosophers. 3 hrs. sem.

Terms Taught

Fall 2020

Requirements

CW, PHL

View in Course Catalog

Course Description

Terms Taught

Winter 2019

View in Course Catalog

Course Description

Independent Research
Students enrolled in NSCI 0500 complete individual research projects involving laboratory or extensive library study on a topic chosen by the student and approved in advance by a NSCI faculty advisor. This course is not open to seniors; seniors should enroll in NSCI 0700. (Approval required)

Terms Taught

Fall 2018, Winter 2019, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Winter 2020, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Winter 2021, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Winter 2022, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Winter 2023, Spring 2023

View in Course Catalog

Course Description

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)

Terms Taught

Fall 2018, Winter 2019, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Winter 2020, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Winter 2021, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Winter 2022, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Winter 2023, Spring 2023

View in Course Catalog

Course Description

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)

Terms Taught

Fall 2018, Winter 2019, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Winter 2020, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Winter 2021, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Winter 2022, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Winter 2023, Spring 2023

View in Course Catalog

Course Description

Introduction to World Philosophy
This course will offer a comparative introduction to a number of world philosophical traditions, including those of Europe and America, India, China, and Africa. We will consider central debates within these traditions, including: How should we live? What is the ultimate nature of reality, and how can we come to know it? What is the nature of the self, and how does it relate to society? We will also investigate the broader question of whether truth and morality are relative to culture. Central readings will include works by Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Lao Tzu, Confucius, and contemporary African philosophers, as well as Hindu and Buddhist texts. 2 hrs. lect,1 hr. disc.

Terms Taught

Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2022

Requirements

CMP, PHL

View in Course Catalog

Course Description

Philosophy of Mind
What is the nature of the mind, and how does it relate to the body and the physical world? Could computers ever think? Do animals have mental and emotional lives? This course will explore several of the major recent philosophical conceptions of the mind. A central focus will be on evaluating various attempts to explain the mind in purely physical terms, including the project of artificial intelligence (AI). Can these theories give us a complete understanding of the mind? Other key questions will include: What is the nature of thought, and how is it capable of representing the world? What is consciousness, and can it be explained physically? 3 hrs. lect./1 hr. disc.

Terms Taught

Fall 2018, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021

Requirements

PHL

View in Course Catalog

Course Description

Philosophy of Language
Speaking a language is a complex form of behavior that plays a rich and varied role in human life. The philosophy of language seeks to give a philosophical account of this phenomenon, focusing on such questions as: How does language gain meaning? How does meaning relate to truth and reference? What is conveyed by different speech acts? In the Public Humanities Lab component of the course, students will apply their understanding of these themes to case studies involving issues such as free speech, linguistic oppression and silencing, the meaning of terms for gender and race, and truth in political speech. Readings will include works by Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, and contemporary journal articles. (Previous course in philosophy or waiver.) 3 hrs lect.

Terms Taught

Spring 2021

Requirements

PHL

View in Course Catalog

Course Description

Concepts: The Stuff of Thought
Concepts are often regarded as “the stuff of thought”: they allow us to categorize the world, learn about it, and navigate through it. But what are they, and how do they relate to reality? In this course we will examine prominent contemporary philosophical theories of concepts, drawing as well on readings from cognitive science and neuroscience. Possible topics include: Is it possible to define concepts? How are they mentally represented? Is reality relative to conceptual schemes? Do concepts give us knowledge of reality or hinder our awareness of it? Is perception nonconceptual? Do animals have concepts? (Junior and senior majors, or by waiver.) 3 hrs. sem.

Terms Taught

Fall 2019, Fall 2022

Requirements

PHL

View in Course Catalog

Course Description

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

Terms Taught

Fall 2018, Winter 2019, Fall 2019, Winter 2020, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Winter 2021, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Winter 2022, Fall 2022, Winter 2023

View in Course Catalog

Course Description

Senior Thesis
(Approval Required)

Terms Taught

Fall 2018

View in Course Catalog

Course Description

Senior Independent Research
In this course senior philosophy majors will complete an independent research project. The course has two components: (1) a group workshop in which students refine their research skills and develop parts of their projects, and (2) individual meetings with an adviser who is knowledgeable about the student's research topic. Students will engage in research activities such as tutorials and peer reviews. Before the course begins, students’ research topics and advisers will be decided in consultation with members of the department. (Senior majors.) 3 hrs. sem.

Terms Taught

Fall 2021

View in Course Catalog

Course Description

Consciousness
In this course we will focus on contemporary philosophical issues in the study of consciousness, drawing as well on recent research in neuroscience and psychology, and on the insights of traditional Buddhist accounts of consciousness. Questions to be addressed include: What is the nature of our conscious subjective experience, and how does it relate to self-awareness? Does consciousness create a “grand illusion,” or does it represent the world correctly? Can we find the neural correlates of consciousness? Can consciousness be reduced to matter, or must we view it as non-physical? Readings will be drawn from contemporary philosophers and scientists such as Daniel Dennett, David Chalmers, and Antonio Damasio.

Terms Taught

Winter 2022

Requirements

PHL, WTR

View in Course Catalog