My research and my teaching are intertwined. Below you can read about the courses I have designed and taught at Northwestern and the University of Illinois at Chicago, and my time as a Graduate Fellow in the Brady Scholars Program in Ethics and Civic Life
Future Tense: The Ethics of What Will Be
(First Year Seminar at Northwestern and product of winning WCAS/TGS Teaching Fellowship)
Self-driving cars are hitting the road. AlphaGo recently devised a new strategy to defeat the world’s best (human) Go player. Scientists have begun to edit the DNA of human embryos. China recently implemented a “Social Credit System” to track and broadcast a citizen’s "trustworthiness". Now is the right time to ask two questions: (1) What are the ethical implications of such technological developments? (2) If left unchecked, what kind of future will they produce? To address (1), we will turn to philosophers of the past and present. For at the heart of a question like, “can a machine be human?” is “what does it mean to be human in the first place?” Philosophers have several responses to this question, and we can use their past answers to address the future. To address (2), we will compose codes of ethics for the technologies we discuss.
“This has genuinely been the best class I have taken at Northwestern. I learned an incredible amount about AI and other emerging technologies, but more importantly, Prof. Cochran and my classmates pushed me to think deeply about where I stand on a number of extremely difficult ethical debates. This class forced me to legitimize my opinions and convictions past just ‘that's what feels right’ or ‘it’s the way things should be.’ The seminar-style class was super helpful for everyone to hash out differing opinions and tackle tough problems from many sides. I appreciate how willing everyone was to talk about controversial topics and challenge each other on our arguments. By the end of the quarter I certainly changed my perspective on many aspects of life, human nature, and technology. To me, that is invaluable.”
“TAKE THIS CLASS!!! If you have even the slightest interest in ethics, philosophy, or technology, I cannot recommend this course enough. This has hands-down been my favorite class at Northwestern, and I learned so much about tackling problems from an ethical lens. The readings are manageable and interesting, and Cochran does an excellent job facilitating good discussion in class... 80-minute classes are the bane of my existence, but I genuinely was excited to come to this class every single day.”
“The most valuable thing I learned from this class was how relevant human nature (and resolving the question of what makes us human) is to practically every other ethical question. During the whole class, but particularly during our discussions of AI and genetic enhancement, I found myself continuously coming back to the question of what makes us human and how much these technologies threaten that... and is that even a bad thing?”
PHIL 221: Aristotle And His Successors
Aristotle discussed some of the most fundamental questions in nearly every area of philosophy: Why are things the way they are? What is knowledge, and how does it differ from experience and wisdom? What is truth? What does it mean for something to have a nature? How does something change from one thing into something else? Does time exist? What really does exist? What is God? What is the purpose of human life? How do we become good people? How do we make a decision? For what are we morally responsible? How should we organize ourselves into a political community? Aristotle’s particular mode of philosophical thinking cuts across his discussions of all of these questions.
"Cochran clearly prepared his materials well. His powerpoints were excellent, and his explanations were incredibly concise and helpful. He has a genuine enthusiasm for the subject matter; great, in-depth feedback on essay assignments. I'm incredibly glad I took Cochran for Aristotle. Probably my best philosophy course so far at UIC."
"Prof. Cochran's style of teaching was extremely beneficial to the way I personally learn. He has the uncanny ability to break down material in the texts, and help the student process and understand what the text is trying to communicate."
"Someone give this guy some tenure. I cannot say enough good things about this course/instructor. Truly the best instructor I've had in my now five-year college career."
Brady Scholars Program in Ethics and Civic Life
As a Graduate Fellow in Northwestern’s Brady Scholars Program, I was part of a team of educators that sought to combine theoretical study and practical experience to help students improve morally and make a difference in their community. I mentored the same small group of students for three years to help them develop into reflective and ethically-minded citizens. I also co-designed and team-taught their senior seminar, Philosophy and the City, with three other Fellows, and I contributed to the evolution of the program at monthly administrative meetings. Find out more about the Program here.