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Puzzles and the trolley problem help bring philosophy to life in Bruno Guindon’s undergrad classes
Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Department of Philosophy is very pleased to welcome new faculty member Bruno Guindon as a lecturer this term. Bringing teaching experience from the University of British Columbia and McGill, Guindon returns as one of our philosophy alumni. He completed an MA in the department in 2008 before heading to McGill to complete a PhD in 2015.
Guindon’s primary areas of research are metaethics and normative ethics. This includes interests in normative questions related to the treatment of animals, the value of nature and justificatory appeals to conscience in health care.
As an instructor, Guindon focuses on teaching his students how to read and write philosophy, unpacking and analyzing arguments so that they understand the process and mechanics of the subject. As part of his pedagogical toolkit, Guindon also focuses on philosophical puzzles, describing them as excellent ways to promote interest and curiosity in the subject matter.
“I think there’s pedagogical value in simply appreciating and understanding why some issues are puzzling, without even thinking about how to solve them,” he explains, noting that it was philosophical puzzles that first got him interested in the subject in the first place.
So, is the notorious trolley problem on the course list? Why yes, even though Guindon admits that some of his colleagues think that it has been discussed ad nauseum. His reason is that many students are already familiar with the problem before taking introductory classes, adding that you’d be surprised to see just how many people actually misunderstand it!
Being a philosopher wasn’t on Guindon’s mind at the start of his post-secondary education, however. After a year in design school pursuing a BFA he took a philosophy course on quantum theory in the fall of his second year.
“It blew my mind even though I didn’t understand much of it, the Copenhagen Interpretation and its implications for Schrodinger’s cat really fascinated me,” Guindon says. After taking more classes in the subject, he declared a minor in philosophy in his third year. Two years after graduating with a BFA, Guindon returned for a BA Honours in Philosophy.
Reflecting back on what brought him to SFU Philosophy in the first place, Guindon answers quite candidly that it was the only offer he received. Readers should note however, that it was also the only institution he applied to. One of his Concordia professors advised him to apply, citing the program’s excellent reputation for placing graduates in some of the most competitive doctoral programs available.
“I’m glad I followed his advice,” Guindon admits before describing how the small size of the SFU philosophy department and its MA program cohort fosters an environment where grad students can really thrive.
“I have friends who have earned their PhDs in large departments, and they’ve admitted that it’s difficult to forge relationships with faculty and other students,” Guindon says. “It’s easy to get lost in the mix. Right now, I’m truly privileged to be able to contribute to the department’s teaching and research excellence.”