Philosophy at VBI: Learn from the Best

VBI’s faculty over the past three years has included seven graduate students in philosophy: five from the top four philosophy departments in the world, five coaches of TOC/NFL National Champions, authors of seven published articles in professional journals, two Marshall Scholars, and one doctorate in Political Philosophy from Princeton University. Last summer, four VBI instructors co-authored an article, “Teaching Philosophy through Lincoln-Douglas Debate,” which has been published in the journal Teaching Philosophy. This expertise makes a difference, because graduate students have more in-depth knowledge of the field, and many have experience in teaching philosophy at a college level. 

“Working with two people who were PhD candidates in an area that I’ve struggled a lot with in the past was really awesome, and a great experience to have. I’ve learned more about ethics as a whole in the two weeks at VBI than I have in three years of trying to decipher it all on my own.” —Jordan Durrani

Our philosophy curriculum is co-directed by Jake Nebel and Christian Tarsney.

Jake Nebel studies Philosophy as a Marshall Scholar at the University of Oxford, which is ranked among the world’s top three philosophy departments by the Philosophical Gourmet Report. Jake graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University, which is ranked among the top three philosophy departments in the U.S. Jake has published articles in the Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy, the Journal of Peace Education, and the Journal Jurisprudence. He also coached the winner of the 2013 Tournament of Champions. Jake attended VBI three times as a student, and he has taught at VBI for five summers since then. Jake’s academic awards at Princeton included the Phi Beta Kappa Student Award (awarded for best academic performance in graduating class), the Pyne Prize (the highest general distinction awarded to an undergraduate), the McCosh Prize (awarded for best thesis in philosophy), and the Dickinson Prize (awarded for best thesis in logic or theory of knowledge). “Jake’s lectures on philosophy were extremely informative,” writes one student. “They were clear, fast moving, and very interactive with students. I especially enjoyed Kantian Ethics and Philosophy of Law.” Another student writes, “Jake was really helpful—doing drills with him on metaethics during the skills practicum and doing rebuttal redo’s with him after he judged my practice round really helped me improve.”

Christian Tarsney is a PhD student at the University of Maryland-College Park. He graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2011. His areas of specialization are value theory (especially normative uncertainty and utilitarianism) and metaphysics (especially philosophy of time). Students who are interested in philosophy typically attend several of Christian’s modules, which students have described as “fascinating,” “extremely helpful,” “always interesting,” “great at explaining dense concepts,” and “very informative and complete.” Last year, his modules included Introduction to Metaethics, Ethical Theory, Skepticism, Contemporary Analytic Political Philosophy, Logic as a Tool of Argument Analysis, Social Contract, the Rawls-Nozick Debate, Answering Continental Philosophers, International Relations Theory, Communitarianism and Marxism, and Varieties of Utilitarianism. Christian coached the winner of the 2010 Tournament of Champions. 

Liz Stoker is a Marshall Scholar at Jesus College, Cambridge, which is ranked among the top three philosophy departments in the UK. She studies Christian ethics, and her primary focus is the formation of Christian ethical responses to issues surrounding disability. She has also done research on inequality, restorative justice, and libertarianism. Liz has published popular articles with a philosophical bent in Salon, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Atlantic, on topics ranging from legacy admissions and feminism to Supreme Court cases and organized labor. A native of Arlington, Texas, Liz graduated from Brandeis with a double major in English and sociology and a minor in Near Eastern and Judaic studies. In college she was an assistant coach with Needham High School in Needham, MA. In her own high school days, she debated VLD at Martin High School in Arlington, TX. This will be her first year at VBI. 

Nick Tourville is a PhD student at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, which is ranked among the world’s top three philosophy departments. He holds a B.A. in Philosophy and a B.A. in Mathematics from the University of Minnesota, and his research interests are in ethics, epistemology, and logic. Along with Christian Tarsney, Nick coached the winner of the 2010 Tournament of Champions. Nick’s students praise him especially for his individual mentorship and love for debate. One student recalls that “Nick was very flexible when students would knock on his door late at night. He would drop whatever he was doing and come work with us in the lounge.” Another student emphasizes, “Nick has such detailed understanding of philosophy, which is really essential to LD.” 

Ben Holguin is a PhD student at New York University, which is ranked as the #1 philosophy department in the world. He focused on philosophy of language and the philosophy of mind. He received his BS and MS in symbolic systems at Stanford. He co-published Teaching Philosophy through Lincoln-Douglas Debate with other VBI faculty. Ben attended VBI three times as a student, and he has taught at VBI for five summers since then. Ben’s module on skepticism is one of the most popular at camp, as is his trademark “non-normative grab bag,” which exposes students to original debate-applicable arguments in philosophy. Students find his modules “extremely interesting and informative,” because they “explain a wide range of arguments clearly in a short amount of time.” One student wrote, “I loved the non-normative grab bag.” 

Peter Van Elswyk is a PhD student at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, which is ranked among the world’s top three philosophy departments. Peter specializes in philosophy of language, linguistics, metaphysics, and the philosophy of science. He has taught college courses on logic, reasoning, and persuasion. One of his students at VBI wrote, “Peter is incredibly knowledgeable and a great resource for learning philosophy in debate.” Peter coached the 2010 National Champion and has taught at VBI for over five summers. Check out Peter’s academic website

Dr. Ryan Davis, who designed our Philosophy Focus Week, is currently at Harvard University. His research is mainly in Kantian ethics, but he is also interested in philosophy of religion, and political philosophy. Before coming to Harvard, Dr. Davis earned a PhD at Princeton’s Program in Political Philosophy. He has published articles in The Journal of Value InquiryEthical Theory and Moral Practice, and Political Studies. His dissertation at Princeton was about international inequality as a problem for global justice, in which he took a Kantian perspective. Coach of the 2003 National Champion, Dr. Davis is one of VBI’s co-authors of “Teaching Philosophy through Lincoln-Douglas Debate.” He has taught at VBI for three summers, and co-directed the first Philosophy Focus Week. One of his students at VBI wrote, “I don’t think I ever learned this much in one week.”You can read more about his research and teaching interests at Dr. Davis’s academic website

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