Undergraduate Programs

Dr. Stephen D. Petersen

Dr. Stephen D. Petersen

Associate Professor, Department Chair

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Office Location:
Dunleavy Hall Room 355


Dr. Petersen joined the philosophy department in 2006, after a postdoctoral position at Kalamazoo College.  He received his PhD from the University of Michigan.  His specialties are in the philosophy of mind, epistemology, and the philosophical aspects of cognitive science.  Related areas of interest include logic, the philosophy of science, and the philosophy of language.  Dr. Petersen teaches Introduction to Philosophy, Ethics, Logic, Epistemology, the Philosophy of Mind, the Philosophy of Language, the Philosophy of Science, and Metaphysics.

Current Research

My research centers on a strongly naturalistic approach to good thinking. How can physical creatures—biological or artificial—think better? This involves fundamental issues in normative epistemology (what is it to think better?) and philosophy of mind (what is it for a physical system to think in the first place?). More specifically, my recent work has centered on two main issues:

  • A theory of patterns based in algorithmic information theory with an aim toward formalizing inference to the best explanation, and in particular Ockham’s razor. This involves formal epistemology and the philosophy of science.
  • The ethics of artificial intelligence, especially (lately) the problem of the risk posed by superintelligence and value alignment. This involves some familiarity with the technical issues in machine learning, as well as with a range of philosophical problems like normative ethics, metaethics, moral psychology, and mental content.

Related side work includes some metaphysics, conceptual analysis, and the nature of naturalistic philosophy

Educational Background

PhD, University of Michigan, Philosophy AB, Harvard University, Philosophy and mathematics

Current Involvement

I'm also an actor; I have performed in Shakespeare in Delaware Park, and improvisational theater both here and in Toronto. I'm on NU's Green Committee, and contribute to charities for relieving poverty internationally.