Thomas Bittner earned a PhD in philosophy from the University of Washington in 1995, and since then he has taught at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Wellesley College, arriving at UBC in 2003. His research is mainly in the philosophy of mind, but he is also interested in ethical, legal, and social questions. He is currently working on issues related to weakness of will, as it is conceived of in philosophy and also in psychology (often under the rubric of “self-control”).

WRDS 150 Research Area: Self-Control


One interesting fact about human behaviour is that a person can know that it is best for her to do something and yet be unable to get herself to do it. This fact has been investigated in a variety of ways by scholars in psychology, philosophy, and sociology. We will examine the different approaches that are taken to the study of this phenomenon. What kinds of questions are interesting to researchers in these different disciplines? How do their research methods serve the production of knowledge in the scholarly tradition? Students will use what they learn about this tradition of inquiry to conduct their own research on a topic related to self-control.

My main research interest concerns the nature of conscious experience especially in the context of voluntary action. My publications on this include:
“Consciousness and the Act of Will” (1996) Philosophical Studies, 81 (2-3): 331-41.
“Could the Stream of Consciousness Flow through the Brain?” (2004) Philosophia, 31 (3-4): 449-73.

I’ve also been interested in the (so-called) hypothesis of extended cognition and in the (to my way of thinking) related topic of moral luck. I’ve written about these issues in:

“Punishment for Criminal Attempts: A Legal Perspective on the Problem of Moral Luck” (2008) Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 38 (1): 51-83.

“Parity Cuts Both Ways: Split Brains and Extended Cognition” (2011) Teorema, 30 (2): 19-33.