fidesquaerens: (Default)
I was explaining to someone just what decompressing from a summer session had been like, and all of a sudden I was struck by what seemed like the perfect fannish analogy. This has been me these last several days as I finished up the actual teaching portion of summer school.

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All of which raises the question, just what is my inner Gollum here? What i'm like in that intense of teaching? The stress itself? Regardless, the freedom and the wanting to dance all around? Yeah, I was totally like that.

(Originally posted to LJ.)
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This has been my life the last month - getting these handouts ready, walking through them with my students, meeting one on one to work out what they didn't understand in class, then rushing home to start the cycle all over again. It's all done now except for the grading, but I still thought some of you might enjoy seeing my handiwork.

(As a heads-up: these were the starting point of my class's discussion. If you know philosophy and my discussion seems simplistic or flat-out wrong, that's because I probably used this as a jumping-off point to get to a better way of approaching the issues. I'm mainly sharing this because several people asked just what I've been so busy with.)

Day #1: What's this course all about, anyway?Day #2: Can we be Good without God?
Day #3: Does our society decide what counts as moral?Day #4: Morality and the LawDay #5: Can we really act against our best interests?Day #6: Do we have a duty to help others?Day #7: Utilitarianism vs. LibertarianismDay #8: Is true equality even possible?Day #9: Does motive matter?Day #10: Kant on Choosing RightlyDay #11: Criticisms of Kant's EthicsDay #12: What counts as a human, anyway?Day #13: How do we become good?Day #14: Does our society decide what counts as moral?Things I Learned
  1. Aristotle and Kant require more time to show why they're relevant and convincing.
  2. Kant in particular needs more focus. To say nothing of more understanding on my part. Next time I'm finding time, somehow, to do Kant's kingdom of ends and maybe a little out of the Religion book. Really.
  3. Even though these students all have had an introductory philosophy course, I can't expect them to be exposed to the things I teach my students in that first course. In particular, I can't expect them to know the problem of free will. Since Aristotle really ties in to those same problems, I need to find at least an hour to introduce that problem.
  4. The things that I think need refuting before we can get on with the business of philosophical ethics. Cultural relativism is much less a part of my student's mindset than it ever was with mind, as is the whole idea that religion and ethics are tightly bound. The bigger problem is to show why you can't just pick and choose pieces from different approaches.
  5. Having a class willing to think and talk makes all the difference. My group rocked.
(Originally posted to LJ.)
fidesquaerens: (Default)
  (Be forewarned: deep thoughts on academia, publishing, student pedagogy, etc. to follow. Some of you may want to skip over.)

Over at Virginia Tech, Dr. Walter Ott has put together a very interesting project: an open-source textbook for modern philosophy. That's the period of European philosophy stretching roughly from Descartes to Kant, roughly coinciding with the Enlightenment and the various wars in Europe up until around the French Revolution. Courses studying it are a staple in nearly every philosophy major, and quite often the lion's share of your introductory texts are devoted to these topics.

Dr. Ott's put together a series of selections he uses in his course, all from public-domain websites (basically: anywhere you can legally get texts without paying for them; Project Gutenberg is a good example), but with an added bonus: exercises, study questions, and other things. He's also only included the parts he plans on discussing in his class, and he talks a bit in his project explanation. I don't think that he's dumbing down the texts necessarily because, as he quotes Anthony Flew, nothing is spoonfeeding which leads the student to do more work than they would otherwise have done. Dr. Ott also points out that for their papers, he has the students go to the primary text. So if they're writing about why Descartes thinks the mind and brain are distinct, they have to go pick up the Meditations section (whcih is on reserve at his university's library).

I'm not sure that will do it for me, though. I know that with many of my students, even when I say they have to quote the original text rather than the rendition I give in lecture notes, the way the material is presented usually follows along the same lines I present in class. That's with giving them more or less unabridged chunks of the philosophy and assignments that basically require them to read the material before class. I worry that students in his classes would still basically be writing about the excerpts he included in their textbook, even if they had read the original. It would be like reading the Jefferson Bible as a way to get the Sermon on the Mount. If you'd never read the canonical Bible before, even if you went and read it after reading Jefferson's redacted version, I'm afraid you'd still be reading it through the lens of the Jefferson Bible.

Of course, I suspect Dr. Ott tried to preserve what the originals said. And these days, many classes use anthologies that only quote the most interesting bits, so he may not be much worse of a source on that score than (say) Cottingham's Western Philosophy. I think I'm a bit sensitive on this point because the philosopher I'm studying (Anselm) is best known for a passage that's more or less taken out of context because of the need to find a self-contained part that can be studied. But really, if I'm going to complain about that point here, I should probably complain about half the publishing industry. *g* 

A bigger concern I have is actually the need to use public-domain translations. It's one thing to use an edition of an English-language author put together 200 years ago; quite another to use a translation. I can't really speak for modern philosophy, but I know that in ancient philosophy there's some real doozies of mistranslations. I'm thinking of the Plato dialogues that refer to the gods, which were Christianized into God by later translators. And Aristotle also was poorly translated in many public-domain versions - not incorrectly, but you lose a lot of the beauty and rhetoric you find in more modern translations (I'm thinking about Joe Sachs's very nice version of the Nicomachean Ethics). Kant is difficult enough as he is; I worry what throwing an antiquated translation into the mix might do to students.

There's also the issue of line numbers. I know in Plato and Aristotle (and Kant) you have specific references that appear in the margins of major translations. So if I point you to Republic 359b, you know precisely where to turn no matter which translation of the Republic you have. But public domain sources don't usually have line #s (if only because they're websites and it's hard to include them). This seems less common in most modern philosophy texts, Kant excluded, because the authors tend to provide series of small subsection. So you refer to the book, chapter, and section of the Treatise you're using, and in many cases the referenced text isn't much longer than a page. But I suspect with other areas of philosophy, this won't work that well.

I started off wanting to criticize Dr. Ott. But I find two conclusions popping to mind: this isn't all that different from most anthologies, and also we need public domain sources that include those line # references.

One last thing. I'm not convinced it's such a dead business model to publish books of translations in the public domain. Hackett provides good and inexpensive versions of classic texts. Hume's Enquiry costs $6 from Amazon (+ free s/h to students), and it would take about $7 to print out that many pages at my school's computer lab. That's to say nothing of the time. So if people want physical books, I think Hackett and their like might survive a bit longer.

Thoughts on all this? I know this is a pretty specialized topic, but maybe folks in other corners of the humanities have reactions? Or people involved in publishing or editing? Feel free to comment away.  
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I hesitate to use the word because I have done real programming (if C++ qualifies!) before, and I know people who do real programming now, such as [personal profile] aranel_took. Mucking around in basic HTML seems like baby programming, if that. But I am out of practice, and five hours off and on has me worn out.

I've been setting up a blog for my human nature course next semester, which I can also tweak for my ethics course this upcoming summer. It's run off of Wordpress and is for the most part fairly basic - blog section for class announcements, a page describing the assignment guidelines, probably a policies page and maybe a separate page for course documents (how/to files, class handouts, etc.) Those actually aren't so bad.

What's given me a first-class headache is the library page. This is philosophical resources plus some popular press stuff (like Richard Dawkins' discussion of why intelligent design isn't a science in The Guardian, or the recent NY Times article on why being an atheist doesn't do away with notions of right and wrong). It's mainly on online index to the various PDFs and links I've been collecting and use when preparing lectures or email out to my students as class readings. But since WYSIWYG editors (what you see is what you get - those buttons you click to bold text rather than using HTML tags) are buggy, I decided to use HTML mode rather than the WYSIWYG option. So for the last 3-4 hours I have been swimming in hyperlink links, formatting tags for italics and bold, <li> and <ol> and all the rest. You have not lived until you have tried to set up a bulleted list with several levels using raw HTML, and then added to various points of the list over a period of time and tried to keep the different levels straight.

Swimming is the right word, because that's what my head is doing at the moment. *weary grin*

I think I'm going to run down the street for some supper, then come back and watch an old episode of The Closer. Maybe crawl back into Augustine tonight (I did a chapter of "On Free Will" this morning, but it was only about four pages, and I really should attempt more...)

Btw, in case anyone's interested, here's the link:


Originally posted at LJ; please comment there.


Dec. 2nd, 2011 05:16 pm
fidesquaerens: (narnia)
Three times someone has referred to me as "professor." Three times I've looked over my shoulder to see who they're talking to. I don't know if I'm just that worn out today, or if there are self esteem issues or whatever, but I keep thinking: surely they can't be talking to me.

Sometimes being a pre-doctorate female just stinks. Doctor is obviously out, and "professor" is if anything more prestigious to my mind, because on this point I agree with Professor X: a professor is someone who's landed at least one full-time teaching gig after finishing the doctorate. What, then? Not Mrs., and Miss makes me feel about seven years old. It's discombobulating, but also a bit insulting: like I have to "qualify" myself somehow, through marriage or other qualification, before I am no longer a little girl. I envy guys, sometimes.

Speaking on entitlement in another sense: !@#$ spammers. Over at LJ they are hitting again in full force. I've said it before, but it feels personal somehow. Like some stranger has barged into my apartment and not even had the courtesy to take off his shoes. If this keeps up I may have to switch the LJ comments off again.


I'm going to start the advent calendar tomorrow. Sadly, there will be no fic - I have been working out an academic project with my advisors and it has been productive, but that means that just now I don't have the drive to deal with betaing. (And my editor is about the nicest critic anyone could ask for). But I will try to make at least some of it fannish. I'm leaning more toward philosophy posts focusing on my favorite passages, perhaps tied to the themes of the Advent reading schedule I've been using.


So many good movies are on right now! I half want to see Twilight again, and just may if the clerk says it's still drawing a crowd. (I've only seen it as a matinee, and the crowd experience isn't the same. There's also Coriolanus, but with the recent political events (indefinite detention of American citizens without even the "nicety" of rendition? *blech*), a Shakespearean historical epic set in the modern days may hit too close to home. Then there's Hugo, which looked fabulous but I'm not quite in the mood for a kids movie. Any suggestions?


Finally: "My Blackberry is Not Working!", from the One Ronnie show. I saw this a few weeks ago and never got around to sharing it. Hilarious! (Warning for sexual innuendo in one part.)

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I have a student working with Kant's ethics for my human nature class. I don't teach the topic in this course because it is bloody difficult, but it grew quite naturally out of some work we did on the analytic/synthetic divide and the need for certainty.

Upshot: I just spent a half-hour discussing the source of the moral law, with a student who seems to enjoy these things. I'm not a Kantian by any stretch of the imagination, but contemplating this topic can be an almost spiritual experience; and teaching it, even moreso.

So, in honor of him, have a soul-lifting song.

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Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and the more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above and the moral law within. (from The Critique of Pure Reason)
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I just outlined my last two lectures of the semester. That covers the last bit of the summer semester. We're talking about Pascal's wager as well as Clifford's "The Ethics of Belief." The first looks at the argument we should believe God exists because belief has better consequences than disbelief (and agnosticism isn't an option); the second makes the case that "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence".

Interesting topics, to be the sure, though it will be interesting to see how the Clifford essay goes. It all seems rather undefined and vague to me - this is the first time I'm teaching it. I mean, yes, there's a hugely important idea, but I'm not sure the discussion will fill the requisite time. If it lags too much I may show a Star Trek clip from "Who Watches the Watchers?" (on whether non-justified belief is always inferior to justified belief).

As I mentioned over at FaceBook, I also have a mountain of grading. The final exam is coming in and their term paper was due today and they also have an argument outline due the first part of the semester, and I have most of the final argument analysis still to grade as well. *whimpers* But with class prep done, maybe I can focus on that and plough through it. And, you know, actually make progress on my own personal research and all that jazz.

But tomorrow afternoon is definitely movie time. Maybe I'll see HP again, but it seems like there was something else good that just came out.


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