Category Archives: Items of the academy / learning

On teaching mediocre books

It’s been a few years now since I realized an obvious truth. The great majority of my students, and even the majority of the philosophy majors I teach, are not going to graduate school in philosophy. This is as it … Continue reading

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I’m not worried about the humanities

Humanists complain loudly about the direction taken by modern universities, and with good reason. An education in the humanities generally requires spending a lot of time reading and thinking on one’s own, and engaging in wandering and complicated conversations with … Continue reading

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Reality of ideas, again: the navel-gazing perspective

What is an idea? On the one hand, it is tempting to say that there can be no explanation without appeal to a special intensional dimension, a protected pocket of our existence that holds meanings. After all, we think ideas; … Continue reading

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Under the right conditions, ideas matter; but far less than we commonly suppose

In the big picture, ideas don’t matter as much as people like me try to pretend. Obviously, in some broad sense, some ideas matter very much to some people, sometimes. But even in those cases where ideas matter in big … Continue reading

Posted in Historical episodes, Items of the academy / learning, Meanings of life / death / social & moral stuff, Metaphysical musings | 5 Comments

Justin E. H. Smith, The Philosopher

Reflections on Justin E. H. Smith, The Philosopher: A history in six types (Princeton UP, 2016). This is a timely, marvelous book that raises fruitful questions and criticisms especially about the ways philosophy is conceived by its modern-day, academic practitioners. … Continue reading

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Peter Adamson, and the gap problem

It’s wonderful to have Peter Adamson’s perspective on this perpetual problem in teaching the history of philosophy: whom do I cover, and whom do I leave out? Adamson, of course, is bravely executing “The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps” … Continue reading

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The 3QD experience

I’ve contributed essays to the aggregator site 3quarksdaily.com for two years, and have just decided to bring that relationship to a close. Nothing went wrong – no falling out, no throwing of lamps, no screaming fits of “I just don’t love you … Continue reading

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What are libraries?

[Currently reading: The Meaning of the Library, Princeton University Press, 2015.] When I went to college, I had a part-time job reshelving books in the library. I really liked it: I was on my own, rolling a little wooden cart … Continue reading

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A philosophical interpretation of recent campus protests

For many of us college folk separated by thousands of miles from the east coast, the recent protests at Yale and Princeton initially seem both frivolous and ridiculous: here is a bunch of students and faculty at fancy schools getting … Continue reading

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Does philosophy belong in the humanities?

In the old model of the liberal arts, the trivium was the ground floor of the “core curriculum” for students. It consisted in logic, rhetoric, and grammar, or the basic tools for scholarly reading, understanding, and writing. One then studied … Continue reading

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On lecturing

I am happy to see this essay in the NYT by Molly Worthen recalling us to the value of lectures. In circles of higher ed, “student-centered learning” and “engaged teaching” have been endlessly recommended, emphasized, extolled, and quite nearly made … Continue reading

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Online education as the silver bullet

A recent story on Utah Public Radio reports that the Utah System of Higher Education is projecting an increase of 50,000 additional college students in Utah over the next ten years. That’s huge. And the immediately attractive response – “More … Continue reading

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On the mistaken view that there is something especially sciency about the so-called scientific method

I heard it again on the radio today as I was driving around. The story was about a new science curriculum to be introduced in public schools. The problem with the existing curriculum is that kids are getting the idea … Continue reading

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Early modern European automata

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William James, “The Social Value of the College-Bed” (1907)

The sifting of human creations! —nothing less than this is what we ought to mean by the humanities. Essentially this means biography; what our colleges should teach is, therefore, biographical history, that not of politics merely, but of anything and … Continue reading

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