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the summer school session so far

I've been teaching summer school, which is easily 10-12 productive hours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, when I actually teach. The weekends aren't relaxing breaks either, as I'm typically busy grading and giving the readings a first read (so I'm not preparing lectures on a dry run during the week). Which means exhaustion, especially in this heat. I'm too tired to write about it all into a full-blown blog post, but somehow FB is easier.

It occurred to me that some of you guys might like to see my trials and triumphs from the last few weeks. So here are my teaching-related status updates from FB. I don't know that it's interesting to anyone but me, but it is kind of a journal of what I've been doing these last several weeks.

Wed Jul-11, 11:06 AM

I have a tired. I was up until 3 AM after a got a grading second wind last night. Normally that would be okay since I don't teach until the afternoon, but car honking woke me up at 8. Today may be interesting.

Thur Jul-12, 12:29 AM

I'm not sure if the Rachels textbooks really are this bad or if they just don't suit my style, but I don't think I'll ever be assigning his ethics book for a class, ever. I assigned the Elements of Moral Philosophy chapter covering psychological egoism, because I remembered it as being a decent overview of the issues from my own student days.

I'm sure there's a better source to use that isn't, you know, one straw man after another. Lesson learned there!

Also: I'm now officially thirty. *blows noisemaker*

Tues Jul-17, 7:13 PM

I know summer school is supposed to kick *everyone's* back-sides, but there is really no excused to feel this zonked. (Okay, maybe a little bit of one: three straight hours teaching Singer + Mill, followed by nearly the same in office hours (that went over since students were still waiting) getting their papers in shape. But still!

Yesterday was hard, emotionally, and I thought I'd handled it. I'm thinking this is just RL catching up with me a bit, though. Or it's to be hoped! Singer and Mill aren't the hardest philosophers to teach.

Tues Jul-17, 9:14 PM

I don't suppose anyone out there wants to draft my lecture on Nozick's libertarianism for me? I'm entirely too tired to be clever tonight. It doesn't help that I really don't agree with the philosophy; not that it matters all that much for teaching purpose. But when you're exhausted, wrestling with something you disagree with is no fun.

Wed Jul-18, 12:08 AM

I've finished prepping my lectures for tomorrow, thank goodness. One hour on some ciritiques of utilitarianism, another hour looking at selections from Nozick's _Anarchy_ (explanation + defense of philosophical libertarianism, and the Wilt Chamberlain example), and rounded out by a symposium where the students get to do mini-presentations on their first argumentative essays.

Of course, now that I could actually go to bed, my mind is waking up and insisting on blogging or doing something fun and exciting. Durned night-owl tendencies. :-S

Wed Jul-18, 7:29 PM

I left the house this morning with hair still moist from the shower. With this heat, by the time I got to campus it was like I'd dried my hair without benefit of a brush. Overly dried verging on frizzy, with a stubborn refusal to lay flat.

This afternoon it rained, which cooled it down a bit but not enough, meaning walking around feels like being in a sauna.

Just one more day (Rawls + moral luck) and then I have time off to wrap my head around Kant. And, you know, grade twenty-three six-page papers. Must remind myself how lucky I am to have first-world problems like this, but boy, has today been a long one!

Thur Jul-19, 11:13 PM

There's something strangely soothing about reading W.D. Ross and listening to the "Up in the Air" soundtrack after a long week teaching. 

(Yes, I am this big of a geek; but yes, I really am being sincere. I don't always agree with him, but something about the man's thoughts always strike me as rationally beautiful. I can't put it clearer than that.)

Sat Jul-21, 7:18 PM

I've finished reading + outlining Ross, a piece comparing Kant + Mill on criminal justice, and now the first section of the groundwork. So, you know, that's Tuesday. *g*

Off to the grocery store to pick up victuals, and then back home to watch Batman Begins. Maybe by this time next weekend I'll actually be in a position to see the newest Batman flick.

Tue Jul-24, 12:35 AM

I keep forgetting just how *hard* Kant's writing is to read. Actually, you *can't* read it - it reminds me of the little bit of Talmud I've studied, where each word or phrase needed to be dissected and crossreferenced and filtered through three or four different commentaries. I know what Kant is supposed to be saying and even I have a hard time seeing it in his words.

Don't get me wrong, he's brilliant and all - I *love* his philosophy. But if there was ever a philosopher to be read through secondary sources rather than the original, I'm thinking Kant is probably it.

Tue Jul-24, 1:42 AM

I polished off two Kant lectures today: the first section of the Groundwork (on the whole idea that you have to do the right thing *because it's your duty*, not because you want to for some other reason) and the first portion of the second section (on the first version of the categorical imperative - essentially the golden rule, but with some important qualifications). These are *hard* concepts, and I'm glad to have made some headway on them before the schoolweek starts.

All that's left is the second version of the categorical imperative - never treat people as a mere means, which basically means respect other peoples' rights to make their own decisions and don't use them as a tool to get what you want or trick them when you could let them make their own choices. There's more to it than that, of course, but that's the gist of it. After that it's on to some contemporary people applying Kant to different issues, and then on to Aristotle. So I think that will be much more manageable to me as I try to put lectures together after teaching long hours.

Btw, to people who want to wrap your head around Kant's philosophy, check out this scan of some textbook chapters. It's a decent overview, except for the bit about Kant and animal rights; I think he actually has a much better case than Shafer-Landau gives him credit for. But as far as a readable, approachable intro to Kant's moral philosophy, it's one of the best I've read.

Thu Jul-26, 1:24 AM

The last lectures of the week are officially prepped: Nagel's article "War and Massacre" (on the problem of applying Kantian principles in "no-win" situations like you sometimes see in warfare); a secondary source looking at what place (pathological) love plays in Kant's moral philosophy, if at all; and the Bennett article on the role sympathy ought to play in morality. Next week it's on to Aristotle and feminist ethics.

This was a *lot* of class-prep for one day, including two essays I'd never taught before (Bennett + Nagel). That's an experience I don't want to repeat any time soon; interesting readings, but just too much prep-work all at once. But the weekend is here, meaning I can sleep again. And, you know, grade all those essays accumulating dust on my hard drive.

I swear, once upon a time I had a social life. :-)

Thu Jul-26, 4:17 PM

Class could have gone better today. It wasn't *bad*, I just felt a little leaden. That's understandable (I hope!) given it was two readings I'd never taught before, and that I was actually teaching fro two hours rather than three. We usually have student-led discussions for the first hour. So by the end (as in now), I'm thoroughly exhausted.

A question for people who teach Kant's ethics and know him better than I do: do you use any books other than the Groundwork? I've always suspected sections the Metaphysics of Morals would round out on his view quite nicely, but the fact that I've never seen ANYONE use it makes me think there has to be a reason why. I can also see the first section of "Religion within the Boundaries" being useful too.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 27th, 2012 04:12 pm (UTC)
Teaching Kant's Ethics
I've tried incorporating parts of the introduction to the first Critique and the first sections on the Transcendental Aesthetic.

Yes, I know, someone could've - should've - did in fact - tell me that that was a bad, very bad, idea.

And for most students, it was a very, very bad idea; the couple of students who got something out of it were the students who would've done well even if I'd shown up in a clown suit and lectured in pig Latin. Everyone else was sort of dazed afterward.

I've found that students naturally gravitate toward Paton's outline (if you use the Paton translation) and Paul Guyer has his reader's guide to the Groundwork. I've never assigned either of them, but I have referred students to them as secondary sources. I tell them that they are allowed to use the outline and/or Guyer to help them read the text, but that when they write the paper, they have to be able to go to the text itself, explain it, and use Guyer or Paton only to help back up their own explanation. They cannot simply say: "Here's what it means" and then quote Guyer or Paton.

I've also found that using Kant as your excuse to explain how library research works actually can help. Then you can get the students talking about their issues with Kant and help them learn how to locate resources talking about Kant's ideas, which they can then go get from the library. I ended up doing this with about five or six different students during office hours last term, and they all said that really helped them both to figure out the library's search engines and to grasp certain ideas from Kant. So I would suggest that if you have time in class to do it, make Kant your library demo guy, and have the students bring back articles and books they've found and read for class discussion on Kant.

On The Metaphysic of Morals - I've used it in my own writing because it contains the doctrine of justice, but it's been awhile since I cracked that tome. I can't remember much about the doctrine of virtue, frankly. If I want to talk about Kant on justice, and the practical expression of the Kingdom of Ends, I use his short(er) essay, "On the common proverb...", but both the shorter essay and the M of M feature that seminal Kantian obstacle: his style. (Also, the M of M has, I think, many more references to the first Critique, while "On the common proverb..." does not, which is a plus for teaching undergrads.) "On the common proverb..." does proceed by contrast to different thinkers Kant wanted to argue with, the most significant being Hobbes, but it's not strictly necessary that the students read Hobbes to get from that piece how Kant thinks morality founds and expresses itself in the social contract, and you can talk them through the Hobbes-Kant argument pretty easily.

I've never tried teaching the Religion book; I think it would be fun, I've just never tried it. If you do, let me know how it goes. I also think it'd be fun to teach his essay, "An attempt to introduce the concept of negative magnitude into philosophy", but I've never done it.

Edited at 2012-07-27 04:17 pm (UTC)
Jul. 27th, 2012 09:06 pm (UTC)
Re: Teaching Kant's Ethics
Those are really good suggestions, Dwim. The reason I am tempted to use MM is because of the way I teach Kant. I'm an Aristotelian at heart (actually, a fan of the way Aristotle's ethics was used in the early middle ages by people like Augustine, Boethius and Anselm), but I also think Kant is on to something in that humans qua humans are owed some things. This is the point of social justice as opposed to charity, and with everything going on in American culture, I think it's really important that that point not be lost in the shuffle for students.

But at the same time i find Aristotle's account of human nature much more convincing, and his ethics are in certain ways much more friendly to ethics of care than any of the other major figures. (Aristotle is of course famously sexist in places, to say nothing of his defense of slavery and pro-Hellenic racism, but he was living 2,500 years ago. In my experience once you strip away the accidents of history, he's the one major ethical figure who I think does a good job striking the balance between our need for community and the importance of individual freedom. He's not perfect but he's a good starting point.

So without turning Kant into another Aristotle (which he's not, obviously) I like to emphasize not just the role of reason, but the role of virtue dictated by reason. I talk a good bit, for example, of whether there's any way to make love (the emotion as opposed to the act) relevant to morality in Kant's system. Nancy Sherman's actually done some really good work on this subject. The MM talks about the importance of developing moral habits (I know, how strangely Aristotelian!), and also on the ways love can lead to unequal relationships like with friendship.

One of the good points of last Thursday's class was about this whole topic. We were discussing two boyfriends who threw themselves over their girlfriends and got shot (but saved said girlfriends) in the Colorado shootings - whether they were following the categorical imperative or a personal hypothetical imperative. It's obviously something I feel strongly about and would like to work on in the semester in a more formal way. (My gut reaction: Acting out of love for someone is a hypothetical imperative, but acting in a way that develops or maintains that love can fulfill an imperfect duty, in some situations. But I need MM to prove that so I never discuss it in a lot of details with my students. The problem is I don't understand MM as well as I'd like to before teaching it. That's something that needs remedying one of these days...
Jul. 30th, 2012 02:31 pm (UTC)
Re: Teaching Kant's Ethics
Aristotle is definitely more interesting, and I like the way he analyzes human nature, too. Heh - you know, Marx is a fan of Aristotle, too, minus the things you mention in parentheses, but he is post-Kantian, and so has both the sense of how history and social structure contribute significantly to the development of human nature into sociopathic and humane forms on the whole, both in terms of the way rationality and sensibility manifest.

Anyhow... The issue you're concerned about - whether moral habit can be developed without taking account of the patho-logic of feeling - is part of an unresolved issue in Kantian moral theory. The issue centers on what feelings are, and what role they can actually play in moral life, according to the way Kant distinguishes inclination from reason as (apparently?) separate types of motivation, one of which must not be the cause of our actions if our actions are to fall into the category of moral worth.

Although I don't have Guyer in front of me directly to check my wording, as I understand Guyer, he argues that Kant is in no way committed to the position that you have only to act out of commitment to the categorical imperative of reason, and that in fact, the act would lack something essential if you only acted based on reason and never on feeling. He argues instead that Kant simply requires that you prioritize consistently the categorical imperative, but that multiple motivation - so long as the other motivations follow from your rational commitment, rather than driving your commitments absolutely - is not inconsistent with Kant's moral theory, and is consistent with his analysis of the need to educate young people and develop a personality that responds with such feelings in a pinch.

Beyond the need to respect the felt dimension of human relationships, developing such feelings helps counterbalance our more selfish feelings, which are just as much inclinations, but which are socially detrimental. The argument goes that one can develop such morally and socially beneficent feelings in a principled, rational way, on the basis of the way that the moral law addresses itself to humanity specifically: one develops them precisely because we are creatures of both reason and feeling, in which the latter acts as an acknowledged inclinational counterweight to reason. Since we cannot ignore this point - and in fact, the moral law does not ignore this point, that's why it occurs in humanity in the imperative, not the indicative - it is rational - and the categorical imperative can require - that we take a tactical approach and train our feelings to assist us in maintaining our happiness so that our unhappiness does not become a significant obstacle to acting on the moral imperative.

Now, I think that's a correct analysis of Kant based on the Groundwork, although I'm less sure of it re: the second Critique (mostly because I need to reread it). However, I do think it reveals a real tension in how Kant tries to counterpose feeling and reason as strictly separate types of motives, and that that tension can lead us to question: is it better to say that feeling has a rational dimension, or that in the human creature, feeling is naturally associated with different forms of rationality and cannot be considered as strictly non-rational?

Edited at 2012-07-30 02:47 pm (UTC)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )



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