Daily Archives: April 5, 2017

Advice on Taking a Philosophy Class

I’d like to share an anecdote from a previous philosophy class I taught many years ago. I also thought it might serve as advice for students who are taking their first class. Specifically, advice about what not to ask!

The class was introduction to philosophy and the book we used covered: the existence of god; the problem of evil; death and immortality; personal identity; mind-body problem, free will; knowledge; objectivity of ethics; why should we be moral; and the meaning of life. Now our memories are notoriously bad, so I can’t be sure of the details, but this is a reasonable reconstruction of what happened. There was one student who greeted each new chapter with a certain kind of question. Here’s a sampling:

“I just read the chapters about god and evil, and the book suggested that the arguments for god’s existence aren’t good and that evil counts against the existence of god. But we all know god exists, so what’s the point of those chapters?”

“I just read the chapter about death, and the book suggested that we may not be immortal. But we all know we are immortal, so what’s the point of the chapter?”

“I just read the chapter about mind/body, and the book suggested that we are entirely physical. But we all know that we have souls, so what’s the point of the chapter?”

“I just read the chapter about personal identity, and the book suggested that this idea is problematic. But we all know that identity is real, so what’s the point of the chapter?”

“I just read the chapter about free will, and the book suggested that there are problems with this idea. But we all know free will exists, so what’s the point of the chapter?”

“I just read the chapter about knowledge, and the book suggested that we may not know what knowledge is. But I know what I know, so what’s the point of the chapter?”

“I just read the chapter about ethics, and the book suggested that ethics might be subjective. But we all know that ethics is objective, so what’s the point of the chapter?”

“I just read the chapter about the meaning of life, and the book says this is a tough question. But the meaning of life is to love god, so what’s the point of the chapter?”

Now these weren’t the exact questions, but they capture the spirit of them. I won’t say much except that this person wasn’t philosophical, but he was arrogant. He pretended to know what the more educated are unsure of. I hope he’s not in politics.