Review Comment

[V2702] Contemporary Moral Problems

November 20, 2013

Bell, Macalester Silver_nugget
[V2702] Contemporary Moral Problems

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Although the semester is not over yet, I feel it is apt to write a review for this class. I appreciate the cheerful comments about Professor Bell, but I do want to warn any philosophy majors or prospective ones out there that this class is not worth taking. I probably should have adhered to her warning at the beginning of the semester that this class is not intended to be philosophical. Well, this fact was testified again and again in the course of this class. Rarely are the readings aspirational. For most of them I constantly sense the lack of depth in the issue it was trying to address. For some strange reason, while contemporary ethics has invoked numerous foundational work over the last century, applied ethics in general seems to lack a basis of theoretical work. A lot of readings were either interpreting bits of the utilitarian or deontological school of thoughts or simply indulging in their own poorly defined theories. This becomes especially problematic when it comes to class where most speakers are apparently and rightfully confused by authors' theories but unable to pinpoint the roots to their confusion. A class often fell into victim of a few speakers who are fundamentally confused but somehow persistently inclined on their equally confounded opinions about certain argument. The vagueness would have been cleared if the class was conducted in a way that each author's theoretical ground is carefully dissected and vigorously (dis)proved. (Well, that would be a Kitcher's class.) But Professor Bell deliberately refrains from exploring those hard concepts, which would again confuse most students in class who would later complain this is just another boring philosophy class. Now this dilemma ultimately finds me, for most of the time, struggling to stay awake during the class. All in all, for serious philosophy majors, take my word and Bell's word, do not take this class. As for others, I am not sure how much you can get out of this class. If you decide to renounce all your personal wealth after reading Peter Singer, then you are much closer to moral sanity, which would for sure cheer the philosophers immensely.

Workload:

Very light. Midterm, 1 6pg paper, take-home final. The average for midterm is 91. So...

December 19, 2012

Bell, Macalester Silver_nugget
[V2702] Contemporary Moral Problems

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Professor Bell is a real gem. She is the only professor I've ever had that facilitated a true discussion. She is enthusiastic about the material, and it shows. She also knows how to lead a wonderful, focused, and well organized discussion--which is particularly admirable in a class of 40 people. She loved it when a bunch of hands would go up, and she was diplomatic in how she called on people. I was most impressed with her ability to present polarizing issues and controversial material without ever even hinting about her own position. She generally just defended the argument we had read and tried to anticipate how the author would respond to our concerns.
I looked forward to going to this class, and I'm not that interested in Philosophy. The philosophy-ish parts of this class were minimal. We weren't bogged down by jargon, but we did learn to make sound arguments and think critically. Articles were easy to read. The issues we discuss are fascinating and relevant. I changed my mind on issues I thought I was dead set on. You will be able to discuss abortion, porn, animal rights, affirmative action, our obligation to the world's poor, and punishment in a sophisticated way. I can't think of a single negative thing to say about Professor Bell or her class, and I will miss it.

Workload:

Not bad. You can get away with either not going to class or not doing the readings. Just go to class. Midterm, paper (5 page MAX) and final. 30, 35, 35%. This class is not "hard" but it also isn't a joke class by any standard.

December 09, 2012

Bell, Macalester Silver_nugget
[V2702] Contemporary Moral Problems

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Professor Bell is a real gem. She is the only professor I've ever had that facilitated a true discussion. She is enthusiastic about the material, and it shows. She also knows how to lead a wonderful, focused, and well organized discussion--which is particularly admirable in a class of 40 people. She loved it when a bunch of hands would go up, and she was diplomatic in how she called on people. I was most impressed with her ability to present polarizing issues and controversial material without ever even hinting about her own position. She generally just defended the argument we had read and tried to anticipate how the author would respond to our concerns.
I looked forward to going to this class, and I'm not that interested in Philosophy. The philosophy-ish parts of this class were minimal. We weren't bogged down by jargon, but we did learn to make sound arguments and think critically. Articles we read were easy to read. The issues we discuss are fascinating and relevant. I changed my mind on issues I thought I was dead set on. You will be able to discuss abortion, porn, animal rights, affirmative action, our obligation to the world's poor, and punishment in a sophisticated way. I can't think of a single negative thing to say about Professor Bell or her class, and I will miss it.

Workload:

Light. Midterm, 5 page (max) paper, and a final. I think participation might help your grade too. We have an article or two to read for each class, and you can get away with not reading them and still make an A, but they are so interesting you might want to do it anyway.

May 17, 2011

Bell, Macalester Silver_nugget
[V2702] Contemporary Moral Problems and [PHIL C3912] Seminar: Ethics

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Consider yourself warned. Professor Bell is very intelligent, and considered by some of her peers to be a good philosopher. However, she often seems to be more in the business of making (rather harsh) moral judgments upon her students rather than teaching them and helping them explore ideas about ethics and morality.

Her ethics seminar was structured pretty well, but she was frankly just unprepared for class most of the time. Rather than engage with the class on the readings, she distanced herself by making handouts and reading from them. Contemporary Moral Problems was better because she was more prepared for the class, having taught it many times before. The material being significantly more difficult in the ethics seminar, she was unable to really make clear the central points of the readings.

In general, though, Macalester tends to have rather extreme views on certain issues, and is unrealistic in her expectations of students to adopt said views. This is perhaps her most dangerous and unpleasant quality as a teacher of ethics. In a large class like Contemporary Moral Problems, it is less noticeable -- but stay away from her at all costs in the more intimate seminar-level.

Workload:

Ethics Seminar: 7 Courseworks posts, 1 4-page response paper, 1 12-page final paper
Contemporary Moral Problems: 3 1-page assignments, midterm, 5-page paper, final exam

(very manageable on both counts)

January 10, 2011

Bell, Macalester Silver_nugget
[V2702] Contemporary Moral Problems

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Professor Bell is a wonderful teacher absolutely deserving of a silver nugget. For those inexperienced with Philosophy, the course can be a difficult adjustment, as the writing expectations and material coverage will be different than what is expected in other humanities fields. However, Professor Bell is willing to discuss any of the material and is easy to approach.

Her defense of authors, which came under criticism in other reviews, is just part of her teaching style. I agree that her defense of certain pornography criticisms seemed specious at best and failed to convince much of the class. The classroom atmosphere is generally relaxed, and while there are a lot of people (around 60) it's possible to get one or two comments in per class.

Some of the readings in the textbook were a little boring and straightforward, and others outside of the textbook were extremely long/difficult and contained information we didn't need to know for the tests or discussions. However, the majority of her reading selections were extremely thought-provoking and rewarding.

Workload:

The readings vary in difficulty - usually readings in the textbook are simple and relatively straightforward, while those taken from outside can be complicated and time consuming. Grading seemed very harsh at the beginning and got easier as the course progressed. I'm not sure if this was because of the grader arbitrarily leaving the course.

December 31, 2010

Bell, Macalester Silver_nugget
[V2702] Contemporary Moral Problems

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Macalester is great, but be careful arguing with her about pornography- she'll quickly respond to you negatively. Her philosophy is sound in other areas, but on this issue she starts making absurd behavioral claims that would require a million studies to be proven, using her catch phrase for the topic "it seems that the best explanation is..." when it reality- it isn't. She'll essentially claim that the existence of porn is the cause of rape, and that all porn is violent. A scientist she isn't.

However, overall I enjoyed the class, even if the grading was weird and differed depending on whether it was her or the TA grading. But a gold or silver nugget? hardly.

Workload:

Short assignments, paper, midterm, final. easy enough.

December 28, 2010

Bell, Macalester Silver_nugget
[V2702] Contemporary Moral Problems

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

This class was advertised as a bit of an "easy" class. I would disagree--especially if you are a philosophy major. The topics were interesting but the class discussions were sophomoric at best--Bell does not really control the discussion and many tangential things are argued for the most of the class time. Bell thinks any criticism of the readings or topics is acceptable while in class--nothing is wrong to say in her class even when it reveals that the person talking has not done the readings. She is an extremely nice person but she is a bad teacher, in my opinion. She did not grade any of my work except the final and the TA often gave me contradictory interpretations to what Bell was teaching. Additionally, the grader dropped the class in the middle of the semester and gave no explanations for his grading of the midterm or short assignments. Bell was often behind in the syllabus and cut any review sessions to teach new material before exams. Overall, if you are seriously interested in Ethics, I would take a more advanced, in depth lecture class.

Workload:

3 short assignments, 1 paper, 1 midterm and 1 final

December 20, 2010

Bell, Macalester Silver_nugget
[V2702] Contemporary Moral Problems

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

I thought Professor Bell was great. She's really nice, and does a lot to help you learn philosophy if you've never taken it before. The class is mostly discussion based, even though it's a sixty person lecture, which is nice. My only criticism would be that the topics got a little monotone by the end, there seemed to be two sides to issues like capital punishment, and we've heard all of those arguments before, so it got a little tedious. Overall though, I thought it was interesting, and Professor Bell makes sure to challenge you in discussion and on the assessments.

Workload:

Three short assignments, one paper, midterm, final

November 08, 2010

Bell, Macalester Silver_nugget
[V2702] Contemporary Moral Problems

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Totally gold nugget worthy. Funny, fascinating, knowledgeable, and just a cool lady.

Just to edit the below review, for contemporary moral problems this semester:
6% of grade = short assignment #1
7% of grade = short assignment #2
7% of grade = short assignment #3
25% of grade = midterm exam
25% of grade = paper
30% of grade = final exam

The short assignments are short. Literally, half a page to 3/4 of a page single spaced. Not that difficult, as long as you follow the directions and read the readings very carefully.

Midterm isn't that bad at all, except the TA's grading is way too harsh. He/she wasn't giving out tons of D's, but the overall consensus is not such a happy one.

Papers are no more than 5 pages, double spaced.

Final exam is final exam. Good luck!

Anyway, philosophy majors or non-philosophy majors: take this class!!! MB is amazing. you will become smarter and cooler.

Workload:

manageable, and if you're interested in the topics (you will be, they're really cool) then not that bad at all. Pretty enjoyable, in fact. Check above for the breakdown.

December 17, 2009

Bell, Macalester Silver_nugget
[V2702] Contemporary Moral Problems

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Macalester Bell is a delight, an absolute joy of a professor. Although young (compared, I think, with most professors in the Philosophy department), she is equally intimidating in intellect and argument as the most venerable among them, although graceful and charming both within and without the classroom to boot. Professor Bell does not often reveal her own positions on the subject matter at hand, preferring to encourage debate among students by herself remaining apparently neutral, and eager to challenge one on any argument one makes to ensure that one has thought it through. She is a sharp-tongued and entertaining lecturer who attempts, even in classes of forty students or more, to have class most often conducted via student response and discussion. I would highly recommend her classes to any and all.

Workload:

For Contemporary Moral Problems, two five-page papers, a midterm and a take-home final.

Directory Data

Dept/Subj Directory Course Professor Year Semester Time Section
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL V2702: Contemporary Moral Problems Macalester Bell 2012 Fall TR / 11:40-12:55 PM 1
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL V2702: Contemporary Moral Problems Macalester Bell 2010 Fall TR / 2:40- 3:55 PM 1
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL V2702: Contemporary Moral Problems Macalester Bell 2009 Fall TR / 2:40- 3:55 PM 1