Review Comment

[PHIL C3912] Major Seminar in Philosophy: Analytic Philosophy

May 10, 2010

Gaifman, Haim
[PHIL C3912] Major Seminar in Philosophy: Analytic Philosophy

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

There is one other review for this class so far (below). It is not completely unwarranted, as most students clearly did not enjoy the seminar and had similar reactions. But I would have to disagree about a few things.

First of all, this class was on "Analytic Philosophy." It presupposes that you know what analytic philosophy is and you have done some other work in the subject. It is a majors seminar, after all. What Gaifman tries to do throughout the class is touch on certain basic tools and concepts in analytic philosophy in order to give students a rough idea of what this sort of work looks like on an advanced level. I think he accomplishes this task. There is a catch, though: analytic philosophy is DIFFICULT. It demands incredible precision and a good handle on a very specific conceptual framework.

Secondly, Gaifman tries to teach this class through instances of analytic philosophy. He begins with Frege's seminal, "On Sense and Reference." This paper revolutionized philosophy. Ever since Frege's rediscovery by Russell and others, philosophy has never been the same. This is why Gaifman spends SO much time on this one, short paper. He doesn't do a bad job. After six weeks on Frege, he expects you to have a good handle on the system he has been discussing. It's not at all unrealistic of him to expect a good 5-page synthesis.

The other examples he uses are: Quine's, "Quantifiers and Propositional Attitudes"; Gettier's, "Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?"; Nagel's, "What is it like to be a bat?"; Hacker's, "Is there anything it is like to be a bat?"; and others. The reading list is wonderful. But, again, it is DIFFICULT. Expect to spend hours reading a miniscule amount of pages. But that's the nature of the beast.

All in all, Gaifman is actually a great professor and a great guy. The only caveat is that you have to find that out for yourself by seeking him out. It doesn't all come out in class (unfortunately). But if you make an effort to talk to him, you will find he is very attentive and supportive. Note: give him time to read his email; he's not that fast with it. If he doesn't feel like responding via email, he will give you his phone number. You can either talk to him on the phone or set up an appointment. I did this successfully a couple of times.

Sometimes philosophy classes are a bit too easy. This is not an instance of that phenomenon. Gaifman expects a great deal from students. He is a tough, fair grader. I'd say he takes grading philosophical work seriously. And he expects you to take the work assigned seriously.

Workload:

Three difficult 5-page papers. Weekly homework, assigned via email (often a bit late, e.g. assigned Saturday for a Tuesday class). Short, but difficult reading.

A tough, but fair grader. Challenging, but rewarding.

May 06, 2010

Gaifman, Haim
[PHIL C3912] Major Seminar in Philosophy: Analytic Philosophy

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

The seminar was not a success. The topic of the seminar was announced on the first day of class, there was no real syllabus or introductory material for the course, only a list of potential topics, which were not all covered - and this also meant that assignments were often given on Friday or Saturday for a class held on Tuesday. Office hours were not held, and access to Professor Gaifman was difficult through e-mail, and while he hinted at being available by phone, his number was not actually given out. The only 'office hours' that were held were mandatory, right after class, and only for those who did especially badly on the homework. Besides being told what the course material was, we were never really told why we were reading it or analyzing it. After six weeks of Frege, we still didn't really have a clear sense of what Frege was talking about, or why the things he was talking about were relevant. This became apparent after our paper on Frege was handed in, and we were all forced to go to 'office hours' for writing bad papers. Professor Gaifman dominated discussion in what he wanted to be a discussion class, and when questions or suggestions were raised, he would dismiss them as inaccurate, laugh them off, or seem to get annoyed. Whether this was the case or not, it came off as incredibly intimidating, and did not encourage seeking him out to clarify the material that was not well-clarified. He would occasionally ask a question that nobody would be able to answer, and instead of realizing that we didn't understand the material and proceeding to walk us through it (this is really hard material!), he would keep asking it as we groped about in the dark trying to guess the correct answer by scrambling through our readings and old notes. I have taken lots of philosophy courses, but this is the first one in which I was made to feel stupid. Now I know what my friends in other majors feel like when they take a philosophy class and ask me, "what the hell are you people talking about?" In this class, I honestly don't know.

Assignments were typically given on Friday or Saturday for a seminar held on Tuesday. Especially on weekends with holidays (or over Spring break, when he sent out the assignment for our Frege paper on the last weekend of the break, while we were still on break), this policy was infuriating. When challenged about this policy of assigning things extremely late, Professor Gaifman said that we had the first half of the week to do reading and the second half to do new reading and the homework assignment. I would prefer to be given the choice as well as the time to do my homework when and how I see fit. After we received the new readings for the Tuesday, we would typically also have a set of homework questions to do for that new reading; no matter how confusing or difficult, the expectation was typically that we would master the material in the reading, and then apply it to a new situation. Not surprisingly, this did not go well. We did not know how to do many of the homeworks, and our marks on them reflected this fact. Again, instead of reassessing this method of giving homework, Professor Gaifman continued to give us nebulous and highly critical comments on our homeworks, but without grades. Only after the Frege paper did we start to get actual grades on our homeworks. Around week 9, Professor Gaifman sent out a list of the e-mail addresses of people in the class so that we could study together; probably due to the combination of the fact that this was so late in the semester, along with the fact that assignments were given so late in the week, this was never used (it is hard to find time to study together if you get an assignment three days before it's due, and only then know if you want or need to work with somebody else on it). Finally, the paper topics were not very helpful. The first one was not actually a topic, per se; we were just given the title of the paper. The second was a single line prompt, and only for the final paper were we given more.

Workload:

Assignments given out on Friday or Saturday for a seminar held on Tuesday; hard readings (even the short ones), with an associated homework that assumes mastery of the material; if you did not master the material, your grade will reflect this; three short papers of seeming easy difficulty, until they get handed in, and returned shredded to pieces (or never returned)

Directory Data

Dept/Subj Directory Course Professor Year Semester Time Section
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL C3912: Seminar in Philosophy: Analytic Philosophy Haim Gaifman 2010 Fall R / 11:00-12:50 PM 18