Review Comment

[PHIL V3252] Philosophy of Language and Mind

June 09, 2019

Peacocke, Christopher
Seminar in Perception and [PHIL V3252] Philosophy of Language and Mind

Like the last reviewer, I disagree with those who have said that Peacocke is not a good professor for undergraduates. Although I am not planning to pursue graduate study in philosophy, I feel that the two courses I took with Professor Peacocke as an undergrad philosophy major both contributed immensely to my philosophical knowledge base and left a lasting impression on me. I found Peacocke to be an extremely fair grader, and he was one of my favorite professors to visit in office hours. Maybe it is because he does not usually speak at a very high volume (as others have complained about), but he has a way of directly pointing out the flaws with students’ philosophical arguments without seeming aggravated. For such a famous scholar, he is also pretty unintimidating during one on one meetings and is generous with his time. I would definitely recommend his courses to philosophy majors with a love for the subject.

Workload:

Philosophy of Language: two presentations, one midterm, and one final

Perception: two presentations and one final term paper (15 pages, 1.5 spacing)

August 09, 2015

Bilgrami, Akeel
[PHIL V3252] Philosophy of Language and Mind

This is for Bilgrami's language course. I'll separate this into PROS and CONS.

PROS

Bilgrami's class is very interesting if you are very interested in philosophy and/or very interested in linguistics. The texts can be challenging sometimes but Bilgrami does a very good job in explaining them (he has a tendency to mumble early on but finds his groove after 10 minutes of lecturing). It is indeed a fascinating look at some of the more interesting open questions about language (how do meaningless sounds become meaningful communicators? is language inherent or learnt? can we fully understand language without fully understanding cognition?). Its definitely the sort of course which you come out with more questions than answers, but I do believe this is healthy. It's also cool that Bilgrami is very opinionated. Philosophy is about debate and Bilgrami doesn't just lecture you about the texts but provides his own insights about when he does or does not agree with something.

Faculty-student relationship was very good. Robbie (TA) held regular office hours and gave very helpful pre-examination revision lectures. Bilgrami's OH were upon requests but (unlike previous reviews) I found him very inviting of student questions and dissent. He does indeed still arrive 10 minutes late but will hang around for a few minutes answering people who approach him.

CONS

There was a very large amount of miscommunication between TA and Prof. For example, Professor makes a point in class that Robbie disagrees with. Robbie insists on our revision session that we shouldn't mention it in the midterm as it was just a side note that's contentious to begin with. I don't mention it and Prof. removes points from my midterm. When I talk to Robbie about it he seems to backtrack and gets flustered when I press it. That aside, it generally felt like there was little leeway in terms of answers. The final incentivised us to agree or disagree with parts of the prompt but it still felt like picking between two canned responses.

Together these created a perfect storm of poorly written exams. Strict expected answers but confusion (even between TA and Prof.) about what these expectations are supposed to be. So grading just felt like a black box and I never really understood why I got the grade I got (Bilgrami never explains his ticks and crosses other than a few brief comments written in an unintelligible scrawl). Which doesn't mean I got a poor grade (they were reasonable and even lenient to those who improved), but it definitely sucks out the purpose of even grading us in the first place with such a lack of transparency.

Workload:

LOW. Sit in midterm and take home final. About 5 questions each. He polled us before (between 2 midterms or 1 large final paper) to see what we liked best.

Grading is quite reasonable.

August 13, 2013

Bilgrami, Akeel
[PHIL V3252] Philosophy of Language and Mind

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

There are two basic kinds of philosophy courses at Columbia: Ones that show you what philosophers have said on a certain topic and ones that show you how philosophers have come to those conclusions. Professor Bilgrami's "Philosophy of Language and Mind" (lecture) course falls under the second category. If you are looking for a systematic introduction to PLM, which involves a textbook that has more than 3 editions, a syllabus that gives you the page number for the reading for your 16th class, and a professor who spoon-feeds you with the materials, do yourself a favor and look elsewhere.
The review below that begins with "Professor Bilgrami is not an instructor for the faint of heart." perfectly captures my experience in the course, therefore I am not going to repeat my fellow reviewer. Instead, I would like to make a few clarifications:
You have to have a certain collection of expectations and characteristics to appreciate the brilliance of Professor Bilgrami: 1) a thick skin 2) the understanding that - similar to math - a philosophy course (for philosophers) is more about how to approach a problem than about how the problem is solved 3) the belief that in class one-on-one debate with the professor is a fantastic opportunity to refine one's arguments and thoughts, even if that means you have to "lose" every time in front of your classmates 4) the attitude that small things (e.g. punctuality) don't matter.
Is this course mainly about Professor Bilgrami's views on certain topics? Yes. But I think he does so more because this is the best way to show students how one could potentially approach the problems (through walking them through a philosopher's thinking process) and to represent those views ("I think…" is more reassuring than "I think Kant might response to this questions in X way…") than because he is too in love with himself.
Does he put you on the spot? Yes. But only because he treats you as an adult and takes your ideas seriously. For numerous times I was the "unfortunate" student who was on that spot, yet I have never felt "humiliated" or "being judged" in any negative way. Sometimes "humiliation" comes from the realization that more than half of the class have been putting up with your supposedly insightful questions, instead of from the professor's reaction. If you think you were humiliated, please double check if your question was on point. Chances are, Professor Bilgrami was not the only one in the room who thought it was irrelevant.
Does he presents materials in a "circular" manner? This is the accusation I have least sympathy to. Firstly, please explain what "circular", in your sense, means. Does it mean "not straight forward"? Professor Bilgrami has already patiently slowed down the pace a lot in order to satisfy the needs of those who have "fallen behind the class". If you really think the presentation of the material is not straight forward enough, please take more philosophy courses before this one.
Professor Bilgrami is actually a very warm person if you ever visit him during his office hours. It is, by the way, "by appointment" due to his irregular schedule instead of his purported indifference to students. He is not the kind who would bring cookies for the class, but is by no means an uncaring professor. Nobody is perfect (whatever that means to you). If it is your decision to stay in the course, please don't blame it on the professor.

Workload:

A mid-term and a final.

May 13, 2013

Bilgrami, Akeel
[PHIL V3252] Philosophy of Language and Mind

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

I have never felt the need to write a review of a class or professor throughout my time at Columbia. However, Prof. Bilgrami's lack of organization and preparation for all but 2-3 of this semester's classes was so apparent that I'm upset. A few disclaimers about myself: I am a graduating senior who took this class for 'fun', not for elective credits but because I had read a couple of Bilgrami's essays and was intrigued and interested; I am not a philosophy major, but I am reasonably well read in philosophy and I've done rather well in the two other PHIL courses that I've taken here; and I'm a GS'er and as such I'm really mad that I paid over $5,000 for this experience.

Ignoring the fact that he was always 10-15 minutes late for class, he rarely seemed prepared for lectures. His lack of preparation made it inevitable that many students fell behind the presented materials because he lectured in a circular and therefore confusing manner. It seemed that he would pick up on a related topic to where we left off last time and just BS his way through the hour of remaining class time. Sometimes we'd move forward in our theoretical studies, but often we would conceptually recede as the class became more and more confused regarding the presented topic. When a student asked questions he was hasty to pass judgement and humiliate them. Furthermore, he often conflated his own perspective with that of the students, seeming to forget that the student asked a question because they had missed a core concept of the work.

I came into his class hoping to dive into Bilgrami's own viewpoints about belief, meaning, self-knowledge, and the roots of language but I can only report that he was defensive of his own published positions and focused on other more universally accepted philosophers like Frege, Kripke, and Bilgrami's mentor, Davidson (whom Bilgrami holds slightly different views from). At an institution of CU's caliber, I expect instructors and professors to be confident in their convictions and Bilgrami was not.

This was the last course of my undergraduate career that I took for the sake of sheer curiosity and it left a very sour taste in my mouth.

Also, to dissuade any fanatics of self-knowledge from impending accusations of my biases, I hold that the TA, Christine Susienka, was an excellent educator. She proved this in many classes as she redirected Bilgrami from his circular logic. Also, she covered for him in three out of four of his 'planned' absences by giving concise review lectures or "catch-up sessions," as I like to think of them.

Workload:

Too simple. There was no way for Bilgrami to know whether or not the class actually had a clue of what he was talking about. One mid-term with two questions, one final with five questions. Both take home. The final questions were only tangentially related to the lectures throughout the semester. Final grade is determined by averaging the grades of every question.

Regular readings that were all on topic.

June 02, 2011

Bilgrami, Akeel
[PHIL V3252] Philosophy of Language and Mind

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

Professor Bilgrami is not an instructor for the faint of heart. You have to be confident in your abilities as a philosopher, you have to be willing to think, and you have to be prepared to be challenged if you want to take a class with him. Rarely do I write CULPA reviews, but I felt compelled to do so after reading the ridiculously harsh reviews on this page.

That being said, it took me the entire semester to decide whether or not I liked his class. In all honesty, almost every person I spoke to hated this class – except for my classmates who are legitimately interested in philosophy and want to be challenged. I cannot overstate that last point. If you just like to hear yourself talk and you want a professor who will coddle every one of your (supposedly) spectacular insights, do not bother taking a class with Professor Bilgrami. He does not handle objections or misguided questions in a way that retains a student's dignity. Yes – he can be harsh. There were several occasions where I left the class feeling very frustrated because I felt insulted. However, I did not take his response personally (rather I operated on the assumption that he was just giving me a hard time to challenge me). Then again, there were other students who were told “you're wrong” or “you obviously weren't listening to what I was saying” – maybe they would disagree with me. But, in all honesty, I appreciated his harsh responses in that it discouraged those people who just like to hear themselves talk. After the first two weeks of class, the amount of participation in the class significantly diminished because people were intimidated.

I suppose that being intimidated is not necessarily a good thing to get out of a class. Nonetheless, Professor Bilgrami forced me to consider my question carefully before asking it. I had to think about what I was really saying, how he might respond, how I would respond to that, etc. He forces you to think several steps ahead. For that reason, this class helped me in my development as a philosopher. And if you take the time to meet with him outside of class, he's actually very receptive and very nice. He's willing to clarify issues with the material and discuss potential consequences of the ideas covered in class. This leads me to believe that he just doesn't realize that his classroom demeanor can be intimidating.

Is he incredibly disorganized? Yes and no. He shows up at least ten minutes late for every class (which also means class will run over sometimes too). Don't bother with the syllabus, he will not follow it. However, it's not the case that he's pulling lectures out of thin air: they're part of a larger narrative that conform to his own interests. It doesn't even matter that he's disorganized because he gives you the questions for the midterm and the final a week ahead of time. You have to be a special kind of slacker to not get a decent grade in his class. Most of the information you need for exams will come from lectures rather than the readings; though it's worth doing the readings because they're absurdly interesting (or at the very least you'll need them for the exam questions).

So do I know more about the philosophy of language and mind as a field in general? Nah, not really. But have I improved as a philosopher? Absolutely. Without a doubt, I would take a class with Professor Bilgrami again. It is clear from his instruction that Professor Bilgrami is extremely knowledgeable, has spent a lot of time thinking about this material, is a good philosopher, and he has gained my respect. Overall, I'm glad I took this class and it was one of the better (and more unusual) philosophy courses I've taken.

Workload:

Midterm and final. Questions are given a week before the test. Very manageable readings that are not entirely necessary to do but are very interesting.

Directory Data

Dept/Subj Directory Course Professor Year Semester Time Section
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL G4490: Language and Mind Daniel Rothschild 2007 Spring TR / 11:00-12:50 PM 1
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL G4490: Language and Mind Akeel Bilgrami 2003 Fall M / 2:10- 4:00 PM 1
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL G4490: Language and Mind Akeel Bilgrami 2002 Spring W / 2:10- 4:00 PM 1