May 17, 2008

Gabbey, Alan
[PHIL BC1001] What is Philosophy?

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

Alan Gabbey is a very, very bad professor.

Here's how he lectures: he stands in front of the class with the book open in his hands and READS THE FRIGGIN' TEXT. No explanations. No synthesis of the material to help you understand what the author of the text was getting at. No analysis of the arguments. He just reads the friggin' text back to you. Pretty much half the sentences he utters during a lecture are quotes from the text.

But that's only half the sentences. What about the other half? Doesn't he offer some philosophical analysis? Nope. He does mumble on and on about his own thoughts about the text, but there's nothing helpful he says. For his own contributions to the lecture, he will either:

A) He'll randomly relate the passage to another one from some other philosopher -- usually one we haven't been assigned. And he doesn't do anything more than just mention the relation -- it's not like he tries to illuminate the text by explaining the relation. No, he just mentions some other philosopher's name and that's it. This is entirely unhelpful.

B) He might mumble on and on about some useless historical information which is at best tangentially related to philosophy. Again, entirely unhelpful.

C) He'll very often go on long-winded asides about translation issues. He'll even admit that these don't really affect comprehension of the text, since they're such small issues. Yup - entirely unhelpful.

The most philosophically helpful thing Gabbey will ever do is tell you where the philosopher we're reading got a particular term from. That's it. That's the only thing you will ever get out of the lecture (well, unless you like hearing passages from the text read to you. That might be nice for some people).

He never -- not once in the entire semester -- stepped back from the text to explain what the philosopher was trying to argue for and how he went about arguing for it. He didn't, for example, explain what it means to say that Hume is an empiricist. And he very rarely analyzed the merits and faults of the argument. The only time I remember him doing the latter was with an article by Daniel Dennett, and in that case I'm pretty sure he completely got Dennett's argument wrong and tore down a straw man.

It's a shame that this man is teaching philosophy at Barnard. He doesn't do the one thing philosophers are supposed to do -- analyze and produce rational arguments. Luckily, the rest of the Barnard department is really good. But you should avoid Gabbey like the plague!