May 14, 2010

Mercer, Christia Silver_nugget
[PHIL V2201] History of Philosophy II: Aquinas to Kant

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

If this review can dissuade one person from taking this course, then the time it takes to write this will be time well spent. Full disclosure, the grade for the final has not yet been submitted, but up till now I have a B+ in this course and as far as I can tell, a great deal of the class is doing significantly worse than this. I only put this first in order to state clearly that I'm not someone that got a terrible grade and then sought revenge by posting a negative review on Mea Culpa.

Professor Mercer is a true scholar of philosophy.There can be no doubt about that. But the point I want to put forward is that the subject material covered in this class is almost totally irrelevant for anyone that doesn't hold a deep, abiding interest in antiquated metaphysical systems. Based on the title of this class, I had assumed that I would be taking a history of philosophy class, meaning the reconstruction of historical events that help to put the course of later developments in philosophical thought into a better context. I was thus quite surprised that the semester more resembled the following: a new philosopher every week, of whom we were expected to memorize the intricacies of their particular views on metaphysics. What's the problem with this? Simply that the majority of these people held views that are silly if not outright laughable within the context of modern scientific thought. Why is that a problem? Well, learning the ins and outs of Leibniz's ludicrous views on causation or memorizing Kant's now discredited thoughts on the analytic/synthetic propositional distinction just holds little relevance for the contemporary undergraduate. Real history of course does not. The moments when Professor Mercer actually delved into the historical currents of the time and what impact they might have had on the philosopher in question were among some of the most interesting moments of the class. But these moments were sadly few and far between.

So, my warning is essentially as follows: this is not a course concerning the events that influenced historically important philosophical thinkers. This is a course concerning what those thinkers thought about metaphysics. What this has to do with anything beyond a narrow niche of historical study I don't know. As an undergraduate philosophy major even I know that many of the points made by these historical figures have no standing within the contemporary philosophical body of knowledge. They influenced but were superseded which is it should be if philosophy is actually a science.

And my final point is this: if philosophy is a science (and this premise is assumed because why would it be a major offering at a prestigious research facility if it were not?) then this class either needs to be re-configured and moved to the history department or be simply done away with. As it stands it is not philosophy (as there is no mention of the contemporary body of philosophical knowledge) and it is not history (as there was almost no effort to provide information on the actual relevant and contextual history that influenced and was influenced by these thinkers.) So what is it then? A waste of time. Spare yourself the existential crisis I experienced from time wasted on rote memorization of utterly irrelevant concepts.