August 17, 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.

Christia Mercer is one of the best teachers I have had at Columbia. She is truly brilliant, and her classes are not only clear but also fun, which is something remarkable when you are studying philosophers like Descartes and Kant. I always looked forward to her lectures.

In response to an earlier review, which complained that Professor Mercer’s classes do not contain enough historical information, I say that studying the history of philosophy is different from studying history. The history of philosophy has to do with the evolution of human thought, not with historical details about individual philosophers. Professor Mercer focuses on a the central question—What is there really? The reason we study questions like this one, is that in order to understand and write about philosophy, we must know what other philosophers have said, and how they said it. For example, we have to know what Cartesian dualism is in other to engage in a meaningful discussion about the mind/body problem. It is not just that the opinions of these philosophers are relevant today, but also that we need to know what has been said by others in order to formulate our own opinions. I too was once frustrated by having to study the arguments of outdated thinkers, but I now understand why we do it. Furthermore, Professor Mercer actually provided a good amount of historical context for the philosophers she introduced—much more than in my previous history of philosophy course.

In addition, Professor Mercer enriched the class by including female philosophers, who often go overlooked in this type of course. Her class was taught at the right level, and her lectures were stimulating and entertaining. She explained the topics thoroughly and with care, spending extra time on the more difficult arguments. She also had amazing PowerPoint slides and, almost every class, had something extra like a puppet, a painting related to the subject matter, a comical text, etc. I highly recommend her class. It is well organized, well taught, and a lot of fun.

P.S. I am also a philosophy major.

Workload:

3 one page papers, 1 five page paper, a midterm and a final.