December 05, 2011

Darmstadter, Howard
[PHIL BC1001] Introduction to Philosophy

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

This professor is incredibly humble and genuine. His excitement about the philosophers we read was tangible and the historical descriptions he supplied were well-researched but always presented as an "introduction" by someone who "doesn't really know about it, just read popular books on the subject" (Even though he clearly knew more than enough to teach the subject… probably a lot more than he indicated, since whenever he felt it relevant, he would mention studies, scientific discoveries, etc. which required a regularly updated wealth of information). He made us feel that he was always approachable and open to all questions, even after class. His conclusions about philosophers were always very logical but also very human and empathetic (hence his obsession with Hume). He has a reasonableness which takes into account all aspects of humanity and never sacrifices reality for an abstract and unattainable ideal.
He summarized the readings very, very well, and I never felt at a loss when it came to writing his papers. But if you want more complex ideas you do have to actually read the texts he assigns (something I’m not sure most of the class did). I did sometimes think we might have been able to pack more information into the time given. He often ended class early, which was great if you had questions, but it might have been possible to allow for questions but still cover more (without adding any more readings!!). Sometimes I felt that we could have gone a little deeper into the minute points of each philosopher without sacrificing the broad "story" he wanted to tell, and was so successful at telling.
All in all, I would definitely recommend his class as an instructive and insightful guide to a basic philosophical background.

Two warnings in terms of content: First, if you've already read an extensive amount of Hume, don't sign up for this class. He loves Hume and spends the longest class-time on him, and the Hume readings were intense, to say the least. Second, Prof Darmstadter does not include readings from Aristotle or Kant in this class, giving instead an overview of each and how they fit in to the development of philosophy in general. He feels Aristotle was important in terms of effect but not particularly relevant nowadays in content. For Kant he feels somewhat the same, with the added problem of Kant being far too complicated to actually understand selections from without knowing the context of EVERYthing else Kant ever said. This seemed the more honest way to approach Kant--he deserves an entire course unto himself.

Workload:

A LOT of reading, but worth it if you actually want to learn philosophy for itself. The readings were well selected from the huge collections of each philosopher.