Time for a gold nugget. Smiley, kind, encourages discussion and very good at understanding questions. Also has an often wonderful way of using words. The material varies in how provocative and/or difficult it is, but I recommend taking the class just for the professor.
Professor Collins is, simply put, the best professor I have ever had at Columbia. But if he's not your style, you will not have a good time in his class. I had him for both methods and problems and epistemology, and the difference between a 120 person class and an 8 person class was huge. In Epistemology, Collins could actually get to know each and every one of us, and he was honestly interested. It's a tough subject to master, but he went clearly and methodically through every subject, making sure everyone got what was going on. If you are a fan of syllabi and structure and knowing exactly what's on the exam, this is not the professor for you. Our "syllabus" was a list of topics that he wanted to get to at some point. He writes his exams the morning of the test, and if you ask him what's on it he will honestly tell you that he doesn't know. If that bothers you, don't take a class with Collins. If you're a fan of philosophy and really thinking critically, this is the class for you. This is the kind of class that will keep you up at night, not because you're in butler studying but because you're lying in bed thinking about that days lecture and wondering if we know anything at all.
Professor Helzner is brilliant at what he does, I'm sure. I think he would be a great professor for a logic course, or for probability or rational choice, etc. I felt like in this class, however, he was not very effective. For one thing, I was not happy with the readings on the syllabus. The class was taught almost exclusively out of a textbook, each class's reading simply following the last two readings from Huemer's "Epistemology." Some of the excerpts from that book were interesting and important works, but others were not. In a survey course, I prefer not to read some obscure 20th century analytic philosophers, especially since we didn't read even a short excerpt of Kant! I also found his lectures to be hit-or-miss. Sometimes, especially towards the beginning of the course, we would really dig into one of the subjects of our readings and explore all of its possibilities. Prof. Helzner is extremely thorough and when we stayed on topic, this was extremely helpful. Other times, though, this thoroughness would be directed at totally irrelevant exercises. Frequently, students would raise their hand with, in my opinion, stupid questions that Helzner would take almost the whole lecture responding to. We also spent an inordinate amount of time on digressions about probability or technology-related scenarios. I eventually stopped going to lecture. I think the class was a useful exercise but hopelessly disappointing.
This man is hilarious, engaging, intelligent, and knows how to lecture. He clearly enjoys what he does and I enjoyed listening to him lecture. This course went rather slowly, belaboring details, but Collins could make almost any subject at least somewhat interesting. There is rarely any reading or syllabus, and there are opportunities in class for discussion. He quoted a student as saying to him, "Now that I've completed your course, I know even less than when I began", and pointed to that as one of his proudest moments. He follows a slightly-combative, discussion-based pedagogical style which I enjoyed but may turn some people off. He invented the word "comundial" on the fly, meaning, "in the same world".
Early in the semester (Fall 05), Collins regaled the class with the story of a professor he once had in Australia. This professor would like to go on walks in the bush with no map, plan, compass, or anything, get lost, and find his way out again. This, Collins said, is how he liked to teach. I don't think I could imagine a worse class. There was no syllabus and no plan and my blood boils when I think about it. Epistemology is such a fascinating field of philosophy and Collins butchered it. Terrible.
Slater is a nice guy and a good teacher. He assigns great papers to read and leads discussion well but occasionally it would be helpful if he'd zoom out and summarize the different positions on key topics -- I found that students who'd taken Epistemology with other instructors didn't have the grasp of a number of specific areas I did, sometimes tough ones (I'm not sure, but I don't think Quine's _Two Dogmas_ is usually the sort of thing you get in an introductory class) but they could summarize things off the top of their heads that I had to sit down and think through and occasionally check other sources to be sure I had the full view of. Some instructors in Philosophy give short take-home questions meant to force the students to work through this kind of issue. Something like that might have fixed the one minor complaint I have with Slater's teaching style -- as hard as it is to really suggest that an instructor give more work! All in all a good teacher.
Helzner is a very knowledgeable, smart professor. He enjoys the socratic style of teaching - sitting in a chair posing questions and poking holes in answers. That's a great technique but he doesn't often go beyond it and present lecture material to supplement the questioning. That means you won't often have a comprehensive treatment of a concept or material in class, which you may or may not prefer. He is a brilliant professor who respects answers and students. His give and take in class is always generous and enjoyable. His math background makes him vulnerable to describing everything in math terms and symbols. Excellent professor if you like his approach. Clearly brilliant.
...For all the reviewers who think he is a "brilliant philosopher" try taking a real philosophy course with a real philosopher not someone who simply tries to speak and act like one. If you want to do well in his class, you have to sort out what's really going on from his mess and actually learn something. To Collins: try thinking from now on and not going out of your way to create non-sense out of something intelligble. The former not the latter is what philosophy is all about.
Ah, Collins. ItÂ’s like being in class with Socrates. He will construct a beautiful argument over the course of days, meticulously leading you by the nose through the finer points of modal logic or what have you, and then, just as you are feeling good that you can actually claim to Â“knowÂ” something, He counterexamples himself and sends you back to the drawing board. But isnÂ’t that just the way theory of knowledge is? You just know more about why you know nothing. As for CollinsÂ’s presentation of it, it could use some organization. But he more than makes up for that in charm.